Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 14th 2012
This Boy Can Fight Aliens!
Aliens have come to invade Earth, but they have apparently decided that they must defeat one particular boy first, so each day they send down one of their number to fight that boy. Arikawa, who works for the Special Counter-Aliens Task Force, has found that boy: an amnesiac named Kakashi, who really can fight and defeat the aliens in one-on-one battles. Arikawa and his boss/father figure Shiro have cordoned off a park-like area for Kakashi to fight his battles (so that no one else or any buildings get caught in the fighting) and have lived there with Kakashi for four months now. The only link that Kakashi has to his elusive past is a cell phone which doesn't seem to work but which he suspect has tons of messages on it from friends he can't remember. As the days pass, Shiro comes to wonder if it really is necessary for Kakashi to fight the aliens to save the world, while Kakashi starts to form a special bond with Arikawa.
Back in the early 2000s Makoto Shinkai sent ripples through the anime industry by virtually single-handedly creating and producing the acclaimed TV episode-length OVA Voices of a Distant Star. While it didn't fundamentally change the way anime production worked, it did have an influence, and this premiere full-episode effort by the 22-year-old Soubi Yamamoto is one blazing sign of that influence. That she created it essentially the same way Shinkai did his first major effort – i.e., by doing everything but the sound, music, and voice acting herself on a home computer – is every bit as remarkable an accomplishment as Shinkai's work was, and that she was inspired by Voices in making this project would be abundantly clear even if she hadn't publicly admitted as much (as is noted in this early 2012 interview), as the stylistic similarities in writing and tone are abundant. That this release is coming to us via CoMix Wave, the same company which produces Shinkai's works, is also not a coincidence, and one can easily believe that Shinkai is taking a vested interest in helping other promising creators make their breakthroughs.
That being said, This Boy Can Fight Aliens! shows nowhere near the level of technical and artistic brilliance that Voices did, although it is still a respectable effort. The basic story premise – that aliens are invading for some reason and exactly one boy is capable of fighting them off in one-a-day, one-on-one matches – is more a convenience than an actual plot, and anyone expecting to see a full explanation on it or a complete and satisfying resolution will be disappointed; the plot twist near its end concerning why Kakashi's phone doesn't work is more than a bit of an eye-roller, for instance. The writing instead focuses much more on the same kind of “making connections” aspect that is so prevalent in Shinkai's works. Kakashi fights aliens to protect the world even though he regards it as a “not nice” place and despite growing suspicions that the world won't necessarily end even if he doesn't, but it's an isolating experience since a) his memories are absent, b) his phone doesn't work, and c) he's pretty much confined to a park-like area to prevent the fights with the aliens from endangering anyone else. Arikawa's friendship and Shiro's father figure-like status offer him that human connection that he needs to stay motivated in his fight and give him purpose until he can reconnect with his past and all of the friends that he thinks he has out there. Since Yamamoto has admitted to being influenced by boy's love titles, it should come as no surprise that the Arikawa/Kakashi relationship also shows suggestions of going farther that are prominent enough to trip most viewers' “gaydars.” (Two girls holding hands while sleeping is usually regarded as harmlessly cutesy, but boys doing the same thing almost never is.) Yamamoto's effort also differs from Shinkai's efforts in its use of some mild comedy elements, but this is not a big factor in the production.
Sentai Filmworks' release of this title also includes three earlier, shorter works by Yamamoto, one or more of which she likely made while still in high school. The shortest, the three-minute “Ra/Radio Noise Planet,” is a simple exercise about Mr. Tanaka, a young man who works as a radio DJ an lives on a small planet whose population consists of six people and a dog; whether intentionally or not, it evokes a The Little Prince kind of feel. The four-minute “Sekaikei Sekairon,” which is named after the sekai-kei storytelling method (a method which involves skipping the “society” step in connecting a self-centered “you and me” focus to the “world” – an approach seen to some degree in all of Yamamoto's presented works), most embodies that method in describing a teenage boy who talks about destroying the world and has tenuous relationships with the few people around him. The longest, the ten-minute “Robotica Robotics,” focuses on two bishonen robots who were cast aside by their former master and still worry about coming to such a fate again under their caring new master. It, too, has distinct BL undertones. They are all more crudely-told tales but do show a definite progression of writing refinement which leads up to the release's main feature.
Yamamoto's artistic effort on all four productions can most charitably be called visually distinctive and inventive. Characters tend to have the long, lanky builds and pointed features typical of shojo manga styles, although the eyes are invariably really weird; instead of pupils Kakashi has hazy, crayon-drawn swirls, while Arikawa commonly looks like he has fat exclamation points in his. Aliens are undefined anthropomorphic figures filled with seemingly-random patterns that shift in a manner not unlike Gonzo's effort on Gankutsuou, as are their spaceships, and disintegrate into little geometric shapes when defeated. Backgrounds have a fair amount of detail but in a deliberately artificial rather than realistic sense, including having signposts and traffic lights stuck in odd places and/or at odd angles. Yamamoto also toys extensively with shadow effects and pattern overlays, resulting in a very experimental feel. She is overly fond of using on-screen text and narration to explain details about characters and what they're doing that the characters and/or their actions could very well explain themselves, however. The animation is the weakest point of the main feature, though it does still evoke a fair sense of movement and dramatics. Earlier works, as one might expect, are much cruder on their artistry and have very limited animation.
The sound and music are the only elements (aside from voice work) that Yamamoto did not do, but they offer the strongest production elements in each of these projects. IMAGINE Music, whose past efforts have included titles as diverse as Buso Renkin, Haibane Renmei, and Sakura Wars, turn in a beautifully complementary effort here, one based heavily on piano, violin, and harmonica and featuring a pretty theme song by Akiko Shikata. Music is also the strong point of each of the shorter works, creating a distinct contrast between the amateur and professional sides of the productions.
Sentai has not only dubbed all of these works but has also given this one both DVD and Blu-Ray releases, the latter complete with DTS HD Master Audio and a clarity of picture quality that gets the most out of the artistry. The dub effort in each case is a solid but unspectacular one, with the scripts changed as little as possible. All on-screen text does, thankfully, get translated, since it's essential in some places. Beyond the bonus videos, the other Extra is a short print-only interview with Yamamoto.
Ultimately This Boy Can Fight Aliens! is more a demonstration of a rising talent than one who is already at the top of her craft. The story is hampered some by running longer than it needs to, which may leave some viewers bored, and the artistic style definitely will not be to everyone's liking. Though not bad, this work lacks necessary refinement, suggesting that better things are yet to come from Yamamoto.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : B+
+ Good musical score, inventive use of visuals, does a fair job of speaking to the heart.
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