Tag Archives: Drama

The focus is on emotional conflict.

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Jin-Roh

 

Similar: Akira

Ghost in the Shell

Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Drama

Length: 1 hr. 42 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Some good visual elements.
  • Lovely music.

Negatives:

  • Drab colours.
  • Metaphors are on the nose.
  • Thin on content.

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Mamoru Oshii’s Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is an introspective film hinged on a metaphor of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. Constable Kazuki Fuse is traumatised after witnessing a terrorist girl detonate to avoid capture amid riots in an alternate history Japan. As an officer of the panzer troopers, an armoured ground force reminiscent of the video game Killzone’s Helghast, his change in behaviour mandates retraining and puts him in the middle of the conflict between the Capital Police and ordinary police forces. During his recovery, he grows close to the sister of the very terrorist girl who died before him.

This premise of a dystopian Japan, riots everywhere, Helghast-like officers clashing with police, and suicide bombers paints an intense portrait of a film. You’re probably imagining Akira. In truth, Jin-Roh couldn’t be further from intense. This slow, methodical film set in a nation without colour, without life, wants to evoke depression inside the viewer. Once vibrant greens and reds have faded. The world feels ‘Soviet’ where the higher ups have absolute power, giving no hope to the people.

Kazuki roams with no purpose. The few glimpses of life spark during his moments with the sister, but even those are drops in the calm ocean.

I am sad to say that Jin-Roh doesn’t succeed in evoking much emotion, nor does it engage the viewer. As I opened with, the story is a metaphor for ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, which Oshii handles without an ounce of subtlety, for every second scene makes a simile or draws a motif to wolves and the fairy tale. He’s so obsessed with the metaphors and motifs that he forgets to develop the characters and the world in which they live. The story never gives a sense of why anyone does their jobs or what they hope to accomplish in this world nearing anarchy.

Oshii’s masterpiece, Ghost in the Shell, has one of my favourite introspective moments in anime when Motoko Kusanagi glides through the streets of New Port City, so one would imagine that a film with more of this reflection would be a personal treat for me. What made that moment in Ghost special was its placement among scenes of intense action and intrigue. The story slowed down with a purpose. Jin-Roh is perpetually slow.

You could take almost any scene from this film and it would be interesting when seen standalone, similar to watching that scene from Ghost by itself. It’s once you realise that the film has almost nothing but this sluggishness repeated for an hour and a half that it becomes boring. It needs balance.

Rather than make me care for Kazuki’s plight, Jin-Roh had me crossing my fingers for another riot.

Art – High

The art is effective at evoking a dystopian atmosphere, but the much-muted brown palette becomes dull when it’s all there is. Characters could use more detail. Most of the animation budget went into people being riddled with bullets.

Sound – Medium

Voice work – fine. Music – lovely, tragic.

Story – Medium

A special unit officer reconsiders his position in life after witnessing the suicide death of a terrorist girl amid enforcement politics. Jin-Roh’s sacrifice of everything to convey its ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ motif limits its appeal and quality.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of the slow and introspective ONLY. Seriously, if you don’t love, and I mean love, slow pieces with near-no story, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade will bore you to death.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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A Silent Voice – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Koe no Katachi

 

Similar: Your Name.

The Anthem of the Heart

Your Lie in April

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama

Length: 2 hr. 10 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The girl is adorable.
  • Great lead characters.
  • Top-notch voice acting.
  • Narrative symmetry.

Negatives:

  • Supporting cast is so bloated.
  • Untapped potential.

(Request an anime for review here.)

A Silent Voice has the marks of an Oscar bait movie. Handicapped character, attempted suicide, depression, someone different, love, heartbreak, and moody directing – make the girl Jewish with dreams of becoming an actress and the golden statue is yours! Surprisingly, it doesn’t fall into the traps that often characterise those sorts of films.

The story focuses on Ishida, a bully, and Shouko, the deaf girl he bullies. When she first joins primary school, the kids are receptive, helpful, taking class notes for her, and correcting her where needed. But they soon grow tired of her and the preferential treatment by teachers, even though she needs it. So, they start to bully her. Ishida likes the attention he gets from the bullying, so leads the gang. He suddenly yells at her, thinking it won’t matter to a deaf girl, writes things on the blackboard, and steals her cochlear implants. It goes without saying, but he’s an arsehole – they all are. He goes too far one incident and the administration finally intervenes. However, Ishida’s friends dodge responsibility, blaming him for everything.

You see, the thing about bullies who don’t learn their lesson is that they find another target. A bully must have a victim. Ishida becomes that victim.

We jump to high school, where Ishida has lived in depression for years, shutting out the rest of the world. Having suffered as a victim of bullying, he feels compelled to make it up to his victim, Shouko.

A Silent Voice is a story of symmetry.

The setup of the bully becoming the bullied and making amends with his target is a powerful one. It’s unrealistic for a victim to want anything to do with someone who brought her so much pain. But A Silent Voice succeeds in this respect by dragging Ishida into the deepest pit of despair, which coupled with some kindness from Shouko, creates a believable path to redemption. You wouldn’t imagine that you’d have any sympathy for Ishida after his cruelty, but against all odds, this film succeeds.

The dynamic between Ishida and Shouko is a fantastic one with heartbreak, humour, and everything in between. She’s such a sweet girl. I love the moment when she says she loves him (‘suki’), yet he interprets her as talking about the moon (‘tsuki’) because of her impaired speech. Her frustration is adorable.

Now, where A Silent Voice fails story-wise is just about everywhere else. The main couple: excellent. The supporting cast: ehhhh… Line up the characters – remove half of them. It’s evident that this film comes from a manga with more characters than usable in a two-hour movie. We have a half-dozen kids from primary school, Ishida’s family, Shouko’s family, and two new kids in high school. The story gives them too much time for an incidental, yet not enough for a proper support.

When one of them returns to the plot in high school, I thought she was a new character. I can’t remember most of their names or their purposes. Other than the families, there are only two notable characters. The first is Ishida’s one friend in high school who serves as comic relief (he “smokes” French fries), though even he needs work. The other is the nastiest of the children, Ueno.

In a move that baffles me, A Silent Voice reconciles her and Shouko. Where Ishida and Shouko’s reconciliation is a brilliant weave of drama and turmoil, Ueno and Shouko resolve their problems with no effort. Keep in mind that when things are good between Ishida and Shouko, Ueno still bullies her in high school. And we are supposed to believe that Shouko would be okay with having her around?

This is where the manga-to-film adaptation problem is most evident. In fact, we get a taste of what’s missing in translation. One scene has Ueno express her frustration at Shouko for always apologising when she is the victim. Obviously, that is supposed be the culmination of their reconciliatory arc – Ueno toughens Shouko up a little – but we don’t see the steps that came before. The story is trying to cram too many character arcs into so little time. This ultimately results in a great main story surrounded by excess that accomplishes nothing. It disappoints me because every ingredient for greatness was already on the counter. The production team needs at least 12 episodes to flesh out the supporting arcs.

Supporting cast aside, A Silent Voice is a good film well directed with beautiful imagery that conveys Ishida’s turmoil and Shouko’s vulnerability. The visual and auditory components outdo the manga, though you will need to read the source material if you want full satisfaction from the unneeded elements of the film.

Art – High

Nice art, but I wish it didn’t have this chromatic aberration that blurs the periphery of every scene. It’s distracting, low res. They didn’t apply depth of field either – everything is equally blurry – so it looks even worse. Beautiful otherwise.

Sound – Very High

The acting is great, particularly from Saori Hayami, who nails deaf speech. The music too is a success – love the stutter of ‘My Generation’ by The Who.

Story – High

A former bully becomes the bullied. Years later, he tries to reconcile with his victim, a deaf girl, to escape torment. Great leads, bloated supports, strong drama, and untapped potential characterise A Silent Voice’s touching story.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for drama fans. If you focus on the main characters, A Silent Voice is a rollercoaster ride. It has its problems, but it’s still worth your time if you love drama.

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

Positive:

Stellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative:

Dissapointing

Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Overture to a New War – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Arata Naru Tatakai no Overture

 

Related: Legend of the Galactic Heroes (main series)

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Science Fiction War Drama

Length: 1 hr. 30 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Emotion conveyed without words.
  • Theme of opposed power.
  • Great final battle.
  • Excellent audio, as always.

Negatives:

  • Overlap with the series’ start.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In the previous film, My Conquest is the Sea of Stars, admirals didn’t like this young Reinhard Lohengramm upstart gaining glory. They dismissed him, saying he wouldn’t get far. Now he’s on the path to admiral. The position is within his grasp, which rankles other power players due to his royal family connection since his sister married the Kaiser.

For Yang on the opposing faction, we see a more personal side of him, as being a hero in the war requires personal sacrifices. One scene has Yang relinquish his feelings for a woman, and hers for him, when his friend proposes to her. There’s no dialogue – visuals and music convey this emotional moment alone, reminiscent of the final battle from the previous movie.

The villain this time is a warmonger working behind the scene to profit off the war and make sure it goes on forever.

Overture taps into the same themes from early in the main series – command and power. Reinhard was given executive power to override any dissenters, whereas Yang can’t do anything without approval from above. This theme plays out several times to significant effect on the soldiers depending to their commander’s competence, ending in a great battle. I like that these movies use their time to give more perspective from the lower ranks. It builds the society a little each time.

This is more of the franchise I know and love. The writing is engaging, the characters complex, and the conflict ripe. To detail these would be to repeat my Legend of the Galactic Heroes review, so read that for the full picture.

Overture to a New War is the lead up to the start of the series, ending in the show’s first battle, though with a few changes. As such, this is a good taster of what Legend of the Galactic Heroes has to offer.

Art – High

A slight improvement over the main series.

Sound – Very High

The acting and classical soundtrack has not missed a step.

Story – Very High

Overture to a New War tells of events just before the start of the main series, adding a new villain and emotional challenges for Yang. This movie doesn’t deviate in quality from its parent story.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Overture to a New War is a great place to start the venerable series if intimidated by its runtime, though events have added significance if you know what is to come.

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Video Girl AI – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Den’ei Shoujo Video Girl Ai

 

Similar: Ah! My Goddess

DNA2

Chobits

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Ecchi Romance Drama

Length: 6 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Remote control of the video girl.

Negatives:

  • No foundations to the infatuation.
  • Dumb as bricks characters.
  • Little happens.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I feel like a broken record at this point – when you write a romance, you must give reason for the characters to love each other. Starting with lust is fine, common even, but if you want the audience to believe in the ‘true love’ your characters profess, there must be more. Video Girl Ai is yet another romance without foundations.

Homeward bound after a heart-breaking rejection, Youta stops by a video store to make a purchase in the hope of a distraction. He gets more than he bargained for when a video girl called Ai emerges from the TV. He can control her with the remote – slow-mo, rewind, frame-by-frame, and even adjust boob size. He flattens them. She’s supposed to be meek, but damage to the VCR gives her a feistier personality than intended. Even so, she promises to help him find love.

Youta’s object of obsession is Moemi, a girl at school who only has eyes for the popular Takeshi. Really though, the key player in this relationship is Youta. He will do anything for Moemi, even help with a gift for Takeshi. He has the classic “nice” guy mentality. “If I do everything she wants, eventually she’ll break up with her boyfriend and realise I’ve been beside her the whole time!” Thankfully, Ai makes fun of him for it and Takeshi calls out Moemi’s selfishness, which points to the writer almost getting it right. Had the story been one of a wimpy guy realising he’s acting the loser, clinging to a bimbo with no interest in him, it could have been interesting. As is often the case with wimp romances however, this isn’t meant to reflect reality. It wants to give false hope that having no spine will make you attractive.

The cringe reaches new heights when he confesses to her loudly in public, but she thinks he’s just practicing to tell someone else… Really? Forget him having no spine – why would he be interested in such a dimwit?

To no one’s surprise, the twist is that he should have realised he had a loving girl in Ai beside him this whole time. Gasp! And he sure jumps into her arms quickly after it fails with Moemi. What a nice, considerate guy. After this, the finale involves a test of true love decreed by the villain in a visually creative setting. But remember what I said about foundations? Well, when you have no foundations, the audience is unlikely to make an emotional connection with the couple in a life or death struggle. Youta is screaming about his love for Ai, yet his words are hollow. He never showed us he loved her when he had nothing to gain.

Did he once get to know her?

Did he ever do anything selfless for her?

Did he share an interest with her?

Anything?

He’s so obsessed with doing frivolous favours for Moemi that he ignores Ai until the end, where – if realistic – would have made her little more than a stranger, not the object of true love.

Never forget your foundations. There is more emotion to be found in a man asking a woman how she has been lately than in a grand stunt off the Eiffel Tower to impress her. Yes, the stuntman is more impressive, but emotional resonance is about more than being impressive.

Art – Low

Video Girl Ai looks the same as DNA2, down to a girl cloned across both series.

Sound – Medium

The acting is average either way, as is the music.

Story – Low

A heartbroken teen thinks that watching a video will get his mind off things, only to have a girl emerge from his TV. What should have been a fun anime devolves into a romantic drama with no foundations.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Video Girl Ai needed a lot of work in the draft stage – more chemistry, conflict, and complexity. DNA2 is so much more fun.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Lacks Conflict

Planetes – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Planetes

 

Similar: Moonlight Mile

Space Brothers

Cowboy Bebop

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Romance Drama

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Final act.

Negatives:

  • Romance has no chemistry.
  • No characters of note.
  • More slice of life than drama for acts one and two.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Does this really fall under the ‘drama’ category? I asked myself this question a lot when watching Planetes. Until the third act, this should be classified as ‘slice of life’ for how little occurs and how dull the characters are.

Planetes is about a crew aboard a space station and their jobs as space debris collectors. The opening scene is of a loose screw shattering a space liner’s window, killing all inside. Ever since then, Earth has made an effort to clean up space. Tanabe is the newest member of the collection crew, joining an odd bunch of misfits who have no manners, including Hachimaki, a 25-year-old with dreams of owning a spaceship of his own. Their equipment is trash. At this rate, they are likely to add more trash to space instead of reduce it.

After the disaster in the opening, I expected similar tense situations to be a regular occurrence, similar to Moonlight Mile. A few episodes in, no such event has occurred. Alright, Planetes is a better Moonlight Mile, giving characters time to grow in between disasters rather than the end-to-end disasters of the latter. The characters still haven’t given me reason to care, but let’s give them a chance. So far, it’s mostly about putting up with living with each other, bickering, and corporate bureaucracy.

Several more episodes pass, and still no significant events wake me up from my stupor. They had time to give us an episode on space weeaboos – funny, but does nothing for the plot – though not a moment of tension. The downtime with character hasn’t developed them into anything interesting either.

It is at this point I realise Planetes isn’t good. It’s middle-of-the-road boring.

You have a mismatched crew trying to emulate Cowboy Bebop with none of the chemistry that made Bebop’s crew great. Tanabe using the clichéd anime introduction of yelling your profile put me off her right away. A story-lite series can’t sustain itself unless the characters are some of the best in the business. The episode about the girl born and living on the moon for research on the human body is interesting, though still not about the main story.

You have a romance between Tanabe and Hachimaki with as much electricity as a rubber gasket. He’s an ego-driven brute who constantly reproaches her and keeps flaking on the relationship, while she’s a woman of zero strength that rarely stands her ground against his selfishness. I despise female leads that never find strength.

Even so, I stuck with it for the sake of the review and to my surprise, the third act finally starts the story. Hurrah!

Humanity prepares to send a manned mission to Jupiter, calling on everyone in the world to apply. Hachimaki signs up in some desperate bid to do more with life. What follows is a series of trials to find the best candidates – Tanabe is a background character by now. Finally we have intense character-to-character conflict that isn’t the bickering of daily life. The theme of corporate morality also becomes a focal point, as only the rich will get richer when they colonise Jupiter, widening the wealth gap for the rest.

Planetes is quite preachy in its morals. It is many characters telling you how you should feel, rather than expressing their own opinions and leaving it to audience interpretation. Even though the story picks up in the third act, I don’t find myself much invested because the characters mean nothing to me. Those prior episodes didn’t use their time well.

Planetes and Moonlight Mile need to have a baby, combining the former’s ability to slow down with the latter’s penchant for disasters.

Art – High

Clean character art and detailed enough environments are nice, but the tech detail is where it’s at.

Sound – Medium

Voice work could be better – why is there so much shouting? Tanabe’s girlfriends sound so annoying.

Story – Low

Planetes tells of the lives of a crew aboard a space station collecting space debris. With so many characters, few of which have much to say, a flaccid romance, and conflict that doesn’t start until the third act, this story is more slice of life than drama.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. You may find Planetes more interesting than I did. Outside the third act, it has no pulse.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Poor Pacing