Tag Archives: Movie

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

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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

Memories – Anime Review

Japanese Title: MEMORIES

 

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Perfect Blue

Akira

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Horror Science Fiction

Length: 1 hr. 50 min. (3 short films)

 

Positives:

  • Magnetic Rose’s atmosphere and horror
  • Stink Bomb’s dark humour
  • Beautiful, grim art

Negatives:

  • Cannon Fodder has little to it

(Request an anime for review here.)

Memories is an anthology of three short films that brings together several big talents of the anime industry. All three are based on manga works from executive producer Katsuhiro Otomo (director of Akira), however are directed by three different directors.

Magnetic Rose, first of the three, comes from director Koji Morimoto (animator of Akira, Kiki’s Delivery Service) and writer Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue). This follows a pair of engineers working for a salvage company sent to investigate a distress call from an abandoned space station. Inside, they find a residence of such opulence that it would match European palaces of old. It isn’t abandoned either. The opera singer who once lived here seems alive in the very bolts that keep this place together. Hologram or hallucination, the two men can’t differentiate as she pulls them deeper into her tragic past.

Of the three, Magnetic Rose is easily the best in all regards. Whether talking story, art, music or atmosphere, this is a level above the rest. You immediately feel the styles of Morimoto and Kon. The measured pace, the emphasis on atmosphere and emotion over dialogue, the attention to detail in all of the art, and the psychological tension are telltale signatures. I get strong Dead Space vibes. The madder things get, the more it draws me in. I love it. The only area for improvement is in giving depth to the characters. There is enough here to work, but more wouldn’t have gone awry.

The second film is Stink Bomb under the direction of Tensai Okamura (creator of Darker Than Black). This one is more of a black comedy around a horror scenario. A lab tech tries his company’s experimental cold medicine and takes a nap at work. He awakens to find everyone dead. Turns out this wasn’t cold medicine at all. He has become a living gas bomb, only he doesn’t realise this as he makes his way back to Tokyo with the secret formula.

Stink Bomb feels like it would be a perfect fit as an episode to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. It’s all about the ridiculous scenario – equal parts comedy and horror – without much to the characters or the story beyond that. The more the death toll rises, the funnier it gets. The visuals are great here, particularly in the animation.

Otomo himself directs the last of these films, Cannon Fodder. This is a simple story set in a steampunk city that revolves around firing cannons in an endless war. There are cannons everywhere. Instead of skylights, buildings simply have more cannons. We follow a cannon loader as he goes about a day on the job.

While the most unique visually, Cannon Fodder is the shallowest and least interesting of the three. It’s more of a presentation for a world concept than it is a complete story. I take this an allegory on Japan’s “salary man” work life, where one is slave to the company, no matter the abuse received from higher up, living each day to work so you can pay the bills to live, stuck in this endless “war”. We even have the contrast of the child who wants to become the cannon officer (orders when to fire cannons), as children often do when idolising what their parents do for work (parents haven’t the heart to tell them of reality). An interesting concept, but not the most memorable.

Overall, I highly recommend Magnetic Rose (the worst thing about this film is reminding me that Satoshi Kon isn’t around anymore to share more of his genius with us). Try Stink Bomb if you want to continue, and then you may as well finish Cannon Fodder to complete the anthology. You might want to end on Magnetic Rose to close with the best.

Art – Very High

All three films feature a different style – Cannon Fodder especially – under the guidance of different art directors, all of which succeed in augmenting the tone of their respective stories. The animation is beautiful too.

Sound – High

The voice work is good for the most part. Standouts of the audio department are the sound design of Cannon Fodder and everything audio in Magnetic Rose, which delivers a haunting atmosphere.

Story – High

Three short stories: engineers investigate a haunted space station in Magnetic Rose; a hapless chemist becomes walking death in Stink Bomb; a look at a day in the life of citizens living in a city all about firing cannons in Cannon Fodder. The order of appearance happens to be the descending order of quality.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch Magnetic Rose, try Stink Bomb, then finish with Cannon Fodder if you want to complete the set. Memories is also good for showing to those who aren’t usually interested in anime.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

The Cat Returns – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Neko no Ongaeshi

 

Related: Whisper of the Heart

Similar: Spirited Away

Howl’s Moving Castle

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Adventure Fantasy

Length: 1 hr. 15 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Cats everywhere
  • Charming adventure
  • That Ghibli animation

Negatives:

  • Not much to the story

(Request an anime for review here.)

Haru was going about her day as normal. Frantic, late for school, crushing on a boy. When she saves a cat from becoming road kill, he thanks her. No, he doesn’t nuzzle her. He thanks her. With words.

Turns out that he’s the prince of cats. His father and the other cats, so grateful of her actions, shower her with gifts. Cattails blanket her front yard the next morning, a hundred mice await in her school locker, each in a chocolate gift box, and most “generous” of all is her engagement to the cat prince. What does she mean she doesn’t want to get married to a cat? He’s a prince! Then a mysterious voice says there may be a way out.

“Go to the Cat Bureau.”

And so she takes the advice and finds the bureau, where she meets Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, a gentleman of a cat. This is where the real adventure begins.

The Cat Returns is a charming little film, a fairy tale-like adventure into a world of cats. 90% of the characters are cats. What a delightful bunch they are too. Their insistence in thanking her with gifts only a cat would like has me laughing. The mangy cat king is a riot. I particularly like the fat cat that acts as the muscle when she ventures into the cat world. Then we have the baron, all suave and confident.

Despite her insistence to the contrary, Haru finds herself drawn to the whimsy and fantasy of being a cat, especially with the dashing baron by her side. The deeper she ventures, the harder it will be to pull back, and the more out of control the cats become.

Simplicity is the name here. With similarities to Spirited Away, The Cat Returns may set false expectations. Don’t go in with that mentality. Where most Ghibli titles have crossover appeal for adults and children, The Cat Returns favours very much to the latter. This one won’t be for you if you can’t survive on whimsy and charm. Kids will get a kick out of it – the chase scene with a swarm of cats is a ride – but there isn’t much below the surface. The story follows the path you saw in the beginning, ending in a convenient resolution out of a kids’ fairy tale. Nor do any of the characters have that certain something from the Spirited Away or Moving Castle cast that could carry a narrative. They aren’t bad though.

The Cat Returns isn’t essential viewing to any but the Ghibli completionist. Watch it with your kids, if you have any.

Art – Very High

The Cat Returns has that lovely Ghibli style, though doesn’t look as good as their other films. Seeing this art, I assumed this was one of the earlier releases; however, this came out in 2002 and not the 80s. The animation carries the department. That swarm of cats is fantastic.

Sound – High

Go with the Japanese track if you can. The dub has a standard celebrity cast of good screen actors that lack the cartoon voice quality. Not animated enough. Cary Elwes, Hollywood’s most charming man, being the exception as the baron. The Japanese is much better. Adventurous music.

Story – Medium

A girl finds herself dragged into a world of cats after she saves their prince from death. This is a simple fairy tale – fun, charming, limited.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Ghibli fans or kids. While The Cat Returns is a good film, the limited scope of the story doesn’t have the crossover for adults, as found in the studio’s biggest hits. Kids will love it.

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

Positive:

CharmFluid Animation

Negative: None

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.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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