Reel Anime 2008 Roundup

by Jon Hayward, Jul 9th 2008

This year's ReelAnime festival is half way through around Australia. You have just under one week to catch the great movies being screened. But what if you can only see one? Well our team went out and caught each of the films in the cinemas and have written a mini review for each of them. Just how awesome is ReelAnime 2008? Read on and find out.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a bit of a oddity in Reel Anime this year, it's the only PG rated movie, it's the only one not involving weaponry and there isn't a dark foreboding shadow in sight. The story follows a schoolgirl named Makoto Konno, she's fairly normal and likes to sleep in, slack off with the study and spend time playing baseball with her friends Chiaki and Kōsuke. One particularly bad day when completing her classroom chores Makoto hears a noise in a locked room and upon further investigation finds noone in the room and ends up falling over and one extreme trip later Makoto discovers she has the ability to leap backwards and forwards in time.

Now in popular fiction when someone gains the ability to travel in time they go back and view / alter historic events or get up to nonsense of the Doctor Who variety. But not Makoto, she uses her ability to eat pudding that her sister stole the day before, or perform karaoke with her friends over and over again. She spends time "improving" her bad day with her knowledge of what occurs, but at what cost? Her auntie reminds Makoto that her good times may be coming at a cost to other people, and as the story unfolds things fall apart piece by piece and it is up to Makoto to put things to right again.

There is far more to this slow enjoyable romantic time travel story, but I have tried to leave as many spoilers out as possible. You see, "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" is a fantastic movie. It's bright and happy with a wicked sense of humour, in fact the emotion that the heroine displays on her face is fantastic, making the packed cinema I watched the movie in laugh at moments where all you had to go on was a expression. In fact it's Makoto that makes this movie, it's a coming of age story which leads the viewer through a couple of neat twists and leaves you with a satisfied feeling at the end, and brownie points if you take your respective half to see the movie.

So if you want to see anime that isn't just violent views of a doomed future, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time comes highly recommended.

Batman: Gotham Knight

Sixty nine years ago, Batman made his first appearance on the cover of the still circulating ‘Detective Comics’. Since then, Batman has become nothing short of a pop culture icon, appearing not only in his own comic book series soon after, but numerous movies, games, novels, and even theme park rides. With his latest blockbuster film just around the corner, Batman: Gotham Knight sets out to help bridge the gap between his last outing Batman Begins and the upcoming Dark Knight; albeit in a unique way.

Taking obvious inspirations from The Animatrix, Batman: Gotham Knight is a venturous combination of six short stories penned out by some of the industry's best writers, and brought to life with the help of six up and coming Japanese anime directors. With four of the biggest animation studios also tagging along for the ride, it's hard to even conceive such a premise could be a failure, and the truth is it isn't. But it isn't a Masterpiece as Gotham Knight contains a number of simplistic flaws that only help deter the experience for those who aren't deep Batman fans or cinema buffs.

Anyone expecting a non-stop action romp will be quite disappointed with Gotham Knight, as despite there being a few decent action pieces, it pales in comparison to the amount of dialogue you'll be sitting through just to see them. That being said, there are still quite a few interesting sections in the film, mainly the whole action packed final story “Deadshot” and most of “Working Through Pain” which is a look at Batman's past and how he trained to cope with the aspect of pain.

If there is one deal breaking flaw though, it would have to be time. Ten minutes can be quite ample for a good tale if it is structured right, however many of the stories featured in Gotham Knight clearly feel like they were designed to occupy a longer screen time than what they were actually given. Also with a total running time of just under 80 minutes, the film will be over long before you would have liked it to be.

As it stands, Batman: Gotham Knight is certainly a feature that will please many big Batman fans. For those that are not there is still a lot to be enjoyed here, but only if you go in with an open mind.

Vexille

Set in the year 2077, the film is set in a time of technological advancement to a point that today's scientists have only dreamed about. However, the United Nations had declared a ban on further research and development of robotics in 2067. Japan's extreme pro-robotics stance has lead them to isolate the country from the rest of the world by installing a network known as R.A.C.E. which blocks any communication going in or out of Japan. In addition, after Japan's withdrawal from world politics, they deported all foreigners and banned further immigration. Although not a repeat of the hatred and condemnation that happened in WWII, the disapproval towards Japan's decision in Vexille briefly flicks through the old pages of musty history books.

Vexille Serra is Lieutenant Commander of a U.S. special unit known as SWORD, who have been ordered to penetrate the R.A.C.E. barrier to allow surveillance of Japan. As their first visitors in ten years, SWORD is not a welcomed guest on Japanese shores which is now governed by a robotics company- Daiwa Heavy Industries. Although Vexille and her team have now stumbled upon a totalitarian state, the truth about the Japanese population is actually much more sinister. It surely reignites the "man versus machine" controversy.

After seeing a lot of pro-Japan anime, and being around a lot of people who tend to glorify the country, it's very interesting to see this kind of light shone on Japan. Finally, some anime where it is female-centric, but without every single female character having a cutesy, Japanese-girl name. Complete with beautiful CG animation from the producers of Appleseed, a hot topic of debate, and a great soundtrack featuring artists such Paul Oakenfold, Prodigy, and Basement Jaxx, there is little to dislike. Keep your eyes firmly glued to the screen in the beginning though, there is a lot to take in.

Appleseed: Ex Machina

It's definitely a foregone conclusion that something of such grand imagery as Appleseed: Ex Machina was destined for the big screen. And what better way to have seen this than through the cinema release of Madman's ReelAnime 2008 showcase. I was always of the belief that movies that I like in the range of Jerry Maguire and Meet the Parents were great stories but ones I probably wouldn't pay for to see in theatres. Appleseed: Ex Machina with its 3D graphic feast for the eyes, jaw dropping cinematography and explosions at every turn however deserved a cinematic appreciation. However when it comes to the narrative, can I say that it had me at hello?

Shirow Masamune will be most familiar to fans as the progenitor of the cyber culture hit movie and series Ghost in the Shell. With Appleseed: Ex Machina being once again his creation, this has meant two things. The first is that from start to finish, the movie is littered with technical jargon that would probably require a few to flick through the pages of New Scientist magazine to catch up. The second is that when the dust settles the story and characters are quite polarized, that is, the good guys stay good, bad guys die in fiery agony. The first expectation of a technically laden Masamune film is something which I not only tolerate but actually enjoy quite a bit. The second however, though not necessarily a bad thing, at least in this instance made for quite a predictable end. Nothing really struck me as original, but you know what; this is all just in retrospect as throughout the course of the film I was concentrating on just one thing; the visual masterpiece.

The usual expectation from anime fans, which in broad terms are quite often also video games fans, is for 3D characters to have as realistic a look as possible. The original Appleseed movie tore away from this formula by looking like the characters were pulled out of the 2D cels of traditional anime. I suppose it wasn't as prevalent in this second rendition, but the style certainly is still there; the cel-shaded look giving the characters a crisp feel. Mixed with fantastic motion capture action, you will forgive this critic for harbouring a “We Love Deunan” t-shirt in our next meeting. Top it off with action at break neck speeds and majestic sceneries of impossible structures and I could duly admit I was one impressed customer.

I was a bit torn when actually deciding which of the REEL ANIME releases to poke my head through. Expectations were high, not only because of the attention being given to them, but also in particular for this movie, the original was certainly impressive and Appleseed: Ex Machina operated under that shadow. It's a delightful relief that I was not dissapointed and maybe one day… perhaps… Madman will release this in Blu-ray?


If you couldn't guess, we all really enjoyed ReelAnime 2008, in fact Luke saw all four movies on the same day! I would just like to thank the Ann|AU review team of Luke Carroll, Michelle Yu and Mark Sombillo for their reviews of this year's movies. Let us know what you think on the forums!


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