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


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Errinundra
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Joined: 14 Jun 2008
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Location: Melbourne, Oz
PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2016 4:16 am Reply with quote
The dust hasn't settled yet after Saturday's federal election. The electorate seems to have repudiated the governing Liberal/National Parties but weren't willing to endorse the Labor Party. As of a few minutes ago the count was LNP 69, Labor 67, Other 5, in doubt 9. To obtain a majority requires 76 seats, so the LNP must win 7 of the remaining 9 while the ALP must win all 9. Recounts are going to go on for an eternity. At the moment the most likely outcome is a minority LNP government, which may not have much of a lifespan. If the politics wasn't so awful I'd say we live in interesting times.

****

This week’s housekeeping review was originally posted on 25 August 2012. The usual changes have been made.

Kids on the Slope

Reason for watching: It was broadcast in the noitaminA block; it was directed by Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Baby Blue, Samurai Champloo); and the premise.

Synopsis: Kaoru is a loner, illness prone, yet academically gifted. He transfers to a new school where he befriends the bad boy Sentaro. The two discover a shared love of music, especially jazz, as they negotiate their complicated family lives along with the joys and setbacks of their romantic relationships.

Comments: Visually, musically and, from time to time, in its storytelling, Kids on the Slope is a supreme joy. I have rarely watched an anime that had so many ecstatic moments. And, yet, I have several reservations about it.

Sure, it’s great to watch but thinking about the series raises questions about its premise and some of the directions it takes. The two main threads – the jazz tinged friendship between Kaoru and Sentaro on the one hand, and the romantic entanglements of Kaoru -> Ritsuko -> Sentaro -> Yurika -> Junichi on the other - never sit together comfortably. The series starts off as one thing (two friends exploring jazz) then spends most of the rest of the twelve episodes as something else (a josei tale of entangled love). What’s more, occasionally in both threads it threatens to descend into cliché. Thankfully, the sheer craft displayed in the execution always manages to pull it through.


One of the triangles: Kaoru, Sentaro and Ritsuko.

An avowed aim of the noitaminA block is to broaden the anime audience to both women and older viewers (and usually both). The original manga was published in Flowers, a josei magazine. It doesn’t surprise me, therefore, that Kids on the Slope portrays the friendship and loves of two young men as a female audience might envisage them. Catch is, I’m an older male viewer and the portrayals sometimes seemed false, in much the same way that female friendships catering to a male audience don’t always ring true.

The central romance of the series isn’t between Kaoru and Ritsuko or even Yurika and Junichi. It’s between the feminine Kaoru and macho Sentaro. Kids on the Slope could be considered a chaste and restrained yaoi romance for a mainstream female audience. Just contrast the physicality and intimacy of their interactions with those in the hetero romances. This isn’t a bad thing. It gives the series a piquancy that is missing entirely in Honey and Clover and, to a lesser degree, in Nodame Cantabile (to mention two other noitaminA josei romances). Indeed, the friendship between the two young men is one of the richest I’ve seen in anime, with jazz as its metaphorical expression. Kaoru and Sentaro are best able to explore their feelings about each other in their shared musical improvisations. I’m sure one of the factors driving Sentaro into making his unexpected career choice is the knowledge that he must eventually lose Kaoru to a woman, be it Ritsuko or someone else. Tellingly, after eight years of separation the euphoric reunion between the two men makes the subsequent meeting between Kaoru and Ritsuko seem like an afterthought.


A Kaoru and Sentaro tiff.

Afterthought is a description that could be applied to the female characters in general. Ritsuko has a nondescript personality with an annoying voice and a character design that is initially unappealing. I suppose, given the intended audience, she parallels the average joes that populate the many harem shows marketed to a male audience. Perhaps the anime is attempting to accurately show life in 1968 but, with one possible exception in Kaoru’s mother, the women are always secondary to the men. Even the most interesting ongoing female character, Yurika, subordinates her life to Junichi’s. One of the most memorable scenes (and also one of the most alarming) is when Junichi feigns raping her, in effect telling her that the path she is choosing is a submissive one. It is to Kids on the Slope’s credit that it has these nuances so absent in other anime (and be uncomfortably surprising as well). Unfortunately, Yurika has such an unappealing personality that she never manages to garner the sympathy necessary to make her story convincing.

What I would have liked to have seen is for the story to have included a female singer – just as talented as the two male leads, but also self-possessed and with an agenda of her own. It wasn’t to be. Towards the end, Ritsuko joins Kaoru and Sentaro to sing My Favourite Things. All I can say is that I’m glad the writers didn’t pursue that line of thought any further. It’s almost as if they knew what was missing but couldn’t introduce it because of the limitations of the available female characters.

In the preview for episode eleven (of twelve) Ryohei Kimura, Kaoru’s seiyuu, makes the bold claim that the staff wanted to make a series unlike any other. To some extent they achieved their aim, thanks to the two leads, the sublime music, the 1960s setting, the overall tone, the ecstatic emotional highs, the constant surprises and the quality execution.

On a final note (yuk! yuk!), the music is so good - another memorable Yoko Kanno effort - I just wish Kids on the Slope had explored it more. That a neophyte like me could get so much pleasure from such a foreign (to me) art form just shows that the jazz elements could have been pushed much, much further. That and a female lead to match Kaoru and Sentaro and this could have been a masterpiece.

Rating: very good


Last edited by Errinundra on Fri Oct 18, 2019 4:10 am; edited 1 time in total
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yuna49



Joined: 27 Aug 2008
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2016 8:14 am Reply with quote
Watanabe seems to have a penchant for these triangular stories. Sadly the female members of the trios are often woefully under-developed. When I watched Zankyou no Terror I couldn't help but compare Mishima Lisa to Ritsuko. Neither girl had much in the way of personality and added little to their respective stories. It's been a very long time since I watched Samurai Champloo, but I recall Fuu being a much more independent and feisty young woman than either of the ladies Watanabe includes in his more recent work. Unlike you I actually liked Yurika since she had a spunkiness that Ritsuko lacked.

As the season progressed, I ended up enjoying Tsuritama more than Sakamichi no Apollon as they ran side-by-side on noitaminA that season. I expected the reverse result even though I have a lot of respect for Nakamura Kenji, the director of Tsuritama, as well. I found the jazz compelling and the Catholicism intriguing, but the relationships fell flat for me. At least I guessed correctly what would happen with Sentarou somewhere in the first half of the story!
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Zin5ki



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PostPosted: Wed Jul 06, 2016 2:28 pm Reply with quote
Errinundra wrote:
The series starts off as one thing (two friends exploring jazz) then spends most of the rest of the twelve episodes as something else (a josei tale of entangled love). What’s more, occasionally in both threads it threatens to descend into cliché.
[...]
Indeed, the friendship between the two young men is one of the richest I’ve seen in anime, with jazz as its metaphorical expression. Kaoru and Sentaro are best able to explore their feelings about each other in their shared musical improvisations.

I quite agree. The scintillating interplay between Kaoru and Sentaro, along with the relationship that arose therefrom, grows diluted once their assigned love interests are hastily introduced. In my mini-review I mentioned many of the same issues you found with the female leads, and the almost deflective roles to which they were assigned. With such a refined focus on music—much like in similar shows such as Your Lie In April—the task of using character drama to connect the emotional crescendos provided by the set pieces is often a faltering one. The dynamic that is sustained between the two male leads is certainly remarkable in this respect, albeit not to such an extent that one could ignore the tepidness of the supporting characters.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2016 4:13 am Reply with quote
@ yuna49,

My recollection of Fuu is that, while she is spirited and the catalyst for the road trip the three undertake, she spends most of the series as an ornament attached to Jin and Mugen. You could say the same, to a lesser degree, about Faye Valentine.

@ Zin5ki,

Our thoughts are so synchronised I'm sure one of us must be mistaken. Wink
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 08, 2016 12:18 pm Reply with quote
It finally looks like the Liberal/National Party coalition will form the next Australian government. With postal votes still arriving forecasters are tipping the LNP will either get a bare majority or fall one seat short. Either way, three of the five indenpendents have pledged to neither block supply bills nor support no confidence motions.

***
On to this week's original review.

Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend

Reason for watching: Some 20-25 years after my childhood experience of Kimba the White Lion my next anime encounter was quite a different beast altogether. Some time around 1990-1 a Melbourne CBD cinema screened two or more anime films as a sort of mini-festival. One of the local daily newspapers ran some articles about them, describing a new wave of edgy movies - called manga - that were doing things you wouldn't see in western animation. Although I don't know for sure I wouldn't be surprised if either or both Akira or Wicked City were also on the program. All three were licensed by Manga Entertainment, so that may explain the newspaper's misuse of terminology. I chose one pretty much at random, as they were all a mystery to me, and it turned out to be Legend of the Overfiend.

Synopsis: Tatsuo Nagumo is your average highschool pervert, who jacks off while perving on the female students in their change room. This is a sure sign that he is the reincarnation of the Chojin, a super demon who reappears every three thousand years to re-unite the worlds of the humans, demons and the jujinkai (hybrid human-demons). Except that it turns out that he isn't; he's just the harbinger. Whatever he is, this doesn't sit well with the demons and the jujinkai, who visit Tokyo, bringing their riotous behaviour with them. When Nagumo shares his blood and semen with his school mates all hell breaks out: everywhere you look there are transforming monsters out for violation and penetration. An idealistic jujinkai named Amano Jyaku and his sister, Megumi Amano, with the mission to find the real Chojin, try to sort out what is going on.

Comments: I've now watched this three times: first at the cinema; then in 2010 when I first bought the DVD (the young woman at the counter at Borders - so much for them - gave me a sour look when I presented it for purchase); and this week for this review. I'm sure there was rather more sexual mayhem when I saw it at the cinema all those years ago. According to Wikipedia about 45 minutes was cut for the DVD movie release, including 24 minutes worth of sex scenes. Makes sense. I also think I was much more shockable in those days. Since then my response has evolved: from bewilderment, to distaste, now indifference. I've become inured to its provocations and banalities.


Akemi is a sweet, young thing. You just know things are going to take a turn for the worse.

Urotsukidoji goes about combining sexual violation, combat and supernatural mythology wherever possible. A silly, innocent girl will find her routine existence transformed into nightmare, usually through the agency of her companion sprouting claws, maws, jaws and various appendages - with surprisingly few tentacles, though. That companion may be a demon in disguise or an unwitting schoolboy whose arousal triggers the transformation. When two rival supernatural creatures meet you can bet they will bellow loudly, sprout more appendages, pierce and be pierced, eviscerate each other, and grimace in their agony. If they're not humping each other, they're rending each other. Every now and then the film slows to provide some exposition, which, for the most part, is either banal or absurd. To whit, early in the film a female demon, initially disguised as a teacher, attempts to rape Nagumo's love interest, Akemi Ito. Being assaulted by a demon leaves Akemi in an understandably severe state of trauma... for about three minutes. Hey, the plot is calling. There's no time to dwell on such insignificant matters.

The demons are too absurd to be frightening. As I said, they bellow and grimace - whether for pleasure or pain, it's all the same. Other than their voices being artificially deepened - like Kimba the White Lion the DVD only has the English language dub - or perhaps because of it, they sound like Jared Diamond choking on his vowels. Typically their speech is condescending and declarative. That is, until some other demon smacks them down. The opening line, "Mankind, you are an ignorant race," sets the tone. This is a social heirarchy built on three things: oneupmanship, orgasm and disembowelment. The humans, for their part, are too stupid and too feckless to garner any sympathy. No sympathy: no terror. There's a goofy humour to the humans in Overfiend that, instead of enriching the film, undermines its darker aspects, making it difficult to take seriously. Peeping Tom Nagumo is the main offender. For her part, Akemi Ito would be moe if she weren't so dull. While it is conceivable that she is supposed to be a parody of the sweet young thing, that still doesn't make her interesting. The only characters that engender any appeal are the demi-humans Amano Jyaku and Megumi Amano. The former, not Nagumo, turns out to be the protagonist, but it takes most of the film to make that apparent - an example of the film's sloppy narrative structure. He has spent 300 years searching for the Chojin in the naive belief he will usher in a peaceful world. Some characters just won't let go of their fixations, despite the mayhem and mutilations all about them. All the same, he does respresent some sort of moral standpoint for us to judge what's going down. His sister, Megumi Amano, is more fun. She is pretty much the only character to display any wit, but she will, in the end, be reduced to helplessness. And, yes, her brother will save her. Her design has aged well, compared with the other characters, even if her mini-skirt is too short to cover her crotch.


Various demons from Urotsukidoji. Clockwise from top left:
a) What happens to the school jock when he licks the blood of a demon. That's some out of control pubic hair.
b) The demons frequently erupt with variations on vagina dentata.
c) The only character I liked - human/demon hybrid Megumi Amano. Her character design helps.
d) Nagumo as demon strikes a pose that would become iconic in Evangelion.


Don't for a moment think this is a sophisticated exploration of our darker sexual urges. Overfiend isn't the least bit nuanced or subtle. It never really goes beyond the trope of sex as violation. Even those partaking in seemingly consensual sex don't appear to be enjoying it. While it may have been disturbing at the time - and I admit I was affected in the cinema screening - any film that pushes boundaries will be exposed in due course. Firstly, cultural standards are steadily becoming more permissive and, secondly, repeated exposure lessens the impact. Overfiend has little value beyond its diminished shock value. Nevertheless, as graphic as the film might be, I wouldn't describe it as pornography. For me the distinguishing feature of pornography is that the viewer is the subject of the narrative. Nagumo, Akemi, Amano, Megumi and the demonic mythmaking are very much the subjects of the film, Megumi's panty shots notwithstanding. Otherwise, visually, the film is surprisingly good for its age and narrow audience. While the demons are ugly, their transormations are always dynamic and sometimes inventive. Scenes are frequently saturated in one colour, while the animation is on the good side of average for its time. The soundtrack is dominated by a keyboard/synthesiser sound that calls to mind Gustav Holst's Mars, the Bringer of War. It ranges from grandiose to tinny. The English language voice acting is uniformly bad, giving the impression not much thought was put into it. The cast use pseudonyms, sometimes humorously, though their voices are recognisable at times.

Rating: weak. Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend might be worth watching to see what was once viewed as outtre, but it has little to recommend it now unless the mayhem suits your taste.

Alternative view: This interview of Professor Jane Goodall from the University of Western Sydney, which was originally broadcast on the Australian Broadcasting Commision (our version of the BBC), gives a much more positive view of the film. She makes the point that the west maintains a dualist worldview (ie, innocence v experience) whereas Japan blends opposites in a very creative way. (She even mentions my favourite William Blake quote: "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom", from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.)

Addendum: The DVD also has the sequel, Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Demon Womb. I really don't want to see the Nazi Death Rape Machine again. Maybe I'll review it another time.

Addendum 2 (8 December 2019): I've just tracked down the newspaper edition and headline - "Graphic images drawn from day-to-day Japan" - that prompted me to see the film at the cinema. It was dated 20 March 1994 (later than I thought). The resolution of the online image of the article is too low to read but I was able to glean that the other films shown were Wicked City and Venus Wars. I've got a week off from work so I'll trot down to the State Library and see if I can get a copy from their microfiche collection.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Dec 07, 2019 6:45 pm; edited 4 times in total
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 08, 2016 1:47 pm Reply with quote
Amano Jyaku, when I say that out loud I can hear someone chanting that name. Was that by any chance the name of the demon who possessed the cat in Ghost Stories??
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Zin5ki



Joined: 06 Jan 2008
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 08, 2016 2:29 pm Reply with quote
Errinundra wrote:
Our thoughts are so synchronised I'm sure one of us must be mistaken. Wink

Well old boy, you're the one who dared to watch Urotsukidoji! I suppose that marks a point of distinction between us.
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Touma



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PostPosted: Fri Jul 08, 2016 3:00 pm Reply with quote
@Alan45
It was spelled Amanojaku in the credits and subtitles, but it was the name of the demon in Ghost Stories.
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Alan45
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 08, 2016 5:46 pm Reply with quote
@Touma
Thanks, I thought that sounded familiar. I wonder if this is a traditional Japanese demon or if it was a specific call out to this show.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2016 5:36 am Reply with quote
The thread is in dire need of an antidote to Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend, so this week’s housekeeping review, which was originally posted 24 November 2012, should do the trick nicely. I've made the usual format changes and added a note (and link) about the anime's title. By the way, I'm longer boycotting unsaid company - I concluded I was cutting my nose to spite my face. I'm watching the shows, but only buying the DVDs/BDs if the price meets my expectations. I don't mind waiting (or even missing out).

Tari Tari

Reason for Watching: Bamboo Dong's recommendations in The Stream; it's ANN's highest rated 2012 series available on Crunchyroll that has concluded (I don't like watching episodes once a week), that I haven't seen, and that wasn't produced by a certain company I'm boycotting (and which is generating much acrimonious debate elsewhere in the forums).

Synopsis: After being made unwelcome in her school's highly regarded choir, spirited Konatsu Miyamoto decides to form her own choral club. Despite a litany of setbacks - including a hostile vice-principal, rivalries with the established choir, a property developer hell bent on closing their school and the obligatory personal problems of the members themselves - the club manages to create their own show and, in the process, drag a reluctant school and local community along with them.


The choral club (l-r): Sawa, Taichi, Konatsu, "Wien" and Wakana.
The anime is at its best when Sawa and Wakana are foregrounded.


Comments: Tari Tari is a sunny, optimistic confection without any lingering or unpleasant aftertaste. The first thing that struck me, though, is that the detailed, pretty backgrounds and the character designs scream PA Works in general and Hanasaku Iroha in particular. That's fine, given that Hanasaku Iroha was such a revelation last year. Problem is, Tari Tari simply doesn't have any characters of the calibre of Ohana, nor do the relationships between any of the five choir club members ever achieve the complexity or emotional resonance between Ohana and the people in her life.

The story begins with Konatsu, a diminutive ball of get-up-and-go, who is initially very appealing thanks to her character design and her spunk but, like so much else in the series, she somehow manages to become superficial seeming quite quickly. By episode four she and the series had become decidedly ho-hum. Thankfully, from episode five the series moves its focus onto the other two girls in the club: a reluctant Wakana Sakai who carries a burden of guilt from the death of her mother; and the girlish, equestrian Sawa Okita who harbours unrealistic ambitions. The two quickly overshadow Konatsu in appeal, so much so that the show is always at its best when either of those two are the centre of attention. It's not just that they have ISSUES. They are successful as characters because they are both located firmly within their individual families. Wakana, in particular, has a touching relationship with her father who probably has the best moment in the entire series when Wakana decides to sell her piano. I've always believed that if you can understand where a person fits in with their family, you've gone a long way in getting a handle on them. In fiction, it helps give a character depth. Konatsu and the two boys have only fleeting and shallow family interactions and it shows in their comparatively limited development and, hence, appeal. Nevertheless, Tari Tari grows a beard from episode five, so I strongly suggest people persevere until then before giving it away.

The Vice-Principle, Naoko Takakura, spends much of the series doing her upmost to thwart the plans of Konatsu and her friends. Straight after Kurau: Phantom Memory here is another of those severe, red-lipped anime women with exaggerated Louise Brooks bobs. And yes, like Ayaka Steiger (Kurau: Phantom Memory), Abelia (Now and Then, Here and There), Limelda Jorg (Madlax) et al, there's a good woman beneath the repression just waiting to be redeemed.

Given the series is about a choir, it seems pretty much devoid of the club's music and, when it does get aired, it is disappointingly bland. Wakana's song - so central to the plot - is unremarkable when we finally get to hear it. Tari Tari is no Kids on the Slope. An odd thing with the character designs, though. They reflect the current fashion where the cheek lines are angular - a trait probably popularised by K-ON!. It may be just me but the style has me picturing them as old women with their sagging cheeks, something that sits incongruously with intended moe effect.

Rating: decent.

One last thing: Tari Tari has a very familiar setting - Kamakura and Enoshima - which it shares with The Vision of Escaflowne, Elfen Lied, and Squid Girl, among others. Is this the most frequently used location in anime after Tokyo?

One final last thing: The title is a reference to the tense of the two verbs used in each of the episode titles, ie the present participle. I suppose the inference is that one should live for the moment, or, as EmbraceMe likes to think, the English title of the show is, "Doing This & That"

Is there any stopping me?


I had to add the image. Konatsu Miyamoto started the club, after all. And, moeru.


Last edited by Errinundra on Fri Oct 18, 2019 4:17 am; edited 1 time in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 15, 2016 10:36 pm Reply with quote
A cold snap hit Victoria this week. With snow in Ballarat and in the hills around Melbourne, the weather has had me wearing woollen gloves, scarf, beanie and a thick jacket. The good thing about winter is the football season: my team is ruling the roost yet again. Melburnians are so obsessed with the weather that we even decorate our buildings to tell us what we already know.

This week’s original review looks at the next anime I saw after Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend, some fifteen years later.

Howl's Moving Castle


The castle is an amalgam of Baba Yaga's house and Franco-Russian pre-dreadnought battleship parts.

Reason for watching: At the time (September 2005) I had no interest in anime. Legend of the Overfiend had left me sceptical so when my sister invited me to see Howl's Moving Castle at Cinema Nova I agreed without much enthusiasm. Her son, Michael, I learned was an anime fan. His love of Hayao Miyazaki films in general and Princess Mononoke in particular was the impulse behind the invitation.

Synopsis: Sophie is a milliner in her mother's shop as her nation prepares festively for war. An encounter with the wizard Howl results in a visit from the jealous Witch of the Waste, who transforms Sophie into an old woman. Figuring that Howl may remove the spell, she seeks out and finds his abode, a travelling castle on giant, metallic chicken legs. (There's also a dog-like creature with chicken legs.) When Sophie installs herself in the castle as its cleaner she meets its motive force, the deadpan fire demon Calcifer who has been trapped by Howl, Markl the boy wizard apprentice, a bouncing scarecrow she names Turnip Head and Howl, the comely yet heartless wizard with a dark transformation. As war erupts, and nations seek to enlist or defeat Howl, Sophie tries to save him from his curse, not to mention Calcifer's, Turnip Head's and, of course, her own. Pulling the strings is the powerful, regal witch Suliman.

Comments: My recollection (going back to that 2005 screening) is that I left the cinema liking the film, without becoming a convert to the art form. It was pretty, but the narrative seemed all over the place. I don't recall watching it since, until borrowing the DVD from my sister - who clearly liked it sufficiently to buy it - for this review. My reaction has been somewhat more positive this time: I suspect, with eleven other Miyazaki films and TV series behind me, I'm now more attuned to his narrative style, with its temporal compressions and expansions, and his habit of oblique exposition. Just the same, Howl's Moving Castle still strikes me as uneven, lacking the creative coherence of his best earlier works.


Sophie goes in search of Howl's castle in a Savoyard landscape.

I'll start with its best element, the visuals. With both alpine and Mediterranean landscapes the film's setting, like Gosick, suggests the Savoy region of France, although the country's flag bears similarities with the Catalan Senyera. One can rely on Miyazaki to do this sort of thing exceptionally well and he doesn't let the viewer down in depicting the grandeur of the mountain scenes or the complex bustle in the city tableaux. A highlight is the interior of the moving castle, with its mess, myriad nooks and crannies, the Arabesque decor of Howl's boudoir, and its rogue toilet. The exterior of the castle is, well, ridiculous, whether intentional or no I can't tell. If I mentally remove it from its setting and the narrative it amuses but, placed back in the film, it jars. The two dimensional character designs have a lightheartedness that doesn't sit well with the complexity of the backgrounds or the seriousness of the thematic material, but that's typical of anime. Like the aged Witch of the Waste and Heen the chicken-footed dog, the demon form of Howl is hokey. His green goo transformation is far more alarming, though still hokey.

These are quibbles, though. While this is hardly an action film the animation and artwork is Ghibli superb. Gross, yet fascinating, is the comic scene of the two elderly women - Sophie and the Witch of the Waste - climbing the endless staircase for an audience with the equal parts tranquil and sinister Suliman. Watching the multiple folds of fat in the Witch of the Waste's neck take on a life of their own is unlike anything else you may see in anime. It's a relief to see Miyazaki break the bounds of good taste. He seems to have a thing about overbearing, old women with huge heads. Also appealing, in their slimy way, are her henchman, particularly the loose-limbed sedan chair porters. The movement of other characters is always fluid and naturalistic. When watching anime I find myself checking out the animation of the feet - most times people walk in an awkward flat-footed motion. Not so, Howl's Moving Castle: it's heel down first, then the ball of the foot, then heel up. It's a little thing that adds to the authenticity.


My favourite image from the film. Miyazaki combines festivity, bombast and the fantabulous.

I'm not sure why I initially found the plot confounding. This time around it seemed relatively straightforward. As mentioned earlier, perhaps I've become more attuned to anime's narrative conventions. For instance, I didn't get why Sophie was turned into an old woman - though it's cool having the protagonist so old - but, without it ever being clearly stated, it's obvious that Witch of the Waste is jealous of the attention Sophie gets from Howl. I guess that's the advantage of watching something on DVD: you can take breaks, re-watch scenes, and think about what you're seeing. The cinema experience is much more about sensation and emotion. That's not to say there aren't issues with the plot. Puppeteer Suliman's motivations remain enigmatic so, given that she has such a catalytic role in the movie, the results of her manouverings seem arbitrary. My guess is that she wants control of all the wizards and witches, so instigates the war to achieve that end. Other plot developments are too rushed or too convenient, given their importance to the story. When Turnip Head is released from the spell, the war is resolved in an instant. Watching through her looking-glass Suliman decides, just as abruptly, to throw in the towel despite the enormous investment she has made in the war. The sudden appearance of the door in the side of the mountain, so that Sophie can learn the truth of Howl and Calcifer, is too convenient. How did it get there? Calcifer? But his curse prevents him from revealing the truth. Howl? He is pre-occupied with battle. Again I am guessing but it seems the ring Sophie is wearing, given to her by Howl, is showing her the way. The history of the spell the binds Calcifer and Howl is too perfunctory, its resolution almost as pat. It's as if Miyazaki was enamoured with the imagery and threw in the requisite plot developments as an afterthought. Thematically, is he saying that male passion must be doused before genuine feelings can be expressed?

The relationship between Sophie and Howl doesn't convince. The device of having the heroine turned into an old lady but appearing steadily younger to Howl as their love develops is sweet. He is acknowledging that beauty is more than skin deep. Countering this is the cliche that male sexuality is a dark, dangerous, secret abode that will destroy the heroine unless she can redeem him with her love. Cue the tale of Bluebeard or William Blake's The Sick Rose. If done well, it can work, but it doesn't in this instance. Heartless or not, Howl as a character is simply too nice and too bland to be convincing. Sophie as old woman is fun; Sophie as young woman is earnest, lacking the spunk of Fio from Porco Rosso or the thrilling ambiguity of Lady Eboshi from Princess Mononoke. Saving things is the fire demon, Calcifer. His put-upon personality, wry complaints, surprising frailty, and his battles of wits with Sophie make him, for me, the most entertaining character of the film and theirs the most entertaining relationship. He is the comic-relief character who outshines the principals. His mouth, ranging from pursed to ravenous, perfectly displays his moods and personality.


Sophie and Howl: she isn't that sweet; he isn't that monstrous.

Like young Sophie and Howl, the Joe Hisaishi's soundtrack is bland, lacking any of the memorable melodies to be found in his earlier films. Like Yuki Kajiura, in the later stages of his career he has become so generically himself that he approaches self-parody. The English language dub is variable. Billy Crystal as Calcifer works a treat, while Emily Mortimer as the young Sophie is stilted. Having the elderly Jean Simmons and Lauren Bacall play old Sophie and the Witch of the Waste, respectively, are great hooks, although Bacall has lost her sexy, smoking induced breathy tones. You can't stop the ravages of time, I guess. Christian Bale's melifluous voice compounds the sense that Howl is just a cuddly panda bear despite any sinister suggestions to the contrary.

Rating: good. Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki visual pyrotechnics compensate for a narrative that veers from opaque to pefunctory, and a lead pair who aren't exceptional. When I see my sister tomorrow I'll return the DVD. I doubt I'll be buying it. Then again, maybe I will for nostalgic reasons.

Alternative viewpont: Here's a link to a review from the Melbourne Age from the time of the film's original release.


Last edited by Errinundra on Fri Oct 18, 2019 4:21 am; edited 1 time in total
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Errinundra
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Location: Melbourne, Oz
PostPosted: Tue Jul 19, 2016 6:27 am Reply with quote
This week's housekeeping review was originally posted 31 August 2013. The usual modifications have been made.

Polar Bear's Cafe

Reason for watching: Partly because of Bamboo Dong's advocacy of it and also because it seemed left field enough to provide something different from the usual anime fare.

Synopsis: Slice of life comedy centred around a cafe run by the eponymous Polar Bear and his two habitual customers, Panda and Penguin.

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

The proprietor of the cafe, Polar Bear, is ever cool, no matter how trying or bewildering or ridiculous things get. He is effortlessly and naturally a leader: everyone defers to him, even his best friend, the aptly named Grizzly Bear. I especially enjoyed his constant po-faced trolling and any excuse interruptions of his ursine mate's attempts at hibernation. Polar Bear is never the least bit annoying (other than to poor Grizzly) because there isn't an ounce of conceit about him and because he so supremely good natured.

Panda is something else altogether. He is the entirely self-absorbed adolescent whose kawaii appeal allows him to get away with any amount of selfishness, arrogance and idiocy. His boundless faith in his ability to charm anybody by just being a panda is galling but entirely justified. It also gives him the latitude to sum things up brutally and disingenuously, usually at Penguin's expense.


How Panda sees everyone around him: as servants to appease his desires, usually sleep or food.
This is the zoo-keeper at Panda's part-time job.


Of the three mains it's Penguin who is at the centre - often the butt - of the anime's cleverest and funniest segments. He is cynical, morose, socially inept, sees the world more clearly than anybody but doesn't have a clue. His romantic travails are some of the highlights of the series, particularly the seven different female penguins he unwittingly woos. Hey, emperor penguins all look the same to me too.

Add to those three a bevy of penguin entrepreneurs trying to sell penguin super sentai cards; a groovy llama who cannot fathom why the world ignores him; a team of squirrel coffee roasters lead by a coffee guru tree kangaroo; as well as many other eccentric beasts (and not forgetting the occasional human beings who all play it very straight) and you have an anime that is constantly amusing. Really, the best thing about Polar Bear's Cafe is the weird, surreal sight of the animals doing normal human things in normal human surroundings. Somehow it makes us human beings seem both ridiculous and sweet.

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

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

Rating: good.

Footnote: This may be just me reading too much into something, as I am wont to do, but when I saw the first OP I had a moment of recognition. One of the images is of Polar Bear and Penguin driving the pandamobile past a tram - in Lisbon of all places! This straight away brought to mind the evergreen Australian movie, Malcolm, where you also see Lisbon trams, this time in the closing credits. The kicker, though, is the soundtrack in the Australian movie - it's by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. The particular track being played over the sequence is called The Ecstasy of Dancing Fleas. I'm sure it's a deliberate shout out.



Last edited by Errinundra on Fri Oct 18, 2019 4:25 am; edited 1 time in total
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Beltane70



Joined: 07 May 2007
Posts: 3911
PostPosted: Tue Jul 19, 2016 12:14 pm Reply with quote
I really miss Polar Bear's Cafe! For me, I was entirely hooked by the end of the first episode.

One of my favorite scenes in the series involves Penguin spoiler[giving each of the penguin sisters a different colored hair ribbon so that he can tell them apart, only to have all seven of the girls exchange colors with one another. While I'm not sure if it's the same episode or not, Llama is able to tell all seven apart from each other, much to the surprise of the rest of the cast.]
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yuna49



Joined: 27 Aug 2008
Posts: 3804
PostPosted: Tue Jul 19, 2016 12:18 pm Reply with quote
Errinundra wrote:
@ yuna49,My recollection of Fuu is that, while she is spirited and the catalyst for the road trip the three undertake, she spends most of the series as an ornament attached to Jin and Mugen. You could say the same, to a lesser degree, about Faye Valentine.

I started watching Champloo again starting near the end and have now restarted watching from the beginning with a friend. I find Fuu much more compelling than any of Watanabe's other females in a similar triad. She's quite brave and strong-willed during the closing arc; neither Lisa nor Ritsuko can hold a candle to Fuu in my book.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 22, 2016 9:11 pm Reply with quote
I've booked my ticket to see the Studio Ghibli/Toshio Suzuki co-produced The Red Turtle next Saturday (30 July) at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival. Expect a report.

On the subject of Studio Ghibli, here's the final instalment of my reviews of re-watches from my formative anime experiences.

Tales from Earthsea


A sword, a boy, a dragon, the setting sun over an endless vista. What more could you want in a fantasy anime film?

WARNING: contains spoilers.

Reason for watching: Two years after watching Howl's Moving Castle with my sister and nephew I returned the favour by inviting them to the Kino Cinema in the city to see Goro Miyazaki's debut feature film, which was to be adapted from the Earthsea fantasy novels by one of my favourite authors, Ursula Le Guin. That said, while I greatly admire her political and gender themed sci-fi novels The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, my previous experience with Earthsea wasn't as rewarding. Many years earlier I had borrowed The Wizard of Earthsea from the Fitzroy Municipal Library only to discover it was a children's book. Much less tolerant then, I returned it unread. Still, simple novels can be bases for good movies, so I was hoping that the Ghibli film would make the most of the material on hand. Michael, my nephew, suggested that, being directed by Hayao Miyazaki's son, we should expect something not as polished as Howl.

Synopsis: Driven by an impulse he doesn't comprehend, Arren, Prince of Enland, murders his father and flees the kingdom amid dire reports of drought, crop failures, infant deaths and the re-appearance of dragons for the first time in anyone's memory. Falling in with the most powerful wizard in Earthsea, the Archmage Sparrowhawk, the two travel across the land searching for the cause of all the troubles. Their journey will lead them to Cob, an old rival of Sparrowhawk's, who is on the verge of achieving eternal life, thereby upsetting the natural balance of the world. They will also discover that powerful forces can lie dormant in the most unassuming of people.

Comments: This review will parallel the Howl review in that the two films share the same strengths and weaknesses. Both have superb visuals (though Earthsea is better), disjointed plots, perfunctory thematic developments and unexceptional characters (though Howl's are better). My recollection (going back to that 2007 screening) is that I enjoyed it somewhat more than Howl, thanks to its gorgeous vistas and grandiose soundtrack, both of which were showcased in the cinema theatre setting. A couple of years later, back when there were still video rental shops, I borrowed & watched it again via DVD. My opinion was unchanged: great images and music; dull characters; indifferent story and themes.


A 720p image doesn't do justice to the majesty of the Hort Town sequence.
It's a strength, and weakness, of the film that it is best seen in a cinema.


I'll come straight out with the heresy: having now watched both Goro Miyazaki films (ther other being From up on Poppy Hill) and numerous Hayao Miyazaki films, the son is superior at framing his vistas, such as landscapes, cityscapes and monumental architecture. It didn't surprise me to learn that Goro is a successful landscape architect outside anime. The simpler, more formal structures within his frames, along with the more expressive colours, create a heightened mood that allows for a greater emotional response from the viewer. You could even say the son is being cheesily manipulative at times. Please don't take all this as a criticism of the father's animation skills - in most other areas the son is developing his craft. What it means is that Earthsea has several thrilling moments, with no counterpart in Howl, thanks to the combination of imagery and music: the marooned sailing ships in the desert; the many stunning vistas in and around Hort; the two rousing dragon transformations, the first-person-view dragon dive (and earlier sparrowhawk dive); the interiors of the Enland palace and Cob's fortress; and the collapse of the fortress's roof. I react to Earthsea more emotionally, more viscerally than Howl. You might say it is more moe, more conventionally anime in how it manipulates the viewer. That's fine - I'm a sucker for moody films with beautifully composed scenery and music. These elements overshadow the film's weaknesses sufficiently to make the overall package, in my opinion, a positive experience. If your cinema expectations or priorities lie elsewhere you may come to a different conclusion.

If the characters in Howl were disappointing, then Earthsea's are execrable. Not one of the "good" guys - Arren, Sparrowhawk, Therru (whose transformation is spectacular but inexplicable), and Tenar (the struggling farming woman who has a prior history with Sparrowhawk) - have an ounce of wit between them. I still haven't figured out to my satisfaction why Arren murdered his father. Perhaps Cob arranged it, but how? The film resolves his inner conflict by splitting the mad and good sides of his nature into two separate entities, thereby rendering the good part blameless. How convenient. Mage Sparrowhawk is dour, worried and sincere. Worthy traits no doubt, but they don't make him interesting or entertaining. Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings), to use an all too obvious example, is all that but his waggish humour and indignant bemusement make him so much more. Tenar is motherly and generous but her principal role is to be a victim. Any story where there's a woman struggling to run a farm on her own can only go in one direction. My favourite is Therru, with her mildly tsundere personality. Can someone be that fearful, when she's actually a dragon? Does she even know she's a dragon? Like Arren's murder of his father, it just happens out of the blue. Perhaps Arren calling her true name awakens the beast within her. But, why must I be reduced to speculation? In any case, she resolves the story, of course, by stitching up the big bad. (Or the did the sun crisp him? There was something of the vampiric about him. But that's Tales form Earthsea for you - the effects take precedence over plot coherence.)


Cob: Willem Dafoe's silky menace single-handedly makes the English language dub worth watching.

The effeminate, lugubrious Cob is, in some ways, the most interesting character of the film. Being devious, Cob has the requisite wit lacking in the other Earthsea characters. Until he loses the plot (in more ways than one) on his fortress roof, there is a stillness and a malice about him unusual for Ghibli, whose villains are frequently somewhat ridiculous, or, in their better examples, conflicted. I can't think of a counterpart in the Ghibli canon, whereas his bully-boy henchman has obvious analogues in the sidekicks of Lady Eboshi (Princess Mononoke) and Kushana (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind). Likewise Arren parallels Prince Ashitaka (Princess Mononoke), Sparrowhawk with Lord Yupa (Nausicaa) and Tenar with Okami (Laputa - Castle in the Sky). At the climax of the film, though, he reveals himself to be just another big bad who wants to live for ever, rule the world, make everyone miserable and indulge his evil laugh.

An even bigger problem is how the, admittedly feeble, thematic exploration of the movie piles everything on Cob's head. Like the more rigourously thought out Princess Mononoke, the newer film posits a yin and yang harmony, that life can only exist if there is death. Cob is on the verge of upsetting the balance by creating a life without death. Yes - all the calamities of Earthsea are due to one man's impending breakthrough. That's a lot of responsibility for one man to bear. He just doesn't seem big enough, or scary enough or evil enough for the role. What's more, if you put the whole moral dilemma on the head of one person you turn a possibly complex philosophical exploration into a contest: beat the big bad. Ursula Le Guin put it nicely,

Ursula Le Guin wrote:
But in the film, evil has been comfortably externalized in a villain, the wizard Kumo/Cob, who can simply be killed, thus solving all problems.

In modern fantasy (literary or governmental), killing people is the usual solution to the so-called war between good and evil.


Princess Mononoke, by way of contrast, avoids such a simple resolution. There is no ultimate villain. After the climax, the different characters dust themselves off and reconsider their various approaches. Not only that, the older film is every bit as spectacular, as is its musical score.

Rating: the high end of decent. Tales from Earthsea doesn't deserve the oblivion some people would wish upon it. Sure, it's ponderous and the characters are bland but seeing this film in its rightful setting - a cinema - highlights its many visual wonders. Here's a funny thing. Although I rated it one notch below Howl's Moving Castle, if you gave me the choice of seeing one of them in a movie theatre I wouldn't hesitate to pick Earthsea, with its handful of moments that take my breath away.


In a film that frequently acknowledges (or plunders, if you prefer) the Miyazaki/Takahata canon,
this scene (Arren pictured) seems to me to reference the opening of Little Norse Prince Valiant.


Last edited by Errinundra on Fri Oct 18, 2019 4:30 am; edited 2 times in total
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