I was meant to review Weathering With You, but as I missed my opportunity to watch it, that will have to wait. Instead, I felt like covering something trashy – an anime I had almost forgotten I had seen.
ef – A Tale of Memories comes from studio Shaft before they were a creator of good anime. You can see hints here of what Shaft would become, particularly in their artistic styling. Thankfully, they abandoned these stories and characters for something more fun.
This story follows six characters that eventually become three couples as they overcome their obstacles along the way. The first couple is the most vanilla of the three, between an aspiring manga artist (or is it hentai?) and an energetic girl with unorthodox interests. The second couple uses the childhood friend + love triangle cliché who eventually realises she’s in love with this photographer kid instead. The third and honestly main couple of Renji and Chihiro (you’ll recognise them by his douche hair and her abhorrent eye patch) face the issue of her constant memory loss. Think 50 First Dates with moe. They work on this by writing a novel together, something she can’t forget.
Barring the third with memory loss, there is nothing too unusual about these romances. Frankly, they are as shallow as can be. However, the studio tries to distract you with “fancy” camera work and visual motifs. I commend people for trying to do something different, but everything in Tale of Memories from the quick cuts to the avant-garde shot compositions feel like difference for the sake of being different. And when they run out of ideas, we have stretches of blandness – still shots, no animation, no style. These stand out badly by contrast. To see this style don’t correctly, one need look no further than Shaft’s own Bakemonogatari.
The dialogue is like the cinematography. It alternates between artsy nonsense for the sake of it and stock dialogue that comes with Microsoft Script Writer 2006. If I haven’t made it clear yet, ef – A Tale of Memories is pretentious garbage. These characters don’t develop. They don’t grow as people discovering true love for the first time. No, they spout nonsense and confess feelings in a mire of melodrama. At least it isn’t insulting.
If you don’t like the idea of 50 First Dates gone moe teen melodrama, humour subtracted, then stay far away from ef – A Tale of Memories. I am so glad Shaft moved onto better projects.
Art – Very Low
Some shots are interesting, others are boring, but the majority are nonsense for the sake of being different. Hate the character designs. That douche’s hair! They are one step away from Clannad and one should never stray that close to cancer. Obnoxious – that is how best to describe the art overall.
Sound – Low
If you want to watch ef – A Tale of Memories, do not go with the dub. The problems range far and wide, though the worst has to be the use of honorifics. They use them, yet don’t speak like the Japanese is any other way, which makes it come across as a weeaboo fan dub. The script sounds better the less you understand the characters.
Story – Low
Three teen couples deal with circumstances that stand in the way of love. The ideas aren’t bad. A less pretentious script and presentation was needed if these couples had any chance at success, however.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. It isn’t as bad as Kanon’s romances. Still doesn’t make ef – A Tale of Memories worth a minute of your time.
After you read the following blurb, I want you to guess what Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is about:
Yuuko has haunted Seikyou Private Academy ever since her death in the basement 60 years ago. Her memories of life lost, she establishes the Paranormal Investigations Club, where she meets Niiya, a boy who somehow has the ability to see her, Momoe, a girl afraid of ghosts, and the distrustful Kirie. They investigate the various mysteries surrounding the school to figure out which one relates to Yuuko’s death.
You’re thinking this is a horror mystery, yes? Well, you’d be wrong. I was wrong. This is a romance with a dash of horror mystery on the side – a romance with as much substance as a ghost.
Any romance with such a wet noodle of a guy as Niiya is doomed to fail. He’s a nobody. I don’t know what personality he’s meant to have. The idea of a ghost with several possibilities pointing to her identity and death is an interesting one. It hooked me. The mechanics of Yuuko’s appearance are interesting, for one.
When Niiya looks at her, he sees a sexy girl, voluptuous and well endowed in the right places, always flirting with him and craving his touch. But in the eyes of Kirie, she’s a monster, an onryo with long, matted black hair and black blood leaking from her skin. Her seductions aren’t for love. They are to ensnare Niiya and do who knows what to his soul. This is a great idea. The romance is obvious from the start and I thought its inclusion was to heighten tension, create uncertainty about whether she wants his love or his life. Unfortunately, this tension doesn’t last.
Another problem is the hollowness of the world. These four characters seem to be the entire population of this school. You see the occasional background character, but they may as well be cardboard cutouts. Imagine if there were more characters, each with a different perception of Yuuko and no one knows her true version.
We have this romance with no ground to stand on instead. Forcibly tripping over to grab both her breasts is supposed to be a heartfelt moment of their relationship (kill me…). Not joking. He’s a harem protagonist without a harem.
Even if Niiya were a great character, the meshing of romance and mystery needs work. The story progresses through a series of cases, investigating phantoms in mirrors, bodies buried under the school, an old myth about a curse on the last kid to leave school each day, and the like. All these mysteries lack layers without time to develop because the romance takes precedence.
Hell, there’s almost more comedy than mystery in this horror mystery. Dusk Maiden of Amnesia opens on a great scene of Momoe in the clubroom writing notes as various objects float around. She freaks out but explains everything away to keep her sanity. Niiya enters and can seemingly read her mind. Then the whole scene plays again, only to reveal Yuuko this time, responsible for moving the objects, drinking Momoe’s tea, and the mind reading is a coincidence. Niiya’s answers to Yuuko’s questions happened to fit Momoe’s thoughts. Great use of a ghost, I must say.
So what we have here is a horror mystery with more comedy and even more romance than either horror or mystery. Did I put in the wrong disc?
Art – Medium
The environments are grim and grungy, reminiscent of a noir detective game, but the characters look too clean, too ‘nice’ for the setting. Some shots have such gorgeous colours that I paused to admire them.
Sound – Low
What is with this dub? How did they make such a bad dub in 2012? This sounds out of the 90s before professionals did the job. Not everyone is bad, of course. That protagonist though…bloody hell. Thankfully, the Japanese is fine, so stick to it. Even so, don’t expect anything above average. The best friend’s freakouts are the best.
Story – Low
The Paranormal Investigations Club unravels their school’s mysteries to recover the memories of the girl that haunts the halls. Dusk Maiden of Amnesia made the grave mistake of focusing on romance with a soggy protagonist instead of the mysteries it had set up.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. Even horror fans won’t find something of worth in Dusk Maiden of Amnesia because of the romantic focus.
I used to hate Neon Genesis Evangelion – hate with a burning passion, which I alluded to in my ‘Former Favourites’ list. The hatred was so strong that it was part of my core as an anime fan. When I brought up Evangelion to my friend the other day, the first thing he mentioned was my hatred of the series all those years ago.
Why the hatred? Well, it was my teenage mindset. I used to have a problem whereby one significant fault in a series I otherwise enjoyed could ruin the whole thing. My reaction was disproportionate to the fault itself. Evangelion’s fault was with the ending, and nothing has more negative impact on a viewer than a bad ending because it’s the last impression you leave with, the bad aftertaste of a banquet. It takes effort to override the feeling of a bad ending to remember your enjoyment before that moment. That was my weakness, to the point of venom.
To understand the significance of this ending, let’s go back to the start.
The world is nearing its end as Angels are descending from above to wipe out humanity. It has suffered two cataclysms already; it cannot withstand a third. The last hope lies with Nerv, a military agency in Tokyo 3 with only one weapon: the Evangelions, giant robots that can match the Angels. To unlock their full potential, they need pilots, 14-year-olds to be precise, capable of maximum synchronisation between human and machine. Shinji Ikari has been chosen to pilot EVA Unit-01, tearing him from his ordinary life to the frontlines where is father, who hasn’t cared for him in years, leads Nerv. He joins Rei, pilot of Unit-00, and Asuka of Unit-02 later.
Neon Genesis Evangelion has a perfect first episode, showcasing ‘in medias res’ (in the middle of things) with Shinji’s arrival in Tokyo 3. Misato, his guardian, is late as an Angel attacks, almost killing him, then a mine intended for the Angel detonates and rolls Misato’s car with him inside, ending the episode in him having to pilot the EVA. Rough first day. When you watch it, note how you understand the world and the situation without feeling lost, despite having zero lines of exposition. This episode and the three that follow are so strong that I watched the first DVD several times within a week as I waited to borrow the remainder from a friend at school. It sucked me into the world and I had to see more.
The first element that grabs me is the visual design. Evangelion wouldn’t have been so iconic without the unique look and feel to its world and mech designs. Everything was Gundam or a pale Gundam imitation at the time, so to see something so human and monstrous infused with mecha was revolutionary. The designs alone aren’t the reason for success. The use of the Evangelions cements them into memory. How often do you see a mech or vehicle so flashy, so overdesigned never justified by the anime? (“Why does that mech have giant spikes everywhere if it never uses them?”) Evangelions look the way they do for a reason and when that full potential blooms, it makes for the anime’s most memorable moments. That is to say, copying a Gundam design but keeping every Evangelion event the same wouldn’t have had half the impact than what we have here.
The second element of notice is the action and Angels. The action doesn’t simply look great; it’s creative. Hideaki Anno could have made the Angels straightforward Godzilla monsters that rampage about and take many shots to kill without effect on the grand plot. Instead, each Angel is creative in both design and threat. One Angel splits in two upon death only to regenerate a moment later, requiring both halves to die at the same moment, while another Angel is a nanoscopic virus that hacks Nerv’s central brains. Each encounter brings something new for the viewer and the characters. When Angels go after the mind or allies, Evangelion is at its best.
The human conflict adds a dozen layers of depth to humanity’s end. Shinji is a kid who just wants to feel needed, particularly by his arsehole of a father, though he is saving humanity, to be fair. His father has the weight of the world in his decisions. Not making him straight evil was a good choice.
Misato is another great character. She’s a total slob, drinks more beer than water and is a little pervy, but she has a good heart and cares for the kids – one of the few who does – making her the most human element of the series. Each supporting character receives enough attention for depth without breaking the hierarchy of importance to the plot.
I had it in memory that each DVD was worse than the previous until the final one nosedived. Rewatching Evangelion now though, I loved every episode until the 24th (rushed despite an amazing finale) because I can appreciate the points of view and purposes of characters I once didn’t like. For instance, I used to find Asuka annoying. She still is annoying, but I can see that she is a well-designed annoying. Perhaps it was Anno’s intent for teenage boys to find her annoying, much as Shinji does.
What turned me around on the majority of episodes was the craft that went into the mysteries that make the reader want to know more. As a teenager, I couldn’t perceive how the story metered out bits and pieces of information, foreshadowing greater reveals in the final act. Where did the technology for EVAs come from? What happened to Shinji’s mother? Who is Rei? So many questions. Study Evangelion if you want to learn the importance of mystery in narrative.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is well known for its psychological brutality and insane imagery, but there is a good amount of levity to stop the audience from wanting to completely blow their brains out quitting. Much of the humour revolves around Misato or takes place at school. She has this penguin living with her, not as a pet – maybe? More like a roommate. Who is this penguin? The strategic censorship is also funny and when Asuka moves in with Misato and Shinji, we get one of the greatest lines. Asuka wants to make-out with Shinji, you know, for fun, ‘cause that’s what girls do (?), but he hesitates and she mocks him. “I’m not afraid – pucker up!” he yells in retaliation.
Humour is important even to the darkest narratives, as it keeps the audience sustained and gives the dark moments more impact through contrast.
Evangelion reaches its darkest point in the two-episode finale, both in real life and in fiction. The original episodes 25 & 26 I still find terrible, if not worse because I can see more writing problems than before. The budget and time ran out, leaving almost no animation. Without going into spoilers, these episodes are mostly still shots of text, real life photos, and characters vomiting expository dialogue. Most attribute the poor quality to the visuals. Had the team had the budget, the episodes would have been great, they say. This isn’t true. Everything about these episodes is trash. The dialogue, the writing, the ideas, the imagery, the characterisation – all trash.
I hunted and bought The End of Evangelion after my school friends had mentioned a remake, though they hadn’t seen it. I eagerly booted it up and all seemed fixed. The visuals were back better than ever with spectacular action. The bad dialogue was gone. Each episode was double length. This was the ending Evangelion deserved. Then the climax began and threw all that the series had worked for, which to teenage me was a deal breaker, a ruiner of all good things. I hated the series since.
The climax is 20-minutes of imagery with a minute’s worth of plot. The visuals are nice and certainly better than the original version, but it’s too much when you don’t have the story to accompany it. The issue is build-up. It escalates and escalates, creating expectations that all will end in spectacular fashion. Instead…nothing. Now, a negative ending is fine but after such build-up, this just wastes the audience’s time. Five minutes of the best shots would have sufficed.
What do I think of the ending now? I don’t mind it as much. It’s still no good for the last 20 minutes, yet it no longer affects my opinion of the series prior. Simple compression would fix most problems.
And that’s where I stand today, at the end of a long journey of hate and love with a mere anime. I have debated at length with myself about where to score Neon Genesis Evangelion (one of the reasons for the review’s delay). I am still unsure. Who knows; perhaps I will change my thoughts again in fifteen years.
Art – Very High
It is incredible to think that we had such good-looking anime series in the 90s, drawn by hand. Evangelion doesn’t have the consistent animation of Cowboy Bebop, but its creative design drips with grit and atmosphere. Of course, this quality took a toll on the final two episodes. This rating assumes End of Evangelion replaces the original ending.
Sound – High
I didn’t notice until this viewing – because you often skip the ED after a few times – that the ending song changes each DVD to a different cover of Bart Howard’s ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ (popularised by Frank Sinatra). Some of these covers don’t work though I like the variety. Everyone knows the theme song ‘Cruel Angel Thesis’, which has become famous beyond its original use. Still a classic. The acting is where quality doesn’t quite hold up, in either language. A few examples: Asuka’s German in Japanese is…what Unit-01 does to the 13th Angel; several supporting English characters are a regular earsore; Japanese Shinji needed a male actor to pull off some scenes.
Story – Very High
Humanity faces the End Times and must place its hopes on three psychologically damaged teenagers and their mechs. Neon Genesis Evangelion never relents in punishing its characters, evoking a sense of hopeless that grips you until the finale disappoints. This rating assumes End of Evangelion replaces the original ending.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch. Regardless of how you feel in the end, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a must for any anime fan due to its importance and impact on the medium. Watch the original series with the director’s cut of episodes 21 to 24 (I insist) followed by The End of Evangelion. Return to the original ending for intellectual curiosity afterwards, if you wish (the remake reversed several decisions). Death & Rebirth can be ignored as a recap movie and the new scenes went into the director’s cut of the aforementioned episodes.
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.
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.