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Pardon My French

As I was looking through the list of anime last year for my recap post a few days back, I noticed there were a number of titles that flew under the radar throughout the duration of the year. There were a few TV anime, and also a few OVAs/specials/movies. Some of those titles sounded like throwaway animated fluff (like video game/card game adaptations) but the rest actually seemed interesting.The movies were of particular interest. Obviously the means of obtaining these are different from that of normal TV anime and I felt then that it was regrettable not to be able to watch these movies due to over-reliance on fansubbers and such. Fortunately some of them eventually got released–though I wasn’t really that overjoyed after watching.

I have pretty high expectations of the other yet-unreleased films (Space Show, Redline, Colorful, Mai Mai) and I hope they deliver when they finally get out on the DVD/BD market. Mai Mai Miracle was shown on theaters way back in 2009, but I still don’t see any decent release yet, which is a travesty.

Loups=Garous (Trans Arts/Production I.G, Junichi Fujisaku, original novel: Natsuhiko Kyougoku)

Among the little-known anime films I found in the list for last year was this piece. It was an unexpected find, and I didn’t know what to expect. Later on I realized that the movie was in fact an adaptation of a novel by Natsuhiko Kyougoku (Mouryou no Hako, Hundred Stories)–initially I thought it was by Tow Ubukata (Le Chevalier D’eon, Mardock Scramble)–which then boosted my admittedly middling expectations. I had hoped to find something better than the quite disappointing Sunrise production King of Thorn–which I felt attempted to cram a few volumes’ worth of manga content into a 1-hour-49-minute film. The whole movie was convoluted and felt fragmented as a result. The only reason I looked forward to that movie was seeing Yuji Iwahara‘s characters again since Darker than Black anyway, so I guess that’s just fair enough. I liked his character design work for that show.

As I was watching Loups, though, I couldn’t help but compare the work here to the work of Ryosuke Nakamura in Mouryou no Hako, so in a sense my opinions of the former got warped. In the end, I found the comparison a little too unfair, as Mouryou was just too good, and Loups was middling and average. At times, I got bored with watching Loups but I guess there’s the strength of the source material which provided a few spikes in the direction with its twists. The original work was again a murder-mystery, but there’s hardly any mystery in the film. It didn’t keep me on my toes, actively searching for clues beneath the schemes and dialogue, which I saw myself doing in Mouryou. Throughout this post I’m going to have some comparisons between the two–which I know is unfair–but it can’t be helped.

I guess the main difference-maker for me in this production was the staff. I don’t really know much about the other key guys, but I was told they were the main members of Production IG’s TV series Blood+. I knew beforehand that Junichi Fujisaku directed that series–which from what I’ve seen was largely tame in comparison to its parent, Hiroyuki Kitakubo’s Blood: The Last Vampire–but not the others. I didn’t think much of him, but he did write some episodes of Kenji Kamiyama’s GitS: Stand Alone Complex 1st/2nd GIG, so I never did feel he was a bad creator per se. The Blood+ series was supposed to be a training ground for the younger employees at IG, as far as I heard, which would account for the middling feeling the show had. It has been years since then, though, so there must have been some improvement. I still found Loups average though. Watchable, but nothing great. It also looks like a co-production between Trans Arts and IG, but I don’t know how they divided the workload. I guess the main issue for me was that Junichi Fujisaku is just not Ryosuke Nakamura.

I realize that I may sound like an idiot and an overzealous fan of Nakamura, but there’s no denying that his work on Mouryou was great, and by virtue of both Loups and Mouryou being adaptations of Kyougoku mystery novels there just wasn’t any helping it. The movie itself was watchable, as I’ve said before, but some of its elements didn’t work and failed to exude any sense of mystery. The setting was pretty intriguing, but I never felt any attachment to it. It did its job as a set-up for the plot devices, but I wanted to have seen more depth from it. There’s this interesting simulation of a controlled and monitored futuristic semi-utopia, and I wanted it to have been used more in characterization and whatnot. It was also a murder-mystery, but the mystery was detached and ambivalent. The basic premise of a serial killing should have been enough to generate believable and rising intrigue through the characters, but I saw that they operated on different planes. The main characters largely ignored the whole thing, until of course the plot needed them to finally get involved. It was a different case in Mouryou.

Mouryou no Hako’s characters were very much involved in pretty much all facets of the disturbing series of killings, and they actually got fleshed out and explored. I especially like the portrayal of Sekiguchi‘s slowly rising dementia and his bizarre attraction to the serial murders and dismemberment case. Interspersed with Nakamura’s playful and creative visual ideas and imagery are the different characters’ personalities and motivations–Kiba and Sekiguchi being the highlights. I don’t favor self-insert characters that much for they tend to operate on a higher plane of existence than the rest of the characters, but Kyougoku-do (Kyougoku’s self-insert) was grounded and believable. He wasn’t the mechanical and magical problem-solving robot that some think he was, but he got about his business believably–getting all the clues and analysis, that is. His idea of “the power of language” was awesome too.

Speaking of creative visual ideas and imagery, I find Loups lacking in that regard. It is unreasonable to expect something in a different style from a different director, but I found myself missing Nakamura’s little deft touches. I wouldn’t have minded seeing his favorite scheme, the “little people running around on the screen playfully while the main characters continue acting as they are”, which he used in Mouryou and in the arc of Aoi Bungaku he directed, Run Melos. Loups, in contrast, was spare and simplistic. There really was no problem with that, but at times I just needed something to spice it up when it was flagging. Those little touches kept Mouryou from ever lagging, for one.

Indeed, Loups did flag. It started very very slowly, building up the relationships between the characters using the serial killings as catalyst. The problem was that there was hardly any feeling of suspense or mystery, as I’ve already repeated above. As I watched it and the plot slowly started dropping clues, it becomes quite obvious as to who the perpetrators could be. It became boringly predictable, as I didn’t have to go digging up answers from the scattered lines of dialog and schemes, instead I found the film using the conventional means of depicting suspicious people, which then made it easy for viewers to deduce who the main bad guy or guys could be. However, things like this are most likely to be issues with the source material itself so I don’t blame the director for it. And I think Kyougoku knew that himself, since he decided to put the missing spark in the motivations of the characters in disturbing and surprising twists. I’ve always liked how Kyougoku interpreted Japanese monsters, or monsters in general (humans can become just as, if not more monstrous as monsters), and I found it reappearing here in Loups just as I first saw it in Mouryou. I remember sitting up in my seat when I discovered the ultimate reason for the serial killings. I thought it was a pretty well-handled twist–not too over-the-top and not too dramatic either. The end of the film ties the remaining plot threads, but leaves a few questions in an ending that just works. Sometimes I wish anime would have epilogues more often, but then it’s just one of the few spices that make anime interesting. Endings like this leave the viewer/reader with enough room for healthy speculation, and tie up the important plot threads in the process. The ending of Mouryou was like this too, only with a generous added dose of masterful plot thread resolution.

The designs used in the movie were spare and simplistic, and that made them flow better in the animation. They were appealing in the mold of the usual anime aesthetic, and they were kind of familiar to me. One of the clues that led me to believe that it was indeed handled by the Blood+ team was the appearance of Ayumi Kono. Looking at her reminded me at once of Saya, who herself looked vastly different from the Saya in Blood: The Last Vampire. Production IG is known for good CG post-processing, but some shots that used it felt a little jarring. It wasn’t as glaringly and painfully obvious as in King of Thorn (it really was hard to watch), but it was a little unnatural still. The action scenes were acrobatic enough, but I found the fight choreography to be cut out of the normal anime fight template. It was nice to watch, but it was hardly special. There was this fight in the middle that looked a bit different stylistically from the rest of the movie, in terms of angling and movement. I still don’t know much about animators and their styles, but it struck me as looking like something Yasunori Miyazawa would do. He was (I think) in the credits, so I assumed it was his work. It didn’t have the same uniquely powerful effect as I’d hoped though; maybe his drawings were corrected. Anyway it was a smooth film in terms of animation. IG can always be relied upon for producing consistent pieces of animation (even though Trans Arts is also credited).

One thing I didn’t like was why they felt the need to have a Japanese girl rock band (SCANDAL) make an appearance in it. I don’t have anything against the band, but putting them in the film seemed tacked-on and unnecessary. Thankfully they weren’t in it for anything major, and that remained a minor inconvenience. The music video sprinkled in parts through the movie was unappealingly done in 3D. It was the only strikingly ugly part in an otherwise nice-to-look-at film, and I guess part of the reason I didn’t like the band’s inclusion into it. Still, in terms of personal preference of art design, I would still put Mouryou above Loups. Say what you will about CLAMP’s recent character-design work, but they did a great job in Mouryou no Hako. Gone are the “noodle people” in Code Geass and Xxxholic, and here come people that really do look like people. The animation was consistent but took backstage to the art, which was interlaced with Ryosuke Nakamura’s imaginatively clever imagery and symbolisms.

Loups=Garous was a watchable yet lacking film. It wasn’t really terrible, and I would actually put it above King of Thorn. I hoped to find a better watch than that, and I got what I wanted, so I’m thankful for that at least. But I found the film to have parts that didn’t exactly work for me. I never got really into it as much as I did with Mouryou no Hako. Loups did pull off enjoyable twists, and I guess it’s a nice enough translation of Kyougoku’s work. For the really great anime movies, I still have a few to look forward to (not to mention Nakamura’s upcoming anime project), so in the end I didn’t lose anything substantial.


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