Tag Archives: Movie

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

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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

All You Need is Kill – Manga Review

Japanese Title: All You Need is Kill

 

Related: Edge of Tomorrow / Live Die Repeat (live action)

 

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 2 volumes

 

Positives:

  • Gritty, brutal art
  • Engaging concept and execution

Negatives:

  • A little limited

Since having heard several years ago that the Hollywood movie Edge of Tomorrow came from a manga, I’ve wanted to read it. After all, manga to film adaptations don’t have a reputation for quality, yet Edge of Tomorrow is great. It turns out we have quite a lot different between the manga All You Need is Kill and the movie, with each being good in their own rights. Both versions understand their mediums.

All You Need is Kill isn’t a spectacular manga. It’s a simple though interesting concept: human soldier finds himself trapped in a loop in the fight against aliens invading Earth. He goes to battle, dies, wakes up in his bunk again, and repeat. With each loop, he trains harder, studies the enemy further, and lives a few minutes longer. Key among the soldiers is a woman, a war hero known as the “Full Metal Bitch”. No one kills aliens better than she does.

The manga characters are on the younger side, him as a new recruit and her age used to contrast her combat prowess. The movie ages up the characters and employs Tom Cruise as the protagonist and Emily Blunt as the woman that trains him. The protagonist isn’t a new recruit either, in the movie, instead coming from a non-combat division and he runs from duty. This gives him more dimension as a reluctant hero. Conversely, manga protagonist goes down the trauma route harder with each death eating away at him.

The most notable difference between the two is the alien design. Movie version has them as this undulating mass of tentacles/cables on four legs tearing across the battlefield. The manga aliens are floating balls of teeth, a.k.a. Langoliers. If you’ve seen the film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Langoliers, you know they don’t translate well, something I’m sure the Edge of Tomorrow team was are of. I agree with the change. They’re fine in the manga, as you don’t need to animate them and the art illustrates them in gruesome detail.

The increased realism in the movie also extends to the power suit designs. The manga versions are very “anime” in design, akin to Bubblegum Crisis, whereas the movie employs exoskeletons similar to what the military is developing today. Could anime battle suits work in live action? Sure. Greater risk of cocking it up though.

If I have one notable complaint of the manga, it is the limited scope. I wish the story were at least one volume longer to give it more time to develop the relationship and to explore the aliens further. The two volumes we have are solid and work as they are, but I’m left wanting more. That’s where the movie improves upon the source. The couple get together sooner (keep in mind that she forgets everything each reset) and there is more to the aliens with a concrete end to the story. Movie version is a little more satisfying.

Forced to pick one or the other, I think the movie is better though the manga certainly has its merits. As I said at the beginning, they both succeed in their mediums.

Art – High

There is a nice contrast between the “softness” and youth of the characters paired against the gritty art used in the action. It evokes the trauma of these young people on the battlefield.

Story – High

A soldier relives the same battle repeatedly, progressing further each time. All You Need is Kill’s engaging hook and strict script makes for an easy page-turner.

Recommendation: Read All You Need is Kill and watch Edge of Tomorrow (also referred to as Live Die Repeat in some territories). Both are great.

My Neighbors the Yamadas – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tonari no Yamada-kun

 

Similar: Kaasan: Mom’s Life

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life

Length: 1 hr. 44 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Charming life stories
  • Cute picture book art
  • Easy lessons for kids

Negatives:

  • Might not have much appeal to older audiences

(Request an anime for review here.)

Today’s review will be a short one, as I’m working a massive triple review for release in the next few weeks. This time, we look at one of Studio Ghibli’s lesser-known films, My Neighbors the Yamadas.

It follows the lives of a quirky Japanese family, telling life stories in a series of vignettes. It covers subjects such as where children come from (incorporates the myths of the stork and the bamboo) and secrets to a happy marriage. It talks of the importance in working together as a family team, otherwise you’ll be surrounded by sharks before you know it. This film loves it’s visual metaphors and are what make it engaging to watch, even as an adult.

The family are an interesting cast of characters. My favourite is the grandmother who has been around long enough not to care what other people think. She speaks her mind and imparts sage advice on those around her. The father is a typical salaryman and a good husband. He and his wife make a daggy couple that their teenage son wishes were much cooler. Then we have the daughter, a bundle of joy and innocence. Super adorable.

The lessons are a little more geared towards children, explaining life concepts in easy to understand ways, though they aren’t particularly complex. The visuals alone do a good job of conveying the messages. If nothing else, My Neighbors the Yamadas will facilitate a conversation between children and their parents about some of the tougher questions.

On the flip side, I don’t see much appeal for anyone outside of children or parents. For myself, I enjoyed the art and animation most, the metaphors and ideas, but I won’t push this as essential viewing. It’s a charming film for those looking to complete the Ghibli collection.

Art – High

This animated picture book has the perfect style for this children’s story. A little rough and unpolished around the edges.

Sound – High

The acting is great. Even the kids, played by real children, are a success and add a charming innocence to the cast.

Story – High

The daily life of the quirky Yamada family is an endearing slice of life perfect for parents to watch with their kids.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For kids and parents. My Neighbors the Yamadas explains life in an easy manner for children to understand, while also offering entertainment to parents. However, if you don’t fall into either group, then this isn’t necessary viewing.

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

Positive: 

CharmFluid Animation

Negative: None

Weathering With You – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tenki no Ko

 

Similar: Your Name

Patema Inverted

The World is Still Beautiful

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama Fantasy Romance

Length: 1 hr. 54 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Stunning art, particularly the weather
  • Great cast of characters
  • Unconventional story direction
  • Beautiful music complements the emotional moments

Negatives:

  • Minor animation shortcuts

(Request an anime for review here.)

For a man who loves the weather as much as Makoto Shinkai does, it was inevitable that he would release a movie about weather itself. After missing the opportunity to see this in theatres, I finally have access to the blu-ray of Weathering With You. Was it worth the anticipation?

Look, I love Shinkai’s visual style so much that even with a mediocre story it would still be worth the wait. He builds such atmosphere, such ambiance in his films that I simply like being in them. However, having a great story as well never hurts.

Weathering With You opens with a teenaged boy called Hodaka on his way to Tokyo. He’s on the run to what he assumes will be a better life. Little does he know that Tokyo has few favours in store for him, gives no pity. Someone takes advantage of him before he even arrives! Then there’s the rain. An eternal torrent of rain has settled over Tokyo and it shows no signs of abating.

Wandering the streets and starving after some horrendous financial planning (why go to McDonalds when low on funds? If you can’t cook, at least choose the convenience store), he finds a job at a small publishing house, where he becomes the jack-of-all-trades. Assistant, note taker, cleaner, cook, shopper, and writer, he does it all. It’s rough, but the people are nice. Things are looking up! All of this changes – for better and worse – when he meets Hina, a desperate girl about to make a horrible career decision with some shady dudes and he yanks her out of there. Somehow, she has the ability to “pray” the rain away and bring out the sun. Hodaka and Hina have the idea to sell her services as the “Sunshine Girl” for your event, where it’s a market, a wedding, or meteor shower viewing party.

One will immediately feel similarities to Shinkai’s previous film, Your Name, when watching Weathering With You – and will appeal to the same fans. No works of his have been more similar than these two films. However, Weathering With You is much simpler in premise and execution. You don’t have to ask yourself, “Wait, when he was doing this, she was doing that, yeah? And this lines up with that other thing?” It’s much more straightforward and refined here. The concept of Weathering With You is not as initially gripping as Your Name was. It doesn’t summarise itself in that one neat sentence that can sell the idea without further explanation.

As such, Weathering With You does not grab me from the outset – storywise, of course; visually, amazing from the first frame. It isn’t until the first downward turn in Hodaka and Hina’s relationship when we realise there is a cost to her power that I get that, “Yes, now I’m really in,” feeling. Once the story hits that point, I love every moment of the tumultuous ride we go on as they struggle with her destiny and the past catches up with them. What, you thought being a runway kid with a gun wouldn’t have consequences? And what of her, an underage girl with a small brother in her care?

Most of Shinkai’s protagonists have this element of deep-seated sadness that drives so much of what they do. The characteristic has recurred so often, that I wonder what Shinkai experienced himself to compel him to write such protagonists. All characters in Weathering With You are believable and relatable on some level, from the publisher trying to visit his daughter against the objections of his ex-mother in law to Hina’s surprisingly mature little brother in affairs of the heart (my favourite character).

This is a delightful film.

If you were to ask for some negatives though, apart from that slightly weaker start, I wouldn’t have much to say. It is noticeable that the subplot of his job at the publisher stops about halfway, its purpose being to discover the cost of Hina’s power. There should have been a little something to keep it going, though thankfully the two characters from his job are always relevant. The lyrical music can be a bit much at times as well. There are a few little things here and there, but nothing is a big enough problem to detract from the overall experience.

Some people may take issue with the magic element of Hina’s power, but I don’t see it as a problem. Not everything needs encyclopaedic explanation. It all depends on how prevalent the magic is. The main reason we have explanations for magic systems is to avoid things like deus ex machina or general confusion. A writer needs to strike that balance of explaining enough to sell the audience on the premise without drowning them in exposition. Weathering With You gets it just right.

Art – Very High

You have never seen animated weather look as good as this. The other elements are great too. The only visual flaws are a few CG assets – wouldn’t have been much more work to do them normally, so they must have been pressed for time, but these are minor problems.

Sound – High

The soundtrack is beautiful, though a little overpowering at times with some lyrical tracks, as if there were product placement requirements in place that mandated a minimum runtime and volume to make sure the audience picks it up. Acting is good.

Story – Very High

A runaway teen meets a “Sunshine Girl” amid a dark and rainy Tokyo. Though it has a slow start, Weathering With You soon ramps up to become a dramatic journey of love, sacrifice, and eternal rain.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Watch it. Weathering With You is perfect for Shinkai fans and will even appeal to non-anime fans with its simple premise into great execution.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive: 

Fluid AnimationGreat MusicStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Code Geass: Re;surrection & Akito the Exiled – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Code Geass: Fukkatsu no Lelouch & Code Geass: Boukoku no Akito

 

Related: Code Geass (original timeline)

Code Geass movies (prequels – alternate timeline)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Science Fiction

Length: Re;surrection: 1 hr. 52 min. movie

Akito the Exiled: 5 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good acting
  • Animation and visuals in general hold strong
  • Resurrection’s villain has an interesting power
  • Akito the Exiled gives us a different view of the war

Negatives:

  • The alternate timeline is bad fan fiction
  • Far stupider than the main series
  • Lacks weight and consequence
  • Unjustified series revival

(Request an anime for review here.)

Warning: Contains implied spoiler for Code Geass – go watch the series first if you want to avoid any spoilers!

Of all the anime franchises out there, Code Geass is amongst the last I would have picked for a revival. It has, to this day, one of the best endings in the medium. Everything wraps up in a neat, satisfying end that doesn’t need further exploration. It’s done; leave it!

Later they announced the spin-off series Akito the Exiled to mixed reviews and it was largely apart from the series proper. So, whatever. Then they start the Code Geass Movies, which I thought was a simple cash grab that repackages the series into an a set of abridged films (Gundam often does this to maintain interest between new releases). Now we come to Resurrection, the fourth film that promises to continue to story from where the series ended. I look at the poster and see Lelouch featured. If you’ve seen the series but not the movies, you will understand my confusion at his involvement. That’s when I learn the movies changed key events from the original series.

Most notable amongst the changes is the reversal of several character deaths. Pivotal moments that had a significant impact on the story and characters undone without a second thought. One would imagine this wouldn’t go down well amongst fans – surely, the meaningful consequences are one of the key factors that drew them to Code Geass. However, while researching the production of the films and the motivations behind the changes, I would see comments underneath articles of such stupidity that it hurts to be distantly associated with them as fans of the same series. Things like, “Movie so much betta cuz [character] lives and [character] don’t make stpd decicion. Like if agree.” Mastery of language isn’t a strength amongst these commenters.

In discussion with my friend about Resurrection after having watched it together, he tells me of something called “saviour fan fiction”, where fans who don’t like that their favourite character/s died will rewrite the canon to have them survive and often help/save the day. Looking further into the background of these movies, I start seeing this everywhere. Almost everyone who likes the alternate timeline does so because some character doesn’t die. They don’t care that it undermines the story, that the challenges these characters faced is what gave them depth. If not for these complex character arcs, would they have liked the characters to begin with? Whom am I kidding – these saviour dimwits can’t see beyond the superficial.

I haven’t even talked about Resurrection yet.

Resurrection starts shortly after Lelouch brings peace to the world. This time of peace isn’t beneficial to all, however, for the Kingdom of Zilkhstan’s primary trade was in weapons and who needs those anymore? Their ruler, Princess Shamna, kidnaps Nunnally of the United Federations council and uses the girl to amplify her Geass power as tries to elevate her kingdom once more. Many characters from the previous story arrive to get her back.

There are so many problems here – even ignoring the alternate timeline changes – that I don’t know where to begin. Let’s start on the premise. No kingdom, were they as powerful as purported here, would collapse to rubble if they couldn’t sell weapons anymore. One, people would still buy weapons (though not as many) and two, what of their other industries? Did everyone in the kingdom work in weapon factories?

Then we have the characters. The news ones – most of them from the kingdom – are so forgettable. There is this one scene where the crippled prince has Suzaku in chains and starts whipping him with a cat o’ nine tails like it’s some fetish. It’s so random that my friend and I burst into laughter. I couldn’t tell you what the enemy fighters are about. The only new character with a hint of complexity is the princess. As for the returning characters, they are mere silhouettes of their former selves. The greatest issue here is the sheer number of them. It feels as if Resurrection wanted to include the entire cast from the original 50-episode series. Surely, production would be smart enough to know you can’t do this in under two hours. Then you remember this is just fan service to satiate the drooling saviour fan fic writers. Of course, go ahead, cram everyone in and make sure we get plenty of framed arse shots instead of character arcs.

The worst offender is Lelouch himself (to be fair, this is also because he’s the most important). He starts the film as a brain dead simpleton (literally) until CC restores him to health amidst this conflict – nice coincidence to have them hiding in the one village in the world where any conflict is happening. The moment he recovers, he’s back to his old self. No concerns whatsoever for how he got there to begin with after what he did to bring peace. Why do this, why even involve him if you’re going to undo everything? You could have used someone els— Oh, silly me. Of course – fan service!

They don’t even get the strategy right. Code Geass is known for smart characters and smart battles. It pits Lelouch in battles where brains matter more than brawn. Resurrection is nothing like that. Shamna has a cool power, full of potential for interesting battle scenarios. I won’t give it away, as it is the one good element of the story. All I’ll say is that it’s a power which is difficult to figure out. As such, Lelouch has to use deductive reasoning to figure out why she’s always one step ahead. It’s similar to L cracking how people are dying as if by the power of God in Death Note. Unlike that anime, where we see each step of the process, Resurrection rushes through the trial and error stage as Lelouch eliminates the possibilities.

If insistent on going through with this whole alternate timeline story, they should have at least turned this into a series. Everything is so rushed. We don’t get to know any of the new characters, the old characters only have a connection because of what we know from past stories, and the events jump from one to the next too quickly. This feels like a recap movie, not the definitive continuation of Code Geass.

Ahead of Resurrection, I thought I would check out the spin off series Code Geass: Akito the Exiled. This is part of the original timeline, taking place between seasons one and two. It is set in on the frontlines of Europe, where the Britannian Empire is invading the Europia United allied nations. We follow a secret military unit made up of people from all over Europe and Japanese street kids led by an aristocratic girl.

The first thing that jumps out to me is the accents in the dub. Set in Western Europe, they made the effort to give accents to characters from different countries, something I very much appreciate. They work – for the most part. The French accents, sadly, all use the wrong ‘r’ sound. It’s placed too far forward in the mouth (sounds more German) and makes me tick each time I hear it. An absolute minor nit-pick that most won’t matter to most – hell, most won’t even notice! – but I notice it every. damn. time.

Enough of accents. Akito the Exiled is better than I expected for a spin off series (the bar is set to low). Not to say it’s great or that it lives up to the Code Geass name. The action is engaging enough – could do with less CG – and the characters are fine, if a bit too simple. Unlike Resurrection, where the new introductions get 30 seconds of characterisation, Akito’s [almost] entirely new cast has far more depth and actual arcs. I should have mentioned Resurrection has no arcs.

I also like how it centres on a different part of the world. If you make a spin-off, it’s good to have something new. In fact, the worst aspects of the series are the tie-in elements to the original, namely the inclusion of Geass powers and the appearance of Lelouch. The powers feel tacked on and the villain’s power is a worse version of Lelouch’s Geass. He never uses it in an interesting manner. Would have been better without it.

Lelouch’s appearance is worse, as it comes across like a fan service cameo. He gets sent to take over the operation on the European front. The story sees a notable dive when he joins. I’m just asking myself the whole time why he’s there. The answer is obvious, of course – fan service – yet I still wonder.

Do I recommend either of these? Resurrection, definitely not; Akito the Exiled, maybe. The latter is decent for Code Geass fans that want to see more of the world, whereas the former undermines the value of the original. It should be offensive to any fan.

Art – High

The Code Geass continuations still look good – the movies more so than Akito the Exiled, where CG battle scenes are jarring amongst the 2D. Hard to fail here when coming off the back of the original.

Sound – Medium

There is a notable drop in script quality, though the actors still give it their all. The soundtrack, unlike the art, hasn’t maintained some level of quality. Utterly forgettable. Akito the Exiled’s writing is better.

Story – Low

Akito the Exiled shows us the war with Britannia on the European front, while Resurrection continues the series as a new threat rises in the time of peace. Akito the Exiled isn’t an awful supplement to the series, expanding the world and giving us a new set of characters. Resurrection, however, is bad fan fiction.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid the Code Geass movies, especially Resurrection. Give Akito the Exiled a try if you want more that isn’t garbage.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Disappointing