Animation - Anime, Anime Review, Silver Moon in Full Bloom

Sound! Euphonium 2 (Fall 2016) Anime

Original Name: Hibike! Euphonium 2

Studio: Kyoto Animation

Season: Fall 2016

Episodes: 13

MAL Link: https://myanimelist.net/anime/31988/Hibike_Euphonium_2


(Note: Originally published over psgels.net)

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?

Animation - Anime, Anime Review

The Great Passage (Fall 2016) Anime

Original Name: Fune wo Amu

Studio: Zexcs

Season: Fall 2016

Episodes: 11

MAL Link: https://myanimelist.net/anime/32948/Fune_wo_Amu


(Note: Originally published over psgels.net)

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.

Animation - Anime, Anime Review

Yuri!!! on Ice (Fall 2016) Anime

Original Name: Yuri!!! On ICE

Studio: MAPPA

Season: Fall 2016

Episodes: 12

MAL Link: https://myanimelist.net/anime/32995/Yuri_on_Ice


(Note: Originally published over psgels.net)

“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.

Animation - Anime, Anime Review

Orange (Summer 2016) Anime

Orange Poster

Original Name: orange

Studio: Telecom Animation Film

Season: Summer 2016

Episodes: 13

MAL Link: https://myanimelist.net/anime/32729/Orange


Orange 01Orange 02

(Note: Originally published over psgels.net)

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.

Orange 03

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.

Orange 04

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.

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Animation - Anime, Anime Review, Silver Moon in Full Bloom

Thunderbolt Fantasy (Summer 2016) Anime

Thunderbolt Fantasy poster

Original Name: Thunderbolt Fantasy

Studio: Pili International Multimedia

Season: Summer 2016

Episodes: 13

MAL Link: N/A


Thunderbolt Fantasy 01Thunderbolt Fantasy 02

(Note: Originally published over psgels.net, with an updated score)

Sometimes you dread for the current state of anime: high school settings, cute girls, fan-service jokes, idol madness… that you wish for once to see something different, and out of nowhere an oddball like this just pop up: a wuxia puppetry show influenced by Taiwanese glove puppetry written by Gen Urobuchi. The sheer fact that it was greenlit at all was mind-blowing enough, but the most absurd things was the audience it aimed: the anime medium. Because no matter how you look at it: this isn’t an anime at all. Well, not even an animation to begin with. I’m not going to detail about it as I already addressed it in my weekly post. The fact that this is a wuxia puppetry show already makes it a unique show among anime world and all the more reason to watch it. But on top of all that, the show’s writing and execution are really excellent and refreshing. If the show just relies on its gimmick of being a puppetry show, it will fall apart very quickly, but Thunderbolt Fantasy understands that their characters are the real stars of the show, so they spend a huge amount of them talking to each other, explore their philosophy of life and the campy dialogues are entertaining and humorous.

Set in a fictional Eastern Asia settings, the show tells a story of a merry band in the quest to retrieve a legendary sword that was stolen by Mie Tian Hai, a skilled swordsman with a history of black magic. Our MC Shang Bu Huan is a mysterious swordsman who came from another area, that’s why he doesn’t know much about this place and thus got tagged along to the quest by Gui Niao, a cool-head strategist and the bunch of misfits including the naive guardian girl, the One-Eyed archer, the young Spear-wielder, a demon necromancer and the bloodthirsty assassin. The group, each has their own unique appearance and personalities with different set of goals head up to the Seven Sins Tower, and there were double-crossing, triple-crossing, blood-splattering, heads rolling and even demons, undead, skeleton birds join in along the way. Indeed, half of these characters here are easily villains in other story and the fun here is to see their huge ego crashing with each other.

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Because this is a puppetry show, there are many elements that you won’t find in other anime. The characters, for example, have very static faces. Especially when they are in close-up, it’s hard to tell apart what they are thinking because of the lack of expression in their faces, but this issue actually works in the show’s favor, for how else would one portrait a group that double-crossing is the norm? Second, the practical effects are truly what set it apart from other anime. There is little amount of action for a true-action show, but when the action kicks in, it’s a feast to the eyes. Bloods squirming all over, bodies blowing up, heads rolling that you can actually feel the weight of the blood dripping are refreshing to say the least. Lastly, I have to highlight the costume designs because they really go all in for the costumes to make the characters as distinctive and stand out as ever.

The characters themselves is easily the show’s best strength. Each character is elegantly designed and all of them have their own unique mannerism, assisted greatly by the use of puppetry, something that ordinary anime usually lack. My favorite characters in that vein is the demon lady Xing Hai, as whenever she talks, it feels like she’s singing and whenever she walks it feels just like she’s dancing. Like Mayoiga, those characters all have interesting traits and utterly over the top but here in this show they can actually get loose and carry the story. Like for example, the show spends half an episode for Sha Wu Sheng the Roaring Killer Phoenix challenging Mie Tian Hai (and then loose despite knowing it all), simply because these characteristics are unmistakably Sha Wu Sheng. In Thunderbolt Fantasy, those characters embrace their roles to the bitter end. As a main character, Shang Bu Huan is like our blank-state who unfamiliar to this world (like ourselves) and he’s being the most sensible person in this whole madness. I particular love his stunning reactions every time something absurd happens. Moreover, he bounces off other characters very well, creating a rather great chemistry between them and the dialogues maintain the campy sense that so entertaining to watch. There are pure gold moments throughout the series like when Shang Bu Huan talks to each member of the group to find their real motives, or simple quick remarks like “the temple smells offensive” or even “it’s already a sitting fight before the sword fight” because of course they’re too awesome to fight it normal way. Like a puppetry show, these characters are just there to perform their larger-than-life roles, but they perform it so well that I have a very good time following them.

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But this show is not only about characters having fun, there is a theme for the show if you want to look deeper. The notion of the sword is both mentioned various times throughout the series and the show twists that notion around quite wonderfully. In this world, swords represent power of destruction. Mie Ting Hai seeks out the most famous sword because he believes his technique deserved the best. The demon Yao Tu Li was put to sleep for 200 years because of the sword. The characters kill off hundreds of people through their swords… As long as you are good at swords, you have the ultimate power in this world. But not for our two mains Shang Bu Huan and Gui Niao. In fact, the series showcases two extreme spectrums from Shang Bu Huan that go directly against with the above notion. The “sword’ that Shang Bu Huan always carries around is just a piece of wood painted silver, because he doesn’t want to cause more deadly troubles with the swords, but when in needed, he could pull out 36 legendary swords (that he said he was about to expose them, sly guy!) to send the monster to the black hole (quite literally!), Gui Niao also hates using swords as a mean of killing. The legendary sword that everyone seek in the end was destroyed meaninglessly.

Thunderbolt Fantasy is the most entertaining series you will encounter this year. Plain and simple. Urobuchi writing is excellent in this show, both leaving enough room for the group to act, and maintaining the plot that both is fast and unpredictable, but always makes sense and a lot of fun. It appears that we will have an entirely new cast on the second season, plus our mains Shang Bu Huan and Gui Niao and if that’s the case then I’m totally on board. After all, Shang Bu Huan’s only weakness is his trust towards people and Gui Niao happens to be the master of manipulation; so I’m eager to see how our MC get himself dragged into Gui Niao’s little scheme next time. Like this first season already demonstrated, the world is simply too small for the two of them.

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Top Pick

Animation - Anime, Anime Review

Flying witch (Spring 2016) Anime

Flying witch poster

Original Name: flying witch

Studio: J.C.Staff

Season: Spring 2016

Episodes: 12

MAL Link: https://myanimelist.net/anime/31376/Flying_Witch


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(Note: Originally published over psgels.net, with an updated score)

For me, the reasons why most slice-of-life anime shows don’t work well is not because there’s nothing happen, but more because the cast isn’t interesting enough or the show tends to repeat the things that we already know. I’m happy to say that this is not the case for Flying witch. Flying witch has all the elements good slice-of-life shows have and moreover it presents itself as one of the finest in the genre in years. The slow and deliberate pacing and the strong sense of atmosphere maybe the whole reason why people keep coming back to watch it.

Story-wise, the show focuses on two main themes: the first theme is how Makoto the witch learns and lives her rural country lives. There are segments that as mundane as possible: Makoto learns to plant, the cast cooks hamburger, they go for herb-picking or thinning the apple trees. But the details they put in both show how they really care about the process, and help maintaining the relaxing atmosphere till the end. In Flying witch world, time will pass and people may get old, but growing plant, eating hot cakes and wandering around might be the best ways to spend your day. The second theme is to produce a mix of magical realism in this everyday life. By introducing new characters: The Harbinger, another witch, the witchcraft, the witch café or at the end the flying whale and Earthfish, the show showcases a sense of wonder, a touch of magic that feels almost like, well, actual magic. It helps that the introduced characters are endearing and have a very easy chemistry, they are both display on how each of us is different and have different purpose from each other, but ultimately we are all part of mother nature.

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Aside from the atmosphere, the cast is easily one of the highlights of the show. Rarely in anime that I see a cast who feel really natural and thus, true to life like our friends around us. Chinatsu, for example, acts exactly like how 12-year-old girl would act. Her ever curiosity, her excited over whenever she encounters new things, are so natural and exactly herself. Chito the cat acts like any normal cat would, and then some. Indeed, one of the greatest strength of the show is how everyone in the cast are so consistent, yet each episode we could learn something new about them. Like we only learn that Nao is so clueless in kitchen on the last half of the show, or until the second encounter that we learn Anzu is really knowledgeable about history. Each of the cast also fits in the shows perfectly and it has been so long that I found myself enjoying so many characters like this one. Moreover, the chemistry between the cast is what makes this show shines so much. I always enjoy little moments shared between some of their cast: like back-and-forth conversations between Chinatsu and Inukai, or Nao and Chito the cat, or Anzu and Kenny the white cat. The chemistry between the siblings: from Kei and Chinatsu, to Makoto and Akame is also well-spot, they’re siblings and their personalities are so different, but they understand each other and I can feel the warm feeling they have for each other. All these little moments help build up the chemistry and make the show so rewarding to watch over and over again.

But the show not only shine for its laid back atmosphere, Flying witch is also known for its understated details. It furthers showcase how the staffs put so much effort to this show so that it feels almost effortless. Those little details that we can easily miss the first time we watched, like Makoto put her broom in “vehicle parking” section in one episode, or how the hamster shakes himself uncontrollably every time he finds himself near Chito the cat. Those details could indeed be very rewarding on repeated viewing. While the show is much more an atmospheric spectrum than comedy side, this show also has very solid understated comedy and always has a very good sense of putting a final punch. The quick remark from Chinatsu about her Mom for example “I heard that old people aren’t easily surprised” is both very whimsical and modest. The punch where Akame giving Chinatsu and Makoto her presents had to be one of my favorite part of the show.

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Indeed, because of its relax tempo and slow pacing, it is destined for a lazy Sunday afternoon watch (which was exactly the time it’s available here in Australia), that’s feel true as in many of the episodes -for some characters – all they do is taking a nap. Ultimately, Flying witch is a celebration of the joy of everyday life, with a little touch of magic to create a sense of wonder that life and nature could bring to us.

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Animation - Anime, Anime Review, Silver Moon in Full Bloom

Flip Flappers (Fall 2016) Anime

Flip Flappers poster

Original Name: Flip Flappers

Studio: Studio 3Hz

Season: Fall 2016

Episodes: 13

MAL Link: https://myanimelist.net/anime/32979/Flip_Flappers


Flip Flappers 02Flip Flappers 02

(Note: Originally published over psgels.net)

What makes Flip Flappers stand out from the rest of the anime field? I found a lot of people asking that question along the way. Well, first off, Flip Flappers isn’t your ordinary anime offering, that’s for sure. Its visual styles are too much and too incoherent for one thing, the narrative never really reveal anything until halfway point for another thing. At the same times, this is the one rare anime that inspired many analysis, essays trying to decode what it is actually about, drawing thematic relevance out of their visual motifs and symbolism. So, what’s all the fuss, really? Let me get into that now.

On the surface, Flip Flappers is an adventure stories between the timid, shy Cocona who was dragged by the impulsive Papika into “Pure Illusions” worlds, the alternative realities that might or might not represent the inner psyche of its human’s subjects; to collect fragments that would grant wishes. Originally billed as a magical girl, the show hops through variations of genre, settings to whatever it pleases. In one episode Papika and Cocona were in the middle of a wasteland for an action Mad Max-inspired adventure, to the next they were trapped in a Class-S circle that would actually surpass many psychological horror shows out there, to another episode where they mysteriously became one identity that would make any David Lynch’s fans proud. It’s that freedom to break the rules and pick whatever content and styles they see fit made the show refreshing and unpredictably, which actually very fitting to how adventures should be like.

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Moreover, Flip Flappers is a very visually arresting show, a true “show, don’t tell” kind of series. We’re no stranger with shows that are more about styles, shows that are showcases for young, talented animators to experiment with new styles and visuals, Normally, I don’t mind those kinds of show because we do need something like this to push the boundary of anime medium, but more often than not those shows don’t have any proper storytelling at all. Great visual doesn’t mean great storytelling anyway. Flip Flappers walks that very thin line as the show seemingly try to overwhelm us with its abstract visual, vibrant imaginary; color and resonant emotions in an expense for coherent plots; but I will give the show this: while Flip Flappers not always make sense narrative, it more than makes it up thematically as those wild visuals and motifs are in service for of its adolescence themes.

In fact, if you look a little deeper behind its fun adventures, the show constantly addresses many of its coming-of-age concerns throughout its run. First and foremost is the theme of identity, as for its 13-episodes long our main Cocona had to figure out who she wants to be, whom she can be trusted. The identity theme is continuously directed in many forms, both visually and symbolically: from Cocona being a constant source of being manipulated and controlled by others, those two girls are trapped in a false, repetitive cycle of “safe” environment, the girls represent the same character or even to other extreme, Papika appears continuously as various different identities. Papika and Cocona’s relationship, on the other hand, function like two sides of the same coins of being growing up. The show is a constant adolescent journeys that make up from opposing force between the urge, freedom and emotional directness from Papika and compassion, responsibility, think before act quality from Cocona. It’s a legitimate fear of growing up and becoming an adult filled with responsibility and burden; but as the third girl Yayaka and our Cocona later figure out, maybe small steps like be honest to your feeling could be what it takes to become a fully-grown person and overcome that fear.

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The show’s climax, while closing down nicely Cocona and Papika’s relationship and give Mimi just about enough development to become a fearsome antagonist; I still consider it a lackluster final arc that keep me from giving it a higher score, especially coming straight from a spectacular middle part. In fact, the only time I would consider as brilliant in this last arc was Yayaka kicks ass and getting a well-deserved transformation. The rest of the cast unfortunately don’t have much roles in the final showdown. Judging those side characters as a whole, we actually know very little about them despite the twins and the staffs from Flip Flap organization appear in nearly every single episode, which is a shame. The late addition of Nyunnyun and the very role of Bu-Chan are also hugely unnecessary, as they don’t add much to the big picture and moreover, the inclusion of them feel a bit awkward to the rest of the story. Dr. Salt, on the other hand, had a bit of development but the show still doesn’t know how to use him to full potential as his role in the show function towards Mimi only; as a result; although it’s pretty much confirmed that Dr. Salt is Cocona’s father, I have a hard time believing that because there was no chemistry between them. Maybe that’s a whole point as he felt awkward towards Cocona based from his guilt, but I have a feeling that the show doesn’t seem to try even that.

But as I said in my weekly post, judging the show by how well it plays the rule isn’t a right approach, for Flip Flappers is the show that determines to break free and walk its own path. So back to that very first question: What makes Flip Flappers special? Well, I will put it this way: the show is a sublime example of animation in its purest form. Shows like this further highlight what makes animation so unique and appealing (I’m not talking strictly about anime, but the whole animation medium) that others medium can’t be able to express. Story like this can only works in animation form and the show successfully remind us the pure magic of animation and really why we fall in love with animation in a first place. With show as confident and creative as this I have a pretty optimistic feeling for the future of animation. Cross my fingers.

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Animated Movies, Movie Review, Silver Moon in Full Bloom

The Red Turtle (2016) by Michaël Dudok de Wit

Red Turtle poster

Original Name: La Tortue Rouge

Director: Michaël Dudok de Wit

Runtime: 80 minutes

Language: None

IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3666024/


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(originally published over psgels.net)

The Red Turtle is a brainchild of the director Michael Dudok de Witt and Studio Ghibli. If you never heard about the director, he’s an auteur animator who directed award-winning shorts Father and Daughter, the short was so acclaimed that many big animation studios approached him to direct their blockbuster movies, all of which he declined. Then one day he received a letter from Ghibli Studio stated that they thought his shorts looked very Japanese and they wanted to make a film with him. If you think the involvement of Ghibli could make this movie a more anime influences, you got yourself in a bind there, because this is unmistakably a Dudok de Witt film with more of European arthouse sensibility, with the slow and deliberate but confident pacing, and the film is more about sense and experience and many details are more open to interpretation than offer any precise meaning.

Looking from the outset, the film sounds like a really challenging work. This is a dialogue-free film about a man who washed away to a deserted island. He tries every opportunity to escape from the island, but always get disrupted by the giant red turtle. Then the man and the turtle form a closer relationship to each other and ultimately the man finds a way to adapt to his new life. And that was just the first 15 minutes of the film. For a full length feature film with no actual dialogue, it’s a feat that the movie maintains the attention to the very end. Indeed, trying to explain the plot of a film, or trying to recapture it in words, is already a disservice to the film. The Red Turtle is a film in its purest form, a visual storytelling that will lost its impact if it gets portrayed in any other forms.

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Apparently, Dudok de Witt initially planned to have a main character to speak to himself, like what Tom Hank character did in Cast Away, but then he scrapped the idea since he felt that the dialogue (monologue?) was too unnatural. But without dialogue doesn’t mean this is a silent movie. The sound of the movie, that include both natural sound and the score, is one of its greatest achievement. The sound helps assist us to follow every steps the main character takes, really put us in his shoes as we follow him around. Those sounds create a whole surrounding very detail too, close your eyes and you can hear the wind breezes, the waves of the ocean, the steps of the man and those animals at the same time. The score is equally impressive, at most times it’s slow and tender, but other times thrilling and exciting (like the very first scene or during the flood sequence). Visually, Dudok De Witt implies a very plain character designs against a natural but well-detailed and rich world the main characters inhibit. The background is expressive, with too much details was put on it. From the bush trees, the little crabs who seems to follow the waves, the baby turtles go around the bench, all these really create an atmosphere to the island. The animation and the shot selections are all top-class, which holds much of our attention throughout its 80-minutes length.

The film maybe about a man who float in an island, but the plot never feels plotless. Everything happens contribute to the main themes, which are the connection between human and nature and the passage of time. The film chronicles the man who struggles to find a place in a nature that clearly not for him, to him having a family and has something to hold on to. As the man got older and wiser, he himself realizes he’s just a small part of the world, like every plant, animals around him. His passed away in the end is just as well a part of that cycle of life.

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It’s rare today that can give a work that are original, mature and ambitious as The Red Turtle, especially against the backdrop of the dominance of computer animation in feature-length movies for the last 20 years. The Red Turtle, with its simple hand-drawn techniques, already feels like a timeless production, and the film is even more significant given the fact that this is co-produced by the beloved Ghibli, now on its semi-hiatus phase. While this film bears little resemblance to Ghibli’s original outputs, this is clearly a production of both the director Dudok De Witt and Ghibli; in a sense that The Red Turtle would not exist without those two. With so much efforts were put on this picture, it’s the more astonishing to realize that the film had achieved something so difficult to attain: simplicity.

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