Tag Archives: Science Fiction

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Paprika – Review

Japanese Title: Paprika

 

Similar: Mind Game

Serial Experiments Lain

Paranoia Agent

Perfect Blue

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Mystery Science Fiction

Length: 90-minute movie

 

Positives:

  • Mind-bendingly crazy dream sequences rendered in gorgeous, detailed art.
  • Keeps you guessing on what is reality and what is a dream until the end.
  • Zany music to match the wacky visuals.

Negatives:

  • A few questions left with vague answers.

Have you ever seen the 1971 version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder? You remember that scene where Wonka takes everyone on a boat ride through a psychedelic tunnel? Paprika is a feature length version of that. The dreams are surreal, music weird, characters loopy, and it’s all great. Paprika is the last in director Satoshi Kon’s anime films – Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers. If you have seen his other works, you know what kind of mind-bending and psychology to expect.

Researchers have created a device that allows therapists to enter a patient’s dreams to find the source of anxiety or neurosis. One such therapist uses her red-haired alter ego known as Paprika to explore the dream world. However, when a device is stolen and patients’ dreams start grafting onto the minds of therapists, dreams become indistinguishable from reality. Paprika must navigate the dream world to figure out how it started and who is responsible.

Though this may sound similar to Christopher Nolan’s Inception, they are far from alike outside of the common narrative device – dreams. Where Inception is grounded in the reality of oneirology (study of dreams) to craft a thrilling heist film, Paprika uses the imagination side of dreams where anything and everything can happen free of oneirology. Inception had strange things happen, certainly, but nothing truly weird. Paprika on the other hand, is nothing but weird. There is a parade of fridges, frogs, lucky cats, anatomy mannequins, the Statue of Liberty, Buddha, and whatever else they thought of, all in honour of a loony old man whose body fat absorbs baby dolls. Need I say more? In Paprika, the dreams have no rules, no boundaries, no logic. They are insane and tons of fun.

Paprika requires that you pay attention, particularly to the scene transitions, or you may miss crucial information that establishes what is dream versus what isn’t and risk losing the plot. Unfortunately, even with focus, some of the important questions remain unanswered. However, that doesn’t interfere with the overall enjoyment of the film.

The art does a brilliant job of bringing the craziness to the screen, accompanied by equally weird, yet good, music in a cacophony of electronic sounds and ever-fluctuating vocals. The artists didn’t skimp on animation. Several scenes have so much animation at once that you need to watch them several times through in order to catch everything.

If you enjoyed Inception, but thought it was too realistic and needed a few more talking guitars and nightmare fuel, then I recommend Paprika. Just don’t expect the same sort of narrative as Inception. That would only lead to disappointment.

Art – Very High

A crazy world of dreams filled with imagination brought out by surreal art.

Sound – High

Both Japanese and English voice tracks are great, though the Japanese has the edge. Paprika’s voice in English may grate on you from its ‘squirreliness.’ Love the psychedelic music.

Story – High

A fun story of insanity that breaks the mind with a smattering of horror thrown in.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Paprika is a must watch, even with a few narrative faults. Prepare to dive into some bloody weird dreams.

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

Positive:

Holy S***Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Karas – Review

Japanese Title: KARAS

 

Similar: Zetman

Blassreiter

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Action

Length: 6 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Dazzling visuals full of energy.
  • Intense action with great cinematography.

Negatives:

  • Too many plot lines that keep shoving each other out of the way.
  • Very little character development across the board.
  • Obvious CG on occasion.
  • Core of the narrative doesn’t become clear until the fourth episode.
  • BLOOM! Ah, my eyes!

Every once in a while, I come across an anime that on the surface looks fantastic, has an interesting premise, and oozes style, but is kicked in the crotch by the most baffling and obvious errors. Karas is one such anime.

Immediately, Karas (Japanese for ‘crow’) dazzles with its intense action as two power-armoured samurai duel among the clouds, gunfire flashing out once they transform into fighter jets before they crash into the city below. The visuals are brilliant and intense, sometimes too intense with excessive use of bloom. It burns the eyes. Karas boasts actual cinematography, often lacking in television anime. Scenes are shot from creative angles, well composited to draw you into the action. The camera shudders against shockwaves, increasing immersion. This anime is beautiful to behold.

However, once the opening action subsides, Karas loses the audience. The premise revolves around a world of demons existing out of sight in a human city. The humans were once aware of the demons’ existence, but have since forgotten and relegated the use of demons to myths and ridicule. (How did they forget?) The Karas tech-fighters exist to keep the balance between the two worlds. Eko, a former Karas, grows tired of human ignorance and raises an army of demons enhanced by his tech-magic to destroy the humans. In response, Yurine uses her own tech-magic to give Otoha the power of the Karas to fight against Eko.

None of this is clear until the halfway mark. The first three episodes largely follow Nue – a rogue demon on humanity’s side – and not the supposed protagonist Otoha. Then episode four hits, and at last, we see the narrative’s core. Nue is all but dropped for Otoha to take his place. This is the obvious problem. Karas has too many plot threads that it can’t manage. I got the impression that the story compositor thought he was plucking a guitar with how fast the scenes jump between threads. Just as a scene is about to reveal its purpose, it cuts away to anoth- no, back again- wait, a third challenger approaches! It’s irritating, particularly in the first two episodes. Two police officers investigating the murders caused by kappa (water demons) also have a meaningless plot thread. Only in the final two episodes, once several plot threads get the Falcon Punch they deserve, can we enjoy the narrative.

None of this is to say that Karas is bad. Rather, it is crippled by baffling choices. It feels as though the first half of the series was in the draft stage, structure wise. Still, Karas is a gorgeous spectacle of action.

Art – High

Karas is a dazzling display of action that blends CG with anime. The CG is noticeable (though not bad) in a few scenes without environmental filters. Wear sunglasses against the bloom.

Sound – Medium

Decent English and Japanese voice tracks with good sound effects.

Story – Medium

Karas has a good narrative to tell between demons and humans, but is unfortunately elbowed across the face by unnecessary side plots.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Watch Karas if you want spectacular sights and action. Make sure to read the full review or a synopsis beforehand so you aren’t lost in the early narrative.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative:

IncoherentUseless Side Cast

ZOIDS New Century Zero – Review

Japanese Title: Zoids Shin Seiki/Zero

 

Related: Zoids (same setting)

Zoids Genesis (same setting)

Similar: Mobile Fighter G Gundam

IGPX Immortal Grand Prix

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 26 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • The mecha Zoids are cool in design.
  • Fights are interesting and varied.
  • The English voice work is great.
  • Plenty of humour.

Negatives:

  • Doesn’t explore character and narrative as much as it could have.
  • A couple of reused attack and transformation animations.
  • Dumb luck and contrivance wins some fights.

I first watched Zoids New Century during its release stint in English. My younger sibling was obsessed with the show, which inadvertently got me interested in the series – not that I had a choice with only one TV in the house as a teen. Watching it again a decade later for review, I wasn’t expecting much. I theorised that any positive opinion I had regarding the anime was likely nothing more than nostalgia. Battle anime aimed at a young audience don’t incite high hopes. However, it turns out that Zoids NC is a good show, far better than anticipated.

Zoids New Century is set 4000 years after the classic Zoids series, and other than the use of robot Zoids, the two series have little in common. Where the classic had an adventure narrative, New Century is closer to traditional battle anime with fights lasting an episode or two – this is one of Zoids’s strengths; the fights don’t drag on for a dozen episodes each. In its twenty-six episodes, Zoids has more battles than Dragon Ball Z does in a hundred. These battles centre on protagonist Bit Cloud, pilot of the Liger Zero, and his supporting pilots Brad the mercenary, Leena the rage machine, Jamie the timid tactician, and Doc Toros the Zoid engineer. Together, they make the Blitz Team.

The premise is simple. Teams fight against each other in sanctioned battles, usually 3 vs. 3, though it varies on occasion. Bit infiltrates the Blitz Team and steals the Liger Zero, a temperamental Zoid that refused to allow anyone to pilot it due to its stubborn and impetuous AI. After winning a battle for them, the team allows him aboard (not before Leena rages at him for taking the spotlight in the battle).

The battles have good variety with each opponent bringing their own strengths to overcome that shape the battle’s theme. While not overly strategic, each battle has good back and forth, and not the typical smash faces together until someone wins. The main flaw is that dumb luck wins a few fights early on, but this isn’t a big problem. It also helps that the characters are fun. Sure, they may not have incredible emotional depth or tortured souls, but they bring life and enthusiasm to the narrative, especially in the English voice track, and don’t have anything stupid about them.

The narrative never gets heavy handed, keeping its focus on the battles. Even when the villainous Backdraft Group comes in (similar to Team Rocket – not Jesse and James) humour remains with their focus on cheating to win, even so far as to bring in their own snarky robot judge to favour the villains. Harry Champ, a man destined to be king, is a hilarious antagonist, who keeps trying to defeat Bit with his expensive Zoids because he thinks Leena is Bit’s girlfriend, and Harry has the hots for her.

The creators knew what made for an engaging battle anime and stuck to it. While Zoids is safe, it works and is an enjoyable watch.

Art – Medium

Zoids makes great use of CG for the mechs, blending them into the standard art, one of the early examples to do so successfully, even if repeated on occasion. At first, you may notice the CG, but it doesn’t take long to fade.

Sound – High

Battle sounds and Zoid roars work well. Ocean Group (Vancouver studio known for Black Lagoon and Gundam) did a great job with a strong cast of actors that brought out their personalities much more than the Japanese had. Bit and Leena in particular have much greater range and emotion.

Story – Medium

Though safe, the characters are good enough to carry the show and bring life to the narrative.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: A good show for anyone looking to have fun with a fast-paced battle anime about dinosaur robots beating the snot out of each other.

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

Positive:

Positive Recommended English Voice Track

Negative: None

Legend of Black Heaven – Review

Japanese Title: Kachou Ouji: Hard Rock Save the Space

 

Similar: BECK

Interstella 5555

Detroit Metal City

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Music Science Fiction

Length: 13 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • Stirring rock music sung in English, even for the Japanese version.
  • Psychedelic, yet fascinating opening sequence to get you pumped.
  • Humorous use of metaphor and innuendo to convey the narrative of a guy saving the galaxy through rock and roll under the guise of a TV show.
  • Has one of the greatest anime scenes ever in the Japanese track using an American actor.

Negatives:

  • Takes half the series to make the narrative core clear.
  • Despite the great opening, the closing sequence is terrible and not in theme with the rest of the music.

Oji was once Gabriel Tanaka of band Black Heaven, the biggest rock group around. Now he’s an office worker with a mundane life, a dull wife, and child – boring, everyday life. Enter Yuki, a voluptuous blonde and fan of Black Heaven, who gives him the opportunity of his daydreams, the chance to hold a guitar again without the glare of his wife and return to the nirvana that is rock and roll. Yuki needs him to play his perfect guitar solo to power a super weapon that can repel the oncoming alien invasion, while the world thinks the invasion is no more than a TV show.

Oji is an interesting character, varying between depression at his life and the zealous defence of his musical possessions. He hides his guitar from his wife, as she keeps trying to throw it out. Yuki and her band of undercover agents bring a nice dose of humour to Black Heaven. They go undercover to observe him, but are clearly not from Earth since they have no idea how to blend into the crowd. Black Heaven’s narrative is simple and focused on Oji’s boredom in life along with his struggle to regain his former rock star talent. The core of the plot isn’t clear until halfway through the series, so it may feel unfocused at first, but it’s worth bearing with it. It never quite explains why the ultimate weapon needs rock music to work, not that it isn’t a cool idea, but it would have been nice to have some lore on the weapon.

Black Heaven’s best aspect is the music. It has an excellent opening sequence and theme of rock ‘Cautionary Warning’ by John Sykes, sung in English even for the Japanese voice track. All of the guitar tracks are excellent; it’s clear the sound director was a fan of classic rock and knew to get a professional for the music. Each episode is titled after a famous rock song. The auditory let-down is the closing theme, a rubbish track that doesn’t fit the rest of the music – honestly, one of the worst tracks I have heard.

Legend of Black Heaven was a pleasant surprise, and is thoroughly underappreciated with a unique premise and a music angle rarely seen in anime. Lastly, there is this amazing scene:

Art – Medium

Adequate art and animation in the vein of Gundam Wing on a lower budget. Love the trippy opening art.

Sound – High

Fantastic guitar riffs and rock n’ roll along with a good Japanese voice track, but a mere average English one (outside the songs). Oji’s Japanese actor reaches a higher level of enthusiasm when he worked up, and Yuki is more seductive, whereas her English counterpart sounds a little flat.

Story – Medium

Simple plot laced with humour and a love for rock music. A bit slow to start.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: A must for lovers of rock and roll. Who knew a guitar solo could save the world.

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

Positive:

Great MusicGreat OP or ED Sequence

Negative: None