Seen some
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (TV)

Folktales from Japan (TV)

Ghost in the Shell: Arise (OAV)

.hack//SIGN (TV)

Mushishi: The Next Chapter (TV)

Seen all Rating
009 Re:Cyborg (movie) Good

Despite the usual slightly-too-dark 3D palette and the initially incongruous contrast between the detail of the backgrounds and the simplicity of the character designs (though 3D just the same), 009 Re:Cyborg is just about the most eye-popping anime I've ever seen. The problem is, the linking story didn't manage to live up to the amazing action set pieces that make the film as good as it is.

It starts of with a breathtaking scene of buildings toppling domino style in Shanghai then moves into an aerial sequence amongst the skyscrapers of a future Roppongi Hills district of Tokyo. Among the other great set pieces are a B2 attack and nuclear destruction of Dubai and a disarming of an ICBM as it flies over Europe and North America. In between these brilliant sequences are the usual Kenji Kamiyama lengthy spoken expositions and altogether too easily obtained answers to plot conundrums. But, really, everything is just an excuse for the 3D visual pyrotechnics that are easily worth the admission price. Full marks to Kamiyama keeping the over-the-top gleefully destructive tone of the two 1960s films, Cyborg 009 and Cyborg 009 and the Monster Wars. Like the end of the Kamiyama’s Eden of the East TV series, 009 Re:Cyborg leaves many of the central questions unanswered: it's a frustrating tease, leaving the way open for a sequel.

Extended review

5 Centimeters per Second (movie) Good

Although the plot is fairly straight-forward compared with Makoto Shinkai's earlier efforts, this is his best film to date, narrowly better than The Place Promised in Our Early Days or Voices of a Distant Star. It's not only that the character artwork is improving with the extra resources available to him, but the characters themselves are becoming more interesting as Shinkai's craft develops. At last, the female characters show signs of independent motivation. Both Akari, the object of Takoko's frustrated desire, and Kanae, the ignored woman, move on with their lives. Full marks to them for abandoning the morose and, ulitmately, pathetic Takoko. Shinkai is, still too often, self-consciously sentimental but there is just enough irony to keep things on the right side of the tracks. Highlight of the movie is Takako's train journey from hell. This sequence alone is worth the purchase price.
Adieu Galaxy Express 999 (movie) So-so

Like the original Galaxy Express 999 this is quite a hodge-podge of a film. Unlike the original, however, the various elements fail to cohere so that, instead of being a coming of age story of mythic tone and proportions, it ends up as a middling space opera. My favourite character, Maetel, is absent for far too long and, when she finally appears, she plays pretty much the same role as she did in the original - the beautiful and mysterious woman who may be treacherous. But we know her true nature so there's no tension. Between these two movies and Maetel Legend, how many times does Maetel have to confront her mother? How often does her mother get resurrected? How many times must their homeworld be destroyed? How many homeworlds do they have? Four different ones as far as I can count. That's the wondrous Leijiverse for you.

Tetsuro is mostly an observer so there was little tension to keep me interested. He has done his growing up already so there's also no sense of him experiencing a right of passage. The Leijiverse heroes make their obligatory appearance as do a smattering of new characters but the encounters mostly come across as random adventures rather than valuable life lessons. The interventions of Emeraldas and Harlock are as contrived as ever but the mythic feel of the original is mostly absent.

Still, Maetel and Tetsuro are great characters so all is not lost. Kathleen Barr and Saffron Henderson, respectively, continue their fine work. One thing: the design and posture of Maetel comes across as slightly wooden compared with the earlier movie. I don't think the issue is the acting but, rather, it eminates from Japan.

I'm coming to the conclusion that Rintaro isn't much of a director. I think he fluked something special with Galaxy Express 999.

Ai City (movie) So-so

Koichi Mashimo film from 1986 that tells a confusing tale of a revolt by human DNA against its human hosts. The various rivals, using combat psionics, fight for possession of Ai, a girl who holds the key to the future. The non-stop action will surprise people who think Mashimo is leaden in his pacing while the colour palette is lurid compared with his later, pastel schemes. There’s lots of 1980s attitude, music and character designs. Curiously, it is strongly reminiscent of Akira, which was released two years later. I doubt the superior Akira was influenced by Ai City. It is more likely the other way round, as the Akira manga began serialisation six months before its Ai City counterpart. My response to the film in general is best illustrated by my reaction to the final scene: after all the dust settles, the main characters are plucked out of the scene and deposited right back in the first scene of the movie. So, we’re right back to where we started? Then why did I bother watching it?
Akira (movie) Decent

I find it impossible to reconcile Otomo's often exquisite graphics with his consistently sour worldview. Otomo doesn't examine violence; he revels in it. If there was some sort of satirical point then it would be worthwhile, however violence as entertainment is just a form of pornography. Mind you, it's not the only anime around with that problem. Having said that, the animation and music for the motorcycle sequence early in the film are unforgettable. Unfortunately the movie never again reaches these heights.
Alakazam the Great (movie) So-so

Very pretty but obviously dated movie based on the evergreen "Monkey" character and with a lineage going even further back to Wu Cheng'en's story of Xuanzang's pilgrimage to India, Journey to the West. The American dub is notable for Frankie Avalon as the singing voice of the main character and a characteristically entertaining narration from Sterling Holloway.
Andersen Dōwa - Ningyo Hime (movie) Decent

Angel Beats! (TV) Very good

Everybody in the world of Angel Beats! is dead. If you are killed you spring back to life shortly afterwards (if that makes sense). The characters inhabit a sort of purgatory and must come to terms with their previous truncated and traumatic lives before passing on. It's a premise that allows for copious, and often brilliant, black humour.

Nevertheless, it’s the three lead characters and the emotive way their tale unfolds that make this series special. Leader of the Afterlife Battlefront (SSS from the Japanese initials), Yuri Nakamura, is reminiscent of Haruhi Suzumiya in both appearance and character but more complex, if not quite so over-the-top. She has an innate understanding of the other students and how to motivate them, along with an inexhaustible well of protectiveness. Her judgement is usually acute and decisive even if she is as irascible as a mule and as sly as a fox. It takes rather longer to appreciate the qualities of Tachibana Kanade (just savour the rhythm of that name), or Tenshi (“Angel”) as most of the students call her. As the SSS’s enemy and being the archetype of the quiet, set upon girl, there isn’t much opportunity at first to see inside her mind. As she and Otonashi get to know each other better, her observant, astute and kindly nature comes to the fore. The relationship between the two is entirely natural seeming in the way it grows - a credit to the deft writing of Jun Maeda. The lead male, Yuzuri Otonashi may be hapless at first but that's only because of his ignorance concerning the rules of the game. Mild mannered and generous, he is the perfect foil to Yuri and the perfect match for Kanade. It is Otonashi who has the wit to understand what Kanade is trying to tell people and then to convince them to follow her wisdom.

Because a person’s presence in the world of Angel Beats! is linked to their experiences in their previous life, considerable time is spent on individual backstories. In some instances, the events are so horrible they stretch credibility. I suppose it could be argued that extreme trauma is a key selection criterion for entry into that strange universe. All the same, beyond the three leads the rest of the cast are generally single trait characters, although Yui the genki girl is quite a treat.

The premise may be crazy but the series culminates in one of the best emotional pay-offs I’ve yet experienced in anime. The final episode is both bitter and sweet and when the significance of the anime’s title is revealed in the penultimate scene… well, just have a box of tissues handy.

Extended review; second visit

Angel's Egg (movie) Not really good

This film reminds me of the story of the Emperor's New Clothes. It's as if it is screaming at the viewer - see how sophisticated and profound is the cut of my cloth. Really, it's just dull and pretentious. Look again and there's nothing of note to be seen. Mamoru Oshii is at his best when he manages to tie his philosophical musings to a good plot but, alas, the plot is slight and the musings obscure.
Ani-Kuri 15 (special) Decent

One minute. That's it. Just one minute to produce a "Wow!" reaction in each of these fifteen shorts shown on Japan's NHK network. Amazingly, some of them elicit just that response. There are some duds too, but that's to be expected in an anthology. Stand outs for me are Satoshi Kon's Ohayo (does this guy ever put a foot wrong?) where a young woman gets herself together the morning after her birthday party, Michael Arias's whimsical Okkakekko where hordes of children cavort with a giant, ponderous robot across idyllic fields, Shoji Kawamori's Project Omega where the NHK headquarters transforms into a giant mecha to stave off a threat from outer space (I particularly love the NHK newsreader's reaction when she realises she has announced what could be, in effect, her own demise), the exquisite 3-D woman in Ranji Murata's and Tatsuya Yabuta's Gyrosopter, the bittersweet From the Other Side of Tears from Akemi Hayashi, and the feline fantasy, A Gathering of Cats from Makoto Shinkai. That's a lot of highlights. And they're not the only good ones. To top it off the animation and artwork in some are simply breathtaking. Why only a "decent" rating? Well, after all, it's only entertaining fluff, albeit with that aforementioned occasional "wow" factor.
Animal Treasure Island (movie) Good

Anju to Zushio Maru (movie) Not really good

Unhappily I first watched this 1961 adaptation of Mori Ogai's Meiji period story Sansho Dayu immediately after experiencing for the first time Kenzi Mizoguchi's 1954 live action masterpiece Sansho the Bailiff based on the same source. Though pretty enough, the anime's technical, emotional and intellectual limitations are all too apparent alongside its live action counterpart. If ever you are tempted to watch the anime, don't bother. One of cinema's greatest achievements does the story far, far better.
anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (TV) Good

As much as I enjoyed watching Ano Hana - a nicely constructed, emotional story about teenagers coming to terms with grief - I find myself harbouring considerable misgivings about it. As with its spiritual forebear, Clannad, my emotional responses (and they could be quite powerful) were almost always accompanied by an intellectual pushback telling me it was all artifice.

The problem is that, with one possible exception, the six Super Peace Busters are all pretty much stock anime character types. To an extent that's fine: each is entertaining; they are handsomely drawn and animated; and they have clearly delineated characters with regrets and passions. Despite this, an air of unreality hovers over them. Why? Because they lack a realistically complex inner life. I didn't commit to them emotionally. I laughed at them. I even shed tears for them. But I didn't laugh or cry with them. To compensate for the lack of connection, it had to resort to emotional contrivances, such as the "mass hysteria effect" where more and more characters shed more and more tears in the hope of inducing a corresponding reaction in the viewer.

The character that showed signs of breaking her particular mould was tsundere Anaru (she with the gravity defying twin tails). Perhaps it was simply that I felt sorry for her. She had a raw and earthy sensuality that I found unusual for anime. Even though she was arguably less emotionally stable than the others, I always felt there was more going on in her head.

Visually the series is a treat. The backgrounds are beautiful and the characters are, as I've said, handsome. They all have expressive faces. Menma only needs to lower head a little, look up slightly and smile wistfully to melt your heart. Anaru only needs a slow camera pan along her legs. (If ever there was an anime that overdoses on thigh fanservice, this is it.)

Ano Hana is also well constructed dramatically. Although the catalyst for the subsequent events is something of a contrivance - Menma wants her wish granted but doesn't know what it is - from the first episode until the second last we follow the six as they figure out what it is they must do and, in the process, get to understand themselves just that little bit better. The many reveals are done theatrically and I found myself thoroughly hooked into the developing story. Sadly, things fall over in the last episode during the hysterical temple scene and equally overwrought farewell scene. Hyper-emoting characters are a cheap way to create drama. In fact, when Menma remembers what her wish was - to make Jintan cry - my response was, "well, that figures".

Favourite moment? Easily, in the end credits when the music stops momentarily and the descending grey flowers change direction and turn to orange and pink. Such a simple effect and so affective.

Extended review

Appleseed (movie) Decent

Despite an eye-popping opening fight sequence and glorious visuals throughout, it is difficult to engage with the film or the heroine, Deunan Knute. Indeed, the computer generated animation is so good it draws attention to itself, thereby detracting from other aspects of the movie. I say good with one qualification: the motions of the characters, especially hand movements are so fluid to be be unrealistic. That aside, the premise - who may be more deserving of a future, humans or bioroids - is an intriguinging one but, because of the detachment brought about by attractive but forgettable characters, the self-consciously distracting graphics and a world that has little parallel with our own, I didn't care how the dilemma is resolved.
Aquatic Language (special) Decent

This nine minute student film about the wonders and perils of communication pre-figures Time of Eve. The cafe and the barrista are dead ringers for their counterparts in the later anime and may prompt viewers to re-adjust their thoughts about Nagi's true nature. The design of the characters is highly stylised, so much so that they don't fit comfortably in their 3D surroundings, something that is managed more successfully in Time of Eve. This stylisation does, however, heighten the impact when the transparent 3D fish and speech bubbles make their surprisingly joyful appearance. The cryptic presentation may be frustrating but it does encourage the viewer to think about the subjects raised.
Aria - The Natural (TV) Very good

The second season not only gets straight down to business but it also has 26 episodes, rather than the 13 of Aria the Animation, to steadily develop the characters of the undines and to explore the wonders and mysteries of Neo Venezia. And it's Neo Venezia itself that, in many ways, is the central star of the second season. The famous waterways, bridges, plazas, towers, churches and cafes are obviously spectacular but everywhere the characters turn there is a secret place to discover, revealing a beauty not previously imagined: a meteor shower viewed from the rooftops; the radiance of an abandoned railway carriage; a puppet theatre on a distant island; a local community where strangers pitch in to roll up a giant snowball and build a snowman; or a flooded building that becomes a meeting place for cats. Cait Sith, the gigantic king of cats weaves his way through the season, magically guiding Akari and protecting her in the franchise's only seriously perilous moment. We never get close to Cait Sith, which is as it should be, but there is always something reassuring about him. He may seem corny but like so much of the franchise, corny works surprisingly well.

For sure, Aria continues to move at a leisurely pace, but that has the paradoxical effect of creating a sense of grandeur that is hard to explain by the simplicity of its individual parts and by the absence of any serious conflict. It is an immersive world that seductively draws the viewer into its secret places. One minor complaint. In this season only, in profile the characters appear to have a pronounced underbite, creating a petulant and goofy look.

Aria the Animation (TV) Good

Things happen slowly in New Venezio on the planet Aqua. The seasons come and go (at half the pace of planet Earth) and the young female gondoliers, known as undines, learn about themselves and the world as they learn their craft. It may sound dull, and perhaps it is, and the sentiments can be cheesy at times even if the characters frequently cop the admonishment, "No sappy lines allowed!" Nevertheless, the series is surprisingly moving, culminating in episode 11 when the older undines reflect on their days as apprentices. Like all the other episodes not much happens but the emotional impact is powerful. Clearly, we are in the hands of a very clever story teller.
Aria the Origination (TV) Masterpiece

One of the pleasing things about Aria is that it steadily gets better over the three seasons. Although the last season returns to a 13 episode format (well, 14 actually), it brings the franchise to a glorious conclusion. In some ways Aria is like a sonata: the first season is the exposition, the second is the development, while the last contains the recapitulation and coda. (Similarly, each episode follows much the same structure, being framed by the email discussions between Akari and Ai.)

The series abandons the magical elements of the previous two seasons and loses nothing by it. Instead we get something new: drama. For sure, it's not earth shattering stuff. Will the three apprentices realise their dreams and become Primas? How will their lives change if they do? What will become of the three Great Water Fairies? By this time, I had come to know the six characters so well, with all their lovable traits and forgivable shortcomings, that I cared enough about the outcome to be thoroughly moved by the unfolding drama. As the series concludes each character has moved forward with her life. It's bittersweet in that some things will be lost but there is an unrelenting optimism that even more has been gained. That's what change is all about, says Aria: embrace it and appreciate it. Yes, again I admit it can be corny, but it works a treat. One of the reasons it gets away with the preachiness is that it never takes itself too seriously. The messages are mostly delivered goofily and, more often than not, Aika lightens the mood with a typical admonishment, such as "No sappy lines allowed!"

One thing the final season does keep is the wider aspect and painterly style of the OVA. Thankfully it brings the characters' facial profiles back on model. It also maintains the first two seasons' sense of wonder. The vision of the wisteria in the flooded convent is, for me, the most sublime such moment in the franchise. And then there's the last episode, a coda where everything is turned on its head but somehow makes perfect sense. The final revelation of who the new apprentice is ends the franchise on a perfect note. No unresolved final chords for this Aria.

Aria the OVA ~Arietta~ Good

Not only does the OVA finally give the franchise a 16:9 aspect ratio but the artwork is more beautiful than ever - more painterly and avoiding some of the prosaic perspectives that were minor imperfections in the first two seasons. At only half an hour it is really just a bonus episode and not a particularly noteworthy one at that. Akari and Alicia explore the Campanile at night and, typically, the setting is a metaphor for the lesson the younger undine learns. It's hard to judge one 30 minute episode in isolation from the three seasons, given that it necessarily lacks the context and exquisite emotional build-up of the three TV series, so all I can say is that it's averagely good for the franchise.

Aria franchise review

Arjuna (TV) Good

I have found that my enjoyment of this josei magical girl series has grown over time. Sure, the ecological message can come across as hectoring and sometimes even misleading, and Juna and her boyfriend, Tokio, never quite work as a pair, either romantically or comedically. Nevertheless, there is much to admire: the whole series is a treat to look at and Juna is quite appealing as the tomboyish girl who finds herself out of her depth but strives to understand the chaos around her. The Hindu references add interest to the story (eg, Chris = Krishna, Juna = Arjuna) and, while Chris can be annoying, his feisty, mind-reading, all too wise, child sidekick, Cindy, ends up stealing several scenes. The first two episodes portray a meltdown at a nuclear reactor and, given events at Fukushima, are chilling in their prescience. In an age of global warming this is a timely reminder for our need to act.
Astro Boy (TV 1/1963) Not really good

I watched Astro Boy as a child in the 60s. (Yes. I'm that old.) The show never appealed to me the way Kimba the White Lion did yet I was always intrigued by how the perspective seemed to be from the feet looking up. Along with the huge eyes it was quite an innovation. I guess we have Mighty Atom to thank for so much that followed.
Attack on Titan (TV) So-so

Thrillingly animated action sequences and attractive artwork stand out in a series that otherwise disappoints. While the world-building is intriguing the Titans are so fantastic as to be ridiculous. Main character Eren's own connection to the Titans push credibility altogether too far. The characters and the plot aren't exceptional and don't improve over the course of the series. Indeed, the only half decent character, Mikasa, declines, becoming just another female addendum to the heroic male lead.

What is good about Attack on Titan is the visceral pleasure to be obtained from the actions scenes. Actually, I don't mean that literally - I could do without the gore - but the movement and the perspectives and the stunts are a treat to watch.

Ayakashi - Samurai Horror Tales (TV) Good

Baby Blue (movie) Good

Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo) but eerily reminiscent of Makoto Shinkai in both its story and visuals. This short film about two students wagging school the day before one of them moves away is the best of the bunch in the Genius Party collection. The final scene with the girl waving sparklers as the train takes the boy away is a sweet way to end the anthology.
Baccano! (TV) Excellent

Some shows have one, maybe two loveable characters in them. This has the luxury of several. Sure, the convoluted plot can become tiresome, particularly early on, but the characters and sheer exhilaration of the, often very violent, action always pull it through. The ditzy pair of thieves, Miria and Isaac, lead the way, somehow bringing joy to all and sundry, including the viewer, as they attempt to rob the crooked for the sake of the world. They aren't the only crazy, wonderful and surprising characters. The series abounds in them.
Banner of the Stars (TV) Excellent

If Lafiel and Jinto were peripheral to the main battle in Crest of the Stars they are now in the forefront of the Battle of Aptic Gate. Lafiel has become the captain of a small front line assault ship, with Jinto her supply officer. Disappointingly, their relationship doesn't develop much from Crest and Lafiel displays few traces of her earlier ferocity. This is made up by the crisp writing - the episodes whizz by - and the escalating drama of the space battles. Yet, because of that deftness in the script and the generally optimistic tone, the terrors of battle never ovewhelm the sense that all will turn out well. As in the first instalment, though, the highlight is the cruel wit of the Abh commanders, to whit the Bebaus brothers, Commander-in-Chief Dusanyu and Admiral Spoor (who just doesn't get enough screen time). Banner of the Stars has less variety than Crest of the Stars, matches its wit, and has more excitement.
Banner of the Stars II (TV) Excellent

Barefoot Gen (movie) Very good

This film has much in common with the better known Grave of the Fireflies. Both are based on autobiographical accounts of children struggling to survive at the end of World War 2. I prefer Barefoot Gen even though it is the older film with more primitive artwork and was clearly made on a much lower budget. It lacks the intellectual sophistication of Grave of the Fireflies where the pride of the brother is a metaphor for wartime Japan. Despite this, Barefoot Gen seems more honest and courageous to me. The violence of war is more openly addressed and depicted, it takes a more overtly anti-military stance, and isn't as emotionally manipulative. Where Grave of the Fireflies makes you want to weep, Barefoot Gen makes you want to look away.
Barefoot Gen 2 (movie) Good

The story of Gen continues in the immediate aftermath of World War 2. Lacking the first film's dramatic core of the Hiroshima bombing it relies on telling the story of the day to day struggles of the survivors. Understandably it lacks the impact of the first film even though it continues that film's simple and quiet dignity.
Battle Angel (OAV) Decent

Seventy minutes is not enough time to fully explore Gally's distopian cyberpunk world. The premise and the millieu are fascinating while many questions are begging for answers. What is Zalem? Why were Ida and Chiren banished? Would any of the characters ever get there? What happened in Gally's/Alita's past? Why was she scrapped and dumped from Zalem into the world below?

The rebuilt from scrap cybog, Gally, is a great character, combining innocence with deadly fighting skills and flowing moves. Sometimes she comes across as altogether too goofy sweet but that's easily forgivable. Ida, her rescuer and rebuilder, didn't have enough time to convince me that his various character aspects made sense as a whole. Gally's love interest, Yugo, seemed a nice enough kid until he assaulted someone in order to steal their spine. That's a pretty evil thing for a nice young lad to do. (As someone in the OAV declares: "If you're not careful, people will steal the back from under your shirt".) The character designs could certainly do with some updating while the futuristic delapidated look could look great with today's CGI technology. All the same it's a good looking and fascinating tale.

(The) Beast Player Erin (TV) Decent

An good story spoiled by the time taken to tell it and some rather tedious characters. By episode 35 watching the series had become something of a chore. Things pick up a few episodes later and thereafter build up nicely to a satisfying climax. Erin has to carry much of the series on her own and, thankfully, her creators have given us a heroine who, although she becomes increasingly earnest, is interesting enough for the task. The faults of the series are not hers because, really, the story should have been told in 26 episodes, not 50.
Belladonna of Sadness (movie) Not really good

Benkei and Ushiwaka (movie) Weak

This 14 minute black and white film from 1939 depicting the showdown between two of Japan's fighting heroes is mainly of historical interest now, both in terms of anime and its times more broadly. That the stronger, larger Benkei - out to disarm his opponent - is defeated and becomes the ally of the diminutive, young Ushikawa could have been seen by contemporary audiences as a wishful allegory of their own era.
Berserk (TV) Good

Despite initially appearing to be a typical warrior Jock, the protagonist Guts ends up as quite a complex and interesting character. He joins with and cedes all moral authority to the ambitious, successful and charismatic Griffiths only to have it dawn on him slowly that his patron is an altogether nasty piece of work. This developing scenario is ripe with possibilities but, disappointingly, climaxes in a supernatural armageddon that is out of keeping with what has gone before. A more down to earth resolution could have been every bit as dark and edgy without straining credulity. The series is also notable for its beautiful watercolour backgrounds and for the amazing Susumu Hirasawa song, Forces, that accompanies the previews.
Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I - The Egg of the King (movie) Good

Covers the first ten episodes of the TV series, omitting 1 and 3 while compressing the remaining eight episodes into somewhat less than ½ their original running time. I think it loses nothing by it: all the essential plot elements are present; and the three main characters - Guts, Griffiths and Casca - are well fleshed out. The rapid pace compared with the series also has the benefit of creating a strong sense of impending doom, something that was missing in the series until Griffith has his sudden descent into destruction. Most of the key dramatic moments have all the impact you could want.

What is lost is that the minor characters are glossed over: Judeau, Pippin and Corkus barely appear. It's a cost I'm happy to wear. Among other characters the Midland king and his brother, Julius, come across as unpleasant, though I suppose the latter is supposed to. Charlotte is a disaster - the moment she opens her mouth the movie shoots itself in the foot. It's a girly voice in the most inappropriate and grating way. The problem is exacerbated by the three leads having an older, more mature feel about them than they have in the TV series. I think that is a good thing. Griffith, in particular, seems much more ambiguous at this point of the story than before. (I wonder if it's simply that this time, I know what his pact with the behelit entails.) There's also a couple of gags having a poke at his campy design. Casca is more believably a seasoned warrior but she does lose some of the elfin nature that made her so appealing previously.

The characters appear to be fully CG and have the problem I've noticed with similarly produced films - the movements are so smooth and regular that they sometime seem unnatural. It happened in Appleseed and to some extent in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. At other times this film is as good as anything I've ever seen. Generally, the fight choreography is brilliant, although, in some of the battle scenes, the NPC combatants too often gave the impresson of being iterations of the same narrow set of elements, rather than independently moving and individual designed. Having said all that, it is still fantastic to look at. It may lack the expressionism of the hand painted backgrounds of the original but the detail is a marvel to behold.

Beyond (OAV) Very good

One of the highlights from the Animatrix anthology, this is a wonderful and whimsical story of a bunch of kids who discover a mistake in the matrix that allows them to defy the laws of physics. Sadly, all good things must come to an end and officials in fallout suits put an stop to their harmless activities. Even if it’s not as violent as Morimoto’s other films, there is still a strong undercurrent of terror. Like all his other films, it’s a visual delight but it also benefits from the discipline of being part of the Matrix narrative structure.
Black Lagoon (TV) Good

There's a great show here trying to emerge from the script's too frequent resort to bravado instead of wit, easy violence and corny stunts instead of dramatic conflict, and caricatures (with some exceptions) instead of interesting characters. There are moments when Black Lagoon becomes so much more, such as episode 7 when the redoubtable Balalaika comments while tape recording pornography, "I want to die" (so apt, yet so unexpected), or the extraordinary confrontation between Rock and Revy later that same episode. If only there were more of this quality drama, this would be an anime to truly savour. As it stands it remains a stylish, competent action series.
Blade of the Immortal (TV) Decent

One of the best things about this particular DVD package is the series of interviews conducted by the original mangaka, Hiroaki Samura, with various members of the anime production team. Although he had earlier given the anime his imprimatur, at the very end of the last interview, Samura says:

"I’m sorry to say to those who bought the original series but where the anime ends is very off. If we’re able to continue this, please do so is all I can say."

Yes, Blade of the Immortal ends after just thirteen episodes in the middle of a story arc. Nevertheless, there is still much to enjoy about it. Like the best Kouichi Mashimo anime, it's the interactions between the major characters (in this case, between Rin and Manji) that provide the greatest rewards for the viewer, not the short bursts of violent action, not the impressive artwork and not the appropriately intense soundtrack from Kou Otani. Putting two mismatched characters together is a common technique in any dramatic art form, but something more is happening here. The two are drawn to each other for reasons they can't comprehend. She wonders about the possibities that would be afforded to her if she were immortal; he wonders where she gets her motivation from. Thanks to the other each finds a direction in their life.

Like the more recent Hyouge Mono (and Mashimo's work in general) the artwork can be breathtaking at times (TV Tropes rates him second only to Makoto Shinkai for scenery porn) while any expensive animation is kept to a minimum by having the, usually violent, action scenes short and sharp. The blood and gore can be graphic but, being animated, is never off-putting. Unlike his restraint in Hyouge Mono, Kou Otani's soundtrack is intrusive and, at times, jarring with its jazzy disonances. I think it's entirely appropriate.

From the moment Makie Otono-Tachibana appears in episode 9 the series takes off. For 4½ episodes there is a terrific discourse on revenge and mercy, immortality and death, presented in a series of compelling vignettes. However, an uncertain start, some altogether too-shounen villains and an abrupt ending reduce Blade of the Immortal to mediocrity.

Extended review (scroll down)

Blood: The Last Vampire (movie) So-so

One suspects that this 50 minute movie was all that could be retrieved from a project that self-imploded during production. All through the accompanying "making of" documentary there are hints at ongoing resignations and sackings. It's chock full of unexplored ideas and missing back story. The worst thing, though, is the protagonist's mouth, which is unpleasant to look at and far too distracting.
Blue Submarine No.6 (OAV) Decent

Visually impressive show that suffers from compression of story and character development in order to revel in its marvellous CGI animation. There is a good story here that could have had more exposition, especially in the portrayal of Hayami's growing awareness of what is really going on, and also in explaining Zorndyke's true motivation. I would also like to have seen a more adventurous approach to the relationship between Hayami and the fish-woman Mutio (pictured left). Doing so may have drawn attention away from the pacifist message but I feel that exploring the inter-species relationship would have been fascinating, especially when the other major female character, Kino, isn't particularly engaging. Disappointingly, the music is largely inappropriate.
Brave Story (movie) So-so

Reasonably entertaining kid's story with impressive visuals that, unfortunately, displays its faults all too obviously: an episodic plot that is driven by circumstance rather than character; characters that are never developed properly even though they may be initially appealing; and a final lesson that comes across just a little bit preachily.
Broken Down Film (movie) Weak

Mildy amusing short about a cowboy that has more problems with the malfunctioning film than he has rescuing a damsel in distress.
Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 (TV) So-so

The Knight Sabres will save us from a fate worse than death. It's just that Tokyo will be destroyed first - surprise, surprise! Led by a cool female Bruce Wayne type, but who steadily deteriorates into a gibbering mess, the rest of the team consists of a postering rock singer, a country girl out to prove herself and a clumsy hacking genius. Yes, just the people you need to save the world. Never mind that the laws of physics are routinely ignored; or that the crazy robots, called boomers - somehow that's an acronym that contains the word voodoo - are more goofy than sinister; or that the villain thinks she's god, wants to rule the universe, and laughs oh-so crazily at the prospect. Actually, until she loses it and starts giggling, Galatea is probaby the most interesting thing about the series. No, that's not right. It's the episode titles, taken from 1970s rock albums, and the 1970s motorbikes that Nigel works on his spare time, a Ducati 750 and an MV Agusta 750. Look, this is not a case of what the series might have been; it's more a case of how good it manages to be in spite of the rubbish making up its parts. The four main characters are appealing when all is said and done and the unexpected reveals do manage to keep the plot interesting - the best of these twists is when the Knight Sabres understand the truth behind the earthquake that destroyed Tokyo in 2033 and the consequent entombment of Galatea. Compare it with some of its cyber punk contemparies such as Ghost in the Shell or Serial Experiments Lain and its shortcomings are manifest.
Buddha 2: Tezuka Osamu no Buddha - Owarinaki Tabi (movie) Not really good

Buddha: The Great Departure (movie) Good

Buddha: The Great Departure is an adaptation of Osamu Tezuka's heavily fictionalised manga of the early part Buddha's life where, as the Prince Siddhartha, he is heir to the Shakya kingdom, which is constantly at war with the more powerful Kosala kingdom. Siddhartha's father tries both to raise as him as a warrior leader and to shield him from the miseries of the world. Of course, he is successful at neither and the young Buddha eventually renounces his privileged life to seek a greater understanding of the world and its obligatory suffering. Several of the principle characters - Migaila, Chapra, Tatta - are inventions of Tezuka's, which isn't a bad thing at all as the three have strong and memorable personalities, whereas the historical characters, including Siddhartha, are wooden by comparison. Siddhartha's wife was altogether too much one of those Tezuka cutesy Betty Boop look alikes to be taken seriously.

For a film with pretensions to grandeur it is surprisingly mundane in execution at times (possibly due to budget limitations) and some of the dramatic scenes fall flat. In one death scene the "dead" character unexpectedly lifts her head and starts talking before having the good grace to finally expire properly. It came across as quite odd. These failings are more than compensated by other dramatic scenes that work well and some stunning vistas and sound effects. The film didn't flinch from the presenting the cruelties of life, including those inflicted upon children and women. Nevertheless, it faithfully captures the optimism that is such an essential element of any Tezuka work. The source material is so rich and so extraordinary that even a ham-fisted portrayal would have some merit. This version is much better than that but sometimes falls short of what it may have been.

Buki yo Saraba (movie) Decent

Bunny Drop (TV) Masterpiece

Anime is full of odd character relationships but a 30 year old bachelor parenting his 6 year old aunt is one of the quirkier examples I've seen. It also niftily avoids anime cliches: Daikichi is constantly out of his comfort zone but is never pathetic while Rin is moe without ever becoming a fetish object. Although the series is thoroughly sentimental it has enough acid wit and acute observation that it rarely becomes cloying. Other characters are variable, although initial negative reactions are usually softened once you get to know them better. Rin's mother is unsettling and that's the way she ought to be; while Yukari, Kouki's mother, is an attractive love interest if a tad Yamato Nadesico for my liking.

I liked Rin's and Daikichi's journey together through the series. Initially they are outcasts (with Rin decidedly more on the fringe of the extended family) but their relationship brings out the best qualities of each and, in doing so, they find themselves interacting more normally with their community. The journey back to community is sweet although the final destination is somewhat mundane. The best scenes are mostly early in the series although the most memorable takes place in episode eight when Daikichi encourages Rin's mother to secretly watch Rin paying her respects at her father's (and his grandfather's) grave.

C – Control – The Money and Soul of Possibility (TV) Not really good

Any initial promise of being a [C]ritique of how [C]apitalism plunders the future, via [C]redit, to pay for our [C]onsumption is quickly lost in the [C]onfusing rules of the Financial District and the surprising and tiresome shonen battles between the entrepreneurs, complete with power-ups and near death experiences.

Equally disappointing was the dearth of character development or interesting relationships. The hero, Kimimaro, could (and should) have been far more ambiguous. Had the writers had the courage to do so, they could have presented us with a much more disturbing scenario. If the relationships were drawn so they really mattered, then the losses that occur would have been far more moving. As it was, my reaction to the victims of the dealing was cerebral rather than emotional.

Kimimaro's relationships with his alluring asset, Mashu, and his schoolfriend, Hanabi, are woefully underdeveloped. I would love to see a serious treatment in anime of a sexual relationship between a human and an alien creature. What I’ve seen so far is either comedy fodder or, when taken seriously, such as Blue Submarine No. 6, the writers shy away from any risky exploration. In short, I wish Kimimaro had slept with Mashu. The writers could, alternatively or additionally, have pushed the friendship between Kimimaro and Hanabi. Just imagine the possibilities then if his dealing caused her to vanish.

Basically, this was a story with the possibility of lots of soul, but blew it badly.

CANAAN (TV) Good

Canaan often struggles to reconcile its disparate elements: girls with guns story with otaku “data” elements; dramatic tone with teenage humour; visceral action with convoluted plot; and a huge amount of back story with only thirteen episodes available. The basics are there: great artwork and animation, breathtaking fight scenes, the makings of an epic plot, and characters with considerable potential.

The show is always at its best when the eponymous Canaan is on screen. The way she looks and the way she moves are always a treat for the eyes. Better yet, I always appreciate characters that can convincingly portray opposites at once: Canaan is resilient and helpless; ruthless and full of doubt. Just as well, because none of the other characters live up to their potential.

This could have been a truly great anime if it the plot hadn’t been so piecemeal, and if the producers had ditched the unnecessary juvenile elements and given us a serious character driven thriller. As it is, it’s a beautifully animated action show with a memorable heroine and some brilliant set piece action sequences.

First visit (Japanese dub with English subtitles) (scroll down); Revisit (English dub)

Cannon Fodder (movie) So-so

A typical ugly, violent Otomo world. Also, typically, Otomo doesn't provide the viewer with a moral point of view. (Neither does Tarantino but that's the joke - Otomo isn't that sophisticated.) I can only conclude that Otomo likes making ugly, violent films. Shame, because he's a great animator. (Part of the Memories anthology.)
Cardcaptor Sakura (TV) Decent

Casshern Sins (TV) Decent

A bleak tale of ruin and redemption that is so relentlessly downbeat for much of its 26 episodes that it's hard to get enthused by the dilemmas of the protagonist, Casshern. Even when, at the very end, he gains an understanding of how precious life is, whether human or robot, it comes at a terrible price. The artwork, the animation and the soundtrack are all striking and, of course, complement the single-minded and gloomy vision. Like Casshern himself this anime wanders around aimlessly for the first half but it does eventually arrive at its destination.
Castle in the Sky (movie) Very good

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is, in a sense, the most typical of Miyazaki's films in that it displays most obviously his strengths and weaknesses as an anime director. On the positive side, the plot is entertaining, the visuals are superb - particulary his sense of motion - there are many memorable moments and ideas, and his wit has not yet become stale. On the down side, the characters, other than Dola, are mostly forgettable. Like other of his films, they are drawn with audience acceptability in mind - you rarely see an adventurous character design in a Miyazaki film (Spirited Away being an exception). Worse, they are defined by their role in the plot, rather than the plot being propelled by their dilemmas. (Compare with Full Metal Alchemist.) The flatness of the characterisation becomes truly annoying with the laughable villainy of Muska and the General - there's no sign of the ambiguity of Lady Eboshi or Yubaba here. Miyazaki's quest to make films that are entertaining for both children and adults is also hit and miss. There is an underlying savagery that I hope kids don't always pick up - just think of how many people fall to their death in the climax. Special mentions to Dola and her gang, and to one of the most memorable sequences in anime - Sheeta falling from the sky.
Chameko’s Day (movie) Bad

Yes, they were making cute schoolgirl slice-of-life anime back in 1931. Some things haven't progressed much in 80 years.
(Le) Chevalier D'Eon (TV) Decent

A one watch wonder, mainly because, despite gorgeous graphics and appealling characters, the whole thing is dominated by a plot that, while labyrinthine, drives the characters rather than other way round. It's as if D'Eon and his band of musketeers are constantly chasing their tails. It's a sign that a plot is going around in circles when the creators try to spice things up by having one of the characters suddenly reveal their allegiance is the opposite to what had been previously presented. This happens twice with D'Eons band, and numerous times with the sundry villains and extras. Compare with two other plot heavy anime, Full Metal Alchemist and Gankutsuou, where events are pushed forward relentlessly by the cast. Worth watching for the wonderful images and the final homage to the French revolution.
Chibits (special) Weak

As a bonus with the Chobits collection it's welcome, but as a stand alone item Chibits is entirely unremarkable. Micro-persocoms Sumomo and Kotoko go looking for Chii believing she has forgotten to wear underpants. That's about as interesting as it gets.
Chihayafuru (TV) Good

The charm of this series comes mainly from the main character, the awesomely lovely Chihaya, who, on the surface, is sweet and vacuous but, thanks to great writing, direction and artwork, has a rich and complex inner life as she follows her ambition of being a master of the card game karuta. Her two closest friends - the rivals Arata and Taichi - are also compelling. Arata is the catalyst behind everthing in the show: he inspires Chihaya to go beyond her self-imposed limitations; and unknowingly pushes Taichi to support Chihaya in her endeavours. The slightly chilling Arata is a fine contrast to the generous Taichi. Chihayafuru is at its best when it focuses on the emotional interplay between the three, even if they do emote unrealistically at times. One of the failures of the series is that Arata is absent for long stretches at a time. The other members of the karuta club - Kanade, Nishida and Komano - are pleasant enough without being outstanding.

In episode 15 Chihaya loses a climactic match to her arch-rival, Shinobu. Thereafter Chihayafuru forsakes its most charming element - the emotional development of the principal characters - and becomes something else: a sports anime with a flimsy plot. Worse, the karuta games entirely lose their electricity. Even the once beautiful visuals decline: the face faults and deformations become more frequent while there is considerably less detail in the backgrounds or even in the characters themselves.

Despite all that, the series ends with so much more left to explore. If the type of lapses evident in the last third can be avoided then a further series would be something to look forward to.

Extended review (scroll down)

Chihayafuru 2 (TV) Good

Happily the second season doesn't fall away towards the end as its predecessor did, which is odd in a way because, as in the last third of the first season, this forsakes the character examination and relationship developments in favour of the karuta tournaments. It's very well done though, making it more compelling than the first season though, paradoxically, less interesting. Face faults and other comic deformations aside, it is a pretty franchise, while Chihaya must be just about the most handsomely designed female character in anime: an attractive lead who isn't fetish fodder is such a welcome change in anime. And, as bonuses, she has a distinctive and appealing personality. The romantic rivalry for Chihaya between Taichi and Arata is largely glossed over, as is her own sporting rivalry with Shinobu (pictured left), while the rest of the cast play out their designated roles proficiently. Chihayfuru may not be great anime but it is refreshing in a way so many of its contemporaries aren't and the unerring direction from Morio Asaka (this time around, anyway) mean that it rarely flags. More would be most welcome.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices (movie) Decent

On a technical level and in terms of creative ambition, Children Who Chase Lost Voices shows Makoto Shinkai continuing to develop his craft. The results, however, aren't always positive. He remains a master of the landscape or the domestic view, has created probably his best female character yet (though not without shortcomings), and given us his first adventure story, rather than a romance. Yet, beyond the beautiful backgrounds the film seemed mundane and, worse, lacked the emotional impact of his three previous films.

Extended review

Chinkoroheibei and the Treasure Box (movie) Weak

In this 1936 short film about a boy who steals the fish king's treasure box pioneering director Noburō Ōfuji moves away from silhouette animation and utilises the more expensive cel methods. Of course, the style and technical standards are dated but Zakka Films are to be applauded for making available this and other Japanese anime from the era.
Chobits (TV) Good

Early in Chobits the male protagonist, Hideki Motosuwa, tries to get a handle on the English word, "respect". In a series that veers from soft porn to sentimental romance it is easy to miss CLAMP's feminist agenda that this scene is subtly bringing to our attention. Many commentators have remarked upon the series' disparate halves but, it seems to me, that there is a deliberate idealogical structure to Chobits, a series that examines the male fetishisation (what an awkward word) of the female body. The first half gently mocks male fetishes from pornography to peep shows to underwear fantasies to magic girlfriends. Having put these fetishes in the spotlight, the creators then undermine them by showing us their destructive effect on women - in the tales of Takako Shimizu and Yumi Omura - and by constructing an alternative, insisted upon by Chi and her builders, and based upon, dare I say it, respect and an understanding of our limitations. Still, the soft porn and the sentimental romance are good fun but at least the viewer can point to the underlying purpose as a justification. Watch out especially for Ueda's story in episode 21 (19 if you exclude the recap episodes). This 10 minute segment has got to be amongst the most affecting in all anime. Also noteworthy is the 2nd ending theme, Ningyo Hime, an instrumental version of which powerfully underscores the climax to Ueda's tale.
Clannad (TV) Decent

Never reaches the highs of Clannad After Story but, likewise, avoids the time wasting early episodes and wayward later episodes of the sequel. Tomoya makes the series, being kind-hearted without being cloying and never really living up to his delinquent reputation. Nagisa is not so successful - it's a pity the hero has to fall for the dull girl. Kyou or Tomoyo would have been more interesting and either a better match for his wit. Luckily, Nagisa comes with memorable parents, Sanae and Akio, who provide some of the best moments. Even at its most successfully emotional Clannad too often left me feeling manipulated, suggesting that the scenarios are never as well written as they might have been.
Clannad After Story (TV) Decent

When this series is on its mettle (episodes 12 to 19) it is very, very good. Indeed, episodes 17 to 19 (from when Tomoya is re-united with Ushio to the mirror-image re-uniting of Tomoya's father and grandmother) contain 72 minutes of the best-judged, emotionally-driven anime you are ever likely to see. And they prove that inspirational sad will alway elicit more tears than tragic sad (which is what you get either side of those three magnificient episodes). Sadly, the first eleven episodes are too often just trite and the last three of the main story arc are utterly misguided. In a tale that it is notable for its palindromic plot architectures it would have made more sense, and arguably been more satisfying artistically, if Tomoya were to raise Ushio successfully as a single father with the help of Sanae, Akio and his school and work friends. But I suppose single parenting wouldn't sit well with the overall conservative social values fostered by the series. One final note. I think this is about the only time I have sat through the entire opening theme in every episode of an anime series. I wouldn't have called it as so good at the start but I am now utterly charmed. It fits the series perfectly.
Claymore (TV) Excellent

Despite the shonen fight scene elements that are grafted uncomfortably into the storyline and a Gothic atmosphere, Claymore is best considered as part of the girls with guns genre but with giant swords instead of guns. The original twist is that the central, and metaphorical, mother / daughter relationship common to the genre is replaced by the pairing of the protagonist, Clare, with the boy, Raki. It's a great evolution that gives the show considerable oomph.

Lurking inside every girls with guns heroine is a psychopath and implicit in that is the struggle for her human nature to prevail. Here it is much more explicit: the women can literally turn into demons if they become excessively violent. The power of Claymore lies in how Clare cares for Raki and preserves her human nature in the process. Similarly, the pact between the partially awakened claymores (Miria, Helen, Deneve and Clare), Irene’s gift of her arm, and Clare’s, later to be reciprocated, rescue of Jean give proceedings a resonance you wouldn’t expect in an anime with many shonen elements.

Set against these notions of redemption is revenge. The overarching plot line of the anime is Clare’s quest to avenge the death of her own mother figure by claymore turned demon, Priscilla. It takes Raki’s love and Jean’s sacrifice to bring Clare back from the brink of the abyss and enables her to repudiate revenge as a solution. The down side of Clare’s choice to reject revenge is that the final battle between Clare and Priscilla falls flat. Not only because it is indifferently choreographed, not only because the previous battle was so riveting, but also because pulling out of a fight voluntarily is hard to portray dramatically and the makers don’t manage it here. Nevertheless, Jean’s actions in particular bring the scene to a satisfying and moving finale.

One of the many delights to be savoured is the star-studded line-up of women, mostly speaking in their lowest register and, with something like 30 or 40 claymores, listening was a pleasure all on its own.

Claymore could have done with more development of Raki and cut back on the shonen aspects of the fight scenes but it’s so refreshing to watch a serious anime without schoolgirls that isn’t afraid to kill off major characters.

Extended review

Cleopatra (movie) Decent

Colorful (TV) Decent

Sixteen six minute piss-takes on the male gaze and other male fetishes. The content is actually quite mild, if repetitive so, thankfully, it comes in six minute bursts. Whether you think the satire works depends in large part on how funny you find it. Sometimes its hilarious - the godzilla-esque school girl with legs akimbo in Shibuya is the pick of the series - and these moments, along with the rapid-fire format made it, on balance, worthwhile for this viewer. And sometimes I can sympathise with my hapless counterparts sneaking a peek - the sportsgirl Yamamoto (pictured left), for one, is very sweet.
Comedy (OAV) Masterpiece

Ten minutes of distilled magnificence. Other than its lack of overt sexual imagery this could be straight out of Angela Carter's Bloody Chamber. It hit just about every positive anime button in my psyche: the Irish setting, the bloody retribution occasioned upon the English invaders (yes, I have Irish ancestry), the magical story oozing atmosphere, the Franz Schubert music, the ever present wit, and, above all, the characters of the scheming, serious child and the violent yet subtly comic elf king (watch out for the foot in the face moment - sounds horrible but its kind of sweet). I find myself watching it over and over. It really is that good.

The title is a reference to the preferred reading material of the elf king / black swordsman. (Thanks, Calathan.)

Extended review (scroll down)

Conan, the Boy in Future (TV) Decent

Connected (OAV) So-so

Short animation for a music video from the singer Ayumi Hamasaki. A young girl connects with a boy on a motorcycle in a terrifying industrial dystopia. The designs of the characters and the belligerent environment don’t have the same appeal as in the other Morimoto films, although the moment of high speed connection is euphoric.
Cowboy Bebop (TV) Very good

This is an appealing series on several levels: the likeable characters (in particular, Spike and Faye), the mixture of sci-fi and western settings, the outstanding artwork for a television series, the many cultural references (musical and otherwise) and the often surprising plots. It's far from the most profound anime ever produced - even the final episode with its pretensions to tragedy, seems forced - but it rewards multiple viewings. The basic plot line of a bunch of goofs trying to cope with a hostile world, and never quite succeeding, has been used in a few anime series - Samurai Champloo (also directed by Watanabe) and Trigun come to mind - but Cowboy Bebop is arguably the best of them.
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie Very good

Watching the movie is like catching up with old friends. You know what you are going to get and you know you're going to have a good time. More of the same in Cowboy Bebop's case is still very good.
Crest of the Stars (TV) Excellent

Crest of Stars is anime space opera in the tradition of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Even the spaceship designs are a nod to the older series. But, although almost all the characters have a comic side to their roles, this is not the spoof or satire of the kind you will find in such series as Irresponsible Captain Tylor or Martian Successor Nadesico. The humour is more there to temper the otherwise serious tale being told. It doesn't hit you in the face with political or historical philosophising but various points are made with little fuss. The writers have deftly provided only one point of view - an appealing and memorable bunch of empire characters. You could think of it as Star Wars told from the other side, where Darth Vader and the President have lovable, ironic personalities and where the rebels are nothing but a bunch of scheming opportunists.

The strengths of Crest of the Stars lie in its clever humour, its sharp story telling and its great characters, especially the women. Lafiel, the Abh princess (pictured left), is initially icy (although I like that trait in a female character) but that stems more from her sense of failure and her wariness towards an unfamiliar male, her co-protagonist Jinto. She soon demonstrates her capabilities as a pilot, then her Abh ferocity when crossed, and, finally, her appreciation of the everyday capabilities that Jinto possesses and that she lacks almost entirely. They make a good team.

Lafiel's first commanding officer, Captain Lexshue, has probably the most poignant and tragically ironic role in the series. Her courage and strength of character are highlights of the series. Even more memorable is Rear Admiral Spoor, who puts everyone else in the shade the the moment she appears. There's a cruelty about her that is captivating because it is so gleeful, so witty and so unerringly skewers her victims - in particular her executive officer whom she toys with unmercifully. Her tactical nouse is so second nature that, even when the threat of annihilation is it at its most intense, her greatest problem is dealing with overwhelming boredom.

Crest of the Stars is serious fun, notable for some great story telling and an ironic sense of humour, but most of all, for its endearing characters. For an adventure come space opera it has a central pair that readily gain our affection and, in her few appearances, in Spoor has one of the most singular characters in anime. Shame about the character designs, though.

Extended review

Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth - The Animation (TV) Good

Junichi Sato is credited with "series composition" and La Croisée dans un Labyrinthe Étranger certainly brings to mind his reputation for sweet, emotive optimism. That's sweet tinged with just a little bitterness. Even the way they put "The Animation" at the end of the title recalls Aria. As with that franchise it has a wonderful sense of place. The French setting is sometimes cloistered, at other times expansive, but it is always brought into delightful relief by the exquisite Yune, the girl visiting from Japan. Visual and emotional contrasts are a feature of the series: Japan and France, young and old, modernism and tradition, subdued background colours and the bright clothing of the young women, the courseness of the blacksmith's workshop and the delicacy of what is created, the generosity of Yune and the repression of Claude. As with Rin in Usagi Drop, I appreciated the way Yune is kawaii without being sexualised. Anime would be improved if there were more of it. I especially like the opening theme and accompanying images.

The last two episodes suddenly throw in tragic back stories for both Yune and Claude. Not only could I have handled another 13 episodes of honey but those past events could have been developed at a more leisurely pace. As it is, the tragedies feel contrived, much the way I feel with similar events in the Clannad franchise.

Cyborg 009 (movie) Weak

It's tongue in cheek, frequently and deliberately over the top and it moves at a cracking pace. None of those qualities can save this 1966 film, however, from a being a chore to sit through. Everything is so implausible, so contrived and so piecemeal that it has no tension whatsoever. I much prefer Toei's eastern themed 1950s and 60s films: at least they have a strangeness that compensates for the poorly scripted plots. Cyborg 009 is the forerunner of much cyber anime - one can see how Ghost the Shell's Aramaki and his Public Security Section 9 are descended from Dr Gilmore and his team of cyborgs. Don't take that as a recommendation: Cyborg 009 may be breathless but it's also dull and corny.
Cyborg 009 and the Monster Wars (movie) Not really good

Perhaps I was inoculated by watching its older sibling the night before, but I found this 1967 sequel more bearable. The straight forward plot structure - our cyborg heroes must find and defeat the big bad, facing ever more difficult subordinates on the way - is a help rather than a hindrance while things are given a bit of a twist with the appearance of Cyborg 0010 and Cyborgs 0011 (yes, there are two). It still doesn't take itself seriously, which is a good thing, but, despite the cheesy phallic symbolism that accompanies some of the scenes with Joe and Helena, Cyborg 009: Monster Wars is still a kids' show: as a nine year old I would have loved it had I seen when it first aired. Toei may have found a broader market but the earlier eastern themed movies were not so juvenile.
Daicon films (special) Decent

The second of these short films, for Daicon IV, is easily the most memorable and enjoyable thing I've ever seen from the Gainax team. Pure exhilaration without the usual pretension.
Daily Lives of High School Boys (TV) Good

This surprising gem is a series of vignettes on the daily routines of supposedly normal high school boys, their sisters, some funky high school girls, the student president of the nearby girls' school, and a sublimely inspired literary girl. Like all sketch comedy, the individual segments can be hit and miss. When it works, which is surprisingly often, it is hilarious. For the most part it avoids the academic side of their lives and, praise the gods, mostly avoids the usual high school activities found in anime such as cultural festivals and swimming pools (and it makes sure you know they have). The boys aren’t idiots but they sure end up doing pretty stupid things. They can also be delightfully gross, like looking for centipedes in their vomit or eating hot dogs off the ground, but it's all done with such a cheerful dagginess that it's impossible to be offended.

The most memorable character is a secondary one: the literary girl. Most episodes have one sketch devoted to her and her love interest Hidenori. The poor girl gets herself into the most diabolically humiliating situations but her sheer doggedness will win you over. How the relationship between her and Hidenori is resolved in the last few minutes of the series is as magical as it is unexpected. A bit like the show, really.

On the down side, although Daily Lives starts out with a fresh approach to high school comedy it quickly settles into a formula of its own. After the first episode it rarely pushes the good taste envelope any further, or develops its good ideas (literary girl excepted). It also veers into some misogynistic territory with its constant portrayal of girls as simultaneously stupid, terrifying and humiliated.

Extended review

Dallos (OAV) So-so

Despite the reputation of its director Mamoru Oshii and its historical place in anime as the first ever OVA, this is an undistinguished anime with a mundane plot and dull characters. It is severely limited by the conventions of its time and, to a lesser degree, the sparseness of its budget. The hero - Shun - is a regular enthusiastic young guy seen so often in the 80s, with a shrinking violet female friend, conventional parents, a sage-like grandfather and an earnest action-oriented rebel leader friend. The only notable character for the time is the villain - Alex the lunar governor - whose behaviour is so campy and ambiguous it feels as if he belongs in something made at least ten years later.

There are hints of Oshii's unique vision but it mostly lacks his otherworldly, contemplative moments that I love so much. Think of the Major wandering the canals in the first Ghost in the Shell movie, or the Detective Matsui's exploration of the deserted, crumbling streets in the first Patlabor movie. In Dallos you get glimpses in the portentous images of the head of Dallos and in the final scenes depicting Shun's trip by lunar hovercraft so his grandfather can get one last view of earth. The bitter irony as Shun stands among the tombstones with the earth above is pure Oshii but there's almost two hours of dross before you get there.

Danemon Ban - The Monster Exterminator (movie) Weak

This 1935 tale of the club-wielding Danemon Ban fighting shape-changing tanuki is probably most notable for its early recording of the popular tune, "The Dancing Tanuki of Shojoji Temple", later recorded by Eartha Kitt. Like the other Zakka Films release the animation is more interesting than entertaining.
Death Note (TV) Decent

Watching Death Note always leaves me feeling like I've handled something infected or grubby - there's an urge to wash my hands, or rather, my psyche. Yet, on my first viewing of this tale of temptation and corruption, I found it compelling like no other television before or since. Well.... for about fifteen episodes, anyway. After that, and especially from the obligatory appearance of Near, I tired of Light's constant scheming to avoid exposure and the principle interest that remained for me was how his identity would be ultimately revealed. Really, the series was at least thirteen episodes too long. What's more, the problem with a series that depends on keeping the viewer wondering what is going to happen next, is that is doesn't stand up to repeated viewing. Unless, of course, the characters are particularly appealing, which isn't the case here. Nevertheless, there are moments where you are appalled at what is happening but you can't resist watching - sort of like the urge to check out a road accident. Best of these moments is Light's long walk to police headquarters with Naomi Misore. The look on her face when she realises that Kira has outsmarted her is both dreadful and wonderful to see.
Deathtic 4 (movie) Bad

Being the most eccentric of the short films that make up the Genius Party anthology is about the only thing going for it. There is some humour, I suppose.
Dennō Coil (TV) Excellent

In a near future Japan, people have ubiquitous and instant access - via special glasses - to the cyberworld thanks to an augmented reality that is layered upon the real world. Unlike most adults, children have taken to the technology with enthusiasm but, to the unwary, cyberspace might just turn out to be an eternal limbo for those who venture there. Among the children, an entire mythology has grown up around the cyberworld and its rumoured inhabitants.

Dennou Coil could be described the spiritual child of the cyberpunk Serial Experiments Lain, although the "punk" part of the equation has been almost totally denatured. Even though it lacks Lain's attitude and weirdness, it is more emotionally engaging. The mysteries are somewhat easier to unravel and, unlike Lain, it doesn't rely on its strangeness for its appeal.

Pushing the drama along are the three remarkable girls: Yasako ("kind child") who cares deeply for her friends and has vague memories of something terrible happening to her in the cyberworld when she was younger; Isako ("brave child") who is wise beyond her years and who is desperate to bring her brother back from the "other side"; and Fumie, an imp prepared to take on anybody or anything but who goes weak at the knees at the merest hint of a scary story. The best word to describe them is "plucky". The have courage in spades and, consequently, it's impossible not to care for them. None of the three are static - one of the many pleasures of Dennou Coil is how they grow in maturity over the course of the story.

Other characters cannot match those three but, whatever their level of complexity, one memorable feature of Dennou Coil is the enormous range of facial expressions that all the children have. I've never seen a television anime to match it. Not only is there a vast, and often subtle, array of emotions being displayed but, during conversations, the expressions change continuously. And it's all done with the simplest alterations in their facial features. Character designs otherwise are straightforward, albeit unusual for modern day anime.

The concepts involved in the augmented reality and in its glasses interface are fascinating. It relies on the same leap of faith as Serial Experiments Lain - that our consciousness can be directly linked to the cyberworld. It also relies on the same fallacy that underpins many a cyberpunk scenario - the Cartesian belief that our consciousness is separate from our body and thus conceivably can move into other spaces. Of course, this is no more a leap in faith than alchemy in Full Metal Alchemist, or the mushi in Mushi-Shi or faster than light travel in many another sci-fi tale. Accepting the premise allows the viewer to immerse themselves in the pleasure of the storytelling. And there are many pleasures to be had in Dennou Coil.

Listen out for the grim Shostakovichian motif - D-E♭-C-B – used when there are sudden dramatic changes in mood.

Extended review

Detective Story (OAV) Decent

Beautifully illustrated monochrome story of detective who searchs for Trinity in the world of the Matrix, only to lose everything. One of the better Animatrix segments but it promises more than it can deliver in the few minutes available. The abrupt ending highlights its shortcomings.
Digimon Adventure: Born of Koromon (movie) Decent

It's only twenty minutes long but it's a whole lotta fun. An egg appears out of a computer screen before two young children and hatches to become Koromon the digital monster. It evolves into a T rex looking creature that can shoot fireballs from its mouth and proceeds to battle a giant, lightning bolt shooting budgerigar that miraculously descends from the heavens in a blaze of light as if on a mission from god. Given that I'm from the land of the budgerigar I found myself barracking for the wrong combatant. Even though the battle does serious damage to the streetscape it seems only children can see it. The evolution sequence is accompanied by Ravel's Bolero which gives the film a joyful forward momentum. I'm sure it's yet another anime nod to Bruno Bozzetto's animation masterpiece Allegro non Troppo.
Dimension Bomb (movie) Excellent

It’s difficult to explain what is happening in this film from the Genius Party Beyond anthology. It seems to me that a girl and a boy find themselves in a sequence of extraordinary landscapes that are a source of both wonder and pain. Well, I think there’s one boy and one girl. Sometimes the boy looks somewhat feminine and then there’s someone in a fallout suit who I think is the boy, but might be the girl or perhaps someone altogether different. But it doesn’t matter. Morimoto’s style is surreal, combining a number of opposing themes: the individual in a vast landscape; the technological / industrial versus the natural; the mystical versus the quotidian. No matter how horrific the image, there is a lingering beauty; in beauty there is always something unsettling. The meaning and narrative are entirely up to the viewer’s imagination. There is, nevertheless, a precise emotional structure that, along with the imagery, has me completely engaged each time I watch the film.
Dirty Pair (TV) Not really good

Watching more than one episode at a time can be something of a chore. The main problem is its episodic nature: not only is there no grand story arc, even the individual episodes are composed of elements strung together with simple, instant entertainment the goal instead of there being any serious attempt at fluid story telling. While some of the elements are highly entertaining, many are not. The two leads are likeable, particularly the tomboyish, decisive Kei (the redhead). To their credit they use their wits and combat skills to win the day each episode. This isn't just a case of airheaded bimbos succeeding through luck. The ongoing joke, of course, is that in order to apprehend the villain they invariably leave everthing in ruins. So, yes, there's lots of shooting, lots of explosions, and lots of camera pans of crotches, bums and breasts. It's all very good natured and the basic animation, along with Yuri and Kei's self-deprecation, somehow prevent things from becoming sleazy.
Dirty Pair: From Lovely Angels with Love (OAV) Not really good

These two OAV episodes were originally meant to be the final two episodes of the original TV series. What you get are two more episodes of the same thing, neither better nor worse.
Dirty Pair: Project Eden (movie) Decent

This Koichi Mashimo film follows the well-worn formulae of the franchise, except that it is faster paced, better animated and funnier than the original TV series. It is probably worth watching just for one hilarious slapstick scene where the heroines find themselves dangling precariously above the main villain, Kei trying to grip a pistol between her toes and Yuri suspended by knickers that are coming apart.
(The) Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (movie) Excellent

As with the TV series, the major appeal of the film lies in the characters. Koizumi excepted, the SOS brigade members are thoroughly entertaining. In this instalment, they all end up behaving out of character, but it's for good reasons, although Yuki’s enhanced moeness is, perhaps, pushed too far - that territory belongs to Asahina. The franchise can be seen as a sort of harem comedy (amongst other things) and the film has many elements of the genre. Happily, Kyon outshines every previous male example I've seen at the centre of the harem, simply because he is every bit as interesting as the females surrounding him. He is a wonderful match, in every way, for Haruhi in whom can be seen elements of Lum and Ryoko from more recognisable harem shows.

I thought it was less adventurous than the series but more emotionally involving. It might not be surprising how much anxiety the absence of Haruhi caused Kyon, but I was surprised how strongly I felt about it. The sympathy the series invokes for its principal characters is quite notable, even if sometimes the drive for exploiting dramatic possibilities stretches the credibility of the narrative. It's a bit long and it depends on knowledge of the two TV seasons to fully appreciate some of the time travel implications and some of the gags.

First visit (Japanese dub with English subtitles) (scroll down); Revisit (English dub)

Doorbell (movie) Bad

Great idea very poorly done about a boy who must compete with his own doppelgangers for a place in the world. The pacing and the animation are patchy in quality. Part of the Genius Party anthology.
Drop (movie) Weak

4 minute Osamu Tezuka film about a thirsty man on a raft at sea desperately trying to get at three drops of water. Not bad for one week's work at home.
Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure (TV) Weak

Think of it as Tenchi Muyo! meets Neon Genesis Evangelion. The female lead, Mitsuki Sanada, doesn't degenerate as much as Tenchi Muyo's Ryoko, while those scenes where the protagonist, Kazuki, finds himself lost in a strange world are surprisingly creepy. Still it's a silly, pointless show that has the grace not to take itself seriously and that also manages a satisfactory resolution. I also enjoyed some of the incidental music.
Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventures Special Bad

Like others of its kind, this "14th episode" special is utterly pointless and completely superfluous.
Durarara!! (TV) Very good

Compared with Baccano!, its spiritual sibling, Durarara!! has far more of those "wow" moments where I'm gobsmacked by the power, poignancy or irony of what's taking place on the screen. The supreme moment, noted by many people, is when Mikado summons help from the "Dollars" in the centre of the Ikebukuro via his mobile phone. The result is astonishing, one of the all-time great moments in anime. It also has more interesting characters. Only Miria and Isaac can match the best of the Durarara!! mob and it's notable that they make a couple of cameos. The crucial difference is that the violent characters of Baccano!, such as the Ladd Russo, Claire Stanfield, the Gandors and the Genoards, are repellent without being particularly entertaining, while their Durarara!! counterparts, with some exceptions, are either genuinely likeable (Celty and Shizuo) or, in Izaya Orihara's case, deliciously repugnant. Whereas I didn't give a flying fig what happened to Ladd Russo or Claire Stanfield, how I enjoyed Simon Brezhnev dishing out a black eye to Izaya and how I wished he'd been given an immortal elixir and concrete shoes, a la Dallas Genoard. Celty Sturluson is the premium character of the series. What a wonderful creation she is! The most human, most normal character in the entire show is a headless creature from myth. Her developing relationship with the ambiguous Shinra is one of the highlights, though I keep having these creepy thoughts of the two having sex together. A headless woman in bed - feminists would have a field day with that one. Perhaps Celty really is the ideal woman for the average man? Sexy body, no brains. That black ooze is a worry, though.

What Durarara!! lacks is the crazy, unstoppable forward momentum of Baccano!. It falters in the slasher arc and, as the more eccentric characters - especially Celty - take backseat roles, the show must rely on the three central student characters, Mikado, Masaomi and Anri. While their story is compelling, they don't have the eccentricities of the others and, well, they're juveniles and, thus, no match for the best adult characters of the two series.

Revisit (scroll down)

Eden of the East (TV) Very good

A sensational premise – 12 people are selected to save Japan and given 10 billion yen each to accomplish the task – is undermined by prosaic execution. Relying heavily on an air of mystery and a straightforward race against time to give it momentum, too often, it is the premise, rather than the characters, that drives the plot.

The protagonist - the amnesiac Akira Takizawa - has a charismatic personality, although it takes a couple of episodes to grasp his worthy intentions and a little longer to appreciate his strength of character. The point of view character - cutesy Saki Morimi - has little bearing on the story, other than to speak glowingly of the protagonist and express her faith in his trustworthiness when everyone else doubts him. She could be written out of the story without any significant change to the central premise and plot. Her role seems little more than ornamental but it fails even on that count because of her drab character design. Hers is not the only unappealing design. Director Kenji Kamiyama collaborated with Honey and Clover mangaka Chika Umino and the result is the unwelcome face faults and sentimental designs of Honey and Clover TV series. Chika Umino's character designs sit uncomfortably in Kenji Kamiyama's photo-realistic world.

In the tradition of Kamiyama’s own Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex productions, the plot thrives on unexpected developments and astounding reveals. Kamiyama isn’t afraid to think big – the future of Japan is at stake here – but the villains aren’t your typical fare and the heroes – including 20,000 naked NEETS – even less so. The big bad, Mr Outside, even has the grace to refrain from making an appearance – he may even be dead – a sure way to make him seem especially sinister. The series ends with the immediate threat defused but leaves plenty of mysteries to be dealt with in the subsequent movies.

Revisit, including commentary on other releases in the franchise

Eden of the East: Paradise Lost (movie) Good

Longer, more complex, and finally giving the viewer some long sought after answers, Paradise Lost is more satisfying than its predecessor, King of Eden, without ever matching the impact of the original series. This should come as no surprise, given that the most memorable thing about the franchise is its premise. This film is compelling because Takizawa's past is made clearer, many of the mysteries of the Noblesse Oblige game are revealed, and the game itself comes to a reasonably satisfying conclusion if never managing to fulfill its initial promise. The characters - outside of Takizawa never one of the franchise's strong points anyway - take a back seat to the final playing out of the plot, which continues to be too often contrived for the sake of effect, such as in Takizawa's possible blood relationship with former Prime Minister Iijuma.
Eden of the East: The King of Eden (movie) Decent

Of the original material releases in the franchise, this, at just over an hour, is the most disposable. It provides little plot development and explains almost nothing of the mysteries behind the game devised by Mr Outside. You could skip this entirely, go straight to Paradise Lost and not miss anything really important. That said, it's not totally without merit or interest. In a series that is largely devoid of strong female characters, this film does give us insight into its best two: Kuroha, the murderous Johnny hunter (pictured left), and Juiz, the AI behind the Noblesse Oblige phones. Kuroha Diana Shiratori is something of a revelation in this movie. Can a psychopath be redeemed? King of Eden suggests she can. Her final sacrifice on his behalf is one of the highlights of the entire franchise. The various AI Juizes communicating with the surviving Seleção, are another surprise. Their interactions with their charges become more amusing as their personalities develop. It becomes apparent that the concierges aren't neutral towards the Seleção they are assisting. In one extreme case, the Juiz for Seleção number six utterly loathes him - with good reason as we discover.

Other than these developments along with some back story on Takizawa (which becomes more meaningful in the next movie) there isn't a lot else interesting going on in King of Eden. Putting Takizawa back in America (and losing his memories to boot) seem like a ploy inserted just to give the movie some initial momentum of its own and to create an emotional crisis for Saki. Both are remedied easily and in no way progress the important elements of the plot. If I were cynical I'd say the movie's primary function was to milk the popularity of the series.

El Cazador de la Bruja (TV) Decent

Genial, meandering series that never reaches the levels of Bee Train's two previous "Girls With Guns" series, Noir (in particular) and Madlax. Nadie is likeable and has a great character design, Ricardo is an unusual and memorable character for anime, and Blue Eyes has her moments (and, yes, her eyes are an extraordinary colour). Everyone else, including Nadie's buddie, Ellis, are, at best, dull and, at worst (LA and Rosenberg) representative of the most disappointing kind of drivel that anime is capable of serving up. In this laid back tale of a couple of mates, the story arc isn't complicated and the mysteries are neither deep nor compelling. The relationship between Nadie and Ellis is sentimental but it never comes anywhere near that between Noir's Mireille and Kirika whose friendship is forged and proven under the most dire circumstances. One thing, though: it has yet another great Yuki Kajiura soundtrack.

Extended review

Elfen Lied (TV) Good

Violation is the central theme of this startling series. Thus, along with the frequent physical transgressions, we watch as anime tropes are also deliberately and continually set up just to be brutally rent asunder. Fan service abounds, not simply to titillate, but because the body (often naked) becomes the site of injury or destruction over and over again. Moe precedes cruelty. Military force represents impotence. Parents do not nuture their children: they rape them and experiment upon them. Kouta's harem is made up of psychopaths, outcasts and victims. And, refreshingly, the hero loves the "bad" girl, not the "nice" girl. Problem is, transgression is a sort of trope in itself and inevitably its impact wanes unless there is something more interesting also happening. Disappointingly, there isn't. And, unsurprisingly, the satire directed at anime conventions gets lost in the rivers of blood. Further, the plot is set up as a series of cliffhangers: great first time round but it may not have the same carrying power in subsequent viewings. Having said that, Kouta and Lucy / Nyuu make great protagonists. Kouta's kindness in the face of brutality give him a moral authority rarely seen in harem or horror anime while Lucy's psychotic mixture of viciousness and innocence is intriguing. That Kouta's love for Lucy eventually redeems her gives Elfen Lied a satisfying ending even if we don't know her fate for certain. Nevertheless, too often the series lapses into sentimentality or obvious sensationlism. Underpinning the grim tale is a glorious colour palette, possibly the best opening theme song I've ever heard in an anime (accompanied by transvisioned Gustav Klimt paintings), and a brooding musical accompaniment.
Elfen Lied (OAV) Weak

This additional episode is useful for two things: we find out how Kurama captured the child Lucy and why she won't kill him. Other than that it's a waste of time.
End of the World (OAV) Not really good

The eccentric artwork and animation are unable to make amends for a story line that is, at best, mundane and, at worst, somewhat repellant.
Ergo Proxy (TV) Very good

Eternal Family (TV) Good

In this short TV film dysfunctional family / TV reality show stars / experimental guinea pigs inadvertently escape from their hellish domestic bonds and terrorise a city before being re-captured and returned to the TV studio / laboratory. Happily, Koji Morimoto’s surrealist tendencies are harnessed into a semblance of coherence by the framing structure, although the obvious satire means that there is less of a sense of wonder compared with his best works. The breakneck pace, constant jump cuts, and sheer lunacy of the cast prevent things from getting bogged down and, in the end, there’s some solace to be gained from a family whose members have nothing in common but somehow survive together.
Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (movie) Decent

The whole franchise is terribly overrated.
1) If you were the angels would you send your troops in one-at-a-time to be cleaned up by NERV? A basic military premise is to apply overwhelming force on an enemy’s weak point. Clearly the angels aren’t dumb, so what on earth are they trying to achieve? If it were me I’d wait until all sixteen (or was it seventeen?) were ready and give Tokyo a real good shellacking.
2) I have a theory that the only people who think Evangelion is brilliant are or were about 15 years of age when they first saw it. Sadly for me, I lucked out and didn’t have the privilege until much older. The teenage pilots may well be justified in feeling set upon but do we have to be trawled through all their wretchedness. And then some. I get the picture. More finesse with the exposition, please.
3) Evangelion suffers severely from rabbit-out-of-the-hat syndrome. It goes like this. Heroes must fight monster. To be exciting the monster must push the heroes to the very limit of their capabilities. To continue the excitement the next monster must be stronger than the previous one.
Warning. Warning. This will exceed the abilities of the heroes.
Heroes pull a rabbit out of the hat to win. Problem escalates. Credibility suffers. Evangelion is the worst example of this I have ever seen.
4) They had the nerve to go and saturate all the water in red. It's not as if the franchise wasn't already pretentiously overblown.
5) Oh, and did I mention the infantile fanservice?
I don't know why I have persevered with the franchise. It all rapidly becomes very tiresome.
Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (movie) Decent

The various rehashes of the original series generally make worthwhile efforts to ameliorate its many problems. As in E1.0, E2.0 compresses the original story, emphasising the drama and downplaying the psychological issues of the pilots. No longer does the sight of the kids make me want to puke they way they did over 26 episodes. Shinji comes across far more heroically than has ever before and Rei more appealingly. The coming Human Instrumentality Project denouement is better flagged, however the final battle tries so hard to emphasise these metaphysical notions it becomes something of a giggle. There's more emphasis on the fights with the Angels than in the Death / Rebirth / End of Evangelion suite, highlighting the rabbit-out-of-the-hat problems of the franchise. Happily, the artwork and animation take a huge step forward and the fights are a kinetic marvel.
Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo (movie) So-so

Iteration #3 brings back to the rebuild series everything that was most excruciating about the TV series and had hitherto been avoided in the films - emphasis on Shinji. And beyond him there isn't one single interesting personality or character in any iteration of the franchise. Well, that's not entirely true: Misato Katsuragi could be fun at times, especially when seiyuu Kotono Mitsuishi was at her most melifluous. Here she only opens her mouth to bellow orders. Shinji spends much of his time in characteristic foetal position while Rei spends her time perfecting her thousand-yard stare and Gendo is as inscrutably obnoxious as ever. Despite his best efforts, you just know Shinji's going to bring about the end of the world as we know it.

The rip-snorting action of the opening and closing sequences have more in common with Gurren Lagann, what with all the explosions and corny stunts, than the original Neon Genesis Evangelion. There never was much philosophical substance to the franchise so if the producers wanted to up the ante I suppose the only way to go is the bigger and bigger explosions route. For all the noise and colour it was, in a word, boring. It's empty and silly and, this time, not even the action sequences could save it.

Extended review

Excel Saga (TV) Decent

I purchased this mainly because I'm a Kotono Mitsuishi fan. Her supercharged motor-mouth delivery, with its barrage of dumb jokes, pushes the show forward relentlessly even if the ideas tend to wear thin. Because the satire is directed mainly at the anime culture it has little depth or staying power. It's telling that, the infamous Going Too Far episode aside, the most memorable episode (17) is the Japanese take on the USA. Here the satire gently but hilariously pokes the American psyche. "Your mother is a pig" is one of the funniest moments in anime.
Fate/stay night (TV) Decent

Two things save this series from complete disaster. The first is Rin Tohsaka, one of anime's great heroines, vaguely reminiscent of Harry Potter's Hermione but with more smarts, less nerdishness and a droll, sardonic sense of humour. The series would be lost without her: by half way she is the only one with any clue about what's going on. Truly, she deserves to be in a better show. Mind you, she did commit the almost unforgivable sin in episode 2 of resuscitating Shirou Emiya, the hero that no-one could possibly like. Thanks to her we have to endure his idiocy for another 24 episodes. The other positive is the design of the servants, particularly Rider, Sabre, Assassin and Archer. What's wrong with the Fate / Stay Night? Well, pretty well everything else: lousy characters, a contrived plot, cringe-inducing humour and a completely non-sensical take on the Grail legend. Still worth watching for Rin Tohsaka, though.
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (movie) So-so

Despite richer artwork, crisper animation and a procession of all-out action scenes, the film is a step backwards compared with the original series. The plot makes no concessions whatsoever to people who haven't seen the original but, even for those who had, the pace is so breathless that its many absurdities and plot holes simply rush by before you can say, "hey, what..." Over and over, characters make decisions that are incomprehensible. But the great offense of the film is the way it ruins its most credible character, Rin Tohsaka: from agent to object; from blooming to weedy; from commanding to simpering. Sabre, though never as impressive to begin with, also loses her significance as agent, spending much of the film in chains and flimsily clad. The upside is that Shirou is more heroic and less idiotic but that wasn't hard to do and it's only a small gain considering what has been lost.
Fate/Zero (TV) Good

Easily the pick of the Fate franchise anime adaptations, largely because it gives us an adult cast of characters and focuses on their motivations and strategems. Some of the characters are memorable: Rider steals every scene he's in; the baritone cadences of Kirei Kotomine and Tokiomi Tohsaka simultaneoulsy captivate and have your skin crawling; Irisviel von Einzbern proves herself much more than a manufactured pretty face; while we finally get a Sabre with a gravitas to match her history. Scenes such as Archer's playing with Kirei Kotomine's mind are a league above anything from Fate / Stay Night or its movie alternative. The action sequences are top notch, as expected, but they're just a gloss on the fascinating character studies, while the artwork is easy on the eye, even if closer inspection shows it, for the most part, to be short on detail. Thanks to the obscene pricing policies of Aniplex I suspect I'll never have the pleasure of owning this series. Shame about that.
Fate/Zero (TV 2) Good

The second half of Fate / Zero is both better and worse than the first: the undoubted highlights are spoiled by a digression into Emiya Kiritsugu’s childhood and early adult life that stops the headlong rush of events in their tracks; and some elements that aren’t written credibly. The best moments have usually involved the adult characters with their motivations, schemes and manipulations of friend and foe alike so that, as the characters die off and the focus turned towards the physical duels, I found the series became less interesting, especially after Kiritsugu's amazing destruction of Kayneth. For all that, the second season gets off to a magnificent start with the aerial battle between Archer and Berserker. None of the subsequent fights ever managed to reach those heights again (so to speak).

The lame introduction of zombies; and two poorly conceived and written confrontations – Kiritsugu and his father / Aoi Tohsaka and Kariya Matou - dangerously stretched credibility in a show that has so many fantastical elements that care needed to be exercised lest things become absurd.

For all that, the penultimate episode is superb. The Grail's temptation of Kiritsugu was one of the highlights of the entire series although some events in the episode did seem rushed (and even truncated). Perhaps they will be rectified on the disk releases. I also appreciated how the final episode tied up most of the loose ends while the final scenes with both Kiritsugu and Sabre were outstanding.

Oddly enough Fate / Zero enhances Fate / Stay Night. Whereas the prequel could be regarded as the tragedy of Sabre and Kiritsugu (even though Kiritsugu comes through with new ideals to guide him), the older series can now be seen as the redemption of Sabre. Because of his role in that process, it also helps give Shirow more depth in Fate / Stay Night than I had credited him with previously.

(The) Final Flight of the Osiris (OAV) So-so

Fully CGI animated short film from Animatrix in two quite disparate halves. The first has Osiris crew members, Thaddeus and Jue, facing off in a virtual sword fight that looks impressive but isn't quite good enough to achieve the desired sexiness. The second half is too artificial to convince and too dark visually to enjoy. The CGI is almost there, but not quite.
Fire Tripper (OAV) Weak

Part of the Rumic World series. The main character, Suzuko, has the inexplicable talent of time travelling whenever she is caught in a fire (which seems to happen extraordinarily often). She can also transport whoever she is holding at the time. In her various travels she meets the gallant Shukumaru at different stages of their lives and they fall in love, only for Suzuko to realise they may be brother and sister. Finding out how this conundrum is resolved is hardly worth the effort.
First Squad - The Moment Of Truth (OAV) So-so

The idea of having live "veterans" recounting their wartime experiences with the First Squad as if we are watching a genuine documentary is ingenious but the anime story itself never rises above being a stock supernatural action adventure with a predictable plot and wooden characters.
FLCL (OAV) Decent

A truck load (or, perhaps, a scooter load) of mesmerising anime elements are thrown to together into a great pile that never manages to work as a whole. Or, if it does manage some coherence, it's really just an insignificant tale that is being told. No matter, it's the individual moments that make this short series as memorable as it is, along with a great soundtrack from the Pillows.
Flowers of Evil (TV) Excellent

I loved the rotoscoping and the perversely enthralling faces of all the characters. I appreciated their realistic body shapes and their twitchy movements, even when they were apparently still. I thought the artwork was marvellous, especially the decaying town and, where it appeared, the rampant vegetation - reflecting, of course, the barely suppressed ripeness of Kasuga and Seiki. I was entranced by its slow pace: menacing and suggestive of sexual repression. I particularly welcomed the refreshing way that a high school anime was presented and how the director thumbed his nose at the narrow creative parameters expected by some of the anime audience. The best things, however, were the amazing OP & ED songs.

Against all that, the inconclusive ending and three pathologically silly main characters brought the series down. And, while I liked the the mood created by the slow pace I found the development of the story inconsequential, although there were some very powerful moments. Like several others here I find myself ambilvalent about it as a package.

Four Day Weekend (OAV) So-so

Video clip by Koji Morimoto (for the single by English band the Bluetones) that covers much the same themes as the later Dimension Bomb, though on a smaller scale - but that's not a bad thing. The animation and the song complement each other nicely.
From the Apennines to the Andes (TV) Decent

From Up On Poppy Hill (movie) Good

Goro Miyazaki has a great eye for scenery, particularly landscapes, gardens and buildings - the interior of the clubhouse is sheer magic, both before and after its restoration. His best scenes are either impressionistic or have a strong sense of grandeur that, I think, even exceeds his father's. Some of the industrial scenes are highly reminiscent of Mamoru Oshii's Patlabor films, although where Oshii's overall mood is regret visualised through decay, Goro's is a wistful observation on the costs of modernisation. This is enhanced by the nostalgic rendition of 1960s Japan, which is even more successful than Kids on the Slope in creating a sense of time and place. Nullifying this, though, are character designs that are prosaic even by Ghibli's conservative standards combined with facial expressions that, too often, come across as wooden.

The film can also be hit and miss in its dramatic flow. The extended opening of Umi preparing breakfast for her grandmother, her brother and sister and the boarders is pure delight in its detail, its activity, and how it establishes Umi's character. The crowd scenes at Umi's school, especially Shun's daredevil stunt from the school roof and the mass meetings in the clubhouse, are written crisply and humorously. The downside is that, like their unexpressive faces, the scenes between Umi and Shun come across as perfunctory. This isn't helped by the way the story moves along in fits and starts, interspersed with some attractive, extended visual tableaux. The developments of the couple becoming acquainted, falling in love, discovering their familial relationship, then learning the truth are never explored or explicated in sufficient detail to make them seem important. As a result the resolution comes across as way too pat. The parallel story of the campaign to save the clubhouse is also hit and miss. The student politicking is marvellously entertaining while the visit to the school chairman's business premises creates some tension missing elsewhere in the film. It's undermined, however, by an outcome that, like the romance thread, resolves the conflict way, way too easily.

Extended review

Fullmetal Alchemist (TV) Very good

"Everyone has their reasons," declares the main character in the classic French movie, The Rules of the Game. This could equally be said of Full Metal Alchemist. The ongoing contest of motivations between the vast, but memorable, ensemble is just one of the reasons this is such a good series. A parallel world where science has been overtaken by alchemy is no more or less preposterous than most other anime but once you swallow this premise you can then marvel as the characters inexorably push the plot forward. And they certainly have their reasons for behaving in the most laudable or the most reprehensible ways. Better yet, we learn that who we thought were good characters can do dreadful things and seemingly irredeemable characters can become unexpected allies. The skill of the series' creators is that these seismic changes are so perfectly wrought that we are utterly captivated by them. We know we are in the hands of story-telling masters when we are genuinely moved by the death of a villain. All the while, in the eye of the storm the Elric brothers are more than just nerdy heroes, thanks to their depth and their development over the course of events. Edward could have been an ongoing irritation in the mould of Trigun's Vash the Stampede, but fortunately the creators keep the slapstick and the needless sentimentality to acceptable levels. What's wrong with the series? A few things, the worst being that the first two episodes are truly, truly bad. Really, it could have started with episode 3. Even then, Full Metal Alchemist takes a while to really hit its stride, but the last third of the series just keeps getting better. When what lies on the other side of the gate is finally revealed, the anime has reached a level that very few others manage.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (TV) Good

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie - Conqueror of Shamballa So-so

Despite some good moments - the gypsy singing and dancing scenes were unexpected highlights - the follow up movie to the first series never achieves the epic flavour of the original. Too much plot is trapped into too little time, a common problem with movie adaptations of television series. Also, Ed and Al are always most interesting when they are working together - they are a great comedy / drama duo - so that being separated for much of the movie means that the essential dynamic of the series is missing.
Gala (movie) Good

From the Genius Party Beyond anthology. A giant object from the sky lands in a world of alien "earth" creatures. Their initial fears are transformed into celebration as it sprouts into our human world. It's twenty minutes of steadily growing bliss, you might say.
Galaxy Express 999 (movie) Excellent

Galaxy Express 999 opens with the surprising sight of a steam train hurtling between the galaxies. Straight away it’s clear that this film is throwing real world logic into the cosmic wind. The railway signals are telling us to suspend our disbelief, but that’s fine, because we are in the realm of mythmaking, not ordinary storytelling. Tetsuro’s voyage recalls The Odyssey where the protagonist either uses his wits to solve his problems or is blessed with divine assistance.

Young Tetsuro is travelling on the famous train to the planet of Great Andromeda, seeking a mechanical body so he can kill Count Mecha to avenge the death of his mother. Success seems unlikely but the gods and the fates are watching out for Tetsuro: the deus ex machina is hard at work. Help in the form of various intergalactic notables unfailingly pops up in timely fashion, getting him out of jams, giving him a handy tool, or providing the answer to a thorny problem. Captain Harlock, pirate queen Emeraldas, Tochiro and Antares are among the larger than life heroes who come to Tetsuro’s aid. These contrived internventions aren’t the problem they might be in an ordinary anime. This is not an adventure story about dramatic scrapes. It’s about the education of a young man who, through each encounter, learns about desire, loss and generosity. The lessons learned will hold him in good stead when he faces much harder tests.

Journeying with him is Maetel, who has an agenda of her own. At once beautiful and authoritative, wise yet vaguely menacing, melancholy yet kindly, she has immediately become one of my favourite characters in anime. Acting as a sort of surrogate mother to Tetsuro (something more true than he first imagines) she seems to bear the weight of the world on her shoulders. Well, she does in a sense, as the viewer learns at the end of the rail journey.

All the female characters have a sadness about them, even the commanding Emeraldas. Is this typical for Leiji Matsumoto? They are each unforgettable: Shadow, the machine woman guarding the lovely body she abandoned, or Claire, who was forced to exchange her flesh for transparent crystal, or Ryuzu, the singer who took on machine form at the request of her lover. Their exquisite, wispy forms perfectly reflect their wistful natures.

The combination of grandeur and melancholy ensure I have a continuous emotional engagement while watching Galaxy Express 999. It’s all in the mythical power of a journey undertaken by two special characters that becomes a metaphor for life with all its joy and regrets.

Further comment

Galaxy Express 999: Glass no Clair (movie) Bad

An alternative version of Claire's story except that she saves Tetsuro from a random monster instead of from Queen Prometheum, as depicted in the movie, Galaxy Express 999. The movie tells her tale so much more convincingly. Claire and Maetel have all the appeal of the film but, unfortunately, Tetsuro comes across as just a silly kid. If you've seen the movie, don't bother.
Gambo (movie) Decent

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo (TV) Excellent

Sublime series with an impeccable sense of drama, timing and editing, a gorgeous, psychadelic appearance, and a memorable soundtrack. Plot? Characters? Don't worry about those - just borrow from a time-honoured classic. Add a setting that's retro and sci-fi all at once, stir in heaps of attitude and you have a series like no other. But it's not just a fortuitous blending of ideas that somehow accidentally work. Let me give a couple of examples that illustrate how thoughtful direction created such a singular piece of art. First example. The background art relies on a lot of 3D iteration and surprisingly little detail. Observing it closely reveals it to be, for the most part, basic fare. The drawings of the characters are flat 2D and also unexceptional. If it were left at that you would have yet another anime where the 2D characters and the 3D background sit uncomfortably together thereby drawing attention to their limitations. So what does Mahiro Maeda do? Photoshops complex textures into the clothing and hair of the characters (and sometimes the scenery as well). The textures don't move with the characters, creating the most arresting effects and not simply obscuring the 2D/3D shortcomings but making a sensual virtue of them. Sheer genius. The other example is Maeda's radical departure from the original character of the Count. By inserting a second creature - the ineffable, terrifying Gankutsuou - into the body of Edmond Dantes to create the Count of Monte Cristo, Maeda gives us a complex character who is as much hero as villain. We can separate the evil in the Count from the original, wronged young man and sympathise with him. For me, anime villains are the most irritating characters in the medium, usually just mad and bad. The Count is a memorable exception.
(The) Garden of Sinners (movie series) Good

An achingly sad soundtrack from Yuki Kajiura and beautiful artwork - with many haunting images - elevate a typically densely themed but ridiculous Kinoku Nasu story from disposable to spellbinding. If you stop to ponder the details of any Nasuverse tale you should quickly find them absurd and confounding. Another notable aspect is the characterization, for both good and ill. It takes some time to warm to the central duo of the severe Shiki and tolerant Kokutou, but their story is complex and their journey diffucult so, by the end of the series, I had become quite fond of them. And, besides, I'm a sucker for icy, violent women. Having said that, the central point of their relationship raises its own issues. Shiki's core is emptiness and it is Kokutou's boundless love for her that enables her to recreate a new personality. Shiki isn't so much redeemed as created by Kokutou. You can add to the posistive side of the ledger their savvy boss (both as sorcerer and as private detective), Tokou, whose own scheming puts her at odds with the villains.

I've never yet seen a worthwhile or vaguely realistic Type-Moon villain. It's as if they have an irresistable urge to turn all villains into caricatures, turning drama into theatre and, too frequently, even into melodrama. Plotwise, Garden of Sinners is a dishonest series, in that the jumbled sequence of events (the chronological order of the films is 2, 4, parts of 7, 3, 1, 5, 6, the rest of 7 doesn't play any pomo games the way the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya does. Nor does it provide multiple viewpoints to examine the characters the way Millenium Actress does. But, then Garden of Sinners isn't in their class. The jumbled order serves mainly to hide from the viewer crucial plot developments, that characters within the story are fully aware, in order to enhance the apparent mystery. In other words much of the mystery is faked. It also serves to spread the most interesting developments between Shiki and Kokutou across the franchise.

In spite of all this, the mood and the imagery of the series and the character of Shiki have wormed their way into my imagination and won't go away. The main theme is constantly playing in my head. Not that I'm complaining - it's lovely.

Extended review

(The) Garden of Words (movie) Excellent

After the worthy failure that was Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Makoto Shinkai has returned to his stock in trade and directed a more characteristic tale of unrequited love. Good thing too because this is his best effort yet along those lines, giving us visuals more stunning than ever before (especially they play of leaf upon water), and his best character designs yet. He keeps the sentimentalism to a minimum (by his standards), and creates one of the most tender sexual moments I've ever seen in an anime - when protagonist Takao finally touches Yukino's feet so he can measure them for the shoes he plans to give her. That's a new element for Shinkai, introducing a physicality not previously apparent in his works. I only hope he continues his explorations in that direction. His approach to more carnal scenes could be fascinating.

Another plus is that the film is only 46 minutes long. Short Shinkai is good Shinkai: he can be drearily self-indulgent at times. The Garden of Words is poignant, to the point and never overstays its welcome. Although, when we finally learn Yukino's actual profession and how it connects to Takao, the film's lyricism is suddenly replaced by a rather more everyday prose but all is forgiven when the two lovers finally embrace – another first for Shinkai. That said, he still can't give us a decent female character. As she herself admits, Yukino is "saved" by Takao. That's right. Once again the Shinkai woman is the object of the male's protection. He is developing his craft and pushing his boundaries but this is one boundary he really needs to crash through before his films can be genuinely counted as great.

Extended review

Gauche the Cellist (movie) Good

Charming and attractive hand-painted film directed by a pre-Ghibli Isao Takahata that captures all the idyllic appeal of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony from which the story derives its inspiration.
(The) Genesis (movie) Weak

In this re-interpretation of the first book of the bible, god apparently concludes that all the ills of the world are because woman was made before man. If only it were that simple. One short sequence brings to mind the creation segment from the later Italian masterpiece, Allegro Non Troppo. (The careers of the two masters, Osamu Tezuka and Bruno Bozzetto, overlapped and their works suggest strong cross-fertilisation.) This four minute work is simply animated and mildly amusing.
Genius Party (movie) Not really good

Visually arresting but otherwise straightforward opening to the Genius Party anthology.
Ghost Hound (TV) Good

Disappointingly, only stretches of Ghost Hound are as good as Ryutaro Nakamura's best (Serial Experiments Lain, Kino's Journey). Certainly, the atmosphere is creepy, thanks especially to the soundscapes: its very best moments are goose bump scary. The main characters aren't presented simply as types, as happens all too often in anime. They are revealed slowly and grow as the series progresses. Great stuff and very refreshing. On the negative side, long sections of the series give the impression that the story was being stretched out to fill the 22 episodes. Ironically, the ending seems rushed and the outcome just a little too pat. There's a good story here about kids growing up and adults living with past errors, but it too often fails to live up to its early promise or the expectations raised by those earlier series.
Ghost in the Shell (movie) Very good

Beautiful cyber punk imagery easily makes up for a flimsy plot and some woolly philosophising. As always with Mamoru Oshii films, it's the visuals that take your breath away. The Wandering the City chapter, where Kusanagi travels through the city canals in the evening rain is probably my favourite musical interlude in anime movies. And, guess what? It's Oshii doing what Oshii does best - visuals. And full credit to the wonderful, ghostly accompaniment from Kenji Kawai.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (movie) Good

It's not as if Mamoru Oshii plots are contradictory or silly; it's more that there never is much plot to begin with. Like much of his work the pacing of Innocence is deliberate, to say the least, and individual scenes are stretched out (or repeated) unnecessarily. Often it doesn't matter as, visually, the movies are usually a treat. But here, the visuals are so obviously artificial that they are positively alienating. There is no sense of engagement in this film, partly because I constantly felt a gulf between myself and the unfolding events but also for the mundane reason that the Major is absent for all but the last portion of the film and neither Batou nor Togusa have the presence to carry the film without her. There's also the makings of a great sci-fi horror story here - extraction of the souls of abducted girls to animate sex dolls - but this creepy plot twist isn't revealed until after the villains are defeated - when it no longer matters.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (TV) Good

The Laughing Man is one of the most iconic and memorable creations in modern popular culture. Similarly, the concept of the stand alone complex, while essentially meaningless, is an intriguing speculation on the possibilities of a thoroughly connected community. Sadly, only twelve of the twenty-six episodes are devoted to the Laughing Man story arc. The other fourteen episodes are largely forgettable. Add to this character designs squarely aimed at teenage males and plot exposition that too often depends on lengthy explanations from the characters and you have a wildly uneven series. Happily, the final few episodes have enough red herrings and plot twists to make up for all the previous time wasting.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - The Laughing Man (OAV) Very good

The Laughing Man remains the single best idea yet in the Ghost in the Shell anime franchise. Sadly, the first Stand Alone Complex series (where the story was originally told) contained fourteen largely forgettable episodes that had nothing to do with this fascinating story arc. This OAV now allows us to enjoy the the story on its own without distractions. It doesn't come without cost, however. The original twelve episodes (totalling 288 minutes) have been compressed to 150 minutes - favourite scenes have gone and often the plot rushes headlong without making itself clear. On balance, though, what has been gained outweighs what has been lost. Hence the OAV is ranked higher than the original TV series from which it is drawn.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG (TV) Excellent

The stand out release in the entire Ghost in the Shell franchise. Unlike the movies, SAC 2nd Gig has a plot to match its philosophical pretensions and, unlike the first season of SAC, there are no wasted episodes. Every part of this series, even the stand alone episodes, have a bearing on the whole. We get back story on all the Section 9 members - the episode that explains how Kusanagi got her cyborg body is a revelation in more ways than one - and a political crisis that is urgent, contemporary and convincing. For once, in an anime TV series, the looming armageddon is truly chilling, probably because everyday politicians are responsible, not underworld demons, out of control robots or mad dictators. Even though Kusanagi finally puts on some clothes and Batou stops to think before shooting, characters designed to appeal to adolescent males still irritate this older viewer. All is forgiven, however, as Section 9 finally saves the day but not without many twists and turns beforehand.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society (movie) Good

The wonder of the two Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex TV series is that the clever ideas can be expanded and savoured over the course of ten hours of viewing. Unfortunately, less than two hours of movie time are available here to Kenji Kamiyama - and that is largely spent spinning a yarn that, in itself, isn't particularly noteworthy. On top of that Solid State Society doesn't even have the visual delights found in Mamoru Oshii's two Ghost in the Shell movies to compensate. What this film does share with Oshii's Innocence is not enough of the Major. No-one else in the franchise has her drawing power.
Gigantor (TV) Bad

Watched it as a kid many, many years ago. I don't remember it very well, other than not much liking it even then.
Giovanni's Island (movie) Very good

(The) Girl Who Leapt Through Time (movie) Excellent

Makoto Konno must be the most beautifully realised character in all anime. She's no superbrain and an unlikely heroine, as she herself points out early in the movie, but she utterly convinces in this re-imagining of Jane Austen's Emma, albeit with a time-travelling twist. Her "death' fourteen minutes into the movie is startling, of course, but, as in Emma, the tone is good-natured and you know Makoto will come to her senses, literally and figuratively, by the end. Watch out especially for the comic interactions between Makoto and her Auntie Witch (the original girl who leapt through time, Kazuko Yoshiyama).
GoShogun: The Time Étranger (OAV) Decent

Remi is the only female representative of a long retired six-member mecha team that heroically saved the earth decades before. A car accident on the way to a reunion has left her comatose in hospital. While her comrades gather around her deathbed she dreams of a life and death event from her childhood and also of a surreal world in which she and her five friends are fated to die horribly within a few days – in her case only two. The parallels between the two dreams and her actual circumstances are obvious. Will her indomitable fighting spirit prevail? Will this be the final battle of a fading warrior?

Regardless of the outcome, the film ends up being a paeon to militarism. If she lives, it’s because her warrior’s strength of will has overcome the greatest battle of her life; if she dies, and with the way the film approaches the crisis, then it becomes a romantic tribute to the soldier’s life. War is the greatest wrong that humans do. In war, even the winners are losers. Anime like Time Stranger promote the myth that militarism is a genuine solution to the problems of the world. Give me Martian Successor Nadesico or Irresponsible Captain Tylor any day. Compounding the problem, in one alarming sequence the six friends massacre hundreds of single-minded Islamic looking adversaries. Due to the absence of any qualifying point of view, the viewer can only accept what is happening at face value – it’s presented as exciting and adventurous, even fun.

Remi is an appealing character, yet she is oddly masculine. The men of the film, for their part, rarely manage to be more than their different manifestations of macho stereotypes, from samurai to soldier, from politician, to businessman. What makes each of them human, thankfully, is their shared love and respect for Remi.

Extended review (scroll down)

Gosick (TV) Good

In an alternative 1920s European nation called Sauville, Kujo, a Japanese exchange student, finds himself ostracised thanks to his dark eyes and hair. He quickly discovers and eventually befriends Victorique who skips all her classes, preferring to spend time in the school’s library tower. The illegitimate daughter of an important nobleman, she resolves difficult cases for the local police force, headed by her older brother.

Victorique is a great comic character with her arch-intelligence, snappy one-liners and haughty self-confidence. Everything about her is so incongruous that it undermines all her attempts at gravitas. And, for all her pride, she really is quite helpless. Her reaction to receiving a flu injection is a priceless moment of comedy. I make these points in admiration, not criticism. Kujo is more mundane fare. He is a decent enough fellow and a good foil to Victorique but isn't anything outstanding, largely thanks to his obtuseness and by his comic role diminishing his character rather than enhancing it. Eventually the two form a strong bond that will be sorely tested before the series ends.

Some childish support characters and the equally childish designs for the two mains (although Victorique can be attractive in her various outfits) detract from the serious elements of the story, especially in later episodes. For, although the series starts off with a light tone, it changes gear midway and thereafter gets increasingly dark. The circumstances of Victorique's birth and the role that she is required to play turn out to have ramifications far beyond her library tower. Seemingly minor events from early in the series are revealed to have a much greater significance, culminating in a powerful series of climaxes in the last few episodes. And what finally becomes of the relationship between Victorique and Kujo is unexpectedly moving.

Grave of the Fireflies (movie) Good

Grave of the Fireflies is an odd mixture of sophistication and sentimentality. The fate of Seita and Setsuko as an allegory of Japan’s wartime arrogance is both subtle and original, however the emotional manipulation becomes, at times, a distraction, neither advancing the message or the plot. Sure, the ghost of Setsuko playing will get people crying but it is really just emotional fan service. The animation style is simple, often very still, but always effective, and affective. This austere film stands with Barefoot Gen as anime's pre-eminent depiction of World War 2.

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Green Legend Ran (OAV) So-so

Sure, it's a post-apocalyptic environmental fable but the characters are likeable, the action interesting and the background artwork stark and often quite beautiful. Elements of this are so reminiscent of Now and Then, Here and There (although it lacks the wanton cruelty of the newer series) that I wouldn't be surprised if the makers of that dystopian nightmare had this in mind when they were creating it.
GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka (TV) Not really good

GTO is intended to appeal to the teenage male psyche: from the personality of the central character to the caricatures that are the deputy principal, the nurse, the evil female students, the big-breasted dumb girl and the universally troubled students of either gender. Not a single character appealed to me and Onizuka himself is a mess of a creation. His behaviour is always subordinated to the comedy no matter how much it deviates from his normal character - he is quite the split personality. He spends most story arcs proving himself a complete idiot then - miraculously - with a few minutes to go becomes the wise teacher dispensing just the right advice or remedy to some poor student's lifelong trauma.

Probably the most interesting character is the heterochromatic Urumi Kanzaki who retains enough evil traits after Onizuka rescues her to always leave me wondering what she might do next, and who metes out some satisfying rough justice to Onizuka and other deserving characters. That she is voiced by my favourite seiyuu, Kotono Mitsuishi, probably helps, even if she is closer to her Sailor Moon squawk than the gravelly voiced Jean from Claymore. Absolute highlight of the series happens when Onizuka agrees to step in temporarily for a missing bridegroom at a wedding. The impossibly sweet bride smiles at Onizuka, revealing a shark's maw, with the entire wedding party following suit. I couldn't believe my eyes at first. Full marks for that. The young man's image of commitment, I suppose.

Gulliver no Uchū Ryokō (movie) So-so

One of the more interesting and entertaining Toei movies from late 50s through the 60s, Gulliver's Space Travels departs from the Asian themes of all its predecessors in favour of a Western story updated to catch the the then (1965) optimism of the Apollo program. As the heroes journey far from earth the film tries hard to highlight the strangeness of the alien worlds but the technical limitations of the time undermine its ambition. The songs and the anthropomorphised animals bring home how much debt Toei had to Disney and how much Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki would revolutionise anime films in a few short years. The story strongly brings to mind Galaxy Express 999 but the cop-out ending apparently from Miyazaki - it was all a dream - lets it down.
Gundam: Mission to the Rise (special) Not really good

Although it's visually exciting this special is, at not quite three minutes, far too short to amount to anything.
Gunslinger Girl (TV) Masterpiece

If you didn't know better you could be forgiven for thinking the series was nothing but a squickfest. To summarise: pubescent girls have been abused physically and psychologically; a secretive organisation absconds with them and imprisons them; their memories are wiped; they are drugged, brainwashed and trained to be killers; each is placed under the total control of an adult male with whom she has an intense relationship. Hmmm... Astonishingly, the series is so well thought out and sensitively written that such unpromising material becomes gold. It's almost as if the producers deliberately set themselves a very difficult challenge. Sort of like when the author of Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, was asked why he wrote a novel about a paedophile, he replied that it was because it would be difficult.

The appeal is much, much more than any “sad little girls with tragic backstories” trope. That trope is established to provide an element for something I think is altogether more sophisticated. The opening scenes aren’t about cuteness; the overwhelming sense is menace. Triela walking through a door with a trench gun and bayonet is signalling that something very odd is happening here. The unease continues throughout the series and the relentless hinting at violence by and against children and the paedophilic tease that hovers constantly create a sense of rottenness at the very core of the Social Welfare Agency and, by extension, the series itself. Thanks to some deft writing and an implied moral stance, the series never quite oversteps the limits of propriety. Hovering at that boundary is a large part of the pleasure.

At the core of the “Girls with Guns” trope is the phallic mother – the woman who replaces the male as the wielder of the phallus, metaphorically represented by the gun. In Gunslinger Girl this is up-ended; the girls are simply tools for the men. It’s a fascinating step forward in the genre, if a retreat for feminism (assuming that valorising the phallic mother is a positive, which is arguable, and also assuming that anime can ever be a flag waver for feminism, which is also contestable).

Extended response to other forum comments (scroll down)

Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino (TV) Decent

As an admirer of the original season of Gunslinger Girl, and with the poor reputation that the second season has garnered, I approached this with some trepidation. For sure, something is missing but nailing down the underlying cause is interesting. On a technical level, the animation is inferior in Il Teatrino, although which has the better artwork is more questionable. Certainly, the colours are sharper and brighter in Il Teatrino. Going back the original after viewing the sequel I found myself dissatisfied with its subdued artwork.

I think the major difference is the approach the different studios and directors take to establishing and exploiting the contrast between the girls as objects of innocence and the violence of their backgrounds and their profession. In the newer series the makers are attempting to emphasise this contrast by exaggerating the apparent sweetness of the girls and by using a colour palette that embellishes this misleading view. The killing scenes and the off-handed callousness of the girls have a consequent greater impact. Well, that’s the hope, I suppose. Unfortunately, the unexciting direction undermines the intention. The original series, instead, chose to create a sense of unease, of menace, from the very beginning, discomforting the viewer and causing us to have misgivings about all the actions and relationships presented to us. That is its power.

The strengths of Il Teatrino lie in its overarching plot involving the terrorists Flanca, Franco, Pinnochio and Christiano, something that the first season entirely lacks, and in the development of those four antagonists. As Il Teatrino proceeds we learn how normal they are compared with the operatives of the Social Welfare Agency. They become more human as the girls and their handlers become more monstrous. So, in that sense, the Pinnochio arc is entirely successful.

The music is terrific. The incidental music lacks the variety of the first season but, what there is, enhances what is happening on screen. The OP theme is every bit the killer as its counterpart from the first season.

Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino (OAV) Not really good

The first episode is limp and pointless while the second episode at least provides some backstory for Jose and Jean, even if it is unsatisfyingly incomplete.
Gunsmith Cats (OAV) Good

To my surprise, Gunsmith Cats brings Cowboy Bebop to mind, albeit without the sci-fi setting and missing a Spike equivalent. Both shows are about bounty hunters, have a jazz soundtrack - the OPs have much in common - GC's Chicago has become CB's Mars, and Rally's car has become Spike's spacecraft. Above all, both have an infectious and spirited good mood to them. Don't get me wrong, there are many differences as well and the much cooler Cowboy Bebop is the superior show. The old-fashioned character designs in Gunsmith Cats belie the fact that it was produced only three years prior to Cowboy Bebop.
Gurren Lagann (TV) So-so

I must admit that I am predisposed not to like anime of this ilk. For starters I think mecha are dumb. Worse, I’m not at all engaged by boys who supposedly become men by demonstrating time and again how well they can destroy things. Worst of all, I am annoyed when an anime tries to palm off a tired premise by escalating it in ever more absurd variations on the original theme. It may be clever in the first battle or two but it rapidly becomes tiresome. Gurren Lagann seems to be working on the theory that somewhere along the line it will finally pass a point where no mecha anime has gone before. Really, all that changes is the scale – the battles at the end are really just the same as the battles at the beginning. Gurren Lagann doesn’t like to waste a good idea. Sometimes it re-uses them over and over. And, yes, I get the point: it isn’t supposed to be taken seriously, but it’s hard to smile when you’re bored out of your brain.

Simon went from snivelling weakling to being a one-man threat to the entire universe; Kamina spends much of his time extolling the virtues of suicide attacks; while Yoko was just a rack for hanging artillery upon.

There were things I liked about it, though. There are many memorable one-liners, I did like one or two of the more comical characters (Viral and Leeron come to mind) and the last few episodes amused me thanks to their visuals, weird science and even weirder arbitrary plot developments. By Gainax standards, however, the ending wasn’t the least bit disappointing, which was, paradoxically, disappointing. I also liked the incidental music. The best things, though, were the explosions. Yeah, I liked the explosions.

Extended review

Haibane Renmei (TV) Masterpiece

Meet Reki: she’s in her early twenties, wears a halo, has sprouted ash-coloured wings after hatching from a giant egg and smokes like a chimney. Reki is a Haibane and there are hints that something terrible happened to her in her former life. Into her current life comes Rakka who also hatched from a monster egg. These two women are at the heart of one of the most engaging anime series to come my way. They make a great duo: Rakka’s wide-eyed innocence balanced nicely by Reki’s world-weary kindliness. Under Reki's watchful and caring eye, Rakka learns about the insular and singular world of the Haibane. We never actually learn what the Haibane are or what their purpose is but, by the end of the thirteen episodes, I was utterly enchanted by their personal dramas.

On a technical level, the artwork and animation is often slipshod but that’s all right because it kind of fits the rustic, re-cycled nature of the haibane world. Indeed, the muted greens and browns give expression to the austere life of the haibane. Austere perhaps, but they aren’t unhappy. Kô Ôtani provides one of his best ever musical scores, using traditional instruments such as bodhrán, South American flute, harp, mandolin, mouth organ and squeezebox to enhance the folky, traditional feel of the series. The opener, Free Bird, is one of my all time favourites.

Extended review

Hakujaden (movie) Decent

Better known as The Tale of the White Serpent, this surprisingly beautiful film from 1958 tells the story of a young man who, as a child, treats a white snake with kindness, against the wishes of his family and society. The snake is actually a female spirit who never forgets that kindness. Later the two are re-united and, once again, they must face intolerance and misunderstanding, and make personal sacrifices, before their love can be acknowledged.

The animation is very simple by today’s standards and, thankfully, the singing, talking animals aren’t as distracting as you might fear. The snake spirit has a short, impish sidekick – a fish spirit in female form – who could be the template for many a kid sister you see in modern anime; and there is an extended ocean sequence, complete with storm, that Hayao Miyazaki is surely paying homage to in Ponyo. The opening credit sequence, with its gorgeous pencil drawings reminiscent of woodcuts (and unfortunately obscured by the credits), is accompanied by orchestra and soaring, lyrical slide guitar that would do David Gilmour from Pink Floyd proud.

Hametsu No Mars (OAV) Awful

It's only twenty minutes long and it's rated as the second worst anime ever in ANN's bayesian rankings. Yes, it is memorably incompetent: there is minimal animation of the action scenes; the direction is limp; the dialogue obvious, the sound effects execrable and pretty much every image and idea is ripped off from somewhere else. If you want to see something so bad it's funny then this has its moments but, for the most part, it's no worse than wooden. On the up side, it is only incoherent in patches and it's all pretty harmless fun. The music is passable because you can't go too far wrong using exerpts from familiar classical pieces. I note that the director, producer and lead male seiyuu never worked in anime again after this 2005 turkey. Perhaps they died of shame?
Hanasaku Iroha - Blossoms for Tomorrow (TV) Very good

The final episodes of Hanasaku Iroha fully live up to the promise of its first episode. An abandoned Ohana arrives at the hot springs inn run by her grandmother, with whom she gets off to a seriously bad start. By the end of the series she has not only grown as a person but she has even profoundly influenced Sui, her grandmother, along with most of the others around her. What makes it so good are the myriad characters led, of course, by the irrepressible Ohana and the severe but kindly Sui. About the only dud characters were Ohana's school friend, Yuina, and the sleazy live-in writer. The background artwork is beautiful but never overdone and the general tone of optimism - you can always make things better by "festing" them up - is tempered by a grounded sense of reality.

I really appreciated the full 26 episodes given to the story. Two contemporary series, somewhat similar in tone but just shy of half the episodes, Usagi Drop (though it is the better show) and La Croisée dans un Labyrinthe Étranger, both felt cut off at the knees in comparison. Hanasaku Iroha had few wasted episodes and no sense that more could have been said. Mind you, it's just crying out for a series following events after the re-opening of Kissisuo.

Happy Machine (movie) Decent

Mildy interesting segment from the Genius Party anthology about a baby that is prised away from its support and must fend for itself.
Harmonie (movie) Good

In the shared dreams sequence there are hints of Yasuhiro Yoshiura's penchant for oppressed societies, the relationship between humans and robots, and the creation of new paradigms. Yet, the charm of this Anime Mirai film lies chiefly in its ensemble of high schools students. In just half an hour he presents a self-contained world where the day to day trivia of existence is thoroughly convincing. As a bonus their designs are refreshingly left field for anime. Akio being infected by Juri's dream via her song is sweet on an emotional level and a subtle metaphor for meme transmission. The multiple uses of "Harmonie" in the story and its optimistic thematic role add further to the charm.
Hell Girl (TV) So-so

It's startling at first and the colour palette is gorgeous, especially in the credits and supernatural sequences, but the format of nasty of the week getting their comeuppance is followed far too religiously and for far too long into the series. Mind you, it also doesn't help that the protagonist, Ai Enma, is devoid of personality. Wrinkles on the format do occur but it's not until Tsugumi, the precocious daughter of the plot framing journalist Hajime, takes a prominent role that the series is able to re-generate any interest.
Hellsing (TV) So-so

Like the OAV, the TV series is all style and little substance. The characters have simply defined personalities and play roles that you might expect. The vampire Alucard is meant to be ineffable but merely ends up a cipher. Despite her moderately interesting circumstances, Seras never manages to convey any vampiric menace and most often comes across as incompetent. Which, for comic reasons, is partly how she's meant to be perceived, but which I think is an error in creative judgement. She could have been a singular character. Nevertheless I liked her, along with Integra Hellsing who, as in the OAV, is the best thing in the series. Her English voice actor - Victoria Harwood - has a magnificent voice. Integra steals any scene she's in, with her deadpan yet powerful manner. She is so dominant that when she breaks down it's quite unsettling.

The plot is formulaic, monster-of-the-week thin: a vampiric creature is discovered; the usual forces are unable to cope; the Hellsing organisation is on the brink of collapse; Alucard saves the day. I have to say, though, the scenes in the Tower of London were fascinating. Referencing Google Maps while they played out revealed the depiction to be very faithful.

Hellsing Ultimate (OAV) So-so

The best things, without doubt, in this series are the end credits. Shame there are forty minutes of anime to sit through beforehand. Episode four credits have Schrodinger (or is it his cat?) marching over planet earth as English landmarks are demolished and Germans stormtroopers sing "Das Engellandlied" (pictured left); "A Patriot with No Name", the music that accompanies the episode five credits, is breathtaking; and the episode six credits are, quite simply, delirious. Perhaps they only seemed so good because the rest was so ordinary.
Hi-no-youjin (movie) Good

Combustible.
Higan (OAV) Decent

Visceral eight minute film of a dying man reliving his final battle as part of an armoured suit squadron fighting two tanks. The images and the sound effects create a powerful effect and we see the constantly changing emotions on his face as his fortunes rise and fall. The on-field battle becomes the obvious metaphor for his battle to stay alive.
Higashi no Eden Sōshū-hen Air Communication (movie) Decent

The movie is a compilation of the Eden of the East TV series with a hindsight commentary from the in-show characters. Some mysteries are explained while major plot points are highlighted. On balance it's a step backward. It doesn't even benefit from its brevity. Too many inconsequential scenes have been left in (but, then again, the series is loaded with them) and the editorial commentary from the characters is mundane at best.
High School of the Dead (TV) So-so

Tasty background artwork, topnotch animation and a full-on zombie armageddon are sadly undermined by two of the curses of recent animation: standard types in place of characters (boring types at that) and overdone fanservice. Sure, the ripe, youthful sexuality contrasts with the foetid, walking corpses but it could have been done much more creatively and intelligently. Having said that, it's in a moment of outrageous fanservice in episode 8 - Saeko's bullet defying thighs and breasts - that the series achieves immortality. It's the ultimate "what the f**k did I just see?" moment. Unfortunately, the scene also has the effect of reducing the impact of all the other fanservice in the show. The ending leaves a dissatisfied sense of a story unfinished, thereby threatening more fanservice and forgettable characters in another instalment.
Highlander: The Search for Vengeance (movie) So-so

Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s usual mix of brutality, sentimentality, grotesquerie and dramatic posturing comes together here to produce what is arguably his most satisfying film. Thankfully, gratuitous excesses are kept to a minimum as the action neatly parallels Colin McLeod’s emotional catharsis. Likewise, character designs are an improvement on previous efforts even if they are typical Kawajiri stock. Backgrounds and animation, like the film generally, vary from brilliant to awkward and everywhere in between.
His and Her Circumstances (TV) Good

For the first 18 episodes His and Her Circumstances is one of the best and sharpest anime romantic comedies around. Director of these episodes, Hideaki Anno, has the marvellous gift of being able to simultaneously give us a story while providing an ironic critique of it. He doesn’t spare the sensibilities of any of his characters. By providing a multiplicity of points of view – though mostly it’s Yukino’s perspective – and wielding a scalpel sharp with irony, His and Her Circumstances is never less than highly entertaining. It isn’t just the humour. Anno has a great visual sense, even if he is prone to frequent use of stills, rotoscoping and the recycling of scenes and images. Add the constant use of on-screen text and the effect is to provide the viewer with a continuous editorial commentary, tearing apart the dishonest posturing of the characters. The forensic, albeit hilarious, examination and protagonists’ uncomfortable growth into self-awareness makes these two essentially unpleasant characters surprisingly lovable. Yukino, especially is an outstanding creation.

Yukino and Arima are both given extensive family back-stories, enhancing their depth as characters. Both situations reveal how Yukino and Arima developed their dishonest personalities. Arima’s history is darker while Yukino has been blessed with a happier domestic environment, though not without its own trials. Yukino’s wise-for-their-age younger sisters, Tsukino and Kano, frequently steal the show while their voice actors provide hyperactive next episode previews. Indeed, when Anno is at the helm, each episode ends on a high – with those over-the-top previews and the simple but captivating roving camera live action EDs.

Unhappily, everything changes after episode 18, with new director Kazuya Tsurumaki: the irony vanishes; the best characters (Yukino and Arima) become insignificant; the ramped-up attempts at comedy almost entirely fall flat; the scattergun visuals continue but their impact is lost; the various plots and introduced characters are boring; and there is no longer any strong connection between the viewer and the characters. Worst of all, Yukino, who had been one of the rare anime females whose character is enriched by love, becomes yet another simpering addendum to the male romantic figure. To put it simply, the last eight episodes are animated tedium. Where Anno’s craft had me engaged with the characters; Tsurumaki’s lack of craft left me detached from them. Really, other than an impulse for completion, there is no need to continue beyond episode 18.
Honey and Clover (TV) Decent

The major shortcoming of Honey and Clover, and its a fatal one for a romantic comedy, is that the characters were never able to get me to care for them. Over 26 episodes I became habituated to them but that's about all. The principals are either dull or fail to maintain their initial appeal. The most disappointing character is Hagu, the diminutive prodigy and major love interest for the point of view character, Takemoto. For starters she must have one of the least appealing character designs I've seen in anime this side of the millenium. I'm sure she is meant to be cute and huggable but she just comes across as a rag doll that's been left lying around for too long. She also fails utterly to convince that she is the genius she is supposed to be. She has a shallow and immature personality and, while she may be a good technician, she displays no sign of having any notable artistic vision or insights. There is no intended irony here: the creators simply fail to make Hagu convincing. Part of the problem is that using visual arts as the series hook never, ever works. Honey and Clover isn't able to demonstrate how talented the characters are through their creations.

The most notable trope of the series is unrequited love and, boy, does Honey and Cloverr trowel it on thick. Constant frustration of desire inevitably becomes tedious - not only for the sufferers, but also for the suffering viewer. Unsurprisingly, the series gets duller as it progresses. Happily it extricates itself from the mire during Takemoto's bicycle trip - my favourite segment - but that's only for three episodes (and right at the end).

For all this criticism, Honey and Clover, is humorous and clever and it's a pleasure to watch an anime with older characters and aiming for an audience older than high school age. I loved the visuals in the first version of the OP - especially the "saucy" knickers and the prawn fingers - but the singing grated badly on my ears. If not for the music I would rate as one of the best OPs I've ever seen. JC Staff's subsequent spiritual sibling, Nodame Contabile is a much more convincing and entertaining romantic comedy.

Extended review

Hotarubi no Mori e (movie) Good

This 40 minute film from Takahiro Omori is clearly from his Natsume’s Book of Friends millieu. A young girl lost in a forest is saved by a spirit. Each summer she returns to spend time with him. Their love grows but is tempered by the knowledge that should they touch he will vanish forever.

It’s well written and nicely paced (until the end), very pretty to look at, and the main female character – Hotaru – is sweetly observed. These qualities are spoiled by the emotive ending, not because it is emotive but because it is both predictable and rushed. Somehow it lacks the gravitas it should have.

Hotori - Tada Saiwai o Koinegau (special) Good

A startling depiction of child suicide pact opens this sombre 40 minute TV special that proceeds to step back and background the disturbing event. Suzu is a robot boy who is being programmed with the memories of a dead child in order to become a replacement for grieving parents. He befriends Hotori, a human girl with an untreatable illness that is causing her to inexorably lose her memories, no matter how precious. She is afraid of what she is losing; he is perplexed by what he is gaining. Despite Hotori’s despair and Suzu’s bewilderment, Hotori - A Simple Hope for Joy deftly avoids dreariness thanks to the quiet subtleties in the portrayal of the relationship between the two children, the attention to detail, and the simple but appealing artwork. The final scene is an upbeat and appropriate, if bittersweet, way to conclude this emotionally rewarding anime.
House of Five Leaves (TV) Masterpiece

House of Five Leaves is precisely the sort of series that makes me a fan of anime - it's strange, it's surprising, it's beautiful to look at, it's full of wit yet isn't comedy and, above all, it has memorable adult characters, all heavily burdened with regrets and desires, who propel a story full of incident and emotion, bitterness and irony. They're all villains, cowards and losers, and I loved each and every one of them.

Combining grotesquerie and beauty, the artwork happily departs from anime conventions and nicely evokes the Edo period. Because it so suggests that era, and because it captures a beauty amidst the ugliness, I think it surpasses the visual style of its noitaminA contemporary Tatami Galaxy.

It doesn't hurt that each episode starts with the beguiling song, Sign of Love:

Miwatasenai chizu ga aru
Tohou ni kureru hodo hiroku
Shiru koto akiramesou ni naru

When it gets to the bolded section the female singer's voice drops in pitch and gives me goosebumps in the process. Beautiful stuff.
Howl's Moving Castle (movie) Decent

A plot that's all over the place, uninteresting characters and an uncharacteristic lack of wit make this my least favourite Hayao Miyazaki film. Most damning, seeing it in a cinema exposed its limitations even as a spectacle. I certainly derived more enjoyment from Tales from Earthsea at the cinema - despite its flaws Goro Miyazaki's film was visually impressive. Still, Howl's Moving Castle is a Hayao Miyazaki film so it isn't irredeemable.
Humanity Has Declined (TV) Decent

In a depopulated world inhabited by humans and fairies, an unnamed young woman becomes a UN mediator between the two groups. She is an anime Candide, an innocent in a world that is ever so slightly crazy, corrupt and hazardous. Ditzy yet strangely wise, she uncovers the surreal activities of the fairies, never grasping quite what’s going on but revealing to the viewer the absurdities of their and, by analogy, our own behaviour. Humanity Has Declined gently mocks our modern foibles: from business to finance to patriotism to social proprieties to the manga subculture. The fairies themselves are both helpless and slightly sinister. They have a bluntness that is alarming and disarming, while their plans are menacing even if they seem to bear no ill will towards humans. Having said that, it must be pointed out that the school girls of the last two episodes prove themselves to be far more threatening than their tiny counterparts.

The major problem is that Humanity Has Declined doesn’t have a real lot to say, and it takes its time in saying it. Two episodes may be spent making one small point, sort of like a shaggy dog story. The effect is rarely less than charming in a leisurely sort of way but only occasionally manages to be truly memorable. The seven story arcs unfold in roughly reverse chronological order, which seems to serve no other purpose than to follow the eccentric internal logic of the individual stories.

The colour palette is unusual for anime, with lots of oranges, greens and pale space. It’s also simultaneously luminous and washed-out, if that makes sense. Scenes often had a distracting series of faint rectangular haloes overlayed upon them that it could have done without. Nevertheless I liked the overall appearance, however the best that can be said for Humanity Has Declined is that it is diverting.

Hyouge Mono (TV) Masterpiece

A fanciful telling of the final years of the Warring States period, Hyouge Mono deserves to be seen by a wide audience, which is not necessarily the normal anime demographic. Although it takes considerable liberties with the historical record (each episodes bears the warning, “The following tale is a work of pure fiction”), all the characters are based on actual historical figures - even the lowly Governor, Sasuke Furuta, through whose eyes we see the tale unfold and whose exaggerated facial expressions highlight the many absurdities around him.

Absurdity is the flip side of tragedy and Hyouge Mono revels in that contrast, played out through the military and political ambitions of the generals and the aesthetics of the tea ceremony (particularly the visual appeal of the various implements used). This play creates a sense of fatalism, that the machinations of these men are ultimately pointless. All the characters are absurd, no matter how grandiose or dignified or cunning they try to be. The writers and director subtly allow the viewer to see how pointless, how ridiculous and how dangerous it all is, highlighted by enthralling dialogues between the main characters, with all their undercurrents of threat, treachery, double-meanings and incitements. The series oozes irony, like no other anime I've ever seen. This isn't a show for adolescents (or adults who are adolescent at heart) who want their hormones excited. This is a witty and pitiless examination of the barely disguised brutality of the men competing for power in one of the most violent times in Japan's past. History tends to glorify the exploits of these men. Hyouge Mono gives them the merciless lampooning they arguably deserve even more.

At its core, Hyouge Mono is high tragedy in the classical Japanese or Greek or Shakespearean sense. At the centre of the tragedy is Sen no Rikyu, the classical tragic hero, whose flaw - hubris - leads him to destruction. The point of view character, Furuta, is a variation on the theme. While he isn't destroyed by his flaws, the death sentence given to Rikyu, whom he idolises as his hero, is his moment of crisis. Much of the power and poignancy of these crises for the two main characters comes because they are preceded by moments of clarity where Rikyu and Furuta reach new levels of self-awareness that give them a degree of contentment hitherto eluding them.

Hyouge Mono has the perfect director in Koichi Mashimo. It is as if he were born to direct this series. Not since The Irresponsible Captain Tylor in the early 90s has his penchant for absurdity been given such free rein. He has the ability to be simultaneously po-faced, over the top, and yet profound. Sure, there are the expected Mashimo lapses of judgement and times where I feel I'm just not getting the point but I never get the feeling he's just going through the motions so evident in El Cazador de la Bruja or the latter parts of Phantom ~ Requiem for the Phantom. For the first time since Noir it feels as if he is fully committed to the project. Like Noir and Phantom there is a powerful redemptive element to Hyouge Mono for, despite the terrible climax, the series ends on a hopeful note. The long night of horror gives way to a new dawn as Osen, his wife, watches two birds of prey circling above. One bird is caught silhouetted by the sun and the anime transforms the image into a beautiful enso painted on pottery in the Oribe-yaki style. Furuta Oribe has found his true voice. Two of the episodes of Mashimo's Blade of the Immortal contain similar stories about artists trying to find their voice. In Hyouge Mono Mashimo has found his.

Extended review of episodes 1-14

Extended review of episodes 15-25

Extended review of episodes 26-39

Ichigeki Sacchu!! HoiHoi-san (special) Decent

One Hit Insect Kill Hoi Hoi-san was a ten minute extra with the first manga volume and is largely memorable for its concept of doll sized robots as insect exterminators. One brand of robot dolls is especially keen to wipe out its competitor dolls. It's cleverly done and the "combat" scenes will raise a chuckle, however the scenes with the human characters have little to distinguish them and it ends inconclusively.
(The) Ideon: A Contact (movie) Weak

As a re-hash of the 39 episode series and a prelude to the main event - Be Invoked - this film jumps from one unexplained situation to another and thrusts characters upon the viewer without any introduction. In this intergalactic war, both sides call home "Earth" and each other "aliens", so it took me a while to work out who was fighting whom. Yes, it all ends up being rather a chore to watch but it is a necessary forerunner to one of the most memorable anime around.
(The) Ideon: Be Invoked (movie) Decent

For sure, Be Invoked has not aged well in some ways. In particular, the characters are dated in their design, their personalities and the dramatic roles they play. Nevertheless this remarkable film makes up for these shortcomings with an intensely dramatic crescendo of violence that you will not quickly forget. Be Invoked is famous as the anime where everyone dies and, believe me, no-one is spared. Knowing that, however, doesn't reduce its impact, especially when the combatants finally understand all too well that their own innate violence is the catalyst for their destruction. And then, if that's not enough, everything is turned on its head in a most unexpected rapturous ending.

Although completely different in style - owing a considerable debt to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars, this is more a space opera than mecha anime - the end surely inspired End of Evangelion. Despite its inferior production standards and its simpler plot, it still manages to be more convincing than its spiritual successor in its depiction of human "evolution".

Look out for the homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dune in the last few seconds.

Innocent Venus (TV) Bad

Unoriginal characters, second-rate artwork and animation, and a plot that is contrived and cliched totally destroy what may have been a good story were it in the hands of people who cared.
(The) Irresponsible Captain Tylor (TV) Excellent

With an unusually fast pace for director Koichi Mashimo, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is easily the most thoroughly entertaining thing I’ve seen from him yet. Credit for its success is due in part to the excellent script from regular collaborators Kenichi Kanemaki and Hiroyuki Kawasaki. Coincidentally, Kawasaki was also a scriptwriter for the subsequent Martian Successor Nadesico, which shares many stylistic qualities with The Irresponsible Captain Tylor.

Like Martian Successor Nadesico, it is much more than simple parody. What it has, in spades, is emotional clout, thanks to its marvellous characters. You can add to that a heart of gold, thanks to its unceasing optimism and relentless ridiculing of all things military.

Everything revolves around Captain Justy Ueki Tylor. Even though he is a slacker in the finest anime tradition, I’ve never, ever encountered a character quite like him. Initially, he comes across as a complete dill. Everybody in the series has the same first impression accept, notably, two important Raalgons – the empress Azalyn and her loyal military prodigy Ru Baraba Dom. His own United Planet Space Force command don’t know what to make of him so they give him command of an old rustbucket, crewed by incompetents and misfits. They are sent to the most dangerous sector of the galaxy in the hope they are killed. Things aren’t helped when his own crew, to a man and woman, share the common view that he is an idiot. Tylor proceeds to win improbable battles, gain the loyalty of his crew, and steal the heart of the young Raalgon Empress. It climaxes when he is given command of the UPSF fleet and faces off against Ru Baraba Dom in one last epic confrontation. The outcome of the battle is unexpected, gripping, and utterly in keeping with the spirit of the anime. Is Tylor really the idiot we have been led to believe?

Other Koichi Mashimo trademarks include a colour palette and composition that varies from the pedestrian to the sublime, neon city designs and character designs typical of the 90s. It scrubs up pretty well given it was first aired in 1993. Sometimes with Mashimo I get the sense he is not fully engaged with his art, that he is merely going through the motions. The Irresponsible Captain Tylor has a freshness and enthusiasm that is infectious – as if everyone involved enjoyed themselves immensely.

Extended review

Jin-Roh - The Wolf Brigade (movie) Excellent

From Angel’s Egg to The Sky Crawlers Mamoru Oshii films are, typically, high on visual wonder but low on substance. Here he limits himself to writing the screenplay, adapted from his own manga. Good thing, too. His scrieenplay, despite being overly literary at times, is enthralling while Director Hiroyuki Okiura oversees a dark, brooding urban landscape (and sewerscape) that provides a perfect setting for the unsettling story. Like Otomo, it seems to me Oshii’s works are at their best when seen through the prism of someone else’s vision. Jin-Roh is a thoughtful, adult story with all the wonder found in the best anime.
Jumping (movie) Excellent

Jumping is an extraordinary pre-CGI six-minute 1984 film from Osamu Tezuka: a first person point of view animation of a girl jumping. Each jump is larger than the last, culminating in ocean sized leaps. The amazing thing, for its time, is that the camera moves through the landscape with the jumping girl, thus not pemitting short cuts in the animation. Each frame must be fully painted. It’s made even more complicated by the girl shifting her gaze: sometimes she’s looking down, sometimes up, sometimes straight ahead.

In one of the three commentaries accompanying the film, Anthony Lucas (the director of The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello) explains that animating the camera is about the most expensive thing you can attempt to do. But as another of the commentators (Philip Brophy, author of 100 Anime) points out, this sort of thing is impossible with live action cinema. The six-minute film took 29 months to produce and involved almost 4,000 fully painted cels. You can see that they have tried to make it as simple as they could but it’s still breathtaking to watch.

Now, you may think that this is just an esoteric, technical exercise. Believe me, it could be the most entertaining six minutes you can spend watching anime. The girl starts of by jumping up and down in a country laneway. Her first exaggerated leap is to avoid being run down by a car – immediately there’s a sense of danger, along with a sense of fun, setting the tone for the next six minutes. With each leap she lands amidst some vignette of life that we glimpse for a second or two before she continues – kids playing on a demolition site, a motorist being booked by a policeman, a would be suicide on a railway line, a naked woman sunbaking. At one stage the girl leaps a skyscraper in a single bound and, if you move the anime frame by frame, you can see events unfolding on each floor, including a cameo from R2D2 and C3PO.

This is a wonderful example of the technical merits, the structure and the narrative each reflecting each other: Osamu Tezuka’s ambitions, the jumping format and the escalating events. All aspects of the production enhance the others, adding to the overall effect. As Tezuka himself puts it in his own commentary to the film,

“You can’t keep jumping forever. But this one does and it can’t stop till it jumps into a nuclear explosion. It’s like mankind and its technology. They don’t know when to stop.”

Junkers Come Here (movie) Very good

Simple but emotive tale of Hiromi, a young girl quietly going to pieces as she learns that her frequently absent parents are planning a divorce. A welcome intervention comes in the form of her wise, communicative dog, Junkers. While the style is reminiscent of Isao Takahata, the signature magic and humour of Junichi Sato infuse the film with a warm glow. Despite the simplicity of the artwork, the film is a visual treat: frames are composed so that important aspects are highlighted against a subdued background palette - a style that works perfectly for Sato's message.
Kaiba (TV) Very good

In the Kaiba world memories can be extracted from bodies and reinserted into new bodies, making them effectively immortal. With the population of memories exceeding available hosts, there is a desperate struggle for good bodies. Amidst these struggles two separated lovers, Neyro and Kaiba (aka Warp), in unfamiliar bodies and missing memories, try to find each other, to understand the nature of their world, and to bring about some sort of justice.

The achingly sad, yearning opening theme sets the tone beautifully for this tale of memory and love and how each nourishes the other. Indeed I haven't seen another anime where the OP so powerfully dictates the mood of story. It's nicely complemented by the various renditions of The Tree Song that accompanies the more poignant moments. While the music is exceptional the artwork is more dubious. It seems director Masaaki Yuasa didn't have a huge budget to play with and it shows. Ever resourceful, however, he has adopted a bubbly, seemingly sloppy style that complements the emotive themes while softening the emotional and physical violence. Nevertheless the artwork can be annoying, especially in episode 5.

Despite its eccentric visual style, the story of Kaiba is most akin to cyberpunk science fiction in the tradition of Serial Experiments Lain, Ghost in the Shell or even Dennou Coil. Like them it relies on the Cartesian conceit of the separation of mind and body. That's fine - like much of anime, if you accept the premise the development is often exceptional, as it is here.

The series does have some structural issues, though. It begins immediately after some unexplained catastrophic event that has left Kaiba character with amnesia. Thereafter you get eight episodes of languid development as Masaaki Yuasa explores the implications of body and memory swapping followed by three episodes of rushed resolution.

But it's kind of understandable why things turned out this way. At their best the early episodes are more interesting than the final two. Episode 3 - Cronico's Boots - is quite simply one of the most magnificent episodes you may ever see in anime, approaching the field of flowers episode of Clannad After Story in its emotional impact but exceeding it in its savage irony. The episode heaps irony upon irony on top of its wrenching sadness. If you don't feel inclined to watch the entire series at least check out this particular episode. Another problem with the back to front plot structure is that numerous significant things happen in the first half of the series with the viewer having no inkling of their import. Two characters - Pal, the bubble-headed bird, and Kichi, the wheelchair-bound and button-eyed memory merchant - keep popping up unexpectedly with their seeming deus ex machina interventions. Their connection to Kaiba / Warp will become apparent late in the series. What all this does mean is that a second viewing is highly rewarding. Not only is the story much clearer but there is much pleasure to be found in the many things that seemed inconsequential or confusing first time around.

Extended review

Kara no Kyoukai: Mirai Fukuin (movie) Decent

Karas (OAV) Not really good

Oh, what this might have been were it more coherent.
Kemonozume (TV) Good

Describing this as an action series depicting the battles between shape changing flesh eaters (the Shokujinki) and brave martial artists (the Kifuuken) is to gloss over its notable stylistic features. Kemonozume is directed by Masaaki Yuasa and that means the viewer is in for one hell of an unconventional anime, in both story and imagery. Indeed, Yuasa seems to be deliberately contrary in every aspect of the medium. Whatever directions the plot could have gone, Yuasa tries to pursue the most unexpected course, and in doing so uncovers characters' hidden secrets, or wanders off in odd digressions, but mostly spirals further and further into absurdity. Absurdity is fine, if it serves another purpose. For sure, it's witty and, occasionally, very funny but it lacks the satirical posture and hilarity of Tatami Galaxy or the emotional impact of Kaiba, to mention two of his other works. It just seems to be absurd for its own sake.

The visual style not only emphasises the absurdities but it also, paradoxically, compensates for them by being so refreshing and so entertaining. Yuasa's style is changeable, grotesque and very, very fluid. All outlines are highly unstable: solid objects take on a life of their own; faces are constantly mutating; and actions are always highly kinetic. I'd just about say that Yuasa has the best eye for motion of any anime director I know yet his means are always economical.

The downside of his stylistic contortions is that the viewer never forgets they are viewing artifice. This distancing meant that, by the final episode I wasn't really emotionally engaged by main characters. I mean, I wanted to know what would happen, but there was no sense of dread or grief or loss or victory or resolution. Add this to the abovementioned descent into absurdity and, to be honest, I didn't really care how it all turned out.

That said, another of the very refreshing things about Kemonozume is the adult cast of characters and, mostly, adult behaviour of those characters, notwithstanding Yuasa's almost juvenile glee in violence, gore and eroticism.

Extended review

Kick-Heart (movie) Good

If you're familiar with Masaaki Yuasa you will quickly recognise his fluid, messy, irreverent, rumbustious style. Despite his seemingly primitive animation, Yuasa has an absolute sure touch when it comes to timing and motion: Kick-Heart moves at a cracking pace. Yet, like so much of his work, there's more happening on the surface than there is underneath. There's an uncouth grace to Yuasa that overlays a sentimental core that never amounts to all that much. What matters is what's being done to your senses, not your intellect. And that's a good thing in its own way.

Kick-Heart has created something of a buzz, being the first successful Kickstarter anime project. It's hard not to approach it hoping that it will be better than it ends up being. What's more, at only thirteen minutes long there's not a lot to consider - about half a dozen scenes, including two extended, visceral wrestling matches. It's place in the history of anime will probably outweigh its significance as animation but I'm chuffed something as eccentric as this got its moment in the limelight.

Kid's Story (OAV) Decent

The distinctive visual style doesn't match the flair of Shinichiro Watanabe's Animatrix sibling Detective Story but the storytelling is superior. The rough hewn fluid style suits this tale of a boy fleeing the matrix agents on his skateboard, culminating in a viscerally effective falling sequence.
Kids on the Slope (TV) Very good

Kids on the Slope is a joy to watch, thanks to the two lead characters, the sublime music, the 1960s setting, the overall tone, the constant surprises, the quality execution the emotional highs. I have rarely watched an anime that had so many ecstatic moments. And, yet, I have several reservations about it.

The two main threads – the jazz tinged friendship between Kaoru and Sentaro on the one hand, and the various romantic - never sit together comfortably. The series starts off as one thing (two friends exploring jazz) then spends most of the rest of the twelve episodes as something else (a josei tale of entangled love).

Based on a josei manga it shouldn’t surprise that Kids on the Slope portrays the friendship and loves of two young men as a female audience might envisage them. The relationship between the feminine Kaoru and macho Sentaro could even be considered a chaste and restrained yaoi romance for a mainstream female audience. This isn’t a bad thing. Indeed, the friendship between the two young men is one of the richest I’ve seen in anime, with jazz as its metaphorical expression.

The female characters aren’t realised nearly as well. Ritsuko has a nondescript personality with an annoying voice and a character design that is initially unappealing. Even the most interesting ongoing female character, Yurika, subordinates her future to the man she loves.

The music is so good - another memorable Yoko Kanno effort - I just wish Kids on the Slope had explored it more. That and a female lead to match Kaoru and Sentaro and this could have been a masterpiece.

Extended review

Kiki's Delivery Service (movie) Decent

It's wholesome; it's nice; it has a fun cat called Jiji and a sweet girl who's also a witch, but Kiki's Delivery Service lacks significance. There's nothing particularly wrong with it but somehow it never manages to go beyond being a film for young girls.
Kikumana (movie) Not really good

Predating Aquatic Language by a year this six minute short film consists of a sequence of images of a young woman, the titular Kikumana, in a room full of books. She may be dreaming or perhaps her imagination is let loose; she is connected to the world but connected to no one; experiencing all sorts of the things, while experiencing nothing. It seems to me to be a surreal commentary on our lives in the digital age. In tone it has an affinity with Pale Cocoon, although the artwork (in grey tones) is nowhere near as sophisticated. As with Makoto Shinkai, a director whose career Yasuhiro Yoshiura parallels, it's fascinating to see his craft develop. Yoshiura's early stuff isn't as accessible but it's more interesting than Shinkai's. Time of Eve was an enormous leap forward for him, the way it presents his complex ideas while being simultaneously immensely entertaining. I think he has entirely leapfrogged Shinkai.

You can look it up on Yoshiura's Studio Rikka website - a google translated version of the page is here.

Kill Bill Chapter 3: The Origin of O-Ren (movie segment) So-so

Visceral (I kid you not) interlude in Kill Bill that provides Cottonmouth's backstory. It rivals Elfen Lied for rivers of blood but, being even more stylised, it isn't difficult to watch. Even though the hand painted style is deliberately accentuated, there is still a very fluid sense of motion and action. Somewhat jaundiced in its view of the world, this animated section isn't particularly significant but it's one ingredient that makes Kill Bill what it is.
Kimba the White Lion (TV 1/1965) So-so

Early anime that now seems extremely dated. But I loved it as a kid.
Kimi ni Todoke - From Me to You (TV) Very good

Thoroughly charming shojo romance of a lovable girl, Sawako Kuronoma, whose apparently scary appearance inhibits her social interaction. With the help of the boy she secretly loves, Shota Kazehaya, and two savvy, memorable schoolgirl friends, Chizuru Yoshida and Ayane Yona, Sawako begins to blossom and finds herself drawn ever closer to Kazehaya. Sawako is one of the most sympathetic characters I've encountered in anime while Chizuru and Ayane excel as her entertaining and supportive friends. Even the arch-rival, manipulative Ume Kurumizawa, managed to earn my sympathy by the end. The central romance does drag at times and there are some unnecessary episodes but Sawako, Chizuru and Ayane make this a memorable series.
Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season (TV) Good

A new villain arrives in the form of playboy student Kento Miura in an arc that comes across as contrived. For their part, Sawako and Kazehaya also become increasingly self-delusional in contrast to their earlier guileless honesty. Still, Chizuru and Ayane are there to keep the insights and the humour flowing. The two friends also work hard to ensure the central romance continues to head in the right direction. The final admissions and acknowledgements of a shared love - through a partially closed schoolroom door - is worth all the wait. Two of the nicest people in anime finally get their just rewards. This moment is followed by three ecstatic episodes as everyone, including the two leads, comes to accept the new circumstances.

Extended review of the two seasons

Kimi no Iru Machi (OAV) Decent

Based on a long running manga the two part Kimi no Iru Machi depicts an event well into the run but includes several flashbacks so that viewers can get a handle on the relationship between the three main characters. If you aren't familiar with the manga (and I wasn't) it may take a couple of viewings to understand their history (which I needed). It's easily good enough (and short enough) to enjoy watching at least twice.

Haruto is a country boy who travels to Tokyo on a school excursion where he hopes to meet Eba with whom he is having a long distance relationship. Amongst his travelling classmates is an earlier flame, Nanami, who still harbours feelings for him. The first episode sets up the crisis; the second resolves it very sweetly. I found it a tad predictable but there's plenty of things to appreciate about it in any case. The artwork and animation are gorgeous, the characters are appealing, and the many small observations hit the spot perfectly. Best of all, the outcome is satisfying, even if the characters still have much more ahead of them. (I guess that's the point of the OAV: to get people buying the manga to find out what happens afterwards.)

King of Thorn (movie) Good

Despite being yet another mining of the dreaming v reality trope, King of Thorn has a mood and feel that is all its own. By re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty story it connects with our childhood psyche giving it emotional power. Good dramatic pacing (except for having one final climax too many), interesting characters for the most part and plenty of plot twists keep the viewer’s attention from waning, even if the thorn dragon is a tad cheesy. But it’s the wonderful, subdued artwork, creating a sombre, claustrophobic and menacing tone that is most memorable about this movie.
Kino no Tabi: The Beautiful World (movie) Good

Kino's Journey (TV) Excellent

Stories of various sorts collect around Kino and her motorrad Hermes as they travel from city state to city state. In some ways the series is reminiscent of Mushi-Shi where Ginko travels within a rustic Japan. But the issues that confront Kino are broader social questions rather than the personal crises that afflict the people of Ginko's world. With some exceptions Kino is not a part of the stories that unfold - she arrives, observes as events unfold then continues on her way. It's almost as if she is the manuscript upon which the tale is written. Indeed, Kino's Journey can, on one level, be understood as a sort of post-modern rumination on the art of story telling. Even the artwork, with its prominent horizontal lines suggesting watercolour on paper, is drawing our attention to the constructed nature of what we are viewing. That's not to say the that the dilemmas of the various nations aren't interesting - some episodes are very poignant - but, for me, the series has a dry feel that isn't helped by unengaging characters, including Kino herself, that prevents it from being at the very top rank.
Kite (OAV) Very good

Kite draws the viewer into a strange, hypnotic world of grimy decay. Sawa, a young, cold assassin, is almost artificial in her perfection yet our sympathy for her, enduring an horrific life of abuse and destruction, gives the OAV a moral viewpoint that wrestles with the violence, bloodshed and exploitative sex that dominate the storyline. Everyone is a predator. Sawa preys on her targets with deadly zeal; her employers, Akai and Kanie, prey on their assassins; managers prey on their secretaries; celebrities prey on their fans; and the paedophiles prey on children. It’s all rather hideous, yet somehow beautiful at the same time, like Sawa.

In its atmosphere, colour palette and structure Kite reminds me strongly of the 1960s French film Le Samouraï about a precise, emotionless assassin in Paris. Interestingly, the plot of Le Samouraï strongly informs the John Woo film, The Killer, which, in turn, inspired the Koichi Mashimo “girls with guns” trilogy. The french film, itself, consciously follows the American film noir tradition and, besides, there's its name, of course. The journey from Japan and Hollywood to Paris to Hong Kong and back to Japan is a fascinationg one.

The OVA comes in three versions. The sex scenes in the completely uncut version disrupt the narrative flow and carefully wrought mood, while the standard version leaves out important elements that dilute the power of the director's vision. The Director's Cut should be the version of choice.

Extended review

Koe de Oshigoto! (OAV) So-so

Koi Kaze (TV) Masterpiece

The very first thing the viewer sees when watching this series is 15 year old Nanoka dreamily walking down a street to the gorgeous opening theme. Then, behind her, a car slowly crosses the screen and we can imagine the the driver gazing at her. This scene beautifully sets the tone of the series for, despite the apparent sugar coated surface, this otherwise exquisite love story has a confronting edge to it that will repel many viewers. Nevertheless, the thoughtful, nuanced writing is memorable not only for the psychological depth of the relationship between Koshiro and Nanoka but also in how it makes the viewer complicit in their transgression. And, as the first images demonstrate, every moment of the series is crafted to realise a vision that is challenging and sophisticated. Koi Kaze could so easily have been either sleazy or cloying. That it is never either is a testament to its genius.
Kumo to Tulip (movie) Decent

A beautiful and surprisingly affecting tale from pioneering animator Kenzo Masaoka about a spider hunting a ladybug. That it was made in the middle of World War 2 is even more surprising.
Kurau: Phantom Memory (TV) Excellent

On the surface Kurau: Phantom Memory may appear to be an action series but to think that would be a mistake. Rather, it is one of the most fascinating ruminations on idealised, unconditional love that you may ever encounter. The shared commitment of the central characters – the alien yet human pair of Kurau and Christmas, who are, in effect, the same person at different ages - is total. One of the achievements of the anime is that their love isn't cloying, isn't overplayed and isn't fanservicey. It is simultaneously alien and ideal and infuses the anime with an optimism that never wavers despite the forces arrayed against them. This optimism is also apparent in the way that Kurau and Christmas bring out the best in the characters around them. The ongoing supporting cast are mostly good, especially the icily determined Ayaka and the supremely likeable private agent and former police officer, Doug.

As far as plot goes, Kurau: Phantom Memory is both episodic and, too often, relies upon convenient solutions to provide short cuts or resolve looming plot cul-de-sacs. These contrivances spoil an otherwise well-written script but I suppose you could say this is an emotional journey, rather than a more conventional action story. Thankfully, the two heroines are sufficiently appealing and their relationship so affecting that it isn't that great an issue. The grand, ecstatic emotional moments shared by the two make it all worthwhile. These big moments are enhanced by a musical score that gets better as the series progresses, while the science fiction setting, the colour palette and the character designs are all pleasing to the eye.

Extended review

Labyrinth (movie) So-so

Led by a French circus clown, a small girl and her cat take a trip through the imagination in a series of sometimes arresting tableaux that, in the end, don’t add up to much at all. With one glaring exception it is nicely animated while the atmosphere is simultaneously fun and creepy. The segment morphs through several stylistic changes, one of which is so redolent of the evolution sequence form Bruno Bozzetto’s Allegro Non Troppo that I suspect the whole thing is a homage to European animation. From the Neo Tokyo antholoy, introducing and framing the other segments.
Last Exile (TV) Good

A complex and beguiling series that tells a good story with its fair share of both memorable (Lavie, Clause, Sophia, Dio) and dud (Tatiana, Alex) characters. The many threads come together in an exciting climax that has tragic and poignant outcomes for some and triumph for others. That last episode climax contains my single favourite dramatic moment in anime: when Sophia Forrester (pictured left) orders the apparent doomed assault on the Guild with a sweep of her arm - an attack that will bring her unforeseen personal loss. The music, the artwork (even if the palette is somewhat subdued) and the animation are all up to the task but, although the steampunk setting is interesting, the nature of that world and its politics aren't always made clear leading to considerable confusion at times.
Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing (TV) Decent

Fam the Silver Wing is a pale shadow of the first series, Last Exile. There are several reasons for this. Where, in the original series the character designs were detailed and dramatic, if occasionally sentimental, in Fam they are infantilised and cartoonish, with prosaic, though admittedly pretty, character designs and limited facial expressions - limited in their variety and their ability to project character. The effect is to distance the characters from the viewer, thereby reducing the emotional investment.

Another problem is that a genki girl, and that's basically what Fam starts out as, isn't appropriate as the main character of a space opera. Genki girls don't have much depth or staying power. True grandeur, and Fam the Silver Wing has pretensions towards the epic, should be played over a slow and steady beat. Because the rhythm of the series is way too fast, events pile up one after the other with no sense of development or import. The characters' motivations are opaque (because they lack depth) and too often their actions make little sense. Oddly enough, as Fam's genkiness declines, so does her significance in the unfolding events.

All these problems can be forgotten once the anime becomes airborne. The flying scenes and the aerial battles are breathtaking. The ships themselves, from the vespas to the battleships get the bulk of the creators' love and attention. Happily, Fam the Silver Wing is worth seeing just for the aerial pyrotechnics.

(The) Laughing Target (OAV) Not really good

Part of the Rumic World franchise, The Laughing Target is a somewhat incoherent supernatural horror story of a girl possessed by demons. She and her cousin were betrothed as children and skipping ahead ten years or so they are now high school students (wouldn't you know). The young man hasn't seen his betrothed in that time and now has a serious relationship with another girl at his school. The possessed girl is mysteriously transferred into their school and trouble predictably ensues. It has one seriously goosebump-causing moment and Azusa - the possessed girl - can strike some startling poses - simultaneously displaying otherworldly awareness and youthful beauty - but like so much anime based on a Rumiko Tahashi manga it suffers from an excess of banality.
Legend of the Forest (movie) Good

This 29 minute short film is a history lesson in animation techniques, a homage to Walt Disney and other western animators of the twentieth century, a summary of Osamu Tezuka’s career, and a reflection on the conflict between nature and civilisation 11 years before Princess Mononoke. Unsurprisingly, the quality is somewhat uneven but, for the most part, Legend of the Forest is a graceful and witty film made two years before Tezuka’s death.

The Australian release (part of the Tezuka: The Experimental Films collection) has an informative and entertaining commentary by Philip Brody that significantly enhanced my appreciation of what Tezuka was doing in the film.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes (OAV) Very good

Follows the life of Reinhard von Lohengramm from his childhood to his ascension to Kaiser of the Galactic Empire and his ongoing rivalry with the republican military leader Yang Wen-li (pictured left) and, later, Yang's protoge, Julian Minci. This grand space opera has all the expected elements - clashes of battlefleets, treachery, loyalty, ambition and tragedy. For much of the anime the only characters allowed to shine are the two main leads who, unsurprisingly, eventually struggle to carry the burdens placed upon them by the plot and to maintain the viewer's interest. By switching the emphasis to other players late in the franchise it manages to not only restore interest but enables it to finish on a satisfying and hopeful note.

LotGH has its faults but the sheer scope of the tale, its vast array of characters - the characterisations outside of Yang Wen-li and Reinhard von Lohengramm may have seemed slight at first but the sheer length of the series gives most of them an opportunity to show their stuff - and the political examinations, if naive at times, help it overcome its shortcomings. It is also very well structured for such a long series and is rarely anything less than engaging and frequently - especially in the gigantic battles - gripping. Because of its satisfying structure and its ongoing appeal LotGH is, as an entirety, greater than the sum of its four seasons.

Extended review of season 1 (episodes 1-26)

Extended review of season 2 (episodes 27-54, scroll down)

Extended review of season 3 (episodes 55-86)

Extended review of season 4 (episodes 87-110, scroll down)

Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Overture to a New War (movie) Very good

From a dramatic perspective this is a beautifully paced film. Covering the first two of the epic 110 episode series along with some extra material it at no stage gives the impression that there is missing information from the series. The backgrounding of the two rivals, von Lohengramm (pictured left) and Wen-li, adds to the build up rather than detracting from it and the climactic scenes are effective yet economical. It helps that the two characters are so compelling: the laid back and kindly Wen-li and the intense and ambitious von Lohengramm. Both are as cunning as shithouse rats (to use an Australianism). Add to this some wonderful romantic era central European orchestral music (Bruckner, Mahler and others) and you have a film that revels in its epic scope.

The romantic era music, however, gives a hint of those aspects of the film that arouse important misgivings for me. The shallow romanticising of war that infuses this film from first frame to last reveals that it doesn’t have much philosophical depth. Now, I must admit, a 90-minute film doesn’t provide much opportunity to tease out difficult and complex ideas and I’m sure that over the 110 episodes of the TV series many such issues are examined thoroughly. Here war is a grand opera, where every hot-blooded man would dream of being on the battleship bridge alongside Wen-li. Even the tragic scenes, such as Jessica Edwards losing her man, are presented as noble. We may even envy her sacrifice.

A Letter to Momo (movie) Excellent

Following the death of her father (who left a letter that never got beyond a salutation), Momo struggles to come to terms with her grief and finds herself distanced from her mother. When the two move to a new home on a remote island in the Japanese Inland sea, Momo befriends three goblins who help her move on with her life. The film lets us get to know the heroine in a leisurely manner - an ordinary girl on the cusp of puberty dealing with grief and guilt. Momo isn't your typical anime personality. She views people and events and objects not always in the self-centred, acquisitive, curious way of a child but frequently in an appraising, measured way of an adult. Nevertheless, she still has a child’s lack of self-consciousness about her body: she constantly moves and deploys her limbs in a very naturalistic, innocent way. Indeed, one of the great things about the movie is the natural way everyone moves. I think it’s one of the best anime I’ve yet seen in this regard. While Momo may be a believable schoolgirl, the goblins are simultaneously gross and hilarious yet endearing, even if their initial appearances is somewhat at odds with the seeming realistic tone of the movie. From early on it's clear this film will have a highly emotive ending and it doesn't let the viewer down. People will shed a tear when Momo finds the answer she has been wanting. A Letter to Momo shines in its artwork, its animation and it storytelling.

Extended review

Like the Clouds, Like the Wind (special) Very good

It's intriguing that this gem was made three years before Ninja Scroll, is so much better yet doesn't have anywhere near the recognition. Thanks to an erstwhile Ghibli designer, the characters are acceptable to 21st century eyes, unlike some other anime shows from the time that have aged badly. The story is carried by the superb main character, Ginga, who starts off as a village girl and ends up, briefly, as the Chinese emperor's number one wife. To give an idea of the strength of her character, at one point she holds an occupying army at bay by putting a gun to her own throat. Dramatic stuff.
Limit Cycle (movie) Awful

This short film from the Genius Party anthology is not only mind-achingly pretentious but when the turgid narration isn't incoherent it says some pretty stupid things about religion and faith and the oh-so-contradictory nature of meaning. I could hardly sit through it. The visuals might have been OK but who cares?
Little Norse Prince Valiant (movie) Decent

Sometimes engaging anime from 1968, often described as the first feature film with a recognisable anime style. The plot is episodic and the characters are one-dimensional but the hand of Isao Takahata is present nonetheless. One of its oddities is the way the characters and scenes are often drawn with widely varying styles. Some facial features - the male and female protagonists, Hols and Hilda, in particular - point the way forward to the later Ghibli style but others were left behind as Takahata and Miyazaki refined their craft. Interestingly, the wolves that attack Arren early in Tales of Earthsea bear a likeness to the wolves that attack Hols in the opening scene of Little Norse Prince. Homage, perhaps?
Little Witch Academia (movie) Good

Twenty six minutes of unadulterated fun. Sure, it isn't the most profound thing you'll ever encounter - lacking even the slightest hint of any subtext or allegory - but it's an unalloyed joy to watch. Part of the pleasure is that it eschews well worn anime cliches; so much so that it you could be forgiven if you thought it wasn't Japanese (although the language gives it away). Being fully animated adds to its similarities to western anime but that's a positive. The thrilling movement and spot on timing add to the innocent pleasure.
Love Hina (TV) So-so

Harem anime that hasn't aged well despite being something of an archetype for the genre. Not only is the visual style unfashionable now, but what may have been novel in 2000 is cliche today. Keitaro was designed so that the average young adult male could relate to him but his very blandness ensures that the series also remains firmly average in its creativity. The female characters are more interesting but lack the skylarking lunacy of the earlier Tenchi Muyo franchise's women, although it must be said that Love Hina generates more laughs per episode. As often happens in anime romance aimed at a male audience, the principal female character, Naru, is smarter and more capable than the male at the centre of the harem and therefore her romantic inclinations are not only largely incomprehensible but any development in the relationship must be accompanied by a dimunation of her character. My own opinion is that Mutsumi, the ditzy alternative love interest from Keitaro's childhood, or the moe Shinobu would have been more appropriate as his girlfriend, if much less interesting as plot fuel. The three smart, assertive women of the harem - Naru, the foxy (naturally) but indolent Kitsune and the occasionally scene-stealing kendo girl Motoko - lead the way with Keitaro feeding our sympathy with his clownish ways.
Love Hina Spring Special - I Wish Your Dream Not really good

Good natured follow-up to the series but lacks the vigorous cheekiness of the best parts of the original. The dull Shinobu gets too large a role and my favourite, Motoko, too little. Even with its seemingly random plot it's more fun than the dreary Christmas Special.
Love Hina X'mas Special - Silent Eve Weak

This surprisingly dull special completely lacks the wit of the original series. Even worse, my favourite character - Motoko the kendo girl - sleepwalks her way through except for one token moment on a train.
Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (movie) Good

Despite its release date of 1979 Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro carries its age well. I suspect that's because Miyazaki continues to produce successful anime so that his characteristic style remains acceptable to 21st century eyes. Re-mastering the film has also given it a vibrancy that some neglected contemporaries lack. This vibrancy accentuates the visual splendour for what is basically a cops and robbers story. Thank you, Miyazaki. One drawback, though. Haven't I seen Clarisse before? Think Nausicaa or Fio. For all his artistic ability, Miyazaki likes to recycle character designs.

Not bogged down by any of Miyazaki's ideological fixations, this is entertaining from start to finish. For sure, it jumps from one storytelling cliche to the another, but, wow, those cliches are animated with supreme verve and aplomb.

Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (TV) Very good

Macross Plus Movie Edition Decent

The story revolves almost entirely around just four characters: the competing pilots Isamu Dyson and Guld Bowman; their love interest Myung Fang Lone; and her virtual idol creation Sharon Apple. The two pilots are unpleasant characters, without any wit, compelling back story or personal dilemmas. Their rivalry may be violent but its not particularly convincing. It is also poorly resolved and, in doing so, raises the most problematic aspect of the anime. Guld once raped Myung, Isamu’s girlfriend at the time. The clear message is that the rape is an offence by Guld against Isamu, not against Myung. Such an attitude is medieval and repellant.

Myung, herself, along with her music idol avatar, Sharon Apple, are both nothing characters. Her role in the plot is simply to provide a competitive spur for the two men, and to give a kick-start to the development of the Sharon Apple phenomenon. As an avatar of Myung, Sharon Apple is interesting – she prefigures Miku Hatsune by some thirteen years – but there isn't much personality in Myung for her to be based upon and, while Myung's repressed love for Isamu is understandably transferred, there is no basis for Sharon's psychopathic, cataclysmic actions. Where in Myung does this come from?

Visually and aurally Macross Plus is a wonder. The 2D and 3D elements are well integrated – especially for the nineties, the colour palette has a vibrancy and richness and the backgrounds have a level of detail that would be more typical of anime from the last five years and the animation is thrilling. Standouts are the fighter plane scenes, the Sharon Apple scenes, and the cityscapes.

Extended review

Madlax (TV) Decent

From the same production house, director, composer and with many of the seiyu returning, Madlax unavoidably warrants comparison with Noir. Higher production values, a frighteningly epic backdrop, a much larger ensemble of characters, including males, and another great soundtrack from Yuki Kajiura, ensure the "girls with guns" genre progresses several notches in some ways but, overall, is not quite as good nor as groundbreaking as its predecessor. While the eponymous Madlax is charismatic, her indestructibility prevents her from ever achieving the status of Mireille from Noir whose appeal partly stems from the sense that, while constantly out of her depth, she continues to struggle for the truth. Unlike Noir, there are no stand-alone episodes but, also unlike Noir, the parameters of the mystery are not laid out early in the series. The result is that the first ten episodes or so are largely incomprehensible - understandable given the complexity of the plot but frustrating first time round. The greater range of relationships, most notably Madlax-Limelda, Madlax-Vanessa and Margaret-Carrossea, is fine but none ever quite reach the depth and breadth of Mireille and Kirika's.

The supernatural elements, while central to the plot, require a suspension of disbelief and the chief villain, Friday Monday, is as ridiculous as his name suggests. Insane, power-hungry overlords are commonplace in anime and none are convincing. Why do the producers of anime, especially those aiming at an adult audience, persist? Despite these criticisms, if you can make it to the point where Vanessa meets Madlax in war-torn Gazth-Sonika (episode 11) the series steadily improves.

Extended response to other forum comments

Maetel Legend (OAV) So-so

This prequel to Galaxy Express 999 lacks that hard-to-define spark that makes the original tale so compelling. It has many elements in its favour: two memorable lead characters, the sisters Maetel and Emeraldas, some startling images, a ravishing orchestral soundtrack (the music box theme is particularly haunting), and an antagonist - their mother Queen Andromeda Prometheum - who is torn between responsibility towards her doomed people and her love for her daughters. The OAV is unfortunately spoiled by the plot being dominated by a villain, Hardgear, who wants to destroy all human life and rule the universe. And, yes, he laughs out loud whenever he contemplates his magnificent future. Spare me, please. Maetel comes across as just a tad too sweet, thereby diminishing the aura of authority so apparent in the original movie. Countering these shortcomings in the principal characters, Prometheum's inner conflict as her machine parts spread through her body and destroy her humanity is dramatic and compelling. Understandably the makers of this 2000 OAV sought to recreate the style of the original 1970s series but mostly succeeded in making it look very dated.
Magic Boy (movie) So-so

This 1959 film from Toei Animation was one of several from Taiji Yabushita (here credited as co-director) with Japanese themes, talking animals, and a hero that must prove his worth. Although it is entertaining it can't hide its age, bearing little resemblance to the stylistic mannerisms of today's anime. Oddly this lack makes it seem all the more Japanese. Pre-dating Osamu Tezuka's saucer eyes, perhaps its the oriental almond eyes that make it seem so exotic, not just its age.
Magnetic Rose (movie) Excellent

The power of this short sci-fi horror film (part of the Memories suite) becomes ever more apparent with repeat views. I've come to appreciate the deadly hubris of the mind behind the interstellar memorial to a diva and her disappointed love. Hard science fiction and psychological drama combine for breathtaking trip into the darker recesses of our dreams as the Madam Butterfly siren call lures victims to their doom.
(La) Maison en Petits Cubes (movie) Good

Twelve minute short that self-conciously borrows from a European style of animation and unabashedly wears its heart on its sleeve. Even though it won an Academy Award for best short animated film, it's hard to argue that it's anime.
Male (movie) Not really good

A short film from Osamu Tezuka that shows a murderer awaiting the police, as seen through the eyes of two cats. It's eccentric, the animation is basic, and it's mildly entertaining.
Mardock Scramble: The First Compression (movie) Very good

This one hour film sure knows its genealogy, channelling such titles as Kite, Battle Angel, Ghost in the Shell, Bubblegum Crisis, Gunslinger Girl and even Trigun. It's not accidental: this is one genre savvy film, with homage-paying moments to these older titles. The cyberpunk, hard-boiled, film noir tone should appeal to those who lament the decline of the style since its heyday the 1990s.

Its appeal, though, is much more than it being a mixture of cyberpunk and girls with guns tropes. What makes it so good are Balot - the young prostitute brought back from the brink of death as a cyborg who, with a little help, tries courageously to rise above her dismal past and equally dismal prospects - and Oeufcoque - a talking mouse who can transform into any object Balot needs, from binoculars to, apparently, rocket launchers. Sounds stupid; works a treat. Mainly because, in both the Japanese and English dubs, the chemistry between the two is so potent and so moving. I've never seen anything like it in anime. He is the gentleman that she has never once met in her unfortunate life while, for him, she is the opportunity to be truly useful to somebody. That he is a mouse, and not a man, means that he has no sexual desire for her, allowing her, for the first time in her life, to form a genuine relationship.

The film makes a number of worthy feminist points but they are constantly undermined by the fanservice, which, thankfully, isn't of the bouncing breasts or overipe labial panty bulge varieties seen so often these days in anime. Nevertheless, Balot spends much of the film naked. Simply put, she's gorgeous - dressed or undressed. How on earth can I absorb any feminist message when I'm fantasising over the woman bearing said message? Actually, the viewer's complicity in her exploitation is part of the film's power. She is the male object of desire and the male object of pity and, to her and the film's credit, she strives to be something else. Just remember, though, she is only fifteen.

The film ends in an orgy of bloodletting with a bunch of fantasy freaks who are risible rather than disturbing. I can live with their stupid deformations because the action is fast and dramatic. Harder to forgive is the way the film portrays Balot's resulting mental breakdown. That she breaks down follows logically from her circumstances, the development of the story and the ideology of the film. That she would retaliate so violently also makes sense but, why oh why, does the whole tone have to be undermined with worn out anime cliches like the goofy, sleepy-eyed, orgasmic grin and the weapon licking? It's insulting.

The film follows the Fate / Zero practice of having many dark and / or monochrome scenes. It's an effective way to avoid having to provide detail and, presumably, saves on production costs. Being a cyberpunk, noir story Mardock Scramble gets away with it and, for the most part, it's a visually arresting movie. Just a warning, though: the film ends on a cliffhanger, so be prepared.

Extended review

Mardock Scramble: The Second Combustion (movie) Decent

Although the second instalment in the series makes both the philosophising and the action sillier and, despite the premises, the plot holes and the deus ex machina, it continues to do several things right.

First of all it has two entertaining characters in Oeufcoque the mouse and Dr Easter. It is entertainingly ironic that the most capable, most reassuring character is something as frail as a mouse. Yet, he is running the case against Shell and the October Corporation and is key to Rune rebuilding her life. Dr Easter’s unkempt appearance and shady technological activities gives him an air of seediness that creates an edginess in his relationship with Rune that I actually found more entertaining than the more straightforward interactions between Oeufcoque and Rune.

The film is always good to look at, especially now that the outrageously gross Bander Snatch Company characters have been despatched (although one of them makes a cameo appearance). That's not to say that it doesn't have the obligatory dismemberment or two. This time around the violence, though less frequent, seems more random in that it isn't tied to Rune's character development the way it is in Compression. It continues to be dominated by Rune Balot who, again, spends much of the film naked. Her role as eye candy is so central to the story that I'm torn between criticising the franchise for its sexism or praising it for its critique of the male gaze.

If Rune's appearance and the franchise's sexual politics are hard to nail down, then they reflect a film that doesn't quite succeed at anything it does and that doesn't have a coherent narrative pushing it along. It's the individual elements that give it the appeal it has rather than the overall package. And there is one element that manages, for a brief time, to lift Second Combustion above mediocrity, and that is the encounter between Rune and croupier Bell Wing. Two unlikely characters - one a fifteen-year-old sexual abuse victim, the other a middle-aged widow - see in the other a thrilling mirror of themselves. The younger woman can sense the power of the older woman and, therefore, the power she herself might wield. The older woman can sense the potential of the younger woman that she once had but never realised thanks to misfortune. It's a moment of pure understanding in an otherwise messy narrative. It took a ridiculous ending to draw attention to the first film’s silliness. In this, the second movie, the final segment again draws attention to the flaws in the overall concept, but instead, by being so much better than what preceded it.

Extended review

Mardock Scramble: The Third Exhaust (movie) Very good

Maria Holic (TV) So-so

It's frenetic, often surprising, the character designs range from exquisite to (intentionally) ridiculous, and there's gleeful viciousness aplenty. But, it's not terribly funny. And worse, the sado-masochistic relationship between Maria and Kanako quickly gets tiresome. To the show's credit, my response to the two main characters was equivocal: Kanako's stupidity and rampant libido meant that I often couldn't sympathise with her as victim; and Mariya was simultaneously and uncomfortably appealing and vicious. But, until the last two episodes (which are very good thanks largely to Father Kanae) there isn't much reward for all the effort being displayed.
Maris the Chojo (OAV) So-so

Based on a one-shot manga by Rumiko Takahashi, it follows the travails of Maris, an intergalactic law agent with super strength, who tries to save the kidnapped son of a billionaire in the hope he might marry her and resolve her financial woes. The immediate inspiration is the original Dirty Pair, which first aired the year before. Not only does Maris look like Kei and her major adversary - Zombie Sue - a bleached hair version of Yuri, but she is forever conned by her superior officer to take on more cases to pay for the debts she has accrued. Unsurprisingly the adversaries run around in wrestling outfits, culminationg with an enormously entertaining, bone-crunching wrestling match (as if Rumiko wanted to pit Yuri agaisnt Kei all along). And why does Maris have so much debt? Everything she touches is destroyed, of course.

The major departure from Dirty Pair is an important one. Maris the Chojo is consistently funny over the 45 minute duration of the OAV. It also has some wonderfully surreal moments such as a beach scene that references all sorts of cultural icons, a la the Daicon films. Dirty Pair has its surreal moments but they're nowhere near as surprising or bizarre. As a bonus, the end credits are a homage to the stunt bloopers that feature at the end of classic Jackie Chan movies.

Martian Successor Nadesico (TV) Decent

There is one thing Nadesico has, what with its odd mixture of comedy, pathos, warfare and metafiction, and that is a heart, unlike its near contemporary, the cynical, misanthropic Neon Genesis Evangelion, which kept coming to mind as I watched. Saving humanity with a kiss is sentimental but its simple humanism sure beats the preposterous human instrumentality project. For all of Nadesico's levity, it's suprising how attached I became to the foolish but likeable crew of the mobile space battleship Nadesico. It's heart comes from the characters who, despite their wackiness, have an unwavering optimism that all will turn out well, even if some plot holes will have to be endured along the way. The visual style may be out-dated but, in a sense, it's appropriate given that it is lampooning (among other things) earlier space operas and giant robot anime. Where Evangelion tries to cover its infantilism with empty grandstanding, Nadesico laughs at its own silliness and challenges the viewer in the opening song to, "Grow up".

Alternative version

Matriculated (OAV) Not really good

The last segment of the Animatrix anthology. It takes a few views to become accustomed to the initially repellent character designs. Once that hurdle has been overcome the story itself is simple enough - human rebels "persuade" machines to become their allies by awakening emotions within them. Although there is no surprise when the human camp is attacked, the film ends on a suitably ambiguous note. The segment simply doesn't convince, either emotionally or intellectually, to be able to drive its message home. It reinforces the major problem with the entire movie: the segments are too short to draw a strong investment from the viewer.
(The) Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (TV) Excellent

The charm of this series lies in the two main characters - Haruhi Suzumiya and Kyon. Not only are they memorable comic characters but Kyon's world-weary exasperation nicely balances Haruhi's almost unbearable single-minded willfulness. But, more than that even, they are both, despite their peculiarities, very likeable. And, as a bonus, you get philosophical musings that are somehow fun. It's quite an achievement, really: 14 entertaining episodes about boredom.
(The) Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (TV 2009 renewal) Good

I have to admit to approaching the second season with trepidation, what with all the notoriety the Endless Eight arc has garnered. Well, it wasn’t unbearable. Haruhi, Kyon and friends are thoroughly engaging even when repeating themselves and it’s fun playing "spot the difference" between the episodes. I have to give the makers credit for courageously throwing such a challenge to their devoted fan base, but I suspect I'll never watch versions 2 through 7 ever again.

The rest of the second season sits with the best of the franchise. The opening episode - Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody - is not only a sort of prelude to the The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya but it more or less provides the starting point for the whole Suzumiya phenomenon. It’s also yet another of the beguiling cause and effect time paradoxes that abound in the franchise.

The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya arc is easily the most intense and dramatic of any of the franchise's stories. So much so that, well before the end, Haruhi's bullying and Kyon's whingeing had begun to grate on my nerves. It got to the point where Haruhi couldn't open her mouth without Kyon slapping her down with some negative commentary - often spoken aloud. It's a wonder she didn't wish him out of existence. Mind you, Haruhi also gets increasingly awful as the arc progresses, although that is central to its comedy. Poor Miss Asahina!

One of the things I've always liked about the franchise is the way it has the courage of its convictions, such as in the Endless Eight arc or in, perhaps my favourite episode, Someday in the Rain (from the first season), where pretty much nothing happens for long stretches at a time. In the Sigh arc, the impossible really does take place, in the very best tradition of the franchise

At its best the second season matches the first but, sadly, around half of it has no re-watch value whatsoever.

Memory (movie) Bad

Dull, and thankfully short, satire from Osamu Tezuka on one of our most unreliable faculties.
Mermaid (movie) Not really good

Osamu Tezuka short that tells the tale of a young man who imagines that a fish he has saved is a mermaid and thereby finds himself at odds with a society that expects “normal” behaviour. Unfortunately, it draws comparison with the Faun segment from Bruno Bozzetto’s Allegro non Troppo. Both are set to Debussey’s Prelude to an Afternoon with a Faun, lack dialogue and satirise sexual yearning. Although Tezuka’s treatment extends the satire further, his film lacks the impact (and resources) of the Italian masterpiece.
Mermaid Forest (OAV) So-so

Apparently eating the flesh of a mermaid can embue the consumer with eternal life, but things may not be as people expect. In this atmospheric and creepy tale an apparently caring sister is ultimately shown to have very sinister motives. Anime rarely does horror effectively. When it does work it's usually of the creepy or morally disturbing type of horror. The Mermaid Forest OVA from 1991 fits into that category, like the similarly toned Vampire Princess Miyu. The very idea of spearing mermaids, roasting them over a fire then tucking in to gain eternal life is somewhat off-putting. It could have been comical but somehow it just manages to avoid that fate.
Mermaid's Scar (OAV) Decent

This sequel to Mermaid Forest was directed by Morio Asaka who would later be at the helm of Chobits and Gunslinger Girl. Like them, in Mermaid's Scar surface innocence glosses over some very disturbing undercurrents. A small boy initially presents himself as vulnerable but proves himself capable of the most appalling violence - a sort of pre-echo of Gunslinger Girl, although the girls of the Social Welfare Agency lack his gleeful relish for mayhem. The little boy and his meat cleaver are far more chilling than anything in Higurashi - When They Cry because it so much better constructed as a drama, the hero and heroine, Yuta and Mana, properly earn our sympathy, and the villain beautifully embodies both evil and innocence.
Metropolis (movie) Decent

This lavish homage to Osamu Tezuka and Fritz Lang doesn't always come off, thanks largely to unengaging characters and an indifferent plot. Throughout the film, the glorious 3D backgrounds overwhelm its other aspects. But that's not the only problem. The character designs are clearly intended to invoke the spirit of Osamu Tezuka and, worthy as that is, the clownish depictions meant that I had difficulty taking the characters seriously. In particular, the central relationship between Tima the robot girl and Kenichi the human boy doesn't convince. Still, it's worth watching for the beautiful backgrounds, the breathtaking animation sequences, and the wonderful use of I Can't Stop Loving You as the Ziggurat collapses and Tima and Kenichi part ways.
Mezzo Forte (OAV) Good

Largely forsakes the disturbing beauty of its spiritual predecessor, Kite, and, in its place, serves up dollops of, often violent, comedy. In fact, playing it for laughs rather suits the over-the-top violence that director Yasuomi Umetsu so relishes. Regardless of the laughs, it doesn't ever forget it's film noir credentials, giving us a trio of morally suspect protagonists - the members of the Danger Service Agency - who take on the local crime king and his gloriously vicious daughter at the behest of an old man who isn't what he seems.

The two hentai scenes of the uncut version were presumably added to suit the production company Green Bunny. Also like the earlier OAV, the scenes are pretty much unnecessary to the story. They are totally devoid of the prevailing humour even if Yasuomi Umetsu manages to play with our expectations in both instances. I do have a couple of other issues with those scenes. One is the common pornography trope that women enjoy rape. The other I'll mention below.

Where Kite centred on the plight of Sawa, as both victim and predator, seeking to escape her dismal circumstances, Mezzo Forte follows the more simple route of competing villains trying to outwit each other. Sawa's countepart, the garishly orange Mikura, is a marvellous character who, no matter how confused she may be by events, always takes charge of procedings - usually by busting a few heads. It's all done with considerable chutzpah and usually to comedic effect. The biggest problem with the sex scenes is that she suddenly steps right out of character to become the passive plaything of her assailants. If she were acting in character she'd be breaking balls, not giving head.

The sadistic Momomi, daughter of crime king Momokichi Momoi, is a memorable villain who, for all her crazy antics, never spoils things by laughing. At one point she berates a troop of minions for failing to do their job, goes into an adjoining room, borrows a gun from one of her bodyguards, returns and shoots them all. Somehow Umetsu then makes a gag out of one of them not dying instantly. Very clever.

Although Mezzo Forte is more entertaining than Kite it lacks its visual poetry. Nor is it as startling, despite all the violence. Where Kite was a radical departure from the then prevailing Girls with Guns formula of gleeful mayhem, as espoused by the likes of the Dirty Pair franchise and Gunsmith Cats, Mezzo Forte is an emphatic return, albeit with the violence ratcheted up several notches.

Millennium Actress (movie) Masterpiece

The freakery is turned down compared with some of Satoshi Kon's other efforts but there remains enough to surprise the viewer. Where this film stands out, even for Kon, is the characterisation of the two major protagonists - the actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara, and documentary maker, Genya Tachibana. Their self-deception and fractured realities give them a depth not always found in his other works. Here the gameplay orients, rather than disorients, the viewer and the result is unexpectedly moving. Not only that, but it builds into a wonderful tribute to the life of the heroine and of 20th century Japanese cinema while somehow giving us an overview of Japanese history over the last 400 years. The bathos of the final line does undermine the prevailing sentiment but, amongst all the wishful thinking, there is a real world to come back to, even if Chiyoko thinks she's reaching for the stars. On a technical level, Kon is the supreme master of the match cut and, in Millenium Actress, he takes it to astonishing levels.
Mind Game (movie) Good

Mind Game is an anarchic movie in a hotch potch of visual styles that work together surprisingly well. It's about a young man who is murdered and is granted a second chance at life by a god of bewildering, multiple personalities. A car chase that beggars description results in Nishi trapped inside a gigantic whale with the love of his life, her sister and an old man who is more closely related to them than any of them ever know. After several amusing episodes, Nishi finally gets the picture and the four escape into a world that is subtly different to the one from before their incarceration.

One of the things I love about director Masaaki Yuasa is his wild sense of motion. At his crazy best, the camera point of view moves as radically as the camera's subject. During the aforementioned car chase the camera point of view rotates around the characters inside an open convertible as people and cars fly in all directions. Add to that the arresting and varying styles being deployed and the result is a film that, visually at least, is never less than fascinating.

What Yuasa's style also does is distance the viewer from the characters, thereby reducing any emotional impact the film may otherwise have. He makes up for this shortcoming with his deliciously wicked wit. The extended sequence within the whale could have dragged but for its cleverness. The car chase is not only exciting to watch, it's hilarious. Perhaps only Yuasa could get a laugh out of a yakuza remembering his childhood pet canary in the microseconds before slamming into the side of a truck at high speed.

In the end, though, Mind Game doesn't say much beyond "give life your best shot".

Mobile Suit Gundam - The Movie Trilogy Decent

Even though the trilogy is a compilation of the original series, the compressed plot didn't present any problems. Perhaps the original series had lots of filler. The result is in stark contrast to director Yoshiuki Tomino's earlier effort in compiling Space Runaway Ideon into the movie Ideon: A Contact, which made it pretty well incomprehensible. Only in the third movie were there scene jumps that suggested missing material. In any case, the basic plot of Mobile Suit Gundam is much more entertaining than Ideon: A Contact.

Even though giant robots don't normally appeal to me, I enjoyed the antics of Amuro Ray and his mechanical suit. The individual battles were thankfully brief, if spectacular, and the film happily avoided that curse of later anime melees - the extended exposition and posturing in the middle of the fights. The viewer can hear the characters' thoughts while in battle but it rarely interferes with the action. The famous Char Aznable is quite the villain. I've never seen a bad guy retreat so many times and still maintain the respect of his superiors. He was quite a likeable fellow, though, and I was gratified to see his silhouette through the window of a spaceship at the end of the movie.

The influence this series had on anime of the 80s and 90s is quite apparent. From Nausicaa to Evangelion I can see the spirit of Gundam at work.

Momotaro's Sea Eagle (movie) Not really good

Momotaro's Sea Eagle is a 37 minute feature film from 1942 depicting the Pearl Harbour attack, led by the legendary peach boy, Momotaro, and with the planes crewed by monkeys, dogs and pheasants. Despite the comment in the ANN encyclopedia that the film contains actual footage, it is entirely animated. The images of the American battleships lined up in Battleship Row are beautifully done (no doubt drawn from photos or, perhaps even, rotoscoped) while the Americans themselves are portrayed, unsurprisingly given the times, as incompetents, drunkards, cowards and clowns. One character (a captain or maybe the admiral of the fleet) manages to combine all four traits. While the animation quality has its shortcomings compared with today's it is often surprisingly good.
(The) Monkey Masamune (movie) Weak

Another of the 1930s anime from the Zakka Films release Roots of Japanese Anime that is of more interest historically than it is watching it. Episode 66 of Folk Tales from Japan tells the same story over 80 years later and it's interesting to see how much (or how little, for that matter) anime has changed. The colours are prettier and the narrative snappier but those animation shortcuts are still there. Yeah, I do exaggerate and, besides, Folk Tales from Japan is produced on a small budget.
Mononoke (TV) Very good

Monster (TV) Very good

Monster grabs a hold of the viewer from the start and simply does not let go. That it kept this up for most of its 74 episodes (it slips a little in 50s when Tenma is arrested and gaoled) is an amazing achievement. Yes, there are coincidences and plot holes, help always arrives at the last possible moment and, yes, there’s (yet another) Nazi revival sub-plot. The series is so spellbinding, who cares? Monster gave me goose bumps like no other TV show I've ever seen. Just the possibility of Johan appearing in a scene was enough to send a shiver down my spine. The reason it all works so well is that the characters - whether beast or saint - are complex, convincing and appealing.
Moondrive (movie) Bad

This really pissed me off. Director Kazuto Nakazawa is responsible for what I consider to be the best short anime I’ve seen, Comedy. Like that masterpiece Moondrive has irresistible narrative momentum. It also has eccentric background artwork and character designs (whose voices belie their appearances). The violence is wacky and entertaining. All that’s fine. The problem comes down to one element – what repeatedly happens to one of the women. Her four friends use her body as an item of exchange so they can achieve their goal of finding a treasure map. A revolting plot device completely ruins an otherwise interesting short film. Part of the Genius Party Beyond anthology.
Moribito - Guardian of the Spirit (TV) Masterpiece

Moribito shines in so many ways. The glow is not limited to the artwork. Every last character is sympathetic. We learn that even the assassins and the apparently cold-hearted Mikado himself are striving to do what they think they ought and what they think is best. Characters behave intelligently and choose those options that seem correct, despite the illusions they are operating under. There's something profoundly optimistic in this view of human nature that imbues every part of the anime.

The detail and the backgrounding are extraordinary without drawing attention to themselves. For instance, the displacement of the indigenous Yakoo culture by the comparatively modern Yogo is inevitable and poignant, but it isn't made into an ideological issue. The Yakoo even acknowledge the benefits of Yogoan culture. It's a modern reality in our own world, pariticularly if you live in a multicultural ex-colonial country like Australia, Canada or the US. The dilemma of the Yogoan drought mirrors our own approach to global warming. In fact, to an Australian, where drought is a normal part of life, Moribito has tremendous resonance.

Balsa is one of the greatest adventure heroines ever created, regardless of the medium. None of the other characters in Moribito can hold a candle to her, although Tanda has his own endearing qualities. So capable yet caught in a situation she can only partly comprehend, she can be wilfully wrong and often fails to grasp the motivation of other characters. For instance, she never gets a complete handle on why Jiguro sacrificed so much for her - probably because she refuses to acknowledge how remarkable she is, something Jiguro understood from the start. Her design is spot-on: beautiful without being fetish fodder; realistically muscular without any hint of Kawajiri-type grotesqueness.

A special mention to the fight scenes. Normally, they are not a sigificant attraction for me in anime. I absolutely relished them here, even if they are relatively infrequent. The animation is simply superb. Not only that, but I found I was turning the volume of my stereo system right up to enjoy the sound effects. Never has the clash of steel sounded so thrilling.

First impression (Japanese dub with English subtitles) (scroll down); extended review (English dub) (scroll down)

Mt. Head (movie) Decent

A quirky tale about a man's scalp that becomes its own universe, much to his annoyance. It could be seen as a sort of commentary on people who try to live in isolation. Even their own head space works against them. Perhaps it's directed at otaku? Mount Head is mildly amusing for its ten minutes or so but it has nowhere near the impact of its near contemporary Comedy.
MURAMASA (movie) Decent

Short Osamu Tezuka film that tells the story of a demonic sword that possesses its wielder, causing him to see people as straw figures upon which to test the sharpness of the sword. The artwork and animation are basic but striking while the metaphorical tale of dehumanising effects of violence is forever relevant. But, like most short Tezuka films I find myself thinking, "that's interesting", then moving on. This has more re-watch value compared with some of his others.
Mushi-Shi (TV) Masterpiece

The tales of Ginko's travels through the countryside in search of mushi are utterly beguiling. He is gentle, ironic, sincere and clearsighted. This refreshing series follows its own idiosyncratic path and, while the storytelling is unusually grown-up for anime, it is never patronising or obscure. The absence of a story arc and having only one ongoing character require the viewer to appreciate Mushi-Shi on its own terms. Just relax, let your mind settle down to the slower pace and the rewards will be many. The background artwork is understated yet somehow ravishing at the same time. Even the generic depiction of the men and women encountered from episode to episode makes sense in the Mushi-Shi world view. Ginko is the ministering angel to everywoman and everyman, not always bringing relief from life's tribulations but, more often than not, a greater measure of understanding.
Mushishi Tokubetsu-hen: Hihamukage (special) Excellent

My Neighbor Totoro (movie) Very good

There is no plot, as such, in childhood and nor are their morals to be understood from every experience. Totoro is unusual among children's movies in that it presents the wonder of childhood without the moralising that plagues just about all its peers. Mei and Satsuki move to a new country house, meet their neighbours - including the faintly threatening but sweet natured Totoro - start a new school life, face a crisis when their mother's illness looks to be taking a turn for the worse and Mei becomes lost. Totoro may be the only unusual thing in that list but the film stands out due to its unbridled charm and optimism.
Natsume's Book of Friends (TV) Very good

The episodic nature and fantastical spirits of Natsume's Book of Friends reminded me strongly of both Mushi-Shi and Kino's Journey. It's lightearted tone and generous sentimentaliy prevent it from achieving the depth and grandeur of either of those two but it is warmer and more emotionally engaging than the latter. I liked Natsume as a character. Although generally good-natured he wasn't above showing some very human irritability and, understandably on occasions, presented a cold shoulder to both humans and spirits. Poor class president, Jun Sasada, deserved better at times. It made for a well-rounded and believable character, especially in the way he treated the spirits more kindly through the course of the series as he came to understand that they were as troubled and as flawed as any human, and that he had he wherewithal to help them.

The designs and personalities of the spirits - particularly Natsume's bodyguard, irritant and friend Nyanko-san - are cute and jolly and consequently rarely threatening. This is both good and bad. They enhance the indomitable and optimistic spirit of the series but there is a general lack of tension. It makes up for this lack with humour and sentimentality, although the humour can be too often trite or slapstick. I didn't mind the sentimentality - the dilemmas of the spirits were quite moving at times.

Composer Makoto Yoshimori abandons the more upbeat numbers of Baccano! and Durarara!!, returning to the more plaintively melodic style of Koi Kaze. The music always suits and enhances the feel of the series. Yoshimori is a composer who is particurlarly sensitive to the work he is embellishing and doesn't impose his sound on a series in the way, say, composers like Kenji Kawai or Yuki Kajiura are apt to do.

A couple of episodes towards the end were weaker (11 and 13) so that the season kind of petered out for me. Perhaps I should see it as just part of a much longer series - a fourth season has been announced - rather than a stand alone series.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (movie) Very good

Beautiful imagery and a ripping tale ensure that Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind remains fresh after all these years, even if the animation and Joe Hisaishi's arrangements indicate that Miyazaki doesn't yet have the luxury of his later works' generous budgets. Nausicaa herself, along with several other characters, are likeable even if they are one dimensional. As so often happens with Miyazaki the most complex character, relatively speaking, is the villain - in this instance Kushana whose bravado hides a painful history. The story telling and artwork are so good the problems are really only quibbles.
Neon Genesis Evangelion (TV) Decent

Although a re-watch after several years has improved my view of Neon Genesis Evangelion it still seems little more than a robot show with added elements that, on consideration, aren’t all that profound. Initially I didn’t like the giant robots and I didn’t like the fanservice. This time around I hardly batted an eyelid. Perhaps I’ve become desensitised.

The central plot in the Evangelion franchise is the human instrumentality project, but you wouldn’t know it from only viewing the TV series. In addition, the plot too often veers between contradictory and incoherent. The last two episodes can only be understood properly after watching End of Evangelion (even if, first time around, I enjoyed the surprise they afforded). If Neon Genesis Evangelion were to be viewed as simply a giant robot show then those last two episodes would be totally incomprehensible. Mind you, for 24 episodes it’s a pretty good imitation of a giant robot show. Hindsight is indeed useful for the series in general. Rei’s true nature, Ikari senior’s ambitions, the back stories of most of the characters now make sense in light of my improved understanding. My response to the individual characters was very different this time around: Shinji didn’t seem so whiny; Rei was interesting (I think the emotionless girl has become an acquired taste) and Asuka was thoroughly entertaining. Of the older characters, Misato is Kotono Mitsuishi, something I didn’t appreciate way back when, and Ikari senior seems less of a caricature of the evil parent.

It seems to me to at the pinnacle of a genre – giant robot – that had its heyday in decade or two before its release. A kind of last hurrah you might say. Its influence since seems to lie in the narrow fan-based marketing of anime; the explosion of fanservice in the medium and in the rise of the moe girl. But, in the end, how can you take sereiously self-obsessed kids v. mecha with no strategic sense whatsoever? Perhaps we aren’t supposed to?

Extended review

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth (movie) Decent

The first half - Death - is yet another re-hash of the series but, being massively compressed, it lacks the terminal tedium that so afflicts the original. Further, the individual battles with the Angels are not emphasised and therefore the rabbit-out-of-the-hat syndrome is also no longer a problem. The second half - Birth - is unexpectedly exciting and the story reasonably comprehensible. All in all, somewhat more rewarding than the TV series but, nevertheless, it's still a kids' story with a veneer of sophistication.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (movie) Decent

Terminal faults ruin yet another re-write of the Evangelion saga: the long rehash of the Death and Rebirth episodes and the ongoing tedium of the self-absorbed protagonist. The outcome is typically ambiguous and typically silly, however there is some reasonable action on the way there.
Nichijou - My Ordinary Life (TV) Good

Ninja Scroll (movie) So-so

In the late 80s to mid 90s there was a slew of anime films that tried to push the boundaries of what was expected in the medium. Films such as Wicked City (1987), Akira (1988), Legend of the Overfiend (1989), Ninja Scroll (1993), Ghost in the Shell (1995) combined sex and violence with supernatural or science fiction themes in new and edgy ways. However groundbreaking they may have been, this effort, like the others, has aged poorly: the character designs are Kawajiri grotesque, the sensibility is disappointingly adolescent, and the animation techniques have been superceded by newer developments. I suppose the hero, the legendary Jubei, is mildly appealing, the heroine strikes some notable poses, the villains are fun in their way and the fate of big bad pre-dates the ordeal suffered by Dallas Genoard in Baccano! by some fourteen years. Even trying to judge this film through the lens of its time it's still both ugly and cheesy and fails to rise above its straightforward plot and flat characters.
Nobody's Boy Remi (TV) Decent

Nodame Cantabile (TV) Very good

Somewhat like Noda's relationship with Chiaki, this series stealthily gets under your skin. And as with Noda's love for Chiaki, it's appeal lies in its unwavering optimism. No-one in the series is bad at heart. Sure, characters are devious at times and the stress of competition between the players is ever present but even the most villainous, such as Stresemann (and his pecadillos are easily forgiven), strive to improve and grow the music students. And grow they do, with each triumphant peak or moment of despair underscored by appropriately emotive (mostly romantic era) music. I would like to have heard a greater selection of modern orchestral music but that is a minor quibble. More problematic are the opening and ending themes, which, apart from the first few bars of the second ending theme, are so trite they detract from the wonderful music played by the students themselves. Most problematic, sadly, is Noda herself. There is no doubt that she is a remarkable woman but she is portrayed so clownishly at times that it is hard to take her seriously. Don't let that put you off, though. This series deserves its popularity.
Nodame Cantabile: Finale (TV) Decent

Relatively disappointing close to the story of Noda and Chiaki that lacks the sprawling fun of the first season and the focussed brilliance of the Paris season. It just peters out into nothing. Even the last gasp fuss generated by Noda's making her concerto debut without Chiaki fails to enliven things. Happily the eccentric two mains ensure that there is enough entertainment to make this worthwhile for fans of the franchise.
Nodame Cantabile: Paris (TV) Very good

Reducing the second series to only eleven episodes is both beneficial and problematic. On the positive side of the ledger extraneous distractions are largely avoided. On the negative side, the story arc seems rushed while the relationship between Noda and Chiaki is such a goldmine of possibilities that sometimes I would have liked to linger a while in the story. The highlight of the series, and the franchise so far, is Noda's first public performance. The wait was worth it, as we finally see what her amazing gifts are capable of producing. It is unadulterated magic. It's also a treat to hear Nielson's Inextinguishable Symphony in the final episode climax to the season. It's a perfect choice. One of the criticisms of the first series remains: the opening and closing themes are trite. They are worse, even, than the first season. But, like the first season and even with a different director, Nodame Cantabile continues to be a joy to watch.
Noir (TV) Masterpiece

This is a series I return to again and again. Mireille Bouquet is a superb creation - both hold-me soft and psychopath hard - the cool assassin you'd like to take home for the evening. Played by my favourite female seiyu, Kotono Mitsuishi, interest never flags while Mireille is in the midst of the action. Just as well, too, because Noir has a very limited ensemble: Mireille, Yuumura Kirika, Chloe (who doesn't appear until episode 10) and Altena (of whom we only get glimpses until the last few episodes). Kirika, Mireille's Japanese schoolgirl off-sider, is irritatingly morose but, as her relationship with Mireille grows, so does her appeal. On top of that, having a juvenile blow away staggering numbers of nameless killers is perversely fascinating.

At the beginning we are presented with several mysteries: the connection between Mireille and Kirika, the terrible event that befell Mireille as a child, Kirika's amnesia, the numberless men in dark suits trying to kill them, and the fob-watch with its sad, Tchaikovskian melody. Slowly, teasingly, we learn how everything is connected. The deliberate and moody pacing with the obligatory explosions of violence allows the series to steadily build to its climax. Unfortunately, the mystical elements added towards the end are unnecessary and the truth behind Mireille's childhood trauma, when we finally learn it, while shocking is, upon reflection, silly. Nevertheless, all the mysteries are resolved neatly as Mireille and Kirika break the rules and re-create "Noir" in their own fashion. And behind all the slow pans, the lingering close-ups on the character's eyes, the glorious sunsets, the choreographed violence and the blazing guns, Yuki Kajiura has created the best soundtrack I've ever heard in an anime.

Now and Then, Here and There (TV) Very good

This harrowing tale of girls as slaves and boys as soldiers in wartime contains sequences that can sear themselves into your psyche, such as the final confrontation at gunpoint between the two youngsters, Boo and Soon; Sara's escape from sexual bondage and subsequent despair as she tries to come to terms with the realities of her maltreatment; the psycopathic tantrums of the villain, Hamdo; or the terrifying obsequiousness of his offsider, Abelia, made all the worse because she knows how wrong it all is yet finds herself unable to overcome her military discipline. Hamdo breaks the mould of the all too common anime big bad. Even though he's mad, he giggles, he wants to rule the world and will commit all kinds of atrocities to get there, both the Japanese and American voice actors transcend anime cliche and give us truly chilling performances. The weakest characters are, paradoxically, the protagonist Shu, whose irrepressible optimism masks an otherwise flat character not helped by a design out of kilter with the tone of the series, and the water spirit Lala-Ru, who is only interesting on the odd occasion when she comes across as creepy. Shu's achievements are just too improbable and the ending too pat but, nevertheless, Now and Then, Here and There joins Barefoot Gen and Grave of the Fireflies as commercially and artistically brave ruminations on the effects of war on children.
One Piece: Omatsuri Danshaku to Himitsu no Shima (movie 6) Decent

As my first exposure to the One Piece franchise I was surprised how dark this film is, and how sophisticated. It's not to my taste, but Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island deserves credit for its hurricane pace and its black humour. Some of the set piece fantasy sequences prefigure the 3D animation of Mamoru Hosoda's later work, Summer Wars. As expected, the shonen elements spoil things, particularly the posturing and the fight scenes. Should I judge it on its own terms or on mine? I mean, Sesame Street is great children's television but I wouldn't consider it great television. Perhaps I'm just too old for One Piece.
Only Yesterday (movie) Very good

"The child is father of the man" wrote William Wordsworth and such a sentiment pervades Isao Takahata's film of a 27 year old woman, Taeko Okajima, whose annual holiday is haunted by memories of her 10 year old self. Takahata skilfully and sympathetically lets us learn how the child's disappointments have influenced the woman. Taeko is presented with a new opportunity and perhaps she can finally follow the dreams of the child. All is resolved in one of the most satisfying and joyful finales in an anime as her childhood self and friends encourage and help her to make the right decision. The watercolour artwork is breathtaking at times and the numerous gentle and subtle observations make this film a pleasure.
(The) Order to Stop Construction (movie) Decent

Mostly enjoyable short film by Katsuhiro Otomo from the Neo Tokyo anthology. The chaos of the Amazon jungle and the monstrous construction works are detailed and lively but things are spoiled by a dreadful main character design and Otomo's usual jaundiced view of the world.
Other Worlds (movie) Weak

Although very rough it displays Shinkai's characteristic themes of longing and separation. It also demonstrates that his talent for creating highly expressive images of objects exceeds his animation ability - there's a very odd, wobbly train at one point.
Pale Cocoon (OAV) Good

Pale Cocoon is a formidable piece of work, even if it's only 23 minutes long, largely because its structure reflects its message. In all three of his works Yasuhiro Yoshiura explores how humans wilfully rely on assumptions and self-deception to make sense of their world. The manifold pleasures of Time of Eve come about as the characters within the story suddenly realise the truth and see things clearly for the first time. In Aquatic Language characters argue about the value of hearsay or even if words have any power. In Pale Cocoon the apparent remnants of the human race have forgotten their own history and live under the misapprehension, despite their technology, that they evolved on the moon. Worse still, it seems they don't even understand the notion of what the moon is. The protagonist, Ura, restores an old archive that suggests otherwise and sets out to uncover a truth that no-one else can face. What he discovers is both alarming and wonderful. The problem for the viewer is that Yoshiura is, in effect, putting us through what Ura is experiencing. It requires several viewings, some consideration and a little cheating on the web to make sense of the snippets he provides. The viewer is unlikely to understand what is going on at first blush and, annoyingly, the anime's very impenetrability discourages re-watches - it just doesn't seem that interesting at first. Nevertheless, once the story is understood, the final image of a blue earth appearing beyond the pale cocoon is one of the most uplifting moments in anime. Shame about the ordeal getting there.
Panda! Go, Panda! (movie) Decent

A pre-Ghibli Isao Takahata effort aimed squarely at children but with enough wit and charm to appeal to older viewers as well. Mimiko, a small girl who lives alone in a bamboo grove, meets two escapees from a zoo, Papa Panda - who must surely have been a model for Totoro - and his son, Panny. The three set up house and try to lead normal lives. The humour, relying on the old saw of incongruous characters trying to get along, is done with an infectious and good-natured optimism.
Panda! Go, Panda!: Rainy Day Circus (movie) Good

In this sequel to Panda! Go, Panda! the arrival of a circus in the local town coincides with a flood, with ensuing high jinks. Mimiko, Papa Panda and Panny must make their way across the flooded landscape to rescue the circus animals. The concept is re-used in Ponyo, complete with vistas of underwater roads and countryside. You can add to that the resemblance between Papa Panda and Totoro. I suppose you can’t blame Miyazaki and Takahata from plundering their own great ideas. Where this film stands out on its own is the marvellous out-of-control train ride by the circus animals across the flooded countryside, making this sequel even more amusing than its predecessor.
Paprika (movie) Masterpiece

At once delirious and thoughtful, menacing and wonderful, Paprika is a hoot from start to finish. Don't worry if you haven't got a clue what's happening first time round, just sit back and let Satoshi Kon do his thing to you. The breathtaking animation sequences provide the platform for Satoshi Kon to give us not only memorable characters and a twisted plot but provides him the space to examine the art of storytelling itself. The climactic parody of anime armageddon doesn't quite convince but a movie doesn't have to be perfect to be a masterpiece. Above all, however, the film is fun. In the opening sequence, Paprika jumps onto a toy jet aeroplane painted onto the side of a truck and scoots across the Tokyo skyline; she clicks her fingers to stop the traffic so she can cross the road; and pops out of a computer to cover the shoulders of a sleeping animator. I was seduced before the opening credits had even finished.
Paranoia Agent (TV) Very good

Satoshi Kon uses his trademark fractured subjectivity to remorselessly satirise Japanese post-war society in this startling and original series. For the most part his aim is true but the series falters significantly at times, particularly in the stand-alone episodes prior to the final showdown between Detectives Kaniwa and Ikari and the destructive manifestation of modern Japanese paranoia. As clever as it all is, too many of the episodes cannot bear repeated viewing. Still, Satoshi Kon on a bad day, is decidedly better than most other anime directors.
Patema Inverted (movie) Very good

The weird premise - gravity being inverted for the heroine - is complemented perfectly by the visuals which are the main the hook for the film. And a huge hook it is. The constant fear of falling into the sky is visceral and terrifying. The imagery of someone holding on for dear life with just clouds and emptiness below them won’t be easily forgotten. Yet the terror is replaced by sublime joy when Patema and her new friend Age discover that by holding onto each other they can fly across the landscape. (People holding on to other people for survival is a major image and theme of the film.)

Patema is game but highly vulnerable. One slip, one false move means a fall into oblivion. The scenes are framed so the viewer is staring into the abyss along with her. We share her terror. At one point, having no other alternative, Patema grasps onto the body of the big bad, the overplayed psychotic Izamura, for anchorage. In that moment he finds a strange pleasure in the sense of protectiveness he feels, but the parent is quickly replaced by his Marquis de Sade nature. The rapid transformation with its sexual undertones briefly has the film prying into an uncharacteristicly dark place for director Yasuhiro Yoshiura.

That moment aside no one else is as memorable as the heroine. Compared with Time of Eve the characters are flat. Age is stoically loyal; his rival from underground, Porta, is goofily good-hearted, the authority figures from the upper world are stiff and overbearing. Actually, stiff is a good description for many of the characters. The designs are unexceptional, bordering on dull, and they even hold stiff poses much of the time, although their movements are fluid, which makes for an odd mixture.

This is a film that ought to be seen on a big screen. A small screen will limit its highlights and highlight its limitations. Its simplicity makes it more accessible than Yoshiura’s Pale Cocoon but leaves it a notch or two below Time of Eve

Extended review and Q & A with director, Yasuhiro Yoshiura

Patema Inverted: Beginning of the Day (ONA) Good

In his previous works, director Yasuhiro Yoshiura (Time of Eve, Pale Cocoon, Aquatic Language) displayed a penchant for situations where characters find their beliefs up-ended. In this 4-part ONA prelude to the forthcoming movie Patema Inverted he presents the notion more literally than anything he has done to date. The four episodes combined are a little longer than 25 minutes but, especially in the third and fourth segments, they dangle before us the promise that the movie may well be every bit as fascinating as Time of Eve.

Indeed, the third episode contains the most startling anime footage I have ever seen. If you have a fear of heights or fear of falling this may not be the anime for you. There are a couple of moments – losing her grip on the wire mesh fence and shortly afterwards dropping her backpack – when the absolute terror of Patema’s predicament was conveyed to me in an almost visceral way. Having a plucky girl subject to such an incomprehensible terror created a sympathy I have rarely felt for an anime character. And, yet, I spent most of the short episode chuckling at how singular and audacious Yoshiura’s imagination could be. The central conceit is startling and original, belying the frequent complaint that contemporary anime is avoiding risks. My astonishment matched that of Patema and Age when they first clap eyes on each other.

The final episode provides some background on Age whose world is tightly regulated, uniform and emotionally austere. Both Patema’s and Age’s worlds are blinkered, one by its claustrophobic environment, the other by its deadening moral attitudes. The ineffable paradox the protagonists present to each other could be seen as an allegory for our own unease at the “other” in our world, be it refugees or economic immigrants or people with lifestyles alien to our own.

Patlabor 2: The Movie Good

In the "Making Of..." extra with this film, director Mamoru Oshii explains that the most important things to him in a film are the visuals. As good as they are in Patlabor 2, and they are very good, they do leave insufficient time to properly develop what is a complex plot. The escalation of the crisis to the level of a pseudo coup isn't sufficiently plausible and the scene where Shinobu Nagumo meets her former lover on a boat in a canal is largely incomprehensible, even after repeat viewings. As is usual for Oshii, the plot is just a hook upon which to hang some great visual ideas. The aerial scenes are breathtaking and the images that accompany the river journey discussion between Arakawa and Goto on the nature of war and peace would have been even better without the dialogue. Still, it's great to watch an anime with an adult ensemble, something that is becoming increasingly uncommon in anime.
Patlabor The Mobile Police (OAV 1/1988) Decent

Fun but uneven set of unlinked stories from the Patlabor world. While the cast is memorable - especially the deadpan Goto and the capable action-woman Kanuka Clancy - and the jokes laugh-aloud at times, the series never quite melds its action and comic elements cohesively. The absurdity is fun but it undermines the moments of drama, while the fantastical elements such as sea monsters and supposed ghosts spoil what otherwise may have been exceptional entertaimment aimed at adults. Nevertheless, it was definitely worth the time I spent on it. The picture quality of this Madman release is far superior to their earlier dreadful Patlabor movie releases (especially the first).
Patlabor: The Movie Good

To someone who has never seen the series the main problem with the movie is trying to figure out who on earth everyone is and what their role within the Patlabor team is. By the second viewing and some judicious use of Wikipedia things become clearer and the story can be enjoyed, especially since, untypically for Mamoru Oshii the allegory is kept to a minumum. Still, and this time typically Oshii, the best parts of the movie are those interludes where the camera observes the scenery almost as a silent commentary on a near future Tokyo. The plot is based on a puzzle so the characters are reacting to events, not driving them, until the last few dramatic scenes. Picture quality on this Madman release is below par.
Penguindrum (TV) Excellent

Penguindrum is much more than its many novelties. You can add a sly knowingness that pervades everything about the tale, bucketloads of symbolism that may or may not be meaningful, constant background visual commentary via the penguins and the animated public announcement banners on the trains, and a cast of highly memorable characters led by the maternally inclined fruit loop Ringo Oginome who manages to make the series her own.

The character and development of Ringo was, for me, the single best thing about the series. She devises ever more elaborate schemes to get bedded and impregnated by Keiju Tabuki, science teacher to the two male protagonists. Ringo might have become a one-note character but for the sheer hilarity of her personality, her capers and her growing friendship with Shoma. It's through that relationship that she grows as a character. At the grand climax of the story, Ringo has completely grown into the role while Himari (whether as sister or magical girl) is entirely passive, both literally and figuratively. Himari is the only dud character, while even her alter ego's dominatrix persona rapidly wears thin. Most of the other characters get their moment to shine. The pink haired Sanetoshi is creepy - as he should be, the appropriately named prima donna Yuri Tokikago's duplicity is highly entertaining while Tabuki has some surprises of his own. Of the three "siblings", Shoma stands out, being at once comic, sympathetic, believable and appealing. His "brother", Kanba, has an angry streak that prevented me from having the same level of affection, although that suits his role in the story quite well.

I liked the uncluttered (the inside of Himari's tin house excepted) visual style and the clean, precise animation. I appreciate it when directors aren't afraid to leave lots of empty space. It's not a high action show so any animation limitations weren't severely tested. The repetitious magical girl sequences had little variation but it was, nevertheless, a very handsome show.

The bitter-sweet denouement came as something of a surprise to me, leaving a sour taste in my mouth. What happened to whom seemed too arbitrary, and not grounded convincingly in preceding events. Happily, the tale is easily good enough to re-watch. Perhaps I’ll get a better handle on the end next time.

Extended review

Perfect Blue (movie) Excellent

At one point in Perfect Blue the "star", Mima - one-time girl pop star turned actor and centrefold model - awakens in her room to find subtle but alarming changes: a taken-down poster of her old pop group still on the wall, the dead fish in her fish tank have been restored to life, the scenery has changed outside her bedroom window and there are blood-stained clothes in her wardrobe. Events seem to be repeating themselves and fans on the internet know even the smallest details of her life. Mima cannot tell at any moment whether she's living her "normal" life, on the studio set of the television series Double Bind or in a horrible delusion. And the viewer has trouble also, as director Satoshi Kon sets up scenes deliberately and repeatedly with a misleading point of view. Add some splatter and the end result is a paranoid and frightening movie. It rewards multiple viewings as the various clues scattered throughout are pondered and finally understood. Once the tricks are comprehended, however, we are left with a main character who is little more than a victim. Nevertheless, Satoshi Kon was a breath of fresh air in anime: a director who made sophisticated movies with adult characters for adult audiences. As he himself once complained, anime seems to be little more than robots and beautiful girls. Thankfully, Perfect Blue shows us that anime can be much, much more.
Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~ (TV) Good

The OP of yet another Girls with Guns thriller from Koichi Mashimo and Bee Train gives an indication of what's ahead. The song, Karma, has this opening line:

Karma. I've fallen into an endless spiral of repetition... (Nandomo onajikotono kurikaeshino nakawo ochiteitteha)

Mashimo is notable for his droll sense of humour, often delivered with only the slightest hint that he's pulling your leg. Thus, I'm sure he is is fully aware that this line portends everything the viewer fears it might. That's not to say this isn't a good series, but it certainly covers some familiar territory. Consider the following: traumatised youngsters are brainwashed and trained to become assassins (Gunslinger Girl, anyone?), sexually preyed upon by their handlers (Kite), and suffer from amnesia (Ein / Eren even looks like Kirika from Noir, although sadly beautiful in a way Kirika never manages). There's a musical fobwatch that becomes a plot device (Noir , again) and the principal girl-with-a-gun rival, the mature Drei / Cal, is a blonde version of Alphard from Phantom's near contemporary, Canaan. Thankfully, Phantom avoids the teenage humour of Canaan.

Having said all that, I do believe that it is a significant improvement over the two previous Bee Train Girls with Guns efforts, Madlax and El Cazador de la Bruja, partly because of the higher production values, but chiefly because it returns to the basics that made Noir so good - memorable characters living in an abyss and desparately trying to redeem themselves. Reiji / Zwei and Eren / Ein get Phantom off to a great start and the series is at its best when it's the two of them battling against Inferno or Guiseppe, the Scythe Master (Giuseppe = Giuse = Jose, get it?). The interactions between Reiji and the young Cal are also strong and memorable, and laced with an innocent sexuality. When Cal hops into bed with Reiji and they lie blissfully back to back, it's a sweet moment, all the more so when considered in the light of subsequent events. Disappointingly, Cal's later transformation into a crazy gun girl is unconvincing. She is but one example of abrupt changes in tone that spoil the flow of the series. Similarly, how many times can characters come back from the seeming dead? It got to the point that I stopped believing that any character was truly dead. Nevertheless sticking to the character driven drama ensures that this latest Bee Train effort is a step forward.

First visit (Japanese dub with English subtitles) (scroll down); Revisit (English dub)

Phoenix 2772 - Space Firebird (movie) Good

Set in a world of test tube babies, Space Firebird 2772 tells the story of Godoh, who is created and brought up to be a space fighter pilot. His only companion throughout his childhood is the gyno-robot, Olga, who comes to love her young charge. After some personal travails, Godoh hunts for the powerful space firebird, a dangerous creature that, unknown to the authorities, has the power to rejuvenate a dying earth.

With a screenplay co-written by Osamu Tezuka from his own epic manga, Phoenix, the anime obviously shows its 1980s origins: the animation style, the character and set designs; the use of cute musical creatures; and its political pre-occupations are all dated by today's expectations. Despite this, it's never less than very entertaining; the plot and characterisation are sophisticated; and it's a visual treat. The long, dialogue free opening sequence where Olga tends to the growing Godoh is superb. Space Firebird 2772 is considerably better than another similarly themed Tezuka adaptation, Metropolis, particularly in its more courageous exploration of human / robot love. The final resolution, involving the firebird, Godoh and Olga is surprising, welcome and very moving. As well, the Japanese penchant for transformation and renewal is always fascinating to my western sensibilities.

Pictures at an Exhibition (movie) Good

Modest Mussorgsky wrote the original piano suite inspired by an exhibition of paintings by Viktor Harmann who had recently died. Osamu Tezuka turns this on its head by providing images and animation inspired by the music, here orchestrated by Isao Tomita. The result is a thoroughly entertaining romp that combines goofy humour, social commentary and clever, if mostly basic, artwork and animation. Highlights are the importunate and grasping journalist who, amazingly (the film was made in 1966), looks like Rupert Murdoch; and an immovable zen monk (see image left) - immovable, that is, until no one is watching. Part of the Australian collection, Tezuka: The Experimental Films, that contains a diabolically conceited commentary from Philip Brody (author of 100 Anime) whose dismissive interpretations not only fail to illuminate the film but serve to spoil it.
Ping Pong (TV) Very good

(The) Place Promised in Our Early Days (movie) Good

Like She and Her Cat and Voices of a Distant Star, Makoto Shinkai has once again given us a self-conscious, overanxious, piteous female protagonist. The woman as victim, perhaps damaged by the male or perhaps to be saved by the male. Come on, give us a strong, independent female character who charts her own course. Miyazaki can do it. So could Satoshi Kon. The two main male characters are more interesting, even though it's hard to tell them apart at times. Thank goodness one of them wears glasses. Further evidence that Makoto Shinkai is not the best character artist in the business. They even walk oddly. In contrast, he's sensational with landscapes, skyscapes and, especially objects. He frames objects in ways that imbue them with significance way beyond their everyday worth. And the plot's not half bad. This was almost a great film.
Planetes (TV) Good

Just about the most accessible "hard" science fiction you could encounter anywhere. The verisimilitude adds to the charm of the tale of the young woman Ai Tanabe as she joins Hachirota "Hachimaki" Hoshino and the rest of the team of space debris collectors. Planetes is entertaining but only occasionally rises to the level of greatness, such as in the episode involving the Lunar girl, Nono, who loves her home but wonders about the oceans on earth she will never be able to visit. The space walking scenes are always a highlight, providing the animators with the opportunities to display some interplanetary visual poetry. The characters, like the series itself, are fun but lack an edge that would make them truly memorable. Although the series is at its best in the later episodes when it follows Hachimaki's efforts to join the Jupiter Exploration Mission, it is held back by his mildly annoying character traits.
Polar Bear's Café (TV) Good

Polar Bear's Cafe works well because it gets several things right: the premise - animals behaving as if they were everyday human beings - ensures it is never less than amusing while providing scope for some very funny moments; it's often much cleverer than it seems at first blush; and the three main characters are attractively drawn, have well delineated characters and bounce of each other nicely.

The best thing, though, about Polar Bear's Cafe is the weird, surreal sight of the animals doing normal human things in normal human surroundings, Somehow it makes us human beings seem both ridiculous and sweet.

Never far away is a sly, intelligent humour that makes this show more adult than you may think. It reminds me of Squid Girl in the way its simple veneer covers a more sophisticated attitude. Polar Bear's Cafe is more grown up than Squid Girl in both its target audience and in the way it gently mocks human foibles.

For sure, Polar Bear's Cafe is lightweight fare and I found that I struggled to watch more than an episode at a time, suggesting that the mood or tone is one-dimensional. Perhaps, being an episodic series, there lacked the necessary hook to keep me watching.

Extended review

Pom Poko (movie) Decent

Sometimes funny but lightweight movie about the conflict between urban expansion and the natural environment. The schemes of the tanuki to discourage humans are ingenious and spectacular. It is a mark of the success of the movie that I found myself barracking for the tanuki. Isao Takahata's resolution, where many of the tanuki use their shapeshifting powers to live as humans is, for the tanuki, opportune and sensible but it does mean the movie ends on a flat note. The creatures themselves are cute and the animation is Ghibli superb but the individual characters remain stubbornly one-dimensional.
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (movie) Good

The viewer can, figuratively speaking, drown in the wonderful images of this beautiful anime. Visually it's on a par with the first half of Princess Mononoke and parts of Spirited Away. I found particularly thrilling the storm sequence where Sosuke and his mother race the waves up the hill in their car while Ponyo cavorts alongside in the ocean. I also loved the prehistoric fish swimming along the flooded scenery. The plot isn't anything to write home about and the environmental message is worthy if routine for Miyazaki. Just the same, if you ever get the opportunity to watch it on the big screen, take it.
Porco Rosso (movie) Excellent

One doesn’t watch Miyazaki films for the complexity or depth of the protagonists. One does so because he is a master artist and storyteller. Porco Rosso stands out because it combines his many talents with a protagonist who displays qualities absent in his other works. Normally, his stand-out characters are, at best, ambiguous (Dola, Lady Eboshi, Yubaba). Porco is a cynical has-been (“All middle-aged men are pigs,” he says and I can vouch for that) whose generous, but suppressed, heart is redeemed by two remarkable women – Fio and Gina – along with his own efforts to prove himself to himself against the dastardly Curtis. Porco Rosso has all the Ghibli trademarks – beautiful backgrounds, brilliant animation and bucketloads of wit. Sometimes the movie isn’t sure whether it’s telling a kid’s story or a midlife crisis story, but the Milan sequence, involving Porco, Fio, Fio's grandfather and his extended family, is my favourite bit of Miyazaki ever.
(Le) Portrait de Petite Cossette (OAV) Decent

Exquisite imagery, a startling soundscape and one of Yuki Kajiura's better musical scores must contend with a cryptic plot, loads of symbolism, and a cast that, while pleasing to the eye, is so homogeneous that it took me more than one viewing to figure out how many female associates and friends of the protagonist, Eiri, actually appear in the story. (I think it's five: the temple woman, the doctor, the food stall proprietor, the tarot card reader and his girlfriend.) And, if things weren't problematic enough already, a second Cossette turns up in a sort of coda. Akiyuki Shinbo's gothic psycho-horror is open to all sorts of interpretations, which is fine, except that none will be definitive and none will have any significance. But it doesn't really matter because it's the beauty of the anime that stands out. In an accompanying "making of" video that comes with the DVD, Shinbo explains that beauty was the most important thing to him as director. In that much, at least, he has succeeded; everything else comes across as either confusing or contrived.
Princess Jellyfish (TV) Very good

Princess Mononoke (movie) Very good

Starts off beautifully, especially in the historical reconstruction of village and farming life and in those scenes where Ashitaka is journeying with his red elk, but falls in a hole once he leaves Iron Town with a bullet hole in his heart and an unconscious San over his shoulder. The second half is wooden, partly because the animation is less attractive but mostly because it and the plot can no longer carry two of the least interesting characters in the entire Miyazaki ouvre. San is particularly weak despite her dramatic blood-spattered entrance on a riverbank. The most memorable character, Lady Eboshi (pictured left) - one of Miyazaki's finest creations - simply doesn't get enough screen time. Still, this is a film I frequently watch even though, all too often, I fail to finish it.
Princess Tutu (TV) Masterpiece

Starts off as a delightful magical girl anime with potential and ends up not only living up to its promise but also delivering much, much more. It doesn’t just go beyond the magical girl genre, it completely blows it out of the water. And it doesn’t do this by undermining the genre, or satirising it, or becoming an otaku moe-fest. It follows the simple route of completely transcending it. It doesn’t hurt that the main character is both lovable and interesting, whatever her transformation – duck, ballet student or Princess Tutu. It also doesn’t hurt that our understanding and appreciation of the other three protagonists (Mytho, Fakir and Rue) end up in completely different places from where they started. Or what starts as a children’s story ends up going to some dark places indeed. Or that it plays some very adult post-modern games with our expectations. Or that who ends up with whom defies normal fairy tale conventions. Or that some wonderfully surreal things keep popping up before our eyes. Or that the fate of the main character is satisfyingly apt, if bittersweet. Above all, Princess Tutu is a celebration of the joy and wonder of anime. Classical music (ballet scores for the most part along with large doses of Pictures at an Exhibition) is an integral part of the story and accompanies all the climactic scenes that are inevitably resolved through dance. The sheer beauty of it makes for an intensely emotional response.
Professor Dan Petory's Blues (OAV) Weak

Some arresting 3D and 2D visuals fail to distract from what is essentially an unfunny exposition from a hand puppet on why UFOs don't fly in a straight line. The Soybean Sisters fail to live up to the promise of their name.
Program (OAV) Not really good

Part of the Animatrix anthology. Stands out by having, in the protagonist Cis (see left), pretty much the only attractive character design in any Yoshiaki Kawajiri film ever. Other than the satisfying whack at the end, there isn't much to say about this training simulation program for Zion recruits.
Psycho-Pass (TV) Very good

The appeal of Psycho-Pass lies in its fascinating technological vision, the equally fascinating contrast between what the villain - Makishima - is and the truth behind the Sibyl system and, most of all, to the development of Akane from wet behind the ears newbie to highly principled leader. Shame about her weird, triangular head and oversize Yoda eyes. While I grudgingly came to admit that male colleague Kogami wasn't as bad as I wanted, I grew to admire Akane's intelligence and doggedness.

Structurally, Psycho-Pass is uneven. The plot in the first half seems to lack direction although it is compensated in part by the avatar technology on display and the exploration of the implications of the psycho-pass system. The show takes off when, in order to recruit them as allies, Sibyl reveals, first to Makishima then to Akane, its true nature. The contest between the three ideals (if Makishima's motivations could be considered as such) is portrayed well even if that between Sibyl and Akane is left in an uneasy balance. Psychopath villain Makishima is ultimately disappointing. In a show about ideas he eventually becomes more or less marginalised. The race against time to stop him in the last two episodes seemed tacked on, especially when it took my attention away from the much more interesting fight against Sibyl. If Makishima disappoints as a character it isn't the fault of his seiyu, Takahiro Sakurai, who is superb. His cold, purring voice is both persuasive and chilling - another great effort from the man who gave us Fakir from Princess Tutu and Yaichi from House of Five Leaves. He's getting better with age.

Several times during the series Kogami threatens to take over from Akane as the point of view character. That Gen Urobuchi allows the seemingly uber-moe girl to prevail and grow to become an adult leader is emblematic of how Psycho-Pass ends up being better than it might have been. She has a dreadful design, all the same.

Extended review

Puella Magi Madoka Magica (TV) Masterpiece

Writer Gen Urobochi, director Akiyuki Shinbo, series director Yukihiro Miyamoto and composer Yuki Kajiura have combined their talents to create a moving and satisfying appropriation of the once female targeted magical girl formula. Gen Urobochi has done a magnificent job of setting up a story propelled by a sequence of harrowing events and dramatic reveals that upend the viewer's expectations and that overturn normal conventions. All the threads come together elegantly and, despite the character shortcomings, surprisingly emotionally. Re-watching PMMM is a pleasure in itself - just seeing how taut, spare and significant every moment is. Over the course of the story the despair of the girls grows remorselessly and relentlessly. When Madoka finally makes her wish, even if it is the obvious one to make, and takes on a contract with Kyubey, the story's vision of hope amidst despair is inspirational.

Another contributing factor to the anime's success is its visuals. Madoka's normal world has all the characteristic Shinbo/Miyamato stylisms: clean geometric designs, gorgeous architecture and a beauty that is somehow both coldly austere and ravishingly baroque. The abiding imagery of her world is that of enclosure and surveillance. Despite the precise elegance there is an undercurrent of menace. This is classical surrealism: in our "real" constrained world there are hidden portals to a different "surreal" world where another reality prevails and our emotions follow their own path. Once the characters enter the other world - the witch mazes - the former style, now seemingly ever so mundane, is transformed into a postmodern maelstrom of pastiche. It's supremely artificial but deliberately so and has two fascinating effects: it makes the witches' world completely ineffable to the girls and allows the creators to provide a running visual commentary on the events on screen and on the magical girl genre in general. It's all very clever and very ironic but, better yet, it's mesmerising to look at.

Yuki Kajiura does yet another spot on musical score. As with The Garden of Sinners her contribution makes the anime better than it might otherwise be and adds significantly to its the emotional impact. Happily it doesn't need to be the prop that it is in the much inferior Garden of Sinners.

Extended review

Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie Part 3: Rebellion So-so

Push (movie) So-so

In a devastated landscape ("someone pressed the wrong button") a young man seeks to gratify his needs and finds that the earth cannot be easily replaced. Osamu Tezuka seems to be arguing that we can try to erase our past and seek to commodify all things, including religion, but in the end it will be to no avail. The sentiments are unexeptional and the images basic but at just over four minutes long this film is brief and to the point.
Queen Emeraldas (OAV) So-so

While Emeraldas enlivens every scene in which she appears, this is a by-the-numbers production. A young boy wants to prove himself a man out there in the endless sea of stars; an assortment of villains wants to rule the universe or inflict sundry horrors upon everyone else; a tiresome comic relief character follows the young boy wherever he goes; and the plucky good guys come through despite the odds and with just a little help from the titular heroine. Emeraldas and her sister Maetel (who appears here momentarily) are such great creations that they can rise above any amount of mediocrity. Sadly, though, no Leijiverse anime I’ve yet seen comes together so magically as Galaxy Express 999.
Read or Die (OAV) Decent

The initial appeal of this short series comes from the improbable action sequences. Mild mannered Yomiko Readman (pictured left) and saucy Nancy Makuhari ply their superhuman abilities (transforming paper and passing through solid objects, respectively) to great effect and considerable entertainment. The animation is fluid and the colour palette very pleasing on the eye. Although it isn't apparent immediately, Yomiko (aka The Paper) is a terrific heroine: unassuming, absent-minded and unselfish (except when it comes to her precious books) but utterly sure of her own abilities. Nancy didn't grow on me in quite the same way but that's to be expected given her role in the plot. Watching the OAV the second time I noticed the constant hints about her true nature that were, of course, meaningless first time around. I always appreciate that sort of po-faced humour.

Despite the appeal of the action sequences they do fall flat in a dramatic sense. This seems to be due to two factors: the action flows continuously without punctuated climaxes. Good directors pause before the "big" moment so that the climax is all the more effective when it happens. The problem is then exacerbated by the music, remiscent of 1960s British lounge jazz, which I'm sure is intended to complement the other British elements, but that, by its nature, avoids climaxes.

To be honest, though, Read or Die is fairy floss - very sweet and lacking substance. I must admit to a sweet tooth, though. I suspect in ten years time, however, I'll struggle to remember what it was all about.

REC (TV) Decent

A sweet, sentimental but unremarkable romance: boy and girl meet; sexual tension develops and eventually admitted; rival appears; misunderstandings develop; apologies are given and accepted; love is acknowledged. Just like a squillion other romances. Nice for the soul but there aren't any twists or moments of originality to elevate this above its rating. Which is disappointing because Ryutaro Nakamura has directed some very individual titles: Serial Experiments Lain, Colourful and Kino's Journey.
Record of Lodoss War (OAV) So-so

A memorable character - Deedlit, the elf - and some exquisite watercolour artwork make this worth a visit despite the meandering, skittish plot and a bunch of formulaic characters, (Deedlit and the mercenary king, Kashue, excepted). With almost all anime now containing computer generated backgrounds it's a treat to see the handiwork of artists still. The final climax is worth the wait but I wish the dragons would flap their wings a bit more.
Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight (TV) So-so

Deedlit, the iconic elf of the OAV is sadly absent for most of the TV series and, when she does appear, all trace of her otherworldly, pixie nature is missing (other than in the opening sequence - see image on left). Happily, the series makes some amends by presenting a more coherent and better paced story line. The opening sequence with its glorious Yoko Kanno theme song sets each episode off to a great start even if they still can't come up with a decent dragon. In contrast to the opener, each episode ends with the puerile and unnecessary Welcome to Lodoss Island. Overall, it just went on for too many episodes but it does mean you get to enjoy Yoko Kanno's masterpiece all those extra times.
Redline (movie) So-so

This is a silly film without content or substance. What passes for plot and character development is minimal but, really, they aren't important compared with what this film excels at: the psychedelic artwork along with constant motion and noise. Thankfully it doesn't take itself terribly seriously; it would have been insufferable without the self-deprecating humour. I saw this at the cinema and, despite all the light and racket, the guy next to me in the cinema fell asleep. During the end credits, the woman behind me admitted to her partner that she fell asleep. I also struggled to remain engaged. Great artwork and sense of motion can't cover for an otherwise dull and vacuous movie.

Response to ANN review

Rideback (TV) Good

This is a series that I found became more appealing with repeated viewings. The apparent dullness of the characters (not helped by their designs) wears off and the compressed plot can be put in perspective. Above all, Rideback captures all the emotional thrill of riding a powerful motorcycle, particularly in the early race scenes between Ogata Rin and Kataoka Tamayo. Indeed, all the action scenes are thrillingly well done and the use of Mussorgsky's Great Gate of Kiev from Pictures at an Exhibition provides the just the right level of euphoria for the climactic scenes.
Roujin Z (OAV) Decent

Enjoyable movie about a high tech hospital bed that borrows the personality of the former wife of its elderly occupant and decides to return to the beach where the pair spent happy times together. On the way it destroys anything in its path, collecting cars and other machinery to transform into an ever larger and deadlier device. Directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo from a script by Katsuhiro Otomo, the satire comes to the fore thanks to the usual Otomo misanthropy being pretty much absent. The logic behind the hospital bed gaining a personality and its ability to transform itself are, of course, ridiculous but, being a vehicle for the gags, it doesn't really matter. The character designs, the animation and its sensibilities betray its 1991 origins while the satire on Japanese attitudes to the elderly isn't particularly sophisticated. Satoshi Kon is credited with art design but you wouldn't know without being told.
Royal Space Force - The Wings of Honnêamise (movie) Decent

It's worthy and it's ambitious and the artwork and animation groundbreaking but, unfortunately, the story is dull (except, admittedly, the final battle scenes), while the characters are unappealing in both their behaviour and their design.
Running Man (movie) Decent

In a futuristic car racing competition one driver, Zach Hugh, who has the ability to psycho-kinetically destroy inanimate objects around him (and thereby his opponents’ cars), crosses the line between life and death through sheer will power. Yes, it’s loaded with Kawajiri grotesqueries (which, at the same time, seem mundane) while, thankfully, there are none of his statuesque but repellent looking women. It all gets a bit silly at the end, although the final destruction of Hugh’s car is poetry in motion, probably my favourite sequence in the entire Neo Tokyo anthology.
Rurouni Kenshin (TV) Good

Samurai X rises above its shonen limitations thanks to its many appealing characters whose back stories and motivations drive the various plots, a fascinating historical setting post the Meiji Restoration, and an ongoing examination of the moral dilemma in pursuing peaceful ends through violent action.

As the wandering samurai, Kenshin is a worthy protagonist - smart, thoughtful, humble and optimistic. His allies, particularly Misao and Kaoru of the women and Saito and Hiko of the men, provide equally worthy support plot-wise and entertainment-wise. Few of the villains transcend their shonen tropes, even if they are graced with interesing backstories or tragic flaws. Thankfully Kenshin is such a memorable creation that the lengthy fight scenes are bearable.

Extended review

Rurouni Kenshin: New Kyoto Arc (OAV) So-so

This retelling of the Kyoto arc of the manga and TV series through the eyes of one of its most memorable characters, Misao Makimachi, is a disappointment. Attempting to compress 35 episodes into 90 minutes was a foolhardy exercise from the get go. Most of what is great about the arc has gone west: Kenshin’s dignity; the tragic motivations of the various villains; the spunk and clownish behaviour of Misao Makimachi; and even the unforgettable, and highly ironic, reunion of Kenshin and Kaoru in Kyoto. Really, concentrating on a short section of the arc would have made much more sense, in more ways than one. I guess a lot of the disappointment for me comes from Misao Makimachi - my single favourite element of the original arc – being comprehensively sacrificed on the altar of brevity, though she gets a happy ending. In fact, plotwise it departs significantly from the TV series. Thankfully it keeps the central conflict between Kenshin and Shishio.

I suspect this is an OAV that only the initiated can properly enjoy. None of the characters get any backgrounding, nor are their issues explored in any depth. Nevertheless, having a pre-formed knowledge of those backgrounds and issues allows the viewer to enjoy the OAV as a series of tableaux, highlighting key moments of the conflict at the heart of the series. Given that, the otherwise seemingly disconnected events can be enjoyed. And, as a bonus, the artwork is extremely pretty. It also minimises one of the worst things about the TV series – the ridiculous supernatural powers of the various villains. The franchise is always better when it emphasises their human side.

Rurouni Kenshin: Reflection (OAV) So-so

Unfortunately, this OAV will always be compared with its predecessor, Trust and Betrayal and, sadly, will be found wanting. In bringing a conclusion to the life of Kenshin this OAV isn't able to overcome a structural flaw in the story: with Kenshin ill and enfeebled the action sequences are restricted to flashbacks that, necessarily, lack tension because we know they are history. Add to that a final resolution of his love for Kaoru that is melodramatic rather than dramatic and Reflection is, in the end, rather dull. The philosophical ruminations on violence, guilt and love aren't as convincing as those in its predecessor and Kaoru can't match Tomoe in either character or appearance. In fact, despite higher production standards, the visuals and music lack the expressionist power of Trust and Betrayal and, to my great disappointment, this OAV has abandoned one of my favourite aspects of the predecessor - the Japanese eyes. Hey, it's not all bad. Reflection is good to look at at and, in the end, is a serious attempt at doing the near impossible - concluding Kenshin's journey in a satisfying way.
Rurouni Kenshin: The Motion Picture Decent

Another tale from the post-Meiji Restoration setting of the TV series, but without the gimicky villains, but also without the tension. It's probably because the familiar characters do little that's interesting beyond the fight scenes. Kaoru is particularly colourless while Sanosuke and Tahiko behave exactly as you'd expect. Their comic relief segments, a shonen annoyance at the best of times, aren't even funny. The most interesting character is the villain, Shigure, who stands above all the other villains of the franchise. Unfortunately, the dub reduces his motives to basic retribution thereby losing all the subtlety of the original. He is also incumbered with a dreary girlfriend, Toki, and a repellant best friend, Kajiki. It's a worthy addition to the canon but somehow anaemic.
Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal (OAV) Excellent

The shocking but magnificent opening scenes of Trust are the first indication that in these OAVs we are going places that the TV series never dared to. What follows is a bloody but thoughtful rumination on violence and its repercussions... until the climax to Betrayal, that is. The exploration of suffering and redemption is completely undermined by a final showdown with a bunch of fantasy freaks that is downright silly and is reminiscent of the worst shonen elements of the TV series. The fanciful villains are inappropriate for, despite the expressionist artwork, the plot of Trust and Betrayal has a strong sense of realism that sets it apart from the rest of the franchise.
SaiKano (TV) Decent

She, the Ultimate Weapon has a preposterous premise: a clumsy, well-intentioned, sweet girl - Chise - has been enhanced / developed by the military to be the most powerful weapon ever made. Successful anime always manages to draw your attention away from any issues with the premise. The viewer can then be captured by the characters and the story. Here I found the problem reinforced whenever Chise did her transformation from school girl to nuclear bomb (and all manner of offensive ordinance in between). That wasn't the only problem. How many buckets of tears do Chise and Shuji shed over 13 episodes? It's poor writing, as simple as that. Compare it with Koi Kaze or Dennou Coil where both develop intense, emotional situations without constant recourse to waterworks.

The recurring problems are a shame because the series does other things tremendously well. The maturing of the relationship between the two lovers - Chise and Shuji - is, apart from the copious tears, subtle, amusing, gradual and entirely believable. Their unfolding tragedy becomes gripping fare. Even though both have intense and highly ambiguous relationships with other characters (Chise with Tetsu; Shuji with both Fuyumi and Akemi), their own relationship never seems compromised. Indeed, these seeming infidelities are equally convincing. The series slowly develops a very adult approach to sexuality. In general, the support characters are well written: Akemi the chirpy school friend with an unhappy secret, the desperately lonely Fuyumi, the simultaneously honourable and wayward Tetsu, and Kawahara - he with the sweaty forehead and tortured conscience - stood out.

The escalating terror of war approaching Chise's and Shuji's home town by the sea makes for a chilling backdrop. Military leaders find themselves prosecuting a war where they know that victory isn't possible in any humane and rational sense, but where no-one can conceive a better option. Chise may be the weapon to end all wars, but she just may destroy everybody in the process. This is a series that doesn't mind killing off important characters ("kill 'em all" Tomino comes to mind) but it does it pointedly and poignantly.

Further comment

SaiKano: Another Love Song (OAV) So-so

She, the Ultimate Weapon: Another Love Song, produced three years after the original, retells Chise's story from the perspective of Lt Colonel Mizuki, Chise's commanding officer, predecessor and prototype as human weapon of mass destruction. She is an icy, ambitious, highly strung but loyal career officer. And therefore not particularly appealing as a protagonist. Shuji is completely absent as a character, although he hasn't been excised from the story. His absence highlights how central he was to the success of the TV series. Without the central love affair I didn't become invested emotionally in the new version. What's more, the bizarre creation that is Chise is no longer moderated by Shuji's presence. The original provided a somewhat closeted perspective on events (basically it's Shuji's) so the OVA does give a broader understanding of who and what Chise is. Another Love Song is both more stridently moralistic in its attitude to war and less effective in getting its humanist message across.
Samurai Champloo (TV) Decent

The same team that produced Cowboy Bebop here tweaks the formula that was so successful in the earlier series. Combine two or three seemingly disparate elements - in this case hip hop sensibility within a samurai setting - then create some nonchalant main characters and hopefully the end result is greater than the sum of the parts. It all comes together in Cowboy Bebop but somehow the chemistry just doesn't work in Samurai Champloo. The two male leads, Mugen and Jin, together cannot compare with Spike while the female protagonist, Fuu, doesn't even succeed as ornamentation. The backstories of the three main characters are anything but compelling while the episodic nature of the series might have worked had the individual tales been memorable. To top it off, the most boring OP ever in anime started each episode off badly for me.
Samurai Girls (TV) Not really good

Stock character traits and unremitting fanservice are redeemed by one of the most glorious and appropriate visual styles I’ve seen in an anime. Bringing to mind old Japanese paintings the style works beautifully because, not only is it a treat for the eyes, but also the setting is based on the intriguing premise that the Meiji Restoration never took place. The end of the series manages to rise above what had been until then, despite the premise, an uninspired plot.
Sasameki Koto (TV) Good

This yuri anime has a remarkable first episode that isn't much of a guide to the rest of the series. If that episode were an OAV on its own I would rate it as excellent and be tempted to give it a masterpiece ranking. The writing and structure are perfect gems - every moment adds something to the overall story. The characters, especially the lead Sumika Murasame, are nuanced with each gesture and word meaningful, be it the movement of fingers as Sumika and Kazama hold hands, or the sudden intake of breath by Kazama when a teardrop slides down Sumika's cheek, or the trembling hands of a love-smitten student. Sure, it's corny but it's very well done. Standing above all this (literally and figuratively) is Sumika, one of my all-time favourite anime characters. Intelligent, capable and genuine but not above behaving quite badly towards her best friends and / or tying herself in knots over how to express her love, she is a multi-faceted, sympathetic creation.

Then everything changes. In the second episode, the already basic animation retards even further and subtlety is replaced by face faults, deformation and shouting. Nuanced writing gives way to absurdity and cheap laughs. The worst part of it is that it diminishes the carefully wrought intimacy of the first episode. It's not all bad. Things improve enormously when the tomboyish, mature Tomoe is properly introduced into the series. She adds an impartial stance for us to view Sumika's and Kazama's delusions while nudging them ever so gently together. She is also the only character to ever outwit or out-perform Sumika at sport, thus making the latter even more sympathetic.

The creative team may have realised that they got it wrong because in the latter part of the series, they cut right back on the annoying bodily distortions and the writing becoming more sensitive although not managing to return to the levels of the first episode. Disappointingly, the final episode doesn't properly resolve the romantic tension between Sumika and Kazama, but that isn't altogether surprising. The show is a tease, like the manga it comes from. (It only covers the first 13 chapters of the manga and it takes until chapter 37 for Kazama to admit to herself that she loves Sumika.)

School Days (TV) Good

Begins as a sweet tale of a girl, Sekai, helping the boy seated next to her in class, Makoto, overcome his shyness towards the girl he likes, Kotonoha. It ends with suicide, murder and evisceration. The first six episodes can be slow despite the marvellous Sekai, who comes to rival Kotonoha for Makoto's affections, but thereafter School Days proceeds to implode under all the improbable romantic mayhem and accumulating horror. All character coherence vanishes: shy boys become serial gigolos; blushing maidens seek out group sex; previously self-assured young women become unhinged, while the unhinged become coldly rational. The amazing thing is that the contradictions don't matter. It's all done for effect and, unlike the tedious When They Cry - Higurashi, it is highly entertaining. It's almost as if absurdity has been elevated to an art form. The very inevitability of the ending makes it all the more compelling - like watching two locomotives hurtling towards each other on the one set of tracks. If the ending hadn't been so over the top, it simply wouldn't have worked.
Second Renaissance (OAV) Excellent

The magnificent Second Renaissance Parts 1 & 2 segments are the stand outs of the Animatrix anthology, telling the cataclysmic history of how the Matrix came to be. Twenty minutes of backstory without characters has never been so grippingly told or so beautifully animated.
(The) Secret World of Arrietty (movie) Good

Studio Ghibli's approach to Arrietty is fascinating. Based on the English book, The Borrowers they have deliberately mashed up English and Japanese cultures. The setting is a mostly English house with a smattering of Japanese features; it has an English garden with Japanese monuments; the borrowers keep their original English names while the host humans have Japanese names; when the human family has dinner two of the characters eat a traditional Japanese rice dish with chop sticks while the third has meat and three vegies using a knife and fork; when you see text on screen such as books or signs, sometimes it's in English and other times it's in Japanese. (The American dub gives the human family English names, completely missing the sly multi-cultural joke.) It's notable that Spiller looks like an American native. I must say I really appreciate Ghibli's perverse non-conformity.

The heroine, Arrietty is competent, self-confident and perhaps a tad serious. I watched the UK version and her voice actor, Irish woman Saoirse Ronan is nigh-on perfect in the role. Geraldine McEwan as the scheming maid Haru isn't far behind whereas Olivia Colman's Homily is perhaps too over-the-top in her hysterical timidity. I found the slow enunciation of the male characters - Shu and Pod - distracting, as if their scripts didn't properly synchronise with the lip flaps.

The film is at its best in the first half when Arrietty, alone or with her father Pod, explores the wonders of the garden or the seemingly cavernous human house. Not only is the wonder of her world exquisitely observed but we get to see our own world through an entirely new perspective, with clever visual and sonic observations on things we take for granted. The friendship between tiny Arrietty and human Sho is sweet and platonic, but the development is so succint that it didn't succeed in getting me emotionally committed to it. It's as if the makers were so enchanted by the world of the borrowers that they lingered there just a little too long. I, for one, liked it that way. The film is not so effective in the second half. The exploration takes a back seat to the plight of the borrower family as they contemplate their compromised secrecy and their future security. The action isn't particurlaly exciting and the sense of wonder is overtaken by events. Beyond Arrietty none of the characters have the presence to carry the unfolding drama. The penultimate scene isn't as wrenching as it may have been, thanks to the not totally convincing bond between Arrietty and Sho.

The music is perfect. Breton Cécile Corbel’s Celtic harp is a revelation for a Ghibli production. What could be more appropriate than a Celtic harp for a film about the little people.

Extended review (scroll down)

Self-portrait (movie - Osamu Tezuka) Weak

It's only 14 seconds long so it's hard to accord it any significance. Tezuka presents his own face as a pokie machine. (Took me longer to type this than watch the short.)
Senya Ichiya Monogatari (movie) Good

Serial Experiments Lain (TV) Masterpiece

Although startling first time round Serial Experiments Lain loses its strangeness, but not its charm, once the viewer grasps the correct point of reference and steps through to the other side of the screen, so to speak. (And it's not as if the opening doesn't give enough hints!) Of course, the science behind the connection between humans and the "wired" is a bit dodgy, to say the least, but full marks to Serial Experiments Lain for going somewhere else, somewhere that anime doesn't often try to go. And Lain, herself, is a memorable, split, multi-bit character. In particular, the range of expressions that her animators can manage with the merest changes to her face is remarkable. The overall tone of menace and confusion make this a first rate horror tale without resorting to gore or cheap shocks and Lain's final sacrifice makes for a surprisingly satisfying conclusion.
Shanghai Dragon (movie) So-so

Charming short film from Genius Party about a small boy who finds a device that can bring his imagination to reality. It contains some great action sequences (including a piss-take on mecha anime) and joyous dragon ride conclusion but, like the rest of the anthology, doesn't really amount to much.
She and Her Cat (OAV) So-so

Yes, it's kinda sweet and, typically for Makoto Shinkai, the sense of place nicely mirrors the mental state of the cat's owner, but, it's just a five minute, low budget anime from someone learning their craft.
(The) Sky Crawlers (movie) Good

I saw this in a packed cinema at the Melbourne Film Festival. Ninety per cent of audience left during the end credits, which meant that: 1) they missed the final sting in the tale; and 2) they quite possibly also missed the whole point of this highly ironic movie. In yet another of his allegories Director Mamoru Oshii is not only taking a swipe at Japanese conservatism but he also is jabbing his finger straight at us, the anime audience: do we really want more of the same or do we want to be challenged? The problem, of course, with this sort of challenge is that you are limiting your dialogue to a narrow audience. Nevertheless, there's lots of aerial eye candy, a creepy, somnambulistic atmosphere and just enough thrills to entertain even if you don't have a clue what's going on.
Song of Spring (movie) Awful

All singing, all dancing paper silhouettes tinted pink to represent cherry blossoms and other Japanese symbols. The pain isn't alleviated by the shrill 1931 singalong. It's interesting once; dreadful thereafter.
Spice and Wolf (TV) Masterpiece

Spice and Wolf succeeds because the two central characters - harvest / wolf deity Holo and travelling merchant Lawrence - make one of the most delightful duos I've seen in anime. Holo is the fun element of the pair: mischievous, astute, capable, sharp tongued and proud yet intensely lonely. Lawrence grounds the series. He is serious, thoughtful, calm and a gentleman to his boot straps. (Holo is so appealing that if I were him I couldn't have got through the 13 episodes without jumping her.) For all his intelligence and business nous, in both story arcs his complicated schemes invariably leave him floundering out of his depth. It's unusual in an anime pairing for the male to be as interesting as the female. It probably helps that he's 25. It's also refreshing.

The best thing, though, is how their relationship plays out. The chemistry between them is apparent from the beginning. Their personalities complement each other nicely. Poor Chloe - the putative and, later, vengeful rival - never has a chance. For all the banter between the two leads, their affection is always apparent. Despite the difference in their abilities (she is a god, after all) and the position that women would have had in that era, they treat each other as equals. And, despite her sharp wit, Lawrence usually manages to stand his ground in their verbal jousts. It's a 21st century relationship even though their world looks like the 17th or 18th century.

The mercantile elements that provide the launching pads for their two major adventures are, suprisingly, interesting, even if they eventually exceeded my levels of understanding. The backgrounds are gorgeous and the music deserves a special mention, with period instruments, such as recorders, adding the perfect atmosphere to the place and the events.

Extended review

Spice and Wolf II (TV) Masterpiece

With the second season, it's as if the makers (and the novelist, Isuna Hasekura) have realised, along with the rest of us, that it's not the fantasy elements or the action sequences that make this franchise so magical. Everything that is so good about it can be summed up in two words: Holo and Lawrence. I cannot think of another pair I've seen in anime who interact so entertainingly. The relationship has become even deeper since the first series: throughout their sparring you can see that each is exploring what they mean to each other and how far they can probe the feelings of the other. It reaches its zenith at the beginning of episode 9 where, in an extended scene as they walk to the home of Rigoro the chronicler, they discuss jealousy, dominance, self-loathing, projection, desire and how many men Holo has known. It has become my favourite verbal sequence in anime.

Beneath the banter, it is clear that they care very much for each other. If necessary they will do everything they humanly (or otherwise in Holo's case) can for their travelling companion. In both story arcs, the viewer would do well to remember that. Unlike the first season, where the tension is created by Lawrence's economic miscalculations, the two stories revolve around threats to their relationship. In the first, following a row with Holo, Lawrence finds himself replaced by an interloper. In the second, Holo becomes the marriage collateral - at her own insistence it must be said - in a deal that goes badly wrong.

Overall the second series is a small step up from the already excellent first series. It's not only because of the growth in the relationship of the protagonists or in the stories revolving around that relationship. The music is even more appropriate to the setting, the writing generally snappier and the American dub continues to be more than adequate. On the downside, the antagonist in the first arc - Amarty - is irritating, and the resolution of the marriage crises in the second arc is just a little too pat. The ending had me wanting more - whether that is a good or bad thing I'm not sure, given there is no more to be had. I would love to know what they will find at Yoitz. The translation of the first novel to go beyond the two anime series is being published next month. In the absence of a third series I guess I'll have to buy the novel.

Extended review

Spirit of Wonder (OAV) Good

This one episode OAV splendidly captures the sense of wonder promised in the title. Set in 1950s England, the eccentric Breckenridge and his assistant Jim devise a way of visiting the moon without leaving home. The story is charmingly sentimental and heaps of fun and the visuals are appealing even if the artwork and animation aren’t outstanding. The real star of the show is the voluptuous and appealingly designed China, the inventors’ landlady and the proprietor of a Chinese restaurant just outside Bristol. Muddle-headed and kind-hearted, she is tormented by all the men but somehow she always overcomes her indignation and inspires them to ever-greater achievements. The harassment she endures does spoil things even if it is supposed to be part of the fun.
Spirit of Wonder Scientific Boys Club (OAV) Decent

Made nine years after the original OAV, Scientific Boys Club contains a two-part story about a trip to Mars by a troop of inventors and the long suffering wife of one of them, along with two shorter tales revolving around Breckenridge and China. It continues the flavour and follows the formulae set forth in the earlier OAV although the visual style is slightly less appealing. China has got bustier and less attractive at the same time. The middle-aged, and older, men relentlessly harass her and the young wife by fondling their breasts and lifting their skirts. You would have thought people would have learnt after the first time around but, no, things are just as tacky, if not worse, nine years later.
Spirited Away (movie) Excellent

Still Hiyao Miyazaki's best film to date, combining the extravagant artwork of his later works and, in the story of the coming of age of Chihiro, matching the character depth of Porco Rosso. Most of the subsidiary characters are not only appealing but even Chihiro's antagonists have their good points. Along with the typically beautiful background animation, this ambiguity in some of his characters is one of my favourite Miyazaki qualities, even if they don't appear often enough in his films. Happily, there is a wit that is too often absent in other works from this period such as Princess Mononoke and Howl's Moving Castle and, once or twice, the plot moves too rapidly to follow first, or even second, time round - such as Zeniba's first appearance at the bathhouse, but that's only a small gripe. Younger animators are now taking the medium further than Miyazaki ever has and, to some extent, the beauty of his films is a product of their comparatively lavish budgets but Spirited Away's human story of a girl growing up has enduring appeal.
Squid Girl (TV) Good

The title character is a piece of work: a memorable blending of incompetence and brilliance, cunning and innocence, chagrin and optimism. The show's surface innocence happily overlays a mostly, but not always, covert adult sensibility. Beyond the main character and that sensibility, there isn't much to the show but they are enough for it to merit its rating.
Squid Girl Season 2 (TV) Decent

In the first season Ika Musume was, literally and figuratively, a fish out of water. The humour revolved around the contrast between Squid Girl's ambitions and her better nature, and between her naivete and the down-to-earth attitudes of her new friends. In the second season she has become a superstar, the centre of everybody's world. In the last episode Eiko even acknowledges that the invasion has succeeded, not by force but by charm. Where, in the first series, Squid Girl's most common reactions were suprise or chagrin, this time around it's as if she pauses at the end of each action or statement for the inevitable approbation and applause. Her confidence level has risen while her cuteness level has fallen (though only slightly).

At the same time, the stories have become blander while the innovations and surprises are fewer. It's probably to be expected in a second season of such an episodic show. For sure, the first season was highly variable in the quality of its short episodes, but this season seemed to have fewer high points. The best episode was easily the one where the main characters play "House" with a child who has clearly watched far too many daytime soap operas. What she gets Squid Girl and the others to perform is both alarming and hilarious. The show is at its best when the childlike veneer slips away to reveal a very adult (and twisted) sensibility.

Star Blazers (TV) Good

Made in 1974, it should come as no surprise that the artwork, animation, storytelling, characterisation and music all seem primitive by today standards, even if they were all somewhat better than I feared. With people like Noboru Ishiguro (Legend of the Galactic Heroes) and Leiji Matsumoto (Galaxy Express 999) at the helm it should come as no surprise that the star of the series isn’t ship captain Okita or his hot-headed deputy Kodai; it’s the ship itself – the Yamato. What drives this series isn’t the characters or the plot or the conflict – it’s myth creation and, at the core of the myth, the eponymous ship. From its origins with the original World War 2 battleship, to its planet smashing wave-motion gun, to its seeming indestructibility, to its intergalactic wave-motion engine, the Yamato is always there, always dependable. No matter the travails of the crew or the potency of the enemy, I found myself constantly rooting for the great ship.

This sense of myth unfolding before one’s eyes reaches a memorable climax in the extraordinary episode 22. The Battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster is replete with dive-bombers and torpedo bombers, bearing some resemblance to their World War 2 counterparts, including gull-wing Stuka look alikes. Wave upon wave of spacecraft attack the stricken Yamato, clearly inspired by the last battle of namesake Imperial Japanese Navy ship.

The characters vary between Matsumoto eccentric (all the women, Dr Sado, Captain Okita) to Ishiguro mundane (most everyone else). It didn’t matter because this isn’t really about characters; it’s about character types in the creation of a myth. Similarly the Leijiverse penchant for continuity and a cavalier disregard for the laws of physics don’t really matter in the course of myth creation. Add to that two outrageous Lazarus moments along wih the occasional rabbit pulled out of the hat and there is much to be sceptical about Space Battleship Yamato. Nevertheless, even beyond its place in the history of anime, this series is worth watching for its marvellously entertaining legend building.

Note: I watched the original Space Battleship Yamato with all its Japanese names and references intact, not the heavily edited and bowdlerised Star Blazers.

Extended review

Steamboy (movie) Good

Steamboy improves with multiple viewings. Initially its flaws detract from its astonishing qualities. The flaws? The characters are flat and unappealing while the plot is pedestrian. Luckily, where the film excels - the beautiful, detailed artwork and the phantasmagorical action scenes - it is without peer. As a bonus, it is possible to warm to the hero, James Ray Steam, while the spoiled heiress, Scarlet O'Hara (seriously, that's her name) doesn't seem quite so awful third or fourth time round. It doesn't really matter in the end because the spectacle is so wonderful.
Steins;Gate (TV) Very good

The first few episodes are no indication of how good this series gets. From the moment Moeka storms into the laboratory in episode 12, Steins;Gate just gets better and better.

Initially, all the main characters get dangerously close to being tiresome. Rintaro comes across as a pompous dill; Kurisu a by-the-book tsundere devoid of wit; Mayuri a child who has never grown up; and Taru a lecherous nerd. In hindsight, that's all forgiven. From the moment Moeka throws her spanner in the works, events begin to cascade and our four heroes must face the repercussions of their earlier actions. In the psychological hell that follows the surface tedium of the characters slips away, revealing their inner strengths. Even the ditzy Mayuri is revealed to have considerable emotional intelligence. Their subsequent behaviours and choices are compelling and consistent. The consistency stems from their genuine regard they have for each other and their desire to protect their friends. They, and others, are presented with the most awful dilemmas that force them to re-assess their earlier childish attitudes.

As in any good thriller, the plot becomes dense and interwoven. The time travel elements add greatly to the effect. Time and again, seemingly insignificant actions are later revealed to have an enormous bearing on events. Mistakes have to be confronted and undone. New knowledge forces the viewer to re-assess characters.

It has faults. Like pretty well any time travel story, the science is preposterous. Who cares? It's just providing the framework to a great tale. As already mentioned, the first few episodes are only just interesting enough to encourage continued viewing. Finally, as in Groundhog Day, the main character, Rintaro, must relive the same events over and over. His relationship with the other characters develops just a tad with each reset. Really, they should also be reset each time. Never mind. These are all minor gripes. The pay-off in the second half is so good, the problems pale into insignificance.

Steins;Gate Fuka Ryōiki no Déjà vu (movie) So-so

Stink Bomb (movie) So-so

Secret chemical research goes awry when a young man imbibes the wrong drug, creating a lethal body odour. It's a one joke story, unsuccessfully relying on hyperbole to maintain any momentum. What's more, it's hard to remain engaged when every character comes across as either stupid or unpleasant. Still, it has a couple of funny moments. From the Memories collection.
Summer Wars (movie) Excellent

The marvel of this film lies entirely in the enormous cast of characters that make up the Jinnouchi clan. They’re all lovable and they all have their agendas. Best of all, each is quite distinctive in appearance and character. By the end you feel that you have been there all along as part of the clan, joining in with the celebrations and disappointments. Tack on a couple of pleasant protagonists in Natsuki and Kenji; mix in a mildly entertaining sci-fi complication that threatens to bring the world (wouldn’t you know it) to it’s knees; and you have a film that manages to stand out from the pack, even if you suspect it could have been even better if it were more ambitious. Perhaps more ambition would have spoiled its charm. With this and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time Mamoru Hosoda has become the standard bearer for general interest anime movies.
Superflat Monogram (movie) So-so

Short, attractive anime promoting Louis Vuitton from the director of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars.
Tachikomatic Days (OAV) Not really good

How about that? Kawaii robot / tank / spider hybrids. Who'd have thought? Enjoyable as a DVD freebie but as "stand alone" (yuk! yuk!) viewing they're pretty lame for the most part.
(The) Tale of the Princess Kaguya (movie) Masterpiece

While the Tale of Princess Kaguya is quintessentially Japanese, this film looks like few anime you may have ever seen. The artwork is all pastel, watercolour and white space, which may have been an illusion as the parallax effects from time to time betrayed the use of CGI. In any case, the combination of tenth century magical tale and the traditional art style evoke a peculiarly Japanese mythology and sensibility that is paradoxically both artificial and timeless. While there are characteristic Isao Takahata stretches of stillness, there are frequent moments of thrilling movement: such as the appearance of a shimmering lake in a travelling camera shot; or when two lovers falling from the sky make the most startling change of direction. It's a flashiness quite unexpected from Takahata but adds to the enchantment he casts over us. Even simple body movements are animated with flair.

That magic in the animation is reflected in the way Kaguya seems to bring everything and everyone to life, like a caress of spring air. She is a wonder who astonishes everyone she meets. Happily, the film is so convincing that the viewer need never doubt that the reactions are genuine and appropriate. Her mettle is tested with her first five suitors. How she handles them is clever and seemingly imbued with a modern appreciation of her rights as a person. This is a young woman learning the power of her wits and how to make independent decisions and yet, the film is essentially faithful to the 10th century story it is based upon. That supposed modern sensibility is, in truth, much older than we imagine.

Even if Kaguya’s sudden understanding of her true nature late in the film isn’t altogether satisfactorily explained and even if the appearance of the Buddha comes across as cheesy, this is Takahata’s best ever film. A masterpiece need not be perfect. Not since Paprika have I experience so much joy and wonder in anime.

Extended review

Tales from Earthsea (movie) Decent

Tales from Earthsea doesn't deserve the oblivion some people would wish upon it - I prefer it to its near contemporary Ghibli film Howl's Moving Castle. Sure, it's ponderous and the characters are bland but it is balanced by a grandeur that is absent in Howl. Seeing this film in a cinema highlights its many visual wonders.
Tales of the Street Corner (movie) Excellent

This 38 minute short film from 1962 is a perfect demonstration of the ideal behind the Osamu Tezuka quote that appears in the inside of the DVD case:

What I try to [say] through my works is simple… just a simple message that follows: "Love all the creatures! Love everything that has life!" I have been trying to express this message in every one of my works.

After almost fifty years, this film still comes across with Osamu's avowed optimism. Entirely set in a short stretch of laneway, the characters consist of a girl whose teddy bear has fallen out of her attic window and become stuck in the roof gutter, an inquisitive mouse, a moth with attitude, a spluttering street lamp, a tree that is shedding leaves and seeds, and a series of posters lining the laneway walls. Yet it encompasses an entire world of possibilities, including strife, tragedy and renewal. Despite the short running time, the limited setting and the basic artwork and animation, there is more joy and creativity than you may find in many a 26 episode series.

Tari Tari (TV) Decent

Tari Tari is a sunny, optimistic confection without any lingering or unpleasant aftertaste, and stylistically reminiscent of its sister production, Hanasaku Iroha, though lacking anyone of the stature of that show’s heroine, Ohana. The story begins with Konatsu, a diminutive ball of get-up-and-go, who is initially very appealing thanks to her character design and her spunk but, like so much else in the series, she somehow manages to become superficial seeming quite quickly. By episode four she and the series had become decidedly ho-hum. Thankfully, from episode five the series moves its focus onto the other two girls in the club: a reluctant Wakana Sakai who carries a burden of guilt from the death of her mother; and the girlish, equestrian Sawa Okita who harbours unrealistic ambitions. The two quickly overshadow Konatsu in appeal, so much so that the show is always at its best when either of those two are the centre of attention.

The Vice-Principle, Naoko Takakura, spends much of the series doing her upmost to thwart the plans of Konatsu and her friends. She is another of those severe, red-lipped anime women with exaggerated Louise Brooks bobs that pop up in anime. And like those others there's a good woman beneath the repression just waiting to be redeemed.

Given the series is about a choir, it seems pretty much devoid of the club's music and, when it does get aired, it is disappointingly bland. Wakana's song - so central to the plot - is unremarkable when we finally get to hear it. Tari Tari is no Kids on the Slope but its charms make it a worthwhile visit.

Extended review

(The) Tatami Galaxy (TV) Excellent

Just about the funniest anime I've seen to date. The episode where Hanuki takes the main character home to her apartment had me in hysterics, what with her hyper-active tongue and his debate with "Johnny". These are just two of many priceless moments in the series. The set up is great and the cast of eccentric characters is memorable. The un-named lead isn't just another brainless weed, although he may be clueless when it comes to seeing what is right in front of his nose. Even though he's smart and ironic, neither quality seems to help him much. As well, his motormouth delivery frequently requires use of the pause button (the release is sub only). His best friend Ozu is ghastly and wonderful all at once and his love interest (if only he knew it), Akashi, is beautiful through sheer strenth of personality. The art style is eccentric but it fits the tone nicely.
Tekkonkinkreet (movie) Decent

Despite its distinctive, wondrous visual style and some superb animated sequences, this film somehow seems longer than its listed 111 minutes. The viewer is kept at at arm's length from the two main characters, Kuro and Shiro, and neither are particularly appealing, so that the their dilemmas fail to arouse much sympathy. It's a shame it's so dull because there's a good story underneathe and the soundtrack has wormed its way into my sub-conscious.
Tenchi in Tokyo (TV) Bad

The series continues with the main flaw of the franchise: it's most memorable feature - the rivalry between Ryoko and Ayeka - remains ornamental to the plot rather than the driver of the events. It's a shame because their feuding can become quite nasty; Ryoko reveals a vicious side not often seen previously. Thankfully, more often than not, Washu (pictured left) cleans up after everybody in her inimitable and eccentric way. Problem is, most of the time the series is excruciatingly unfunny and, thanks to yet another ludicrous villain, also excruciatingly boring.
Tenchi Muyo! (OAV 1/1992) Not really good

The Tenchi Muyo franchise seems to have been popular in its day. How? For a comedy it commits the unpardonable sin of a shortage of gags. Now, I’m not saying I didn’t find the gags funny – it just doesn’t have that many. On top of that, the setup – one alien female after another moves into Tenchi’s house and falls in love with him – just isn’t pushed far enough. Ryoko is the real star of the show - her tsunami-like first appearance is unforgettable - while her rival Ayeka's steely propriety, though not nearly as memorable, provides just the right foil. Catch is, the rivalry isn't pushed hard enough so that, in the end, it becomes secondary to a ho-hum conflict with a cliched villain, Kagato, who is roundly and deservedly lampooned as Ilpalazzo in Excel Saga.
Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki (OAV 2/1994) Weak

After two OVA series the Tenchi Muyo franchise comprehensively fails to live up to its promise. It's problems are best illustrated by the character who initially hits you like a reactor meltdown with her outre confidence and aggression - Ryoko (pictured left). By the end of this second series she has been reduced to a simpering idiot. It’s a good thing that her mother, Washu, takes up the mantle of series eccentric, but it’s such a shame that Ryoko’s comedic gold ends up merely brass. Sadly, it’s an example of a too-common problem with female characters is anime. You know things a going very badly when, like the first OAV series, the story ends up being a battle between the protagonist and an evil, laughing, overlord, bad guy stereotype who wants to rule the known universe. Far preferable would have been more Ryoko, Ayeka, Washu madness.
Tenchi Muyo! The Night Before The Carnival (OAV) Not really good

Extra episode that continues the Ryoko - Ayeka rivalry over Tenchi. The premise is somewhat flat - aliens mistaking manga for romance guides - but the episode does at least concentrate on the two competing female aliens without any extraneous villains.
Tenchi Universe (TV) Not really good

Like the rest of the franchise, Tenchi Universe is at its best when the three eccentric females - Ryoko, Ayeka and Washu, are allowed to shine. Really, everything else is just filler or, in Kagato's case, a complete waste of time. Happily, it avoids most of the space opera sidetracks of the OAVs. Happily also, Ryoko's appeal doesn't decline the way it does in the OAVs, although she still can't match her fiery entrance in the earlier version. The introduction of a new character, the ambitious and hypertense galactic policewoman Kiyone, goes some way to ameliorating the worst of Mihoshi but, really, the task is just too much. Perhaps I'm becoming inured to the franchise's inanities but I enjoyed this more than the OAVs.
Texhnolyze (TV) Decent

Tiger & Bunny (TV) So-so

Superheroes are an essential part of American culture, representing American ideals of individualism and of order maintained through strength. I watch anime because it is embued with Japan's distinctive take on the world. American style superheroes and anime don't mix well. If the series were subversive then it may have been exceptional. Alas it wasn't and it isn't. It seems the producers were trying to ensnare two audiences: ageing shounen otaku and Americans brought up on superheroes and reality shows. I guess there's no harm in identifying your audience and selling to them accordingly, but there was nothing about this series that suggests it was anything more than a marketing exercise.

For starters, having a 30+ year old single father as the main character does not mean this is a mature series. It's not. All you get is a set of shounen encounters with older characters who look uncomfortably out of place. The relationships are shallow and sentimental, as shounen relationships generally are. The lack of a worthwhile female character is unforgiveable and a clear indication of the audience being targeted. I also disliked the omnipresent product placements - and no, it wasn't satire on any detectable level. I do not appreciate advertising infecting the object of my obsession.

Kotetsu is a mildly appealing clown and Barnaby is surprisingly gay, with neither description meant as a criticism. I doubt that Karina / Blue Rose will ever succeed in fully winning the heart of Kotetsu because she will never entirely supplant Barnaby. Kotetsu's and Barnaby's relationship is the core of the story and it was thanks mostly to the cranky Kotetsu that I was able to appreciate the series. Also helping was the splendiferous city of Stern Bild, even if the series never explored it sufficiently for it to become a character in its own right, as Aria achieved so magnificently with Neo Venezia.

Time of Eve (ONA) Masterpiece

With the work of directors like Yasuhiro Yoshiura coming on stream (literally: Time of Eve is an ONA) it is now clear that reports of the death of anime have been greatly exaggerated. This really is the perfect anime. It may not be to your taste (Philistine!) but you can't fault it. This simple tale of little revelations in the lives of Rikuo and Masaki is actually a major revelation. And those moments of illumination are what makes Time of Eve so charming: such as the boys discovering the truth about Akiko, and later Rina and Koji; or Rikuo finally seeing clearly Sammy standing right in front of him and later realising how much his piano playing means to her; the viewer learning in episode 5 the significance of the droplet of water falling from Sammy's hair in episode 1; and learning in episode 6 the truth behind Masaki's evasions about his family. The 3D sets are simple but glorious, the camera movements are themselves a feature and the character artwork avoids all the fashionable cliches. Watch it.

ANN Book Club (with more commentary in subsequent posts)

Time of Eve (movie) Masterpiece

Although the episodic nature of the story make it arguably less suited to a feature film format than as its original on-line broadcast, Time of Eve the Movie: First Season Complete Edition still delivers its subtle yet thoughtful and emotional messages. It would be my recommended format for new viewers as it can be watched now in its entirety without repeating the credits. Extra footage is minimal, however the new end credits and what follows add more revelations and pose fresh questions. Observe closely the knuckles on Nagi's left hand as she embraces the man (?) / machine (?) in the final scene. It's these seemingly insignificant touches that make Time of Eve such a gem.
To Love-Ru (TV) Not really good

It's got heaps of ecchi and fan-service and it's probably ripped off from Urusei Yatsura (with much better production values, however) but To Love-Ru isn't altogether bad. Lala's mixture of sluttishness and optimistic innocence is endearing while Rito is much more than a Keitaro clone and, unlike Love Hina's hero pairing with Naru, is almost a match for his outtre alien visitor. The big disappointment is Haruna in all her sickly, cliched sweetness. Thankfully, this blemish is more than made up for by the marvellous Golden Darkness, Yami, who does a wonderful piss take of Chloe from Noir. Yes, it's fluff but it is fun.
Tojin Kit (movie) Good

In a grimy, decaying, metallic dystopia a young woman keeps wondrously effervescent alien creatures (see example left) hidden in toys. Apparently harbouring such creatures is unlawful (this film may be a satire on our contemporary paranoia about illegal aliens) and the woman must keep one step ahead of the law, here represented by a coldly sinister agent and his pair of chilling beaker-headed offsiders. It’s all quite unsettling. Even the way the woman treats (or, rather, mistreats) the creatures is highly ambiguous. I suppose she is the equivalent of what we, in Australia, call people smugglers. The pervasive tone of nastiness is very effective.
Tokyo Godfathers (movie) Very good

That Satoshi Kon can make a relatively straightforward but still marvellous film shows that, behind all the usual trickery, is a master film maker by any standards. The fun and games are still there in the form of small but entertaining miracles (this is a Christmas film after all) but they add a gloss to the tale of three homeless people trying to find the mother of an abandoned baby and rediscovering their own families on the journey. The sentiment is never laid on thick while the satire is always deft. Kon gets the mix right: there's always an edge to the sweetness while the darker moments are always lightened with wit and hope. Still, although I prefer Satoshi Kon's wilder rides, Tokyo Godfathers is a gentle pleasure.
Toradora! (TV) Very good

What makes this series so thoroughly satisfying is that it takes a slew of standard anime tropes – both in character types and plot situations - and, against the odds, does something special with them. On the character side we have, among others, a mild-mannered hero and tsundere heroine, a genki girl, an aloof transfer student, and a Nazi school president. On the plot side there is a swimming pool arc, a beach villa arc, a high school festival, a student council election, a Christmas Eve party and a school camp. You could be forgiven if you thought Toradora! revels in anime cliché but, in each arc there is, unfailingly, a moment where it elevates what might be banal into the exceptional and, sometimes, the sublime.

The two lead characters - the pint-sized ball of fury Taiga and the mild-mannered gangster look-alike Ryuji - make a great pair. Problem is that they alone fail to acknowledge it. Taiga deserves her tsundere pin-up status: unlike most characters of the type her rage is firmly rooted in her family background. Among their friends is another memorable character, the obtuse reasoning genki girl Minorin who gets some of the best lines of the series, including the unforgettable, "If you trip while running down the hallway, you’ll get a nosebleed. If you trip in life, you’ll cry."

The last two episodes wrap up the romance nicely, even if it may be somewhat disappointing in a dramatic sense. Ryuji’s and Taiga’s inability to recognise or admit their love for the other derives from their lack of self-awareness, their immaturity and, behind it all, their resentments towards their families. That each, in their own way, resolves to proceed with their relationship by building a bridge to their families and to their past demonstrates that their love is a possible source of growth, rather than escape. It’s entirely convincing and a very satisfying way to end.

Extended review

Trigun (TV) Not really good

26 episodes of a superhero falling over and embarrassing himself. Yawn. Liked the guy with the arsenal disguised a crucifix, though. Oh, and Millie was sweet.
Tsukumo (movie) Good

(The) Twelve Kingdoms (TV) Very good

Despite an unpromising start and some wayward storytelling The Twelve Kingdoms gives us one of anime's great adventure heroines in Youko Nakajima, who makes the journey from hesitant schoolgirl to magisterial leader in a sequence of events that is utterly convincing and, which, for the most part, make compelling viewing. It isn't an action adventure yarn, preferring instead to concentrate on world building and character development. What action there is, is animated economically. It also means the terminology, the characters and customs of the parallel world can be bewildering until well into the series. Thanks to the initial confusion and Youko's two unappealing school mates, Sugimoto and Asano, it's not until Youko begins to earn our admiration that the series begins to hit its stride.

Of the other characters, Shouryuu, the king of En, appeals with his simultaneous insouciance and hardheadedness but Rakushun, who shape changes between human and giant rat, almost steals the show with his idealistic innocence, unbounded generosity and comic persona. The appearance of two more young women, Shoukei and Suzu, well into the series give the writers more opportunities to for character development, although they are overshadowed by Youko. The story of Youko reaches its climax in episode 39 when, standing on the ramparts between two armies, she is greeted by her kirin and acknowledged by all. It is one of the most stirring and magisterial moments I have seen in anime. All the world building, all the character development, all the diversions have led to this magnificent moment. Youko has come a long way from her life in Japan but the real strength of the series is that her journey is so convincing. Unfortunately, the series continues for six more episodes.

The Twelve Kingdoms is always at its best when it follows the story of Youko, embedding her tale into its intricate world building. It falters when it strays into other stories and when it spends too much time on characters that don't warrant the close examination.

Extended review

Un-Go (TV) Decent

This was a show I badly wanted to be better than it ended up proving to be. It is such a rare beast in anime: adult characters, intelligent and often surprising script, and with its heart in the right place. Yet... it somehow seemed colourless. The characters weren't particularly engaging; there was too little time between set up, exposition and resolution of the mysteries; the villain wasn't a central enough character to draw an emotional response; the political stakes weren't explicated sufficiently to create any sense of dread or climax; and two most interesting characters - Kazamori and Inga - weren't exploited enough by the script.

The music - especially the Spanish theme used in the big revelations - was always spot on and I appreciated Rie's crush on Shinjurou: it was about the only time any of the characters stepped beyond the plot requirements and behaved like a human being thus highlighting what the series so badly lacked.

Alternative review

Urotsukidōji II: Legend of the Demon Womb (movie) Awful

The characters are more coherent than in the first film but that is more than offset by the offensive Nazi death rape machine. The plot is daft, the character designs are unpleasant, and in the English only dub the voice actors don't act, they make a succession of declarations. Even the sexual mayhem is surprisingly coy. Indeed, it's hard to find any reason to watch this, prurient or otherwise.
Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend (movie) Awful

This was the first anime movie I ever saw - around 20 years ago. It's somewhat better than I remember, even though I'm sure there was more sexual mayhem when I saw it at the cinema all those years ago. According to Wikipedia about 45 minutes have been cut, including 24 minutes worth of sex scenes. Makes sense. I also think I was much more shockable in those days. It's also quite sentimental. And for a 1989 film I was surprised how moe the love interest was. Some things, not just demons, are eternal.
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (movie) Not really good

I'm coming to the conclusion that I shouldn't be wasting my time on vampire anime. I have yet to see an example that I didn’t think was crap. And that certainly includes Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. D ponces around and postures a lot but I didn’t find him remotely amusing. Perhaps I should blame director Yoshiaki Kawajiri for imposing his unappealing style on the character. And he's not the only problem: the pseudo Gothic atmosphere is entirely unconvincing.
Vampire Princess Miyu (OAV) So-so

This four episode OAV is considerably better than its subsequent TV remake thanks to moments of genuine creepiness. The final scenes of the last episode, involving Miyu, her mother, and the spiritualist Himiko, actually gave me goose bumps the first time I watched it. The second episode also stands out thanks to an otherworldly, beautiful demon who turns her, not altogether unwilling, victims into marionettes. It helps the series that the schoolgirl aspects aren't as annoying as its TV counterpart, probably because the viewers' point of view is provided by the adult Himiko. Notable also are some of the audio effects and a soundtrack from Kenji Kawai from a time when he could still produce strangeness. Sudden, confusing leaps in narrative and the occasional tedium that so afflicted the TV series prevent me from rating this higher.
Vampire Princess Miyu (TV) Weak

Dull, episodic and formulaic tales of the half-human / half-vampire Miyu whose appointed task is to rid the world of demons. She's a school girl, wouldn't you know. The series never moves faster than a sleep walking shuffle.
Video Girl Ai (OAV) Good

The opening episode of the six part OVA is a near perfect blend of comedy, sexy suggestiveness and sentimentality, epitomised in the memorable titular heroine. In subsequent episodes the comedy invention dwindles as the romantic side of the story becomes the focus. Unfortunately, as a love story Video Girl Ai is mundane and two of the four principal characters are completely forgettable. And then there is the surreal and dramatic last episode. The surreal part I don't mind - I mean, a girl popping out of a TV screen in the first episode sets a surreal tone from the start - but the intense drama is so overwrought the effect is to undermine everything that has happened to that point. Nevertheless, the four main characters living happily ever after in their own video world is a clever and appropriate ending but, above all, Ai herself is such a treat that it's easy to forgive the OVA's faults.
(The) Village Festival (movie) Bad

The Village Festival from 1930 is far more interesting for its historical value than for any possible viewing pleasure. This three minute musical uses animated paper cutouts to depict dancing at a harvest festival. It's a silent film and it was sold with a phonograph record, which was to be played with the film. Apparently it was intended for school children. The lyrics are visible on the screen and they even have a bouncing ball that follows the words. It must have taken some skill for the teachers or parents to synchronise the film and the record. It's fun as something from a very alien era.
(The) Vision of Escaflowne (TV) Good

A blend of shojo relationship tangles and shonen mecha battle scenes gives this series a surprising depth. Not only is the plot vast in scope and constantly surprising but the initially typical shojo and shonen characters all find themselves acting against type as they are propelled towards a final Armageddon. Even the villains earn our sympathy before the tale concludes. I especially like how Dornkirk, a time defying Isaac Newton, fails to grasp his own law, that every action has an opposite and equal reaction. At the centre of the storm is Hitomi, the high school girl (wouldn’t you know!) who must discover what is in her heart before she can save an entire world. Happily we are given a character who justifiably earns the respect of her friends, confounds her adversaries and charms the viewer in the process, even if her final decision is at odds with the general message that unwavernig belief can overcome the seeming inevitable. Exceptional incidental music more than compensates for the weird nose designs and a couple of irritating minor characters.

Extended review

Voices of a Distant Star (OAV) Good

Being only 25 minutes long doesn't hurt Voices of a Distant Star. I would contend that Makoto Shinkai is an author with only one message - the pain of separation - so keeping it brief also keeps him disciplined. And the notion that interstellar distance equates to temporal distance is such a simple one that it's a wonder it hasn't already become an anime cliche. If the story is much more focussed than either of his two subsequent movies, it loses out through its less ambitious graphics and inferior character designs, especially when comparing it with 5 Centimetres Per Second.
A Wake in Garakuta Town (OAV) Decent

A small robot with terrier determination and an appetite for other robots beyond its size catches the attention of a young boy in this short farce by escalation - the victims get bigger and bigger while the voracious robot trails an ever longer collection of robot bits behind itself. A Wake in Garakuta Town mixes the sinister with the ridiculous without ever excelling at either. The animation and artwork is typical 4ºC precise and appealing. Indeed, the depiction of the busy market laneways is perhaps the best thing about it.
Wanwa the Puppy (movie) Weak

I kind of like the way the foreground characters and the background art are so unstable that everything flows into everything else. It’s all very kinetic and vaguely entertaining… at first. Apart from a couple of jokey moments it’s all style and no substance. Sort of reminds me of the incredibly overrated and terminally soporific Redline. At least Wanwa was only 15 minutes long.
(The) Weathering Continent (movie) Good

Has all the qualities I love so much in Mashimo but can be off-putting for some: an emphasis on atmosphere over action, obtuse humour and understated emotional development. It works partly thanks to the brevity of the film but also because, being a hit or miss director, Kashimo sometimes gets it very right, as he does here. The watercolour background art is beautiful and his effective use of music to heighten the mood points to his later work with Yuki Kajiura and others.
Welcome to Lodoss Island! (movie) Awful

Whatever the merits of the parent program - Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight - this puerile addition at the end of each episode only ever managed to spoil what transpired in the previous 22 minutes. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Then they compiled it into a movie. Why?
Welcome to the NHK (TV) Very good

Towards the end of the first episode Misaki approaches Satou in their local park. As she walks Misaki rocks from side to side and as she speaks she closes here eyes. It's utterly captivating but you know something about her behaviour doesn't gel. You know this isn't going to be another magical girlfriend anime and you share Satou's dilemma - is she wonderful or is she crazy? Turns out she's both in this delightful mixture of a sentimental romance between two losers and the scalpel sharp exposure of characters who put themselves into such ghastly situations you want to look away. The humour is kind of like Fawlty Towers on halucinogenic drugs. You could also say it does for depression what The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya does for boredom. They each make an unlikely topic the basis of some very entertaining viewing. The series is at its best when Misaki and Satou bounce off each other. I particularly liked their final "Mutally Assured Destruction" contract that allows each to negotiate the other's difficult persona. The other characters are much less interesting, although Yamazaki is surprisingly wise at times. I suspect, as well, there may be parts of this series that I will find tedious when re-watching. The music, while apt most of the time can be obtrusive.
When They Cry - Higurashi (TV) Bad

When They Cry - Higurashi plumbs the depths of our very worst nature. This is a tawdry, reprehensible series. The most notable scenes are those displaying intense cruelty, for example the fingernail ripping machine or, from the same arc, where Shion repeatedly drives a knife blade into the arms of a pinnioned Sakato. The characteristic trope of this anime is sadistic violence presented for our entertainment without any mediating point of view and lacking any artistic justification. It even manages to turn the normal conventions of Sadism on their head. The general thesis of Marquis de Sade's worldview is that innocence invites, indeed deserves, cruelty because of its abnegation of agency. In his world, you are agent or you are victim. Agents are fully entitled to exploit the innocent in any way they see fit. Higurashi doesn't even have that level of sophistication. Innocence isn't trammelled by cruelty; rather, cuteness transforms into cruelty, simply for effect.

But, even as entertainment it fails dismally. The artwork and animation has to be the most uninspiringly prosaic drudge in just about any anime I have seen produced from the last five years or so (the beautiful first half of the OP excepted). That's not all. There are too many long stretches of everyday life in the village (particularly in the first half of the series) that are utterly devoid of any interest, let alone displaying even a modicum of menace. Just boring characters doing boring things with boring artwork and boring animation.

The structure of the series doesn't help at all. Each short arc resets the story and the characters. Within each arc the characters behave differently, according to the requirements of the story. This results in a bunch of ciphers with no personality. The just say and do things that have no reference to an inner continuity. Accordingly I had zip sympathy for them; I didn't care a whit about their fates. Skewer them, slice them up, throw them in a pit. Who cares? Where there's no care, there's no horror. Well, that's not entirely true. There was the occasional moment where I wondered about my own response to their suffering, but it was only fleeting.

Whisper of the Heart (movie) Very good

Whisper of the Heart is loaded with that most precious of anime qualities – wonder. Even something as simple as a young girl following a cat through the back ways of Tokyo is embued with mystery and beauty. It does lag a little during the short time Shizuku and Seiji are separated and, odd to say, the least engaging moments were the thankfully short fantasy sequences that were directed by Hayao Miyazaki, rather than Yoshifumi Kondo. These are minor quibbles in a film that goes straight into the top three or four of my favourite Ghibli films.
Wicked City (movie) Not really good

There are some memorable images and scenes from this film but, unfortunately, the plot is silly, the characters unappealing and the animation ugly.
(The) Wind Rises (movie) Very good

Witch Hunter Robin (TV) Very good

Wolf Children (movie) Very good

What do you do if you're a young mother and your wolf child has swallowed something that might be poisonous? Do you take the wolf child to a hospital? Or to a veterinary clinic? Hana, the human mother of two wolf children – female Yuki (born on a snowy day) and Ame (born on a rainy day) - faces this very dilemma early in the movie. It may not be apparent from the movie title or the promotional artwork but Wolf Children is a very, very funny movie. If Spice and Wolf could be described as fantasy meets economics, then Wolf Children is fantasy meets child rearing with even funnier results.

The children can change form at will, but it's not until they get older that they have substantial control over their shapechanging. As younger children they constantly flip from one form to the other, particularly when they are excited - not an uncommon thing at their age. And they have a very strong doggy nature combined with the intelligence and resourcefulness of children. Needless to say they shred the furniture, the drapes and any other chewable thing close at hand. Yuki is the over excitable, sociable, communicative puppy, while Ame is timid, quiet and slightly uncanny; Yuki thrives on sensation and activity while Ame is drawn to the natural world; Yuki could be a member of a pack; Ame is the lone wolf. And, not are they funny but they are also supremely kawaii.

Artwork and animation stands out. I would expect nothing less from Mamoru Hosoda and Madhouse. The fine detail is always sensational: from a bicycle rack at university so real it could almost be live film; to Hana lying in a flower meadow and forest scenes detailed down to the individual flowers and the grass blades. There's a sequence where Yuki and Ame go racing through snow laden woods then tumbling and flying down a hillside (followed by Hana) that is the most breathtaking piece of Japanese animation I've seen since Paprika about five years ago. The odd thing is that the backgrounds are so realistically detailed that the two dimensional, relatively simple character designs initially look out of place. They almost seem like ghosts in the landscape. I got used to it but it was jarring at first.

As with Summer Wars the end seems as if it's being forced on to a thoroughly engaging slice of life tale that doesn't need drama or a message to improve it. Like being a guest at the birthday celebration in Summer Wars, the best part of Wolf Children is just being there with them as they grow up.

Extended review

World Record (OAV) Not really good

Part of the Animatrix anthology. Despite fluid animation, this short piece from Takeshi Koiki shares a major fault with his more recent feature film, Redline: a paradoxical visual flatness. The premise is interesting, which is more than can be said for Redline, and tells the tale of a man whose physical prowess enables him to escape the Matrix; there is constant motion; and the designs are singular. Somehow it ends up as dull to watch, perhaps due to the lack of interesting detail within the frames.
X (movie) Weak

For sure, this film warrants the regular criticism that, by concentrating only on the climax to the CLAMP saga, the plot is incomprehensible and the characters inscrutable. Nevertheless, in these days of instant information via the internet I was able to understand what was going on even the first time round. Even so, the compression of events and the omission of backstory does leave a "so what" impression by the time it finished. Proof of the failure of the film was confirmed second time round when its good points - the creepy atmosphere, the portentous dream sequences, the modernist orchestral soundtrack and the well animated action scenes - failed to rescue it from its overall meaninglessness.
Xi AVANT (movie) Decent

Attractive four minute advertisment for NTT Docomo (Japan's major mobile phone operator) from Kenji Kamiyama. Sometime in the supposed near future mobile phones will organise all aspects of our lives for us in real time. The ad follows a detective from Japan to Barcelona on the heels of an elusive quarry. Well... it is an ad.
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou (OAV) Very good

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou follows the daily life of a pretty gynoid called Alpha who runs a poorly patronised cafe by the sea in a sparsely populated future Japan where sea levels have risen significantly. Yet they aren’t desperate times: robots and people live and work together harmoniously and everybody helps each other out. As Alpha travels about with her camera, life goes along at a gentle pace. So gentle that these two OAVs make the Aria franchise seem like it’s on steroids.

Alpha is a passive observer of events; never quite having the courage to photograph the beauty she is witnessing, as if doing so might spoil the experience. All the while the ebb and flow of the tides and the vagaries of the weather determine the course of protagonists’ daily lives. Despite the pervasive sense of decay, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou remains thoroughly optimistic. Music plays an important role in setting the mood. The folky, acoustic fare enhances the simplicity of the other elements of the anime. Simple doesn’t mean ordinary. Somehow the gentle flow of the story creates a powerful emotional response.

The fluid artwork gives a sense of the various elements of the landscape flowing together and co-existing naturally. There is also an exquisite play with light. Sometimes a scene is completely static except the lighting changes: a cloud passes overhead; or the sky turns from azure to lavender to navy blue at sunset; or, even in indoor scenes, exterior activity creates a change in light through a window. The best example is in the magnificent final scene. Alpha and an older woman are watching a sunset from a lookout above an abandoned city, which is half flooded, half reclaimed by forest. As the sun goes down, miraculously the lights of the city switch on, whether under water or amongst the trees. I think it is one of most beautiful moments I’ve ever seen animated. To me the sense of melancholy and beauty is irresistibly moving.

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou: Quiet Country Cafe (OAV) Good

Continues the slow-paced, gentle yet emotionally engaging storytelling of the earlier OAV without ever quite reaching its levels of sublime beauty. The artwork has a more recent style with prominent outlines and a brighter palette. The effect is to make the characters seem less a part of the landscape and diminishes the sense of time suspended.

Extended review of the two OAVs

Zipang (TV) Good

When a 21st century Japanese Defence Force AEGIS cruiser, the JDS Mirai, is mysterioulsy transported back to 1942 the Japanese and the Americans as well as the often hapless crew must come to terms with the impact of this formidable weapon on history. It's a preposterous idea, but no more so than other series such as Death Note or Full Metal Alchemist or Mushi-shi, but, once you accept the premise what follows is some of the best story-telling around, accompaned by consistently fine animation. This is a rare beast: anime aimed squarely for adult males that isn't hentai. And that, is also one of its major drawbacks: not fitting within a fashionable genre it is unlikely to appeal to western anime fans. Further, although it takes a consistently condemnatory tone towards Japan's actions in WW2, some people might still draw the mistaken impression that it is merely patriotic recidivism. Zipang is, rather, an historical "what-if" scenario that thoughtfully and intelligently explores what it is to belong to a country caught up in war. What do you do when you are Japanese, you suddenly find yourself in a war where you know your country is in the wrong, where you know the after the Hiroshima your country will prosper, but you know millions will die beforehand, and you know you can change history? Fascinating, no? The battle scene involving the Mirai and the USS Wasp is a highlight - the American dive bombers and torpedo bombers have been rendered almost lovingly, it seems, and the astonishment of both the Americans and Japanese witnessing the event is matched by the anguish of the ship's crew as they find themselves forced to kill to survive. The other major fault with the series is its unresolved conclusion: based on an ongoing manga, it would seem that plans to make another season were never realised. But the journey is worth it.