Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.
Just use "that".
I’ve only just noticed this about two days ago, but now I see that I have actually already lasted a year into this anime-blogging business. Lots of other, better, blogs have been around for far longer, and I take my hats off to them, but when I think about it, my blog staying alive for a year is an impressive feat in itself, and is thus worth talking about. I never did plan on writing about silly cartoons and comics from the Land of the Rising Sun for very long time, hell, I was expecting to burn out three months into it. But here I am, still rattling away on the keyboard. I’d even gained some positive reactions and a few readers, and for that I am grateful. They’re not a lot, but still, I’d like to thank those who bothered to read (and commented on) this little blog. I hope you continue to read whatever shit I put in here. Also, a shout-out to the guys on the blogroll. I never thought I’d get that many on there.
In the past few weeks I’ve slowly inched my way through one of Production IG‘s most popular franchises, Mobile Police Patlabor, and I’m now geared to finish the movie trilogy with 2001/2’s WXIII. I’m not one of those fans who were lucky enough to catch this or some of the other old, well-regarded series either on tape or on the tube back in the day, so only relatively recently did I get to explore the franchise (though the requisite anime series I did follow when I was a little brat). But that’s not a good excuse so I will stop there. Anyway, I was pretty damned awestruck when watching the first two offerings of the movie trilogy, which were both directed by Mamoru Oshii, for the masterfully assured way they changed gears from the comparatively happy-go-lucky feeling of the first OVA series (produced at Studio DEEN) into the gritty, hard-broiled political dramas they turned out to be–a feeling I’ve felt more strongly after watching the second film.
In a way, I believe that deciding to recruit a guy like Oshii was the best decision HEADGEAR had made. The collective, formed by a few people working in both manga and anime, formed together to create works for anime, and lacking a director, came to Oshii’s doorstep. He put together all the ideas of the rest of the group and combined them with the distinctly realistic style he was carefully refining to create compelling stories that separated themselves from the other more popular mecha series at the time (i.e. Gundam) through their no-nonsense yet poetic approach to military/political drama acted out by immensely likable characters, each with his/her own fun personality. Which is not to say that the contributions of the other members weren’t notable. Each member had his own specialty to bring to the table–Masami Yuki (Birdy the Mighty) was their manga artist/character designer, Akemi Takada their other character designer, Kazunori Ito their screenwriter, Yutaka Izubuchi (Rahxephon) their mecha designer, and finally Oshii the director. Without the rest of the members chipping in, the Patlabor project wouldn’t have been as good, and as flexible as it was. In the end, this flexibility enabled the anime to switch approaches easily and without hassle–it went from entertaining comedy one minute and the very next it had gone to hard-nosed and edgy political thriller the next. So it’s kind of a shame that the group had apparently scattered to the four winds after 2001’s WXIII (about which I haven’t heard much favorable press).
Sunrise’s new original anime Tiger & Bunny sure is impressive so far. I liked the quirky flavor of the premise; it was like an obvious and playful jab at the advertisers who are part of the pieces fueling the production of an anime. As such, the many instances of product placement abound in the show are made to blend seamlessly with the whole anime, not as blatant or even shameless plugs than in other times. It’s certainly a unique series in that it revolves around such an external and unheard-of concept, and I wonder how its production came about. While the way advertising is treated in Tiger & Bunny is quite refreshing, it’s not going to matter much if the actual show itself wasn’t entertaining, which I’m glad to note otherwise. The two episodes of T & B so far were definitely entertaining, posing a good balance between its hook and its cast of characters. They’re all diverse and likable in their own right; their appeal stemming from their individual quirks.
Madhouse’s X-Men also continues to impress. They’ve brought in a surprisingly talented set of staff for episodes 1 and 2, and as a result episode 1 had considerably good production values. Admittedly, the show isn’t as heavy and full in terms of actual content, but I don’t think they were aiming for that anyway. It’s more a cheesy, campy nostalgia trip to the superhero shows way back when. It’s a good time-waster on dry weekends, and it’s not really a bad thing to watch the show just for that. I hear there’s more good people going aboard the show in future episodes, so I’m looking forward to it. I’ve seen Souichiro Matsuda credited on episode 1, but since there were a lot of good cuts there, especially in the beginning, I can’t pin him down. Other people involved in the show are Sushio, Chikashi Kubota (OP), and I think also Keisuke Watabe (OP, ep 1 animation).
It seems Dynamic Pro is busy promoting their properties these days. Just two years ago they secured another Mazinger anime, Shin Mazinger, and fast forward to today there’s a new Mazinkaiser anime, and now this. Another remake of a Go Nagai property, Dororon Enma-kun Meeramera handled by Brains Base proved to be yet another series which started on the right foot. I was pumped for Mazinkaiser when it came out, but I have to admit the OVA series has been wildly uneven. From the wild, hot-blooded energy found in episode 1 to the incredibly flat feeling exposed in episode 2, it’s not as consistent as I imagined. Well, it’s only 3 episodes anyway, so it’s almost a sure thing that the whole anime would end on a massively explosive note.
What’s nice about this updating of the original 1973 TV anime is that, like Shin Mazinger, they didn’t appear to merely improve things on the audiovisual front by way of new animation and music, but they also added new ideas and embellishments to add to the new HD Dororon experience. It’s only the first episode, sure, but that’s the feeling the anime gave me. There really is quite a lot of interesting stuff going on moment after moment, but just enough to carry the episode through to its end. I also liked how these ideas aren’t saturated on a single scene, instead they’re divided quite evenly, making the episode consistently funny throughout. I especially liked how they used their gags, Harumi’s self-gags a prime example. Episode 1 was very precise and streamlined in its presentation, adeptly mixing together the irreverent humor that’s a Nagai signature with the equally wacky storyline.
Go Nagai isn’t appreciated by everybody because of the content of his properties, but there really is something very entertaining about his lowbrow and insane stories. They’re not simply there to offend, but in a sense there’s even something deeper hidden beneath his madness. It’s not all toilet humor and sex jokes, which I think is proven by the way his works have remained relevant and iconic even today. The man is hailed as one of the most influential figures in manga for a reason. Anyway, I like the way the director, Yoshitomo Yonetani (GaoGaiGar), still added his own touches to the ep, thereby giving it his own individual personality, all the while continuing to preserve the retro allure of the original product. I think that’s why they got a director who was involved in something as high-powered as a Braves series, much like how the hotblood master Yasuhiro Imagawa got tapped to direct Shin Mazinger.
I don’t know if I’m really going to actively blog a new spring series, even with all the impressive first few episodes that have aired. Maybe I’m going to have to wait until spring noitaminA finally airs until I make a choice, if I do decide to pick one at all. Kenji Nakamura’s [C] still looks very promising to me even with its lackluster second PV because I’m a Nakamura fan and that he has basically the same set of people from his Toei shows working with him here, so all that remains now is to actually get a taste of episode 1 before I can lay my doubts to rest.
Not that I think anyone would miss me or anything, but I was gone for two days because of an unfortunate hardware problem. I don’t think I’ve missed anything substantial though, except for the news about the Berserk movie project that was supposed to come out on January 8. Initial word about it sounded awesome–a straight-up adaptation of the whole manga into a series of animated films–and the first one of the series was supposed to be slated for release this year. They were talking about “expanding it worldwide” or something like that, and I’m curious as to how they will go about that. A worldwide theatrical release of an anime film is quite unlikely, so I think they’re going to use the internet for it. But whatever they do, it will be one of the events of 2011, that’s for sure. And oh yeah, rumors have long been circulating which say renowned artist studio Studio 4C will be in charge of the whole project, which is all the more awesome. Though I wonder how they will handle a project on such a scale as this. True, they’ve been around the world, but Berserk isn’t exactly a kind of project you’d expect them to tackle. If it really is true, then I hope it wouldn’t conflict with production on Koji Morimoto‘s new film (if he still is making it, that is). I, for one, am hoping for Yasuhiro Aoki (Kung-Fu Love, Batman: Gotham Knight’s In Darkness Dwells, Tweeny Witches) to take charge of this. He is one of the most promising directors in the industry today, and goodness knows he deserves a big break. And what could be a bigger break than a Berserk movie?
In my previous post, I stated that a second season of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt was highly unlikely and the ending of episode 13 was a huge in-joke by Hiroyuki Imaishi in true Gainax fashion. Well, I guess it’s time for me to eat my pants, as I’ve apparently been proven wrong. From the various sources I’ve seen, it appears that they are well on their way to producing one, as merchandise sales and such have been good. The show has also had an upsurge in popularity ever since the OST came out (well, the soundtrack is pretty damn great), so the only thing left now is to wait for the studio to receive the green light. Gainax has been working the hype/marketing machine since the final episode and it appears to be working. Personally, this is good news, since I’ve been a fan of the show–inconsistencies aside.
Here, have a New Year’s present too.
No thanks to shoddy network connections, I got stuck trying to complete the series I’ve put on the backlog. There were some necessary views–like certain Ghibli films (shoot me for not having watched all of them yet)–and a few old OVAs which tickled my fancy. As for manga, I finally got through finishing a Jiro Taniguchi work (which was great as usual, but I’m afraid of not living up to it if I wrote about it here), Biscuit Hammer (another good one; an anime by Bones/Gainax would be most welcome), and a few other seinen series (Bokurano was quite wonderfully depressing, but I’m sure most of you know that by now). Not of all the series I’ve caught up with were that good, though, and there were others–while not necessarily terrible–that were just plain mediocre.
Anime – The Rebirth of Buddha
At first I thought it was produced by Toei Animation–and it looked like it was, too–but I was surprised to see Group Tac being credited for animation production at the end. Surprising, yes, but regrettably so. This was hardly a convincing last hurrah from a studio on its last legs, but rather more of a whimper. Though, considering the circumstances behind the creation of the film, I could understand why Tac would bother going through with this.
Group Tac was one of the oldest animation production studios in Japan. I wouldn’t bother going in-depth into their history, but it should be known that one of its founders was Gisaburo Sugii, the director of the classic anime films Jack and the Beanstalk (1974), Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985) and the acclaimed Arashi no Yoru Ni (2005). Sugii came from Tezuka’s Mushi Production, and was involved in the Animerama movie trilogy (see my post here for a short write-up on one of the films in the trilogy). However, their 40-year run ended this year when they filed for bankruptcy, after one of their co-founders Atsumi Tashiro died in July. The studio would have produced another film overseen by Sugii, with script by Sadayuki Murai (Millennium Actress, Perfect Blue, Mouryou no Hako) had it not been for that–which is a waste.
Anyway, I don’t really like using any medium as a vehicle for propaganda, and this film is just an example of one. I had expected something profound and thought-provoking, but instead all I got was an anime with a terribly one-sided religious slant, and a badly managed narrative that borders on unintentional comedy. Rebirth isn’t your definitive Buddha film, but rather a mediocre attempt at using the spiritual figure as a device for an average message movie. Well, this is only par for the course from an adaptation of a spiritual organization’s leader’s book.
Art/Animation/Production Quality – TV anime are mostly excused for having sub-par production values at times due to time, budget constraints and the nature of the time-slot, but it shouldn’t be the case for a movie. Rebirth‘s production quality felt like something out of a low-budget TV anime, only stretched to a two-hour film. Throughout the film, you only get the feeling that you’re only watching a very long, drawn-out episode. Maybe Tac was already having budget problems at this time, but still, one would think an animated movie would have more impact and liveliness to it. Even the music was lack-luster. Not all feature films are Sword of the Stranger of course, but still one would expect something more out of an anime film.
Anime hasn’t shown its ability to integrate 3DCG technology into traditional 2D animation, and only a very few studios can manage to do it on a semi-consistent level. That weakness is again apparent in Rebirth. The 3D special effects thrown in the movie don’t mix well with the already crude 2D work in the film, and it’s especially jarring when used heavily, as is seen in the climax. I myself am of the persuasion that 2D animation looks best most of the time, and I think Rebirth should have tried to stick to it, at least for the most part.
The characters are quite dissonant, as well. Most of the characters certainly follow today’s anime aesthetic, in terms of its simplicity and broad appeal, but some of them feel like throwbacks to the older designs of the 80s which were then molded to fit the design of the other characters. It felt a little jarring, especially seeing two of the dissimilar characters in the same shot. To say the least, it was old-school–but in a not so nostalgic kind of way.
*One character looks like a certain antagonist from a certain manga with detergent for a name, though, so look out for him.
Story – For all those who were expecting a deeply thought-provoking insight into the mind and teachings of the religious icon Buddha, look away now. You’re not going to get anything of that sort here, but only a very heavy-handed attempt at putting his messages across. And if I’m not mistaken, the said messages even distort the basic tenets of Buddhism, which could be just normal coming out of a cult (don’t trust me on this one; I’m no expert on religion). It’s a wonder I managed to last through all 2 hours of this tedious exercise, and I should think the same for everyone else.
Anyway, the film is about some girl who can see spirits, and then goes to a certain leader of a certain religious cult for help. This certain cult leader calls himself the reincarnation of Siddharta Gautama, and uses his psychic powers to impress. Neither do they know that the real reincarnation of Buddha has his own religious group and they battle it out in a duel to decide who should be the one to follow. Oh yeah, the girl becomes a figurehead for the true Buddha’s group and helps him in his endeavors, even going as far as to fight off aliens for him. Yes, aliens.
Who could have guessed that a story about Buddha could involve an alien invasion? That’s merely a testament to the badly managed and written script that plagued the film for 2 hours. It could be said that freak occurrences and otherworldly stuff are only ordinary for anime, but its success only depends on how they are pulled off. If the fantastical elements are put within the context of the movie, they work most of the time. But in this film, much of the plot devices come from way out of left field that they break the viewer’s suspension of disbelief completely, thus turning it into an unintentional comedy. The damage was too large, that even explaining the circumstances behind it didn’t fix things. It was a case of too little, too late. I just laughed at everything the movie tried to put out after the alien bit. So much for immersion.
As you might have guessed, the plot is filled with numerous bits and pieces of propaganda that’s enough to make any neutral viewer drop it after 20 minutes. After they meet with the false Buddha, every other line in the script contains heavy-handed messages about Buddhism, and every other resolution contains a hamfisted philosophical/spiritual twist. It’s even worse than the worst Mamoru Oshii film in that regard. At least Oshii was quite neutral when it came down to it. If this movie aimed to convert people into joining the religious group that sponsored it, I’d say it failed quite spectacularly. Flashy displays of godly power actually serve as a deterrent, and the film would have worked better had it stayed low-key instead.
Characters – The film didn’t have characters, but avatars of the religious group. Nearly all of them spout the same tired message for 2 hours, and their character backgrounds don’t give any of them sympathetic value at all. They were standard anime-styled profiles, and I found all of them forgettable. There was little to no character development at all, save for the main character, but even that is riddled with one-sided ideological flavors. You will be forced to watch these megaphones of spiritualist ideology for 2 hours, and that is as bad as you think.
The film does have quite a stellar voice cast, though, and I felt they should be worth mentioning. I never would have thought guys like Hiroyuki Yoshino, Mitsuishi Kotono, Takehito Koyasu, Shinichiro Miki, and even Satsuki Yukino would be in it. When all was said and done, I guess the reason I lasted through the whole thing was these guys. Hearing Kotono outside of Eva, for example, was quite refreshing, and I liked it even if she didn’t display her full range as a voice actress here.
Verdict – Rebirth of Buddha is a tedious, extremely one-sided and preachy message film that fails to meet expectations. It’s a mediocre film with uninspired art and animation, with an even worse script. I don’t think it could convert a lot of people into joining the cult sponsors, and I say it can drive them away from it instead. For neutral viewers, this should be an example on how NOT to do a message film, and thus should be avoided. Two hours of your time shouldn’t be invested in this. Those who are looking for a definitive Buddha film, just wait for Toei Animation’s adaptation of Tezuka’s classic manga Buddha.
*More to come after the jump.