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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2015 6:59 am Reply with quote
This says it all.

willag wrote:
@errinundra

Honestly, I always felt that your reviews deserved to be in your own review thread, like what Jose Cruz and Captain X do. One, it's essentially like an official review thread by that point and you can specify the rules within your first post (no spoiler tags, read at your own risk). Two, it's a nice, centralized location to read your thorough reviews.

I really appreciate being able to read them, but I never bookmark them so they just end up getting lost to the threads of time. A centralized location would help with that...


So. WARNING: There may be spoilers here. And no spoiler tags. My hope is that I engage with people who have seen the shows. If you haven't, by all means read on, although I suggest you read the season previews first.

My aim is to post all future reviews here and copy all my old reviews from the What are you watching right now? Why? thread. The next post will contain an index.


Last edited by Errinundra on Tue May 24, 2016 3:57 am; edited 90 times in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2015 7:00 am Reply with quote
Index

Star & bomb rankings
☆☆☆: masterpiece / A+ / 10 out of 10
☆☆: excellent / A / 9 out of 10
: very good / A- / 8 out of 10
💣: weak, bad or awful / 3 out of 10 or worse

In some instances you may need to scroll down after you've gone to the link. Some comments are more extensive than others. My aim is to move them into this thread & tart them up.

Index


Last edited by Errinundra on Tue May 24, 2016 3:58 am; edited 102 times in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2015 7:00 am Reply with quote
Noir

Reason for watching: Long a favourite of mine, I’ve probably watched this series more times than any other (although Puella Magi Madoka Magica would give it a run for its money). An attractive show despite its age, the news that a BD was to be released was welcome indeed. After fruitlessly waiting several months for Madman to announce a local release I eventually accepted the inevitable and ordered it from Right Stuf. The delivery from the US arrived last Monday.

I’ve been a Noir booster on these boards for years but this is the first time I’ll be writing about it in detail. It’s an apt choice to start this thread but, in this instance, I’ll be approaching it more as a discussion of its themes and influences, rather than as a review.

Synopsis: Paris based assassin Mireille Bouquet is haunted by the destruction of her family ten years earlier. When a Japanese amnesiac emails, a school girl with extraordinary killing abilities and possessing a memento – a musical fob watch – from the Bouquet catastrophe, Mireille must set aside her mistrust of Yumura Kirika to descend into the darkness to unravel the secrets of their shared pasts. The bond they develop will be tested to the limit by an ancient organisation known as the Soldats, which has its own plans for them.


Descent and enveloping darkness are characteristic motifs of Noir.

Connections and Commentary: One of my bugbears with anime is how inward looking, how incestuous it is, how it regularly feeds off its own carcass. Few anime have foreign settings and few wear their foreign influence, if they have any, on their sleeve. Director Koichi Mashimo, while maintaining the standard anime visual stylisms of the time (2001), shows a predilection for sources beyond his own small pond. Identifying some of these influences adds to the pleasure to be found in the series.

Wikipedia informs us that Mashimo is particularly fond of the French film Les Aventuriers – a tale of three losers who try to find sunken treasure off the coast of Africa. You need go no further than its female lead, Laetitia Weiss, played by Joanna Shimkus, who is clearly a template for Mireille Bouquet.


Mashimo later used the name Laetitia for a character in Madlax.
Note also: Weiss = white; Noir = black. Nice.


What's more, the film’s final confrontation in the ruins of Fort Boyard is reminiscent of the battle between Mireille, Kirika and Chloe at the ruins of the Manor in Noir. Les Aventuriers also shares Mashimo’s languid pace, which encourages the viewer to pay attention to the subtle changes going on within the characters. For sure, it seems that Mashimo is sometimes stretching thin material over a broad surface but more is going on in Noir than in some of his other shows. His approach has a sort of European cinematic quality to it, where the visuals are intended to convey the state of mind of the character, rather than be simply a tool in conveying action or personality. I think of the French Film Noir Le Samouraï, which depicts the moral disintegration of its assassin protagonist partly through the sterility of his surroundings.


The eyes are windows to the soul. Noir repeatedly invites us to look into the characters' souls.

As its title suggests, Noir is indeed indebted to Film Noir. Everyone is morally compromised – they are murderers to the very last person. Yet, somehow, like Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade, Mireille and Kirika manage to operate on a higher moral level than their adversaries. Or, at least, I come to view them that way. That’s quite an achievement when you do a body count: 149 for Kirika and 73 for Mireille with another 30 where it’s not possible to attribute the count to one or the other. The numbers also suggest a certain amount of tongue in cheek humour. That and the over-the-top gun play links Noir to the Hong Kong film The Killer from John Woo.


Brothers and sisters in arms: The Killer (top) and Noir.

I’d also like to mention some direct anime influences. The most obvious is Dirty Pair. As Theron Martin says in his review of Noir, Mireille and Kirika have joined Yuri and Kei as among anime’s most iconic female teams. It’s worth noting that Koichi Mashimo directed what many think is the best instalment of the Dirty Pair franchise, the 1986 film, Project Eden. Yet, Noir might not have happened but for Yasuomi Umetsu’s Kite, from 1999 - just two years earlier. Until Kite, the Girls with Guns genre followed the template set by Dirty Pair: comical girls creating mayhem with guns, space ships (or cars as in Gunsmith Cats, my favourite of the type) and explosions. Anime cyberpunk, and in particular Ghost in the Shell, had suggested that the genre could go to other, more interesting, places. Kite brought Film Noir grubbiness and sensibility to the genre but it was always going to be a fringe title thanks to its sexual themes. Two years later Noir gave us a version suitable for TV, yet with its own dark underbelly and a powerful emotional kick to boot.


The oldest anime Girls with Guns pose I’ve found to date - Françoise Arnoul from Cyborg 009.
This image from 1966 prefigures Mireille Bouquet.


Wikipedia also has Koichi Mashimo listed as a Japanese Catholic. While it doesn’t provide a source confirming his religious affiliations, that he went to the Jesuit Sophia University in Tokyo seems well established. Having myself been brought up in a Catholic environment, including an education by nuns and Christian Brothers, I can readily recognise the Catholic sensibility and symbolism in much of his work. He is one of the few anime directors who can convincingly portray Christian rituals. I think here of the incoherent depiction of Christianity in Fate/Stay Night. As with Mashimo’s film influences and the largely French setting, it gives Noir an exotic feel not typical of anime. Dealing with sin – in particular, original sin – sacrifice and redemption, it contains his most evocative Christian motifs, exceeding the gospel allusions in Eat Man and the glib symbolism of Phantom ~ Requiem for the Phantom. As children of the Soldats, Mireille, Kirika and Chloe are born with original sin. Their fate is to live within that sin, be bound by that sin and eventually burn in hell (literally represented by the active volcano beneath The Manor). Mireille and Kirika learn that love and self-sacrifice may lead to redemption. As corny as that seems, it’s a very western message, again alien to much other anime.

The western influences go further. There are parallels in several of Mashimo’s works with classical tragedy, be it European or Japanese. Elsewhere I’ve argued that Hyouge Mono bears polemical similarities with The Oresteia in its argument for a shift from violence and revenge to justice. With Noir, the plot structure is motivated in a similar way to Oedipus Rex in how the search for the truth behind calamity reveals the hitherto unsuspected culpability of the searcher. Mireille will learn that she is the cause of the disaster that has befallen her. She will come to love Kirika and learn how grievously their lives are entwined.

Before I leave the topic of western influences in Noir I’ve just got to mention its cinema shout outs. This is my favourite:


Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi ponder how to dispose of Noir.

Another signature Mashimo motif is a mask. It’s not just the characters who wear masks or have mask-like faces (think of Ein from Phantom); his plots are masks. The viewer is ignorant, just as Mireille and Kirika are; we go on a journey with them and learn the horrible truth. Likewise the people we meet are treacherous at worst or guarded at best. Breaking that mask always entails anguish. Noir works for me because I become so emotionally involved with Mireille’s quest that I feel that anguish with her. Not bad for a boring, old male fart like me.

Speaking of gender, perhaps the most singular thing about Noir is that there are only four recurring characters, all of whom are women: Mireille, Kirika, Altena and Chloe. At four episodes Remy Breffort is the only named male character to survive more than two; while most males only last a few seconds beyond their first appearance. I really do believe that Koichi Mashimo consistently has the most fascinating women in anime. Whilst their designs are typically fetishy they have their own motivations, complex relationships with other women and aren’t simply presented as adjuncts to the male characters. I think he genuinely loves his female characters. It’s no wonder the yuri shippers so love his shows. Noir is more coy with its yuri suggestions than either Madlax or El Cazador de la Bruja so perhaps Bee Train only realised after finishing Noir that they had tapped into something worth developing. Seeing Noir as a yuri anime does it no harm: the more people who watch and love the show, the better. Mireille is a fascinating and powerful character either way. The show also seems to appeal to older, male viewers. When I was younger I identified pretty much only with male characters. I’ve come to admire and enjoy strong female characters so much more than their male counterparts. I can see how Noir may have barriers for younger male viewers to engage with.

There’s another opposing element at work for here, though. Perhaps a darker one. As in Puella Magi Madoka Magica, part of the appeal of Noir is the witnessing of sympathetic female characters going through hell. It leads me to wonder if I have a sadistic streak in my character. Perhaps I really have a hatred for women? Let’s face it, the anime women I seem to like are killers. On the other hand, I like to think that the pleasure I experience when they win through is a healthy counterpoint to that concern. As with Homura’s triumph over Kyubey in Rebellion, Mireille’s and Kirika’s victory at The Manor is a great celebratory moment. Yet… who are the big winners at the end of episode 26 of Noir? The male faction of the Soldats. Perhaps some things never change.

Rating: masterpiece. For sure, that’s a personal opinion. For a more balanced assessment of Noir’s worth I recommend Theron Martin’s review of the DVD complete series or Rebecca Silverman’s more economical review (unlike this profligate post) of the BD.



Last edited by Errinundra on Sun Apr 24, 2016 8:23 am; edited 17 times in total
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2015 10:27 am Reply with quote
Very enjoyable review*.

A couple of notes. The word index in the second post doesn't link to anything.

You have a dead graphic directly above the reference to Boris Karloff.


*Actually by the standards most people seem to use it was an excellent review since I agree with the whole thing. Laughing
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2015 10:36 am Reply with quote
^
The image appears for me. In any case I've reposted it.

The index is currently being compiled.
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2015 10:41 am Reply with quote
The image shows up now. Before all I got was the little box with an x in it. I have to agree that they look like Karloff and Lugosi. Do you think that was intentional?
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nobahn
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 09, 2015 6:15 pm Reply with quote
One thing that that I never got was just what the hell was supposed to be the purpose of the Soldats?! It reminded me very much of my reaction to J.D. Salinger's the Catcher in the Rye. What the hell was that ending all about, anyway? I wondered. (I am very much affected by how a work of fiction ends.)
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 10, 2015 12:47 am Reply with quote
Alan45 wrote:
The image shows up now. Before all I got was the little box with an x in it. I have to agree that they look like Karloff and Lugosi. Do you think that was intentional?


Hard to imagine it being accidental.

nobahn wrote:
One thing that that I never got was just what the hell was supposed to be the purpose of the Soldats?!...


That question is dealt with quite specifically (I'll confirm the episode when I get home). After a period of brutal conflict and repression in the Middle Ages a group of people - who became the Soldats - conspired to infiltrate social power structures to ensure that the repression wasn't repeated. They also created the elite assassination pair - Noir - to eliminate opposition to their goals. The whole arrangement was wrapped up in quasi-religious mumbo-jumbo. Over time the goals of the Soldats and the societies they controlled came to resemble each other so much that the organisation became little more than a secret society for the promotion of its members. Noir became unnecessary and was eventually disbanded, although other people adopted the name from time to time to suit themselves (including Mireille). Altena's aim was to re-invigorate the Soldats (Grand Retour) by reforming Noir.


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Lili-Hime



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PostPosted: Mon Aug 10, 2015 3:56 am Reply with quote
Well, the yuri implications is why I watched the show Smile Writing is a bit slow paced to fit with the low budget animation (lots and lots of still shots & plans). Also for a show about things like the mafia and assasins, the show was really bloodless. I suppose I've been desensitized by ultra violent 80's and early 90's stuff, but it seemed too tame.

The character development for Mirielle and Kirika though kept me watching. I really enjoyed their growing relationship and by the end that really paid off. Any other plot issues were irrelevant; Mirielle had chosen to stop being a loner and accept Kirika as a kind of family member (take that to mean what you will). I mean, her spoiler[killing her uncle to protect Kirika pretty much cemented that fact]. I also don't think you hate women. You like to see them triumph at the end of all the suffering; meaning you root for them instead of reveling in their pain.

I have a theory that many viewers, esp. males, may subconsciously perceive femininity as weak, and therefore it makes the scales even more uneven and increases the dramatic conflict. To quote Nicholas Nickleby, "How can you get the sympathies of the audience unless you have a smaller man contending against a bigger one?" Take that one step further and have a woman fighting hard against a large guy (or many large guys), and it makes look more dramatic when she wins. This is really common in anime. Even many shounen heroes in anime are a bit more on the feminine side, such as Himura Kenshin.

Personally I liked Noir. We women need power fantasies too sometimes! Smile Esp. as we grow out of our mahou shoujo phases. And Noir featured two strong female protagonist that:
1.) Never went through the painful cliche of being threatened with sexual violence.
2.) Their motivations were entirely independent of male love interests.
3.) Valued their individualism and growth as a central portion of the plot.
4.) Neither was heavily sexualized. Yes Mirielle had a short skirt but these type of shows usually go way further than that.

I'd kind of even say we need more of these shows. True, attractive women & violence may signal it's more for male viewers, but it's still female positive. And character attractiveness goes both ways. Shounen magazines know they have a huge female readership now and design their characters to attract them.

I mean Mirielle is basically a career woman. And I would much rather watch an anime about a woman who kills to pay the bills, than a show about a girl trying to be the perfect waifu and make bento boxes for random dude.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 10, 2015 9:19 am Reply with quote
@ nobahn,

Early in episode 20, at the Manor, Altena relates the tale to Chloe.

A thousand years ago, the people saw the shape of this world. It happened at the end of the tenth century. An abominable plot to gain power. Many people were killed. Even old men and even young children. The worst atrocities man could commit against fellow man. The people saw such extremes with their very own eyes. Several of them survived that hell. And they understood the true nature of man. The earth is constantly overflowing with evil and hopelessness. Those who survived swore to one another to seek revenge against this world, to help the weak and the persecuted, and to realise justice on this Earth. They swore absolute secrecy and loyalty and that was when the Soldats took root for the very first time here.

The blood of the Soldats will seep throughout the wilderness and flow into the great river.

Those who made the pledge scattered to all parts of the world and took up secret lives in the shadowy side of society.


Cut to Paris where four senior male members of the opposition faction are drinking wine in front of a fireplace.

1st speaker: The blood of the Soldats will seep throughout the wilderness and flow into the great river.

2nd speaker: Many months and years have passed. Now, the blood of the Soldats runs throughout the world. The Soldats are already the world.

1st speaker: We must continue to be active in order to preserve this world. But Altena…

2nd speaker: The merciful mother, Altena… In a way, she is correct. In that she is trying to realise the ideal of the Soldats.

3rd speaker: Restoring Noir would be anachronistic. Altena’s motives are nothing more than delusions. It’s just a farce.

2nd speaker: The Grand Retour is in accordance with the Soldats’ collective will. As long as Altena champions its cause, we cannot openly oppose her.

1st speaker: But if we allow the ritual to be performed, Altena will become the next high priestess of the Soldats, gaining the highest position of authority.

3rd speaker: That woman doesn’t understand anything. Power and wealth are what make the world go round.

Lili-Hime wrote:
...for a show about things like the mafia and assasins, the show was really bloodless. I suppose I've been desensitized by ultra violent 80's and early 90's stuff, but it seemed too tame.


From what I've read, the original intention was to leave the blood out of the TV broadcast but add it for the DVD releases. Mashimo quickly realised the bloodless slayings made Noir look distinctive so never bothered. (Knowing Bee Train, they mightn't have been able to afford it.)

Quote:
The character development for Mirielle Mireille* and Kirika though kept me watching. I really enjoyed their growing relationship and by the end that really paid off. Any other plot issues were irrelevant; Mirielle Mireille had chosen to stop being a loner and accept Kirika as a kind of family member (take that to mean what you will)...


The development of Mireille's character, her courage in uncovering the truth about her background, and the growth of her relationship with Kirika are the elements that make the series so special for me. So we're in pretty close agreement here. Even more here:

Quote:
...I'd kind of even say we need more of these shows. True, attractive women & violence may signal it's more for male viewers, but it's still female positive... I mean Mirielle Mireille is basically a career woman. And I would much rather watch an anime about a woman who kills to pay the bills, than a show about a girl trying to be the perfect waifu and make bento boxes for random dude...


Yes. Yes. And yes.

* Sorry to be pedantic. I hate the way the American voice actors hacked the pronunciation of "Mireille". "ei" is a dipthong that rhymes with the dipthongs in "day" or "hey". I also hate the way most of them also mispronounced "Chloe", whose last syllable, in this instance, doesn't rhyme with "day" or "hey". How is that the Japanese voice actors could do the European names better than the Americans could? While on that gripe, I've tried three times to watch the dubbed version and each time given up before the half-way point, partly due to the hacking of the names and the inappropriate accents (hey, if they had Australian accents you'd think it was wrong) but also because Shelley Calene-Black is dull as Mireille. Kotono Mitsuishi (Usagi/Sailor Moon, Excel, Misato Katsuragi) has far more intonation, variety and music in her voice. She helps bring across the nuances in the character, even though I can't understand Japanese.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 15, 2015 10:32 am Reply with quote
Millenium Actress

Reason for watching: I hardly need an excuse to re-watch Millenium Actress. It’s one of my favourite films of all time (I marginally prefer Paprika) and perfect for the first page of this thread.

Synopsis: Documentary film-maker, and long time fan, Genji Tachibana sets out with his deadpan cameraman, Kyoji Ida, to record the life of legendary actress Chiyoko Fujiwara. He returns a key lost by Chiyoko decades before that unlocks the memories of her past.

Comments: The very first scene of Millenium Actress - a rocket launch - warns the viewer not to assume that the point of view initially proffered is the true one. In this case it turns out to be a videotape of a movie being watched by the not altogether honest documentary maker, Tachibana. Straight away we are plunged into the layered yet fascinating fractured subjectivity of Satoshi Kon. In Perfect Blue this gameplaying establishes the mood of frightening paranoia. In Paranoia Agent it gives Kon the room to make his satirical points. In Paprika it allows him to examine the story-telling possibilites of the very medium he is using. Here its purpose is largely to provide a multi-faceted view of the heroine’s character, much like a cubist painting. It also allows him to parallel her story with the history of Japanese cinema and indeed of Japan itself.


The various ages of Chiyoko Fujiwara, Japanese cinema and Japan itself.

There are a three main techniques Kon uses to blur the point of view while, at the same time, drawing the three story threads together. First is his frequent use of match cuts - a character in the present is suddenly in the past, or changed location, or starts of doing one thing but winds up doing something altogether different. It's both bewildering and beguiling; it creates instability while illustrating simularities; it confounds and it demonstrates. Second is the way Tachibana and Ida get drawn into Chiyoko's memories of her life as if they were there in the films with her, sometimes playing roles in the films. But, is it actually her life? Or some fantastical delusion created from her films? Or maybe even Tachibana's, the one who is framing her life? Third, it soon becomes apparent that Chiyoko's memories, stirred by receiving the long lost Key, are unreliable. In time we will also learn that Tachibana is himself duplicitous: his possession of the key and long-time knowledge (obtained from Scarface) of the fate of key's original owner demonstrate this. In short we cannot trust what we see or what the characters are telling us. Yet, the wonder of it all is that this very instability allows the viewer to view the actress in multiple ways. Over the course of the movie we get a complex, albeit not definitive, portrait of her.


Chiyoko Fujiwara is based partly upon RL actress, Setsuko Hara.
Compare with image second from left, bottom row, above.


One of the distinctive achievements of Millenium Actress, compared with Kon’s other anime, is that, despite the games, Chiyoko Fujiwara’s story is quite moving. This is because her character’s reality is, paradoxically, reasonably well grounded. Kon uses several methods to do this and one of the most important is the role of Kyoji Ida, the cameraman. Whenever things are getting too wild or too fancy, he brings everyone, including the viewer, back to earth with his acute observations amid the madness. It's never his story, although he obviously suggests interpretations. Thus, we can judge the heroine from a relatively dependable point of view. And the judgement of Chiyoko ends up being a very sympathetic one.

Tachibana, his love for Chiyoko unrequited, constantly attempts - and fails - to make the actress part of his narrative. Her story is altogether too unstable to be controlled and interpreted by the documentary maker. Likewise the key that was so important to Chiyoko, that Tachibana kept for decades, never actually unlocks the secret to the most important thing in the world. Whatever that may be, it remains an enigma. We might think it is love - as strongly suggested at times, although we should have learned by now not to trust this film - but Chiyoko herself disavows that notion in the final line of the movie.

If an unambiguous meaning can't be extracted from the film then what do we make of it? We want certainty but get uncertaintly instead (consider the deliberate contrast between heavy timber with both earthquakes and death throughout the movie). Running never reaches a destination; desire is never requited; there is no meaning to be found in films or history or keys. What we have here is a postmodern reflection on the art of story telling. The story is less important than the telling of the story; and animation is the perfect vehicle for the ride.


Akira Kurosawa shout outs. Top 2: Throne of Blood; bottom: Rashomon

Postmodernism may be dry to many people but the genius of the film is that it is suffused with joy. As the blurb on the DVD cover proclaims courtesy of the New York Times, "To watch Millennium Actress is to witness one cinematic medium celebrating another." Satoshi Kon wears his cinematic techniques proudly on his sleeve and makes one cinematic reference after another - oh so appropriate in the context of a biopic of a fictional movie star. There are shout outs to movies, to actors, to directors - all typical pomo games, of course. All this is done with conviction and affection and, ultimately, that affection triumphs.


Name the movie maker. I can see nods to Akira Kurosawa, Osamu Tezuka, Osamu Dezaki and Yasujiro Ozu in the front row alone.

The soundtrack is provided by Susumu Hirasawa who first came to attention to anime viewers with his stupendous song Forces used as the backdrop to the next episode previews in the original Berserk TV series. His ostinato techno rhythms may not seem appropriate at first blush for a mood piece like Millennium Actress but the poignancy of many of his themes enhance the film for the most part - the accompaniment to the opening credits is a sweetly atmospheric piece while the extended running sequence in the latter part of the movie is one of my favourite musical interludes in anime. That said, there are a couple of obtrusive moments where the sudden arrival of the music seems oddly out of place.

I'm going to go against accepted wisdom and express my preference for the dub over the sub - unusual in being done in the UK. The dub voices are gentler and often full of wonder. The Japanese voice actors too often scream their lines too enthusiastically, a la the acting in an Akira Kurosawa movie, something that, while I'm sure is intentional homage, grates. Shozo Iizuka as Tachibana is particularly irritating. There's also a metallic, distorted reverb in the Japanese voices and incidental sounds. While the dub still has the distortion in the sounds, the voices lack that irritation. A highlight is Matt Devereaux, who has a magnificent, deep, resonant voice as the scarfaced policeman. Some people have criticised Regina Reagan's interpretation of the heroine but I found her acceptable enough. The dub script often changes the wording from the original but the meaning generally is the same. Ida's jokes are better in the dub.

If the film has a shortcoming, it's that it flags somewhat in the middle - the geisha and imprisonment scenes - but they are soon followed by the emotionally powerful scene where Chiyoko makes a serendipitous discovery amongst the rubble of Tokyo in the immediate aftermath of World War 2. (On a personal note I used to be in a shared house with a woman who was the spitting image of the portrait - see image below.)


Another, different, self gazing back is a frequent trope with Satoshi Kon.

Rating: masterpiece. I think Millenium Actress is one of the most important anime titles ever made and the pinnacle, along with Paprika, of Satoshi Kon's output. It manages to combine postmodern gameplaying with joy and wonder, all the while creating a strong emotional involvement in the life of its subject. It's a tale about adults with an adult point of view, something that isn't all that common in this art form we love so much. I strongly recommend Justin's article on the film and Andrew Osmond's book, Satoshi Kon, the Illusionist.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sun Sep 06, 2015 7:39 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 22, 2015 1:21 am Reply with quote
Continuing with posting reviews of favourite anime early in this thread.

Early? Is that a threat, or what?

Bunny Drop aka Usagi Drop (Australia & Japan)

Reason for watching: It's amazing how far we've come in just four years. I first watched Usagi Drop four years ago on, of all places, ANN, who were streaming it in association with Siren Visual. At the time there were few legal opportunities for Australians to view streamed anime. Both Siren Visual and ANN were dipping their toes in the streaming pond and both have since pretty well vacated the space for other players. I watched it then because I could - there simply wasn't much choice otherwise. At the time, I wrote this report in the What are you watching right now? Why? thread. Since then I've watched it numerous times (and upped its rating a couple of notches). Siren Visual's successful release in Australia led to NIS doing likewise in America. It has the 24th most masterpiece ratings on ANN and MAL as scored by the 49 Ronin of Jose Cruz . (Millennium Actress came in at #5 and Puella Magi Madoca Magica #1. I suspect I was the only one to give top marks to Noir.)


Rin Kaga playing games with Daikichi. (You see what I did there? Cool )

Synopsis: In a moment of indignation and generosity 30 year old bachelor Daikichi Kawachi becomes the guardian of his homeless 6 year old aunt (yes, aunt) Rin Kaga after the death of her reclusive, secretive father (Daikichi's grandfather) and desertion by her mother. The two must come to terms with their new life together - he as a single parent and she trying to find family. In the process they discover the many joys that family life brings, how well matched they are and how important they will become to each other.

Comments:

Usagi Drop is an unconventional anime in several ways. Unsurprisingly, it aired in the noitaminA timeslot - an indication that the makers were targeting an older audience, as well as a female audience. It has an adult co-protagonist along with several other important adult characters. The artwork and character designs diverge from anime norms, while the foregrounding of the mechanics of family life is at variance with your typical series dealing with teenage protagonists. In one important aspect, however, it is very, very typical of anime: the central characters - Rin and Daikichi - are about as moe as anything you may find elsewhere. Describing Rin and Daikichi in that way does them no disservice at all. One of the reasons the series has become so beloved is that the central relationship, for all its outward unorthodoxy, is as fascinating and endearing as any you may find elsewhere.

To me Rin is easily the cutest character I know in anime. Happily she is also much, much more. There is something very realistic about the way she absorbs the import of events around her, the way she reacts and plans and thinks. Her actions are driven by an intelligence, an inner motivation that is absent in most moe characters, who are usually little more than readily identifiable personality types. Those characters react to situations because that is the way that type is required to react in those circumstances. They succeed partly because they are predictable. Rin succeeds because she is unique, constantly surprising and always convincing. Her childish artlessness becomes a sort of editorial commentary on the hypocrisy of the adults around her. She is mischievous, proud, simultaneously self-centred and generous, loyal and strong-willed. One of the charms of the series is how well her character plays off Daikichi. Her impish child to his indulgent adult may not be so original but it works beautifully.


More fun and games with Rin and Daikichi.

For his part, Daikichi is also a treasure of a character. As I just noted, he is indulgent but that doesn't mean he can't be irascible. Rin constantly confounding him has him reacting in the way we would in the same situation - from surprise to amusement to anoyance. Above it all, though, is a sense of wonder - how did he let this amazing creature overturn his previous routine? Rin brings altogether new experiences and emotions into his life. He will also discover things about himself he didn't know existed and find himself looking at other people in altogether new ways. None of this would be possible unless he had an underlying vein of generosity which is evident, of course, in the very decision to take her in. I've known some generous people who weren't pleasant to be with; not so Daikichi. He is mild to a fault (despite his occasional outbursts), which allows Rin to largely determine the tenor of their relationship ("My father is my grandfather... Daickichi should just stay Daikichi."). We share all the joyful and alarming moments through his, often, astonished eyes.

It's that joy and astonishment that makes Usagi Drop such a pleasure, even after multiple re-watches, and partly why my rating of it has improved over time. The OP song tells us that tears are love's sweet drops. It doesn't mean the bitter tears of love gone wrong. Usagi Drop is all about the tears of joy. It is the ultimate feel good show; the perfect antidote for too much Puella Magi Madoka Majica or too much Garden of Sinners. The genius of Usagi Drop is that it avoids sentimentality by the skin of its teeth (the last couple of episodes possibly excepted). There are uncomfortable threads running throughout the show: the strange and not fully explained relationship between the grandfather and his cleaner; the display of self-interested hypocrisy at the wake; Rin's disturbing mother who somehow still manages to garner some sympathy from the viewer; the struggle facing several of the other women; or in Rin's bewilderment as to what her relationship is with the people around her. Although the series has many sweet moments it has enough acid wit and acute observation that it rarely becomes cloying.


Daikichi will come to understand the choices women must make.
From top: Gotou; Masako; Rin & Kouki's mother; Haruko.


Along with the sweetness and the irony there is also a polemical thread to Usagi Drop. Daikichi isn't simply learning to be a father; he is also experiencing what it is like to be a single mother. The parallels between him and the numerous women in his life are highlighted over and over. He will face the same constricted choices they do. There is Gotou at work who forsakes her career for a child (and with a husband who contributes nothing to the child's day to day upbringing); or the creepy Masako who is unable to reconcile her creative ambitions with the responsibility of motherhood; Kouki's yamato nadeshiko mother (who, by the way, is only referred to by her relationship with her son or by her ex-husband's family name) left to cope after a divorce; or Daikichi's rebellious cousin, Haruko, who is constrained and unappreciated in her domestic life. Daikichi will even learn the sacrifices made by his mother for his newborn sickly sister who, for her part, is quick to point out the sacrifices a woman must make for marriage and family. The anime is calling out for women to be given more space to make choices - the roles society allots to them are too narrow and too often destructive. Happily, this proselytising is never in the viewer's face but, along with the wit and irony, it gives the anime a depth that pushes it into the highest tier. If the last two episodes are the weakest it's partly because they examine the choices facing men and, let's face it, men's issues are, more often, less urgent (and less interesting) than those facing women. As a result the last couple of episodes lack the poignancy of what preceded them, especially coming shortly after the series highlight cemetery scene in episode 8.

On a technical level the series does have some shortcomings. Clearly made on a tight budget, it shows in the limited animation, the sometimes off-model or shortcutted facial designs and in the uncomplicated backgrounds. The creators have tried to circumvent these limitations by trying to give the show a quirky, offbeat feel, as exemplified by the watercolour art in the prologue scenes and the simplistic, jaunty character designs and movements. For the most part it works because the story requires little more. The jazz inflected music is entirely suited to the subject matter, being in turns jaunty, ironic, uplifiting and sad, as needed. Some of the tunes have been added to my anime favourites playlist.


Trust, love, joy, family.

Rating: masterpiece. Usagi Drop will leave with you with a feel-good cheesy grin from one side of your face to the other yet is has enough edge in its wit, irony and message to make it more than just an emotional fix. In Rin Kaga and Daikichi Kawachi it has one of anime's most unorthodox and memorable couples.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sun Sep 06, 2015 7:41 pm; edited 3 times in total
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nobahn
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 22, 2015 7:07 pm Reply with quote
^
You put it much better than I could.
Quote:
Continuing with posting reviews of favourite anime early in this thread.

Early? Is that a threat, or what?

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Animegomaniac



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PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 12:21 am Reply with quote
I've never seen the show but I've read the Bunny Drop manga. It's a masterpiece of an adaptation into making a work into something's that it's not, apparently.

I've never got an answer of my single question about the anime: if Daikichi ever met with Rin's mother about adopting her daughter and if she outright told him not to bother because she'd just change her name when she'll get married anyway? In the manga, he didn't spoiler[and then he did. Marry her, not adopt her. Come on, that would be weird if he'd adopted her because she was going to be his wife from the start.]

The confrontation is important for sake of legality of the issue as Rin's not some stray cat but you can't bring up the ultimate symbol of his parenthood and have him back away from it once he was told not to do it. Even that would be totally in his character as I'm pretty sure the only real decision he ever made was taking Rin in the first place; Everything past that... and before that... is reactionary or just doing what other people told him to do. Daikichi is a nice spineless character all around and the main reason I hate the manga.

Or does he legally adopt Rin as he should? Either they're a family or they're just two strangers living in the same house meaning...

Quote:
In the process they discover the many joys that family life brings, how well matched they are and how important they will become to each other.


Uh, yeah. That.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 2:39 am Reply with quote
Animegomaniac,

In the anime, Daikichi has a discussion with Masako about the appropriate family name for Rin - he refuses Masako's request to use his family name, saying that he and Rin will decide the matter. When Daikichi broaches adoption with Rin she declines. Daikichi respects her decision. She keeps the name Rin Kaga.

I wrote an anime review in an anime thread on an anime board. If you wish to discuss the manga please go to the relevant manga threads.
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