Tag Archives: Drama

The focus is on emotional conflict.

A Whisker Away – One True Cat Girl?

Japanese Title: Nakitai Watashi wa Neko wo Kaburu

 

Similar: The Cat Returns

A Silent Voice

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Drama Romance

Length: 1 hr. 44 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The girl’s cat-like behaviour
  • The cats
  • Animation is brilliant

Negatives:

  • The boy is bland
  • Romance doesn’t really work

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Miyo is a girl in love. A little too much in love if you ask most people. Her target is Kento, a quiet boy who keeps his troubles to himself. She comes from a disjointed family with an overbearing mother – in Miyo’s view – and a weak father. Instead, this energetic girl throws all attention into drawing the eye of her crush. Nothing works. Opportunity arises when a fat cat sells her a mask that transforms her into a cute little cat, after which she uses her newfound form to visit Kento in disguise. He takes the cat in and calls her Taro.

The girl, I like, particularly the way they animated her. The animators managed to convey how a human would move if inhabited by the spirit of a cat. In one scene, she hears two boys at school making fun of Kento, so she jumps off a walkway, crashes through the branches of a tree, and lands before them like a wild cat. Perfect embodiment of the character. She’s so full of energy and life.

However! She doesn’t quite work in this story. Or is it that the story doesn’t work around her? If I didn’t know A Whisker Away was a children’s film, I would have expected a completely different direction around the halfway mark. Miyo is obsessed with this guy, performs crazy gestures to get his attention and show what he means to her. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a foundation to the supposed relationship between these two. She comes across as…creepy isn’t the right word – more like crazy. I know this is a children’s film all in good fun, but it doesn’t mesh well. It needed a “before” segment, where we see something that justifies her fanatical behaviour. Perhaps they used to be close friends (and we see this) and she’s trying to break him from depression, or there’s some sort of magic that wiped her from his memory and she can’t tell him about it, but the curse never said anything about making him fall for her all over again. You know, something. The tiny glimpses we receive aren’t enough. At all.

In a more dramatic film, her behaviour would be set up for a confrontation about her one-sided obsession and end in a broken heart. In an adult horror film, she’d pull out a knife. No, wait! Brass knuckles with claws on them that leave scratch marks like a cat. The final twist would be that she was never cat – it was all in her head! Someone get on this film, stat!

Anyway, where was I.

Ah yes, the other piece that doesn’t fit the Whisker Away puzzle is Kento. He’s as bland as a grey cement wall. Feels like she wants to host a pity party for him, not show affection, at times. This is where that before segment would have helped as well. It could setup a personality for him before he breaks and she has to pull him back together again. Furthermore, when he does finally pay attention to her after the real price for the cat transformation is revealed, he changes in a flash to help her, presumably falling in love at the same time. There needs to be more to sell his change. As is, he’s a dull character who feels largely unimportant until the final act. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the story had twisted away from him to become a self-discovery tale for Miyo. I half expected it.

A Whisker Away isn’t as good a Mari Okada’s other work (she wrote this one) I recently reviewed, Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (wrote and directed). I recommend that film before this. A Whisker Away is still alright though – Miyo cat is adorable. I like all the cat stuff. And it is a pretty film.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For anyone in need of an easy time. A Whisker Away is an overly simple anime film. However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative: None

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Sayonara no Asa ni Yakusoku no Hana wo Kazarou

 

Similar: Wolf Children

Violet Evergarden

Mirai of the Future

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Fantasy

Length: 1 hr. 55 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful to behold
  • Emotionally resonant main story
  • Great acting

Negatives:

  • Subplots are underbaked

(Request an anime for review here.)

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms comes from Mari Okada, a veteran screenwriter of the industry, having adapted many manga to animation. She’s been involved in some anime I enjoy (Iron-Blooded Orphans, AnoHana, for example) and some I don’t think highly of (Vampire Knight chief amongst them). This is her first time directing. And what a promising debut it is.

Maquia, at its heart, is a story about motherhood and mortality. In this world reside the Iorph, an elf-like race that lives hundreds of years separate from the rest of the world. They pass the days weaving a magic cloth that records the totality of their memories as one endless history. Though Iorph live in peace, the world outside marches on with the unstoppable tide of progress and evolution. The royal family of the nearby Mezarte kingdom have long used the dragon-esque Renato as their symbol of power, but a disease has afflicted the creatures and it kills them one at a time. In search of a new symbol to prove their “divine” status, the king sends his soldiers to capture an Iorph and discover the secret to their long life – one will have to marry his son, if forced to.

The titular Maquia escapes the onslaught atop a sick Renato. As she flees into the outside world, she happens upon a camp of travellers, all slaughtered by bandits save for a lone baby. She pries the crying thing from her mother’s rigid fingers and sets her sole mission in life to protect this child at all costs. Her journey will take her into foreign lands of varied people, both good and bad, and there will be many challenges for someone so naïve of reality. However, she could have never anticipated her long life to be the greatest challenge of all.

I went into this film blind and I didn’t expect it to hit so hard. The main story of Maquia and her son is a beautiful one loaded with goodness and a pure heart. The question of what would happen if someone seemingly immortal had to raise a mortal in mortal society is a fascinating one. I love stories that explore the challenges of immortality. There is a hint of this in The Lord of the Rings, of course, and I recently saw the film The Age of Adeline about a woman who stops aging after an accident and must move house every decade to avoid anyone noticing. However, I’ve never seen one focus so wholeheartedly on the child of the immortal. They are usually a subplot. Maquia dedicates almost all attention to this emotional thread and it is a triumph. I won’t talk of it further. Experience it for yourself – the perfect Mother’s Day film as well.

Complementing the beautiful story are beautiful visuals. The film opens on the Iorph town in the mountains, a sparkling paradise of ivory towers, glittering pools, and greenery that lifts the spirits. It even does bloom correctly! The wider world has just as much detail and visual greatness to drink in. I love it all, from the design of the main city of Mezarte to the wrought wood interior of a village shop. Nothing feels lazy or cut short by the art department.

However, not all is great in the world of Maquia, for now I must talk of the subplots. I don’t think a single one succeeds. There are three subplots. The most important is that of the kidnapped Iorph woman forced to marry the human prince and bear his child. Then we have the Iorph man on a quest to rescue her. And lastly, there is the involvement of other nations in a war. All three threads are so underbaked that the viewer has to make so many assumptions and fill in so many gaps to make them interesting.

It feels as if there wasn’t enough screen time for everything, so cuts were made to preserve the main story. Of course, the main is most important, but if a subplot no longer fulfils its purpose, then it has to change or leave altogether.

The problems are most notable with the kidnapped Iorph. The king orders her kidnapping, marriage, and child bearing to add the Ioprh’s long life to his bloodline. That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is just about everything else. First, the knight who leads the raid on the Iorph town. He orders the killing of anyone who resists – not a kind bone in his body – yet later scenes have him acting as if he cares for the woman. Did he fall in love with her at some point? If so, and you want us to care an iota, you need to show this transformation. How are we supposed to believe he goes from one of the most evil people in her life to someone that cares about her? Maybe that isn’t even the case and he’s the same as ever. Who knows? Maquia doesn’t show us enough to get answers.

Deeper in the same thread, I have more questions. Why doesn’t she escape when given the chance? She tries to explain that she can’t because of her daughter, but she’s never seen her and there’s no reason she can’t leave now and get her daughter out later. Will the king kill the daughter if the mother leaves? Maybe. There’s no indication of the sort because, again, there isn’t enough time in this thread. Why didn’t she escape before the birth when able? I keep waiting for it to go into detail, but nothing unfurls before the finale.

The Iorph lover’s subplot has too many spoilers to detail here, but it’s the same case of missing detail. We cut to these subplots in between extended sections of great main story content, with timeskips in each case, though the detail worsens the further we go. The problem isn’t confusion. None of these are hard to understand. They are just so listless, void of the emotion that permeates the main plot. A woman forced into marriage, separated from her own child; a man out to rescue his lover for decades – these stories should hit hard, just like the primary thread. They don’t. The contrast in narrative quality between the main and subplots is night and day.

All considered though, main story is most important and Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms executes that brilliantly, well enough to recommend itself despite any side issues. It is worth your time.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms is a beautiful, heartfelt film I can recommend to anyone.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Extensive Character DevelopmentFluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Golgo 13 – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Golgo 13

 

Related: Golgo 13 (anime adaptation)

 

Genre: Historical Action Drama

Length: 200 volumes (so far)

 

Positives:

  • Each “episode” is an engaging spy thriller
  • Good use of historical events and conspiracies
  • Each story takes you to a new country with new characters, keeping it fresh

Negatives:

  • Earlier art doesn’t hold up
  • Lack of complete translation

Golgo 13 is the second bestselling manga series of all time (behind One Piece) and the longest running manga still in publication at 200 volumes so far. I didn’t know this when I started. Never even heard of Golgo 13. I thought I was doing quite well at 13 volumes ahead of this review. Turns out Golgo 13 is a big deal! It took COVID-19 to pause this series for a few months after 52 years of constant releases.

This veteran manga is about the titular Golgo 13, a professional assassin for hire, willing to take on any job as long at the pay is right and the deal is straight. Try to cross him or double deal and he will kill you. If the shot is possible, even by the slimmest chance, he will make the kill.

Golgo is a James Bond type with little known about his origins – what we do know could just as well be false. He’s a man of few words who keeps to himself except when there’s a job to do or a beautiful lady in his path. It’s speculated Golgo may have dozens of children around the world due to his amazing penis (their words, not mine). He harkens to an older era of spy thriller, where plot continuity and character depth weren’t expected. Each volume is a couple of standalone stories, like hour-long episodes of a TV show, often drawing on real historical events but changing them into a “what really happened” conspiracy plot. Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the Tiananmen Square massacre, and Princess Diana’s death are but a few of the historical events that intersect with Golgo’s job.

I prefer this structure for this sort of protagonist, just like the James Bond novels. Had it been one long story, I would have grown bored around eight volumes in, as this character type doesn’t work for a continuous story, where you want to know and see him evolve over arcs. That doesn’t work here. Instead, each “episode” is an engaging spy thriller. I read one episode per sitting.

Included at the end of each volume are intel files profiling Golgo and his many exploits. It talks of his preferred clothing, including underwear, notable injuries, skills, and, my favourite, his body profile. See below for your amusement. A fun addition.

“…at any rate, an amazing penis.” Legendary line.

One weird writing device is the overuse of the ellipses. I’m not sure if this was commonplace in 60s manga – I’ve never seen it – but the author always has to make it clear when a character gives no vocal reaction. You’d think a simple lack of dialogue would suffice, but no, they must think “…” Not a real problem, though still a weird choice.

Golgo 13’s art in the early volumes is outdated by today’s standards, though it holds up well enough. The environments, particularly in the establishing shots, are full of clear detail.

While I do recommend Golgo 13, I should note the incomplete English translation. Only 13 volumes (a best of collection?) have had official translations (even less from fan translations) and I believe they aren’t in original order either, not that this matters with the independent story structure. However, 13 volumes is plenty enough to leave me satisfied. I have had my fill.

Art – Medium

Story – High

Recommendation: Read it. As the oldest manga still in publication and an all-time bestseller, Golgo 13 surely is worth a read.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

ES: Eternal Sabbath – Manga Review

Japanese Title: ES: Eternal Sabbath

 

Genre: Supernatural Drama Science Fiction

Length: 83 chapters (8 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • An engaging plot of nature vs. nurture
  • Villain is genuinely threatening
  • Cool psychic powers

Negatives:

  • Character art is a little lopsided

Eternal Sabbath entered my radar over a decade ago through a passing recommendation, which I wouldn’t have remembered were it not for that absolute metal name. This turned out not to be a story I expected, though still a welcome one.

Eternal Sabbath is about two psychic beings born from experimentation, one of them a success, the other a failure and clone of the former, and how the difference in treatment of these two affects temperament. Akiba is the original, possessing immense mental powers to invade the minds of others, project hallucinations, and even kill with a mere thought. Isaac, the child clone, has the same power but without the maturity. He’s a test tube child, never intended for the real world until he breaks free and roams the streets with the power of a god. An unloved child is tragedy. An unloved god child is a catastrophe.

The protagonist of this story, however, is human woman by the name of Mine. She’s a neurologist brought on the case when a victim suffers an odd mental attack, seemingly all in the victim’s head yet with very real injuries. Interestingly, she’s immune to the more dangerous telepathic powers. This draws Akiba’s attention.

I want to start with Akiba. What a great character. First impressions establish him as someone with a sense of justice yet an absolute prick as well, uncaring for those around him and inconsiderate of the privacy and autonomy of others. After all, why does he need to care when he is, in essence, a higher being? He can walk into someone’s house, eat their food, rifle through their things, and leave without a trace in the owners’ minds. He isn’t cruel though. When he meets Mine, finding much of his power blocked and her calling out his behaviour, he can’t help but feel drawn to her. His arc sees him turn from a selfish individual into a caring human.

I love the subplot of his fake identity. Akiba isn’t his real name – it belonged to a man who died. “Akiba” took his place and manipulated the man’s relatives into believing he was the real Akiba who had never left. Even if it does bring them joy to see their Akiba again, it is quite cruel when you consider it. He treats them well, of course, but it’s just a cover for him. However, as Akiba grows into a real person, thanks in no small part to Mine and seeing his evil reflection in Isaac, this identity becomes more than a cover. You don’t need this subplot to tell the main story, but it enhances character and theme, as every good subplot should. It works as a perfect tracker for his change in emotion.

Similarly, Isaac takes over another child’s life. Here we have the opposite to Akiba. Isaac mistreats the parents, always acting like a spoilt child, mind controlling them to do his bidding. As Akiba improves, Isaac declines further into cruelty, psychopathy, and eventually, depravity. The closest thing he has to a friend is Yuri, a little girl from school. She too is a neglected child, though not an evil one, but her poor understanding of morality and consequences leads her to encouraging Isaac’s evil for her benefit.

Then we have Mine, a strong woman balanced by uncertainty about her role in all of this. When the case starts affecting people around her, she questions if there is something she could have done better, if she is responsible in some way as a person aware of these supernatural beings and largely immune to them. What she goes through would certainly drain the mentally toughest of people.

Eternal Sabbath is a page-turner laced with tension. Isaac is a genuine threat. It’s good to see a villain with a personality for wanton killing actually kill people indiscriminately, and it never feels forced like those villains that “shoot the dog” just to show how evil they are. His actions are always in line with his character. This doesn’t mean he is predictable, mind you, as he is complex despite his immaturity. From his perspective, he feels justified in his actions, sometime even committing what we see as evil to “help” others. Most chapters end on cliffhanger once things get going, so I have to read the next to find out what happens.

I’m glad I remembered Eternal Sabbath. It was a worthwhile read and receives my recommendation.

Art – Medium

Story – High

Recommendation: Read it. Eternal Sabbath is a simple yet tense manga that holds your attention to the end.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Utawarerumono – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Utawarerumono

 

Related: Utawarerumono: The False Faces (sequel)

Similar: Tears to Tiara

Vision of Escaflowne

Scrapped Princess

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Fantasy Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Sounds good on paper, I guess?

Negatives:

  • Lazy fantasy
  • Packed with anime clichés
  • No interesting characters
  • Final act twist

(Request an anime for review here.)

Utawarerumono, an anime I remember most for the long title and whose review I’ve had in the bank waiting for completion since a year ago. Two? I don’t remember. Wait… Yep, file created January 2019. I am not keen to write this review because, simply, I am not keen on this anime. Frankly, it’s boring. The clichés are numerous, the fantasy is lazy, and no character grabs my attention. You know you’re in for a rough time when even the OP doesn’t have great art or animation.

This anime centres on a mysterious man found in the woods. He can’t remember his past, who he is, and he wears a mask that can’t come off. A local village of animal people take him in and call him Hakuoro, curious about his lack of a furry tail or ears. Whatever he was in the past, Hakuoro becomes a leader in this village and leads a revolution against the oppressive emperor.

The story isn’t immediately boring. I like a good revolution. The character designs scream laziness and their implementation are the first warning sign that little effort will go into anything. These villagers have animal tail and ears, yet are human in every other way, from behaviour to society. Their part-animal design is pointless. There’s also something I hate about Hakuoro’s one defining characteristic of wearing a mask all the time. Is try hard the phrase I’m looking for? I don’t know. Just lame. I can’t imagine anyone caring about the mystery of who’s under the mask.

Before long, the story shows similar flaws by dipping into every shounen cliché in the library. Honour at the risk of everyone’s lives, grandstanding, characters than can’t contribute on the battlefield because they aren’t main characters, and the skinny girl with a giant sword no one else can lift for some inexplicable reason are but a few examples. Some characters have supernatural abilities with no explanation of how or the limitations of said powers.

For an anime with significant time dedicated to battles in the uprising, the strategy isn’t clever. At all. Did any second thought go towards this? Don’t know.

On paper, this story sounds good – a man rises up to become emperor with the aid of a part-animal race, yet everything has such average execution and never goes beyond the obvious that it isn’t interesting. One leader is joyous and rearing to tell how he slaughtered the enemy one second, then becomes melancholic the next. That’s Utawarerumono’s attempt at conflict.

So bored am I with Utawarerumono that when the big act three twist reveals itself, I just sigh. The twist upends everything in the plot, which sounds like it should wake me up, but when elements prior offer no engagement, it’s hard to care. Also, I don’t like when this twist type is in the third act. Not to give too much away, though using such a twist so late tends to nullify much of the build-up and work put in by earlier acts. It benefits as a first act twist to invert the protagonist’s world and throw them into the unknown, or as the mid-point turn (if well foreshadowed) to shake things up. Using it late has an effect similar to an amnesia twist, just not as bad. Utawarerumono does make it worse by having an amnesiac protagonist. Ironically, I almost forget that detail.

I’m not sure why Utawarerumono is even on my list. I can’t remember.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For specific fantasy anime fans only. Being a fantasy fan isn’t enough to enjoy Utawarerumono. You must also be a fan of specific anime fantasy clichés.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World Building