Reel Anime 2013 Roundup

by Jon Hayward,

This is the first year Reel Anime has run in consecutive years and run in New Zealand as well as Australia, so it's pretty great. And if you're reading this I assume you are an anime fan and are somewhat interested in the five films on offer. And if you have already seen some or all of Reel Anime, congrats and thanks for showing Madman that you want to see these films! Well here's my run down on the titles on offer (minus Evangelion 3.0) with thanks to Madman.

And of course, if you just want to know where Reel Anime 2013 is screening and want to check out the trailers you can check out our previous article on Reel Anime here.

The Garden of Words

Takao is skipping school again, he does this all the time when it's raining in the morning. Just goes to the park and studies to make shoes. However one morning Takao meets a strange woman who sits there drinking beer and eating chocolate while reading Japanese literature. Then Takao runs into her again on the next rainy morning, and the next and the next. Soon they form a unspoken bond where they do not know each other's names but Takao decides he will make a pair of shoes for this woman as he moves forward with his life.

If you're familiar with Makoto Shinkai films you usually get a science fiction conceit wrapped up with great characters. However with the garden of words we get a luscious almost photo realistic film with Shinjuku Gyoen Park as it's backdrop and a tale of unspoken bonds, un-requited feelings and maturing into adulthood. Instead of amazing skies we're treated to amazing rain and water, you could probably watch 45 minutes of Shinkai animating Shinjuku Gyoen and walk away satisfied. But we're also given a fascinating picture into two people's lives that you can't help but want to know where it leads.

I'm not going to say too much more on The Garden of Words as Luke reviewed it during the premiere in April, but paired up with Arise it's a great watch and I highly recommend checking out the GITS:Arise / Garden of Words double if you can.

Ghost in the Shell: Arise

Ghost in the Shell has had a varied history, GITS Arise appears to be telling the tale of how Section 9 became the organization we all know and love from GITS:SAC and the rest of the GITS mythos. So how does this re-imagining of sorts work for the GITS fan? If you don't want to read the rest of this review then here's the spoiler free summary. GITS:Arise is excellent.

This OVA opens on Aramaki and what appears to be members of Section 9 exhuming a grave in the rain. The Major appears and warns the team not to open the box but it's suddenly revealed that the box holds a killer exploding android in the shape of a little girl. From then on we're shown that the Major is investigating to discover the identity of her superior's killer and Section 9 wants her help to trace the money involved in the deployment of the killer android. What sets Arise's story apart is that the Major is not the fine secure and upstanding woman we know but instead someone who is unsure of herself following the death of her CO. Seeing a vulnerable but still very capable Major is an engrossing, we're introduced to her role in the 501 organisation who don't get along with her, told facts about her past that place her in a very different light to previous GITS series and shown why she wants to leave the military.

It's a great watch. Action, investigation, mysteries and Batou, it's all here. Kusunagi, Batou and Togusa are all investigating the CO's death from different angles. Batou is seeking revenge for his mate, a fellow ranger and Toguska is looking into improper conduct against his superior's orders. Together they uncover a conspiricy involving the military, politics and big business, you know, the standard for GITS.

GITS Arise has a lot to stand up for with it's re-boot prequel status and it delivers. The change in voice actors isn't noticeable but then again I personally was not that attached to the original actors. To be quite honest the biggest difference is Aramaki's hair is brown! The rest of the character designs just look like younger versions, more smoothed out, and the entire 501 organisation appears to be designed from the mind of Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid) which makes sense considering they're a cyborg platoon. And the logikoma rocks up to provide some much needed comic tones to the proceedings, we do get to see a 'koma drive the major's motorcycle .

It's not all amazing moments, the plot is fully explained in a set of exposition at the end and I wish they had found a better way to explain what was going on beyond a 5 minute scene of watching money burn.

And of special note is Cornelius' soundtrack, it's amazing and sets just the right tone for the action, dirty guitars strike in, everything is slightly off-kilter and sets the tone perfectly.

In short I would definitely watch this OVA again and look forward to the remainder of the borders for GITS:Arise.

009 Re:Cyborg

Do not, I repeat do not watch this film in a sane state of mind, sober or otherwise. The trailer is misleading and you end up with more questions than it's worth.

When Reel Anime 2013 announced 009 Re:Cyborg I was very excited, a modern take of the classic 1960's manga from Production I.G. I assumed that the film would be a re:start of sorts due to the re:line in the title. That it would be a fun film of action sequences involving the team defeating a group of terrorists connected with their own varied pasts.

I was wrong. 009 Re:Cyborg is a film that I wish I had not seen to begin with. I would like to just remember the trailer and the potential of such a film rather than what we were given.

So lets begin with a bit of history on Cyborg 009. The 009 Cyborg team were created by a evil secret organisation back in the 1960's by a morally confused professor. Each cyborg number from 001 to 009 has a different nationality and special skill. The team broke away from the evil organisation with some assistance from the professor and continued to thwart the org and other plots around the world. The series started publication in 1962 and continued to be published on and off for close to the next 50 years in various magazines with 39 volumes and a finale manga currently being published. In fact Shotaro Ishinomori's creation is considered to be the first Japanese super-powered hero team and Cyborg 009 and his other creation Kamen Rider are responsible for the concept of Henshin heros. And the franchise has managed to create three anime tv series, four anime films over the years. If you didn't manage to figure this out, Cyborg 009 carries a lot of history with it. Now imagine you have never seen or read like that above paragraph before seeing the movie. You don't know who, what or why. And the movie takes next to no effort to explain either.

So what are we presented with? There's a bunch of buildings exploding and a newscast stating that a terrorist is responsible. We're introduced to brooding lead character and a team talking about re-activating him. One action sequence later the main brooding protagonist (009) has his memories back and we're given exposition of the team broken into various groups chatting about things. They're chatting in bars, chatting in offices, chatting in airplanes, exposition everywhere! And for some reason the main character goes and enjoys some make up/out time with another of the cyborg team.

The film then continues in this manner with action sequence followed by large amount of exposition in a office between the main characters. Apparently the bombings are the voice of god, the voice of god is a biological imperative in everyone to end the world, but everyone' s voice is different and for some reason there's winged skeleton statues that cause everyone to lose their minds and start obeying the voice of god without consciously realising it. Then we're left with a unsatisfying ending where the team could go on to save the day or potentially they're just all dead in limbo.

The film has no real character development, no-one you can get attached to. There is a sequence where one of the main characters quite literally discovers that he's been under "no john, YOU are a zombie". You're left hanging for all of 10 minutes as to who the mystery terrorist might be and then you get the rug swept from under you.

And lets talk animation for a moment. The updated character designs do look amazing and have Production I.G.'s quality stamp all over them. However the actual animation outside of the action scenes use a staggered animation style similar to traditional 2d animation. This leaves me thinking that the movie has more in common with Iron Man Armoured Adventures aside from Great Britain's design. After watching one of the exposition sequences you'll be left wondering if the characters can indeed rub their stomach and pat their head at the same time. But the action is brilliant, fighting on skyscrapers, jumping into planes, running along missiles, escaping from a nuclear bomb on foot in Dubai, it looks great and deliveries on the promises of the trailer.

For a film called "009 Re:Cyborg" it hints at the film being a fresh place to start watching this rich 50-year old franchise. However what we're left with is a confusing group of characters that we are never introduced to talking about things in places where they seems to have no idea of the words coming out of their mouths. And occasionally we have a neat action sequence. 009 Re:Cyborg is definitely "see it if you must" for Reel Anime 2013.

A Letter to Momo

Momo is moving with her mother to the far off island of Shio after the death of her father. Shio is very unfamiliar to Momo who has just left Tokyo, a small rural population of farmers where he mother spent some of her childhood. And Momo doesn't know any of the local kids, has no idea in terms of the schooling and isn't too pleased to be yanked away from her familiar surrounds after the death of her father.

And she would start to work it out two if it wasn't for Momo being able to see the presence of three suspicious "gods" who have suddenly appeared...

Letters to Momo follows Momo trying to deal with the death of her father. Momo is revealed to have had a fight with him the last moment she saw him and finding a letter from him with the letters "dear momo" she's been placed in a interesting predicament. With the discovery of three 'gods' demanding praise and food she slowly discovers the real reason for them being there is tied up with her father. Meanwhile Momo's mother is dealing with the loss of her husband, having to go back to work and start a new life without him and handle the really weird behavior her daughter is exhibiting. As we follow Momo's misadventures with the three, quite frankly disgusting, guardians terrorising the community she's trying to acclimatise to we discover the feels she shares with her mother and what's important to her.

This is that typical Japanese slice of life dramatic comedy set in the summertime in a picturesque part of Japan. You might have seen similar films against a similar backdrop with a interesting cast of characters framing the personal growth of the main cast, Whisper of the Heart comes to mind and to a lesser extent The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. What we're given is a nice and easy tale that endears us to Momo and the three guardians and makes us want to spend more time with the cast. Of course your mileage will vary if you feel that the film is too slow, but it's deliberately so, it doesn't want to force the emotional beats on the viewer and if you relax it just comes naturally.

And I should take a moment to talk about how great the guardians are, from the very first moment you see Kawa, Mame and leader Iwa you know their characters in full and just want to see more. The boar scene in particular is one you will remember for years.

If anything my only complaint is that the climax of the film feels forced, the build towards it is great but the large challenging wall in front of Momo for her to realise her true feelings doesn't quite sit right with the rest of the film. But the ride is definitely enjoyable and very very weird.

So in short, Letter to Momo is a gorgeously animated film that is charming, humorous and enjoyable. If you want to see one film as part of Reel Anime 2013 make it this one.

Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo

I did not get the time to watch Evangelion 3.0 and as I have not watched 1.0 and 2.0 I felt that I would be out of my depth. But I am informed that if you like Evangelion or have watched the other films you should go watch Eva 3.0. If you haven't seen the previous ones you might want to watch another of the titles on offer.

In Conclusion

Reel Anime 2013 is an excellent collection of films to watch in the theatres, there's quite literally something for everyone to enjoy and I hope that every anime fan in Australia and New Zealand have made the effort to catch at least one title on offer. If you're not sure, just go catch A Letter to Momo, it's the standout film of the bunch and well worth your time.

This article was written using review copies supplied by Madman Entertainment, we thank them for their support.

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