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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.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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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Tales from Earthsea – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gedo Senki

 

Similar: Castle in the Sky

Princess Mononoke

Howl’s Moving Castle

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 55 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Gorgeous art.

Negatives:

  • No depth to the characters.
  • Lacks engagements.
  • Doesn’t explore anything.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Tales from Earthsea is often the lowest rated feature film by Studio Ghibli on anime database sites, sometimes by a significant margin. This discrepancy for such a venerable studio has always made Tales from Earthsea stand out to me. It looked like a Ghibli movie, so what could be wrong?

The world is deteriorating. A division of desires between dragons and humans has thrown nature off balance. Archmage Sparrowhawk goes on a journey to find the cause, meeting Arren, young prince of the kingdom, who has just killed his father and is on the run. The prince harbours a darkness within that grants him both strength and cruelty. The sorcerer Cob sees Arren’s weakness as an opportunity to tip the balance further and open the gate to immortality.

Confusion. I characterise Tales from Earthsea best with the word ‘confusion’. The above plot outline isn’t clear until the movie is almost over. The storytelling is so vague. It doesn’t lay out any clear information at the start. You don’t know what any character wants, where anything is going, or why anything is this way. In any story, you must give the audience something to care about from the beginning, whether it is a character motivation, a goal, or an ideal. You wander aimlessly through Tales from Earthsea. I paused several times to watch a YouTube video out of boredom. I care nothing about this film.

Sparrowhawk is a one-note noble wizard, Arren doesn’t have anything going for him outside of these visually intriguing nightmares, and Cob is just Evil Guy 63728. His subordinate slaver is more interesting. We don’t receive reason to care for their actions or their fates. Lacking are the ‘human’ moments that make us love Ghibli’s other characters. How charmed are we by Howl’s first interaction with Sophie? How lovable is Chihiro within minutes? Who could say no to the fluffy Totoro after a single yawn? How strongly did we feel for Seita’s predicament before we even knew his name?

The world of Earthsea almost made me care. When the main characters reach the town of Hort, it’s a magnificent sight, hinting at a deeper world. A back alley shows us citizens crippled by an opium-like substance. A slaver insinuates he will sell a girl into sex slavery. Drugs, slavery, and other dark elements speak of a depth created by the novel’s author, yet not translated by the film studio. These dark elements don’t matter in the movie.

I can see why praise is scarce for Tales from Earthsea with so little to recommend itself. With the basics of storytelling and characters missing from here, there’s no point commenting on the higher layers, such as the scene-to-scene. It’s a waste of time when every problem could be summed up with, “You need to go back to the story/character and fix it first.”

Tales from Earthsea was the first feature film directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro, and he hadn’t grasped the Ghibli magic that made the studio’s films stand out.

Art – Very High

Even with a bad story, Studio Ghibli delivers quality art. The shot of the city impresses me in particular, as does the cinematography on the dragon’s back in the opening scene.

Sound – Medium

The acting is decent. The dub needs more energy, especially from the girl. In the dub, Willem Dafoe replaces a Japanese woman as the sorcerer, oddly enough.

Story – Low

A boy combats his inner demons as an evil sorcerer seeks immortality. Tales from Earthsea lack direction, foundation, development, and depth to make a compelling story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Unless you must watch Tales from Earthsea to complete the Ghibli library, there is no reason to waste your time on this film.

(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 AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative:

DissapointingHollow World BuildingShallow

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.

(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:

Stellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative:

Dissapointing

Death Note – Netflix Review

Related: Death Note (original)

Length: 1 hr. 40 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Willem Dafoe as Ryuk.

Negatives:

  • None of the changes are for the better.
  • Everyone is an idiot.
  • Where’s the strategy?
  • Disappointing, even with low expectations.

None had high expectations for Netflix’s adaptation of Death Note. For myself, expectations were low, very low, but I went in with an open mind. Every performer deserves their chance to exhibit, after all.

It becomes immediately apparent that this Death Note is not the Death Note we are familiar with, demonstrated no better than when protagonist Light Turner shows his Death Note to a random girl he has the hots for after she asks to see what he’s reading… This is…not good… Light is an idiot. Other than Ryuk and the Death Note itself, forget everything you know of the anime. Even the Death Note isn’t quite the same – some rules have changed.

So, Light gets his girlfriend involved early in his quest to rid the world of criminals by writing their names in the notebook. Unlike the original, where Light executed out of a sense of justice, this Light and his girlfriend do it more because it gets them all hot and bothered.

Look, even if you ignore all source material and imagine this film as an original piece, there is no redemption. Light and his girlfriend seem insistent on doing nothing to cover their tracks or identities, while Detective L’s plans to catch them are equally pitiful. At first, I thought L might be fine. His opening move to locate ‘Kira’ by leaking certain names to a police database, revealing Light’s source of criminals, is clever. Sadly, the cleverness stops there.

The third act is particularly bad. L grows irrational, falling for basic traps – if you can even call them traps – making him a weak opponent. He never backs Light into a corner with cunning. As for Light, his end gambit is implausible. Ryuk establishes early on that the circumstances of death must be feasible – “No shark attack while on the toilet.” However, in the finale, Light’s entire plan breaks this rule, forcing several civilians to act in a manner reliant on luck and huge coincidence. Why not just write in that a meteor falls from the sky, aye?

Sure, this Death Note could be worse, but you know, it may have been more entertaining as a worse film. As it stands, it’s a boring adaptation populated by idiots.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Netflix’s Death Note is a bad adaptation of the source material, and even a weak film if judged on its own.

The Boy and the Beast – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bakemono no Ko

 

Similar: Wolf Children

Sword of the Stranger

Moribito – Guardian of the Spirit

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 58 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Good humoured fun.
  • Fluid animation.

Negatives:

  • Main antagonist out of nowhere.
  • Feeble setup.
  • Characters are rather shallow.
  • World left unexplored.

(Request an anime for review here.)

So far, Mamoru Hosoda has been two for two with me on his films, Wolf Children and The Girl Who Leapt through Time. Can he hit the hat-trick?

Nope.

At its core, The Boy and the Beast is a story of two externally different people that share the same internal strengths and weaknesses. One is a boy, the other a beast.

Kumatetsu is in line for the throne after the current beast lord ascends to godhood. Kumatetsu’s chances don’t look good, however, with his anti-social behaviour and being weaker than his rival, who is loved by all beasts. He sets out into the human world to find an apprentice and prove he is worthy. For no real reason, he chooses runaway Ren, who lost his mother in an accident and whose father has dropped all responsibility, and renames him Kyuuta. They return to the beast world and begin living together as dysfunctional roommates while one tries to teach the other to fight.

A lack of thought shows itself early in The Boy and the Beast. Our first introduction to Ren/Kyuuta is of him wandering around Shibuya, angry at the world and everyone in it. He yells in the middle of the street about hating everyone. ‘Cringelord’ comes to mind. There is no subtlety to the conveyance of his emotions and personality. This introduction screams of a writer trying too hard to tell us what we should think of his character.

What follows is the pairing between Kyuuta and Kumatetsu, which has no ground to stand on. We never see reason as to why Kumatetsu chose Kyuuta. Yes, later it shows us that both share much in common, feeling like outcasts from their societies and without much to be proud of. However, Kumatetsu knows none of this on first meeting. For all he knows, Kyuuta could be a kid separated from his mother while shopping. He just declares Kyuuta as the best candidate for apprenticeship.

After this bad start, the story improves greatly with its chemistry between the boy and the beast. Now is where I can see the Mamoru Hosoda that made his previous films great. The constant back and forth, balance-counterbalance dynamic of two delinquents getting on each other’s nerves, yet still feeling camaraderie works perfectly. It’s believable, engaging, and funny. A highlight is the first sword-training lesson from Kumatetsu. “You grip it and bang! That’s it.” Instant swordsmaster! “What?” Great lesson there, mate.

The Boy and the Beast is a tricky beast – pardon the pun – for its faults aren’t clear until the film is almost over. You start with these questions and unresolved threads, which is to be expected of course, assuming the story’s direction is to answer these questions and resolve those threads. Not until the finale do you realise none of those questions had answers and the threads they started aren’t the ones they ended. The worst of this is the villain. He comes out of nowhere in the finale. When he popped up, I thought he would be a throwaway before the real threat takes the stage. But no, he is the villain. That’s what you were building up to all this time? He is irrelevant.

The third act retroactively crushes The Boy and the Beast. Other than the villain, you realise Kumatetsu and Kyuuta have no payoffs to their arcs, missing that seal to justify all that came before. Oh yeah, whatever happened to that girl back in the human world? Then you realise we saw little of the beast world and how its society works. Why do these kings need an apprentice to claim the throne? If it’s a test to cure Kumatetsu of his anti-social behaviour unfit for a king, why is that necessary? He would be king, not your best bud. How does any of the beast world operate? Why does the lord need to retire? Not all of these questions need answers, but you do need to give something for the audience to latch onto.

In the end, The Boy and the Beast leaves me with nothing. I will forget this film in a week.

Art – High

The animation is fluid and the environments gorgeous, but the characters’ lack of shading is a noticeable during day scenes.

Sound – High

Solid music and acting. The dub doesn’t shove in celebrities, much like other Mamoru Hosoda works, so it’s good in either language.

Story – Low

A beastman takes in a runaway boy to raise him as a warrior in a fight for the throne. The story sadly doesn’t dive deep enough into its world or characters to create a meaningful connection with the audience.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. The Boy and the Beast isn’t good enough to be necessary viewing, nor is it bad enough not to warrant a chance. You may find more value its good qualities than I did.

(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 Animation

Negative: 

Hollow World Building