Tag Archives: Animation

Genocidal Organ (2017)

“I’m prepared to protect my world. A world where I can order a jalapeno pizza, and pay for it with my ID thumbprint! Where I can throw away half my Big Mac just because I’m full, and I want too!” – Williams from Genocidal Organ (I thought this line was hilarious both in, and out context. Best reflects this movie in a nutshell)

Politics, conspiracy theories, theology, psychology, and man’s morality are all tricky subject matter to tackle. Let alone all together into a single movie like Genocidal Organ attempts to do. Presenting itself as this intellectually deep film while providing some over the top blood & gore to attract casual viewers. It’s a animated film that requires all your attention to stay awake while watching. If the long talkative scenes that over explain things don’t bore you than the lack of engaging characters will.

Set in a time when Sarajevo was obliterated by a homemade nuclear device, Genocidal Organ story reflects a world inundated with genocide. An American by the name of John Paul seems to be responsible for all of this, and intelligence agent Clavis Shepherd treks across the wasteland of the world to find him and the eponymous “genocidal organ”. The setting of Genocidal Organ is nicely realize painting broad a picture of a semi-dystopia US. Creating the world by going into detail what led the country down the path it did. You’ll get a good grasp at the type of world this movie takes place in, and how exactly characters feel about living under a heavily surveillance country.

The future is nothing, but fire

Too bad the way it’s set up is through jargon dialogue going out of it way to over explain things for the audience. Some of this is reasonable like explaining why there’s a difference in surveillance security in different countries, and how the US adapted to combat terrorists attacks. When it tries to go into the more philosophical it drones on. Theology, politics, linguistics, and so much more will be the subject of a single conversation clunkily moving across these topics. These type of conversations consist throughout the movie making it unnatural sounding to listen too. Heck, the movie has a difficult time keeping mundane talk mundane when injecting these kind of subjects into them needlessly.

Amidst all these ideas are a cast of boring characters. The story dictates the characters we follow don’t feel emotion due to their military training. Our lead Clavis Shepherd slowly starts questioning that over time in the film. This plot point would work if the film presented itself better. There’s a sequence where Clavis, and his team storm into a building to killing a group of children guerrilla fighters. By removing his emotion what one should take away from this moment is difficult to pinpoint. Clavis is a blank slate just coming across as a mouthpiece for the writer to spout his belief making him uninteresting. Conflicting interests clashes with long diatribes against society with brief moments of hyper violence spread across it. Instead of leaving an impression it just fades into the background with seemingly nothing of value added to the story.

Want to know these pods are made out of? To bad, it tells you either way

Characters spend more time discussing ideals they forget to have personalities. Only Williams in the cast shows any personality cracking jokes every one in a while, and bringing up how much he loves his family. He feels human in a story that otherwise dehumanizes it characters down to just mere ideals. Sadly, Williams is not our main character so instead of seeing a amoral conflict developed in the story. We have instead the already amoral Clavis Shepherd becoming infatuated with a woman he barely met. If not for the blank slate that he was Clavis seeing his world in a different would have had a impact. There isn’t enough know about Clavis to make the transition easy to get behind either in his romantic fling, or his world views.

John Paul is sadly generic as one can get for a villain. Spouting the usual humanity is evil dialogue. What takes the cake with this character is his explanation that genocide has a grammar to it. The science behind it makes sense in the film’s context since there are silly sci-fi elements to accept it’s possible. This still doesn’t make for compelling dialogue though. However, he’s a slightly better written character because his motivation is explained, even if questionable how one thing lead to another.

What is not questionable is the fact the film uses John Paul stance against the government to prove a point that sacrificing freedom is a bad thing. If the film accepted the fact John Paul actions to prove his point is equally just as bad it would have been thought provoking. If there’s someone like John Paul capable of causing genocide through mere words would I want sacrifice my freedom to ensure he doesn’t cause harm to me? Instead of thinking about that I wonder why the movie thought justifying mass genocides was a thing it needed to do. There’s no grey area on this topic because all it does is make John Paul the embodiment of a hypocrite. Either change the tragic backstory, or make John Paul a straight up delusional villain to prevent an imbalance between the message of the story, and the film’s villain.

This brief moment is cool though

The Japanese voices take a lost on this one for their performances. All the dialogue is western based, and it simply feels like the Japanese did a literal translation of everything of Western phrases. So the Japanese cast has to awkwardly pause, or speed their delivery to match the lip flap. Instead of localizing certain phrases to sound natural in Japanese the literal translation creates an even more unnatural flow to the dialogue. Plus, the Japanese cast ain’t able to capture, or in some cases attempt to mimic the accent of their characters.

Josh Grelle plays Clavis Shepherd coming off monotone for the entire film. The point of Grelle character is be emotionless, but over time he’s meant to be cracking through the monotonous shell with emotion. Unless Grelle screams, it’s nearly indistinguishable to tell apart when his character changes. Overtime this lack of enunciating his emotions eventually just comes off as stoic.

Ian Sinclair is the most enjoyable actor in the English dub. He gets to show personality unlike the rest of the actors. Being allowed to be funny, serious, and anything in between. Providing the film levity, and dramatic weight it desperately needed where it’s regularly lacking.

Yep, animated gif. Hardly notice the animation.

The film’s was originally animated by Manglobe, and once Manglobe closed down it changed production to Geno Studio. It’s obvious to tell that the film had a rocky production history since details, animations, and background quality shift around. Hair details for example is inconsistent; sometimes the hair is detailed with different shading changing depending on the lighting, and other times it remains the same despite the lighting in a scene. There’s some usage of CG that sticks out, but are used sparingly. One of the highlight is animated sequence done in first person which looks pretty good. 

Animation is fluid when it moves, but noticeably drop in quality when characters still down, and stand still in a scene. Typically using a panning shots from far away to cut down on details on the characters. Environments are very detailed, and since takes place in countries all over the world the change in locale is appreciated. Character designs are hit and miss. Sometimes they look fine, and other times like during the action scenes their faces, or body structure just seem off. Lastly, the film does have a few over the top action sequence that bump up the blood, and gore, but they rarely happen in the movie. In line with the dialogue the music itself feels like an afterthought. There’s nothing remarkable about it. Just being loud, and noisy to fill the scene.

Genocidal Organ is the last film Manglobe had in production before it went into bankruptcy in 2015 before getting finished by Geno Studio. Instead of leaving the anime world on a good note this movie best summarizes Manglobe existence in a nutshell. You have a series of great ideas in Genocidal Organ, but with a less than stellar execution. Sharing its ideas before providing a good story to go along side with it. Manglobe name might be behind some fondly remembered animes, but Genocidal Organ ain’t going to be one of them.

Rating: 3/10

A Letter to Momo (2011)

A Letter To Momo is about the title character Momo recovering from her father’s death, and her mother’s decision to move their family from Tokyo to a remote island. That’s about it to be honest. Well, there is also the whole thing revolving around three Yokai/goblins who are tasked to help Momo cope with her lost. If you’re expecting a drama to tackle the themes of lost, and death you’ll be disappointed. It’s leisure pace makes it more of a relaxing slice of a life than a reflection on hard hitting themes. At the cost depth, the movie remains simple with little added to the premise.

Anything supernatural is given the bare minimum development. It’s good enough to make sense within the story, but lacking in the way that it has little importance in the story overall. The three yokai/goblins in the movie primarily joke around causing mischief to Momo dislike. Each of the three yokai/goblins have distinct personalities with an interesting backstory that is touched on. Their responsibilities on the other hand isn’t touched on quite as much. The methods the yokai use to help Momo cope are a mixed in results; one making a point to have fun, and the other mischievous deed feel pointless. There’s also the supporting characters that hardly influence the movie other than Momo having to become brave. Fine for Momo character since she is a properly developed character by the end, but everyone surrounding her feels more like tools in Momo growth.

Yokai with blank stare, he fears nothing.

Being character driven resulted in a story that has the basics down from setting up the conflict, slowly working towards the protagonist improving herself, and eventually overcoming that problem. It’s just the steps of getting from one point to the other feel disconnected. One sequence involves Momo taking two Yokai to look for food resulting in a chase scene of the three running away from wild boars after the Yokai stole their babies. This chase last a long time adding little to the overarching story. Scenes like these are commonplace in A Letter To Momo. While they are amusing they add up to give an overall feeling the film doesn’t much to offer in theme exploration.

The climax is something of a anomaly since the main conflict is Momo having to accept her father death. Everything before it no matter how sloppily done was intended to be part of her growth. An illness pops up irregularly in the movie, and a expectation that Momo will finally be strong enough to move on if someone else important to her dies. That doesn’t happen opting for a happy that kinda makes sense, and on the other hand is confusing. It felt like writer/director Hiroyuki Okiura wanted to be make a light hearted movie while tackling a serious subject matter, but somewhere in the process he lost his clear direction. Hence the fade to black in the climax that comes out of nowhere, and leaves some questions unanswered. That moment best describe the movie in a nutshell; it has an interest in touching on death, and dealing with it, but not directly dancing around the idea occasionally.

The voice acting from both the Japanese, and English dub cast are wonderful. From the two, I would say go with the English subs. I prefer the English voice of Momo played by Amanda Pace perfectly capturing Momo awkwardness, and inner turmoil. However, where the English dub misses where it counts the most are the voices for the three yokais. In the Japanese cast, Cho (yes, that’s his full name), Koichi Yamadera, and Toshiyuki Nishida whom voice the three main yokai enunciate their characters eccentricities. Their performances, much like their characters, feel exaggerated, and out of this world like they should. While in the English dub, the voice actors downplay the yokais in their performance removing their otherworldly personality. Subduing the supernatural beings did the English dub no favors in the long run since what made them stand out from humans was gone.

When not mundane, this movie has some surprisingly good animation

Animated by Production I.G. the animation leans more on the more realistic side. Sparingly using 3D, the cel animation has a nice, clean, smooth movement throughout. The lack of background characters is noticeable whenever Momo walks outside in broad daylight on the island, but other than that the animation has little faults to it. This doesn’t mean it’s a spectacle either since most of the activity in the film are mundane. The few times where the fluid animation gets to shine is either during a chase sequence, or when multiple characters are being hyperactive.

Hiroyuki Okiura shines through more as a director than he does a writer. One instance being his usage of cinematography. There’s a scene early on in the movie perfectly establishing how shy Momo is with her remaining silent for several minutes as family around her joyously talk to each other. Okiura doesn’t draw attentions to his character more subtle traits through dialogue which is appreciated. Characters subtly grow, and change without it being told to you directly. His eye for details creates a realistic backdrop through soft, and dim colors in his environments. Providing lovely scenery shots of the ocean, and the small island town. Also, seeing our characters have a change of clothes throughout the movie, a detail that is ignored by a lot animation, is a nice a touch, even if it’ll go largely unnoticed.

Well this is….strange, and amusing at once.

In terms of animation the standout sequence is easily in the climax with dozen upon dozen of different yokais being animated, meshing together to basically form one giant umbrella, and with multiple moving parts. My description of the sequence can’t do it justice since there’s more to it like the flowing hair in the wind, the raindrops splitting apart when hitting a monster, the different individuals monsters moving around frequently, and other small details that would be difficult to capture through mere text. No other sequence in the entire movie comes close matching this impressive feat of animation. The music is composed by Mina Kubota comprising tracks that are soothing, whimsical, and calm. It’s a nice soundtrack to play with the nice visuals.

If half an hour was cut from A Letter To Momo I would have favored it a bit more. By lingering around too much the intended effect it wanted to have become lost to me. Sure it’s a solid movie with amusing moments, and good character growth, but there’s also not enough meat to the overarching story that made it feel it was worth it’s two hour run time. The final result of the movie isn’t what it could have been. I came out confuse by it execution even though the intent was clear. In the end A Letter To Momo is a solid anime. 


Battle of Surabaya (2015)

Most of the animation I watch is either from the US, or from Japan with everything else being a detour. Korea, China, Britain, Russia, and a few others I can name you at least one piece of animation that I liked from those countries. One of the many places I currently can’t do that for is Indonesia. Be it they don’t have much of a animation industry, or they’re just don’t get US distribution makes the experience of watching Battle of Surabaya (also known as November 10th in some places) all the more sour.

Out in the horizon, there’s a better animated movie.

Acting more like a cliff notes version of complex politics, and history Battle of Surabaya never finds it footing. This stems from the fact the historical events is merely a backdrop for half of the movie in favor of Musa’s coming of age story. Unless you’re familiar with this portion of this post WW2 history you’re likely to be loss in the all important events that take place. All of it feels rushed since the film doesn’t properly establish a semblance of time when all these events happen. In other cases provides too much information at the cost of a coherent story while rushing through significant moments. Making it difficult to figure how one event naturally lead to another major event.

You have the Japanese, the Dutch army, you have the Indonesian Rebel group, the BKR, TKR, the Allied forces, and the Kipas Hitam. I’m pretty sure I forgot a few other groups involved in the revolution because of how much is crammed in. All the while not including the possibly fictional, and real historical figures used in the story. With all of this going on in the background there’s no time to give important events they need to develop naturally. Instead of recounting history it has a subplot about ninja warfare which as far I can tell from my limited research did not happen. Using all the violent events, and turn Indonesian take to deliver a hamfisted message that war is bad. If the movie didn’t tell me war was bad I would have thought war was good thing seeing how Musa lose so many people close to him in the war.

When the movie is focused on our shoe shiner lead Musa everything is still as clumsy. Consistently being unable to transition between tones properly when shifting from the prominent romance to the background war of Indonesia. There’s a sequence that is setup to imply Musa is being chased by someone who wants to kill him only to reveal it’s his friend/love interest Yumna. This falsely build up tension scene is followed by a cheesy romantic stroll Indonesia with yes a even cheesier pop song. Unlike every other connection Musa has in the movie his relationship with Yumna works in service of the story.

Man, this sequence as painful to watch

The comedy on the other hand is just plain bad. Taking inspiration from anime for its sense of humor. At best the humor is questionable since what passes off for jokes in the movie will leave one wondering if they were meant to laugh. One sequence includes Musa uncle allowing Musa to fire a gun at a military base. When Musa fires the gun he nearly kills another soldier, and the movie cheery music tries to pass it up as a joke. I find it hard to laugh at a man nearly getting shot dead by Musa considering it also wants me to feel sad when Musa loses people close to him.

There’s another scene in the movie where Musa is running away from some soldiers. During this sequence that is meant to be filled with high tension you’ll get a comedic prat fall out of nowhere. That’s not the only time either, towards the finale of the movie when Musa is being chased by adults who want to kill him the insertion of comedy kills any tension. Why someone thought in the English dub the act of riding a cow was funny is about baffling as to why not all the dialogue is dubbed into English!

The forefront romance is also lacking in being an emotional pull. This mostly falls on Musa who doesn’t have much to him as a character. Musa mother for instant eventually dies in the movie, but Musa hardly spend any time with her making his mother death lack impact. His mother death isn’t delved into, nor does it have much effect on Musa. His love for his country isn’t properly developed since it doesn’t spend enough time on him soaking in the joys of Indonesia. Biggest drawback from this is the lack of progression of Musa losing his innocent view of the world when the war takes everything away from him. He merely accepts it, and that’s all.

When still, there’s still so much to pick on

Yumna is the only character in the movie who comes out unscathed by the bad writing. She gets a complete arc, a sympathetic backstory, and is more in touch with her love for her country. Providing a clear understanding of how much she cherish Indonesia compared to Musa where it doesn’t come across as strongly. While she might be in a supporting role she has a lot going on in her storyline that doesn’t merely involve her moving around places.

Side characters are typically one dimensional. Resulting in some questionable development that out of left field. One of them includes an adult, Danu, having romantic feelings for a young girl. Don’t worry, the young girl friendzone him, and it’s forgotten about. The film’s villain, John Wright is silly. He’s meant to be the embodiment of someone purely using violence to end all wars. This could have been interesting, but instead there’s a series of questionable decisions that come with all badly written villains.

Lastly, I have to take about one specific scene in the movie because it came out of nowhere. So a group of military soldiers (can’t remember which because there’s so many factions) driving by a food stand. John Wright stops the car, and takes out a type of machine gun. He proceeds to shoot a jar of rice with the word freedom written on it because it’s the quickest way to get across he’s the villain. A regular movie would have stopped here, but the scene continue with John Wright pulling out a grenade, and destroying the food stand! It was unintentionally hilarious, and I laughed in the utter shock of it.

Oh man, the horror of this bad animation.

Directed by Aryanto Yuniawan, and animated by MSV Pictures brings us some very choppy animation. You’ll be accustomed to seeing missing frames in animation, characters changing position or size whenever there’s a cut, and can not forget the 3D that sticks out a like a sore thumb. Copy, and pasting obvious 3D models, and multiplying similar looking models to ensure it’s hard to miss.

Rarely does the animation move smoothly leaving plenty to be desired. Especially on the character designs since they lack shading, and details in the hair are regularly missing. It’s an ugly movie to look at, especially in the climax where everything that can go wrong in animation does go wrong. When too much to handle, playing missing continuity adds to the fun. If you’re not distracted by the frequently misplaced, or distorted characters designs in different cuts of the same scene.

The only aspect of the animation that’s remotely passable are the environments. Since the background doesn’t have to move the animators put some details into the background to look okay. Other times the lack in depth of perspective make everything flat, even the characters interacting with the environment.

Even in SD, this hurts my eyes!

Aryanto biggest failure aside from the poor mixture of romance, comedy, and war drama is his handling of scenes. Instead of opting for something possible within his studio capability you’ll get some ugly, and ambition scenes. One of these include Yumna in a ninja outfit breaking into a military stronghold taking out other ninja with badly rendered 3D environment. This specific sequence makes it impossible to believe that the 2D character is moving in a 3D plain.

The English dub is downright terrible! None of the actors sounded convincing in their roles. Musa voice actor, Alistair Hendry, can’t figure out what accent to give to Musa changing it every so couple of scenes. Would have been forgivable if he didn’t sound monotone through the whole thing. Surprisingly, none of the main cast are actually the worst actors, but it’s the ones in bit roles. These bit role voice actors come out of nowhere to have some awful line delivery. Generally sounding like they use the first take, and didn’t bother with doing any more.

Indonesian animation is an area that’s completely unexplored for me, but at one point so was anime. In the same way my first exposure to Chinese animation (a movie called 10,000 Years Later) wasn’t a good one I’m still keeping an open mind about Indonesia animation. Assuming I can ever find another animated film Indonesia made with some viewable access. If not, well, Battle of Surabaya still wouldn’t be something I would recommend for anyone.

Rating: 2/10

Cinema-Maniac: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

If you enjoy watching animation of any kind you’ll eventually come across a debate of people arguing what’s most important in animation. Typically you’ll have one person saying that writing is more important than animation, and another person saying animation is more important. A common debate I ignore simply for the fact that storytelling is a balancing act of both writing, and visuals. Undermining the importance of either by placing greater importance on one trait is something I go against. For me, it’s typically about the execution itself more so than the individual parts. There might be weaknesses in the creation of any media, but by the end of it how well it was done matters more to me. Today’s movie is undoubtedly a case of style over substance offering nothing new in its storytelling, but still provides something worth checking out, in particular its animation.

Sit down boy for I have a story as old as me.

Kubo and the Two Strings follows the title character, a young boy named Kubo (Art Parkinson) who must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past. Fantasy anything love to use the classic trope of collecting three of mystical items during your journey to vanquish great evil. This is set up through a fictional story that Kubo tells the towns folk pretty early on in the movie. Not deviating from that path for part of it detriment. Creating the biggest issue of predictability. Unfortunately Kubo’s mother is to blame for this mcguffin sharing her story with Kubo, and in turn the movie dedicating an entire sequence to showing the audience what happens on the eventual journey Kubo takes.

The story told here doesn’t offer anything new, and still acts like it does. There’s a obvious plot twist regarding the true identity of two other characters who join Kubo on his journey. This plot twist wouldn’t be so predictable to see coming if the film actually bother having more important characters to throw you off. I would have personally just made the mystical charm protector Monkey (Charlize Theron) protector, and a amnesiac samurai Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) be different characters instead of what the movie actually did. Something else the movie does in raging success is removing any sense of adventure. Everything just feels like it all falls into place for Kubo, and due to the quick pacing there’s no sense of accomplishment garner from the journey.

Another disservice that comes with staying within the story path is alluding to more complex ideas, but keeping them simplistic. The backstory behind how Kubo parents met implies Kubo is hiding from a much greater role that his mother didn’t tell him about. However, instead delving into the details of what that could be the movie just moves on. It does this for a number of things choosing to entertain a younger audience without trusting them to handle something complex. None of this is better exemplify than the false threat that are referred to as the Sisters; who are basically supernatural like entity related to Kubo mother who goals are to kill the mother, and take Kubo. Aside from the obligatory first, and final encounter with Kubo group the Sisters are non threatening. If the Sisters were human it would be reasonable why they are always behind Kubo, and his group, but dedicating dialogue to bluntly tell the audience they don’t need to sleep, or eat brings it up the forefront of how lacking in stakes the film has overall.

Even against a giant skeleton, no there’s no feeling of stakes.

What suffers the most from the overly simplistic writing is the villain motivation being all over the place. It’s revealed early on that the villain wants Kubo eye, but for what exactly is left unanswered. Covering the lack of sensible motivation under an idealistic fight of embracing emotions, or detaching oneself from it. The last thing I would criticize is something crucial to the movie, and that is the lack of conflict between the characters. Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle get along just fine with little arguments between each other. Without much of a conflict to overcome from each other while working together there’s no sense that the group learned to cooperate together. So when the eventual reveal of Beetle, and Monkey identities happen it doesn’t feel like the group is united through organic means.

You’ll see every plot point coming before it happens, but the good thing are the characters at fleshed out. They never become engaging characters because the movie tells you their fates ahead of time. Leaving no room to fear for their life. Everything else surrounding these characters is interesting, especially their past. While I complained about the structure of the story there’s the compliment everything played out naturally, and was foreshadowed properly. No resolution in the movie feels convoluted because of it. Another good choice in the writing was to not take itself too seriously. Understanding this kind story has been done to death it does it best to be fun before it eventually has to get serious towards the climax. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything it tackles in the story. Never reaching the poignant stage it wants everything that should function in the story works like it should.

Look at that animation. So smooth!

Easily the best part of Kubo and the Two Strings is the stop motion animation done by Laika studio. Everything is nicely detailed, and moved very smoothly. My favorite moment in the movie is easily the scene where Kubo uses origami paper to tell a story to the town folk. The origami paper is able to shift into different complex shapes leading to impressive visuals. You’ll both awed by how visually creative it is, and be wondering how did Laika studio pull it off. Being in doubt inspired by Eastern culture you’ll see certain designs in buildings, and clothing that are distinctively Japanese. With the story granting Laika the opportunity to create a number of different landscapes they take full advantage of it. They don’t forget the small details either like animating Monkey fur blow in the wind in several scenes.

The best sequence that shows off Laika animation talent is a sequence that takes place in a cave. Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle basically fight against a giant walking skeleton while looking for a sword. This sequence is quite daunting to imagine animating because the skeleton is larger with bigger body pieces, and almost all of them have to be moved individually to look smoothly animated. Not to forget having to animate the actual smaller characters while the giant skeleton is moving. Once there’s dozen of smaller pieces crumbling from the ceiling does the sight of several dozen moving pieces make you realize what a nightmare it must have been to do all this with stop motion animation, and impressive feat the sequence it was accomplished. There’s also another brief sequence where Kubo uses origami papers to make dozen of paper birds fly. While smaller in scale it’s still feast for the eyes. Of course, can’t for forget about the surprisingly good lighting in the movie, and even using shadowing effects to properly get it right. Putting plenty of efforts in the animation it makes a predictable story at least visually interesting.

The origami animation in this movie is terrific. 

The voice has a good cast with the likes of Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, George Takei (in a bit role), and Ralph Fiennes being the big names of the cast. Each of them do a good job in their roles, though the number of big names is more impressive than their actual performances. Charlize Theron is the caring mother, Matthew McConaughey is the comedic relief, Rooney Mara is adversary, and Ralph Fiennes the imposing villain. From this list Theron comes out the best creating very sympathetic character. When she says something caring she feel genuine in expressing that through her line delivery.

Art Parkinson who plays the title character of Kubo I would give the biggest round of applause too. Being the youngest in the cast (14 around the time of the movie release) he handles himself well in the role like he’s been voice acting his whole life. He hits all the right notes every time regardless of the scene he’s. Finding the right balance of portraying his young character without ever making Kubo come off as pouty, annoying, or a too much of a cry baby. Parkinson best moments comes when he’s alone expressing the lost he feels in certain scenes. If he decides to, Art Parkinson can have a great career in voice acting.

Kubo, and the Two Strings is a standard movie elevated by stellar animation. You might have seen the story a dozen time, but never quite through the visual flourish provided by Laika stop motion animation. There’s not much to look into on the story front, but on a technical level there’s a lot admire.

Rating: 7/10

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.

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. 

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.

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.


Cinema-Maniac: Watership Down Review

(This review was originally posted on Rotten Tomatoes on June 26, 2013. I chose to posted here since it’s been in the Criterion Collection for a long time. I remember sending one of the folks who works for the company about this film. I doubt my email alone persuaded them, but its good to know I was one who was pushing for this film when it was under the radar in the mainstream.)

The animation genre is the most enduring genre for lighthearted family entertainment. With their colorful visuals, and freely imaginative world this sort of escapism is the main reason Watership Down is not recognized as a classic. It’s not a lighthearted, or cheery family film of any sort one simply just sits back and view. It’s more of a reflection on yourself, and the nature of the living world. Not only it is a significant piece of animation tackling real world issues, but also carries an uncommonly powerful emotional weight for such an unlikely group of character.

Watership Down is about a group of rabbits fleeing their doomed warren and facing many dangers to find and protect their new home. The premise despite sounding like it’s aimed at children does not succumb to downplaying its own premise. It even goes as far as tackling sadism, fascism, and creationism into the mix. Telling a mature story with an adult delivery. The plot is very dark more so than you might expect. It explores the subject of death and survival as we experience the dangerous and tragic journey with our rabbits. The rabbits are constantly fighting against their environment for a better home. What would have simply been a plot point in another film can be linked to how society breaks down, debate between those who want freedom from the old ways, and those who still cling on to it with power. On the surface it’s an effective film about survival with relatable characters regardless of the species difference. Underneath it is level of depth that gives the film a far more rewarding intellectual experience.

Martin’s Rosen direction for the film is flawless. The animation employs richly detailed hazy watercolor backdrops with naturalistic colors to the characters that inhabit it. This creates a sense of a realism into the world fitting into the mood it presents. One of the biggest highlights is the divine music combined with the Aztec style animations as Fiver tries to find Hazel, a simultaneous mixture of uplifting and depressing feel. This one scene will leave you lost for words. The voice talent on offer ranging from Denholm Elliot to Richard Briers is nothing short of perfect. The voice actor portray their roles with such dedication that the fact they’re talking animals won’t bother you and in the case of Harry Andrews he comes off as menacing as General Woundwort despite voicing a rabbit.
Going off topic I already feel I made my point by now on what makes Watership Down an under-appreciated masterpiece. Bold statement I know to call such an unknown film a masterpiece, but here’s another reason why I personally see it that way. Often the first thing that goes to anyone mind when it comes to animation is Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, Studio Ghibli, and so many other studios. It’s mostly the cheering and family friendly feature that are most fondly remembered by their audiences. As with the case with many of these films the message delivery contains a simple execution, bright colors, and a single moral around it. That’s where Watership Down stands out from the pack. It’s more gritty, not afraid to frighten to kids, and show kids the more complicated dilemma of the world the way they are. I hold a belief that kids can handle anything you throw at them so long you provide a happy ending with your story. The ending here is bittersweet, but the last images that play out is one of an enlighten mood of outcome.

Watership Down is a masterpiece that best represent animation, and goes beyond what is expected of such a genre. From a dramatic standpoint it is tragic, uplifting, inspirational, and bittersweet. Even if you don’t read into the depths of it plot it holds moving story about survival. Containing themes and character relatable present in everyday life. Making Watership Down one of the significant film animated films in all of film making.


Anime-Breakdown: Aldnoah.Zero (2014) Series Review

Spoiler Warning: This review will spoil specific plot points in certain episodes in order to provide examples of why Aldnoah.Zero writing fails for a number of reasons. While I attempted to keep spoilers to a minimum, it’s best recommended to avoid reading this for those who have an interest in checking out Aldnoah.Zero and don’t want anything to be spoiled. In a nutshell, Aldnoah.Zero has the aesthetic for a great series, but no substance to support it not offering anything in between all the eye candy. If you plan to continue reading past this point you have been warned.

“Fiat justitia ruat caelum” is a Latin phrase that means justice must be achieved no matter the consequences. Its usage varies depending on who uses the phrase, especially those among writers in any media, but it has significant value in history prevalent in important court cases where a judge reflects on the duty of the Court. Why do I bring this quote up? This is Aldnoah.Zero tagline that is shown alongside the anime logo in the opening animation. Except it’s translated to “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall” in English. Not only is it a misuse of the quote because of A.) Politics don’t exist in Aldnoah.Zero, B.) Heroes aren’t in any danger because of it’s lead character, C.) villains don’t face the consequences despite going against direct orders from their superiors, and finally it’s a one sided conflict that’s black and white with no significant meaning tied to it. Aldnaoh.Zero is a plain and simple a mecha anime about good versus evil. Yet even with that much simplicity no amount of eye candy is able to disguise the poor writing of the anime.

Unredeemable: Nonsensical Story

Aldnoah.Zero takes place in the futuristic year of 2014. Basically last year at the time of posting this review. I double checked around the internet and some local newspapers just to make sure this anime wasn’t based around any true events. If they were based on true events than this anime would have played out differently with some level of logic. The anime follows main character Inaho who is thrust into a world of conflict when a peace mission goes disastrously wrong. Everything about it first episode is a mess in writing. It’s bad in establishing the setting, introducing characters, and creating a central conflict that have a sense of weight to it. What exactly it was trying to achieve in its first episode is unfathomable.

Within this first episode characters provide a quick summarization of a war that occurred in the past in some unnatural exposition. Apparently Vers and Terrans aren’t really all that different since both race when boil down are basically humans. It is also explained that Princess Asseylum is attempting to ease the tension between Vers and the Terrans who I’ll refer to as Earthicans. As soon as something bad happened to Princess Asseylum the Vers Empire immediately launches a military invasion on Earth. A race of species that is more technologically advance than Earthicans apparently doesn’t know how politics function. This one moment becomes further questionable when shown a sick emperor in bed and told he has authority over the Orbital Knights (basically Vers military). The Vers Emperor didn’t issue an attack on Earth to start a war, yet he does nothing to punish those who killed possibly millions. He even goes as far as calling a ceasefire with Earthicans to negotiate peace which goes nowhere near a brain cell in the story. Orbital Knights can do whatever they want without repercussions. In episode 8, Saazbaum, a high ranking Orbital Knight kills another high ranking Orbital Knight and this is never brought up again, nor is the fact he kidnapped a prisoner who was being tortured for information mentioned to him.

For the central characters, they are never in any danger because of leading character Inaho is the solution for any battle. The other characters don’t get the opportunity to contribute in a battle lessening the group dynamic and eliminating the purpose of teamwork. Inaho plans always work out due to luck or plot conveniences. Usually his plans have smart setup to them. Like in episode 3, Inaho uses a toy plane in order to determine what kind of camera a specific Vers mech is using and how it functions in recording its surrounding. Then the actual plan itself throws away logic in order to write a scenario that best suited to make an action scene around. Opting for escapism over intensity which fails due to how it was set up only to be ruined by good luck in execution.

Still on episode 3, it’s established that a mech uses drones in order for its pilot to see the area around him. In a later episode it shows the Vers empire have developed some sort of teleportation device for communication. So by this anime logic; something difficult like teleportation is achievable for this race, but apparently not allowing it’s own pilot to control its own camera drones from within their own robot is not. No matter how often the anime claims the Vers Empire has the superior technology oversights like these show up regularly which can’t be forgiven. Escapism itself is broken when down the line another plot point will either break that immersion by what it reveals or create more nonsense. The thought of how these Martians who have superior technology, yet act so stupid never leaves the mind.

One major problem as a whole in the anime is the lack of weight that comes from a worldwide invasion. It never gets across that this war between the Earthicans and Vers Empire is a global issue. Only focusing on a single group never bringing up how other parts of the world are holding up. With a self-contained mindset this central conflict feels less like a major catastrophe by the way it chose to depict it. A small scale approached backfires when the central characters are static when introduced all the way to the end. Supporting characters do change somewhat, but they aren’t the focus feeling free to just leave their storylines dangling in the finale.

Episode 1 shows a Vers mech using lasers, but other robots Inaho and his group fights against use practical weapon like swords or projectile arms. Despite in several battles Inaho proves with limited training he’s able to overcome any opponent that uses a practical weapons. Vers never change up their tactics, even when it has a success rate of zero percent. Vers strategy comes down to only sending down a single one of their mech pilot to fight against large numbers of Earthicans mech pilots. Not once in this season do the Vers Orbital Knights ever mention perhaps sending two experienced pilots to fight against Inaho since he poses a major obstacle for them. Another issue regarding the weaponry are the soldiers of Vers do have guns, but for unexplained reasons gun type weapons aren’t made for their mechs and if they are not implemented in battles.

The anime also explains what kind of power source the Vers Empire uses for their technology. Once this plot point gets explained it further questions the villain’s motive. Basically, if the only two people who are able to provide power die Vers is as good as dead. Now from the villain’s perspective it makes no sense to eliminate the only source of power for your own species. The villain claims he wants to help the masses, but still goes with his plan to kill the royal family, even though they are the key to supplying their planet with energy.

The final episode of Aldnoah.Zero first season is awful and unfulfilling in every sense. At this point, none of the central cast are developed to care about and the one supporting character who has potential is pushed to the sideline in the finale. Like in previous episodes, there is no sense of suspense on the character’s livelihood as they already have victory in their hands by plot convenience and enemy pilot stupidity. Inaho doesn’t struggle much to fight against a pilot whose mech is a combination of mechs that he already fought. With that alone, it guarantees his victory because at this point it proves Vers aren’t intelligent despite the writing claims that they are. How it ends is weak and purely for shock value. Narratively it’s a horrible ending because it forgets to inform the viewer status of Earth, which is at war with Vers. Only offering a narration of what happened to the characters it focused on. Leaving the fate of its central characters ambiguous isn’t bad, but in this case when the characters are one dimensional who really cares what happens to them.

Unredeemable: Shallow, inconsistent characters, and miss opportunities

Inaho Kaizuka is a young teenager of average height, short tousled black hair, and our lead character. He’s stoic and despite what his sister claims about him being human in episode 10, Inaho never actually shows human emotion. When he does show emotion it’s out of character; in episode 1 Inaho expresses his interest in buying eggs that are on sale. Within the same episode, a couple minutes later Inaho sees Princess Asseylum of Mars killed in front him, remaining stoic at the sight of it. Showing no concern despite the clear consequences of the assassination he has just witnessed. Later on in the series the anime attempts to ship Inaho with Princess Asseylum which simply does not work because of this one moment. So any affection Inaho shows to his “love interest” is as artificial as the robot he uses. Expecting you to believe he developed emotion for his “love interest” when he showed no reaction when he saw her presumably die in the first episode.

As a leading character events magically have a way working out for Inaho even though it’s establish in episode one he’s a trainee of the military. Somehow, with minimal training, he surpasses Martian pilots who have had more experience under their belt in actual combat. It’s not because he smart that he wins. It’s either due to plot convenience, his enemy being stupid, or a mixture of both. Another skill Inaho has over his far more experience comrades is the ability to move out of the way of attacks. This godly power can’t be obtain by the other pilots. All of which are usually standing around in front of an enemy attack until they get killed. Granted evasion should be obligatory in basic combat training, but if allowed so Inaho wouldn’t be the overpowered self insert lead that he is.

In episode ten, Inaho claims that anyone that fights against the same enemy on his side he considers an ally. A statement that is completely proven false in episode seven when he shoots the plane of a Vers pilot that helped him fight for an entire episode. These inconsistencies further weaken the anime when Inaho has no consistent traits let alone a consistent philosophy to believe in. Inaho becomes as much of a plot device as everyone else he interacts with. Finally, Inaho is the character that delivers a speech about how war is used to gain something and ends until the objective is met or the cost outweighs the gain. Not a bad position to take when voicing your thoughts on war, except this character has never shown sympathy when killing his enemy nor ever mentally coped with taking someone’s life. He says within the same speech here cares for no such emotion to gain anything in war. So this whole war speech in the final episodes coming from a lead who said he himself “I care for no emotions” is forced to sound deep and makes Inaho full of himself.

Another major character is Princess Asseylum (who I refer to as Princess Ass since she doesn’t give a shit) is the embodiment of Aldnoah.Zero problems. Easy on the eyes and pleasing, but shallow with no identity of her own. The anime only gives her positive traits like acting like a child when she’s learning about Earth with Inaho and desiring doing the right thing. She looks nice on the surface, but that’s all. In actuality she’s a terrible character. Asseylum has been friends with another major character, Slaine Troyard, for five years showing no concern for him throughout her near death experiences. When reversed, Inaho proved in about a week’s time showing no emotion he’s able to capture Princess Asseylum’s heart. In context, the anime wanting to ship Inaho and Asseylum makes no sense given how little time they’ve known each other. It’s also brought up in a episode she knew someone was trying to kill her, and doesn’t bother to take extra security just to be cautious in case anything happens. Then again, the Earthicans don’t bother giving her protection when they attempt to keep her safe so I shouldn’t be surprised.

Slaine Troyard (not the only pointless reference to Greek mythology) is another poorly written character. His conflict of wanting to be accepted by the Vers Empire is worth investing on paper. Having to overcome the racist mindset of his superior officers and being treated like scum. In execution it’s the opposite, creating scenarios forced to make the viewer care for him. There’s an entire episode dedicated to Slaine being tortured, which doesn’t since in the same episode, it shows Princess Asseylum without care enjoying the day. This episode’s impact is lessened when the entire Vers race is one dimensional and not given any redeeming values to perceive them as actual people.

Supporting characters, just like the main three, that receive tons of screen time are merely plot devices. There was potential with the character Marito to create a satisfying subplot. His back story is compelling, has likable traits by being himself, and has a strong personal turmoil that he can’t immediately overcome. Seeing Marito struggle and trying his best to improve himself provides the best moments in the anime. Unfortunately, by the finale his subplot is left unresolved.

Another wasted opportunity is with character Yuki Kaizuka (Inaho’s sister). Like Marito, Yuki carries a permanent scar from war with her. Unlike Marito conflict, Yuki war scar is resolved quickly and has no important use afterwards. The thought of her brother being an expressionless killing machine never bothers her either. When one of Inaho friends asks Yuki why Inaho is expressionless. She answers by saying yes, he does. A wasted opportunity to develop Inaho beyond a stoic lead, and a miss opportunity to explore what kind of life, Yuki had with Inaho since the status of their parents’ livelihood is never brought up. Other minor supporting characters serve a single purpose. There’s one created to simply die, there’s one that created to be simply racist against Earthicans, there’s one simply created to be sick so the Vers can have power, and so on.

Rayet Areash the worst of the supporting cast being given a position in the anime similar to that of Gavrilo Princip. The anime attempts to paint her in a sympathetic light, except for the fact that it was her fault as well that millions of people got killed. Forgetting this fact, it dedicates an entire scene in episode 10 where she blames Princess Asseylum for something out of her control. Somehow she’s able to make Princess Asseylum feel guilty. This is the equivalent of making Archduke Franz Ferdinand the villain and making him apologize for being assassinated. It doesn’t work that way, even in fictional context when the entire starting point for the story’s existence is because she helped in the assassination. For unexplained reasons, she’s also allowed to do whatever she wants on a military base.

Then there’s the villain Saazbaum who is about as well thought out as the writing in the anime. This character personifies how nonsensical the writing is in physical form. For starter, his motive contradicts his goal. He hates the royal family for manipulating the masses, but the first episode the emperor sends his daughter to Earth for a peace mission. He also initiates an attack on Earth without consulting the emperor. Despite his intentions to help the masses, he fully should grasp the consequences of his own action by attempting to eliminate the only source of power for the Vers Empire. These two points don’t add up; just like the Vers technology and their actual intelligence. The writing never treats the characters it creates as actual characters. They’re a means as story devices and nothing more.

Good: Production side of the anime is generally good

The animation is a joint effort between A-1 Pictures and Troyca. Together they create an anime that all around looks great. It clearly has a high budget incorporating both 2D animation with nice looking 3D robot models that aren’t distracting. Environments in general tend to come across as being large and empty. Since our heroes are on the move battles, mostly take place in environments where nothing much is happening in the background. In some cases, it is put into good use to keep an action scene moving in an large environment as well as showing some environmental destruction. In one action scene, the size of an environment is use to its advantage when Inaho has to stop an attack from a Vers mech on an ship he’s on.

However, the biggest drawback is there’s no visual scale growth in the battles. One of the few memorable scenes in Aldnoah.Zero is in the first episode where an explosion has a similar impact to that of an atomic bomb hitting Earth. Buildings crumbles, cars are blown away by a gust of wind, onlooker to the site are in shock, and it’s large scale destruction implants what a serious threat the Vers Empire is. Everything else, past this moment feels smaller in comparison. There isn’t another scene that visually comes close to matching the mass destruction in episode one. All the characters have appealing looking design no matter the situation. Especially Slaine, who even when being tortured looks good! Particle effects are in no short supply to adding more visual flair to the battles.

One questionable decision in the animation would be the mechs even when stationary are still in 3D. It makes sense in a action scene to use 3D since the thirdimension offer more maneuverability than a 2D plane, but it comes across lazy when mechs are stationed and simply there to show off its high budget. The downside to the animation is the awful staging of the action scenes. Going more for visuals splendor than actual staging. So in most battles there will be multiple mech stationed in one position accepting their death or shooting to hold off an enemy attack. Without a single creative battle that avoid doing these things action scenes are a one time deal for entertainment.

Voice acting is serviceable. The writing didn’t offer much in anything so the voice cast are stuck with what they are given. Natsuki Hanae plays protagonist Inaho and he’s stoic throughout the series. His vocals, mostly stay in emotionless delivery range sounding uninterested in anything. It’s not a compelling performance because there’s no range, but he does portray how the character was written properly. Then there’s Kensho Ono, who plays Slaine, who has a slightly more open role. He gets to scream in pain when his character is tortured, sound serious, concerned, and in the finale near hysterical when he goes insane. Ono role is similar to Hanae where in both performance they have to repeat themselves. Sora Amamiya plays princess Asseylum. It’s passable in general. When Amamiya portrays the more innocent and childlike side of Asseylum she’s convincing as Asseylum, but when in a dramatically heavy scene she falls short. She’s sounds like she’s on autopilot delivering most of her dramatic material with little variation no matter the context of a scene.

The supporting cast in general suffer from the same handicap that Natsuki Hanae is given in which they mostly portrayed a single character trait. This is especially true for voice actors that get casted as Vers Martians. Show Hayami who plays Cruhte only yells for his time on screen. Only having one tone voice in the series. Inori Minase plays Edderlrittuo and sounds like a little girl. It’s an appropriate performance getting across Eddelrittuo sisterly love towards Princess Asseylum.

Tooru Ookawa plays Saazbaum and unlike Hayami who’s allowed a single scene to change up his act Ookawa isn’t as fortunate. His performance isn’t bad, but it’s a single note role where one line delivery is no different from line another delivery. Takahiro Sakurai plays Trillram and thanks to his more expressive character taking delight in killing people. He’s the most enjoyable screen presence out of all the pilots that Inaho fight against. Yuki Kaida plays Femieanne, Hiroki Yasumoto plays Vlad, and Mamiko Noto, who plays Orlane aren’t as lucky in playing interesting villains. They lack the proper screen time to make something out of their role being forgettable once off screen. Sachika Misawa plays Rayet Areash. While the character is full of herself Misawa performance is fine since she does her best to make her character sympathetic despite what she did. There is a scene in episode 10 where she’s allowed to express her dislike for the Vers empire and it’s a highlight for her performance.

Any Japanese voice actor playing an Earthican gets sideline eventually into the background. Unlike the voice actors that play a Vers. Earthicans voice actors don’t have a single episode where they’re given a highlight moment to show off their acting chops. They get stuck in a single note sometime delivering the same lines of dialogue word for word in different episodes. Ai Kayano who plays Darzana Magbaredge and Yuu Shimamura who plays Kaoru Mizusaki have this problem. Whenever they share a scene together, it plays out the same getting repetitive over time.

The best voice actor in the cast regardless of what race he portrays is Kazuya Nakai and that’s because he plays Kouichirou Marito. His character suffers mental turmoil while on the outside, he shows a free caring personality. Nakai is allowed the freedom to vocalize different sides of a single character more so than anyone in the cast. When he mentally breaks down it’s believable through his delivery. His performance is the most interesting because he’s funny, likable, and a compelling actor in the role. It’s a shame that his character isn’t fully use to his full potential in order to create a good character.

The soundtrack is composed by Hiroyuki Sawano mixing ambient and techno music with aggressive synthesizers, beats, even some 8-bit and a few thunderous orchestral compositions thrown in with Japanese singers singing German lyrics. The music is all around a great fit for the anime and when used correctly in its placement creates some stellar scenes. In episode 1, the musical piece “aLIEz” sung by mizuki is played during a scene of mass destruction is instantly memorable. It’s not as demoralizing seeing an atomic bomb like explosion at the sight of a more technically advance race, wiping out humans with ease, but it’s a cool scene none the less. As great as the music might be there tracks that get reused frequently. In particular the track “BRE@THLESS” sung by mizuki is used in a number of action scenes. Preferably when there’s a chase scene this track will likely play. Losing what made them exciting musical pieces in the first place.

The anime has a single theme song that’s also used as the ending theme in episode 1 is titled “Heavenly Blue” by Kalafina. Despite the less than stellar opening animation “Heavenly Blue” manages to create a strong atmosphere with orchestral composition along with a catchy chorus. It does feel slightly phoned in since there’s not an extra push or power to the track that really demands your attention. The following tracks are sung by mizuki are “aLIEz” used as an ending theme in episode 4, 7-8, 10-11 and “A/Z” in 2-3, 5-6, 9. “aLIEz” loses some of its impact since it’s used frequently in the series failing to rekindle the same feeling when hearing it for the first time. While the usage in the anime distracts from its impact over time the track is a great listen. “A/Z” is more of a techno side with 8-bit beats that’s more optimistic in general. In both tracks mizuki vocals add to the songs; in “aLIEz” her vocals are on a level of opera singing those high notes beautifully sounding as epic as the instrumentals. In “A/Z” she sounds almost robotic like which is fitting for the track. Sawano score is fantastic, but how it’s used in the anime tends to undermine it.

Personal Enjoyment: It killed some brain cells

Usually the first time I ever see an anime I don’t go in them with a critical mindset. Although, fleshed out characters and a story that have working elements is part of the requirement for an anime to be enjoyable for me. However, the first episode did so many things poorly that I couldn’t simply see it without critical thinking. What flipped the switch in my brain was the scene where Inaho showed more emotion for a sale for eggs more so than he does the princess of another planet trying to bring peace to both race when killed in front of him. From then on it’s been nothing, but an infuriating experience how little of the anime was fully thought out. I was so infuriated by Aldnoah.Zero I didn’t bother waiting for any news regarding an English dub. I went into writing out a review for it. Not even the action scenes for as pretty as they look were awfully staged and required very little to no strategy on the characters part. Aside from hearing Hiroyuki Sawano score there wasn’t any other good reason the anime provided to keep me watching. If it ain’t evident with a review consisting of over 4000 words that I think very poorly of Aldnoah.Zero first season I don’t know what will convince you.

Story: 0/3

Character: 0/3

Technical: 3/3

Personal Enjoyment: 0/1

Final Thoughts:

Aldnoah.Zero is nothing more than eye candy and takes pride in that. It’ll excuse logic and good characters if it means it’ll get to show off nice looking action scenes. Understanding what type audience, it wants to appeal to, but mere action spectacles aren’t enough to make an anime worth viewing. It takes itself too seriously unable to be dumb fun, it’s too idiotic to touch on the topic of war maturely, and paints each side in black and white dumbing down the premise to be approachable sacrificing depths along with it. Its central lead wins through a series of plot convenience and luck that remove the suspense of battles. It’s all aesthetics and without substance, it guarantee its own expiration date in a short amount of time. Once you’ve seen the explosions and action there’s nothing left to Aldnoah.Zero.


Anime Breakdown: Band of Ninja (Ninja bugei-cho) (1967) Movie Review

Band of Ninja is a 1967 manga film from experimental live action film director Nagisa Oshima. It’s not a mistake I didn’t say animated since there is not a single moving image in the film. Oshima filmed manga stills attempting to give the illusion of animation through basic filming techniques like quick cuts and plain cinematography. Resulting in failure from its own execution from attempting to cover a large story without the proper length to accomplish it being rushed consistently in the story department.

Band of Ninja immediately piles up the plot in its first thirty minutes. The story begins in 1560 during a prolonged time of great upheaval in Japan known as the Sengoku Period (c.1467 – c.1573). The central characters are Kagemaru (Rokko Toura), a dashing but mysterious ninja who seems to have the ability to magically appear and save the day when a situation seems impossible; J?taro Y?ki (Kei Yamamoto), who seeks to avenge the slaughter of his father and restore himself as master of Fushikage Castle; Akemi (Akiko Koyama), J?taro’s love interest and secret sister of Kagemaru; and the baddie, Oda Nobunaga (Fumio Watanabe), the evil daimy? and nemesis of Kagemaru, who seeks to unify Japan through violence and oppression. In two hours this film tells all of these stories, and a couple subplots jumping between them leisurely. Try to imagine around twenty manga volumes worth of material badly condensed into a two hour film and you’ll understand the feeling of seeing Band of Ninja.

It’s non-stop storytelling doesn’t allow the viewer to catch their breath on anything. Whenever it switches between characters it further diminishes attachment towards them over time. Regularly going to a completely random character, characterizing them, and then ignoring them going onto another character. You’ll be left scratching your head wondering how a simple story about revenge ended up with a scene where a large number of rats are eating people or another scene where Kagemaru talks to a king with his decapitated head. Simply expecting you accept all the odd occurrences without earning it. Sorting out the different anthology stories, some of which don’t connect becomes a chore as it keeps them piling up. Together, these several different storylines don’t create a cohesive narrative, let alone a compelling story.

Some of the material is delivered well. There is a small subplot that focuses on a warrior being raised in the woods by animals and adjusting to the way of civilize living. How it’s handled is through a montage chronicling his growth into adulthood being one of the few moments where justice is done to the source material. Developing the character, showing his conflict, and overcoming it on his own come across clearly. However, such moments can’t make up for the often left lingering plot threads before eventually getting to them sporadically. They lose value in their quality when not given the proper focus. Which instead of being an exception it’s the rule.

On the technical side, the direction is alright since the camera only captures the stills of the Ninja bugeicho manga. It never feels like the camera cuts off any panels drawn by Noboru Okamoto (know by his pen name Sanpeo Shirato) so nothing becomes lost in the way Okamoto art is shown. Okamoto artwork is preserved as he originally drew them. For example, speed lines function to signify the speed or velocity of a moving object or character within the motionless panel of comics. Shirato’s original drawings for Ninja bugeicho are filled with speed lines, and Oshima faithfully preserves instead of erasing and replacing them with animated movements. Another example of faithfulness to Okamoto’s artwork is in a scene depicting a pivotal duel between the ninja character Hotarubi and the samurai character Jutaro, the speed lines fill the space within a panel. The film retains these lines as it cuts between the tightly framed close-ups that depict the swift sword of Hotarubi mercilessly amputating Jutaro left arm. The resulting impressions of velocity and conflict emanate from the graphic of densities and compositions, rather than from the actual movements of characters and objects.

The simplest technique like panning across a manga panel makes a still image visually interesting. Almost as if the camera is sweeping across a nicely drawn landscape. Added with some top tier sound effect (ranging from wind blowing, clashing swords, fire burning, etc.) and the atmosphere in the drawing comes to life. There were even certain moments in the film where the editing shine; in particular a sword through precisely time editing imitated animation for a brief moment.

These minor visual flair lose their effect after an hour. While the way the camera shows an environment changes, characters will remain still at all time. Limited by its own execution it eventually runs out of techniques to implement. This is actually where voice acting hurts the experimental film. More than half of the film have characters speaking through various emotions, but cuts corners by not changing characters facial expressions to match the voice actors’ performances. In retrospect hurting the connection between the images and the delivery from the voice actor.

Voice acting is top notch in general and only viewable through English subtitles. With so many characters in the film it’s amazing not a single actor gives a bad performance. Shoichi Ozawa narration brings allot of life into the film as well being an emotive storyteller. His vocal performance creates the right atmosphere when entering or exiting a scene. There’s plenty of voice actors in the film each of whom do a good job delivering the material than how the film director chose to tell it.

The music is composed by Hikaru Hayashi and his score is average. There’s Japanese choir singing, mellow violin, bombastic trumpets, flutes, and orchestral pieces. With the exception of the main theme use to open the film the music is forgettable. Most of the tracks are stuck in the moment, which has no variation how a musical piece is played ending up with simplistic music. However, they do liven up the film series of stills whenever use.

Band of Ninja isn’t a film I would recommend seeing even if the material was animated in the shape it is. The experiment of filming manga stills isn’t captivating here due to the large scope story being undermined by a rush pacing. Neglecting time to properly develop hurting its own desire to tell a compelling story being noticeable, but gets bored shifting to another character leisurely. For a film whose entire existence is a risk the only noteworthy aspect about this film is this is the closest director live action film director Nagisa Oshima came to entering the field of animation and the way it was made. Losing substance when translating the manga onto film. Instead of being an achievement in experimental filmmaking in the field of animation, Band of Ninja is instead a small footnote in the vast history of animation.


Anime-Breakdown: Watamote (Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui!) (2014) Series Review

I have no idea how to open up this review to be honest. WataMote was one of the first animes I saw in 2014 as ridiculous at that might sound. So when I first saw it most of it references with the exception of Battle Royale and Dragon Ball Z flew over my head. What drew me in was the lead character and how I find her likable. Tomoko kept me coming back despite how embarrassing the situations she got herself into were. However, a whole year has past with me now into anime alongside having found a couple of titles that influenced my standards for certain genres. Seeing WataMote is similar to seeing a friend you haven’t seen in a year; do you accept them despite never changing or you do ignore them and move on. Well aware of the consequences I still chose the former.

Mixed: A decent setup that refuses to move past the status quo

WataMote is an episodic slice of life comedy anime series that focuses on the misadventures of Tomoko Kuroki in her quest to become popular in high school. Kinda small scale popularity, but it’s what her heart’s desires. The first episode does an excellent job establishing how much of a social outcast Tomoko is and her extreme social anxiety. Managing to be entertaining despite only focusing on a single character. Within its first episode it showed there some promise to be seen in the series if it develops beyond the initial premise. Unfortunately, once past the halfway mark any hopes of that will be thrown out of the window if it’s not already.

Its main brand of humor is referential humor or Tomoko reaction in a given situation. Unfortunately referential humor does makeup for large portions of it jokes. Some referential jokes will work even without getting the reference because of Tomoko over the top reaction in the situation, but the more direct and specific ones won’t work unless you have some knowledge to what it’s referencing. Simultaneously doing referential humor correctly and incorrectly. Tomoko never gives a normal reaction making a big deal out of everything. In episode 12, she imagines squashing a cockroach will lead to the entire class clapping and cheering her name out loud. Situation that Tomoko is put into changes from episode to episode. One episode will have her spending her whole summer in her room while another focuses on her attempting to get cuter by playing otome video games. The humor never evolves from how it starts out, but the variety in situations prevent it from getting as stale as it could have gotten. Another way it changes the humor up is by introducing a supporting character for Tomoko to interact with for a short length or an entire episode. Breaking the usual formula while staying in line with its specific brand of humor.

The biggest pitfall of WataMote is it desire to return to the status quo by the end of every episode. What progress is made is unimportant in the long run like Tomoko impressing her cousin or seeing an old friend from middle school. This makes her endeavor come across as a lost cause and as a viewer makes it reluctant to want to stick around to the end. However, no matter the embarrassing situations Tomoko gets herself into, the anime isn’t mean spirited. None of the characters mistreat her in any way. At most, Tomoki Kuroki (Tomoko’s younger brother) acting like siblings is about as cruel as it gets. This is counteracted by the fact that everything that happens to her in the series is her fault. Now due to the status quo effect the fact nothing changes for Tomoko in any positive way might make it depressing.

The ending…it’s something. How to classify it as is difficult. For starter, the narrator flat out tells the viewer that “This is a story about a peculiar girl. An unpopular girl, and it really doesn’t matter” at the end of the final episode. That line is equal to a middle finger to your face. The same final scene continues with Tomoko getting the final line that hints at some possible progression on her outlook on popularity. What you’re ultimately left with is an ending where it’s the only time narrative and character progress can be made cutting the story there instead of taking risks. Playing it safe with its comfortable doing, but also tells the viewer itself it doesn’t matter if they see it.

Mixed: A great lead, but under utilize supporting cast

Watamote only character worth paying attention too is it lead Tomoko Kuroki. She’s a “down to Earth” character whose social anxiety makes her easy to relate too. Receiving most of the characterization through her many monologues developing various aspect about her personality from what she likes, her hobbies, her past, her thought process, and anything you can imagine. Like mentioned before, the series ends without progression. For as much development she receives she is too a static character who doesn’t learn nor changes. She is also a double edge sword; If you don’t like Tomoko Kuroki then the anime will fail. This also effect the supporting cast since Tomoko is the sole focus in every single episode. If you hate her then it wrote itself into a corner by offering no other character to latch onto or explore.

The supporting cast don’t receive enough characterization to stand on their own. Their only purpose is to interact with Tomoko to break up its own formula. Tomoki Kuroki whenever on screen is usually disgusted or annoyed at the sight of his big sister. Much like Tomoko, whenever Tomoki is on screen the humor lies in how he react to Tomoko. There’s no variation on how Tomoki is use within the story. Another supporting character is Yuu Naruse, a middle school friend of Tomoko who goes to a different high school. Tomoko interaction with Yuu are good times for Tomoko whenever she feeling down. It’s breather to see Tomoko speak with another person semi-sucessfully who isn’t her brother.

That about wraps up the semi-important supporting characters. Tomoki and Yuu are the only ones who receive partial screen time or play an important role in an episode in some way. Other supporting characters include Tomoko parents who don’t have many moments of good parenting. Ki is Tomoko cousin who appears in one episode than is never heard off again. There’s also certain students in Tomoko classes that are often shown, but don’t come into the picture aside from being criticize by Tomoko. Among them is a student council president who goes out of her way to cheer Tomoko up. Sadly, the series ends before it could anything with that development.

Good: A solid direction holds a small budget together

WataMote animation is done by Silver Link favoring flashiness over consistency for this anime. The animation isn’t stellar in any area, but works nonetheless. It simply looks fine with some questionable choices that fall under artistic and laziness. The opening animation is artistic showing Tomoko wanting to break free from her chains of unpopularity while the ending animation shows how she actually deals with it. Laziness comes in the form of background characters in several episodes being animated without any eyes drawn on. Some choices are questionable in execution. Episode 4 opens with Tomoko surfing on a website. Within the first couple of seconds there’s a promo displaying on the site that Tomoko is on promoting the anime adaptation of WataMote. If the character in the promo was design differently it would be a decent visual gag that broke the fourth wall, but instead what it does is break immersion. If a character that looks exactly like our lead is used in promos it begs the question why she isn’t considered popular in within the anime.

Backgrounds are simplistic reusing the limited locations alongside with Tomoko having the only notable character design. Lighting in many scenes are done with multiple hexagons or large circles inside smaller same shapes. In order to color in different shading, though even if the scene takes place at night time everything still looks bright. Some of the animation shortcoming is made up by incorporating different art styles whenever Tomoko goes on one of her rants or fantasy the animation style changes so suit her emotion. Often time nailing the exact look and style of what it’s referencing in that scene. Another positive is the animation nailed Tomoko expressions being hysterical when a joke works or when there’s a cringeworthy moment on screen.

Izumi Kitta excels in the lead role of Tomoko Kuroki in the Japanese cast. She’s fully committed to the role on all account. Delivering a natural performance as a dysfunctional high school girl while making her likable. Kitta is never too showy whenever delivering her more outrageous monologues and never over sells it during the more tender moments. Perfectly balancing the various bottled up emotion of Tomoko. The fact that Izumi Kitta was able to make a character who sometimes blames her social anxiety on other people sympathetic is a huge praise for how well she did in the role.

The English dub is done by Sentai Filmworks and the only casting choice they needed to get absolutely right was Tomoko Kuroki. Monica Rail is a talented actress, but unfortunately her performance lacks the finesse that Izumi Kitta brought to the same character. Monica Rail sounds force exaggerating her dialogue no matter if the context demanded it or not. Creating a character who instead of being socially awkward turns into a person who doesn’t know how to act human. Another downside to Monica Rail in the lead role is she does not sing in the English dub of the anime. The closing themes for a majority of the episodes has Tomoko singing the ending theme. Hearing the same character go from speaking awkwardly in English, then singing in Japanese in a charming way in several episodes is distracting. Overall, it’s not entirely a bad performance. Monica Rail has a good sense of comedic timing in her delivery. While Izumi Kitta is the better Tomoko all around Monica Rail attempt at the role is decent occasionally delivering a good laugh. If anything, it’s worth checking out at least once to listen to Monica Rail says thing like “I need to turn myself into a high school slut” that goes against the clean image of some other characters she voices.

Dialogue changes in the English dub are minor in general. Some phrases received changes so it could be more digestible for Western audiences. For example, Tomoko says in episode 5 “I’ll probably find something lewd in his room” in the English sub while in the English dub it was translated too “I’ll probablly find some porno in his room”. Dialogue changes like these don’t affect anything important. The English wording for some comedic lines loses their comedic touch upon delivering in writing and performance. In episode three, there’s a scene where Tomoko says “I-I figured I would go take a really messy shit in the bathroom or something” when talking to two guys in the rain. When Izumi Kitta delivers the line it’s comical as well as cringeworthy. When Monica Rail says “I-I just got to take a dump outside that restroom” it’s just comes off awkward. Several scenes can lose a semblance of comedy making you question if it’s a comedy at all. Finally, Sentai Filmworks felt the need to include subtitles to explain references in the English dub. Don’t know why they felt the need to do that since it won’t change if the joke itself is funny or not in execution. In both, the supporting cast get minimal usage. It’s because of this both supporting cast comes off as being equal in the voice acting department. Good performances for the limited time they receive, but not enough to make them memorable.

If you had to choose between the sub or English dub without a doubt go for the sub. Even if the comedic lines were directly translated in the English dub Izumi Kitta simply embodies the leading role far better than Monica Rail. Izumi Kitta sounds natural whereas Monica Rail is more in line of an embarrassing grandmother speaking like a teen in an effort to be hip. Also, the small fact hearing Izumi Kitta sing the closing theme gives Tomoko more charm when she optimistically sings about her social life to improve. Monical Rail doesn’t even sing when playing Tomoko which is immediately distracting in the English seeing a character speaking English singing in another language she doesn’t speak in within the anime.

The music is done by a group called Sadesper Record. Made up of composers Goro Watari (also goes by NARASAKI) and Masaki Oshima (also know as WATCHMAN) both of whom provide an OST comprised of electronic, comical, orchestrated, and hard rock music. The OST works fine in the anime series being diverse as it needs to be to complement the loner slice of life moments to the over exaggeration of Tomoko fantasies. It’s pleasant to listen too, but fail in comparison to the opening and closing themes of the series which are memorable without the company of the anime visuals. The opening theme is a hard rock song called “Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui” sung by Konomi Suzuki and Kiba of Akiba. It’s a hard rock song that fits with the anime capturing Tomoko bottle up emotion to break free.

Watamote despite being a twelve episode long anime has five different ending themes. The most use track for the ending is “Dou Kangaete mo Watashi wa Warukunai” by Izumi Kitta in episodes 1, 3, 4, 7 – 10, and 12. It’s an upbeat pop song that’s fun to listen to everytime. “Musou Renka” by Velvet.kodhy is used in episode 2 and it’s forgettable. It’s a alternative rock song with mixture of rap and hip hop splice together speeding up and slowing down it’s instrumental. Vocals that need work hitting high note and actual emotion because the singing sounds phoned in. Ironically, “Yoru no Tobari yo Sayonara” also by Velvet.kodhy in episode 5 has none of those problems. It’s a silly song with the vocalist singing in a deep voice and its done well. Going perfectly with the closing animation referencing the ending animation of Manga Nihon Musashi Banashi. Though, these two tracks aren’t memorable without the company of the anime visuals. “Sokora no Nuigurumi no Fuusen to Watashi” by Velvet.kodhy and Velvet.kodhy and μ and μ is another pleasant track used in episode 11. It has a feel good aura about it. From it two vocalist sharing a good time singing together and it’s joyous instrumentals. “Natsu Matsuri” by Utsu-P & Minatsukitoka ft. Hatsune Miku is used in episode 6. Combining foreboding piano music before going into techno sound bytes, with hard rock guitar strings, and robotic sounding autotune singing. This track is the closest the anime gets to matching the rock opening.

Personal Enjoyment: Enjoyable, but with apparent flaws

I did find the English dub inferior because Monica Rail wasn’t quite on par with voice actress Izumi Kitta. However, I did get a kick listening to Monica Rail say things I never expected to hear from her. That made the dub worth seeing even if the performance wasn’t quite to the level I wanted it to be at. Having seen this anime again in English I was able to catch more references than I was before. Not of all of them were subtle like a reference to Battle Royale and anything specifically named is hard to missed. The references I caught having seen WataMote again were Death Note, Tomoki Kuroki reading volume 8 of Arachnid in episode one, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Attack on Titan. Unfortunately, WataMote wasn’t quite as good as I remembered when I first saw it and boils down to nothing happens nor changes. It’s a static series were the potential is there to grow beyond the initial idea, but doesn’t know how to go about doing it. I still like the anime and find Tomoko Kuroki an endearing awkward character, but when the anime itself says it’s unimportant it epitomizes the down side for some slice of life animes. Good for the moment, but nothing that’ll remain with you forever.

Story: 2/3

Characters: 2/3

Production: 2/3

Personal Enjoyment: 1/1

Final Thoughts:

WataMote is a fun series to see no how awkward the situations got for Tomoko. It’s not a mean spirited anime since the main character is never mistreated by others, but has the potential to get depressing when realizing it’s her own fault for not improving herself. What it does provide is a lead character whose easily relatable among those with social anxiety, some killer tunes that either make you want to rock out too or cheer you up, and a stellar performance by Izumi Kitta. This anime floats or sink on the appeal of it’s lead in a static environment. If even after reading this entire review you still don’t know to check out the anime ask yourself if you want a dynamic or static story from this premise? If you choose the former go onto something else, but if you choose the latter enjoy sharing the same awkward experiences as Tomoko that few slice of life animes will touch upon.


Anime-Breakdown: Psychic School Wars (Nerawareta Gakuen) (2012) Movie Review

Nerawareta Gakuen effortlessly weaves a story that combines romance, time travel, an impending apocalypse, and growing up into an incomprehensible mess of a film. The film is plagued with aimless direction, among other things, that prevents it from being any more than eye candy. Besides being pretty to look at there’s nothing to be gained from seeing this film that’s a chore to finish.

The premise of Nerawareta Gakuen, which translates to the cooler sounding, but very misleading English title Psychic School War starts out simple. Introducing four characters into what appears will be a romance story with light elements of sci-fi. Following four characters each of whom contain bland characteristics leading to force conflicts that could have been easily been resolved. Being dragged out in order to pad out what little story it has. If it was only focused on the romance in the story, it would have been bland if it revolved around childhood friends along with a love triangle that’s entirely one sided nor add much of a conflict between the characters. Seeing, let alone learning about the character’s relationship with one another is spread thinly in the film. Emoting a sense of boredom that plays the usual tricks (will they won’t they hook up being the main element in use) in its setup.

If it was only a sci-fi than it would have still been incomprehensible. Vague explanations are given on how time traveling works, character backstory is revealed with sparse bits of information, the apocalypse that occurred gets a quick brief mention with unanswered questions, and how psychic powers work is flimsy. Some of it is explained like how other character can unlock the ability to read other minds, but what exactly it can do is left up to the imagination. One of the most crucial elements in the film that receives muddle explanations is an hourglass shaped device that Ryouichi carries around with him which he uses in order to create more psychics. He uses this device predominantly to achieve his goal and by badly presenting it purpose it’s easy to lose sight of how he’s going to accomplish what he sets out to do.

It’s so bad at telling its story that the whole plot has to use a very weak plot point involving a school policy which prevents students from bringing cell phones to school in order to show visible progress of the central conflict. In the worst possible way it tries to use this plot point to say some sort of commentary on social interaction by having students ignore or enforce the no cell phone policy. On a dramatic level this plot point becomes exaggerated that anything serious it wanted to say is downplayed in delivery. Seeing students expresses their hatred for cell phones in an over the top presentation is unable to be enjoyable in silliness because it wants to be taken seriously. There’s no build up to steadily show its central conflict becoming larger nor provide enough visual cues that more students are becoming psychic. At most, it only shows two students becoming physic which isn’t enough to provide a glimpse at the bigger picture. Instead characters have to exposition it to each other to get important information out. Sounding unnatural in several conversations.

The characters aren’t any better. Our four main characters in the film are archetypes that get introduced and three of them remain static in their journey. Kenji Seki is a dumb teen who has bad luck and oblivious to the fact his childhood friend Natsuki Suzuura loves him. It’s reasonable why Kenji is oblivious about Natsuki feelings since in one minute Natsuki teases him, punches him, and calls the police on him. He’s an idiotic character who’s unable to process thoughts. Unable in the fact he doesn’t how to handle any situation when comforting friends. He’s simply lucks out in how problems play out. Kenji is underdeveloped, though the only one who seems to grow in the film. In some ways he matures gaining a different outlook on life. Without much of a character to explore he ends up banal like the other characters.

Natsuki Suzuura is the typical girl next door who picks on Kenji to hide her true feelings from him. The way she acts needlessly prolongs an easily solvable conflict. She even says herself if she was more direct in expressing herself she wouldn’t be going through any overblown struggles. She’s another bland character who’s made entirely unlikable by how she acts. The first time she’s seen in the film she reports Kenji to the police by lying that Kenji was going to rape her. This is also how Natsuki character is introduced in the film, which gives a bad first impression of her character. Around the 23 minute mark Natsuki slaps Kenji for a comment he made regarding loving someone without mutual feelings being returned. Natsuki up to this point has shown no sign of even liking Kenji. Within that time frame she acts like a tsundere hitting Kenji throughout the film and teases Kenji nonstop who does not like getting teased. Despite acting how Natsuki does she wonders why Kenji doesn’t love her. When the film ends she still hasn’t a change bit proving she’s the film most dense character.

Kahori Harukawa is an unimportant character. Besides one brief scene the writers prefer to keep Kahori entire character one dimensional. Her backstory is glanced over with a brief mention which ends all of her characterization with a couple of seconds. As a character she’s weak and her place in the story is unimportant. She has no conflict nor does anything to advance the story. She also falls in love with Ryouichi Kyougoku for shallow reasons. It’s explained she fell in love with him at the first sight of Ryouichi and the material reinforces that fact. There is hardly a scene of Kahori and Ryouichi getting to know each other. The only thing they know about each other for a majority of the film is they both play piano. That’s about it. Once it reaches the hour mark both characters are lovey-dovey towards each other despite only sharing one scene of actually doing anything together outside of school. This later comes to affect the final act of the film. Due a specific revelation both characters won’t be able to be together. Instead of being a strong dramatic pull in the story it’s simply just there as fluff.

The worst character in the film is Ryouichi Kyougoku who’s the popular, mysterious transfer student with a hidden agenda. Ryouichi single handedly brings down the time travel and physic aspect of the film. He’s a poorly written character, giving out his backstory unnaturally as possible and providing vague explanations on the process of time traveling and physic powers. He knows how everything works, but the audience doesn’t making any scene that has anything supernatural onscreen become convoluted. Almost as if literally making up the rules of how time traveling and physic powers work as he goes along in the story. He receives scatter characterization some of which gets dropped. In the film its mentioned Ryouichi will execute a revenge plan. What exactly it was is delivered in a throwaway line that’s easy to miss.

The animation is done by Sunrise studio and it’s virtually flawless. Director Ryosuke Nakamura eye for details is rich in every single scene of the movie. Meticulous details in the visuals from the cherry blossom petals being blown in the breeze to the gleaming rays of light shining through the classroom windows. Everything from beginning to end looks beautiful. Another outstanding feature is the use of color hues and tones to accentuate and render scenic clouds and evening skies. There usually something always moving on screen with high detail that it becomes mesmerizing. For a majority of the film it movements sticks to the ordinary with the occasional over the top short burst moments and supernatural elements when on display. No matter what’s on screen the amount of time it must have taken to animate the film is something to appreciate.

The voice acting is in general is passable, but underwhelming due to the material. Kana Kanazawa plays Kahori who I already mentioned is pointless in the story. It’s a performance that I can’t blame Kanazawa for phoney in since her character hardly changes emotion limiting options in her portrayal. Daisuke Ono, who plays Ryouichi Kyougoku has a similar problem. A big role with limited range, which again limits the voice actor abilities to portray the characters. That’s two talented voice actors who are handicapped because of the material.

Yuutaro Honjou plays Kenji Seki whose performance does allow ranged. Unlike his more experience co-stars his balance of drama and comedy generally misses the mark. When he’s meant to sound sincere it comes across as a bad rehearsal take. Sounding mundane when experiencing important life changing events. Mayu Watanabe plays Natsuki Suzuura does a good job. Unfortunately because of how her character is written she also comes across as the most annoying. Playing a tsunderes she sounds sweet one moment then flips the switch to being angry the next. That’s our four lead actors, each of whom are unable to overcome the material shortcoming. The supporting cast because of limited screen time don’t suffer the same problem. They’re fine in small roles. There’s no English dub for the film which given the sloppy delivery of the story is understandable.

The soundtrack is done by Shusei Murai and it’s repetitive. Nearly all the tracks sound sentimental working against the film. There’s hardly any variety in the music Murai composed. Becoming aggregating to listen to when most of the tracks are soft piano ballads that sound similar to one another with just a minor variation of one track. Too many tracks sound too similar to each other its entirely lazy. To paint a clearer picture on the lack of varied music the OST for the film there are 25 tracks and 22 of them are soft piano ballads. If it doesn’t feature a soft piano ballad it’ll feature a Violin another instrument Murai goes out of his way to make annoying to listen to. Hearing the soundtrack is infuriating because no effort is made to make each track sound different. Getting the suspicion that the soundtrack simply looped one song over and over again. There are only two distinctive sounding and noteworthy tracks in the film coming from artists Ryo and supercell. Like the rest of the score, the songs these two artists provide are blissful with usage of soft piano ballads. They are nice songs, even if they are forgettable immediately after they end.

Nerawareta Gakuen is a complicated mess and poorly told, but does make sense. Although this being my second time seeing the movie I wrote down notes which in the end made the story sensical. However, the information is so poorly relayed to the audience due to brief throwaway explanations that reveal very little or simply glancing over important details that are essential to understanding its story. Before reaching the one hour mark the film fails to provide characters good enough to carry a story, wanders around aimlessly without a purpose, and finally a conflict that uses convoluted plot points making it uninvolving. The remainder of the film will feel longer than it actually is. That’s not even taking into account the repetitive soundtrack becoming grating on the ears as it goes making the experience worse. Pretty to look at, no doubt, but with no substance whatsoever it makes you ponder what a waste of beautiful animation.