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Let’s officially kicks off this festival. Before writing review for this one, I had been debating on the size I should write for movies. This is my first original movie review after all. I figured that while full reviews would probably help this site better, in the long run the fact of writing full thousand-words reviews for every single one of them would kill me gradually, and I still have blogging commitment at the other anime blog at the moment. So I settle for semi-review for now, that way I could write much faster, get to the points quicker and I can see myself doing it for a long term. In term of frequency, you can expect new post come every 3, or 4 day. On the weekends I can get to blog more often.
The Party, in many ways, serves as a good movie to begin the festival. It has a solid ensemble cast, and it’s an entertaining film to follow from start to finish. It’s my first experience with Sally Potter (and from what I heard this one is her most commercial one), so I’m definitely intrigued to check out more of her filmography. For now, enjoy the review of The Party, you can click on the title link for the more detailed-format review, or just read it down below.
Sally Potter: an indie British filmmaker who directed many well-received films include Orlando (1992), The Man Who Cried (2000), and Ginger & Rosa (2012). She has won more than 40 awards, including an OBE.
“I wanted to find a way of making a comedy first of all, but also something that felt purely cinematic, something you could only see and feel through the lens; I didn’t want something stagey, but it had to have the qualities where characters could fully reveal themselves in a very compressed space of time. That constraint of having it all in one place was peculiarly freeing, as it meant that we could concentrate on what was important and not waste loads of time on stuff that wasn’t particularly vital.” – Sally Potter on The Party
Served as double meaning for the opposition party in which Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) just gets promoted as a shadow Minister of Health, and as the fateful night where anything could go wrong, goes wrong, The Party is a witty, dark (in more ways than one) comedy with a bit of social commentary edge, but ultimately not something that leave much of a lasting impact. Running at a stark 71 minutes, this is your definition of “short and sweet”, although because of that the plot feels undercooked at times (unlike those burnt pastries). The Party’s idea would fit better in a stage play, with its dialogue-heavy, small number of cast and a single location, but the interesting aspect out of this is that it’s an original screenplay written by the director Sally Potter, and she takes advantage of this medium quite successful. The stark black-and-white photography for example, makes this film feels timeless, like it could be made some twenty, thirty years ago. The film also has many unusual camera angles, sometimes it tends to cover three, four characters in a same frame – with each of them act their own ways that speak to their characters. Other times it stays a bit too close to characters’ faces, make us feel a little uncomfortable ourselves.
The main concept of The Party is to examine a group of middle-class British where they will have to face events that eventually spiral out of their control, where numerous announcements and dry remarks keep peeling all their appearances to reveal their core characters. As such, The Party is at its sharpest when the characters act contrary to what their roles (be it social roles or relationship roles) are supposed to be. “I believe in truth and reconciliation”, at one-point Janet says, and proceeds to bite her own arm. It’s also at the time of crisis, these intellectuals start to ‘betray’ their own beliefs. Janet’s husband, Bill (the great Timothy Spall), upon finding out he has terminal disease, stumbles into faith, karma… sort of things he would laugh off before (I do have an answer for “his unanswerable question”, however. “Why me?” he asked. Well, because those things could happen to anyone and a great deal of people have it much, much worse). Or Martha (Cherry Jones), a ‘feminist’ who failed to understand her girlfriend’s needs. This film, as its core, is a sarcastic look at those archetypical characters when the rug is pulled under their pretty feet.
It helps that this talented cast elevates the material greatly. They all fit this movie like a glove and all of them have their own moments to shine. Cillian Murphy as Tom, a filthy rich banker, for example, feels like he’s out of place for the whole time with all the cracking and murderous intent but it’s a right kind of out-of-place. April (played by Patricia Clarkson) has most of the great lines with her acidic tone that could rival Bette Davis in All About Eve. (“Babies get born everyday in extremely large numbers to the point of endangering the planet and all our futures”. Godamnit April!). But this is also where the film falls short. These characters are never intended to be deep or real, and if we cross out few of their main traits (Tom: banker, rich, on crack, love his wife), they don’t have much else to define themselves. And that’s what I mean by under-cooked, if you take out this layer then there’s nothing much else to explore. You stay for The Party for the crunchy, tasty acting showcase with many deliciously poisonous lines and some mild social issues relevant in Britain right now (it ranges from social status, political stand, even internet trolls), but as the film’s bookended by the gunshot from Janet to the unknown character from audience’s perspective, I’d have much prefer if she points the gun at us and shoots us instead.
The poster’s image is taken from a scene in Chocolate (1988) by Claire Denis, our 2017’s Honorary Recipient. The theme song this year is Me and a Gun by Tori Amos, which you can listen to it right here.
Now, this might be the only time that I will spend entire paragraphs to discuss about the song’s choice. I realize that Me and a Gun isn’t a typical song suitable for playing elegantly in a background (in which theme music tends to be). It has no musical instrument for one thing, it’s just entirely Tori Amos and her voice here and the lyric is among one of the rawest experience ever written by a female artist. This song, after all, details about the event in which she was raped, at knife point when she was 21. In the year where gender issues in cinema industry had turned inside out, this song feels strangely relevant. Apparently, the culprit never gets caught, well it never became a case to begin with, because it’s the world we live in: when it comes to sexual harassment, the majority still doesn’t have the proper mindset to deal with it seriously, and the victims still partly blame themselves for what happened. I just leave you with her rare interview about the tragic event. To thousands of other victims who believe the world has turned its back on you, this song is for you.
I’ll never talk about it at this level again but let me ask you. Why have I survived that kind of night, when other women didn’t? How am I alive to tell you this tale when he was ready to slice me up? In the song I say it was ‘Me and a Gun’ but it wasn’t a gun. It was a knife he had. And the idea was to take me to his friends and cut me up, and he kept telling me that, for hours. And if he hadn’t needed more drugs I would have been just one more news report, where you see the parents grieving for their daughter. And I was singing hymns, as I say in the song, because he told me to. I sang to stay alive. Yet I survived that torture, which left me urinating all over myself and left me paralyzed for years. That’s what that night was all about, mutilation, more than violation through sex. I really do feel as though I was psychologically mutilated that night and that now I’m trying to put the pieces back together again. Through love, not hatred. And through my music. My strength has been to open again, to life, and my victory is the fact that, despite it all, I kept alive my vulnerability.Tori Amos
Next, The Silver Moon presents the 2017 programs, you can either view it by the selections’ posters in airing order, or the list down below
*Notes: despite I put it as “Day”, for obvious reasons (ahem… my real life), this isn’t an actual day that I will cover these films. It’s just merely an order of films in which I will go through, although I’ll use a journal-like daily format for this project: reviewing a pair of movies that played on the same day at once. You’ll know what I mean when I get down to it. The link for each review will be updated here as well.
**Notes: “Surprise” screening(s) because as of now I still don’t know which films I gonna pick (hence it’s a surprise even for myself). The purpose of this sidebar screenings is to pick up 1 or 2 movies I left out that I still feel worth checking out. They won’t compete for the main prizes, except for Best Debut Feature if applicable. Your suggestions have a high chance to feature up there so don’t be shy to recommend me down the comment section.
With the next post, Day 1 in which I will review the opening film The Party is when the festival officially kicks in. A little warming-up before we get down to the Main Competition. See you then, folks.
I’m proud to announce the first movie project here at Silver Moon, the 2017 Women’s Cinema Festival. 2017 was in many ways a critical year for women in cinema industry with all the allegations regarding sexual harassment, Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo took up all the spotlights for all the right seasons. I don’t intend to delve into those issues, however, we’re here for films and let it stay within what happened in front of the screen.
The basic rundown of this festival is: I will watch, review and rate all those films from the Official Selection, then give them awards at the end of the festival’s run. After weeks of checking and compiling the titles, debating over which films I should include, here are the 20 films that will complete in the 2017 Main Competition, plus 2 films that serve as Opening and Closing Films. You can check out the selection down below, sorted by their English titles, in alphabetical order:
With special mention to those titles, which just missed the final cut: Hikari (Naomi Kawase – I’ll watch it when I get to 2017 Cannes); Berlin Syndrome (Cate Shortland), Ava (Sadaf Foroughi), Plonger (Mélanie Laurent) and Spoor (Agnieszka Holland)
*: debut films
Small notes: the reason I decided to link the films to Letterboxd, and not imdb and the likes, is that you would gaze immediately to the average score (I know I would), and that’s the last thing I want you to do.
There are 5 first time directors that will compete in the Main Selection. I’m happy that the selection conveys wide range of genres from many different regions there, especially a special shout-out for South East Asia crops which have 3 films that are set there (First They Kill My Father, an USA-production but from Cambodia girl’s perspective, Pop Aye from Singapore set in Thailand and The Seen and Unseen from Indonesia). I’ve seen 4 films out of the Main Competition (The Beguiled, Detroit, On Body and Soul and Lady Bird, plus Jasper Jones in the Closing Film), which is to say barely nothing, so I’m excited to check out all those titles.
Personally, the films I’m looking forward the most are You Were Never Really Here and Zama, long-awaited projects from acclaimed directors. The latter, especially, had been on my radar since its first announcement back in probably 2012, 2013. It went quiet for a good few years, passed out many Cannes’s years which I naively assumed would appear there. Then last year, it finally appeared in Venice, not in the Main Competition but in a Special Screening slot (!) which basically baffled me to this day. Sometimes, life just doesn’t make a goddamn sense.
The 2017 Honorary Award – to celebrate a legendary women director who leaves/ left her distinctive voice the medium (or in Academy words” to honor exceptional career achievements, contributions to the motion picture industry and/or women’s cinema) – is proud to present to Claire Denis, a great French filmmaker (there will be an in-depth look at her works and styles in the program) and three of her films (her debut Chocolat, her masterpiece Beau Travail, and her most recent Let the Sunshine In) will be covered in this festival as well
Over this weekend, I’ll publish 2017 Women’s Cinema Festival Program, which will include the festival’s poster (it’ll be fun; but consider that I have zero skill regarding graphic design, be easy on me, folks), the festival’s theme song and the full schedule. Even if there were two of you who read this blog (I’m being generous), I’d love to hear what your thoughts on this line-up and if there’s any other films that you think I should include. See you then.
Welcome to the first new content of this blog, with this weekly summary, where I give my episodic impressions in chunks for all those anime shows I’ve been following so far. So far, this season has offered a solid number of good shows, at least the top 6 shows can be a heavyweight in any other season, although it’s one rare instance where I don’t have a real favorite pick. Let’s get down to it, in preferential order:
13) Caligula (ep06)
Caligula remains a show that splits me neatly in half. The theme it’s trying to explore: about a bunch of characters who have painful memories in real life so they take solace in this fake Mobius world created by μ still keep me intrigued, and there are some neat ideas being explored (I like the story of a girl who erased her mother) and some nice visual presentation (like those people with their faced digitally blurred), but on the other hand, the one noted cast who often speaks meaningless dialogues also mean that we have a hard time to identify with them, let alone care for them. It says something that after halfway through I still don’t care and don’t know most of the characters, main guy included. This last episode signals the climax when with an all-out battle, that makes me wonder how the hell Caligula handles the rest of its run. At this point I don’t consider dropping it but if the characters don’t improve soon, it won’t have much to leave a lasting impact.
12) Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai (ep07)
So, a slice-of-life plus romance plus anything goes from photography club activities to dancing in the ballroom? The writing is pretty inconsistent, the titular Tada-kun is still very plain and the cast’s quirks can go a bit overboard at times, but there’s a weird charm to all of this. The latest developments, however, make me quite concerned. First, the introduction of Tada’s rival, Teresa’s fiancee Charles doesn’t bode well for me. Charles feels too perfect to be a real character and he adds an unnecessary love-triangle conflict to our main leads. Second, Teresa being a royal princess of some small European country is something that we suspected from day 1, but God why it wants to go in that direction? The show wants to be in the same vein with Roman Holiday (there’s a reference in the OP), but as cute as Teresa is, she can’t compare to the Goddess Audrey Hepburn and certainly Tada-kun doesn’t one-fifth the charms of Gregory Peck. So yeah in terms of actual romances from this show, they’re suck.
11) Piano no Mori (ep06)
The story gets into a nice grounding now that the piano competition’s over, but this last episode further shows many of Piano‘s issues. The production simply can’t keep up with the weekly schedule, resulting one of the most uninspired and just downright distracting CG animation I’ve watched this season. It feels like a product of 15 years ago. In this episode, Kai lost his piano forest in the dumbest way – thunder strike. Really? One thing that I like, however, is the way previous episodes suggested us that Kai would go overseas to study piano, while Shuhei remains in Japan to become the best piano player in the country. Turns out in this episode they’d do the opposite, Kai decides to stay in his little world not because of all these things that tied him down (the piano, his Mother), but because he realizes all that he needs is right there. The pacing, however, goes so fast to depict Kai’s struggles that we just don’t feel relate in any of his development. The lackluster production is something we need to live with at this point, so I hope the story can improve so that at least we can have something to look forward to.
10) Saiki Kusuo no Sai-nan 2 (ep17)
Saiki stays true with its quirky self this week, which also means that I don’t have a lot to talk about. Look, this show is a simple test, If you already like the first season then this second season offers more of the same, with even more expanded cast. This episode places Saiki into trouble with 5 entirely different set of characters, which works for the show’s benefit. The last few episodes have wear me down a bit, but for my money this show’s at its best when it plays around with new characters (in which next episode we will have one), or having Teruhashi constantly failed to approach Saiki. That girl, I swear…
9) Wotakoi (ep06)
To my surprise, despite its sitcom-like format and it doesn’t offer much in terms of the big picture, I still enjoy Wotakoi and the quartet week to week. The show’s main issue for me lies in its squarely focus on just those 4 characters and kinda ignore the rest of the world, which for me feel very limited and unrealistic. But apart from that those 4 have an interesting and natural chemistry together that it feels great just to watch them bouncing off each other. It helps that the dialogue feels real and they never play up their otaku nature. But the inclusion of Hirotaka’s brother: this show’s version of non-otaku character, doesn’t add up much (he’s a boring character). Still, I’m interested to see the development between Hirotaka and Narumi’s “romance”, which step by step has progressed more like a real couple. They’re getting there.
8) Darling in the FranXX (ep17)
Darling goes for a darker route now, which I’m glad. There still no subtle bone in their body, but at least in the last episode they manage to ask many intriguing questions about the nature of the world those kids live in and the nature of being human – which are the show’s core theme. I still don’t like the quick interference of The 9s or the whole Papa thing, and the ambush right where Mitsuru and Kokoro exchange rings further underlines Darling‘s shaky execution. Consider we have a quick glimpse of the leaders of APE, I have my theory that the Klaxosaur was indeed once human race, but they advanced their technology in order to modify their human body. The APE, on the other hand, still retains human form but starts do regress any human’s basic characteristics: no reproduction, no emotion, no dying process. I’m interested to see how they go from there, but embrace yourself since this one won’t go down happily.
7) My Hero Academia 3 (ep45)
I’m never much a fan of My Hero Academia, too much explosions and screaming for my taste. But this arc has kicked into gears and I like what I see so far, with all the Bakugo-kidnapping business. Bakugo’s character has always acted like a villain: thrust for power, never cares for anyone else and full of hatred. So this arc can serve as a good basic to challenge him and makes him see why he chooses to be hero in the first place. The more pain the better. At the same time, the kids from Class A and even some from Class B has developed in such a way that it always feels like they’re part of one big family – they feel like our dear friends now, and with their quest to bring back Bakugo, it could serve for some great characters moment here. And that blood-sucking girl, what’s her deal? What’s her Quirk? Man, I’m all in now.
6) Golden Kamuy (ep06)
Golden Kamuy has a very solid premise, but the pacing remains this show’s biggest issues. Whenever it comes to the gold hunt part it rushes way too fast, and then in quiet moments they spend to much time on food-porn cuisine and Ainu culture, without much related to the main storyline. The episode 6 starts out that way with Sugimoto and Asirpa… hunting deer. It feels like Golden Kamuy loses its focus until everything comes together neatly (a bit too neatly) in the last moment. Now the super bear hunter is also a tattooed escape prisoner, so by killing him they will be able to save Rectar, AND have another human map too boost. The story still has some potential but I sure hope they tone down on those wilderness cuisine.
5) Hisone to Masotan (ep06)
HisoMaso has the most gorgeous visual of this season, and expressive characters’ movement, but the story is so far too light. Now that it tries to tie up some thematic relevance with more serious tone, I’m a bit worried how they’re going to handle it. So far, HisoMaso gets away with lost of stupid details because they have a godsend ability to flirt around with their concepts, and I’m much prefer it that way. I don’t buy what Administrative Vice-Minister Iiboshi is trying to sell at all. What’s all this about White Lovers? Torii gate and shrine? The show’s other focus – about the relationship between dragons and their pilots – fare much better. Hosino nearly pisses me off for her stubbornness, but it ends well so I’m done complaining. This show has the look, so hopefully Mari Okada can give this story a fair treatment.
4) Hinamatsuri (ep07)
Hinamatsuri ceases to be a comedy show for me. There’s still absurdity sense of humor, sure, but it done drama way better than it has any right to be. Anzu and Hitomi slowly take over this show, for good reasons, and they have come to develop a lot since we first met them. I also like this version of Hina this week, her stoned face and mono-tone need to contrast with something as bombastic and out of left field as nominating herself for School Council President just so she can have more sleep and more food. Hina and Nitta’s chemistry also takes a nice step this week, with her helping Nitta to talk Usako into having a date with him. I don’t really like the montage-like from their date since we have a pretty good idea that Nitta’s getting rejected, so the pun doesn’t work for me.
3) Steins;Gate 0 (ep06)
Ohh, finally. The drama kicks in, in first season fashion to boost. Before that last-second event however, I actually consider this episode a weak one, with too much light-heart moments that don’t go well with the serious tone of this show, and the entire cast appears that make me feel like the show fan-services us blatantly. Turns out this is a part of the plan, showing the last moment of happiness before shit hits the fan. I supposed our new loli girl will be the one who died this time, and Okabe will begin his cycle of suffering real soon. The amnesia elements I can live without, but I believe all the main ingredients are in place, so from now on the story will run in full speed. And time-travel and drama are those things that this show does best, so bring it on guys!!
2) Megalo Box (ep07)
Megalo Box is still goddamn good. But first allow me to address the tiny elephant in the room: the boxing fights lack weight. There’s a nice amount of animation by all means, but every time one of the character hits the opponent, it doesn’t feel much impact. After Joe’s fight with Nanbu ex-pupil with I regarded as this show’s best episode (well, the episode before the fight anyway), I also find myself enjoying his new opponent, in a narrative sense. Here, we have Joe, a gearless boxer versus a man who uses gear so advanced that it does all the work for him. It’s the true battle to Megalonia, my friend, except that… the fight will never come (or so we’re led to believe). It’s anti-climatic for sure, but I have no doubt that Joe will be back on the ring, maybe with the assistance of someone’s certain sister. We’ll see.
1) Legend of the Galactic Heroes – Die Neue These (ep07)
And to top the list this week, it’s Yang Wen Li who takes all the spotlight here. This show balances extremely well between the epic part (all those space battles that run more like an open history book) with the more personal moments of our two leaders. It’s that we have to know where all these characters come from, what their philosophy is like in order to invest in this galactic battles, and so far it succeeds on doing just that. Watching Yang Wen Li’s plan carrying on in real mission is thrilling, and they also place a small doubt seed into the possibility that Rozenlitter might betray, and thus bringing the whole plan down. Other moment I enjoyed is when Yang orders his ship to minimize the unnecessary casualty. It further highlights Yang’s desire to end this long-winded war, but as fate would have it, the persona s talented as Yang will always be pulled back into the endless war no matter what.
I must admit that out of all the series I was blogging last year, Sound Eupho 2 was the one I’m saddest to see it ends; not because it was my absolute favorite anime last year, but because the sheer amount of their attention to details and their ridiculously quest for perfection are something that out of this world, in this day and age, which I will get to that later in my review. This is a sequel to Sound Eupho last year but I will keep the comparison to the first season to minimum in terms of quality because this season is great enough to be judged by its own.
The story is a direct continuation from the end of last season, as the Kitauji high school concert band just qualified from the qualifying round, now heading to Kansai region competition and later on, the National competition. Unlike the first season where the main dramatic events like Aio pulled out from the music club to focus on her study; the audition to choose the best players for the competition or the challenge to pick the lead trumpet arise and resolved around the development of the band club itself, the second season concentrates more on the band members’ personal issues. This change of focus is more apparent in the second half, when the show completely drops the band practice, even to the point of not showing the national performance at all. I understand this bold choice can cause disappointment to many fans who want to see the band in action, and moreover focus on individual character drama can cause the lack of cohesive theme; this shift of attention, on the other hand, also brings out some of the best character developments and intimate moments the show has ever achieved.
I will get to the negative part first. When the show concentrates more on character’s heightened drama, those dramas can be uneven and doesn’t add up much to the big picture. Two of this season’s acts for example: Yoroizuka and Reina act don’t play well for me because they have the exact opposite problems. Yoroizuka (the only character that I used by surname here, as this is how Kumiko refers her) is a secondary character who was suddenly given the spotlight and while her final confrontation with Yuuko and Nozomi was effective, the drama was resolved too quickly, Yoroizuka changed so fast that I personally don’t see her grow as natural at all. Reina’s affection to Taki-sensei grow to another level this season, but I’m not alone to say that this was the show’s weakest act because almost everyone can see the outcomes. That drama isn’t much to speak of to begin with; it’s a shame because Reina was my favorite character the first season and I’d like to see other kind of developments for Reina, any other development but this.
Moreover, sometimes it does feel like Sound Eupho stumbles around those dramas in order to “create the situation”; as a result sometimes the show loses its focus because it has to cover too many grounds (like in episode 6), other times some of the conflicts feel forced and calculated (of all time, Mamiko choose she decided to tell her parents to quit college on that stormy night, and “she quited because it has to be now”. Why?). While the Mamiko act actually turns out pretty great, those issues speak to the lack of single unified theme that made the first season so tightly constructed. The last issue, which was also the show’s biggest flaw, lied in the fact that when they focus too much on one set of characters for the drama, other cast members unfortunately don’t have much roles so all they do is hanging around and making the best out of little screen time they had. Reina, before reaching her act, serves as a shadow behind Kumiko; Shuichi becomes the unluckiest guy in the world and worst of all, Hazuki and Sapphire don’t have any development anymore, given that they are still billed as the lead characters.
In contrast, if anything, this season will be remembered as the season of Kumiko and Asuka. They are the heart and the soul of this season, and it’s a blessing to see how far both of them have matured in the end. Asuka has been one of the most complex character in Sound Eupho’s universe and the show did a damn fine job to underline her struggles with both her parental figures, as well as gradually peeling off the mask to reveal her true feeling inside. The most brilliant part of it was that she never lose her strong side at all, never in many moments we are allowed to see her vulnerable side, because it’s more that she becomes honest to herself, embrace herself to what she loves most and comes out even stronger than before. In additions, most of Asuka and Kumiko moments develop into the highlights of the season. When Asuka played that Sound Euphonium piece to Kumiko in episode 9, it was one of the best moments of the whole show, period. When Kumiko poured her heart out to convince Asuka to come back to the band, it was one of the most effective drama the show could ever committed. As the two getting closer and more honest to each other, it makes a whole lot sense that we have that final confrontation between them that warmly tied up this whole season together. This show indeed ends on a high note.
Kumiko also deserved to be one of the year’s best character here as she has changed a lot from timid and passive with no real passion into the one who is really honest to what she feels. Aside from her interaction with Asuka, her moments with her sister, while soft and never overly dramatic like other acts, feel all too real ans intimate on how siblings care about each other. The last few episodes when we follow her through her quiet tears on the train, her outbursts, her confessions were a joy to watch and each step she made feel like a natural progression. I have to give extra gratitude Tomoyo Kurosawa, the saiyuu of Kumiko, for delivering such a deadpan, plain but strangely distinctive voice of our main girl.
But what make Sound Eupho stand head above the rest of the crop lies in its production values. That 10-minute performance in episode 5 simply outperformed everything else I watched in recent years. KyoAni’s always known for their gorgeous designs and their attentive to make every little detail right, but this is just another level of insanity the more you get to know what they achieved. Almost every performance you heard in the show was correctly timed to their single notes (meaning that if you hear the character hits the notes onscreen, they were the right notes), the position of their fingers, their postures, even down to the preparation of the members before hitting the notes, were all accurate. Now imagine all of these in animation with a band of thirty something characters for the whole two seasons. I can’t even think how on earth one could achieve animating all that, let alone making it all flawlessly. They even go as far as making the echo of the announcement on the firework scene in the first episode, because they wanted it to be real (the city Uji is surrounded by mountains). No, something as insane as this don’t happen often, especially on TV-anime level, so to see it finally at the end of its road suddenly make me feel a little sad.
This second season is indeed a worthy follow up to the Sound Eupho the series. Just a bit of note that the score I’m giving above is for this second season alone, if I have to give a score for the whole series it would be 93/100. Sound Eupho is an install classic and for me is up there as one of KyoAni’s best works to date. As of this writing right now, there is one more novel about our Kitauji school that is more of a collection of short stories (like the real reason Aoi quit the band, or the story of Shuichi finally confesses to Kumiko) so I think OVAs will be the most possible outcomes. Otherwise we have the spin-off novels that focus on Azusa (Kumiko’s childhood friend) and her Rikka high school marching band and for now I think there’s a high chance that in the future KyoAni will return back to that universe by adapting this spin-off. Well, they better adapt it, or on that note, why not adapting Haruhi season 3?
This series is, in retrospect, a really appropriate title that speaks to the very spirit of noitaminA block: an adult drama slice of life about the making of dictionary that surely don’t try to target the young audiences. Sound as dry as it is, Fune wo Amu’s actually one of the strongest noitaminA show come out for the last few years (not that the TV programming have been doing well to begin with). In Fune wo Amu, we follow Majime as he transferred to the dictionary department with the main mission is to publish a new dictionary called The Great Passage, along with the small team. That process, of course, taking time: 10 years, 20 years, you call it. The series is divided into 2 parts, the first follow him as he begins on the project and detailing how his normal workplace look like, the second part jumps 13 years later at their nearly-publishing phase. The decade-long efforts that he and the people he worked with delicate themselves in is something that you rarely seen in this anime medium.
I will be the first to admit that making dictionary doesn’t sound like an interesting subject matter to me, not because there isn’t anything great about it, but mainly because the subject will get dull very fast. But even I am surprised to say that the show keeps me hooked from start to finish. The tricks of how the show nailed it in making dictionary interesting are 1) the way the show managed to demonstrate how important dictionary is and 2) show us how those characters giving their all to make it possible and 3) point out to us the love for words and that each dictionary has, in fact, each own personality. For the first point, the show frames dictionary as the passage for everyone (not “everyone” everyone. Japanese people only) to communicate and connect to each other. Words are the way to express our thoughts, our feeling, so using the right words at the right time can make others understand the context completely. The Great Passage is one of a way to connect that gap between what we want to express and what we actually express, between one person to another. It is irony, but still fitting to that theme, that our main character Majime is a socially-awkward type. He has an extended knowledge about words, but he’s struggle to express what he wants to say. His love letter to Kaguya perfectly demonstrate his geeky nature, as even Kaguya herself can’t figure out it was a love letter, but being moved nonetheless.
But the beauty of dictionary means nothing if we don’t see the love and efforts of people behind it, and thanks god, this is where the show shines as well. Even in the wear-down corner of the otherwise-busy publisher, with so few people in it, it’s their passion to the project that counted the most. As in a line in La La Land (great film! Go watch it), people are enthusiasm about it because YOU are passionate about it. The love that you have can affect other people in the most positive ways. In the series, Nishioka, Majime’s co-worker, isn’t a type of person for this job. He’s socially active, care for others but never really interested in words. Through Majime’s passion though, he started to feel the joy of his works and committed himself fully to make The Great Passage the reality. Other characters, Mr. Araki and Mr. Matsumoto, we can feel their whole lives devoted in words, their meaning and they’re damn proud of what they’ve achieved. Last but not lease, the show successfully depicts dictionary as a creation, something akin to the work of arts. To be fair, think of it that way make the whole process makes much more sense too. The Great Passage is a brainchild of all the people behind the project, so everything has to be perfect, from the selection of words that eventually appear in the dictionary, the description process, down to how to choose designs, mascots and even page’s quality that best represent the personality of The Great Passage. That lead us to the painstaking task but ultimately rewarding of double-checking every single entry to see if there are any words missing. As the tasks done, the team (and ultimately, us) feel relieved that The Great Passage going to be a masterpiece.
Fune wo Amu, moreover, isn’t simply about dictionary-making process, it’s the show about people, too. As with the nature of dictionary, it’s a desire for connection that brings those people together. In the show, we witness how Majime and Nishioka, as vastly different as they are, can really bring the best out of each other. We can also follow Majime and his love affair, as quiet and poetic as it is, this is for me one of the best depiction of romance that I’ve seen so far for the last few years. The romance speaks to me because it grounded to reality, it’s beautiful because it is quiet, and isn’t it the best kind of relationship when you regard your spouse as a partner for life (well, for me it is). Even the new girl Midori fits into that pattern as well. Her struggle from being forced to transfer to the department that she had no idea of (you might not know but this happened regularly in Asian culture, especially 20,30 years ago, but I still have no idea why Nishioka had to hide his relationship with his co-worker partner), we see her from being distressed about the new workplace, come to really appreciate and love her job is nothing but a rewarding experience. Every one of the cast have their own different traits and characteristics, and that precisely the point that the dictionary (and the show by that extend) need all of their diverse voice in order to become multi-layered production.
If anything, the passage of time is the show’s main theme as it lingers in various forms throughout the show. The sudden time-skip, for example, signals us how everything is supposed to change (it’s 13 years for Peter sake), and yes, we can see there are some minor changes from the settings and the characters. But the sameness from the dictionary department’s office really tell us that in the room, time flows slowly; and really, that amount of time spent for making dictionary is nothing compare to how the dictionary might flourish for generations to come. In that 13-year gap, people leave, new people come in, it’s that cycle of life that make the show timelessness. Furthermore, Mr. Matsumoto unfortunate leaves us at the end of the show, but we know full well that the old plants gone in order for the new plants to blossom. Through every change, the words inside the dictionary will continue to live on and connect more and more people together as time goes on.
The show, although very well-pace, still has some flaws too. The subject matter is decidedly niche that unfortunately it will fly below the normal viewer’s radar. The passing away of Mr. Matsumoto before the time of the publishing is a tired cliché that for me bring an unnecessary regret to Majime. The animation as a whole, while serviceable enough and really don’t have many high actions, still a bit below par compared to your regular anime. Although we have a big time-jump, if the series meant to highlight the progression of making The Great Passage and the life of our main characters, I would’ve much preferred if they show us instead how they were doing along the way. I want to follow their journey from beginning to end (not the beginning and the end), and I don’t care one iota if they’ll successfully publish it or not, what I want is the ride to get there.
To sum up, Fune wo Amu, along with Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, are the titles that I’m really glad they are made after all. The older I get, the more I’m wearing off at high school comedy anime and high action anime, the more these titles speak to me on a personal level. I’m really glad anime still have platforms like this, the show that tripped out all the spectacular over the top visuals to instead telling the story it wants to tell. What we have in the end might seem nothing much plot-wise, but the sophistication behind the story and the love that the people behind it put into are something that I will remember fondly.
“Can you hear my heartbeat? Tired of feeling never enough.
I close my eyes and tell myself that my dreams will come true”
That’s exactly what Yuri on Ice offers, a heart-pumping ride to the sport of figure skating. Yuri on Ice’s current success and mainstream breakout is something that no one could have guessed before it aired; but here we are. As the show progressed, it picked up fans along its way, enthusiasm comments episode after episode, even the professional skaters are quite fond with the anime. So really then, how good is Yuri on Ice exactly? Well, let me put it this way, this show is vastly different than your regular anime out there, down from its sheer ambition alone (this is a passion project from one of the most promising anime director), the well-detailed struggling productions (which for me that doesn’t hurt the show, quite the opposite really as I find it adds to the show’s charms) and most famously the very positive portray of gay male romance and of characters from different backgrounds.
Yuri On Ice follows a season-long of Japanese figure skater Yuri after Victor- the current world champion skate figure- decided to take a year break in order to coach Yuri to win the world gold. He then trained and competed with other world class competitors from around the globe, especially with his rival: teen prodigy Yurio from Russia. I have briefly mentioned this before, but sports like figure skating or gymnastics or some performing martial arts are more akin to performing arts (think of dancing, acting or opera singing or ahem… band concerting) than the competitive nature of other sports. While other sports emphasis mainly on winning, those kinds of sports also aim for aesthetic and beauty. Beauty rules. Beauty rocks. Beauty is king. That’s why to do figure skating justice is a tricky job, as you have to both show artistic expressions of each individuals, as the same time still make the sport competitive. On that front, the show’s rather unusual approach of focusing entirely on the routines of each players elevate those parts I mentioned rather nicely, but writing-wise, it leaves a lot to be desired.
The show, at its core, is one huge theme about expressions, as expression is the very nature of figure skating, and through the performances the characters have a space to express their personalities, as well as their own struggles. Even our main character, Yuri, scrambles throughout the series to express his “love” for himself, for the sport and for his coach Victor. Many of the routines are of course over the top and hilariously silly (like the Italian’s sibling complex or the sex appeal ending routine of the Swiss guy, Christophe); but through those performances each player has his own little arc to dwell into and it’s certainly entertainment to watch both their smooth movements and their stream of thoughts from those guys. Every player, as a result, has certain unique traits and each of them add their own colors to this colorful world. I certainly enjoy the company of most of them.
But the hot of Yuri on Ice lies on the “bromance” relationship between our two men: Yuri and Victor. Week in, week out, the exclamations of many passionate fans: “Did they or didn’t they…?” would float up and soon become a massive storm of all kinds of responses. While this sucks that the show as brave as this one wouldn’t go all the way to announce their romantic relationship, it’s all clear in the context. I would say that this series greatest’s strength is the show’s positive depiction of same-sex relationship between two men. Positive but not realistic. I will get to the unrealistic part later but for once, this romance feels exactly how the two persons attracting to each other, the way they cling to one another and try their best to surprise the other partner. I’m glad the show see them as real characters, and describe their relationship not for the shake of shocking the anime world (although it did). More importantly, this homosexual relationship is a positive and necessary statement to both the sports community and the countries where those characters are from; as sports have history of homophobia from way back and the real life gay figure skater Johnny Weir, struggled to this very issue throughout his whole career. In addition, Russia specially also has a history with homophobic and Japan themselves is still debating on legalize gay marriage in their country (well, Australia is still debating as well. What’s wrong with you people? If someone want to marriage, give them the rights to!), so in episode 10, when Yuri and Victor giving rings (even in the name of good luck charms), it is a clear message for gay rights and I honestly wouldn’t wish it other way. If only other shows willing take such risks like that.
As for the unrealistic part, I’m going to be brief but the premise alone about Victor “suddenly” visits his hometown and declared to be his coach is really a wish-fulfilment plot device. We did learn in the end that Victor was swayed by the drunken Yuri but really this is something that only works in fiction. Even setting aside the mechanism, Victor willingness to see Yuri as his partner at all cost, while fun to watch, isn’t seem real at all. Furthermore, their relationship is depicted mostly in positive light, but when you think about it, putting two people with different backgrounds will of course result in culture shock. Even a small gesture from one side can be interpreted different by the other, but the show brushes any of that off and even more conveniently they made those characters communicate well to each other like they are all come from the big Japan. They do argue with each other but after a while they are overwhelmed by other’s feeling, as I take it as they are still on the early stage of relationship. If they truly can stay together, they will need to see the dark, vulnerable side of each other and as of now I don’t see any of that being shown in the series. Call me cynical guy but yeah while I still enjoy their relationship, it’s just not the real presentation of what true relationship is.
Another strong point that I am personally digging it from the show is how they handled the characters from different backgrounds with stereotype-free for the most part. Like how when you think about an anime American character, you’d think of the blonde, ruthless money-obsessed guy, but the American we got from this anime is the Mexican-background Leo de la Iglesia. Or for the country that is hot and wet all year and don’t even have snow in winter like Thailand, skate figure is the very unnatural sport, but to present a Thai character who is proud of being the first Thai to reach the final stage? That is a phenomenal touch and that approach strangely makes those characters feel so rich and universal.
But because of the show’s choice to concentrate on the performances, many problems arise. First, in order to be more focus, they can only emphasis on the Yuri’s growth and his relationship to Victor, and most of other parts are either undercooked or being neglected all together, especially for those non-professional characters. Remember Yuko? Or Minako? Of course not because basically after the first few episodes their roles are basically over, and the show reduces them to crazy bitch fans. How about their dogs? What happened with Victor’s dog afterward? Also, that part where Victor had to rush home for his dog is poorly constructed so that it feels very forced. Yurio gets some more screentime than the rest, and I particularly enjoy his moments with his grandpa, and with Otabek, but I feel his rival with Yuri is underdeveloped, especially towards the end when the person Yurio often pissed off weren’t Yuri but Victor. Also, I find the ending is so rushed that I would love for some more time to see the aftermath of those main characters.
The repetitive nature of those routines is also their drawbacks. Although of course they are slightly different, with the jump sequences are changed each time and we can see the character’s progression after each routine, it still can’t hide the fact the we listen to the same music, see the same performances for a good number of time. I have lost counts on how many times I’ve seen Yuri perform his pieces (by my count right now, 5 times for each program), as a result it makes the story as a whole rather predictable. There are also some sequences that I can see the huge graded down in terms of quality, but as I said earlier for those parts that did work, the choreography of the performances is something to behold, the animation is one of the fluidest I’ve seen this season and those shaky productions still managed to maintain my attention throughout the show. The music is all around great and creative, and further assist to make all the characters so distinguishable with each of them have their own unique theme song that speak a lot to their characters. I would definitely buy their soundtracks if it ever releases as a physical CD.
As a final impression, I am glad that we have this show. Yuri on Ice stands out in more than one way and if anything, its unexpected mainstream appeal means that Sayo Yamamoto will have more artistic control over her next project, which is a huge bless for everyone. As for the show, they’re not quite there to make history yet, but there’s no denying that Yuri on Ice is a special show.
What would you do if you receive letters from your future-self saying that you can change your future? That’s exactly what Naho experienced as she obtains ones from herself 10 years later that urge her to look after her new friend and prevent him from committing suicide. The premise, I agree, is hardly anything groundbreaking, but it functions well as a romantic drama anime. And orange is exactly that: a romantic drama anime. We have tons of romance developing between the leads Naho and Kakeru, and even more time focusing on the depression of Kakeru and the group’s attempt to save him.
The very central theme of orange is the sense of regret. Kakeru always feels regrets over his mother suicides, blaming himself for what happened and the thought of continue to live on proved to be too much for him. Moreover, it’s the adult counterpart that hold that same sense of regrets and griefs towards what they could do in the past for Kakeru. If they were more attentive, they could’ve realized his inner struggles. If they helped him out when he needed the most, chances were, he could’ve survived. Should’ve known better. It’s that regret sense that carry the weight in Naho’s, and eventually Suwa’s and the rest of the group’s actions and make their efforts feel grounded and genuine.
But that’s not to say that their efforts were executed flawlessly. The show’s at its best when the group confronts Kakeru to say out loud his issues, to really share his troubles to his dear friends. Kakeru always puts up a mask in order to cover his troubles, mostly because he believes he could drag the group down, and partly because he fears that he’d be rejected. By making him to be honest to himself, he knows that he can rely on his friends and that’s what save him in this new timeline. But orange feels forced whenever the group tries to recreate a perfect happy time for Kakeru; be it their fireworks night, his birthday, their relay match. Although those moments come from good intention, I can’t help but feel uneasy the way the group manipulates the outcomes so that little Kakeru always feel happy. Is it fair for the guy to receive too much without give anything away? Is that selfless love that you protect your loved ones from being hurt really the best possible outcomes? Hell, NO.
Although Kakeru and Naho share some good romantic moments together, it is Suwa who become the show’s best character. He’s in a complex situation since he decides to support the leads all the way, despite his own feeling for Naho. Sound cliché I know, but what make his character works is that Suwa is an observant, sensitive and highly emotional intelligent than the rest of the group. On the other end of the spectrum, Ueda is really a bad-written character. Orange clearly doesn’t think too highly of her, so the show frames her in a biased and negative light, it’s sad because whenever she appears on screen, she becomes a sore thumb to an otherwise solid cast. The rest of the cast share a natural, lively and effortless chemistry, but they are not the deepest bunch of characters you will ever witness. In fact, in the second half, the amount of time spent on the group trying to help Kakeru overwhelms their own character’s development.
In terms of production values, orange remains a very strange shoujo adaptation. The show has an above-standard quality in terms of direction. The director Hiroshi Hamasaki (who most famous for his Steins;Gate) elevates the show by his sensitive directing, which many scenes convey smartly the emotions the show want to make. The show, on the other hand, was done on a shoestring budget, as a result in a middle part the production values took a huge downfall, the characters are often off-model and those insignificant parts are treated equally messy and off-putting to the point that it brings the whole production down. This is a shame because this is a kind of budget that orange doesn’t deserve to have.
Despite a huge leap in quality, orange at least ends in high note, as the conclusion successfully ties up loose end and gives up a satisfying emotional ride. With the main theme about trying your best in order to have none regrets, it’s more about the ride, how to get there rather than the results, yet I have a feeling that orange focuses too much on the outcomes. To say all that, the ending was executed fairly well that I’ll complain no more. Overall, despite the huge decline in terms of production values in the middle part, and some thematic issues, orange is what it is- a solid entry of shoujo romance drama anime. Anyone who expect more from it will end up being disappointed.