The Other Side of Animation 134: Metropolis Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Ambition feels like such a double-edged sword. You can be respected and admired for how far you take your project, but if it doesn’t entirely work out, all of that ambition will fall flat, due to execution. I’ve seen a lot of Japanese animated films, and that tends to happen to many of them. They might have great visuals, a grand scale in their themes, and so on, but due to either not a good director or writer, you end up with a films that feels clunky in their presentation. This is something I heard a lot about with Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis. Directed by Rintaro, and written by Katsuhiro Otomo, this film was based on the late creator’s manga that was inspired by the famous sci-fi film of the same name. It’s noteworthy as well for being one of the first animated features to be submitted to the Oscars for Best Animated Feature in 2001, but didn’t make it, Instead, that awful Jimmy Neutron movie got nominated. With a list of talent like Rintaro directing, Tezuka’s original manga, and Otomo’s writing, this should be a slam dunk. It did get rave reviews, calling it one of the best animated films from Japan, and I do agree with that. However, let’s dive in and see what else we can find.

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Our story takes place in, where else, Metropolis! It’s a high tech city, filled to the brim with humans, rich and poor, having to live with robots that do a mass majority of “lower-class” work. The city is in a bit of a complicated moment in time, as the President, dubbed by Steve McGowan, is presenting a new massive tower, along with Duke Red, dubbed by Jamieson Price, who might have an alterior motive other than just showing how rich he is. At the same time, a detective named Shunsaku Ban, dubbed by Tony Pope, and his nephew Kenichi, dubbed by Brianne Siddall, arrive in the city to bring in a scientist named Dr. Laughton, dubbed by Simon Prescott. The scientist also happens to be working for Duke Red to make a special project for him. On the day that Shunsaku and Kenichi arrive in the city, and with the help of a robot detective named Pero, dubbed by Dave Mallow, they end up getting caught in a much bigger scheme. Dr. Laughton is then shot by an underling working for Duke Red named Rock, dubbed by Michael Relsz, and his lab is destroyed, with only a mysterious young girl named Tima, dubbed by Rebecca Forstadt, surviving. Why does Duke want her? Will the robots and humans find a way to not get into a revolution against one another? What motives does the President have in terms of the massive tower?

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The major complaint I heard about this movie is that the film is very busy. You not only have Tima and Kenichi, the mystery of Tima’s purpose, the lower class revolution, the discrimination against robots, Duke Red wanting to be a God, Babylon references, government corruption, and yeah, when I list all of that, so the film is busy. I don’t know if they wanted to adapt the entire story of Tezuka’s manga, since Tezuka wasn’t alive anymore when this film was made, but it does come off like that. There are different points in the second half where it seems like time skipped ahead, and nothing is filled in. You see the beginning of the revolution, but then it cuts to the end of it a few minutes later. It definitely feels like they could have cut some characters, because some of the motivations for how certain characters, like Rock and Duke Red, act are not fully explained to the audience. It definitely could have used some fine tuning in the writing, as the huge philosophical elements come off as wonky in the final product. Nothing wrong with combining religion and philosophy on what makes you human, but it does make the film overly complicated. It should have stuck with the story focusing on Tima and Kenichi, because while I do think their bond is strong, I wish there were more scenes with the two.

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I know it sounds like I might hate this movie, and I know some people do, but I really love it. I actually love quite a lot about this film, and I do still agree it’s one of the best and most important animated films from Japan. If you watch any clip of this film, you can tell that the combination of 2D animation and CGI is gorgeous. I love seeing Tezuka’s retro designs on a film budget. This entire film is brimming with beautiful animation, a lot of detail, and personality that makes the city of Metropolis thrive and feel alive. It definitely stands out among the animation seen in more modern day Japanese-animated films.

I also love its jazzy New Orleans-style soundtrack and orchestrated score by Toshiyuki Honda and Atsuki Kimura. However, the best song in this entire film is the Ray Charles version of I Can’t Stop Loving You. It makes the ending so much more emotionally powerful as you see what happens with everyone. It’s a song that always sticks in my mind, and I am actually addicted to it right now as I type this. As for the English dub, it’s pretty sweet, and they have a powerhouse of voice actors for the English dub. You have Brianne Siddall, Rebecca Forstadt, Tony Pope, Jamieson Price, Michael Reisz, Steve Blum, Dave Mallow, Simon Prescott, Dan Woren, Doug Stone, William Frederick Knight, and Barbara Goodson to name some of the best talent you can find in anime. Even though some characters could have been fleshed out more, I still felt for them, and was invested in the overall story. The main heart of the film is definitely when Kenichi and Tima are together. They have some of the best scenes and interactions together. Even if I think this film doesn’t handle philosophical themes well, I still admire that it wanted to be more than just another animated film. It’s at the very least, more than you can say about studios like Blue Sky and Illumination, which I would argue have no ambition to be more than just animated features.

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I find myself constantly coming back to Metropolis. I have seen it probably five or so times now, and I still love it despite its flaws. Unfortunately the original DVD release of this film is entering the $30 range, and I don’t think I would recommend doing that when Mill Creek Entertainment is about to put out a new steel book Blu-ray release of it. If you love animation, the works of Osamu Tezuka, and Japanese-animation history, you should definitely check out this film. For now, let’s take a break from Japanese animation, and move on over to what might be Netflix’s best animated feature since The Little Prince with White Fang. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

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The Other Side of Animation 133: My Neighbors the Yamadas Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

It’s always going to be an uphill struggle for anime to get a foothold in popular culture these days. While a lot of it can be a cultural barrier that holds back the Japanese-style animation, but there are definitely common tropes, writing, design choices, and so on that will hold back the medium, unless they start treading past the common anime quirks. When it gets past those hurdles, and ends up focusing on stuff that can be more universal, people can become more open to anime. I’m not saying it should get rid of everything that makes anime, well, anime, but if you want more people to take it seriously, you need to do stuff like My Neighbors the Yamadas. Directed by the late Isao Takahata, My Neighbors the Yamadas stands out among much of Japanese-animated features, due to its less-than-typical anime design and art style. While the rest of the world didn’t get it until 2005, the film won a couple of film awards and positive praise, but I feel like it slipped under the radar for Ghibli fans. I decided to end Far East Animation Month on this film, because I felt like it needed more love. Let’s get started!

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The story follows a quirky family named the Yamadas. This includes Takashi, dubbed by James Belushi, Matsuko, dubbed by Molly Shannon, Noboru, dubbed by Daryl Sabara, Nonoko, dubbed by Liliana Mumy, and Shige, dubbed by Tress MacNeille. We follow them through small little stories that are full of comedic laughs, touching moments, and relatable situations.

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I think what might throw people off about this film is the pacing. While it is a comedy, it’s more dialogue-driven, with some wacky antics popping up at times. There is also no real story or overarching conflict. No one has to meet the forest spirit to cure their cursed arm that’s slowly going to kill them, or find some magical floating castle in the sky before an evil government gets there first. It’s just short segments with little self-contained stories. Personally, I don’t mind that as long as the characters and the jokes work. Sometimes, a three or five act structure doesn’t mean the movie is going to be good. I think it was very interesting to see a film with more of a focus on slice-of-life situations, even if it was nothing new to the studio that made Whisper of the Heart or My Neighbor Totoro. I found the skits throughout the film to be cute, charming, and funny. That last word “funny” is surprising, since a lot of Japanese comedy is tough to translate into other languages that would make sense. I think both the filmmakers and the dub did a good job keeping it all grounded, and the humor is kept more universal, so that everyone can get behind the antics from the family. Much of the humor does come from the situations they are put in, and due to jokes being understandable outside of a Japanese audience, plenty of them hit.

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I know I said there is no real story-focus, but if there was an overarching theme to the film, it’s that families will have struggles, but if they push on through them, they can overcome any hurdle. While the only major struggles are in the skits in the final part of the movie, the film is full of instances where the family is thrown into a challenge, and while panicking and getting into small spats with each other, accomplishes the mission. It also helps that the family is pretty likable. They are fairly simple characters, but the sub and the dub for the film are quite well done for what was needed. I think this is one of my favorite English dubs that has been used for the Ghibli films, because it’s comedic, but more grounded. James Belushi is great as the father, Molly Shannon brings in a charming quirky vibe to the mother, Tress MacNeille is pretty much the perfect voice actor to get for sassy grandmas, David Ogden Stiers has a charming and soothing voice for the narration, and I was surprised by Daryl Sabara and Liliana Mumy’s performances as the kids.

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As for the animation, there is a reason why this one stands out. Way before we would get the likes of Benjamin Renner’s Ernest & Celestine and Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Takahata used a more simplistic design for everything. It’s all beautifully water-colored, and smooth with its movements and frames, but it’s drastically different than what Hayao Miyazaki, and most other directors were doing at the time. It’s so rare when you can find an anime or Japanese-animated feature that has its own identity in its visuals. However, while simplicity can sometimes really hurt a film or series, with the tone of the story and the comedy, it really works here, and I was not distracted by the change in art direction at all. It’s very dreamlike, and similar to how the flashback sequences were done in Only Yesterday, where the backgrounds were water-colored, but unfinished and blurry.

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If I did have to complain about something, while I love the film’s slice-of-life story, I wish there was a bit more creativity with the animation. It opens and ends on some of the best looking surreal animation Ghibli has ever put out. It still looks fantastic and is fun to watch, but it would have been nice if there was more of that stuff subtly thrown in as the film went on. It’s also a bit long for me. Sure, I love the film, its story, its comedy, and characters, but 104 minutes was pushing it. I say this also, because while a lot of it translates well into English, one or two of the skits definitely felt like they were more rooted in Japanese cultures.

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In general, I understand why people aren’t super fond of this film, but I really liked it. When you are about to go into a month of comedies, seeing such a laid-back film really helps break up the US animation scene. If you haven’t seen this film yet, I highly recommend picking up the GKids rerelease. If you want a film that’s vastly different from the rest, the Yamadas have you covered. Well, while Far East Animation Month is over, that isn’t going to stop me from reviewing another animated feature from Japan. Next time, we shall watch and review Metropolis. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 132: Satellite Girl and Milk Cow Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

I decided to start us off on some weird movies. While Lu Over the Wall is definitely a weird movie, it’s still pretty sane in terms of the overall story and setting. It’s a middle school boy befriending a mermaid, learning how to grow up, and how constant communication and being able to talk to one another with no hesitation is a good thing. It’s definitely going to take some convincing to sit someone down and take in the world of Satellite Girl and Milk Cow. This South Korean animated flick was written and directed by Hyeong-Yoon Jang back in 2014. It was supposedly a critical hit in South Korea, but once it traveled the animation circuit, it got mixed reviews. However, GKids apparently saw something special about it, and decided, with the help of Shout! Factory, to bring it over to the states. Granted, it was direct-to-video, but still. Well, how weird is this film? Does having the famous wizard Merlin as a roll of toilet paper sound weird enough? Let’s dive in.

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There is a lot going on in this film’s plot, so I will do my best to sum it up without spoiling anything. The story follows a satellite named Kitsat-1, dubbed by Ryan Bartley. One day, she hears a young man named Kyun-chun, dubbed by Daniel J. Edwards, singing a song that she finds enticing.  After crashing onto earth, she encounters a magical roll of toilet paper, who turns out to be Merlin, dubbed by Kirk Thorton. As she searches for the young man who sang that song, she finds out that due to a broken heart, he has turned into a milk cow. They must find a way to solve this situation, while avoiding grungy individuals who hunt animal people for their livers, a pig witch that takes these broken-hearted souls to live in a forest, and a giant walking furnace that eats the broken-hearted. Can they save Kyun, and turn him back to normal? Will a really off-beat romance build up between the satellite girl and milk cow?

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So, for as weird as this film is, for as many positives I am going to be saying about this movie, this film is a mess. It basically feels like a fairy tale-like story. That means that its logic and sensibilities are going to be only somewhat grounded. To me, this kind of defense can work in two ways. One, if the world, setting, and logic works, then that’s fine. However, it also comes off like a defense of “please don’t use logic so my movie can avoid any legit issues with this film’s world-building”. It introduces plenty of things to bring into the world of this movie, but at the same time, they don’t really explain half of the tidbits that are in it. It’s weird to criticize, since the dub and the film points out how absurd some of the aspects are, like how there is a dog that acts pretty much like Gromit, but walks on two feet. It’s also odd that a giant killer furnace can move around the city, and not be spotted once. Maybe it only comes out at night, but it seems like such a stretch that no one sees a giant fire-breathing piece of metal in the city. They also don’t explain how the secondary villain can travel through reflective surfaces. It gets to be a weird movie when the main characters have to make money, and decide to get the male lead to make milk for them. By that, I mean literal milk. It never happens again, and is not brought up again in conversation. I get being weird for the sake of standing out, and having an identity, but sometimes, being too weird is off-putting.

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I know I’m asking a lot for a film that’s about a satellite falling in love with a man turned into a cow, but when they don’t really build up everything properly, I’m going to be pulled out of the story. I don’t know if there were some edits made that ended up with plot or world elements that feel like they are unfinished, or this was exactly what the final product was supposed to be like, but it’s a movie that’s definitely a wonky ride from beginning to end. Oh, and there are two poop jokes around the beginning of the film. While they aren’t as bad as the one in Big Fish & Begonia, it’s still distracting and unnecessary. I simply don’t get why bodily humor is funny anymore.

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Outside of that, I do have a lot to enjoy about this movie. While the animation is definitely not as good as other animated features from that area of the world, you have to grade on a curve sometimes, depending on what film you are watching. Sure, the film looks like an anime from the early 2000s with its digital coloring and sometimes wonky way of characters walking around, but it still looks polished. It has smooth animation most of the time, and it has really strong physical comedy. Since one of the characters is a satellite that was turned into a robot girl, they take advantage of that aspect, and it leads to a film with some of the funniest and most surprising comedy out of an animated film this year. What also helps is the cast that they acquired. While I wouldn’t say everyone does a good job, the three main actors that they got for the dub all feel like they were committed to such a weird script. Animated properties from different cultures are definitely going to be weird and unusual to adapt, and that is nothing new for voice actors to encounter when doing voice work for anime series, but they don’t skip a beat with their characters. I think my favorite performance came from Ryan Bartley. She does a great job voicing this weird satellite girl, who can’t pick up on certain emotional cues, but is still understanding and loving. A lot of this film relies on the whole aspect of loving someone beyond their looks, and it’s handled pretty well. You felt for the two of them, and got annoyed with them, when they got selfish. I think the scene when they finally confess their love for one another is both very touching and very funny, as she finds out that he loves her for who she is.

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While clunky and bizarre, Satellite Girl and Milk Cow will probably be the cult-favorite animated feature of this year, alongside Big Fish & Begonia. It’s weird, but there is heart to it. If you are hesitant about buying the blu-ray of the film, you can watch the subtitle version on the service VRV. Plus, the movie comes with the director’s first short film that got him acclaim. I would definitely recommend this movie if you are into offbeat romance, fantasy, and comedy movies. Sadly, due to work and life getting in the way, Far East Animation Month will end next week, but we will be looking at another fan favorite film from Studio Ghibli, with Isao Takahata’s My Neighbors the Yamadas. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 131: Lu Over the Wall Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Welcome to Far East Animation Month! This is pretty much Japanese Animation Month, but since one of the films I’m going to tackle is not from Japan, I decided to change up the title, because the far east has some pretty promising stuff coming out of the animation scene. Taiwan has a film showing in this year’s Annecy Film Festival, and Japan, as usual, has a bunch of films in production or are about to be released. This time, we are going to start out with what can be considered Masaaki Yuasa’s biggest hit out of his animation career, Lu Over the Wall. Animated by Science Saru and Toho Animation, this was Yuasa’s first major hit that was both a financial and critical success. In his past, he was getting critical praise, but was not the most lucrative director, which unfortunately gave him a stigma of not being able to bring in the big bucks. Thankfully, this one did super well, and he’s having a fantastic career right now with his other film Night is Short, Walk on Girl that came out before Lu Over the Wall, and the hit Netflix anime series, Devilman Crybaby. Let’s just dive into this awesome film!

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The story follows a young boy named Kai, dubbed by Michael Sinterniklaas. He lives in a small fishing town that doesn’t really have the brightest future for anyone wanting to expand on their life outside of what happens in the town. He ends up getting pulled into this band with its two founding members Kunio and Yuho, dubbed by Brandon Engman and Stephanie Sheh. He decides to join them for band practice on this mysterious Merfolk Island, a place where mermaids live and the townsfolk are told to not mess with them, or play music, which supposedly attracts them. During practice, Kai ends up encountering a small mermaid girl named Lu, dubbed by Christine Marie Cabanos. What will happen now that he knows that mermaids actually exist? What will the townsfolk think when they realize that the mermaids are back? Will the songs be groovy and jamming?

So, I have commented in the past that Yuasa has a very distinct style and way of directing his stories. His animation style sticks out with thin lining, and characters who look simple, and while polished in a lot of ways, are very stretchy and bouncy. By a lesser artist, it would look sloppy and ugly, but this stretch and bounce-style of animation is balanced this time, and shows off the fun and energy the characters bring, and also the ugly anger that can come from them. Everything feels like the old Tex Avery cartoons made back in the day, which is no surprise, because Yuasa was inspired by him. It’s simply a lot of fun to watch the animation in motion, since you get to see a lot of it through dancing. Even with the designs as they are, it leads to great expressions and comedy.

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In terms of the themes, story, and characters, I liked it all. I have some issues with how parts of the story were handled, but this feels like the most focused of Yuasa’s work. It deals with the trials of growing up, being able to interact with your loved ones, the downsides to fame, and the dangers of fear mongering. I love seeing some of these themes, because while you definitely see them tackled in a couple of the foreign films, too many of the non-Disney or non-Pixar films decide to have different morals that you don’t often see in most animated films. Seriously, more animated family features need topics of parents and really, anyone needing to be upfront when talking about certain issues. It makes it better in the long run when everyone is on the same page. Lu Over the Wall is also very charming and sweet. I love the scene where Kai and Lu are walking around the town at night. It reminds me of hanging out with my niece. It’s easily the most heart-felt part of the movie. I even like seeing Lu’s dad interact rather peacefully with the humans. Her dad probably has some of the better laughs of the film.

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The voice cast is pretty stellar. I have seen this film in both English and Japanese, and I found the dub cast to be awesome. While I have made some snarky remarks that two of the leads are voiced by the same two who voiced the leads in the critically acclaimed Your Name, and they were chosen for that reason alone, I do think Michael Sinterniklaas and Stephanie Sheh do a good job with their roles. Michael pretty much kills it as a middle school boy unsure of his future and still bitter after his parents’ divorce. It was nice to hear voice actors like Derek Stephen Prince, because I love hearing from voice actors I don’t normally hear from, or simply don’t recognize them right off the bat. One major aspect that I admired about the dub was that they dubbed the songs. Usually, they would just put up some subtitles while the characters sing in Japanese. Kudos for GKids to make sure the dub also covered the songs. I can tell they did this for the next film I’m going to review, and hopefully this will be the case with Fireworks. While I would say the English singing of the song is not 100% perfect, I give the actors credit for having to deal with it, because I’m sure it’s not easy to have to speak and sing for roles like these. Speaking of music, Lu Over the Wall’s soundtrack was composed by Takatsugu Muramatsu. There is a great mix of jazzy upbeat tunes, soft, giving off the vibes of being by the sea, and dramatic tunes when needed for the story.

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The only major complaint I have is that there is a lot going on in the last third. It’s great, but the film builds up a couple of storylines, and they either didn’t know how to pace them, or couldn’t cut them. Some of the side stories get fleshed out decently enough, but a lot of them have endings that wrap up too quickly. Some have touching conclusions, while others give you that feeling of “Is that it? Okay, I guess that was somewhat satisfying.” It does end up making the last third feel drawn out a touch, and a bit busy. It was the only time where I felt like Yuasa’s busy mentality almost got free.

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Overall, I really loved Lu Over the Wall. It’s cute, funny, charming, energetic, and such a fun watch. I had a smile on my face from beginning to end. I know some are trying to twitch react to this film being a clone of Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo, but it’s not. Both are entirely different movies, both have entirely different themes, stories, and both are amazing. It’s still playing in theaters right now, but I bet by August or September, it will be out on DVD. If you can’t catch it in theaters, then definitely buy the movie. Next time, we shall tackle our first South Korean-animated feature that has weird baggage attached to it. That’s right! We will be tackling another GKids-distributed film with Satellite Girl and Milk Cow! Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 130: The Secret of Kells Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Heads Up! I will be talking a bit about the ending. I’ll try to keep it as vague as possible, but I make no promises.

It was interesting when foreign animated films started to get wider recognition among the major award systems. Sure, we had a few sneak into the early days of the Best Animated Feature category, like Spirited Away and Triplets of Belleville, but it wasn’t until, say, 2009 when they started to really hit their stride. I might have said this before, but many animation fans would argue that 2009 was one of the best years of theatrical animation around. This was the year we got Fantastic Mr. FoxUpThe Princess and the FrogCoralineRedlineMary and Max, and A Town Called Panic. This was also the same year that GKids got their first Oscar nomination with their first official hit, The Secret of Kells. For those not in the know, The Secret of Kells was the first major theatrical film by studio Cartoon Saloon. It was co-directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, the duo directors that would later go on to create the Oscar-nominated Song of the Sea, the Oscar-nominated and Best Foreign Feature Annie winner The Breadwinner, the On Love sequence in The Prophet, and the upcoming Wolfwalkers. This one film put both Cartoon Saloon and GKids on the map, and made them Hollywood favorites among the critics and animation enthusiasts that are in that scene. I only have been able to check out this film recently, and, well, while I do love the movie, I think there are some faults with it. What are they? Let’s dive into the film!

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The story takes place in a place called the Abbey of Kells. This is where a large wall is built around a small village and abbey in order to protect itself from Viking attacks and outside forces. Our lead character is Brendan, voiced by Evan McGuire, a young boy whose father, Abbot Cellach, voiced by Brendan Gleeson, is the leader of the people there, and puts a lot of the faith on the wall being completed. One day, an old illuminator named Brother Aidan, voiced by Mick Lally, decides to visit the abbey after his village and abbey were destroyed in a raid. The main focal point of the story revolves around an unfinished book called, well, Book of Kells. Brendan wants to help complete the book with Brother Aidan. As this task goes on, Brendan ends up having to go past the wall, and meets a mysterious individual named Aisling, voiced by Christen Mooney. Can Brendan help complete the book with the help of this individual and Aidan, and avoid the grasp of the Vikings and the other spiritual forces outside the wall?

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So, I’m going to do something different. I love this movie, but I want to talk about its criticisms that I have for it first. I just felt like shaking things up, because I don’t hate the film, and I have plenty to say that’s positive, and how it has way more positives than negatives. So, my biggest problem with the film is the ending. It’s not a terrible ending per say. It has fairly solid closure to the overarching story, and what happens to the boy and his relationship with the old Illuminator and his father, but I’m probably not going to be the only one to say this, and why I prefer their second film, Song of the SeaThe Secret of Kells’ ending felt rushed. It’s like they wanted to do more, but then didn’t have time, or couldn’t get the production time extended, because after the Vikings attack the village, they rush through the boy’s life after escaping the village with Aidan. The visuals are amazing, but as a whole, the ending feels unsatisfying. I know many have said that this is the film that makes you think, compared to Song of the Sea’s “this one makes you feel”, but that doesn’t excuse it. Making the viewer think is not the problem, it’s rushing the ending that’s a problem. I also felt like the marketing for the movie played up Aisling’s involvement with the film. She’s a great character, but she’s not really in the movie a whole lot. She pops in every once in a while, but she could have been more important to the story. The poster even has her as the face of the film. They make her 1/3 of the trailer’s focus. You would believe that she was a major or the driving point of the plot. I understand that the film only had a 70-minute running time, but to me, that means the film wasn’t paced well, if I’m feeling like the ending was rushed, and characters were underutilized.

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Okay, so, we got that out of the way, let’s talk about the good stuff! First off, the animation for this film is gorgeous. While this was a collaborative effort between Cartoon Saloon and Les Armateurs, this art style, inspired by Celtic and Medieval art, gives this film and the studio that made it, its own identity. It really does match that style, while being friendlier. Yeah, some parts look weird, and the perspective is wonky, but that is the point. Look back at all the great art of that era, and tell me who looks accurate in poses, and who looks like they just got kicked in the spine by The Juggernaut. Don’t take this to mean that it won’t be as finely detailed as the art that inspired it. It’s lush, it looks like Celtic buildings were taken over by nature with multiple beautiful colors and design work, and while a lot of the work was done using computers to put in all the textures, it’s never distracting. The animation itself is gorgeous, and everyone moves smoothly. You can tell they took this first project seriously.

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In addition to the beautiful animation, it also has a strong voice cast. Evan McGuire does a great job bringing this optimistic and child-like innocence to Brendan, Brendan Gleeson is wonderful as the stern Abbot Cellach, and Christen Mooney offers an innocent, if way wearier and all-knowing persona, to this mysterious individual known as Aisling. I also really loved the late Mick Lally’s performance of Brother Aidan. Aidan is, simply put, a likable character. He’s wise, but isn’t above having fun, but when he’s serious, Mick Lally brought it. What else goes with great voice work? Music! Composed by Bruno Coulais with music from Kila, Bruno also did the music for Coraline. Both the composer and Kila bring all that Celtic and Irish flair that you would think would be in this film. It’s whimsical, fantastic, yet it can also be very mature, slow, and wonderfully atmospheric when the time came for it. It’s a very quiet film, in a time where it seems like studios think you need to be loud, but Kells decides to be a rather calm movie to sit through. I found the film to have some similarities to a recent GKids film, Birdboy. It has a familiar theme of finding the light in the world among the darkness, and how isolation is not really all that good. Life is going to have its challenges and dangers, and you are not always going to be prepared for it. Also, enjoy life. You only live once, so don’t wait for something to happen.

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Originally, for the 130th review, I was going to tackle Happily Ever After, the animated film that touted itself as a sequel to Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It bombed financially at the box office, got critically panned, got sued up the wazoo by Disney, and famously shut down the notorious animation studio, Filmation. However, I decided to do something positive. Why? Because for once, I didn’t feel like dredging up a dead horse to talk about a film that infamously shut down an entire studio. Sometimes, it’s way too easy to get super negative, and act like you are the cool kid by saying a studio like Sony Pictures Animation should shut down because they made The Emoji Movie, or say that the writers of Pixels need to have their fingers chopped off. If you are getting to that point in your life, and have no emotions for the people that work hard on making a movie that just happened to end up being bad, then you have no soul, and you need to reevaluate your life. It’s something I see a lot of online critics do, and to be honest, I’m so tired of it. Hate a movie, because you don’t like it, and don’t harass the people who worked on it, and be an actual human being with some empathy, because you only look like a garbage person if you think harassing and insulting people is actually going to help things. Anyway, back to the point, The Secret of Kells is a fantastic film. I might have some issues with the ending, but it’s a feature everyone should see. If you can find some time to pick up a copy and watch it, please do. Cartoon Saloon, Tomm Moore, and Nora Twomey are some of the best things going on right now in animation, and they deserve your attention. Let’s keep up the positivity with going into June with Far East Animation Month, the now third year of tackling animation from the Far East. Next time, we will be looking at Lu Over the Wall. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 129: Batman Ninja Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

You know, there is only so much you can do with a character, before you have to start getting creative. You either find new ways to tackle a character that has been around forever, or you simply stop their story right then and there. There are also tactics and plans to be had in-between those two decisions, but when you are someone like Batman, you have pretty much done it all. Batman Ninja, directed by Junpei Mizusaki, is one of the rare DC animated features to not be tied down to the more strict DC-animated film tropes. It’s a Batman film that decided to take a big shot of anime in its veins, and that is what we got. It also had some big names attached to it, like Takashi Okazaki, who was the creator of Afro Samurai, and Yugo Kanno, who did the music for Blame!Psycho-Pass, and the PlayStation 4 game, Nioh. It’s also one of the more interesting animated features, due to its mix of CGI and 2D animation. So, is it as good as the best action anime out there? Is it one of the best DC animated films out there? Let’s find out.

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The story starts us off with Batman, dubbed this time by Roger Craig Smith, during a mission at night, as he tries to stop Gorilla Grodd, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, from selling another mighty invention of his to the black market for supervillains. These villains include Poison Ivy, dubbed by Tara Strong, Deathstroke, dubbed by Fred Tatasciore, Two-Face, dubbed by Eric Bauza, The Penguin, dubbed by Tom Kenny, Harley Quinn, dubbed by Tara Strong, and of course, The Joker, dubbed by Tony Hale. After Batman gets into a fight with Grodd, the machine goes haywire, and sends all of them, including some of Bruce’s closest allies and partners, back into feudal-era Japan. Now, along with Catwoman, dubbed by Grey Griffin, his butler Alfred, dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Nightwing, also dubbed by Adam Croasdell, Robin, dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, Red Robin, dubbed by Will Friedle, and Red Hood, also dubbed by Yuri Lowenthal, must stop the villains, turn back time, and save the day.

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So, what’s so amazing about this film? Well, for one of the rare occasions, DC decided to let someone else take the wheel, and they take the wheel hardBatman Ninja is unapologetically dumb, fun, over-the-top, Japanese, and it will not stand down. Out of many of the DC-animated features I have seen the past few years, this one felt like it had the most consistent tones outside of the Adam West Batman films. It’s Batman in Japan, fighting a version of the Joker, whose grand master plan is to make a giant mech, and rewrite history. It will not let up on how anime this entire film is. From the designs to the action-packed fight sequences, it was clear that they knew what they were doing. Heck, they even have giant robot fights. Again, giant robot fights between the villains and Batman in feudal Japan. While there is definitely a story arc for Batman having to remember to rely less on his gadgets and more on his closest allies and his own skill, it’s balanced out enough within the main plot to keep you invested among the insanity.

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While I was fairly disappointed in how this film was going to be mostly CGI, and CGI on a small budget can be a gamble if you do not have the right creative team, I felt like it worked. Sure, they act like puppets sometimes, but the models used are way more expressive, detailed, and they feel like they have some kind of life to them. I was concerned about how action sequences would be handled, but I never found it distracting that they were CGI. The action is fast, brutal, satisfying, full of energy, and very entertaining to watch. The last fight between Batman and Joker is probably one of the best fights among these animated DC features. I never found myself wondering what the heck was going on during the fights. I think that’s because, unlike the Berserk anime series that uses CGI, Batman Ninja has proper direction in how the fights flow. On top of the crazy action, the color pallet is used well, the CGI models look good on the 2D planes, and they even have an entire surreal sequence done in 2D animation, and it looks fantastic. The music by Yugo Kanno was also matched up well with the film’s pacing and style. The big action theme that plays near the end is quite heart-pounding, and it makes the final fight so intense to watch.

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In terms of the voice cast, I was surprised. While we have some returning faces like Roger Craig Smith, Tom Kenny and Tara Strong reprising their roles as Batman, Penguin, and Harley Quinn, the rest of the voice cast is pretty spot-on. I was curious to see how Tony Hale would do as The Joker, and while a bit off-putting at first, he does a good job capturing that zany crazy nature of the character. As you can tell, many of the actors in this film pull double shifts with voicing multiple characters, but they are each unique sounding enough to not be an issue or a distracting element to the overall film. It was also simply fun to see other villains outside of the main Batman library, like Gorilla Grodd, who is definitely one of the more entertaining aspects of the film.

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While I do love this film in terms of how willing it is to be not only visually creative, but fun with its plot and setting, I do have a few complaints. I get why they used CGI animation, and it’s not the worst I have seen, but it definitely shows itself at times with how limiting it is. Sometimes characters seem more like puppets, and less like actual characters that are on the screen. It’s even more distracting when you can tell that not everyone is a CGI model. It is better than what I have seen Polygon Pictures or the Berserk series use, but I wish they went full-stop 2D animation for this film. For as fun as the action is, the final battle that is not Batman and The Joker is really underwhelming. You have all of these amazing villains and characters with the unlimited creativity of anime fight sequences, and the villains end up losing in under a minute. It’s really underwhelming, because all the other action sequences in the film are great. The one full 2D sequence was fun to see in the film, but it sticks out like a sore thumb. I don’t think I fully got why it was only that one scene, and why it was animated in such a way. The rest of the complaints are minor, like even though I respect how much the film wrapped itself up in the anime culture, some parts were just a bit much, like the little monkey sidekick. Some of Batman’s sidekicks also don’t have a lot to do, or get that many line reads.

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Overall, Batman Ninja is just a fun movie. By the end of the year, it probably won’t be in my top ten or five, depending on what else comes out, but it will be one that people should definitely pick up. If you were burned by their other animated features, definitely pick this one up. I had a lot of fun, and it’s easily one of the most entertaining DC animated films you can get right now. For now, we must move on to the 130th review as we take a look at another film that may be good or bad for infamous reasons. I won’t say what it is, but you will have to see next time! Thanks for reading the review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 128: Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Warning/Parental Heads Up: This film is crazy violent. There is also some brief female nudity and quite a lot of death. I will also be spoiling some minor moments. Younger viewers should probably stay away from this film. Enjoy the review!

Looking back at films like Suicide Squad, I feel badly for what happened to it. It was almost complete, but then got delayed for reshoots, due to the negative reaction to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It had a marketing campaign to match the film’s tone of Guardians of the Galaxy, came out, was widely panned upon release, was yet another DC film criticized for sloppy editing, and then was released on DVD with a different cut to it. Sure, it made money and gave DC/WB some profit, but you do get the feeling that it could have/should have been more than what we got in the final product. It’s always a bummer when studio shenanigans get in the way and hurt a film more than help it. Would have the original version been any better? Maybe, but we won’t know. Luckily, it won’t be the last time we see our rambunctious group of villains, as we are getting a sequel. For now, let’s look at the animated film, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay. Directed by mainstay DC animated film director Sam Liu, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay set itself up as this grindhouse-style action flick with plenty of violence, and plenty of action and fun. Does it succeed? Well, let’s find out.

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The story revolves around our ragtag group of villains working under the government. The team this time consists of Deadshot, voiced by Christian Slater, Harley Quinn, voiced by Tara Strong, Bronze Tiger, voiced by Billy Brown, Captain Boomerang, voiced by Liam McIntyre, Killer Frost, voiced by Kristin Bauer Van Straten, and Copperhead, voiced by Gideon Emery. They are under orders by Amanda Waller, voiced by Vanessa Williams, to find and take down Vandal Savage, voiced by Jim Pirri. He is apparently looking for something, and has gotten the help of Scandal Savage, voiced by Dania Ramirez, and Knockout, voiced by Cissy Jones. Can our team of misfits take them down? Can this film find a tone that fits?

I know I made that last part sound like a joke, but that is the film’s biggest failing. When the film starts, it’s this hyper-violent train heist, where Deadshot is with Count Vertigo, Punch, and Jewelee. And boy, do things get late 80s/early 90s anime-violent. Bodies are sliced in half, blood and guts fly everywhere, heads explode, and it then does that grindhouse film burn effect. The rest of the film is not entirely like this. It struggles to balance out the fun schlocky aspects, like finding out the most recent host of Dr. Fate was a male stripper, and even a plot twist of some other villains trying to find the same thing Vandal Savage is looking for. I won’t say who the villains are for those that haven’t seen it yet, but it’s a lot of fun, and the twist adds to the cheesy schlock of those old 70s/80s exploitation films. Some parts are fun to watch, and the dialogue is definitely punched up to match the tone, but then it tries to have slower moments and an emotional arc for Deadshot and his daughter. It’s not a bad idea for a character, but when it can’t find an ideal way to balance out the ultra-violence and the more dramatic moments, it flip-flops, and constantly kept taking me out of the experience. Much of the story does focus on only a few characters, and the rest are either given very little to do or little development as characters. I loved seeing Copperhead, but he doesn’t do a whole lot. He gets maybe one good death in, but that’s it. While it is schlocky fun, there comes a point where it becomes a bit much. There is some brief nudity that’s jarring, and that goes for the violence, too. Sometimes, things can get so violent, that it’s excessive. The plot also loses steam near the end, with twist after twist after backstabbing. Some of the lines for the snarkier characters also feel more like trailer lines than anything that felt genuine. This is especially true with Killer Frost.

So, what’s fun about the movie? Well, when everything does work, it’s an entertaining movie. While it has some of the same animation the other DC-animated features have, where a lot of the animation was obviously put into the action, and some areas lower the frames of animation, the action is fun to watch. I think what works with this film, more than in the Suicide Squad live-action film, was that the action was visible, and due to the more diverse cast of villains, we get to see more powers, more special moves, and it all sticks. It’s easily one of the more action-packed films from DC. When the characters do have time to be together, they are an amusing group. Everyone usually has a good quirk, or a clever line of dialogue. Even though I wish they didn’t kill off as many characters as they did, I do respect that they put some stakes into the plot. Even the additional villains bring flair and an entirely different DC story into the mix. Granted, that might make some aspects confusing. A lot of schlocky stuff would add in complex elements that are probably not needed, but they threw it in, because it was cool. The voice cast is once again very good. Tara Strong as Harley Quinn is always fun to hear, I like Christian Slater’s take on Deadshot, Vanessa Williams does a great job as Amanda Waller, Billy Brown brings this stoic calm headed tone to Bronze Tiger, Gideon Emery was delightfully slimy as Copperhead (who also had my favorite design out of all the villains), and Liam McIntyre brings in the same vibe Donald Gibson did as Captain Boomerang, to name a few. I also like their usage of other lesser known villains of the DC universe. Sometimes, you can only do so much with one character before you run into a wall, and run out of ideas. It’s why I always enjoyed the Batman: The Brave and the Bold TV series, because that was the entire point of the show.

While not my favorite of the DC films, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay goes straight down the middle. When it’s fun, it’s a lot of fun. When the characters are allowed to work off one another, they are entertaining. I even like the story twist near the end, despite the drag the third act has. It even has a fun easter egg for the added antagonist’s voice actor, if you have seen one of the DC animated films from 2013 I simply wish it kept its tone consistent. It made the ultra-violence distracting, and the emotional moments feel unwarranted. Some of the animation can be stiff, and it’s not the most competently paced film out of the franchise. Still, it’s fun, and if you want to bring in the schlock for 80 minutes, I can think of worse films to watch. Before we get to review 130, let’s take a look at what is quickly becoming one of the best reviewed animated DC films with Batman Ninja. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!