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Jose Cruz Reviews Anime Titles. Latest: Made in Abyss


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Joined: 07 Mar 2009
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Location: Toronto, Canada
PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2017 8:14 pm Reply with quote
I too am an enthusiastic fan of Little Witch Academia. Not so much of Key the Metal Idol. It's been a little while since I've watched it so I'm light on specifics right now but I do remember being distinctly underwhelmed by the narrative. I watched the dub. If I ever do a rewatch, which I just might to see if perhaps my original opinion is offbase, I'll watch the sub to see if that makes any difference.
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Jose Cruz



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PostPosted: Sat Jul 22, 2017 12:04 am Reply with quote
I watched the sub for Key. Overall I think I would rate Little Witch Academia higher, but thats because it is essentially a flawless show. Whike Key is hard hitting but flawed. Overall both are great examples of animation as an art form.
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Jose Cruz



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PostPosted: Sun Jul 30, 2017 11:36 pm Reply with quote
Kyousougiga (2013)



Now that's an impressive piece of animation. It's extremely densely packed with ideas and is among the most artistically ambitious pieces of animation I have watched in this year. Indeed the reason why I am into animation is because of stuff like this as there does not exist any live action comparable to this kind of stuff. It's exactly this kind of stuff that brings the best out of the medium and like Madoka, Evangelion, Key the Metal Idol, Miyazaki's films and Little Witch Academia is an original and some if not most of the best anime tends to be made up of original animations.

It's a visually experimental work, it's quite unlike most Japanese animation although it's visual style can be described as a middle of the road between Masaki Yuasa's works in the 2000's decade like Mindgame and the works of studio Gainax in the early to mid 2000's like FLCL and Gurren Lagann. It also provides good examples of the creative use of limited animation akin to to Kill-la-Kill, delivering maximum dynamics with a minimum number of frames.

The plot is a bit convoluted and strained a little bit my attention span but that's a good thing. It had so many ideas working simultaneously that I managed to overwhelm me which happens very rarely to me. So that's a plus for delivering a differentiated experience. The show mixes up pieces of traditional Japanese architecture (as shown in the "live action episode" that's more like a documentary of the show, most of the show's locations are based on real locations around Kyoto) into a family story featuring visual experimentation that reminds me of FLCL. But at it's core it's a traditional family story about a family that wants to stay together.

Overall, a highly impressive piece of work that represents a good example of the visual richness present in contemporary Japanese animation.


Last edited by Jose Cruz on Sun Dec 03, 2017 4:41 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Jose Cruz



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PostPosted: Sun Jul 30, 2017 11:44 pm Reply with quote
Boku no Hero Academia (2016)



Now I was really pleasantly surprised by this one. I have a certain prejudice against teenager/children's entertainment due to my bad experiences with mainly American media aimed at those audiences. Specially the superhero genre which is badly exploited by Hollywood's rather vapid superhero themed blockbusters. However, my imouto Smile, I mean, my little sister recommended it to me and so I had to watch it.

And also, Japan has actually managed to craft relatively interesting superhero tales, such as One Punch Man. And this one, Boku no Hero Academia is an astonishingly entertaining piece. In fact, in terms of pure entertainment value it's among the most entertaining things I watched on a screen over the past couple of years. Well, I guess I still have the brain of a teenager. Smile Indeed, when someone says "this was made for horny teenagers" its the stuff that instantly attracts me.

It is in it's core a sports anime and a rather cliche entry in the genre of sports manga/anime. Given that the basic elements of pretty much all sports anime/manga are all there in Ashita no Joe, back in the late 1960's and early 1970's, this time applied to the field of superheroes. The show's main character represents the typical impression that typical middle class Japanese teenager boys have of themselves (given it's the show's target audience). So it's superhero of the "average guy", a-la Spider Man and unlike Superman, in fact the main character actually is one of the people born without a quirk, which is a mutation that all superheroes have in this story and that 80% of the population also has.

So, to become a hero he has to work harder than anyone else and this is exactly that: an underdog's tale of working your *ss off to achieve your dreams. Essentially, the classical sports manga story, repeated many times and whose quintessential articulation is still Ashita no Joe but also shown in Aria the Origination as one of the undine apprendices is not as talented as the other two but decided to work her *ss off anyway.

I also liked the show's art style. It's quite distinct from typical late night animation and so I enjoyed it's variation from this norm. I also liked how extremely vibrant the color scheme was as well. Well liking pretty vibrant colors is one of the reasons I am into anime. Anyway, I also think this would be a good introduction to anime as well to a (open minded) westerner unused to the medium, given it's accessibility and universal appeal.
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Jose Cruz



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 12:41 am Reply with quote
Simoun (2006)



It has been a long time since I watched an animation as good as this one for the first time, in fact, I think this might be the best animation or even piece of film I have watched for about 3 to 4 years. Why? Well, it is because it attains the sublime. That is, it reaches a point where I feel fully impressed by it's gravitas. I didn't feel so strongly about an anime since, let me think, finishing Trigun back in late 2013 or so.

Yes, it looks like a lesbian fetish show for the heterosexual male gaze, but it's so much more than that. Although it was certainly made for the heterosexual male gaze: the show stars an all female cast of >17 year old girls, because the show assumes that in this fantasy world everybody is born female and humans can only transition to male after reaching adulthood, so lesbian relationships are much more natural for teenagers. However, these elements certainly add a sense of progressiveness in it: in Japan we don't have even today legalized gay marriage, but in the world of fiction, Japanese authors make their characters do everything that people in the real world are not supposed to do.

Its main themes include the concept of change and the emotions it entails: the emotions involved with the process of growing up, that is perhaps the most radical change in a persons life. Here, it is articulated with a very obvious methaphor: everybody was a little shoujo in the past and then must become an adult. The sibylla are essentially people who extend their adolescence as they are allowed to no choose to grow up (which is, to choose their gender) after they turn 17.

Anyway, it's transcendental artistic achievements are very apparent. It's very slow, in a sense, it's very unlike Kyousogiga or Boku no Hero Academia, for instance. Instead this is a work of contemplative cinema that focuses on building up an atmosphere. Or at least that it is how I reacted to it.

Also, this title shows how a Japanese animated series can be simultaneously superior to 2-hour movies and to Western TV shows: it has a literary quality, as result of it's 11 hour length, that's impossible to match in a movie but at the same time a Western TV show lacks the same degree of aesthetic and literary consistency and density in atmosphere. Simoun achieves, simultaneously, great buildup in terms of plot and character development without sacrificing its aesthetic qualities. It is a very rare gem indeed.

Also, it features the best soundtrack among any animation that I have watched since Haibane Renmei. And I think that soundtrack is the main appeal of anime over manga. Although another advantage is that anime shows are usually made in a compact form with a beginning a middle and an end while manga are like Western TV shows that can go on forever and so lose their sense of aesthetic consistency.

It has some flaws, basically its low budget with corners cut everywhere in terms of animation. But thats the only flaw I can think about. It makes me wonder how this show is rated relatively poorly on MAL, well, those kids there have no taste.

Now, stuff like this is exactly what I have in my mind when I think about the stereotype of anime that I have in my head: feels kinda like the strong atmosphere of RahXephon and it's technological fantasy setting, mixed in with the slow pacing of something like Technolyze plus the addition of lesbian romance. Well, it's manga adaptation was published in the same manga magazine as YuruYuri, whose animated adaptation felt rather mediocre if compared to this. Now, that show is what a masterpiece of animation looks like.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 3:24 am Reply with quote
I think you nailed it, although some people never liked the background artwork. Not me, though. When I first reviewed Simoun in my thread I gave it an excellent rating, but I've since upgraded it to masterpiece. The soundtrack is a favourite of mine. The only thing that I can't find is the magisterial theme that is played when Dominura and Limone achieve their spoiler[Emerald Majon].

If I ever complete my Beautiful Fighting Girls project, I aim to provide a list of the essential titles - Simoun will definitely be amongst that number.

On another matter, are you able to edit the subject line of your original post? I've been doing it for you to display the latest title. I also added the stars - if you don't want them and can't edit the subject line, I'll remove them for you.
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Key
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 11:13 am Reply with quote
While I don't know that I'd call it one of my favorites, Simoun is definitely one of a handful of titles that I'll actively champion, and it was on my Top 10 of the 2000s list. It's a work of elegance and grace which feels like it's saying a lot but not in a way so abstract that you have to be an expert with auteur works to understand it.
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Animegomaniac



Joined: 16 Feb 2012
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 11:33 am Reply with quote
Jose Cruz wrote:
Simoun (2006)
Yes, it looks like a lesbian fetish show for the heterosexual male gaze, but it's so much more than that. Although it was certainly made for the heterosexual male gaze: the show stars an all female cast of >17 year old girls, because the show assumes that in this fantasy world everybody is born female and humans can only transition to male after reaching adulthood, so lesbian relationships are much more natural for teenagers. However, these elements certainly add a sense of progressiveness in it: in Japan we don't have even today legalized gay marriage, but in the world of fiction, Japanese authors make their characters do everything that people in the real world are not supposed to do.


This one of the things I find so fascinating about Simoun: People see in it what they want, not necessarily what's there. These early "same sex"- in truth, unisex relations- are in universe immature and fleeting, how I understand how the conservative Japanese culture views homosexual relations and upon maturity, same sex relationships just don't happen, they're not exactly outlawed but most certainly more than frowned upon because the ceremony is about casting away the childish in favor of a relationship that would more benefit society as a whole- and could there be a better benefit to society than creating the following generation?

There's a sense of progressiveness? Tell that to those two pilots who both became male and had to end their open relationship.

Like I said, it's fascinating.
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Jose Cruz



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PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 2:05 pm Reply with quote
Errinundra wrote:
I think you nailed it, although some people never liked the background artwork.


I really liked the muted colors of the background.

Quote:
On another matter, are you able to edit the subject line of your original post? I've been doing it for you to display the latest title. I also added the stars - if you don't want them and can't edit the subject line, I'll remove them for you.


I just checked and yes I can. I will edit it next time I post a review.

@Animegomaniac, now that you mention it, I can see that the idea that these homosexual relationships are considered immature and temporary by the Simoun shows how it adheres to the conservative cultural values of Japan. Despite appearing to be progressive.

@Key, I watched it actually because it was in your masterpiece rated titles. I like how in anime we have those relatively obscure gems so that we can stumble across a masterpiece when we least expect it.
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Zin5ki
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 04, 2017 9:16 am Reply with quote
Key wrote:
It's a work of elegance and grace which feels like it's saying a lot but not in a way so abstract that you have to be an expert with auteur works to understand it.

Would I be right in suggesting that Simoun is Utena's antithesis in this respect? Your choice of words here brought such a comparison to mind.
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Key
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 04, 2017 11:22 am Reply with quote
Zin5ki wrote:
Would I be right in suggesting that Simoun is Utena's antithesis in this respect? Your choice of words here brought such a comparison to mind.

Interesting question. After consideration, I agree. There's definitely extensive elements in the series that are open to liberal interpretation, but unlike with Utena, I don't feel you have to parse through the content and deeply consider the symbolism to come to an understanding on it. It's an approach that I vastly prefer to Ikuhara's works.

To put it another way, I "get" this series but I don't at all for Utena. (Or the lesbian bear series, for that matter.)
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Jose Cruz



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PostPosted: Fri Aug 04, 2017 10:02 pm Reply with quote
I noticed that with Ikuhara's work the more I watched his stuff the more I appreciated him. I watched first Utena, then Utena's movie, then Mawaru Penguindrum (which I reviewed in this thread) then Lesbian Bear Storm. So far the one I liked the most was Lesbian Bear Storm and I liked each experience more than the last. Ikuhara's style is basically a genre of his own. I think he is certainly among the top most artistically creative people in the anime/manga world.
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Jose Cruz



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PostPosted: Sat Aug 05, 2017 8:09 am Reply with quote
Kokoro Library (2001)



I consider myself a moe fan, although I also find myself bored with a lot of moe shows, recently I tried watching Place to Place and found myself severely bored. I think that moe, in the sense of plotless cuteness driven character interaction, is a hard genre to do. In fact, classics of the genre such as K-On! and Azumanga Daioh are really admirable for pulling it off so well.

Kokoro Library is one such admirable sucesses of the genre and shows Place to Place on how to do cuteness. Kokoro Library is indeed very good. One of the best animations I experienced in a while, well, not quite on the same level as Simoun, but certainly an important ground breaking title. It was the first Cute Girls doing Cute Things title, or at least is the oldest title of the genre I know and it is very primitive in a way. It is more plot driven than the usual for the genre while also features many male characters. In a way it is not a true CGDCT title as it doesn't fulfill all the characteristics of the genre.

Its reminds me of Black Sabbath's first albums in the sense that they where primitive versions of heavy metal with heavy blues and jazz influence. Black Sabbath started out as a blues and jazz band and evolved into heavy metal, being one of the pionners of the genre. However, its first albums are not quite "heavy metal" in the sense that they don't sound quite like pure heavy metal like Judas Priest's Painkiller, instead they are albums showing a misture of styles with enough heavy metal elements to qualify as among the first heavy metal albums. Kokoro Library is the same: it has enough cute girls doing cute things to qualify under the label: animation about cute girls doing cute things.

I am also thinking about Western parallels with this kind of stuff and it lead me to conclude that there are important similarities between moe visual culture and metal music. Moe is about rebelling against society by indulging in the most extremely feminine and childish visual culture imaginable, as shows like Kokoro Library are very self conscious about it: it is executed in a way to maximize its cuteness and it is uncompromising about its goal in doing so. Metal music is essentially the same in trying to achieve extreme level of expression in music.

The quality of the execution of this show is also way above average, although the art and animation are a bit dated the plot unfolds with a sense of grace and elegance that is uncommon in most manga adaptations. It actually reminded me a lot of Miyazaki's Kiki Delivery Service, which can also be regarded as an prototype title of the moe genre. Overall I think it is a very nice title and its soundtrack is also very good and relaxing, complementing the show well.
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Jose Cruz



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PostPosted: Fri Aug 25, 2017 12:33 pm Reply with quote
In this Corner of the World (2016)



Now this was a powerful movie. In fact, perhaps the best movie I have watched in like 2 years or so. The art style is very pastel colored and very subtle. Unlike the sharp super well lines you see in commercial TV anime, here we have more graceful and simple art style. Something that is reminiscent of Ghibli but yet quite distinct.

The movie is more low budget than Your Name but in some ways it is more aesthetically impressive. Your Name's graphical quality reminds me of a super high definition graphics of the latest videogames while this film's art is more classical water colour in style. The film even features some abstract sequences as well. It is a truly impressive world or visual art.

The film is not plot driven but highly atmospheric. It is a slice of life movie of the realistic vein (instead of the highly exaggerated style of Kokoro Library, this text makes the distinction between exaggerated slice of life aimed at "teenagers" and "adult" slice of life: http://www.boilet.net/am/nouvellemanga_manifeste_1.html), like Only Yesterday. Actually you can think of this movie as a mix between Only Yesterday and Grave of the Fireflies. Isao Takahata would have been proud.

Also, I would never suspect it was directed by the same person as Black Lagoon: Roberta's Blood trail. Laughing
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Jose Cruz



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PostPosted: Sun Dec 03, 2017 4:08 pm Reply with quote
Made in Abyss (2017)



It is in titles like Made in Abyss that the uniqueness of Japanese culture shines most strongly. Made in Abyss is a highly subversive and progressive piece. Why is that? Well, for two major reasons:

1st - On it's surface it is an light adventure story featuring two children who set out to explore a big cave. However, it's aimed at an adult audience and it's childish characters represent rebellion against Japanese society. I should go into more detail why it is so: in Japan the young population has used childish cuteness as a way to rebel against social norms, since in Japan when you are an adult you are supposed to be a highly responsible and productive workaholic individual who is very level headed and polite. Therefore acting like a spoiled child is a very direct way of challenging social norms. It's the Japanese version of the youth rebellion in the west that consisted of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Interestingly, in Japan this is mostly performed by females since behaving in a childish manner is more acceptable for them (as their society expects less from them as well, given most highly paying jobs are taken by men). Also, in this show we have an example of Japan's more fluid take on gender expression with a boy that is easily confused for a girl dressed in a maid dress employed as Ozen's "office boy". I like things like that, that take western standards on its head.

2nd - It is actually a brutal horror piece. The Abyss is a very scary and menacing place, a place that can kill people just because they move up inside of it. The show's adult characters often display inhuman levels of cruelty: Ozen's traumatizing pieces of "advice" for the main character Riko are far from the being the most cruel actions in the show. Interestingly, Riko appears to be almost completely unaware of the dangers of the Abyss (or at least severely underestimates then) and its implied by the show that due to her being effective "born" inside an relic (since she was born dead and was placed inside a relic which tends to make animals alive again) that she wants instinctively to go back to the Abyss's depths. That might explain the reckless and almost visceral way she acted.

I love the combination of cuteness and brutality that sometimes occurs in anime, I guess it's the type of fictional narrative that leaves me the most emotionally affected. Well, tragedy hitting on innocent childlike characters is the most extreme way of inducing an emotion but also perhaps the hardest to do naturally. So far, most attempts at it have been rather mediocre and failed to feel natural (specially the couple of magical girl shows made just after Madoka, Day Break Illusion stricken me as the most mediocre of all among those I watched). There were so far only two that I know that were really able to pull this off fully, Made in Abyss and Madoka.

And Made in Abyss is a more elegant show than Madoka, being less "plot intensive" (it's plot is a simple as one might think) and more moderate in it's pacing. It's no less shocking however: it's perfect execution is the secret for it's effectiveness as it is able to conjure a thick atmosphere and characters that feel natural despite its extremely over the top style.

So far, 2017 has been perhaps the best year for animation in history. And Made in Abyss stands as this year's top title for me (so far) and perhaps one of the best anime in history.
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