Tag Archives: Movie

Street Fighter II: The Movie – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Street Fighter II Movie

 

Related: Street Fighter II V (series version)

Similar: Spriggan

Afro Samurai

s-CRY-ed

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action

Length: 1 hr. 41 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Faithful to the characters from the games.

Negatives:

  • Not much to it outside a series of duels.
  • Animation stops between fights.

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It’s not easy making a story based on a fighting game property. Fighting game stories have the problem where no one can win, just as one girl can’t be the “one true pairing” in a harem, otherwise you invoke the wrath of all who aren’t fans of the winner. Even when the story is a simple “heroes versus villains” affair, they can’t kill off the villains because it didn’t happen in the games. (If they ever do, they pretend it never happened in the sequel.) Really when adapting such games, they should do what League of Legends did a few years ago – retcon all lore and remove any ties between game and story beyond having characters in common.

For Street Fighter II The Movie, it’s the straightforward approach one would expect of the genre. Supervillain M. Bison has set plans in motion to crush the competition by brainwashing powerful fighters into becoming his pawns. Chun Li of Interpol heads up the counteroffensive, trying to recruit Major Guile and other fighters to her side. They are against the clock as Bison closes in on Ken and the legendary fighter Ryu.

If you haven’t guessed already, this brainwashing plot is merely a means to have Ken fight Ryu for the ultimate fan service action. I’d say it’s a spoiler, but why insult your intelligence? The whole film is fan service. This is why the fans are here.

Street Fighter II pairs up fighters with some semblance of story connection, such as Chun Li vs. Vega, as it moves from one duel to the next with a little story in between. I suspect the production team’s decision to have Ryu on a wanderer’s journey through Asia was just a means to encounter various fighters along the way. You know what? It works. At least they didn’t go for the clichéd tournament story. Though a few characters do feel shoehorned in with barely a justification, story-wise. Again, fan service.

If you want more story, you will have to see the live action Street Fighter movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as Guile and Kylie Minogue as Cammy (yes, the pop singer).

As a fan service film, you can’t stray from the source material, particularly when it comes to characters. This gets weird when seeing them in their signature costumes. I mean, why is Cammy wearing a green swimsuit that gives her a wedgie when assassinating a politician? Doesn’t make sense, but if you want to stick to the games…

There are a few things I found too dumb, even for what this anime is. For example, one fight takes place on the wings of a jet in flight with no adherence to physics. Then there’s Bison’s cyborg. It travels around the world observing fighters and scanning their power levels for his grand plan. Somehow, this obviously half-machine can walk around allied HQ without anyone noticing. In fact, nobody notices this thing anywhere.

It’s funny I should mention the live action movie earlier, since while writing this review, I realised I would rather watch that version over this animated one. Not because it’s better – the anime is leaps and bounds above – but because of how silly that movie is. I can laugh at how bad and inaccurate it is. There’s a big disconnect between a fan service movie like Street Fighter II and me. Simply, I am not a Street Fighter fan (I was into Soul Calibur). I have nothing against it, but without a connection via the games, I feel nothing for this anime unless they had gone the 10 extra miles to develop some complex story. I suspect most non-fans will feel the same.

I will give it credit: this is the best of the fighting-game-to-anime adaptations (unless there is one I haven’t head of), though it isn’t a high bar to beat. Street Fighter II knows what it is, knows what the fans want, and it focuses on this, as indicated by allocating 90% of the animation budget on the fights. And for what it wants to be, Street Fighter II The Movie is fine.

Art – Medium

The budget went into the fights, which look good, while scenes in between are static with minimal and often repeating animations. The cel drawn look adds nice grit to the action tone.

Sound – Medium

The dub is a watchable average. Good soundtrack of rock and electronic to pump up the action.

Story – Medium

A group of fighters work against a super villain’s plan for domination through mind control. It’s a straightforward story to facilitate the fan service.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Street Fighter fans only. The other potential audience outside of SF fans I can think of would be people who like to watch battle anime just for the 1-on-1 fights.

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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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The Tale of Princess Kaguya – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kaguya-hime no Monogatari

 

Similar: Mushi-shi

Wolf Children

Spirited Away

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Length: 2 hr. 17 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Masterful artwork.
  • Simple, yet has depth.
  • Employs surprising subtlety.

Negatives:

  • Folktale simplicity does limit character attachment.

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The Tale of Princess Kaguya was the final film directed by the late Isao Takahata, the other half of Studio Ghibli’s directorial excellence alongside Hayao Miyazaki. Takahata tended to direct the studio’s more realistic works, such as Only Yesterday and the best-film-I-never-want-to-watch-again Grave of the Fireflies. I found it unusual for him to be at the helm of this project based on the Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. The departure from his comfort zone isn’t cause for concern however, for he executed this film brilliantly with a unique art style that makes the subtle story leap off the page.

We start with a bamboo cutter at work in the forest. To his astonishment, he finds a little girl growing inside a bamboo shoot and takes her home to his wife. They take the girl in as their own, but it is clear this is no ordinary child, one they believe is a blessing sent from heaven. She grows at an alarming rate.

Another blessing lands before the cutter when he finds a mound of gold inside a bamboo tree. This convinces him that she must be a princess. And a princess must live like royalty, so he tears up their mountainside roots and takes her to the capital. He gives Kaguya everything to make her happy – a mansion, the finest clothes, servants, the best teacher in etiquette, and dozens of suitors after her hand in marriage. Nothing is too much for his princess. But did he ever ask if she wanted any of this?

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is most effective in its combination of art and sticking to the folktale narrative. The art is beautiful, so beautiful. Even if you aren’t a fan of folktale stories due to their simplicity, Kaguya is worth it for the imagery. The style recalls old Japanese paintings (see below for one from The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, 17th century), though modernised a little to work better in motion. Studio Ghibli managed to make the art look traditional and have such texture (one can feel the “paper”) that you could believe they had taken some 17th century artist’s sketchbook and simply animated it.

This art is a great example of the “less is more” concept for the visual side of storytelling. They could have easily used effects to add more stars in the sky and atmospheric lighting, which I am sure would have still looked fine, but the restraint to exclude many modern techniques makes it special.

Narratively, Kaguya has similar restraint. It reminds of Western fairy tales, where the purpose isn’t to explain every detail or fantasy element. Why is Sleeping Beauty to die from a spinning wheel and not a sword? Where did Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother come from? It doesn’t matter. The tale is about a simple character in a simple story with a simple message.

You have to watch Kaguya with the same mentality, which is where I think some people may not be interested. Fairy tale simplicity isn’t for everyone. I love Disney’s adaptations of fairy tales, so Kaguya was great for me. (Funnily enough, I don’t enjoy reading these same fairy tales because without the visuals and style, I find them too shallow.)

What made this tale so interesting to me was its sadness. Frankly, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is rather depressing. We see her father seduced by greed, yet still believing he’s doing everything for her. He deems the villagers they lived with as beneath them (reminds me of Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens – recommend the TV series). Kaguya doesn’t want her eyebrows removed and teeth blackened like other noblewomen, yet she also doesn’t want to disappoint her family. Outside of the humour with the five buffoons that call themselves princes, professing how much they will worship her and how rare of a treasure she is, I find little happiness here. Then again, perhaps that’s just me. Even when she meets one of her old village friends again and has a moment of freedom, it just made me sadder because I knew how fleeting it would be.

And the ending…well, I leave that for you to experience.

Art – Very High

The Tale of Princess Kaguya’s art is both stunning and unique. To change the style would mean to lose more than just the art.

Sound – Very High

The dub is perfectly fine and the performances by Kaguya’s parents are particularly emotive. However, go with the original Japanese to get the full experience of all the formalities and uncomfortable elements of the period. Also, Kaguya’s voice matures better with the character’s arc in Japanese. Nice in-world music.

Story – High

A bamboo cutter finds a girl inside a bamboo shoot and wants to give her the world, not realising that the world is too much for a little girl. This simple folktale uses subtlety to evoke great emotion in the reader.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Watch it. Despite the pastel art, I recommend The Tale of Princess Kaguya more to adults than to kids. The emotional subtlety is rewarding.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStellar Voice ActingStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher

 

Related: Marvel Future Avengers

Similar: Iron Man

Canaan

Spriggan

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 1 hr. 22 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Animated well.

Negatives:

  • Action is repetitive.
  • No mystery or suspense.
  • Generic scientist villain.
  • Royalty-free rock music?

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I just watched this out of curiosity to see what they would do with a Marvel anime film instead of a series. I shouldn’t have bothered.

After the Punisher disrupts a secret S.H.I.E.L.D mission, the agency forces him to team up with Black Widow to fight Leviathan, a terrorist organisation selling stolen S.H.I.E.L.D tech. The vigilante and hero will have to put their differences aside to save the world.

Action, action, and more action constitute Avengers Confidential’s runtime. There’s a fight between the Punisher and Black Widow, a fight against some thugs, another fight between the Punisher and Black Widow, a fight against the generic weapons scientist enemy, and, of course, yet more combat between the two leads. Honestly, these two fight each other more than they do enemies.

The action is so repetitive as well. How many times do they hit fist to fist? It must be at least once per fight. Avengers Confidential has no mystery or suspense to keep you watching. It has as much content as an episode from the Marvel series anime. There is no substance here, no character and little story to speak of. I wonder how this anime would look from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about these characters. Would such an audience have any sense for whom these characters are and for what they are meant to stand?

There’s nothing more to say other than don’t waste your time as I did with this incredibly boring film. It’s made to look even worse should you come at it from Marvel’s Hollywood movies.

And with that, I am done with Marvel’s foray into anime, unless they try again with something better at a later date. Overall, I am not impressed with these Marvel anime. X-Men had good qualities, but the rest…I doubt people will even remember which characters received adaptations in a few years.

Art – Medium

Avengers Confidential is well animated, though the anatomy looks off at times, particularly faces, as if two studios worked on separate scenes independently.

Sound – Low

The acting is decent with little to say while the music sounds like royalty-free rock.

Story – Low

The Punisher and Black Widow team up to defeat Leviathan, a terrorist organisation looking to sell S.H.I.E.L.D technology to super villains. You need more than straightforward action to have a good story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Watch any Avengers animated series instead, or you have a hundred more engaging action anime than Avenger Confidential.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

RepetitiveShallow

Pokémon: The Movie 2000 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Pokémon: Maboroshi no Pokémon Lugia Bakutan

 

Related: Pokémon: The First Movie

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 20 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The legendary Pokémon feel legendary.
  • High tension.

Negatives:

  • Most forgettable villain.
  • Romance between Ash and Misty?

(Request an anime for review here.)

I had watched Pokémon: The Movie 2000 so many times as a child, even more than the Pokémon: The First Movie, that I lost count. It is perhaps third behind Disney’s The Aristocats and 101 Dalmatians for my most watched kids’ movies. It was a perfect storm of factors to make me love it. It was a Pokémon movie released at the height of my Pokémon mania, it featured Pokémon from Gold & Silver games, which are still my favourites, while also incorporating the legendary birds of the three elements at the centre, and gave it epic an scope to threaten the world. It’s as if Nintendo had asked little me what kind of Pokémon movie I wanted. It goes without saying, but I bloody loved this movie.

I hadn’t seen it in over a decade until I rewatched it for this review. So many memories came back to me, recalling a simpler time when I didn’t even know this was called anime, when I had no responsibilities and could waste time as though it wasn’t a limited resource. Fond memories.

Unfortunately, I doesn’t hold up as well as The First Movie. But before I get into why, let me cover the scenario in brief.

Lawrence, a man with more money than sense, likes to collect the rarest Pokémon in his gigantic flying fortress. On his crosshairs are the three legendary birds of ice, lightning, and fire – Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres – which, when disturbed according to the prophecy, will summon the ultimate prize: Lugia. Disturbance of these legendary birds results in climate change that Al Gore can only dream of and is the reason for Lugia’s awakening. Ash Ketchum and company find themselves washed into this conflict when a storm carries their boat off course. Only Lugia and “the chosen one” (spoiler: it’s Ash) can restore balance to the elements and save the world.

I’ll go over a few positives first. I like that no one takes the prophecy seriously at first, that it’s just a story for the tourists to add character to this holiday island they end up on. By the end, it isn’t even clear if the “chosen one” aspect of the prophecy was true or if Ash just happened to be in the right place at the right time to help. As mentioned before, I love the legendary birds and their world-ending conflict feels appropriate to hype they receive in Pokémon lore. Later legendaries would power creep them to the point where one Pokémon is the God and still not feel as cool. The tension is also high from the moment the first storm hits.

Where The Movie 2000 falls flat is in the villain. Think about how many times I have seen this movie and know that I still can’t remember any of Lawrence’s character (even forgot his name). He is utterly forgettable. You compare him to Mewtwo from the previous movie and it’s night and day. Mewtwo has a clear motivation, with reasoning, a complete arc, and memorable lines. Lawrence has nothing to recommend himself as the star villain of your movie. The only positive I can give is that he’s not from Team Rocket, which is something different.

When you have a villain who isn’t a personal threat to the protagonist, it weakens the villain-hero conflict, which you need to make up for in other areas. For instance, you can have more conflict between allies to heighten the emotional drama. Looking at the previous movie once more, Mewtwo threatened Ash’s Pokémon and made them fight to the death. Now that’s heavy conflict. This apocalyptic scenario, while a tense rollercoaster, requires no emotional investment from the heroes.

As a kid, you’re first priority in a movie is the cool factor and the fun factor. Who cares about baby stuff like emotions and drama? Pokémon: The Movie 2000 is certainly cool and fun, but as an adult, it no longer contains the factors I desire most.

Before I go, I want to touch on something I didn’t properly notice when I was but a wee lad. Did they try to push a romance between Ash and Misty? The story introduces a new girl who tells them the prophecy and teases Misty about her feelings for Ash. I never got that sense from the series. Perhaps this was a test ground. Either way, it isn’t particularly relevant nor affect enjoyment. It’s just odd.

Art – Medium

The art is a little better than The First Movie, except in the case of the CG fortress, though that isn’t a serious issue. I like the texture of the environments.

Sound – Medium

I have no comment on the Japanese. No matter what I do, I can’t get used to it. Meowth, as always, is the best. There is another cover song of the main theme like before.

Story – Medium

A storm will destroy the world unless Ash can restore balance between ice, lightning and fire with the aid of an ancient Pokémon. This is a fun Pokémon side adventure, albeit one that needs a better villain.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Pokémon fans only. Not only is this tailored to Pokémon fans, most references won’t make sense without prior knowledge.

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Pokémon: The First Movie – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Pokémon: Mewtwo no Gyakushuu

 

Related: Pokémon (main series)

Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns (sequel)

Pokémon: The Movie 2000 (next movie)

 

Watched in: English

Genre: Action Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 25 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Mewtwo is a menacing villain.
  • Good moral lesson.
  • Team Rocket works better than in the series.

Negatives:

  • Production values aren’t movie quality.
  • Dated pop songs in the dub.

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The first soundtrack I ever owned was for Pokémon: The First Movie on cassette. It was all I played on my Sanyo Walkman for months. Listening to a particular song was a challenge, as I had to fast forward and guess when to stop. Nope, too early – still on ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’. Oops, too far. Screw it; let’s just go back to the Pokémon Theme. Only good song on the list anyway. (Man, I’m glad I live in the future.)

The release of Pokémon: The First Movie was a major event in the West. Pokémon was at the height of popularity with the trifecta of games, anime, and trading cards. We kids went nuts for a movie featuring Mew, the rarest Pokémon. Would we receive the adorable monster in game and in card from at last? (Spoiler: No. Nintendo hated us. Bastards.) To see Pokémon on the big screen was mind blowing to the child mind. What about all these years later, though?

You know what, it ain’t bad.

The story centres on Mewtwo, clone of the ancient Mew, believed to be the most powerful Pokémon. Breaking free from the shackles of his creator, Mewtwo seeks to prove his superiority over humankind and all Pokémon by inviting the best trainers to the ultimate challenge on his island. Of course, Ash Ketchum, who has actually never won anything meaningful in his Pokémon trainer career, receives an invitation – ‘cause protagonist. Little do he and the other trainers know that Mewtwo has sinister plans for their Pokémon.

The First Movie was refreshing at the time for having a plot with serious stakes – the end of the world and all natural Pokémon. The main series suffered from endless low-stakes episodes, usually undermined by Team Rocket. Ash had never faced a challenge. In fact, the series hated challenging him so much that in the Pokémon League, the final test for a trainer, he lost not because another trainer bested him, but because his Pokémon doesn’t listen. Super lame. The First Movie had weight, which holds up today.

It’s also great for fan service, bringing together most fan favourites such as Charizard, Venusaur, Blastoise, and Gyarados in one place for an epic battle. Let’s not forget Mewtwo, the star of the show. He is a great villain. You don’t expect a Pokémon villain to have good and bad qualities in conflict within himself as he seeks a purpose. And he delivers one of the deepest lines in history. (I hear Gandhi rose from his grave upon hearing Mewtwo’s words.)

Mew plays well off Mewtwo. I love how Mew cares so little for Mewtwo’s bravado, more interested in playing around like a cat distracted by yarn in the face of destruction.

Team Rocket is a pleasant surprise too. As funny as Team Rocket can be in small doses, having them appear every episode to derail the plot grew tedious. In The First Movie, they’re hilarious and complement the film rather than get in the way. Meowth has always been the best character and he has some great lines in this, and the fight against his clone is great. There’s something amusing about Meowth chatting with his clone while all around them Pokémon are stomping the life out of each other.

Pokémon: The First Movie won’t hold any interest if you aren’t a fan of the franchise. This is aptly described as the best episode of the original series rather than a standalone film. But if you do have any passing interest in the franchise, even if purely through the games, Pokémon: The First Movie is the perfect trip back to childhood.

Art – Medium

Though Pokémon: The First Movie looks much better than the series, it still barely reaches the standard for good anime visuals of the time.

Sound – Medium

I can’t watch Pokémon in anything but the dub – I don’t even know most names in Japanese. Meowth is always the best voice, but Mewtwo has the best dialogue this time. The soundtrack is mostly pop songs that haven’t aged after their populist inclusion in 1999. They don’t fit. At all.

Story – Medium

The ultimate Pokémon invites the best trainers to his island for a test of strength, where he can cement his dominion over mankind. Mewtwo’s villainy and the ultimate lesson of Pokémon: The First Movie make it one of the franchise’s best stories.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: A must for Pokémon fans. Even if you aren’t a Pokémon fan, The First Movie is an enjoyable ride down nostalgia lane.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None