Category: film and animation

Religion

Time for more serial experiments lain. In Layer 04: Religion the cityscape voice-over tells us, “I don’t need parents. Humans are connected to no one, nobody at all.” Mika, Mr. Iwakura, and Alice and friends all note in this episode that Lain has changed, as she’s both livelier and more obsessed with the Wired. Lain’s classmates discuss another apparent suicide, which we learn is connected to a game called Phantoma. The MIBs show up again, but this time Lain notices them and scares them off by destroying the shorter man’s lens, seemingly telepathically. There is also another sequence of speculation on the Knights and various rumours from the Wired.

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Psyche

Ready for more serial experiments lain? In Layer 03: Psyche the beginning voice-over tells us “There’s a girl named Lain. You may have heard of her. She’s on the Wired.” The episode proper begins at a police station, where an officer is questioning Lain about the incident at Cyberia. He tells her that no one at her house has answered the phone, and sh isn’t sure why. When she does get home, no one is there and it seems almost too neat, like a hotel room. Alice apologises to Lain, and the next day at school the girls are talking oddly lightly about what had happened, which Alice later points out as rather strange, considering that a man killed himself right in front of them.

This line of conversation is interrupted when Alice notices that Lain received an envelope in her locker, which turns out to be a computer processor. Lain asks her father what it is, and he (not quite believably) claims he doesn’t know, so she returns to Cyberia to ask Taro and his friends, who she’d briefly encountered in the previous episode. Taro, player that he is, says as payment for this information he wants a date with the “wild” version of Lain. That night, Mika encounters the Men in Black at the front door of their home; she tells her mother who, as usual, is unconcerned. Mika goes upstairs and finds Lain installing the Psyche processor, mostly undressed.

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Girls

Let’s continue to the next episode of serial experiments lain. Layer 02: Girls begins with another invitation from a voice-over on the Tokyo cityscape, “What is it you’re so afraid of? Why don’t you take a chance some time?” We’re then introduced to the Cyberia night club, where we see a guy buying and taking a drug called Accela, about which we get our first infodump later in the episode, as well as our first glimpse of Lain of the Wired. Alice and her friends see this alternate Lain and ask the real-world Lain if it was her, but she has no idea what they’re talking about. Alice, friendly girl that she is, invites Lain to join them at Cyberia that night, which takes some prodding. We also see one of the men in black for the first time. Lain’s new Navi is delivered, and she asks her father to set it up right away. At Cyberia, the Accela addict shoots up the place, but Lain confronts him and he kills himself.

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Weird

In Tokyo, Japan, at the present day and present time, a middle school student commits suicide by jumping off a building. Soon after, her classmates receive an e-mail from someone claiming to be her.

“I didn’t die,” she tells them. “I’ve merely abandoned the flesh…. Do you understand? It’s okay if you can’t right now. You will all understand soon. Everyone will. God is here.”…

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Poems in Motion: Your Name and 5 Centimetres per Second

Those who care about spoilers should note that I’ll be discussing the endings and several plot points of both Your Name and 5 Centimetres per Second. I generally don’t care about spoilers, but will say that Your Name is more enjoyable if you don’t know whether it has a happy ending or not (and remember, Shinkai Makoto isn’t afraid of downers) or the twist partway through. If you just want a recommendation, both are worth watching, 5cm especially.

There’s been a ton of hype over Shinkai Makoto’s most recent film, Your Name, ever since its release last year. I saw it a few days ago, and though I don’t think it lives up to the hype I enjoyed it well enough and would even say it’s Shinkai’s best movie since 5 Centimetres per Second. Thinking about the movie, though, I couldn’t help comparing it to 5cm. On the surface, they don’t seem very comparable; 5cm is a very grounded movie, and rather minimalist in its plot and characterisation, whereas Your Name falls firmly into the speculative fiction genre, and though the plot isn’t complex compared to many SF stories, 5cm could be adequately summarised in a few sentences whereas this needs quite a bit more space to explain.…

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A Short Review of The Last Unicorn

After watching The Hobbit, I thought it would be worth watching some more of Rankin/Bass’s films, and initially planned on moving on to The Return of the King next (on my own schedule, which some would call extremely slow but which I prefer to think of as simply a stately pace). At a friend’s insistence, though, I skipped ahead a bit and watched The Last Unicorn, their adaptation of Peter Beagle’s novel of the same title from 1982. Since a couple of people have expressed interest in hearing about it, I figured I’d go ahead and share a few brief thoughts on the movie here.

First, the film has a mythic feeling to it, which I appreciate. The movie opens with moving the camera through a dense forest, and the opening credits are done in a style that mimics illuminated manuscripts, in a manner that reminds me of some of Disney’s “storybook openings,” like Sleeping Beauty or Sword in the Stone, or a less elaborate version of the opening myth section of Watership Down. You can take a look for yourself on YouTube. Two hunters complain of not finding any game, and the older of the two surmises that it must be because of a unicorn’s presence, which would also explain why it’s always springtime there. The younger is incredulous, but the old man is, of course, correct, and they leave the forest as he shouts good wishes to the unicorn, as she is the last of her kind. Our equine protagonist hears this and is troubled by the possibility, and sets out to find out if this is true, and to learn what became of the others.

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That Other, Better Hobbit Movie

A while back I wrote about Ralph Bakshi’s animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. I seem to be one of the brave few who actually did enjoy the movie, but mostly because of the few things it got right. Overall, the best I can say about it is that it’s not as bad as people say, but when that’s the best defense of a film one can offer, well, it’s probably not a good movie.

In any case, about the same time I saw that, I also heard of the Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit, and figured I’d check it out eventually, but after one underwhelming Tolkien adaptation I wasn’t eager to see more. A few weeks ago, though, I came across Dr. Bruce Charlton’s positive review of the film, and when I shared that on Twitter I was quickly informed that I needed to watch it. So, to the front of the queue it went, and I have to say I should’ve watched this sooner, because it’s an excellent children’s film and a worthy adaptation of the novel.

Now, part of any adaptation’s success is knowing what parts of the source material to keep and what to exclude. Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings failed in part because it tried to stuff two books into a two hour movie, whereas Peter Jackson’s version mostly succeeded because each of the three books had its own film. However, Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit has often been criticised, justly, for bloating one fairly straightforward novel into a massively overdone trilogy of movies. Rankin/Bass couldn’t fit everything into ninety minutes, but as Dr. Charlton wrote in his review, they do hit the most important points and allow each scene to develop fully.…

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Is There a Hierarchy Among the Arts?

tezuka_osamuLast weekend I wrote up a recommended reading list as a permanent page, and as I came to the end I briefly considered adding a section for comics, but decided against it because my goal was to direct people to higher art; pop culture already has enough promotion.

While thinking about some of the graphic novels I may have added, I noticed that most of them were works that I’d only really recommend to someone specifically interested in the medium. I took a look at the general fiction section and considered whether I’d encourage anyone to read them before even the relatively lighter works, like The Things They Carried or The Napoleon of Notting Hill, and the answer was no, I wouldn’t.

Why is this? It’s not as though I’m only working from a small sample size; I’ve read dozens of these works, including those that are commonly cited as the best of the medium, like WatchmenThe Dark Knight Returns, a few works by Tezuka Osamu, as well as some more niche titles like Onward Toward Our Noble Deaths or A Bride’s Story. Are comics just inherently an inferior medium? How would one even go about comparing different media?…

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An Experiment in Fandom Criticism

A few years ago, I wrote a post called “What’s Up with Anime Fans?” In short, I considered why anime and its fandom make some people, including some of its own fans, uncomfortable, and concluded that the problem isn’t anime in itself so much as the culture surrounding it, and that the fandom’s awkwardness is a self-reinforcing phenomenon. I still agree with most of that post, but it raises a couple broader questions that may be worth considering. First, can we judge a medium by its fans? Second, can we judge a person’s character by the media he consumes?

First, we should recognise that though the quality of art isn’t as objective or precise as, say, mathematics or the natural sciences, this does not mean that it is completely subjective and unarguable. The simplest criteria we can use to judge the quality of a work is whether it accomplishes what it sets out to do. If it’s a comedy, does it make the audience laugh? If a tragedy, does it give a sense of catharsis? Responses will vary, of course – humour in particular is notoriously subjective – but things become clearer if we examine why a work succeeds or not. Is the plot coherent, the characters believable, the spectacle artful? Taken together, did the various parts of the work each contribute to the intended effect? Should any of the parts be removed, did anything need to be added?

Furthermore, there is a moral dimension to judging art. The best works uplift the audience in some way. This certainly does not mean having an explicit moral; in fact, explicitness is often counter-productive. Compare the uplifting but enjoyable Lord of the Rings to the preachy, unbearable Uncle Tom’s Cabin.…

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Watamote v. 5-7 (75 Books XVI-XVIII)

Though I’ve been reading Watamote for a few years now, first via scanlations, then by importing the Japanese graphic novels, I’ve yet to write about it directly. I did talk about the anime adaptation shortly after it aired about a year and a half ago, and my thoughts on that still reflect my opinion of the first few volumes of the source material. As much as I love the early part of the comics, it is a formula that runs a high risk of growing stale – Tomoko comes up with a scheme to get popular quickly, or to impress someone else, this plan blows up in humiliating fashion, Tomoko learns little or nothing, repeat. Luckily, author Tanigawa Nico (actually a two-person writer/artist team) inserts some variety by giving Tomoko other people to interact with, early on her brother Tomoki, her cousin Kii, and middle-school friend Yuu. These volumes add another interesting dynamic by introducing Komiyama, a mutual friend of Yuu, and who has a crush on Tomoki. While we still see Tomoko making a fool of herself on her own like the early chapters, the most interesting parts tend to be those involving the trio of Tomoko, Yuu, and Komiyama. The added interactions also make Tomoko more easily relatable for those who, while uncomfortable in social situations, aren’t quite helpless as she appeared to be early on.

Now, I imported the Japanese editions so, while I think my reading skills are improving over time, getting through was still a bit of a slog. I have noticed that now, when I pick up the official English edition, it sounds a bit off to me. It’s a similar feeling to watching a foreign film subtitled, and then rewatching it later with an English dub; whether the translation is faithful or not (and doubtless the translator in this case is far, far more fluent than I am), the new voices are distracting and bothersome.

On a final note, the seventh volume also came with a DVD with one anime episode on it. My spoken Japanese is noticeably worse than my reading skills so I was mostly lost in about half a minute. Making things even more difficult for me, this seems to be an original story rather than an adaptation of a chapter of the comic, though I think I did manage to follow the gist of the story. The story’s okay, I suppose, but there wasn’t as much Tomoko as I expected, and frankly I’d have preferred an adaptation over this new material. The animation is decent, about on par with the TV anime.

I’m still continuing with Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy, which is taking a while partly because it’s over 800 pages long and partly because of visiting relatives. In any case, I’ll also concurrently be reading my Japanese editions of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, starting with volume fifteen.…

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