Anime-Breakdown: Patema Inverted (2013)

Patema Inverted follows Patema, a young girl from a civilization that resides in deep underground tunnels. While exploring one day, she gets herself trapped in Aiga, an inverted world, and teams up with a resident to escape and return home. Instantly having the appeal of its unique world set up in the opening minutes, Patema Inverted will make you curious to seek answers. Once the film ends, you’ll end up almost exactly where you started in your understanding of the world. The origins are explained, and some of the aftermath on the creation of opposite gravitational pulls, but other details like the changes that might occurred after the film events, and the new discovery from our main characters are left unanswered. The effect of a device that created a shift on Earth’s gravity is also vague implying it does whatever the story demands it, like shifting the weight of characters when traveling. Without proper world building it’s uncertain how the Orwellian dystopia of Aiga would change at all from the events in the film. Furthermore, it’s distracting with the lack of proper world building will make you wonder what exactly happened to the Earth itself since twice in the movies Patema, and her friend reach the highest point of their respective civilization, and there’s no stars to speak off. Adding onto this issue is the lack of explanation of what happened to the first people that fell into the sky given a specific revelation at the beginning of the third act. That revelation leads to more questions that aren’t answered, and some plot holes while the ending also does the same adding to the list of plot holes. 

Patema Inverted 03
And on your left, you’ll see more pointless buildings.

Aspects of Aiga civilization are very broad, and one dimensional in its portrayal. Being a civilization rule by a over the top evil leader Izamura. From the onset, having a villain who thinks he’s doing good in order to maintain order isn’t bad, but it becomes downgraded when the portrayal is over the top. The villain of the film has little motivation to act the way he does, and the religious like mindset to punish sinners isn’t delved into enough to make up his shortcomings. There’s also the unanswered question of how he obtain so much power despite him clearly not being in the right state of mind for it. Given how dead set Izamura is to keep order the only protection he has to prevent outsiders from entering is a fence. More leap in logic includes Aiga being surrounded by cameras, and later implied in the film to be under constant surveillance makes it baffling how the security in Aiga didn’t catch Patema crossing the boarder sooner. I could also bring up the fact the Aiga has students shown to be given points with the implication of worth, shown strict regulation on how people can act, and no parents to be found. However, the film chooses to gloss over these functions of its society, and simply speculating on them will do the film no favors.

At the center of it all is Patema, and Age both teenagers who bond is rushed in the film. Patema dreams of seeing more to the more, and Age likes looking at the stars. These two characters eventually meet each other only to have what should be the emotional anchor of the story to be left shallow. The most effective scenes the quiet moments where Patema, and Age simply talk about their lives. It’s doesn’t sound exciting, but it works in creating good drama. Unfortunately, the quiet moments are sparse throughout relying mostly on a comedic back, and forth between the two. Yet, because of how rushed their bond is there is little time they spent together before one of them gets captured, and has to be rescue. On top of that, because Patema, and Age got separated so early in the movie it renders their eventual reunion ineffective. There is also some kind romance building, though that’s hard to buy since it was rushed, and accepting both characters fell in love after spending like three days with each other mostly apart with everything else going on might be a little too much to accept.

As separate characters, Patema is the stronger of the two. She gets more development, and has more lively personality compare to Age who is simply nice guy. Patema backgrounds get delved into, and getting to see her absorb the beauty, and harshness of a new world she hasn’t seen. Her enthusiasm, and expressed wonder in seeing this new world for the first time helps in providing the film a sense of adventure. Age on the other hand just accepts whatever happens. This changes later on when he becomes more proactive, but lacks growth, and any sort of pay off for following him. Patema eventually gets a rewarding emotional scene when she discovers the fate of her father like figure, but Age is not given that same luxury. When alone Patema is a character that’s somewhat worthwhile to follow, and sadly Age isn’t lending to the uneven nature in the film.

Patema Inverted 04
I can assure you that I am not evil!

Supporting characters remain simplistic, and stay one dimensional. They don’t serve any greater narrative purpose other than what a certain scene requires them. Either be hesitating to shoot Age, have a side character provide comedy, or helping Age in breaking out Patema from a tower. They are functional since in Patema’s home there is an attempt to depict some kind of everyday life for the people, and some world building. Aiga, I already mentioned glosses over its world building. One side of the world you have some fleshed out characters, and a lead character who experiences a satisfactory growth on her journey. On the other side of it you have a major character, and a world who are glossed over during the film. It’s odd, one half of the movie knows what makes a good story, and the other half is that bad movie. Sadly, it’s the bad portions that eventually become victorious as the weaker aspects of the writing overwhelm the good parts the longer it goes.

When it comes to voice acting I would say neither the Japanese, and English track have a clear winner. The Japanese cast has two better lead actors in Yukiyo Fujii, and Nobuhiko Okamoto with a more heartfelt performance. Especially Nobuhiko Okamoto performance helps mask the shortcoming of Age bad writing through his more emotional delivery. In the English dub both Cassandra Lee Morris, and Michael Sinterniklaas are okay in their role. Only Cassandra Lee Morris of the two is able to make Patema captivating. On the other hand, the English dub has a better supporting cast keeping in line with the film overall tone. In Japanese, some of the supporting voice actors can be prone to overact their parts creating tonal whiplash in a scene that isn’t found in the English dub. Dialogue is underwhelming in both version either being fluff, or clunky in places. Regardless what you choose to go with, neither the Japanese, or English voice track will impress.

Patema Inverted 02
Animated sequences like this are the highlight of the movie.

The animation is handled by Purple Cow Studios Japan (yes, that’s the studio name), and it’s nice looking at times. Character designs are uninspired, but make up for it by having them be very expressive. Background are also simple, but during night sequences the background will be given more details to display its beauty. The underground city where Patema live is brittle with detail as well. Anything outside, or inside during broad light though is unimpressive. There’s a few time where the cinematography would have scenes animated upside down. Making for a few unique looking sequences. In rare usage, the camera will also turn sideways, or upside down to show the perspective of the other character. It’s obvious the animation studio abilities are limited since these type of usage of the camera are in short supply. The music is composed by Michiru Oshima making some wondrous tunes. His music elevate certain sequences giving them a sense wonder where the writing lacks in creating. My favorite pieces of his music are for creating a foreboding mood providing a sense of danger, or mystery that severely lacking.

Patema Inverted is fascinating conceptually while the actual movie ends up being less than it could have been. The world is more fascinating to me than the rushed character bonding it’s more focus on showing. If it wasn’t rushed in developing it central relationship than I would have engaged despite the half baked world building in place. All around interesting, and all around somewhat disappointing. It had high goals that it couldn’t grasp fully.

Rating: 4/10

Advertisements

Cinema-Maniac: Kamikaze Taxi (1995)

Today’s film is three things; an arthouse film, a leisurely pace film at nearly three hours long, and very mindful of the heavy theme it touches on. On paper, arthouse is typically something I ignore as some will typically sacrifice narrative worth for alluring visuals. Depending on the film the abstract accompany by pleasant visuals can add to something, and other times just feel like a complete waste of time. The lack of any middle ground in terms of quality, from my experience, prevents me from checking more arthouse films. However, Kamikaze Taxi is an exception in both areas; it’s exactly what I expected out of a arthouse film, but exceeded everything I thought it could possibly be. I am willing to go as far as to say this film might just be an underappreciated classic.

186686
“No need to fear. We’re just going to kill you.”

KamiKaze Taxi follows a revenge-seeking man, and his foolish friends plan to rob a yakuza gang. Despite that simple synopsis, the film covers much broader subjects beside vengeance. It touches on violence in many perspective from the conceived honorable sacrifice of a Kamikaze to the senseless nature of war. You might even be surprise for a film that has plenty to say about violence there’s hardly any of it to be found within the actual film. Instead, you’re treated to a cast of fleshed out characters with some level of depths to them. Tackling heavier subject matters, especially for the Japanese audience, on a nuance level.

The film begins in a pseudo-documentary style, commenting on the presence of Japanese with foreign upbringing, and how they are not looked upon as “true Japanese”. Further illustrating this is the first sequence where young Yakuza Tatsuo Minami (Kazuya Takahashi) is introduced to Senator Domon whom comments he hopes Tatsuo is a full blooded Japanese from his Korean sounding name. It’s not just a one off comment that makes up Senator Domon character, but several scenes throughout the film where he freely share his racist remarks, even on live television. Later receiving characterization on his likes for Jazz music, and perceiving himself as a true Kamikaze with his boastful nationalistic pride. All the major characters in the film receive this level of characterization.

Slow moving as it might be in its pacing it uses that to have secondary character to provide humanizing moments amidst the aftermath of a violent sequence. One such example of this occurred early on in the movie; Tatsuo job is to set up Senator Domon with women to sleep with, and after a bad night (which occurs offscreen) he has a lengthy conversation with the women involved. Being unable to view them the same way his Yakuza brothers do, and it’s many moments like these that elevate Kamikaze Taxi into something special. What short bursts of violence it contains become layer with meaning for the participants, and for the viewer weaves an engaging narrative sharing a intimate understanding on it complex issues.

vod00031
“Bite on this while I kill you gently”

Kamikaze Taxi starts with Tatsuo Minami story of desiring vengeance is just the beginning of the movie before transitioning into the meditative phase of a road movie an hour in. It is right here where an already good movie with a great foundation becomes even better. On the other corner we have the other major character of Kantake (Koji Yakusho). The unlikely bond, and connection Tatsuo, and Kantake form elevates the preceding events of simple ideas, but broad introductions, and give them depth here. Themes such as what is truly consider Japanese, the long term effects of violence on a person, what defines a Kamikaze or Yakuza, moving from past prejudice, and other subjects fully develop.

One of Kamikaze Taxi noteworthy scene requires the characters to reflect on their life choices through a seminar of sort. Encompassing the comedic, and the dark nature of its characters into a single sequence. Scenes like these are a dime of dozen in Kamikaze Taxi allowing even minor characters to influence the larger narrative in the end.

Not bound to just tackling contemporary issues specifically pertaining to Japanese culture it also delves into more universal themes. The already mention viewpoints of violence, pride, love, freedom, and ultimately forgiveness. Much like its characters, the story leisurely makes several stop during its journey. Either to build the bond between its lead through something simple like navigating a map of Japan, or taking a breather from the harrowing situation with a drink. Characters aren’t afraid to discuss the harsher aspects of life the closer they get to their journey’s destination, even contemplating simply escaping from their dangerous endeavors. Through their many exchanges, understanding these characters along with developing the fictional backdrop tackling real issues become easier to grasp.

b9a1dce767fc241b0a6bb86ea59056d4_640
What better way to end a fun party than telling everyone about my tragic past.

The journey this film will take you on isn’t all smooth. For an ambitious film with a desire to tackle a number of themes it is riddle with some issues. One of these being the complete disappearance of the pseudo-documentary framing device from the narrative. It’s disappearance isn’t harmful to the movie since it setups all the working pieces that later pay off once they get fleshed out. What is potentially harmful to the viewing experience is the circling around of established information. Kantake in the movie expresses his issues finding work in a country because of his ethnicity, but the documentary portion of the movie already set that up in its opening minutes. In context, Kantake explaining his situation makes sense, but within the narrative it’s just reiterating information with nothing adding on to it. They also eventually disappear from the movie making it have narrative inconsistency in its execution.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for viewer in this movie is the way it ponders. There’s a lengthy sequence at some hotel where the characters are enjoying downtime from their journey. What occurs is a series of goofy antics before getting into the characters reflecting on their choices that led them to this moments. These halts in the movie can take several minutes before offering anything that could progress the story. Naturally being all over the place when it shifts gear into being a meditative road movie. These issues might detract from the experience for some viewers, and to a greater extent hurt the viewing experience since the film delve into many subjects.

By the end of the film, it’s obvious by how much I gushed about the writing I simply was in awe from such a thought provoking piece of cinema. Rarely does a film for me ever reaches the narrative heights Kamikaze Taxi accomplishes in virtually all aspects. I was never bored watching Kamikaze Taxi thanks to its engaging characters whom I grew to like a lot on their journey. Spending so much time leisurely developing, and fleshing out everything it tackle created an rich experience not offered to me in many films. Its shortcomings aren’t things I’ll excuse, but they are weaknesses I can forgive for everything I feel it excels in creating.

o0500027512172841995
In its natural habitat, the third wheel.

Director Masato Harada helms the film with ease. Visually arresting with it neon nights city, flute center score, and a dreamlike mood that make it an absorbing viewing. The Peruvian flute like music in particular grew on me over time giving the film a unique soundtrack that I can’t recall other Yakuza movie ever having. With the exception of a few scenes requiring over acting, Masato Harada is able to keep the film realism in tact. Providing the film a grounded touch that it needed, especially during the more solemn scenes when characters are opening up about themselves. Rarely ever using music to influence the audience what they should think during an important character building scene. He also isn’t afraid to inject a bit of humor to prevent the film from becoming overly moody. One sequence where his direction is a bit of a misfired is when Koji Yakusho, and Taketoshi Naito (Senator Domon) only scene together involves an over the top outside inference in their encounter. It’s pretty odd witnessing something over the top happen in the movie when everything else is somewhat grounded.

Standout actor here is obviously Koji Yakusho as Kantake who provides the film most grounded performance. Carefully able to hide the inner turmoil of his character without making him come across as emotionless towards those around him. Without question, his shining moment of acting is when during an long take he reveals his tragic past to the other actors. It’s a scene that is perfectly solemn, and delivered with the right amount of emotion. Overshadowing his co-star Kazuya Takahashi who plays Tatsuo. Takashi isn’t bad in his role either; displaying his character insecurity to fully be a Yakuza with such a sensitive side to him. As the film progresses, Kazuya portrayal of Tatsuo slowly matures into a deep thinking young man by the end. Embodying the puzzling mindset of Tatsuo perfectly. When together, Koji Yakusho, and Kazuya Takahashi are simply wonderful together.

87914fd44ad5a0443d3b0cc3706d1da1_640
Those wounds are nothing compare to what I went through in Battle Royale.

Taketoshi Naito who plays the racist, and at times misogynistic Senator Domon does a great job in his performance. By choosing to not over act his character feels more humanize, and detestable for it. Benefiting the film by giving it a more realistic depiction of this film’s version of a villain without actually being one. Mickey Curtis who makes sporadic appearances in the film is a treat to watch. His laid back attitude as a Yakuza underling rightfully gets across his character experience. When needed too, he definitely display his tougher side. Finally, Reiko Kataoka who just like Koji Yakusho later becomes a mainstain in the story. She also deliver a great performance on the level of Koji Yakusho, and Kazuya Takahashi. These onscreen chemistry is simply perfect able to make you believe they have created a great bond together despite the small amount of time they spent together.

Kamikaze Taxi is my kind of art film; slow moving, but visually alluring, loosely meditative narrative, and handling of several subject matter gracefully. It’s a film that was a more than pleasant discovery during my viewing, and giving me far more than I could have ever expected from it. I expected, from the trailer, a lengthy Yakuza epic with violence throughout, but instead what I got is a far more ambition, humanizing film that not provides frank criticism on Japan’s culture, but also a film that never bored me, and serves as a personal reminder the profound power arthouse cinema can have.

Rating: 10/10

Anime-Breakdown: Nitaboh (2004)

When it comes to the instrument of the Shamisen my first introduction to it was through the Japanese pop band Monkey Majik. It was with the song titled “Change”, in collaboration with the Yoshida Brothers (brothers performers of the Tsugaru-jamisen style), became a song I instantly liked a lot. A main reason this being Shamisen gave the song a unique sound that stood out to other music I listened too from Japan. However, other than that I simply didn’t care to listen to other pieces of Shamisen music since it’s not the sort of thing I would listen to regularly. Monkey Majik on the other hand I like their stuff a lot. For some who choose to venture into the 2004 anime film Nitaboh will probably be their first introduction to the Shamisen. While the film has plenty to offer on the music side there’s not much else that’ll stick with you once the film ends.

nitaboh-3eenllkir40vmcvkni6yzqri4tq
Insert: “You’re the best, around! No one ever gonna keep you down!”

Nitaboh follows blind musician Nitaro through his life as he discover his passion for the Samisen, and honing his skill. Narratively, the film somewhat avoids the pitfall that musical biopics would go with. The formula usually has the lead character discover a passion for music after a performance of some kind, this performance inspires the young lead to become a musician, rising to fame through small performances, and eventually having a rival to compete against. Thankfully Nitaboh doesn’t have the whole fame getting to musician head, hitting rock bottom, and eventually reigniting their passion for music. However, it doesn’t do anything wholly different from a music biopic either by remaining with the basics. It also has a passive leading character which for a story that doesn’t much in terms of conflict won’t be shown struggling through much either in his life story.

One standout feature about the story is the setting taking place during 19th century Japan at the end of the Edo era, and the story somewhat touches on the change Japan was experiencing at that time. The changes occurring during that time, like the change in the way music is played, are far more interesting than what film actually intends to cover. It brings up how unorthodox people thought the idea of a blind man becoming a musician was to people during this era, western influence on Japanese culture that is simply mention, and partially mentions the changing landscape of Japan. However, it’s only ever on the surface, and since it’s not the main focus I can’t really knock it down for that.

Nitaboh biggest flaw is simply not trying enough to flesh things outside of Nitario, which is ironic given it’s main character Nitaro survived through many hardship as a child into adulthood. Hardships that aren’t shown pulling the classic montage into eventual timeskip to get pass the boring stuff of seeing a young Nitaro struggling to support himself on his own, and right into adulthood where he seems better off with hardly anything resembling a conflict. This timeskip cheapens the journey, and ultimately detract from its portrayal of Nitaro dedication to his crafts. Lending to make Nitaro overcoming the stigma he faced of being a blind Shamisen player fall severely short of resonate. By not establishing much in the way of some kind viewpoint there isn’t much growth to discuss from when Nitario was a child who was enraptured playing the Shamisen to an adult who desires to do more with his love playing the Shamisen. Most you’ll get in terms of depth in this area is the times of changing line.

nitaboh-rdk1jrksvb7pvxrmfw1ossnaxaz
The film’s character had a harder time staying awake than I did.

Another issue with the storytelling would simply be it’s modest aim. It doesn’t tell a grand story, nor sensationalize it events through any means making it a down to earth in its depiction. At the same time for something that demands you pay attention to it for 100 minutes there isn’t a whole lot to take in. If the film was half of its current runtime you could have gotten the same story. It wants to express the power of music, and how it touches people hearts, but Nitaro impact on these people lives, or his interaction with the town folks isn’t shown much. People gather to listen to Nitaro play the Shamisen, and that’s about it. Only once does the film has a character speak about how Nitaro dedication to pursue his craft influenced him to do the same. Aside from this one character, hardly anyone else in the film expresses the same gratitude.

The one area Nitaboh is successful in is characterization. No one in the film is complex to any degree, though that’s mostly because how modest it is. Nitaro has a conflict, learns from it, and pushes himself physically, and mentally to resolve it. There isn’t much to him, but his arc is competently written, and doesn’t come across as half baked in his journey. Some aspects of his characters, like the lack of focus of him dealing with his blindness, or quickly getting over the death of a love one hurt Nitaro in the long term. Making him come off as impersonal when it comes to his friends, and bonds, but what is shown successfully is his love for the Shamisen, and his passion for it. While it’s hardly expanded upon, there are several point in the movie Nitaro does point out the unfairness of the world he lives in, and his philosophy on his style.

nitaboh3
Picture here a nice moment, and a relationship that doesn’t evolve much.

Side characters on the other hand hardly add much to the film’s narrative. There’s sorta a romance between Nitaro, and Yuki whom meet each other when they’re children. They show some feeling towards each other, but neither of them over confront the other about these feelings. Another aspect to this sorta being a romance is these characters friendship generally spend little time with each other before spending a long amount of time apart from each other. When they are together, only the first thirty minutes is successful in setting up their friendship, and the rest of the film doesn’t bother to evolve it much. Other than Yuki, the other two supporting character Nitaro interact with simply enjoy his music, and help him out. Only one gets influence by him to do something while the other one is just there to help progress the story. Much like some of the world events it brings up throughout the film, side characters just help push the story forward, and that’s all.

Nitaboh is animated by WAO World studio, and in terms of animation its fine. Character designs are simple, but unique enough to tell apart through the entire film. Movement is okay, and backgrounds are pretty much okay too. The animation doesn’t have much happening visually on screen keeping things simple for the most part. There’s one exception to this rule in during the first act that has Nitaro father riding through a storm on his boat, but other than that the animation isn’t lively. It is cheap at times like having a large crowd listening to Nitaboh play the Shamisen just remain still. The direction of Akio Nishizawa is exactly what the film needed. He over play, or senatalizie any aspect of the story that doesn’t need it. Of course, parts of the third act are debatable for being somewhat silly like Nitaro talking to his dead loved ones through a shaman, or the extreme training regimen he went through. Luckily, the film doesn’t venture into over the top territory with those moments.

nitaboh35
With the power I hardness from Amidarmu, I shall became the Shamisen King!

Sounds though is the one area it excels in. While not much of a listener to traditional Japanese music it gives the film it’s own identity where it can’t stand out in other areas. The noteworthy pieces of music in the film is obviously whenever the Shamisen is in used, and letting the viewer absorb the music. Besides being a cool sounding instrument it has such a commanding presence. Going heavily for an atmospheric approach to its sound design which it soars in flying color. In terms of acting only Satoshi Hino, who plays Nitaro stands out. Easily because he gets the most screen time, but also because he come across as the most understanding of his character. It could have been easy for Satoshi to over act his performance since he’s playing a blind character. Hino approach to the character is not portraying him any different than he would from any other character with eyesight. Bringing out some likable aspect of Nitaro personality that over acting could have overshadowed.

Nitaboh is a modest movie with modest aims, but with modest handling of its material it never tries to make something of itself. What is here isn’t enough to justify a general recommendation to view the movie, especially with some of the more important aspects of Nitaro life aren’t developed much. Simply coming off as a history lesson instead of a engrossing look into a man’s life, and how never he gave up on his passion. If you want a down to earth story that is somewhat difficult to find anime Nitaboh has you cover, but in general it’s a piece of anime that unlike the person its based after, doesn’t have as much going for it.

Rating: 4/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Tigers (1991)

Today’s film, The Tigers (1991), might simply come across as just another obscure Hong Kong film forgotten by time. However, it’s the star studded of the Five Tiger Generals of TVB that will ensure it place in Hong Kong cinema history, even the reason is superficial. The Five Tiger Generals of TVB consisted of Michael Miu, Kent Tong, Felix Wong, Andy Lau, and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai who were the most popular young actors in Hong Kong during the 1980s. If you’re a fan of even one of these actors than eventually you’ll stumble upon this film on their filmography, and like me, be surprised by the amount of talent in the film. Sadly, whose in the film is about as interesting as it ever gets. While some of the Five Tigers of TVB have gone off to star in some classic films that have become landmark films in Hong Kong cinema. The Tigers (1991) is going to be a footnote in it stars legacy.

0v7j2k
Hong Kong’s Finest

The Tigers follows fives Cops that find their careers, and their lives in jeopardy when they spend a gangster’s bribe money after releasing him from custody during a drug bust. The movie’s premise immediately falls upon when it decided our first introduction to our characters sould be them betting on horses while on duty. It’s this initial irresponsible impression the film is unable to shake off becoming detrimental in its failing. Before the whole “should we take the money” plot point comes into play. Everything leading up to that plot point paints our officers as goofy, and easy going. Not treating what case they’re currently assigned to seriously. So when the officers are considering whether, or not to take away a suitcase filled with money, and not report it to anyone of course it comes across something they would do without question. Except for the fact it wants to present this fall into temptation with shades of grey, which you can’t do when only one out of the five characters presented actually appears to be taking their job seriously.

So seeing one officers who’s remaining silent on the matter, and not telling his superiors talks to another corrupt officers to remind him why he became an officer is sketchy. For starter, the silent officer values his friendship more so than upholding justice, and yet this character thinks he holds the higher ground when compared to his friends who actually took the money, and spend it. Obviously, just because the character sees corruption in his line of work, is in a position to prevent it from getting worse, and not participating in it doesn’t make him an upstanding officer. If the characters were more fleshed out in terms of caring about their jobs than maybe all the conversations about how they will make things right might actually hold some weight.

vlcsnap-2018-05-14-19h46m42s219
Missing from this still image, slapstick humor.

Another weakness from the writing is the uneven characterization for its large cast of characters. Most of them can be defined as easy going officers whom want to make more money. Some of the characters are decently developed, and some fleshed out with their own subplots most of which don’t matter in the long run. However, on the other half you get characters who just come across as background fodder despite being established as good friends. There’s also the noteworthy weakness that none of the officers are given traits to stand out. All are jokey, partially serious, and slowly crack under pressure. Homogenizing nearly all the characters unknowingly. Also, since the film is incapable of developing characters the “mind games” the corrupt officers take part in against the film’s villain feels dragged out. When the “mind games” portion start around the end of the first act virtually no progress in the story is made until the climax of the movie comes. This is because it feel like the story is prolonging the inevitable by having scheme, after scheme failed in either getting the villain killed, or getting the police officers locked up.

Dialogue doesn’t fare any better being the routine “what does being an officer mean to you”, “what separates your action from criminals”, and “we are bound to uphold the law, not break it” variety with conversations going where you would expect them too. The issue with this are the characters participating in these conversations never had the high ground. From the opening that showed the officers not taking their line of work seriously, even during a police raid making sex jokes, all the way to the end these officers simply come off as irresponsible, and stupid. You would think characters who’ve all been serving various amount of years in the police force would know how to hide the fact they illegally acquire a huge sum of money during a raid. Apparently not since the characters aren’t able to hide their tracks for simple reasons like buying an expensive car that can’t be bought on their budget, or giving a daughter a large sum of cash for her to start her business. Made even stupider by the fact they mentioned earlier in the movie they wouldn’t do these of things to because they could caught, yet still do it.

vlcsnap-2018-05-14-19h51m18s416
Seriously, we’re surrounded by fog, and looking over mountains, and you still wear sunglasses!

Now comes my biggest point of criticism in the writing; it’s inability to represent morality in shades of grey, or black and white. The villain of the film for instance uses his hold over the officers for his own needs. Never at any point in the film is he given a fair shake that would allow him to be sympathetic. This cartoonish villain doesn’t belong in the same story that is attempting to make police officers that took bribe money appear morally grey. A villian who enjoys giving our main characters a difficult time, and takes pleasure in killing some of them muddles it’s execution of being morally ambiguous. You end up with a film with a cartoonish villain who has nothing much going for him besides being evil. However, when one of the police officers takes the stolen money to pay for his brother education it’s meant to be a noble cause. You simply can’t do that because then the villain becomes justified for demanding the police to do his bidding for taking the money he made through (likely) illegal means. This issue could have been easily remedied if the film didn’t attempt to make what the police did with some sense of righteousness.

As for the actual story of the film that’s hard to discuss because nearly all character arcs are never balanced out in its nearly 2 hours runtime. A subplot revolving around an old police officer trying to reconcile with his daughter that doesn’t add much to the movie. It would have helped if the reconciling part wasn’t resolved by a third party after one conversation that basically amounted to “Your dad does care for you, have you considered that”. Another storyline would be an officer finding his brother during a raid doing shady activities. That plot point feels like it just disappears after its brought up. Instead of using this moment to create an interesting dynamic between the brothers it chooses not to do anything with it because it’s not a well written movie. There’s also another officer who worries about getting killed because it’ll mean his family will be left with no money. This officer is hardly ever shown interacting with his family rendering what could have been an emotional drive seem shallow.

When it tries to be thrilling it fails because inevitable sequences are dragged out; like the police releasing a gang leader from custody in order to get the villain killed, and there being a fight that breaks out. Whenever the story acts like whatever it does is a big deal it gets boring over time before realizing you still have over forty minutes left in the movie. Tonally, there’s no balance in it. It’s somewhat comedic in the beginning of the film, and than suddenly turns dark before the first act ends. The writers had a bunch of ideas about what story they wanted to tell, and just called it a day before developing them into something cohesive that would work in anything it attempted to do.

pqmany
Cool moment brought to you by Andy Lau.

Despite my gripes with the story my actual biggest disappointment from the movie is generally the weak performances from its star-studded cast. Sure, maybe Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau is the only name you recognize, but Tony Leung, Felix Wing, Miu Roi Wai, and Ken Tong aren’t small players either. First of all, Andy Lau performance in the film is weak. Usually he can make the most even out of cardboard characters. Sadly in this movie his usual charm is nowhere to be found, and when it comes to his dramatic chops the poor direction hurts him. For example, there’s a sequence where he sees one of his friend getting killed, and while he’s mourning a song he sang for the movie is inserted into the sequence with on the nose lyrics about how conflicting his character is. It made a dramatic scene unintentionally funny, and it’s doesn’t help either the song used in this sequence is also used to close out the movie further hammering the point in.

There’s the beginning of the movie where most of the cast are acting goofy. Andy Lau during the brief lighthearted moments appears to be having fun. His dramatic acting is the opposite delivery scene after scene like he’s directly reading of from the script without adding his own touch. Becoming robotic in nature when delivery his scenes. Rarely does he deliver a scene in the movie that feels natural because once the lighthearted moments end he always looks pissed off. This could have been remedied if the writing included more moments of Andy Lau character expressing how conflicting he was about the turn of events. While Andy Lau does have the acting chops to play a unrepentant character the direction gives him little on how much to convey in scenes.

Tony Chiu-Wai Leung who plays Tai-Pi fares worse than Andy Lau. Whereas Andy Lau will have moments that displays the strength of his acting abilities. Tony Chiu-Wai isn’t allowed that luxury as he suffers the most from jarring tonal shifts. He overacts the comedic bits of his character so whenever he does any serious scene it’s difficult for him to come off convincingly. Seeing him be overly goofy detracts from his dramatic scenes, and in return almost comes off the worse among the star studded. Also, his goofy clothing dressing up like a teenager with his baseball cap adds to the problem.

oqlr4y
Yes that’s a dummy, but in a boring movie this moment is a highlight.

There’s Miu Kiu-Wai who unlike Tony Chiu is simply wooden. His lack of effort to emote eventually makes him disappear into the background, and make you forget the fact he’s in the film. At least Felix Wong Yat-Wah who is constantly just making an angry face for the entire film stands out a bit. Sure, Felix Wong unmoving angry face makes it impossible to care for him, but he puts effort in emoting when it he has too. Tony Chiu is the weakest link in the film in terms of acting.

The only actor who delivers a good performance in the film is easily Ka-Yan Leung as Uncle Tim. Unlike the rest of the cast, his performance is more grounded, and in line with the film’s end goal. He never borders into the realm of silliness like his other co-stars thanks to his committed performance. He never lets up on his serious portrayal being one of the oldest actor in the cast, but when requires he’ll loosen up a little bit in moments that don’t require him to be serious. In these moments, it’s not jarring seeing him having fun, and most importantly refrains himself from being overly silly like his other co-stars. There’s also a surprise appearance by Shing Fui-On who keeps appearing in obscure Hong Kong movies I write about, and here he’s once again casted as a criminal. He’s does fine, but I find his appearance more amusing more than it actually should be. There’s also Philip Chan as a superintendent which is another surprise.

vlcsnap-2018-05-14-19h49m02s489
Not a fan of Tony Chiu (guy in red cap) look in this movie. Just comes across as someone trying to recapture their youth.

Ken Tong plays the villain in the movie, and typically over acts in virtually all his sequences. His character is to dislike, but it’s biggest drawback is falling into the annoying category. When Ken Tong starts taking up more screen time as the film progresses so his obnoxious evil laughter. Over acting while constantly laughing is a recipe for annoying. Sure, it makes you want to see Ken Tong gets killed quickly in the movie, but when’s far from subtle in his acting it diminishes the payoff. His over acting further highlights weakness in the writing going out of his way make his character detastable by any means. In a ironic way Ken Tong succeed in bringing to life this over the top villain, but at the cost of being increasingly annoying.

If you’re expecting any thrills from this film you’ll be disappointed. Aside from the fact the script is terrible written, director Eric Tsang doesn’t know how to rack up tension. I’ve already went into lengths about a majority of the actors inability to balance the tone of their material, but Eric Tsang is just as responsible for that. Committing mistakes that an amatuer is more likely to make; like inserting a song from Andy Lau during a death scene, and the right on the nose lyrics (paraphrasing) “I know I’ve done wrong, so let me take the blame” is not how drama should be delivered. While on music, it’s largely forgettable. His biggest strong suit is obviously comedy since he felt the most comfortable helming those scenes, and simply having fun, even if the humor was off. However, the absence of tension is noteworthy, especially if you’re making a mind game between two opposing forces, and the only thing you could think of to raise tension is by having loud music play more frequently throughout the movie. There’s also the lack of action, but since it’s more in line of a crime thriller the lack of them isn’t a criticism. Although, the poor quality of them is. From a shootout that is ruined by slapsticks to the climatic sequence in a mall that relies to heavily on making its villain nearly invincible to make it exciting. It’s a climax not worth sitting through a chore of a film.

The Tigers only appeal is the star studded cast of actors whom headline the movie, but even than only Ka-Yan Leung comes out looking good. It’s just a complete mess in representing it’s morality, handling its characters, and especially building tension for what’s meant to be a thriller. For something that has a star studded something better should have been expected than what was given. Even if you’re not a fan of any of these actors, this film doesn’t come close to being a worthwhile watch by any means.

Rating: 1/10

Anime-Breakdown: The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (2017)

Coming of age stories are one of the most relatable type of stories. Growing up isn’t a thing that comes easily, and upon reflection youth is something that feels like it had gone by way to quickly. All sorts of media from novels, to movies, and even anime itself love to do these type of stories. Transitioning from adolescence into adulthood is something that can be apply almost universally. However, finding something in these type of stories to stand out is almost as mundane as sport stories themselves; virtually sticking wholeheartedly to realism, and never venturing into any unfamiliar territory, or experimenting in different genres. Bringing you, and me to the film I’m reviewing today titled The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (Yoru wa Mijikashi Aruke yo Otome in Japanese). A coming of age film excessive on energy, carried by bizarre imagery, filled with wild characters, all coming together into a insane, yet very thoughtful anime film.

night_sap_0877
Yes mam, you where this fish!

The Night Is Short, Walk On GIrl follows young woman named “Otome”, and her “Senpai” through an insanely long, bizzare night around Japan. After the first four minutes of the movie briefly setting up a bit of information for its characters, and sharing their plans for the night the movie completely does away with any semblance of normality. Turning into what appears to be a random series of events with some clever ideas getting illustrated along the way. For example, there’s a sequence where Otome, and some pals she met earlier in the night entering a bar, and briefly end up talking about time. The elderly in the bar, and Otome friends mention how time is moving quickly for them, and even show Otome their fast ticking watches. However, when Otome shows the group her watch it goes a lot slower. When brought up, the idea is simply interesting to ponder as it quickly moves on to the next crazy event. The film is filled with small touches like these that through the course of the movie are expanded upon. Going back to the watch passage of time, it’s a detail that rings true to the movie. A majority of the film actually enforces this idea by how long Otome night is, and the crazy amounts of events that occured within the film. There’s also another example of this later on in the film where in the background when Otome visits Rihaku-san it’s shown his clocks moving rapidly forward. Rihaku-san in this sequence, much like Otome, experiences life at such a breakneck while living in the moment, but not having a desire for longing to see someone. Rikahu goes into his sadden state considering his life a failure, and shown in the background clocks slowing down after a discussion with Otome.

The whole film is brimming with seemingly unrelated sequences from a group of students performing Guerrilla Theater, a competition between five men under a large tent eating very spicy food to see who can last the longest to obtain a book of their desire, a drinking battle, the God of the Used Book Market collecting books aiming to set books free, and other craziness ensues. How the film chooses to connect these seemingly random events is through the theme of threading fates. There are a few moments in the film where it plainly lays it out for you; like the God of the Used Book Market explaining how several different books are connected to Otome, and when Otome has a drinking bout against Rihaku she mentions everything happening to her is connected by fate. While virtually the rest of the film doesn’t spell it out for you. When in the moment of experiencing the odd assortments of events it’ll seem unrelated. However, there’s always a small piece that leads into another events either be Otome wanting to see another part of town, or Senpai being pulled into something to win Otome affection. No matter how random it seems, it always lays out how it got from point a to point b successfully thanks to some carefully planned writing. Ensuring self control in its outlandish nature.

The eccentric Otome is front, and center of the story following her night with Senpai endeavors being splice into each other stories. Both are opposites of each other with Otome always being one to move forward, and Senpai taking thing as they could have been. Both of them interacts with a cast of characters that influence growth in them. Otome with her positive outlook on life, and insistent to constantly move forward makes her the life of the party in her scenes. Typically being wild, and crazy as much as she is. Naturally in the course of the movie her encounters with other slowly makes her reevaluate herself, and much like Senpai, discovers a new balance in their life.

7882hff
The power of love compels Senpai.

Senpai on the other hand scenes are just as crazy, but as not as fast moving in comparison to Otome. Allowing the audience time to take in the lunacy they had be taken into. Seeing Senpai constantly having to put himself out into the world to have a chance to achieve his goal of capturing the girl of his dream. Going through to great lengths to overcome his many obstacles in his path whether it be an endurance competition of eating spicy food, or running as quickly as he could to take the spot of a lead actor in a play to get a kissing scene with Otome.

Another thing the film covers more subtly is Senpai behavior in obtaining the girl of his desire. At the beginning, he lays out his plan detailing he desired to remove obstacles, and meet Otome by chances so she would notice him more. It’s a strategy that comes across stalkerish initially, but Senpai slowly overcomes it eventually find a more direct answer. Never giving into temptation to fall into creeper territory, even if the desires to read a file detailing about Otome no matter how strong the temptation is within him. His endeavors throughout the movie receives a greater payoff in the final act when it gets into the more nitty gritty thought Senpai conflicting on the best course of action in his endeavor of romance. Thinking about every possibility to approach the situation, and overthinking his affection for Otome wondering if its worth anything.

When it comes to substance there’s plenty to be found in The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl that someone can find some level of deeper meaning in it. There’s a foundation, no matter how small it seems, that eventually comes together into a larger, and broader picture. However, there’s two things that will likely hold the film back from general appeal. One of them being the zany nature of events contrasting against its actual message. It’s a movie about making the transition into adulthood, yet the film has so many bizarrely enjoyable it’s become easier to lose sight of that message. It’s more likely a viewer will remember the bizarre sequence of Senpai competing in a contest of endurance eating hot food against other men than the scene where Otome expresses her life view to live in the moment, and judging things by its own merits. Same thing happens later on in the movie; you’re more likely to remember the odd musical number of romance story involving a singing apple, and a cross dresser than the segment of someone believing love being determined through destiny over life experience. Given its main characters Otome, and Senpai contrast each other, as well as some other characters they meet are contrasting one another. The execution here while deliberate for its own good by design has about as much chances as being taken as pure escapism as much as being something enlightening.

image
Look at those lovely visuals.

The second thing that might plague this movie are the loose connection to the bigger picture. Certainly the film has plenty to say, but how much of it can tangibly be linked together is where its get messy. For example, earlier I mentioned the clocks spinning at different speed for Otome, and the people she interacts with. Unless you made a note of that nothing about time is express in the film for over half an hour. Same thing applies with the thread of fate appearing in conversations, and then disappearing at it own leisure. It want to pack so much in its 92 minutes runtime making it very dense in story content. Like the movie mentions several times, everything is connected, but it’s easy to lose to connections with so much going on.

The animation is done by studio Science SARU, and helm by Masaaki Yuasa giving the film a unique style. Characters expressions are expressive, and over the top. Lending itself greatly for effective comedy with exaggerated characters expressions, and fluid movement for 92 minutes. Yuasa let his imagination run wild making sure the film hardly has time to sit still. Nearly every scene is hyperactive in movement, or through various shot compositions makes simple moments memorable. For example, the simple action of someone eating spicy food isn’t made as simple as that. In this film, it’s implements a heat stroke like effects, excessive sweating with huge sweat drops, and disportional puff up lips to get this across. He also empathizes his free range in animation get across other emotions in other manners that aren’t as exaggerated. Another positive about the animation it is ability to allow chaos rein with a surrealism touch, especially in the final act where things are at it crazies. No matter how often it bombards you with visuals the film always make sure there’s always something to see.

tumblr_ozx1mhfn9r1sfqz8qo3_r1_540
Notice me Otome!

The Japanese voice acting is also phenomenal. It might be lacking in terms of range since nearly every voice actor has be over the top, everyone gives it their all. Either be it through having good comedic timing in the comedic scenes, or offering good singing during the Gorilla Theater scenes. Both Kana Hanazawa who plays Otome, and Gen Hoshino who plays Senpai are the ones taking the lead. Kana Hanazawa perfectly imbues Otome energy into her performance. Bringing to life an infectious, energetic character. She’s also able to deliver some serious dialogue without ever seeming to break her character personality. Gen Hoshino excels in his awkward performance of Senpai. While not as energetic as Hanazawa, he ables to express much more emotional range than Hanazawa. He’s able to be very fridgetity, determined, depressed, and panicky into a likable portrayal. Hoshino pulls of the difficult task of making a character who initially comes off as a stalker as likable. The music is done by Michiru Oshima, and it’s pretty good. Lively during the party sequences, and melancholy during the more slower moments in the final act.

The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl offers a thrilling experience as much as it is enlighten on subjects pertaining to life. Offering a slew of fantastic visuals, memorable bizarre sequences, a wildly fun cast of quirky characters, and an unusual execution of a simple message delivery. Regardless of what you take from The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl you’re ensured to be in for a great time.

Rating: 10/10

Some Thoughts On: Lostorage Incited WIXOSS (2016) Series

On March 20, 2018 I finished the third installment in the card playing anime franchise of WIXOSS, and it sucked. Before I go further I will established that I liked the first two seasons of WIXOSS. Both Selector Infected WIXOSS (season 1), and Selector Spread WIXOSS (season 2) even though they had convoluted writing. I enjoyed both seasons as it told a good story, developed it characters fine, handle most of it themes well, and concluded satisfactory. So, you could imagine my surprise when Lostorage Incited WIXOSS first premiered, and I just completely ignored it because I wasn’t watching anime much during 2016. However, in 2017 when I finished the first two seasons of WIXOSS I still had no interest in checking it out. This is for the sole reason I liked the English dub, and so I was simply going to wait for it. As of the posting of this right now, that clearly hasn’t happened, and unlikely to happen anytime soon. What got me to check out season 3 of WIXOSS was seeing a promo poster for season 4 of WIXOSS called Lostorage Conflated WIXOSS. The reason I finally got to seeing this was because a character I like, Ruko Kominato (also nicknamed Ruu-Ruu), protagonist of the first two season, was returning in season 4. That’s all the convincing I needed, and so forth witness the crash that was season 3 of WIXOSS.

Another thing I should add is I knew this was a bad anime before going into it, but I simply skimmed through some reviews on MAL to get a gist of its reception. I didn’t read any story specifics, but general complaints like it being a rehash I knew to be aware off beforehand. After seeing episode 1, I knew I was in immediate trouble. So basically, the setup of the previous two seasons was you play a deadly card game, fight to get a wish granted, and if you lose three times you could never obtain your wish, and everything in the world would make sure you never did. It’s nifty concept when explained like that, but the execution of it eventually got continuously convoluted, and some establish rules got thrown to the wayside as it went on. Other things were happening in the game, but that would involve going into spoiler territory.

fjlasflasdads
Card games are typically more exciting to watch in anime than actually playing them.

Now that you understand in the previous two seasons players were fighting over to have a wish granted you would think the same would apply for season 3. It simply doesn’t as players fight for the grand prize of choosing how to alter their memories, and all losers cease to be themselves. Yeah, already the stakes feel they were immediately diminished from the previous seasons. For starter, losing memories doesn’t sound as big of a deal compare permanently being unable to obtain a wish. For example, if you lost in the first two seasons of WIXOSS, and your wish was to be a track runner. The consequences of your lost would permanently prevent you from being able to achieve that wish. Compared to “losing yourself” it simply doesn’t pack the same punch. Especially, considering that in the first two seasons some of the characters loss their memories while being participants of the game. There’s something else to it, but, eh, that would lead to spoilers!

With the prize being changed there’s also the consequences of the new rules. In the first two seasons, you only had 3 chances, and if you lost three times at any point you were done. Fine, that’s not entirely true with a certain character, but that’s a spoiler if I delve into that plot point. However, in this season you get five coins; the goal is to turn all five coins gold, the amount you start with is random, and if you lose a coin it turns black. You can use coins in card battles to use a special ability. At the end of a battle, the winning player gains a coin. The losing player loses a coin, in addition to any coins they may have bet during the battle. There’s also a 90 days time limit where the longer you wait the more coins that get blacken, and the more memories the user loses. As for how the actual game is played, the previous two seasons didn’t bother to explain that so this season won’t bother either.

I’m skimming over some details like the fact the players are called selectors, and are given LRIG’s (a entity created to fight for/with you during Selector battles) created based on their memories since such details aren’t delved into much. Alongside the poorly explained rules in the previous paragraphs, there’s also the fact when a battle is initiated players basically go into another realm for the fight to be held. The only way the battles end is either when someone loses, or a non-selector interrupts the battle. From the first episode of season 1, the rules were clearly established, and then later on the consequences were clearly explained. Here, despite the rule of non-selector breaking battles up by simply interrupting them appearing in the first two seasons. Lostorage Incited WIXOSS makes that rule feel convoluted in usage. Rules despite being laid out don’t apply to the main heroine of season three, Suzuko Homura, who has important battles simply work out in her favor because of luck.

Not a fan.png
Oh Suzuko, not a fan.

I don’t want to compare the heroine of Lostorage Incited WIXOSS to Ruko Kominato because I clearly like Ruko way more than Suzuko. Part of this has to do with the fact Ruko gets more characterization than Suzuko does. Sharing similar traits, both characters are goodie-two-shoes, have trouble socializing when the series start, and have family issues. Hell, both Suzuko, and Ruko don’t know what they want to fight for initially at the start of their respective seasons. In Ruko case, there were more going on around her, and unlike Suzuko, she actively sought out information on Selectors Battles. Ruko goal, once she finds something worth fighting for, is bigger in ambition compare to Suzuko who’s only wants to retain her memories of her best friend.

Another thing that made Ruko better is her many interactions with other players so it wasn’t simply random people she was fighting. Lostorage Incited WIXOSS attempted to do something similar, but after Suzuko beats some blonde guy who lost his sister the idea is dropped. The characters Suzuko plays against in season 3 aren’t as fleshed out compare to season 1 & 2 making the battles less interesting in comparison. What also devalues Suzuko Homura appeal is nearly in every episode she has to say “Chi-Chan’, and remind the audience she’s her best friend. It doesn’t work because the anime is completely overblown with its execution. I know it’s possible to get viewers to cry with a good story, but hitting the same beats over, and over again won’t work in a TV series. 

I thought I was done, but I went here to say a bit about Suzuko Homura character design. It trying to hard to be cute I feel. Could be J.C. Staff thinks if you see something cute being miserable it’s easier to sympathize with the character. It’s not, and at the same time what relatable traits she has have been used a dozen times. One of her parents became deceased when she was little, and is never brought  up again. You know, in Cardcaptor Sakura the main character also had a parent who was deceased, but the difference being the parent got characterization, and it was treated as a proper character. So whenever when Sakura (in Cardcaptor Sakura) ever talked about her mother the emotion of the character felt genuine. Here, and other animes that do the samething the dead parent is just there.

Sadist Dude WTF
Yes, this guy’s our villain for the reason. (facepalm)

One of the biggest changes I wasn’t a fan off was the villain. In the previous season there was an attempt to make the big baddie be more than just someone who enjoyed a twisted game. Season 3 goes exactly for having someone who takes pleasure in making other people miserable. If that sounds silly, well it’s even sillier in execution because the villain is written, and animated in a over the top manner. Having obviously evil bad guy written all over him.

The one character I did like, Kiyoi Mizushima, was someone who appeared in the previous two seasons, but as a supporting character. Here, her role of supporting character is the same, but compare Suzuko, Mizushima backstory has more going for it. There a lot more to her endeavors than simply desiring to obtain a single wish. She isn’t a complex character, although I would have been more interested in this season if Mizushima was the main character because there is more shades of grey to her compared to Suzuko. It’s a shame that she appears in about 4 out of the 12 episodes, and only in two of them does she a sizable part to do anything.

I would continue bashing Suzuko, but you get the point. If there were more episodes I would probably feel differently, although that would be unlikely considering I spend a lot of time on the rules, and complaining about Suzuko instead of the bigger picture. Can’t help it when the characters, the story, and themes feel inferior compare to the previous seasons. It tries too much in such a short amount of time resulting in a series of half baked ideas, especially the ending since it attempts to play it off as a happy ending despite the fact almost nothing changed. Of course, there was also that deus-ex machina of a victory in the final battle which was never established beforehand was doable in battles!

tumblr_oepwyf3g501qa94xto1_500
Yep, difficult to make this look interesting.

There’s also an OVA called Lostorage Conflated WIXOSS Missing Link that is absolutely worthless! It’s simply the first episode of Lostorage Conflated WIXOSS (season 4) just with the title card, and opening animation added in. Technical stuff is fine. Only thing that stands out is the over the top acting from the villain, and the characters saying “Coin Beto” which I get a kick out of hearing. There’s the music which is surprisingly good. It deserved to be in a better anime, but at the same time without else to compete against it stands out that much more.

Lostorage Incited WIXOSS was simply bad. I was hoping to find the same kind of appeal like in the first two season, but didn’t get that. I got a water down version of a series I liked; characters weren’t as fleshed out making selector battles mean very little, the new rules to the selector battle minimize the stakes as well as the consequences, and finally the silly villain turned it into a battle of good versus evil. The first two seasons had some sloppy writing with similar issues, but since it had more time to tell a singular story it was able to improve itself in areas season simply couldn’t.

If I were to rate this anime I would 4 out 10. That’s probably a bit too generous.

Quick Thoughts on Loststorage Conflicted WIXOSS

So season 4 is currently airing, and as of this moment five episodes have aired. Since I’m watching it currently I might as well put something here about what I think of it so far. It’s slightly better than Lostorage Incited WIXOSS, but at the same time if the total amount of episodes is going to be 12 it might end up having the same fate. Once again, the rules have changed, and there’s more addition to the game where certain abilities feel overpowered. With characters from the previous seasons being participants in the game I have doubts 12 episodes will be enough to give everyone a fair shake, let alone add to their established characterization. Yes, I still don’t like Suzuko Homura, and at this point I’m overreacting whenever she appears on screen because she’s still boring. She’s doesn’t say her catchphrase “Chi-chan” as much though so that’s a little better I guess. Kiyoi Mizushima might actually beat out Ruuko Kominato as the best character in the franchise. One main reason being five episodes in and Ruu-Ruu hasn’t been given much to do! It bugs me, but at the same time I might be expecting too much out of J.C. Staff. I don’t what it is, but I might have a thing for stoic female characters. Should probably talk to a psychiatrist about that. I might write a post about Lostorage Conflated WIXOSS once it ends, but I’m not sure since I usually don’t write about airing anime.

Now, this is the actual end of the blog which turned longer than intended even though I barely said everything on my mind. That’s what reviews are for….I’m sure right? Oh well. Til next time, and insert clever closing line here.

Minor update

As the title says. Basically, my job is starting to pick again, and going to be slightly more busy than usual offline. What do I do exactly? I basically work in food processing, and make sure product that gets shipped out is consumable more or less. There’s some heavy lifting, and some paper work involve, but that’s the gist of it. So, the usual movie review posts for this week that would go up on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday won’t happen. I’ll be working more weekends, and I’ll have less time to juggle my job, social life, and blogging.

I do have movie review drafts I’m working on, but none of them are close to being completed. In particular, the big four (as I’m referring to them) I don’t want to rush completion. I blame my own laziness for this, and therefore going to use this week, and hopefully next week to finish a few of them on time to post. The usual anime posts for Tuesday, and Thursday will still go up. The Tuesday one is already done, but the Thursday one is not. Aside from probably being delayed til Friday, there will be two anime related posts this week. The reason is simple, my anime content is barren! I shall fix that….slowly.

Also, it’s an excuse to watch more stuff. In terms of watching, didn’t see much anime, or movies. So, I’m getting onto that. I know, I must struggle to sit back, watch something, sit, and type! Oh the humanity! I shall aim to return to the regular posting schedule by the end of next week. If I can’t, I’ll post another update. So everyone reading this, take care, and see you when I come up with a more original closing line.

Some Quick Thoughts On (Currently) My Favorite Animes

I hardly finish any anime series in April so expect a couple of these blog posts of me writing about whatever anime related topic comes to mind. This post is also thrown together very quickly since I was unsatisfied with how my review of the Makoto Shinkai movie Your Name turned out. Instead of posting it in a unsatisfied state I would prefer working on it until I’m satisfied with it since it’s surprisingly difficult to express exactly how I feel about it. I would include more entries on this list besides of favorites the 5 (well, technically six for one of them) that I have on here. At the moment, I can say for certain these 5 animes are certainly in my all time favorites, and unlikely they’ll be removed from there any time soon.

The animes in this post are organized by alphabetical order instead of ranking them by favorites. Also, only anime tv series are included on this list, and not movies since there isn’t enough I adore to the point to make a blog post. So, here they are.

Cardcaptor Sakura (1998 – 2000)d2e

I dislike slice of life anime, and I also find it difficult to find anime where I simply sit back, and enjoy watching it. Cardcaptor Sakura breaks that trend for me as it has elements of slice of life, but done tremendously better than most. Who knew simply having characters grow up, and changing through the course of the series doing everyday things would go a long way. Not only that, but Cardcaptor Sakura also tackles the subject of love far better than a majority of romance, and harem animes I’ve seen. While not complex, it explores it in a broad sense from family love, understanding the differentiation between different type of love, and so forth. Never becoming to sappy, or overbearing when exploring the subject matter. All the while making me forget it’s a series starring little kids, and it shouldn’t be this good at doing everything it does.

There’s also a sense of wonder, and adventure that rarely capture it like Cardcaptor Sakura. For me, the experience of seeing the series was just like watching a Studio Ghibli movie. Making the real world seem fantastical, virtually without leaving it. Another reason I like enjoyed it besides the endearing characters, and good theme exploration was it felt like it always made progress. Nearly every episode would have Sakura capture a Clow Card causing trouble, and saving the day. When she wasn’t capturing a Clow Card, Sakura was simply doing her best to either finish school work, or something important for a friend. It had a formula it was more than comfortable repeating through its entire run, but I didn’t mind it. It either offered me a good source of entertainment, a well written piece of fiction, or both at the same times. Like Sakura deceased mother actually being developed in the series instead of just being a thing in the background. Too frequently do I see the dead parent trope/plot device used just a mean to sympathize with the hero. In Cardcaptor Sakura, it never felt like, and the series treated her as an important like it should have. Most surprisingly, multiple episodes to Sakura learning about her mother leading to some sweet moments.

Cardcaptor Sakura is only one of three anime that has ever manage to get some tears out of me, and currently the only anime to do it twice. Typically, in media I consume I rarely ever tear up at things I watch, even more rare at the times I actually cried watching something. Aside from Paddington 2 (yes, the talking bear movie), Cardcaptor Sakura is the only anime to ever get tears from me because of how heartwarming it was. The episode that did it for me was episode 22, titled Sakura, and Her Caring Father. By this point in the series, I grew to like Sakura, and her kind hearted nature came across as genuine. It was a likable part of her character. Also by this point, I was also invested into the other characters, and seeing them was simply a joy. It basically felt like seeing family. When seeing this episode, I wasn’t expecting it to get me surprisingly emotional as it did. It simply treated itself as another episode in the series, and didn’t go out of it way to get to me cry. All the characters acted as they usually do, and it was business as usual. By doing so, it didn’t make me raise my guard, and all my reaction to the episode came naturally.

Too frequently in anime do they try too hard to get me to feel something, and more so that short length anime try to get me to cry when I spend so little time with the characters. This is different since I spend 21 episodes beforehand growing to like the characters, and getting to know them. When I finally got around to seeing episode 22, ah, it was so heartwarming that it went from a anime series I thought was already special to become something I simply adore. There was also another moment that got to me tear because of how sweet it was, but unfortunately that would involve going into spoilers, and I rather not be the one to spoil that great moment.

I could go on gushing about how I enjoyed the growth of Sayaron Li over the course of the series. In particular, how his rivalry with Sakura grows simply beyonds being rivals in love with the same person. There’s also the huge praise of anime original character Meiling Li whom I felt added more to the series especially in terms of having a great character arc, and how her involvement in the series made for some great character interactions. Her absent in the manga was strongly felt for me when I eventually read it. There’s also the possibility of gushing about the fantastic soundtrack, the great animation, great voice work, and so forth. However, just like everything else on this post, if I did this would go on for probably another dozen, or so paragraphs.

Death Note (2006 – 2007)death-note-anime

Pft, it’s only my all time favorite anime series of all time, and for a while it took up the top two spot of my all time favorite anime series. Yes, I liked Death Note so much there was a time where there wasn’t a series I would put below it in terms of favorites. That eventually changed, but that’s on the next entry. For Death Note, simply put set a new standard for what I consider great writing. Before even starting Death Note, I constantly questioned how something with such a limited sounding premise be any good. One viewing of the entire series later, if it wasn’t for Death Note I wouldn’t have gone on to see like over 300 or so animes.

I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did since it took me about 4 episodes before I became addicted to the series. The first three episodes I thought were good, but nothing that would personally get me hooked into seeing it. It wasn’t until the halfway point of episode 5, and seeing Light Yagami on that subway threatening an investigators to give up the names of the investigators after him that the series became something I had to marathon. Within two days, it became the fastest anime I’ve ever finished, and only among the likes of Breaking Bad where no matter how much I saw of it I simply needed more of it. The mind games between Light Yagami, and L were always engaging to me. Seeing those two trying to get one up on each other seal the deal for me. Wondering how Light could match someone equal to him intelligence, and simply witnessing him face against L was pure bliss in terms of excitement.

Another aspect I liked about Death Note is the descend into madness. Witnessing the downfall of Light Yagami from a self-righteous young man whom came from a background of justice simply wanting to do good, and letting power get to him was good to see. I see part of myself in Light Yagami which is partially a reason why I love him so much. Well more specifically the part of him that easily detaches himself from anyone close to him to in order to meet an end goal I can relate too. Going into specifics on the other hand, not happening any time soon.

Even if that wasn’t part of Light Yagami character, there was also the intrigue of seeing officers trying to solve the case of Kira. How does one exactly capture a criminal whom is able to kill anyone, anywhere, and anytime if he has their full name. Most importantly, how does one capture that individual. I didn’t know the answers to that, but this anime series certainly did, and it offering surprises one right after another.

Of course, there’s also the last 12 episodes which I enjoyed honestly. At the same time, I am also the same person who enjoyed the first 25 episode of Death Note so much that I’ve yet to see another anime surpassing the sheer enjoyment, and expectation breaking experience that this has provided me.

 

Fullmetal Alchemist (2003 – 2004)fma.pngFullmetal Alchemist is the only anime on this post I saw twice, and it’s because of that rewatch that it certified itself in as permanently being my second all time favorite anime. More specifically, the first question why the original, and not Brotherhood. Simple, Brotherhood is a typical shounen, but excellence execution of everything shounen is known for. Therefore, I found Brotherhood very predictable, and also the first 12 episodes of Brotherhood ruined some of my favorite moments from the original series. Now, on the original Fullmetal Alchemist. What appeals to me more about it is the story remains a personal one, and unlike shounen doesn’t devolve into a saving the world story line. A nice change up from these kind of series aimed at it demographics.

Much like Cardcaptor Sakura, the cast of Fullmetal Alchemist is among my favorite of all time. Nearly all of them are complex, and given amount of depth to them. Every character is presented with shades of grey, and rarely does anything is ever presented in a simplistic way. When it does showcase something simplistic like the methods the Homunculus would use to make a philosopher’s stone it’s usage tends to help serve a greater purpose. Among other things, it’s world given a detailed history burden with conflict. Something this series does that I wish the fantasy genre in general would showcase with magic is the effect Alchemy has in its own, and different viewpoints on it. Alchemy simply something that everyone clamour to embrace wholeheartedly.

In spite of it shounen demographic, never once does it feel like it’s undermining the audience intelligence. Too often in shounen do I feel like they cover the same themes of power of friendship, never give up, believe in yourself, and so forth in a broad sense. Hardly do shounen aim series offer much food for thought. Fullmetal Alchemist on the other hand offers just that both directly, and indirectly. Tackling the human condition, and limits of it in a world where the existence of Alchemy can seemingly make anything possible. Showing to the viewer the sacrifices are willing to make in order to obtain the power to achieve their desire. While the battles are nice, the action is never something I’m excited to see because they don’t do anything special in my eyes in terms of animation, or choreography. However, I’m always engaged in them because the events leading up to them makes them a rewarding pay off.

On my first viewing of this series, that was a funeral scene that I found powerful in the anime. However, it was during my second viewing of the same funeral scene that got me to tear up  (not cry, there’s a difference). Despite the fact I knew what was going to happen it became it even more effective on me. Growing a greater appreciation for the strong character writing that I always loved, but now adored because of how powerful it can be. Yes, that makes Fullmetal Alchemist the only other anime beside Cardcaptor Sakura to actually get a tear out of me.

It’s thanks to Fullmetal Alchemists characters that makes it a special anime to me. Not only did it help me get back into watching anime again after being burned out on so many disappointments at the time, but gave me a greater appreciation for how special anime can be sometime. Capturing you emotionally, and impacting you in ways you didn’t think were possible. There’s the filler material I honestly prefer over Brotherhood because everything feels more personal to its characters, and doesn’t become lost among the dozen of cast member in a large scale battle. Also the ending in the series, one of my favorite of all time best portraying family love, and the consequences in the pursuit of gaining what is lost in anything I’ve seen.

Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor (2007 -2008) & Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji: Hakairoku-hen (2011)

0eabcfd9eddc99f7caa211e2ca160716-1000

I know, yet another anime series made by Madhouse. What can I say. With my favorites they made each time I went into them pretty much blind, and everytime they exceeded expectation. This was another case of that of taking simple games with big risks, but breaking my mold of what I originally thought good writing was capable of. The psychology of its characters is perfectly presented by its visuals. Empathizing the atmosphere the games being played, and the mental of its player in these games. It’s the only time I would say a card game about Rock, Paper, and Scissor was ever made exciting. Akiyuki Shinbou director of March Comes In Like A Lion takes notes of how to use a similar direction correctly, and apply it consistently for your series. I know throwing that bit of shade is unwarranted, but that bugged me a lot in March Comes In Like A Lion, and I wanted it off my chest.

Episode 1 of season, no doubt about it. Without question, Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor currently has the best first episode I’ve seen in any anime. It establishes its premise right away, it has a fantastic hook, and sets up a good leading character right at the beginning. The only place left of it to go is simply up, and remains up there for the entire run. What I love about both seasons of Kaiji is about it manages to take simple games, and makes them addicting to watch. Despite the fact my mind tells me it’s all determined because it is written I still can’t help, but me constantly engaged in it. Never once during my viewing of either season of Kaiji did I see just a single episode. I needed to see multiple episodes to be satisfied.

It was the unpredictable nature of the series that kept me desiring more. Never before have I seen this type of story been told, and one of the few times where I didn’t bother predicting the events because I knew I would be wrong. Brimming with imagination, and creative ideas in its games it wouldn’t be the same without it main man Kaiji Ito. This guy, easily one of my favorite character of all time. Aside from being flawed, one aspect of Kaiji that engrossed me into the series is his constant belief, and desire to become a person than he originally was. He’s a man of fear, and man being to the lowest point, yet keeps on fighting no matter how powerful the urge to give up is. Becoming a constant uphill battle that Kaiji Ito seemingly makes step forward, but also takes an equal amount of steps backward.

An ongoing cycle that keeps me rooting for its protagonist. There’s the also the characters whom in spite of being cartoonishly evil are given surprisingly good reasoning for why their behavior going beyond the “I’m superior” notion. One in particular simply believes it’s human nature itself that is incapable of claiming responsibility for their action, and its through this irresponsibility they seek an easy way out. Both seasons of Kaiji provided me a great deal of addiction in terms of entertainment, but it’s the fantastic writing that kept me around, and why I love it so much.

Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 – 1996)116788-rai-ryuga-thunder-jet-anime-rai-ryuga-thunder-jet

Currently the oldest anime in my favorites (but not the oldest anime I’ve seen). As someone who consumed movies for a majority of his life Neon Genesis Evangelion is one example of a series I would point to when it comes to replicating the cinematic experience in tv format. From a purely technical level, the cinematography, and framing scenes is masterful creating from some unforgettable experiences. Whether it’s seeing something as awesome as two robot synchronizing they moves together to destroy a monster, or something as funny as framing a comedic scene. Yes, some of it is cheap, but it knew how to use that to is advantage. Like the infamous elevator scene that simply have two characters in a elevator not talking for about minute can be seen as cheap. However, it can also been seen as the distance between characters who are unable to connect despite how close they are in the room. Due to the way the series is actually written, the later interpretation is just plausible.

I could recall episode 4 when it became something special for me. Just the ending of Shinji on that train station platform, with Misato looking at him from the other side, and the episode concluding with Shinji saying “I’m home”. I know, such a simplistic moment to call back too, but for me that moment always stayed with me, and I haven’t forgotten about it. However, I would say one Neon Genesis Evangelion ditches it’s monster of the week formula for something more thought provoking, existential, and psychological driven is when it grew on more so than I thought it would. Typically, I wouldn’t be in favor of a series doing a complete 180 from what it originally started since from my experience they turn into trainwreck. Evangelion proved to be an exception evolving to become something far more memorable than it thought it would be.

The psychological breakdown of its many cast of characters embedded in my mind. Shinji Ikari in particular went from being a whiny twerp in the first episode I saw him in to being a character I love despite how fucked up he truly is. Being incapable to decide for himself what to do, having an over reliance on commands for other, refusing to pilot the robot even if the world is in danger, being capable of able to change positively, and so much more. Unlike everything else in post where I enjoyed the first episode, this is the only entry where the first episode of the anime I simply found okay. Thankfully, being one who never drops an anime no matter how bad it is I continue forward with it, and gave me for more than I would have expected.

 

That concludes it for this post. I would have gone more into detail about some of these series, but I rather just generalize what made them enjoyable for me, and if possible kept it a bit vague to not spoil anything important. Like I also wrote earlier in the post, this was thrown together last minute because my review for Your Name didn’t turn out like I wanted it too. Hopefully, spending some more time on that review will help me get it to the quality I want it at. Depending on what I do next, and my offline schedule I shall you good folks next time, and hopefully show more of my less professional side when it comes to writing about things. And hopefully, less of these last minute posts to come from me in the future.

 

I would like to credit the artists responsible for the artwork I used in my featured image for this blog.

Cardcaptor Sakura (left) artwork done by ManuLuce 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/luce4Red

Death Note (middle) artwork done by Dr.Monekers

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DrMonekers

Fullmetal Alchemist (right) artwork done by ddjvigo

Facebook (couldn’t find a Twitter):  https://www.facebook.com/ddjvigo/

 

Cinema-Manic: Best of the Best (1992)

Best of the Best follows Dee (Jacky Cheung) a member of the SDU, Hong Kong’s version of SWAT, who engages in a personal vendetta when his new girl Heidi (Sammi Cheng) turns out to be the daughter of evil triad Ngan Kwan (Paul Chun). If this synopsis sounds like an interesting movie to you, sorry to say, but it’s a slough of a movie to get through. Before the title card of the movie comes up, it shows Dee enjoying a birthday as a kid with his brother, and father resulting in a tragic incident resulting in the death of his brother. The person responsible for accidentally killing his brother is Little Ball (Ng Man-tat), Dee’s own father, whom hit his own son in the head with a gas cylinder during a scuffle with a criminal. At first, I thought the story was going to take the route of being more of a drama with some action sequences sprinkle in. This sequence while rushed sets it up that way. It doesn’t happen as the film is neither about redemption, forgiveness, and moving forward. Instead, what’s the movie focuses on romance that feels undercooked despite the amount of time dedicated to it. On top of that, opportunities that could have taken more advantage of the premise to the romance eventful isn’t taken.

Still 05
I could also use drink after watching this movie.

So dumbfounded by this, imagine my surprise less than half an hour into the movie seeing meandering scene, after meandering scene to only realize it’s going to focus on the romance aspect of its story. Confusing since the movie takes a while before even introducing the love interest Heidi, yet feels compel to rush the growth of the relationship. It takes so long before the actual main story props it head in making previous events feel disjointed. Going from a rescue mission inside a mall to a date doesn’t make a good transition between directions. Granted, action logic dictates a damsel in distress might fall in love with the hero after saving her from four gun wielding masked goons, and pulling her out of a car seconds away from exploding. However, action movie logic doesn’t excuse the rushed romance, the lack of direction, tonal inconsistency, and especially boredom. Half the reason for my boredom results in the same the couple simply talking about daddy issues, and the other time talking about running away when both characters grown adults. They don’t have the same restrictions applied to them if they were teenagers meaning they have less obstacles in their way if they both choose to run away together.

A major reason for this feeling like a chore to me was the lack of involvement with the characters. For example, Dee works with SDU, and no point considers putting his father, or any other love ones under some sort protection from  Ngan Kwan once his men attack him more frequently. Pointlessly endangering people around him that shouldn’t be caught up in it just because he’s head over heels for Heidi. Then there’s also Heidi who also doesn’t go to police to ensure her lover safety. Heck, she could have threaten her father to that she would tell the police incriminating details about his dealings just to make sure he backs off. She doesn’t do this either. Aside from not getting help when available, there’s also the lone that Dee’s conflict with Little Ball remains underdeveloped for the whole film. Once the time skip occurs, there’s no expansion on the trouble relationship between Dee, and his father. There’s no step forward for Dee to finally forgive his father, and there’s no progression in forgiving himself for the incident that push his son away from him.

There’s also the untapped potential of exploring years of hatred Dee has against his father action as a abusive police officer. If explored, it would explain why Dee is dedicated as he is to being a good SDU officer. Bringing me to the gift his brother gave to him before he died. While the sentiment is nice to have its main character carry around a memento he cherish from his brother it’s no point used to further expand on anything. There’s a point in the film where Dee’s loses the gift his brother gave him while dealing with his drunk father on the streets. Instead of using as another hurdle that has to be overcome, or Dee finally letting go of the tragic event. What the film does is simply play some sad music, close up on Jacky Cheung being sad, and end. Scratching my head wondering what was the point of establishing Dee’s brother gift as something significant if the story itself doesn’t do any with it.

Still 03.png
Jacky! Don’t asleep on duty!

Characterization is fairly handle well. While the romance of Dee, and Heidi suffer because it’s chooses to rush instead of building it is their weakest point. As individual characters their some interesting ideas surrounding them. Sadly, that all they end up being, ideas that could have been. For instance, the film after the timeskip is somewhat lighthearted during it romantic scenes, but the film progresses it slowly get harsher. However, because of the opening sequence the harshness immediately goes into lighthearted, and back into harshness instead of just being a steady flow from one tone to another. Then finally, despite the 90 minute length of Best of the Best half of it simply feels like it meanders around. This could be due to several reasons; it’s nearly half an hour before the main storyline even gets established, information that be given out quickly take longer than needed, and around half of the plot points don’t go anywhere. Even when there was action on screen the feel even made those boring due to a lack of urgency stemming from characters disappearing, and appearing inconsistently in the story. One thing it is consistent at is failing to create anything remotely engaging.

Jacky Cheung plays SDU officer Dee, and his acting is above average. It isn’t good because simply feels like he directly reading from the script instead of being the character. There’s many moments where Jacky Cheung is meant to be saddened by certain events, but puts on a sad face, and calls it a day. However, the limited material him (along with the rest of the cast) is his biggest hurdle. In that sense, he what is required of him adequately enough. However, it is a rather poor showing of his acting abilities when he comes across no differently in his tearjerker scenes as he does in his romance scenes.

Still 11
Looks like someone else is drinking their troubles away as well.

Sammi Cheng plays Heidi it’s underwhelming. When she’s meant to be cheery she is cheery. When she has to be sad she is sad. In this movie at least, she’s not capable of doing much with her material coming off unconvincing whenever she is required to be serious. Her only decent moments of acting are when the film picks up a lighter tone. However, as soon as that disappears her delivery feels robotic. Paul Chun plays Ngan Kwan, and with the exception of one scene in the climax he’s even worse. Given the direction wanted to do something serious, Chun over acting is out place in the movie. He can’t make a one dimensional character any fun, or hateable since he simply just shouts all his lines, and hoping scary sounding music will help mask some of his stoic line delivery.

The best actor is Ng Man-tat, and that’s simply because he comes off as the most pathetic out of the cast. Man-tat character is constantly depressed whenever he talks to his son, and attempts to be happy when he’s not around. During his dramatic scenes, he pour everything he could into those scenes more than the writing actually did. Convincingly getting across he’s a tortured soul who still wants to be a good father, but doesn’t know the right path. It’s Ng Man-tat who is the one bright spot among the better than average acting. Sadly, that puts everything else beneath him.

Still 01
One of the film’s few rare moments of not being boring.

Final thing worth even bringing are the action scenes, and they are all poor. Director Herman Yau simply wanted to get them done as quickly as possible. Making what little action is has seem underwhelming because there’s no coordination in it. There’s also a lack of creativity in them; like a chase sequence that requires Jacky Cheung to run away from a dozen armed goons. A majority of the chase sequence simply has him running through alleys, throwing some objects to throw his pursuers off, entering a more confined place to get a lead, and just barely making it into a taxi to getaway. There’s other action sequences like these, but very few have of them have me as bored as Best of the Best. The climax suffers from a lack of proper staging as Jacky Cheung simply goes into a wide open public area, start shooting baddies, and enters a building to confront Paul Chun. This whole climatic sequence doesn’t have much happening in it. The one stunt that occurred in this scene involved a stuntman laying down in a incinerator of sorts for a couple of seconds before the camera cuts. It’s not spectacular in execution, but it’s something eventful that required effort to capture. This is one of those films where even the action won’t keep you awake.

Best of the Best aims to be more than your standard average action, but ends up being worse as a whole because of it. It’s a half baked drama with boring characters, a romance that overtakes the story forgetting it’s intention, and becoming a total mess of a movie by the end it. It’s a movie that doesn’t accomplish anything, nor rewards viewers with much for their investment in it.

Rating: 2/10

Cinema-Maniac: Coco (2017)

Despite living in the west, my interest in Western animation is usually on the low side. A major reason for this being a majority of animation produce in the West, specifically the US, tend to be comedies, and there’s hardly much to consume in other genres. Due to this, I find viewing animation outside the US far more interesting. However, Pixar is the only animation studio that has me still giving western animation a chance. Unlike Disney, whenever Pixar releases a movie I look forward to it, even if it doesn’t match up to their great films. Their films usually have efforts put into them, and no matter how familiar their story feel never once do I get the impression they’re factory produce, or soulless like I typically do with Disney animated movies. Especially from the 2010s which is easily their worse decade for animation. With today’s film, it doesn’t break away from the path of familiar storytelling, but when you have filmmakers whom believe in their product wholeheartedly, and have a understanding of good execution it’s all you need for a good film.

coco-rgb_c330_15g-pub16n-122
So, this is where Disney passion for animation is at. 

Coco follows aspiring musician Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, indirectly entering the Land of the Dead during Day of the Dead festival. Now, Miguel has to find his great-great-grandfather, and get back home to his family in the real world before the sun sets. In terms of writing, the story isn’t anything special. Things you expect from a company owned by Disney are here; a plot twist to reveal the villain, a misunderstanding of events leading to hatred of a major character, a time limit for main character to return home or stay alive, an adult who hates the profession of the main character is pursuing, and yes, the host of silly side characters, and a silly pet. These plot points, or plot devices alone don’t harm the film in the long run. The good execution of a familiar story is what helps overcome anything predictable. For starter, when it comes to Miguel great-great-grandfather it’s obvious to veteran movie watching where the plot actually goes. What prevents the eventual plot twist from harming the movie is characterization. Throughout the movie, several moments in the film are dedicated to displaying the importance of family, and remembering the dead. By having Miguel experience hardship with his family, and seeing there’s more to the Land of the Dead than he original thought. It minimizes the damage the plot twist would of had otherwise if certain aspect of the world weren’t shown. 

 

Another positive is the whole theme of family the movie obviously enforce is heartfelt, even if it won’t make you cry. Miguel family bond is the foundation of the movie, and so whenever it goes for any big emotional scene it feels earned. The natural progression of conflict always remain personal to its characters. As well as add some interesting ideas into the fold. For example, there’s the consequences of being forgotten being shown in a scene in the movie. While the character it happens too won’t make you feel sad for it, it does get across the consequences perfectly. One such thing isn’t rarely ever shown as a negative in family films is the pursuit of a dream. In Coco, it shows how the pursuit can impact the people whom love you, and in a lesser way shows how success can influence those around you negatively. 

COCO
Eating sandals still beat eating Spanish food XD

There’s also the balance of humor, and drama thrown into the mix. It slightly prefers going for drama, but the great pacing always ensures a balance of both. Being able to easily take seriously, while not getting the tone diminish with its humor. Tonally being balanced for the whole film. One slight irritation for the film is some of the Spanglish dialogue. It makes sense nearly all of it would be spoken in English since it’s an English production, but for some unfathomable reason there is the odd Spanish word thrown in. In context it makes sense since it takes place in Mexico so Spanish is abound, but at the same time a country whom primary language is Spanish has a majority of people speaking English. That’s more of a deliberate decision that won’t hurt the film in the long run. What does, like mention earlier, is familiarity. It doesn’t do anything against your expectation for these kind of stories. So it’s really depended on your familiarity with movie watching, but even than it not huge knock against the film since it’s executed right.

 

The voice cast of Coco do a good job in their roles. Anthony Gonzalez (the youngest in the cast at 13) does good in his role. It helps that he doesn’t have to carry the heavy dramatic scenes for someone his age. However, he’s still display range of emotion convincingly. Mostly thanks to him being given good direction, and not simply shouting his line like younger age actors would tend to do. His delivery is also like that of true professional. Treating voice acting as seriously as he would if he were doing it in front of a camera in live action. His best moments are easily when his dialogue revolve around his passion for music, and his delivery comes across as passionate. Expressing the joy music brings to him, and the disappointment that he can’t share it with his family.

Gael Garcia Bernal, who is a pretty good actor, is no surprised that he turned in another good performance. He carries a majority of the film heavily dramatic scenes on his shoulder. Just like he’s able to in live action movies I’ve seen him in, when it comes to voice acting he’s able to bring a high caliber performance into his role as Hector. Coming off as a convincing goofball in the beginning of the film before turning into a tragic character as it progressed without it feeling jarring. Bernal is so good that even in scenes when he does an 180 he pulls it off with ease without ever feeling like he’s breaking the film’s tone. His best scenes are easily the ones when he speaks about wanting to see his daughter again. During these scenes, you simply feel the heartache in Bernal words in his line delivery for some effective dramatic scenes. Needless to say, I’m a bit of a fan of Gael Garcia Bernal as an actor despite me not seeing Spanish language movies frequently. His voice acting performance in Coco, makes me keen to see if he’ll try voice acting again.

coco
Here’s Miguel playing the cords of the Simple Plan song “I’m just a kid”

Supporting cast also do a tremendous job in their role, though Anthony Gonzalez, and Gael Garcia Bernal are the standout. Only other standout performance is Alanna Ubach who is just as good as Gael Garcia Bernal, but with a good singing voice. Hearing her unexpectedly sing in the movie was a nice surprise. The animation isn’t flashy, but the world, and character designs are colorful. Everything in the Land of the Dead is given such vibrant colors to make it pop on screen. It wears it’s Mexican influence in design in pride from the clothing of the characters, to having music players play correct cords on their guitar strings, to capturing the way the people speak. The music in the film is good, though stuff I typically don’t care for. Despite my background of being Hispanic, I actually don’t care for Spanish music.

Coco doesn’t hold a candle to Pixar great movies in terms of writing, but the execution makes it better than it should have been. It has a colorful world that is filled with likable characters, and a heartfelt story about family. It does more than enough right that it’ll make taking the trip worthwhile regardless of age.

8/10