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Errinundra's Beautiful Fighting Girl #133: Taiman Blues: Ladies' Chapter - Mayumi

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A Mystery

Joined: 10 Oct 2010
Posts: 1888
Location: Netherlands
PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 4:49 am Reply with quote
Good review, about Bunny Drop. I think the anime itself is close to a masterpiece. Rarely seen such a good depiction of a 'real' child with her own distinct personality in an anime. I think it's important to review the show without its relations to the source material. In my opinion, it's fun to compare different versions in different mediums of the same show and look at their relative strengths and faults, but I don't see why a rating should be affected by other versions.

I'm sure you are aware, errinundra, that not many people comment on review threads, but many people like to read them. You're doing a good job, imo. The enthusiasm is palpable in your words and you put some small pictures in, in moderation, to living things up a bit.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 8:54 am Reply with quote
Thanks, A Mystery. My hope is that my love of these shows comes across. It's pleasing that you can sense it.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 27, 2015 11:13 am Reply with quote
@errinundra You do realize that "Mireille" is not a French name, but Occitan, right? In French, "Mireille" is pronounced like [miʁɛj]), but in Occitan, it can be pronounced like [miˈɾɛjɔ, miˈɾɛʎɔ]), so there's no "one" way to pronounce it in either French or Occitan. Neither seem right, per say, but how is it possible for Japanese to pronounce a word with clashing consonants? By the way, adapting something some language limitation does not make the pronunciation proper. As for Chloe, the name is Greek and is pronounced like /ˈkloʊ.iː/ kloh-ee, but [klo.e] in French. Again, a name like Chloe cannot be pronounced correctly in Japanese.

Secondly, according to Wikipedia, the character Mireille Bouquet is from Corsica, but she cannot be, since ethnic Corsicans do not have Oïl surnames. At least from the paternal side, they cannot, since Corsicans have origins from Liguria and Tuscany and would have surnames derivative from said areas. While Corsicans may have Oïl first names, surnames are a different story. Without exception, all Corsicans paternally have Tuscan surnames. Why aren't you complaining about that? Why are you complaining about "pronunciation" errors in the English dub, but you're not complaining about the obvious integration Oïl into Japanese and the fact that a character, whose FATHER is paternally Corsican has a Oïl surname and not a Italian surname?
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 27, 2015 11:23 am Reply with quote
A bit late to the topic of Noir, are we? (you should probably make a complaint to Wikipedia, as well) Rolling Eyes
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Night fox

Joined: 01 Oct 2014
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Location: Sweden
PostPosted: Thu Aug 27, 2015 2:49 pm Reply with quote

You already have your own thread for that topic, so no need to crash Errinundra's party. Wink
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 29, 2015 10:20 am Reply with quote
Let's go to a cafe I know to continue the party. You go down some steps from a backalley...

Kickstarter release of Time of Eve, including Aquatic Language and Pale Cocoon

Another favourite early in the threat thread.

Reason for watching: Time of Eve first came to my attention on the ANN bayesian rankings when it was still appearing intermittently as a six part ONA on Crunchyroll back in June 2009. When I hopped on the bandwagon it was up to episode 4. The two-month wait for the last episode was a world away from today’s one-week maximum delayed gratification. It was one of the first anime to be available on the web without a preceding cinema or television release. Another pioneering, but shortlived, experiment was that it could be purchased from Crunchyroll as a download avi file. (Yeah, the quality was crud.)

Snapshot from my 2009 Crunchyroll messages.

The ONA was made into a movie in 2010 and a Kickstarter campaign was launched on 23 May 2013 for an international release of an English subbed version of said movie. The goal of $18,000 was reached on the first day, which led to range of other enticements such as art books, a fan book, posters, postcards, coffee mugs, coffee tins, a soundtrack CD that included the Yuki Kajiura song I Have a Dream, subtitles in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Korean and Israeli, and, miraculously, an English dub. Even more miraculously, the English dub is pretty good. People from around the world volunteered to proof read the various subs. Also added to the stretch goal promises were Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s earlier short films, Aquatic Language and Pale Cocoon. Eventually 2,711 backers raised US$215,433.

Bibs and bobs from the Kickstarter movie release and Japanese release of the original series.
The arrow points to my name on the Special Thanks list – set up as to appear as part of Katoran’s non-erased data.

Enough of me!

Aquatic Language

Synopsis: An unempathetic barrista hears out a jilted young man at the bar of her cafe while other patrons discuss the reliability of hearsay, unanticipated relationship compatibility issues, the power of words, and whether a fish really swam out of a painting on the wall. When the young man accepts the hostess’s invitation to view things from a different angle a revelation awaits him. The only patron seemingly unmoved by the surprises is a young woman reading Isaac Asimov’s “I Robot”. This pre-figures a change in perception for both the young man and the viewer.

Barrista and jilted young man. Shades of Nagi and Time of Eve.

Comments: Aquatic Language clearly comes from the same creative corner of Yoshiura’s brain as Time of Eve, containing much the same architecture (in more ways than one): the predilection for sepia tones; 2D characters in a fully mapped out, but confining, 3D space; and a camera point-of-view that freely moves about that space. The animation blueprint of the cafe may well have been re-used for Time of Eve while the barrista is reminiscent of Nagi from the later anime, so much so that the revelation of her true nature in Aquatic Language suggests that Nagi could also be more than she seems. Not bad, the way one anime can create interpretive uncertainties in another.

It also flags Yoshiura’s thematic preoccupations along with his predilection for story mechanics that avoid the common routes found elsewhere - of conflict to resolution and desire to attainment. Instead he keeps our interest by tracking the movement from ignorance to revelation; confusion to clarity; confinement to release; old paradigms to new; and from the mundane to the wondrous. For some of his characters the journey is painful; for others it’s straightforward. Either way they’re better for the change.

There’s something seriously optimistic, and idealistic, about Yoshiura’s works.

Rating: Decent. The character designs, artwork and animation aren’t anything special; some of the surreal visual representations toward the end are cryptic; and it lacks a compelling central character or narrative thread to drive the anime along. Then, again, what can be expected of an anime less than ten minutes long?

Note: on my bluray the image breaks up momentarily at 1.45 and 2.08. I wonder if other Kickstarter backers have had the same problem.

Pale Cocoon

Synopsis: Far into the future people live on a world where survival isn’t possible outside vast multi-level warrens of structures. Within these artificial, claustrophobic spaces environmental machinery provides an atmosphere fit for breathing. For reasons not explained the inhabitants of this world have also forgotten their past but they do have access to archives that they excavate and analyse, endeavouring to find out how they got into their predicament. Ura, an excavator of the archives, decrypts two recordings that overturn his understanding of his world, leading him to make a journey that corroborates his new knowledge in the most startling way imaginable.

Comments: If Aquatic Language is a template for Time of Eve then Pale Cocoon could be seen as the parent of Patema Inverted. In the latter two, people live in a confined environment quite unaware that their conception of the world is completely skewiff. In both, one courageous person steps outside the boundaries of the known world thereby upending the old paradigm. Not just figuratively. Patema discovers that her world is truly upside down (although her story has yet another “turn” at the very end). In Pale Cocoon Ura has his moment of revelation when he turns a picture upside down (well, right side up actually) to see it properly for the first time.

Ura and Riko: reality shock. His character design reminds me too much of Ichise from Texhnolyze.

It’s an optimistic approach to telling a story but oddly enough Ura’s world is a cheerless place. What’s more, while Pale Cocoon is a significant step up from Aquatic Language in its production values and in how the central character propels the narrative, neither he nor his sort-of girlfriend, Riko, get you rooting for them. The biggest barrier to appreciating Pale Cocoon, though, is its opaqueness. Like Ura, we enter the story ignorant. We’re worse off than Ura, to tell the truth: he understands his world in all its misconceptions; we know neither his world nor the world as it should be. Exposition is cursory so, first time around, don’t expect to fully understand what you’ve seen. Happily, the rousing music and some clever imagery mean the film isn’t a chore to watch. In any case, it’s only 23 minutes long.

That all said, the final image as Ura bursts from his cocoon is breathtaking. And, now that I’ve seen the film a few times, and more or less get what it’s on about, the import of the image still moves me. For a director who specialises in break-through moments this one has the greatest conviction of any. Perhaps it’s simply because I’m looking at my home.

Yoshiura adds some visual tricks to his repertoire. His camera point-of-view has even more room to move than before – the stairwell imagery may be simply constructed but it’s eye candy nonetheless – and he introduces his trademark thin air photographs. In one instance I thought one such image was a wall until Riko and Ura stepped through it. He also uses these photographs to segue from one scene to another. Very clever and, surprisingly, doesn't draw attention to itself.

Rating: good. My appreciation of this film has improved over time. Familiarity may breed contempt but it also helps the viewer to overlook and forget the cryptic barriers that once stood in the way of enjoyment. This is one instance where familiarity enhances an anime. And remember, both Aquatic Language and Pale Cocoon were done by Yoshiura alone on his computer, a la Makoto Shinkai with his She and Her Cat and Voices of a Distant Star. (In the ANNCast linked below, Ann Tomoko Yamamoto tells how Yoshiura was inspired by Shinkai.)

Time of Eve

Synopsis: Suspicious about the unauthorised activities of his house android Sammy, Rikuo and his friend Masaki visit a cafe she frequents where they discover that humans and androids mingle without discrimination and without revealing their true nature. This is shocking for two young men who live in a society where androids are, at best, seen as little more than useful tools and, at worst, feared as threats to previously held notions of human exceptionalism.

Arriving at the Time of Eve.

Comments: We may be back at the cafe of Aquatic Language but this time Yasuhiro Yoshiura is at his creative peak; combining themes, narrative, characters, and camera work into a coherent whole the works wonderfully well. Tales of interactions between humans and robots have been around for years and it’s not as if Time of Eve is treating the trope with a new wrinkle. No, it’s the visual storytelling craft and the quality of the content that lifts it to the top level.

Again I’ll draw attention to the characteristic way that Yoshiura approaches his narratives. The driving force in his storytelling is discovery, not conflict, and it’s in this that Time of Eve differs from other robot tales. At the core of most android narratives is the human fear of replacement. This fear leads to conflict, conflict leads to drama or action or both, which leads to resolution and, hopefully, satisfaction. For sure, the threat of conflict hovers over Time of Eve: after all, the Ethics Committee members would bomb robots if they could get away with it. We also see Rikuo in conflict with Sammy and Masaki in conflict with his father. I would argue, though, that they aren’t the moments that make this anime so special.

Rather, it’s the stream of discoveries and revelations that the various characters experience that do the trick: Rikuo and Masaki realising they got Akaki totally wrong; Rikuo discovering Sammy right in front of him (not long after subjecting her to a soaking); and discovering she has far more personality than he gave her credit for; the boys being confounded by the lovers Koji and Rina; Rina realising that a human – Rikuo - actually understands the dilemma she faces as an android; Masaki finding himself unwittingly calling Koji a person; Rikuo understanding that an android can get immense satisfaction from caring for a human child; Rikuo also understanding that it doesn’t matter if androids play musical instruments well so long as he can bring happiness to himself and others by his playing; and so on. Because such moments are always highly emotional, the series is rarely as dry as SF can sometimes be.

Upended expectations. Top: Rikuo and Akaki; middle: Rikuo, this time with Sammy; bottom: Masaki and Rikuo lightbulb moment.

Like the earlier films Time of Eve is mostly set in a constricted space. Again it’s the idea of the journey from constraint to freedom. Indeed, here it is an important plot device. The notice board in the cafe is the node of a network that expands outwards; the cafe also itself expands its clientele by human networking. Nagi’s and Shiotsuki’s goal is to increase android independence via the code:LIFE and code:eve applications programmed into the androids.

The cafe is more though. It is the site of a Turing Test (something that Yoshiura has himself given his imprimatur to – see link to the Book Club below), where the tester is trying to determine if an unidentified subject is human or android. The relaxed nature of the cafe with its no-discrimination rule means neither the subjects nor the testers are aware they are taking part in the experiment. Thus Shiotsuki – the inventor of code:LIFE and code:eve - can ponder whether his applications are working. Likewise it allows his rival, Ashimori, to also view the results via her proxy, Setoro. Happily, the Ethics Committee haven’t cottoned onto it yet.

For the first time Yoshiura gives us characters to get to know and come to like. At the centre of the story are two boys, one apathetic towards androids, the other antipathetic. Rikuo’s malaise means that he is at least open-minded to change; Masaki’s cynicism and combative nature means he has a tougher journey ahead of him. Sammy, the family android, immediately gives the impression that there is more to her than meets the eye. Her furtive moments of pleasure, her more extravert behaviour at the cafe, and her nightmares while running CHKDSK bear this out. The moment she smiles outside the entrance to the cafe is magic. Nagi – the Time of Eve manager - is a mixture of naivete and tolerance that makes her ideal as the pivot around which all the characters play. She is a kind of mother figure to the boys and the androids. One of the few problems I have with the dub is that she sounds too young for the role. The acting is fine, the voice just isn’t quite right. The other nitpick with the dub is that Shiotsuki, when we finally meet him, speaks just a little too melodramatically. Otherwise the dub is so good that it has become my preference.

Sammy the android. You wouldn't think so in this scene.

Time of Eve finally brings a burst of colour to Yoshiura’s palette. Well… by his previous standards anyway. He still likes his greys and tans, though. Without being flashy the artwork is gorgeous nonetheless, especially given the constraints of his small range of 3D backgrounds to work with. I love the mobile camera point-of-view. Highlights are the way it zooms from one part of the cafe to another thus avoiding jump cuts while, at the same time, focussing our attention on the differing outlooks of the characters; and the dizzying, rotating camera movements as Katoran gets himself in a tizz. I also love the way the camera is affected by the movements of the characters as if the camera operator was there with them, ie the bump when Chie grabs Rikuo after his piano solo. The free moving camera in a pre-programmed and mapped out 3D space is being mastered by Japanese animators and it is now something to be thankful for with CGI. On a sadder note, I hate to say this but I think the music is the weakest part of Time of Eve – it’s too unsubtle for the content its accompanying. It isn’t a deal breaker but it could be better. While I’m at it – the relationship between Setoro, Ashimori, Shiotsuki, Nagi and Masaki Snr is still a tad Pale Cocoon opaque for me. It could be more explicit without requiring excessive exposition. And, as in Aquatic Language there's a moment (46.50) where the image breaks up. I kind of expect better from a bluray release.

Rating: masterpiece. Time of Eve isn’t particularly groundbreaking nor does it overturn the rules of the android genre. Instead, it is a near perfect piece of craftsmanship blended with an idealistic world view and a ensemble of likeable characters. Nothing before from Yasuhiro Yoshiura has its accessibility and nothing since has its sophistication. And, speaking of blending, I always find myself yearning brewed coffee when I watch it.

I recommend people read this Book Club thread, not because my posts there are edifying reading, but because everyone else's are also. I also recommend The Time of Ann ANNCast where Zac Bertschy speaks with Ann Tomoko Yamamoto, who ran the Kickstarter campaign.

Last edited by Errinundra on Thu Sep 12, 2019 4:27 am; edited 5 times in total
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 05, 2015 8:49 am Reply with quote
Porco Rosso

Reason for watching: Continuing with favourites that I haven't previously reviewed. Porco Rosso is my highest rated Hayao Miyazaki film along with Spirited Away but I've shied away from reviewing the latter as it contains Japanese cultural elements that I don't fully comprehend. While I would rank Spirited Away higher due to its much better production values and more consistent tone I find the older film easier to understand, perhaps because I am more Porco than Chihiro.

Synopsis: Marco Pagot (aka Porco Rosso, the Crimson Pig) lives between the World Wars as a reclusive bounty hunter, fighting air pirates in the Adriatic archipelago while brooding over his inability to save his best friend in a dogfight in the First World War - resulting in a curse that has given him the face of a pig. He probably loves Gina, the owner of the Hotel Adriano, but can't throw off his malaise until an encounter with an American rival, Donald Curtis, results in a trip to Milan where he meets a young, irrepressible and talented woman, Fio Piccolo, who encourages him to reveal his true character.

Porco: Farewell to freedom in the Adriatic and days of wild abandon.
(That's neither Byron nor Shakespeare. Wink )

Comments: I'm going to start this section by quoting Miyazaki's long time producer, Toshio Suzuki, from an interview included in the extras of the dvd.

Until “Porco Rosso,” all of Miyazaki’s films were intended for children and parents to watch together. Parents could take their kids and enjoy the film too. Entertainment for the whole family. “Porco Rosso” is a bit different. It’s really more a film for adults. Here’s why. In his other films, Miyazaki’s characters didn’t necessarily have the same motivations Miyazaki does. But in this film, Miyazaki is speaking directly to the audience. That’s one of the main differences. It’s got a very different feel from Miyazaki’s other films.

Normally anime's exploration of personal development is limited to adolescent rites of passage, romantic awakenings, or the overcoming of hurdles to achieve a particular goal. Porco Rosso is a different creature altogether. An anime that can make an entertaining comedy/action adventure out of a mid-life crisis is quite the oddity. I can think of some other anime that deal amusingly with psychological issues: depression in Welcome to the NHK and boredom in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but they have university and high school protagonists, respectively. What's more, in Miyazaki's ouvre this stands with Spirited Away as the only films where the protagonist transforms from flawed to repaired. For sure, in his other films characters achieve goals, grow and realise their errors but they are essentially undamaged to begin with. Porco is a disappointed cynic while Chihiro is self-centred and timid. Each film depicts the protagonist's journey to becoming a different and better self.

Unlike the brattish Chihiro, Porco is a fun character from the start. While he's a fantastic, courageous pilot with a generous streak, albeit suppressed, he has enough of the clown in him to ensure that his stand-offish behaviour doesn't come across as arrogance. His comical pig face doesn't hurt either. Despite his success as a bounty hunter, life is precarious: if he's too successful there's no work. Hence he, the pirates and the shipping companies have a symbiotic relationship where Porco retrieves most of the stolen goods, allows the pirates to keep sufficient booty to stay in business, and is paid enough by his clients to stay on top his debts while allowing the clients to believe the bounties are good for their balance sheets. Things are changing too: a new fascist government in Italy wants to control the activities of all pilots for their own purposes. Porco responds to all these complications with wry resignation. His biggest fault is that he thinks too poorly of himself. "All middle-aged men are pigs," he says in the dub and, while that is true - I say that from experience, in perhaps his most famous quote, "I'd rather be a pig than a fascist," he reveals, of course, that he is a man, or should I say a pig, of high principles. Nevertheless, he is a pig: he's lazy, self-centred, has his snout in the bounty trough, and he's a womaniser who treats the woman who loves him ungraciously.

Gina - waiting in her garden for Porco to come to her.

Porco makes the transformation back to human thanks to two remarkable women, Gina and Fio. For a director with feminist leanings these are among his best, although they are still subsidiary to Porco's story. They don't change - they are catalysts for his change. But, let's not be ungenerous ourselves: they are strong, capable, resourceful and interesting characters. Gina is the owner of a hotel - the Adriano - that entirely occupies a small island in the Adriatic Sea. Her fortunes in love have been poor (well, she would keep falling for pilots in an era when flying was a still a risky undertaking) but the film suggests that the aloof Porco is the real love of her life. She is glamorous (she entertains her guests with sultry French ballads), obviously a capable business woman, a good judge of character - watch how she sums up Curtis, the American pilot - but perhaps a little too serious. Looking at her as a created character, she's too reactive for my measure; I would prefer she had a more active role with Porco.

That can't be said for Fio, the 17-year-old genius engineer who re-designs Porco's damaged plane and oversees its reconstruction. No one is match for her native wit, her passion and her strength of character: not Porco; not Curtis, not an entire massed gang of pirates. When the self-contained and strong-willed Porco arrives at her grandfather's factory in Milan, he finds himself hapless and bemused by her enthusiasm. It is Fio who encourages Porco to see himself once again as a good man, who enables him to see the worth in others (especially her own genius) and pushes him into his final confrontation with Curtis where he has the opportunity to prove himself to himself. I love her to-and-fros with Porco and the other male characters: my reaction, no matter how often I see the film, is always, "Go, go, Fio." Her sharp judgement and her spunk means she is far and away my favourite female Miyazaki character, even better than Lady Eboshi from Princess Mononoke (the dreary San isn't even in the hunt) or the eponymous Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. While I appreciate Chihiro's story and admire where she ends up I don't get attached to her in the same way. But... for all that praise, Fio ends up as collateral in a wager (that, admittedly, she instigated on behalf of Porco without his prior consent), watching on bemused as he and Curtis fight over her. Despite that I do believe she is a female-positive character (to borrow a term from Lili-Hime).

Porco is no match for Fio's optimism. Nor is anyone else. This is from the Milan sequence

Porco meets Fio at the Piccolo family factory in Milan, a strange place run by her grandfather who is really just a boy nerd at heart with a gleeful approach to everything he does, tempered by slyly ironic observations and admonitions. All other male members of the clan are strangely absent - looking for work elsewhere, or so he says - so the task of rebuilding the plane is undertaken by a horde of female relatives, from new mothers (Porco is left as babysitter) to three old hags who need the money to finance their poker habits. The sequence is funny and it's femo, even if the old man is the partriarch and a middle-aged man is the client: Piccolo Snr is entirely comfortable with the women usurping traditional male roles while Porco will manage to get over his discombobulation. Add to that the constant threat of fascist interference and a heart-stopping flying sequence through the canals of Milan and you get the equation:

Porco + Fio + the Piccolo clan + Milan = my all-time favourite Miyazaki sequence.

This, of course. leads to another thrilling aspect of the film - the flying sequences. As in so many of his films, things take off (yuk! yuk!) when the characters take off. The scenes give his films a dynamism and a joy while his animation and artwork are often at their best. Porco Rosso is no exception. How can the viewer not appreciate a character who loops and rolls for the sheer joy of it all? When Porco does just that above Gina and Curtis it isn't just a breathtaking sequence; without any exposition and minimal dialogue the viewer knows exactly how things lie betweent the three characters. It's marvellous storytelling. That said, compared with later films Porco Rosso is on a tighter budget and it shows with its animation short cuts. It's still far better than TV anime of the time but it doesn't stand up to his next film, Princess Mononoke.

Porco and Fio taking off from a Milan canal. Perhaps Miyazaki sees flying as a metaphor for life?

Finally, I'd like to go back to Toshio Suzuki's quote at the top of the review. One of the things that struck me after watching The Wind Rises is how much the two films can be veiwed as companion pieces. They are his two films where flying and aircraft are absolutely central to the story being told. Even in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Laputa - Castle in the Sky flying, while integral to the stories, is secondary to other plot developments. This is speculation but, if the newer film can be seen as an allegory of Miyazaki's career, then I also wonder if the story in Porco Rosso was also inspired by his life. It's tempting to think that way. Miyazaki was 51 years old when Porco Rosso was released. Had he gone through a mid-life crisis? Did he feel guilty about an animation colleague he abandoned earlier? Did a young woman reignite his creativity? Does Donald Curtis represent the threat of American animation? The Walt Disney business empire? Toshio's quote suggest that these sorts of readings are possible. Certainly, the film displays Miyazaki's anti-militarism sentiments - a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

Rating: excellent. Porco Rosso tells an untypical anime story about a man recovering from a personal crisis. While that may seem a dry subject to approach, the film does it with verve, fun and a sense of wonder. Add in two memorable characters in Porco and Fio along with some marvellous animation and artwork and the result, for this older viewer, is an entertaining yet simultaneously thoughtful experience. Plus, as a bonus, there's the Milan sequence. My major reservation with the film is that for the adult story it is telling, it sometimes seems to be trying to appeal to children. The tonal shifts can be jarring.

Epilogue: Fio flying her jet above the Adriano Hotel. Note the red plane parked outside Gina's garden.

Last edited by Errinundra on Thu Sep 12, 2019 4:32 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2015 8:24 pm Reply with quote
Doing some housekeeping - moving posts from the What are you watching right now? Why? thread to this one. The review below was originally posted on 8 Feb 2015 (but had to be reposted after ANN lost about a week's worth of posts). My rating of Maoyu hasn't changed since, other than removing "at the low end of" - it has become a favourite re-watch series; I love the characters.



Reason for watching: 1) it's from the same director, screen-writer and studio that gave us the incomparable Spice and Wolf; 2) it shares the fantasy and economic themes of Spice and Wolf; 3) the famous I am Human speech.

Synopsis: With the help of the Hero, the Demon King sets out to revolutionise the mediaeval world order by introducing modern economic and political theory. This, of course, meets opposition from both human and demon stakeholders but the protagonists are able to find allies, from sometimes unexpected quarters, to aid them in their mission.

Comments: Given my admiration for Spice and Wolf this was a show I was always going to watch and own. While not quite as good as its forbear it's still has many things in its favour.

First and foremost, the Demon King is a terrific character, with her boundless goodwill and ambition. You may think with that sort of praise she may be a tad earnest (which she is) but her comic side demolishes any such reservations. While her bouncy breasts and poor body image become awkward and tiresome even before the end of the first episode they are part of one of her most endearing qualities - her lack of pomposity. As arguably the most powerful creature on the planet (although the Hero demonstrates towards the end of the series - "I think I overdid it" - he would probably give her a good run for her money) she has the grace to never take herself seriously. Her inextinguishable optimism is infectious, while her constant regard for the Hero grounds her as a, dare I say it, thoroughly human character. Her ability to persuade people is her most outstanding skill, especially in the opening episode where she disarms, then re-orients, then wins the heart of the hero in one extended, comic but brilliant sequence.

My favourite image of the Demon King and the Hero comes from the cover; the artwork is by toi8.

For his part, the Hero is something of a bland disappointment, more Kujo from Gosick than Kraft Lawrence. He's a serviceable foil for the Demon King as she plies her schemes but their relationship, while sweet, is mundane as romantic comedies go. This can be traced back to the source material. Despite all the shared staff between Maoyu and Spice and Wolf, it's the difference in the source material that is most telling. Both are adapted from light novels: the newer series from author Mamare Touno and the older from Isuna Hasekura. I've had exposure to the Spice and Wolf novels and it's easy to see that the anime's most notable feature - the wonderful relationship between the two mains with all its exploration and byplay - is solidly grounded in the novels. Hasekura has a bent for intricate yet comic verbal manouvering between characters. Maoyu lacks this vibrant interplay, relying instead on more mundane interactions. It's still good but not in the Spice and Wolf class.

The Knight: a blend of chivalry, pride, skill and comic misunderstanding. I love the freckles.

Happily Maoyu has some memorable, and even unforgettable, support characters. Prime among them is the Knight whose courtly, unrequited love for the Hero follows the finest chivalric traditions except the genders are reversed. Like the Demon King she is smart, capable yet highly comical. That balance is something that Maoyu gets right time and again. There's the Young Merchant who gets an inkling as to how much economic freedom can change the world and line his pockets at the same time. As his eyes open to new possibilities he also begins to wonder if a fire dragon princess might, in fact, be just the sort of woman that would suit him. For her part she is quite the scene stopper - particularly how she belches gases and flames when inebriated. There's a female magician who had me wondering whether she was one person or three. I'm not sure that she was clear on this point herself. There's a Head Maid who kind of runs the show but remains intensely loyal to the Demon King. Although she is probably the most clichéd member of the cast she has her moments of surprise. Her tough love contributes to the unexpected development of her underlings, Big Sister Maid and Little Sister Maid who revel in their new found liberation. This leads to the former's I am Human Speech, which deserves every accolade thrown at it. The only speech which can stand alongside it is Youko Nakajima's first decree abolishing kowtowing in The Twelve Kingdoms, though that speech entirely lacks the raw emotion of Big Sister Maid's. Even if you don't want to watch Maoyu track down episode 9. It's inspirational stuff that should bring people to tears. Or are you human?

Big Sister Maid and Little Sister Maid: from serfs to unexpected revolutionary heroes.

Like Youko Nakijma's the speech extols human dignity and the centrality of freedom to that dignity. While that is all well and good, the speech is part of a broader economic argument being made by Maoyu: that individuals can best reach their potential through economic and political freedoms. Governments are corrupt and hold back the individual's potential. It's classical liberalism of limited government and laissez-faire economic policies (as understood everywhere in the world except the US). It is a highly contestable notion. It is the fundamental point of conflict between left and right politics. In our modern world greater economic freedom favours the powerful who can enhance their power even further with their freedom thus perpetuating and expanding inequality - see Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century for a detailed analysis of the growth of inequality in the Western World following the triumph of neo-liberalism after the 1970s. Maoyu has chosen an easy target with the story's mediaeval economic and political setting, where the primary purpose of government is to wage war. That a government's role is the welfare of the governed is an Enlightenment Era innovation. Maoyu's argument is a bit of a straw man. Where serfs have no economic or political freedoms then the case is a no-brainer. We aren't living in a mediaeval world. We are living in a post Enlightenment age. Having got that rant out of the way, the mediaeval fantasy setting most certainly adds to the flavour of the story so, in that sense, I find it highly appealing.

One of the criticisms I have read about the anime is that it ends with the military situation unresolved. For sure, like so much anime these days, it doesn't cover all the source material and, thus, has the expected unresolved threads. Nevertheless the overarching story (beyound the romantic comedy) is economic, not military, and in that Maoyu ends on a satisfying note. The economic genie has been well and truly let out of the bottle and there is no putting it back.

Bouncy breasts aside, which aren't to my taste, the series is a visual treat. Even better is the soundtrack, in turn melodic, sweeping, ironic and chaotic. I think it's one of the best in recent in times, if perhaps a tad overproduced.

Rating: At the low end of Very Good. I'm not sure it'll keep this rating over time as it's more fun than profound. Maoyu has some great characters, engaging wit, an interesting economic argument, great visuals and music and the I am Human speech. That speech alone makes this series a must see. Over and over Maoyu tells us that persuasion is more powerful than force of arms. That has application in our supposedly post-Enlightenment age.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2015 11:31 pm Reply with quote
Continuing with the housekeeping. This review was originally posted on 7 Feb 2015 and suffered the same glitch as the Maoyu post. I haven't changed the rating.


Sword of the Stranger

Reason for watching: Mainly because I'm a Kickstarter backer for Masahiro Ando's Under the Dog (though I'm concerned about the personnel changes that recently took place). I rate his Hanasaku Iroha as very good and Canaan as good.

Synopsis: A Chinese military squad has arrived in Northern Japan to obtain the blood of a boy that is believed will grant the emperor immortality. Among the squad is a European swordsman who, while loyal to the emperor, wants nothing more than to pit his skills against the finest Japanese samurai. The boy in question befriends a nameless ronin and cons him into to becoming his bodyguard. All the while the local Japanese lord - who has given the Chinese his consent to carry out their mission - is out to doublecross them by any means available. Inevitably the two swordsmen will confront each other in a fight to the death.

Comments: The synopsis above is about as complicated as Sword of the Stranger gets. There isn't much in the way of philosophising other than the occasional pointed visual social commentary; the characters aren't explored in any depth; and the opportunity to examine Sino-Japanese relationships isn't taken up to any significant degree. What is presented is, instead, a dingy atmosphere - with every last character compromised it could be described as samurai noir - and, especially, blood-letting samurai action.

Luo-Lang and Nanashi: no screen shot can do justice to the film's choreography.

Now, action anime ain't my thing. In particular, fighting anime leaves me unenthused. I have to admit, though, that Sword of the Stranger is one of the most entertaining anime movies around. Eliminating other story telling elements allows the film to concentrate on what it does so well: the fighting. The animation is good without being outstanding, but what shines are the choreography and the dramatic build-ups: when the film isn't promenading its stunts, it's setting itself up for the next action set piece. The result is, despite the gore, a sequence of fights that have an elan and inventiveness that I've rarely seen in anime. It's as if the animators/choreographers are revelling in the execution of their craft. For example, the Chinese have constructed a vast and elaborate altar come temple in the middle of the Japanese wilderness. Once the action arrives there it becomes a giganctic prop for the fighting. The three dimensional nature of the prop provides the means by which the swordplay gains a spacial quality not often seen elsewhere. It helps, of course, that the adversaries rarely waste time talking - the curse of shounen fights - and do what's really important: try to kill each other. The visual appeal of the battles brings to my mind Attack on Titan, which, likewise, is at its best when it sets out to awe with its own visceral action set pieces.

Sword of the Stranger does some other things passably well. It spends time developing the relationship between Kotaro, the mostly unlikeable tsundere orphan boy, and the no-name lordless samurai. Nanashi, as he gets called, is appealing: there is an innate gentleness to his character that belies the violence of his calling. Because of that quality his history, when it is revealed, is convincing. Both the Japanese and the American voice actors capture his essence well. I especially like Michael Adamthwaite's voice in the role. Kotaro's annoyances are compensated, with interest, by his marvellous dog, Tobimaru.

Great dog; annoying kid.

Both Nanashi and his major adversary, Luo-Lang, are actually European. With his red hair and pale eyes Nanashi likely has Viking genes (Irish, Scottish or Scandinavian; the Irish lilt in the music when his red hair is revealed suggests the first mentioned) while Luo-Lang's blond hair, blue eyes and accent peg him as Germanic. Add to the mix a Chinese army on Japanese soil and the scenario is ripe for some nationalistic posturing. It just doesn't happen. It's as if the foreign elements are simply added for colour. That said, all the characters, outside of the three travelling companions, are daft caricatures in the best shounen tradition. Not that it matters, as their principal role is to be sword fodder. I counted two female characters in total (if you don't count the two victims that momentarily appear in the event that leads to Nanashi abandoning his lord). They are two more Chinese warriors who happened to be drawn as women. They may as well have been men. Yes, it's a boysie show.

The unnamed ronin: unexpected gentleness amidst the violence.

I mentoned before in passing that Sword of the Stranger has a dingy atmosphere. It is set in winter - possibly in Ando's native Hokkaido - and is notable for its evocation of bitterly cold and impoverished misery. Browns and greys predominate, with more primary colours being muted. Even the copious blood lacks its expected vividness, which probably helps in downplaying what might otherwise be shocking. While the overlords pursue their meaningless dreams - vast wealth, power and immortality - the serfs fend off starvation. It's a system that brings out the treachery in everyone, except Nanashi and, surprisingly, Luo-Lang.

The music is lushly epic but too often sounds as if it has been ripped off from The Lord of the Rings. Other than being a rip-off, that's a good thing.

Rating: Good. Top-notch choreographed swordplay action more than makes up for Sword of the Stranger's shortcomings. It easily shades the film's other strengths but don't let that hold you back. It's worth seeing for what it does well.

Could Under the Dog be Hanasaku Iroha meets Sword of the Stranger? I suppose that was Canaan.

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 07, 2015 1:46 am Reply with quote
My final housekeeping addition for today. This review (or perhaps I should say, comparison) was originally posted on 16 August 2014. Again, I haven't changed the ratings and I left the spoiler tags in place.


Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Reason for watching: The original FMA anime is one of the few shounen action series that I regard highly; FMB has a higher Bayesian rating than FMA; it's the top ranked anime for 2009 and in the all-time top 4 Bayesian rankings; the "Most Improved Character" tournament a little while back had me intrigued to check out how much Scar had changed; and Madman's AnimeLab is currently screening all episodes for nix and my system is able to stream it in high quality (unlike Crunchyroll).

The anime: I'm going to approach this differently from my usual style. It's more of a comparo. Really, it's impossible to talk about FMB without comparing it with FMA so...

Brotherhood is somewhat inferior to the original series, but not without its own merits. I enjoyed both, but in different ways. Both had long sequences of episodes that tested my endurance, but at different points in the series.

The Rizembool Gang: the boys are as likeable as ever; Winry's role has grown - along with her bust.

The single major reason why I think FMB is inferior is that everything in it is far more black and white*. Most else flows from that. The good guys are all decent and trustworthy, if rascally at times. They want to lead worthwhile lives, atone for the Ishvalen War, make Amestris a better place and stop the evil inflicted upon them. The bad guys are irredeemable, even if they are pitiable on demise, and hate the good guys. They just want to rule the universe and kill off everyone else.

For sure, there are changes of heart (Scar, Kimblee, Greed - more on those latter two shortly - and some of the Chimera) but these metamorphoses tend to be sudden, complete and enduring. The plot is driven largely by the big bad, Our Father, which limits the level of agency available to the other characters. Indeed the plot can be summed up by naming two tasks: 1) the retrieval of Al's body; and 2) thwarting the evil plans of the big bad.

Kimblee is one of the few ambiguously grey characters in the series, probably because he is deranged. Whatever the reason I actually enjoyed his appearances, whereas he was annoying in the original. To be honest, it took me several scenes to get over my prejudice from FMA. Ling / Greed has no equivalent in FMA and it's clear why he is so ambiguous - his body houses two people. Much of the pleasure comes from observing how the two not entirely disparate characters come to accomodate each other. It also means that Greed is the only homunculus that learns anything worthwhile about humans.

By contrast, with no overarching big bad setting their stamp on proceedings, FMA has the space and opportunity to present a plot that is fashioned out of the competing goals of many players: Ed and Al trying to get their bodies back; Lust and the other homunculi trying to find their humanity; Bradley and Mustang competing for the rule of Amestris; Dante and Hohenheim desperate to stop the decay of their supposedly immortal bodies; Shou Tucker to continue researching; Maes Hughes trying to find an ideal to live by after the horrors of the Ishvalen War. Because everyone has their reasons everybody is compromised in ways that just don't happen in FMB.

Hawkeye and Mustang: where are his "military in miniskirt" type comments?

An obvious example in FMA is how, despite the Elric brothers learning how wrong it is to try human transmutation, at the end they try it again. Or Hohenheim: in FMB he is essentially a kindly soul; in FMA he is both sinister and sympathy inducing. That moral ambiguity; the understandably human weaknesses motivating the characters, is what makes FMA something more than merely a shounen action series. It follows therefore that most of the characters are less interesting in FMB, simply because their motivations are more straightforward. While the brothers are as endearing as ever, several of the better characters from the first series ended up diminished in the second: Hawkeye, Mustang (who has nothing to match his memorable one-liners from FMA), Maes Hughes, Lust and Izumi Curtis. Apart from Winry accompanying the Elrics more than she did in the first series, all the previous female characters have declined in agency and in the significance of their roles. Happily this is remediated by the wonderful Olivier Mira Armstrong, my favourite character of FMB. Her in-your-face aggressive honesty is never less than highly entertaining. FMA's Dante is a better villain than Our Father because she is human, desperate and earns some sympathy from us. Our Father is just plain bad and ridiculous.

Olivier Mira Armstrong: there's no choice but to like her.

Another thing FMB gets wrong is there are altogether too many philosopher's stones littering the narrative landscape. It reduces their value, their ability to induce awe in the viewer, and the fridge horror involved in their creation. This leads FMB to be entrapped in the Gurren Lagann Syndrome - too many climaxes leading to their devaluation as entertainment, then trying to compensate by making the next climax even bigger, mostly to little effect. (I'd call it the Gainax Syndrome but that describes something else, although I do think the two are related. One of the reasons Gainax series fall over at the end is that the Gurren Lagann Syndrome has left them with nowhere to go.) And, because FMB goes at such a breakneck pace, it never has the emotional impact of the most memorable moments in the first season, particularly the death scenes spoiler[(Ed and Al's mother, Nina, Maes Hughes, Lust and Sloth being the stand-outs)].

The origin of the homunculi is much more disturbing in FMA, even if each creation is something of a plot hole. (How is that, in every case, the alchemist abandons the loved one they are trying to recreate? How is that Dante knows of their creation each time? How does she/he get to the location in time to regenerate them? How does she/he whisk them away with nobody noticing or wondering what happened to the remains? None of these things are ever explained. Perhaps I'm missing something.) Because of their connection to the alchemists the situation is, yet again, more ambiguous, more disturbing. It adds gravitas to the homunculi's search for the meaning of their existence, something that is completely absent in the newer series.

Lust: diminished in FMB.

So far I've been mostly dumping on FMB. It does some things better. Despite being thirteen episodes longer, all episodes lead to the conclusion, unlike the numerous episodes in the first season that could easily be excised. It is also more economical in its storytelling so that it doesn't dwell too long in its more mundane moments - I suppose that's the flipside of the breakneck speed coin. Mind you, while FMA became a chore to watch in its middle episodes it picks up in the last third, getting better and better. FMB, by way of contrast, doesn't flag as such but, being a simpler shounen anime, it is, when all is said and done, about the fighting. I don't watch anime for fights, and that's pretty much all the last fifteen or twenty episodes are - one fight after another. Combine that with the aforementioned Gurren Lagann Syndrome and those episodes were a chore for me to get through, every bit as much as the filler episodes of FMA.

FMB does improve on one of the already notable things about FMA. The vast array of characters is even bigger and all the new characters are as distinctive as those we already know. Indeed, FMB frequently trades on us knowing the characters - cue Mustang and Hawkeye. If FMA didn't exist, FMB would have had to spend more of its available time familiarising us with several of the characters. Some of the new characters are pearls: Olivier Armstrong, May Chang, Fu, Lan-Fan and Ling to name them. Other characters are enhanced: Fuhrer Bradley, Kimblee as already mentioned, Gluttony and Winry, who gets to do more. I suppose it must be said that Selim Bradley gets a much larger role, even if in the original his role is tragically ironic. While the transformation of Scar is satisfying I actually think his role in FMA was more interesting. It's a trade-off in his case.

Scar: more interesting character; less interesting role. He smiles at the end. I just knew he would.

Finally, there is the Gate and what lies beyond it. There is no doubt that in one crucial aspect FMB kills FMA - it resolves the story in a highly satisfactory way: spoiler[Ed pays the cost of giving up alchemy to restore Al to his body]. It's a great solution to the underlying moral question the boys must confront. They give up the thing that was at the centre of their transgression and their hubris - spoiler[alchemy]. It allows FMB to follow up with a highly satisfying coda, detailing what happened afterwards. Contrastingly, FMA ends disastrously for the Elrics - they haven't learned from their error - and it requires a disappointing movie sequel to conclude the story (in a fashion).


Nothing in FMB, I repeat nothing, can match how mind-bogglingly awesome is the world that Edward finds on the other side of the Gate in FMA. Recently in another thread I wrote about WOW anime - for me the moment Edward looks up and sees Zeppelins is the single most WOW moment I've yet seen in anime. The relationship between his world and ours and how alchemy in his world is powered by spoiler[death in our world] is a stroke of genius that puts into shade any amount of climaxes or confrontations in FMB. Meeting spoiler[god/the universe] in FMB was a terrible letdown by comparison.

This moment on its own would have me rating the older series superior.

Fullmetal Alchemist, in either version, will appeal because of its vast array of great characters and the central moral dilemma that the Elric brothers must face. The original version, thanks to its greater ambiguity, makes those characters more human and therefore their travails more emotionally engaging. While FMB has a more satisfactory ending, FMA more than makes up for this with its inspired world beyond the Gate.

Fullmetal Alchemist: very good
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: good

I rate the other Bayesian top 4 anime as follows:
Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal - excellent
Steins;Gate - very good
Clannad After Story - decent (with episodes 16-19 as masterpiece)

*Can black and white be relative? Probably not. I need an editor.


Don't agree my arguments? Listen to what Hope Chapman, Zac Bertschy and Mike Toole had to say on the same topic on Fullmetal ANNCast: Brotherhood in January this year.

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 07, 2015 11:21 pm Reply with quote
I'm on holidays. After spending a week in north-east Victoria I now have another week to relax at home, update this thread and finish off Ashita no Joe.

Next up with the housekeeping is the other anime, after Noir, I've come to obsess over. I was a bit late to the party with this one and scored it as excellent in my original review of 1 September 2013, although I granted that I may upgrade the rating if it proved to have re-watch value. That it certainly has. I'll add some extra comments at the end. Oh, and I've removed the spoiler tags this time. After all, this thread comes with a spoiler warning.


Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Reason for watching: It's high ranking in ANN's Bayesian estimate, Zac's reviews (vol 1, vol 2, vol 3) and favourable comments from forum members whose views I appreciate.

Synopsis: Madoka Kaname is your average moe junior high school girl. She isn't particularly smart or talented and has only a limited set of emotions but she is cute, passive and has an aura about her that begs for sympathy. Everything changes in her life when she encounters the furry mascot figure Kyubey who offers to transform her into a magical girl with stupendous powers. Her task will be to fight the witches who are responsible for the despair and discord in the world. Not only that, but the price of becoming a magical girl is to be granted any wish she choses. It all seems too good to be true. Madoka meets the glamorous magical girl Mami who appears to be everything Madoka isn't, while another girl, the sullen Homura, does her utmost to stop the contract from going ahead. Madoka will learn that the life of a magical girl isn't everything it's made out to be, that not all magical girls are sugar and spice and all things nice, and that furry mascot characters can be very, very disturbing.

Comments: I'll start off by mentioning the major shortcoming of PMMM before moving on to what makes this series so special. The characters are shallow: despite their attractive designs they each have a limited range of character traits. Worse, their behaviours always seem more subject to the dictates of the external narrative than any sense of internal motivation. Madoka is a passive girly girl; Homura is a morose spoiler; Sayaka the hyperactive cheery one; Mami the glamour puss and Kyouko the punk. Each nicely fits the bill as popular moe fetish objects. But that's the point, in a way. They are there to be broken. No time need be spent setting up complex characters and PMMM is, in its way, a parody (albeit a serious one) of the magical girl genre.

For a few brief moments in her interactions with her mother,
Madoka transcends her character limitations.

The one character whom I have come to appreciate enormously is Homura Akemi. Like so much else in the series her initial presentation is at odds with her true role. If Madoka must ultimately resolve the dilemma at the heart of the story, it's Homura who does the hard work, who makes it all possible. She is, in a sense, the true heroine of PMMM. When it is finally revealed in episode 10 just how much she has gone through to get things to the current state of affairs, how much she has suffered, how strong is her love for Madoka, and how her actions have amplified the very crisis she has been trying to avert, the emotional impact is very powerful. By the end I had tremendous sympathy for her, whereas I had little for Madoka. It's ironic: Homura does the hard yards; Madoka gets all the glory. It's also ironic, for a show that is purportedly playing with the magical girl formula, that it can elicit such a typical moeru response. I also have to say that her magical technique is one of the niftiest I've ever seen. I have a theory that Walpurgisnacht is Homura in witch form, appearing from the future - as, of course, Homura can do - and thus fully cognisant of Homura's strategems. If Homura is the most powerful magical girl after Madoka then witch Homura would be second only to witch Madoka.

Homura and Kyubey. Both are more than they initially appear to be.

If I'm critical of the characters, particularly Madoka, then there must be something else that gets me so pumped up in the final three episodes. For sure, the revelations about Homura help, but the biggest thing is the writing. 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 magical girl conventions. All the threads come together elegantly, satisfyingly 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. The last episode is spent almost entirely on demonstrating the effects of the wish in glorious, joyful, heartbreaking intensity. Wonderful stuff even if there is still fridge horror to contend with: the magical girl despair doesn't go away; instead of turning into witches they are ministered to by the now everpresent, but invisible, Madoka then cease to exist. I had quite a chuckle when I discovered that Cleopatra and Joan of Arc were actually magical girls.

Madoka in excelsis.

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. Only Masaaki Yuasa can match Shinbo and Miyamato in making something so grotesque appear so fascinating. Yuasa's style is even more grotesque and more interesting but nowhere near as beguiling.

Mami moments before her climactic battle with Charlotte the witch.
Those hypodermic syringes portend bad things.

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 the emotional impact. Happily, it doesn't need to be the prop that it is in the much inferior Garden of Sinners.

In the end, though, PMMM relies on its moe archetypes to achieve its vision of the magical girl genre. Since watching PMMM I've also watched the first episodes of Sally the Witch, Princess Knight and Sailor Moon to orient myself in a genre I'm not familiar with beyond Princess Tutu. What becomes apparent is that PMMM is a new treatment of what was once a female genre but is no more. It doesn't deconstruct the genre but, rather, appropriates it for a male audience. Nevertheless, the thrill I get watching the last three episodes ensures that it becomes something altogether exceptional.

Rating: At the top end of excellent. If my opinion doesn't wane over time I may reconsider it as masterpiece. In a year I thought was quite good for anime - 2011 - it is only eclipsed by Hyouge Mono and Bunny Drop and outshines other highlights from that year, such as A Letter to Momo, Penguindrum, Fate/Zero, Hanasaku Iroha and Steins;Gate while anohana just isn't in the hunt.


These days I'd rate PMMM ahead of Bunny Drop and probably ahead of Hyouge Mono, though directly comparing it with the latter is difficult. So, yes, I've changed its rating to masterpiece. Why? Let me see. 1) Homura; 2) the big plot developments at the end of episodes 3, 6 and 8; 3) Homura; 4) the last 3 episodes; 5) the downfall of Sayaka, probably the most interesting of the girls, though not necessarily the best; because 6) did I mention how awesome Homura is?

Homura magnifica.

I'm highlighting Homura partly because she has become my favourite anime character, partly as an excuse to add the stitched image, and partly to lead into my next post. Note how her name means "flame" or "blaze". Also, diamond patterning has long been used on the clothing of demonic characters - think of the outfit worn by the Demon King in Maoyu. The more I think about it the more I'm sure that Rebellion wasn't an afterthought. I now believe it was envisaged from the start.

One of the things about PMMM is that when I re-watch it I almost always marathon it: it's so perfectly wrought and so compelling. The only time it flags is episode 9, something of a dead-end episode for me - OKish the first time around but otherwise just delaying the great leap forward (or should I say backward?) in episode 10.

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 08, 2015 1:06 am Reply with quote
Review from 01 March 2015.


Puella Magi Madoka Magica - Rebellion

WARNING: There be spoilers here. Big spoilers.
Seriously, this is intended for people who have seen it.

Reasons for watching: I eventually came to the conclusion that the original series is a masterpiece. Akemi Homura is one of the most awesome characters in anime (so you can probably guess where this is going to go).

Story 1: Things aren't right in Mitakihara City. Nightmares have replaced wraiths and witches as the enemies of magical girls, some of whom have inexplicably come back from the dead to join the fight. In truth, this fake Mitakihara City is a witch's labyrinth and the witch just may be one of our beloved magical girls. Homura must deal with the awful truth but, luckily, she has some reliable friends to help her out.
Story 2: Things aren't right with Akemi Homura. Her love for Madoka takes on an unexpected slant, leading to a new future for magical girls.

Comments: When I first saw Rebellion at a cinema screening just over a year ago I left the theatre with three mutually reinforcing emotions: bewilderment, boredom and rage. I've now watched it at home a few times, which has led to a much better understanding of what it's about along with a somewhat improved estimation of its merits. The three emotions have been mollified to a degree but residues linger.

One of the paradoxes of the original series is how much people love Homura despite her dour personality. It's all in her unwavering dedication to Madoka. If Madoka is hope personified, then Homura is love personified. Where Homura's love empowers Madoka, Madoka's hope saves Homura. In doing so, the two earn the viewer's admiration. Likewise the other magical girls work hard to earn our affection. Part of the reason why the series works so well is that, for the most part, we see Homura through Madoka's eyes, not Homura's. When the point of view shifts to Homura's in episodes 10 and 11 we can overlook her grimness because what she does is so amazing. The creative dilemma for Rebellion is how to engage the viewer throughout the entire movie when the point of view is almost entirely Homura's. While she has her moments of awesome, the film relies altogether too much on stunts, highly expressionistic visual effects and having our heroines strut their magical girl stuff to please the fans. It doesn't always work.

I'm entranced by the Clara Dolls. Their musical theme stands out in an otherwise lacklustre Yuki Kajiura effort.

If the gunfight between Homura and Mami is one of the most thrilling scenes in the entire franchise then both the quintet transformation scene and the cake song are interminable. Other than Homura, and unlike the series, the girls don't earn their appeal; the movie assumes we love them already and will be engaged regardless. Add to that a scenario that deliberately confounds the fans' expectations for a goodly part of the running time without developing the scenario to any great extent; and an explanation of events that requires some nutting out to comprehend fully then you have the ingredients for an alienating viewing experience. Granted, figuring out the mechanics of the plot was a pleasure of a sort. As was the light bulb moment when I twigged how Mami was impervious to Homura's time magic in their epic gun battle.

The battle I always wanted to see. Mami acquitted herself better than I expected. That's good.

Unlike the TV series, which spent most of its run time in its coldly beautiful "real" world, the movie is set entirely within a witch's maze until Kyubey's isolation field is pierced ¾ of the way through. This makes for a lack of visual contrast, similar to Redline with its non-stop motor racing fireworks. There is little relief from the bombardment of surreal, expressionistic imagery. The effect is numbing. In the series the mazes were highlights, the one in the movie eventually becomes an ordeal.

The equation: humourless protagonist + slow development + arcane plot + unrelenting visual assault = disengagement.

So much for the first story. With the destruction of the maze, and with Homura's soul gem at its limit, god-Madoka appears on cue to assist Homura to pass into oblivion according to the Law of the Cycles. Homura gives the creepiest smile the creators could possibly conjure up and (please forgive the shouting) EVERYTHING CHANGES. INEXPLICABLY. The film is instantly both ruined and redeemed. Ruined? Because, WHAT DID YOU GUYS JUST DO TO ONE OF THE MOST AWESOME HEROINES EVER IN ANIME? Redeemed? Because, for the first time the film is actually interesting. The internal dialogue at the heart of PMMM gets expression in the movie for the first time and it's a mightily interesting dialogue when all is said and done.

Homura amazes and confounds. Her ultimate transformation is gorgeous. I much prefer it to Madoka's.

There is a dissonance in both the TV series and Rebellion between the viewer's emotional response to each instalment's resolution and to the reality of the magical girls' prospects. The TV series seems hopeful but the outcomes for the girls will be uniformly horrible. In the movie everthing seems broken but the future for all the girls is bright. Let me elaborate. Please bear with me.

The TV series.
1. The girls are trapped by their Faustian deal. They must remain Magical Girls until their curses equal their wishes.
2. Madoka is forgotten by everyone except Homura and, possibly for a time, Tatsuya.
3. Homura is awesome and earnest.
4. Homura is miserable - she has lost Madoka, the motivation behind all her efforts. She is alone.
5. Sayaka and Nagisa Momoe (Bebe/Charlotte) are dead.
6. No magical girl will make it to adulthood. They will all die too soon, no matter how PMMM tries to gloss it with Madoka's pyrotechnics.
7. Kyubey is waiting, like a vulture, for his opportunity to ensnare and devour the girls once more. Why, oh why, Homura, did you tell him about the witches?
8. Kids us for 11 episodes that it is deconstructing the genre then gloriously embraces it.

The Movie.
1. The girls are no longer subject to their Faustian bargain. Of course, they are no longer Magical Girls.
2. Madoka is alive and well.
3. Homura is awesome (consider what she does to Kyubey) and creepy.
4. Homura is miserable - she has won Madoka but no one knows or appreciates the cost she paid. She is alone.
5. Sayaka and Nagisa are alive and well. Their magical girl/witch selves and the attendant despair are forgotten.
6. The magical girls will either live in eternal pubescent happiness or have the chance to grow into normal adults (the film doesn't make it clear which future awaits them).
7. Kyubey is not only vanquished but enslaved. It is now his job to preserve the balance of the irredeemable world.
8. Kids us for the first ¾ that it is embracing the genre then deliriously trashes it.

The most satisfying thing I've seen in anime since Izaya was punched out in Durarara!!.

Among the enduring tropes of the magical girl genre is the transformation sequence. It shows the ordinary girl moving from powerlessness to potency. Supposedly it can be read as the change from girl to woman, from child to adult. The truth is, magical girls never, ever grow up. Rebellion seems to be arguing that this is the truth that belies the ideal of the magical girl. It seems to be inferring that Homura has grown up (that smile notwithstanding); that being a magical girl is no more than tilting at windmills; and that the girls are better off forgetting everything. That is, to want to be a magical girl is fundamentally delusory and ultimately self-destructive.

Problem is, Rebellion isn't convincing. The artificiality of Homura's new universe undermines any expectation of its durability. I suppose that provides scope for one more iteration. The new universe is not only artificial, it's alarmingly unappealing. The supposed saviour, Homura, looks too silly to be a mature, self-aware adult; comes across as selfish rather than pragmatic; isolated instead of involved; and ultimately irrelevant to the future. Perhaps that explains her final, stupefying act.

Homura: here more courtesan than demoness.

Rating: Good. There's lots of Homura and she's still awesome despite what the creators do to her. The last section is infuriating, provocative and possibly the most interesting thing yet in the franchise to mull over.

Last edited by Errinundra on Thu Sep 12, 2019 6:17 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 08, 2015 1:54 pm Reply with quote
I just feel compelled to write down a few words about my feelings regarding Sword of the Stranger. In a movie that is just chock full of great scenes it is difficult to name any one scene that is head-and-shoulder above the rest. Therefore, I will name a scene that comes -- if I recall correctly -- in about the mid-way part of the film. It's the duel on the bridge between the two protagonists. The way the imagery is drawn to dilate time is -- just -- simply -- awesome! And the fact that that the entire scene foreshadows the final fight is simply an added bonus.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 09, 2015 3:40 am Reply with quote
I too saw a screening of this a couple years ago. My partner and I walked out just going 'wtf did I just watch' for the rest the weekend. I almost feel like Rebellion was Urobochi's End of Evangelion. "You want more otaku? Oh I'll give you more..." aaand maniacal laughter ensues. To this day I don't get it. Madoka was coming down from the sky ready to take Madoka away into (lesbian)heaven... everything was all good so why'd Homura have to become the Devil? It seemed like a really artificial twist; manufactured because well, the TV series had a twist and this was all they can do. Sometimes I feel like Urobochi is the Christopher Nolan of anime. Fanboys love him because his plots are all detailed and philosophical, but at the end of the day his stories just lack any understanding of heart or human emotion.

I can kind of understand why after multiple rewatches. Homura had been through hell, and Kyubey trapping her and turning her into a witch just broke the little sanity she had left. It was still out of character though. Homura's love for Madoka in the series was selfless, while her love in Rebellion was entirely selfish and even possessive. Especially towards the end. Madoka starts remembering she's actually God and Homura traps her again. This is more problematic to me because the cliche of the psychotic, obsessed lesbian recurs a lot both in western media and anime. While I am happy that we got some representation (both MadokaxHomura and SayakaxKyouko were confirmed canon in Rebellion), Homura's behaviour makes me cringe and almost wish this movie had never been made.

It would have been great as the start of a new TV series. There'd be hope Homura could be redeemed. Ending it like this is just depressing. Many viewers, myself included, like happy endings because life is hard and movies/anime are an escape to a world where things always work out for the best. Rebellion takes Homura's most admirable trait, her love for Madoka, and turns it into her worst flaw. I can appreciate the guts it took to do that, but it wasn't moving because her change made no sense to her previous character development.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 10, 2015 7:32 pm Reply with quote
Sorry about the late reply. I didn't log on much yesterday.

Lili-Hime wrote:
...Sometimes I feel like Urobochi is the Christopher Nolan of anime. Fanboys love him because his plots are all detailed and philosophical, but at the end of the day his stories just lack any understanding of heart or human emotion....

I so agree with this... if you apply it to director Akiyuki Shinbo. (Not that I disagree about Urobochi, mind you). The only other TV series of his I got past the first episode was Maria Holic and even then I never bothered with the second season. I gave up after the first episodes of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, Bakemonogatari, and Dance in the Vampire Bund. I've also seen (and own) The Portrait of Petite Cossette. I think there is a coldness, a fundamental misanthropy at the heart of all his work that I've seen so far. Like a crystal, his stuff is perfect and geometric but lacking warmth. That coldness is there in the PMMM series but somehow he, Urobochi and the other members of the quartet managed to arouse emotions in us the viewers without, perhaps, fully understanding how and thus couldn't reproduce that success in Rebellion. (Given your comments and mine it would seem Akiyuki x Urobochi is a marriage made in heaven. How about that? I'm shipping creators, not characters.)

Sayaka x Kyouko. Apologies also for neglecting these two endearing characters.

...It would have been great as the start of a new TV series. There'd be hope Homura could be redeemed. Ending it like this is just depressing. Many viewers, myself included, like happy endings because life is hard and movies/anime are an escape to a world where things always work out for the best. Rebellion takes Homura's most admirable trait, her love for Madoka, and turns it into her worst flaw. I can appreciate the guts it took to do that, but it wasn't moving because her change made no sense to her previous character development.

While I agree with this, my view also is that the original TV series doesn't have a happy end either. I think it was Hope Chapman who pointed that goddess Madoka is euthanasing the girls before their misery becomes unbearable. As I argue above, Homura is giving the girls back their lives, though in a world that seems pretty unpromising.

Last edited by Errinundra on Thu Sep 12, 2019 6:18 am; edited 2 times in total
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