The Other Side of Animation 195: 5 Year Special – Children of the Sea 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/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

In terms of media that we consume and observe, a term that gets thrown around is tech demo. It essentially describes a product that’s made more to show off what a studio or game engine or whatever can do. It might look pretty and powerful, but it’s made to show off something more than anything else. I’ve seen this term used a lot to describe certain studios’ work, and the one that seems to get that title a lot is Studio 4°C. Founded in 1986 by Koji Morimoto and Eiko Tanaka, most anime and animation fans would know them for their work on films like Memories, Princess Arete, Spriggan, Mind Game, Tekkonkinkreet, the Berserk: Golden Age Arc films, MFKZ, Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, some sequences of The Animatrix, certain sequences of Batman: Gotham Knight, Halo Legends, and Genius Party and its sequel Genius Party Beyond. Most of their films or work are known for their interesting visual aesthetics, and to me, they push the limit of anime. Unfortunately, most consider their work more style over substance, and that might be true in some areas, but I think they are better than what most people give them credit for. Out of a lot of the anime studios that are around right now, at least Studio 4°C has an identity. I can tell what a film or project from them looks like. I also love that they want to push the boundaries of what anime visuals can be. This is why for my 5th anniversary special, I want to talk about a film that has been hovering around my brain since last October, Studio 4°C’s Children of the Sea.

Based on the manga by Daisuke Igarashi, directed by Ayumu Watanabe, and produced by Eiko Tanaka, Children of the Sea was originally released back in 2019, and has toured the film festival scene, from Annecy to Animation is Film. It even won Best Animation Film at the Mainichi Film Awards and the Grand Prize in the Animation Division at the Japan Media Arts Festival Awards. It was brought over to the states by GKIDS, and is now widely available to purchase on Blu-ray, DVD, digital, and you can watch it, as of writing this review, on Netflix, so let’s dive into the deep ocean, and check out one of 2019’s best films and one of the most stand-out films in animation. 

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We follow the life of Ruka Azumi, dubbed by Anjali Gauld. She is a junior high school student who is going through a bit of a rough patch in her life. Her parents are in the midst of possible separation, she ends up in a falling out with her classmates during an altercation during sports practice, and all of this while her summer vacation is was about to begin. After some friction with her mother, she goes to the aquarium where her father works. There, she meets a boy named Umi, dubbed by Lynden Prosser, who was raised by dugongs (manatees), and must be soaked or in the water in order to survive. While befriending Umi, Ruka also encounters Umi’s “brother” Sora, dubbed by Ben Niewood. What mysteries do these two water boys hold, and what is their connection with the huge migration of ocean life? 

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So, what is this film about? What kind of message and themes is it trying to convey? Well, to me and many others, it’s a film about loneliness, finding your place, and our connection to the ocean and the universe. Our main character feels alone in the world, and honestly, after the day she had and her family situation, I don’t blame her. Even a normal person can understand or have a point in their life where they feel lost. Sure, the film in the third act gets a little 2001: A Space Odyssey with its psychedelic imagery, but the overall theme and story I think are universal. The world feels vast, and you realize how small you are compared to everything else. It’s a very Men in Black way of looking at the world, but without the dark comedy cynicism. It’s a film that takes its story seriously, and you do feel for our lead character and her trials of finding out where her journey takes her. The other characters like Sora and Umi are interesting as well, with their free-spirited personalities that contrast with Ruka. The other characters are likable, but they are mostly there to help elevate Ruka, Umi, and Sora. Still, I dug the interactions and dialogue between everyone. It’s a hefty script, but without the feeling of the script being pretentious and bloated. The dialogue felt natural, and that’s sometimes very hard for an anime and Japanese animated film to pull off. 

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Now then, the highest praise for this film should absolutely go to the animation. I mean, look at it. Watch a trailer, find a clip, and look at the still frames of it! This is hands down, the prettiest and one of the most well-animated films I have ever seen. It does use a mix of 2D and CGI, but the studio mixes it up so well, that you can’t tell unless you know what you are looking for. It’s probably the most visually stunning animated film of the last decade. I know that sounds shocking, since we have also had films like The CongressKlausI Lost My Body, and you get the idea, but I think Children of the Sea outweighs them all on a visual level. You can tell they were painstakingly recreating the manga’s gorgeous artwork, and they do a good job with everything looking like it was drawn and colored by colored pencils. It’s like you can see every little hand-drawn line. The color palette is also gorgeous and just as detailed. Almost every frame could be taken out of the film and put in a picture frame, because of how jaw-dropping gorgeous the film is. 

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In terms of music, it’s also top-notch, as we have the reoccurring Studio Ghibli maestro himself, Joe Hisaishi composing the music for this film, and you can tell it’s him with his ethereal scores. It feels atmospheric and otherworldly as you try to figure out everything. In terms of acting, I saw the film both dubbed and subbed, and you can’t go wrong with either language, but as usual, I prefer listening to the dub, because I want to focus on the visuals. Still, the dub is a good one with a strong cast including Anjali Gauld, Lynden Prosser, Ben Niewood, Beau Bridgland, Marc Thompson, Karen Strassman, Wally Wingert, Michael Sorich, and Denise Lee. I also have to give a shout-out to the theme song of the film, Spirits of the Sea by singer-songwriter Kenshi Yonezu. It brings out all of the emotions and the grand nature of the visuals. 

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The only nitpick I have is that the third act might be a bit much. It’s very 2001, and you are either down with what happens or not. There is also a small side plot going on, and I don’t know if it needed to be there, but like I said, these are minor nitpicks. This is one of those films that I think I regret putting at no. 10 on my Worst to Best List of 2019. If I could redo that list, I would probably put it higher than some other films on the list. It’s a one-of-a-kind film in a year that had some incredible and stellar animated films. As of writing this review, it’s readily available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital. It’s also on Netflix, so now you have no excuse to not see this artistic and cosmic experience. Watch it however you can. It deserves a re-release in theaters once everything dies down. Well, it’s been five years, and I’m going to hope for five more years of writing about animated films. Now then, let’s move on to another artistic triumph in animation with Cartoon Saloon and Tomm Moore’s newest masterpiece, Wolfwalkers

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

Animation Tidbits: Annecy Part 2

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(Originally written: May 29th: 2019. Sorry for posting this late!)

(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 editorial!)

Alrighty, for the final part of this look at Annecy 2019, I decided to combine a bunch of films from different categories. This is because the various categories don’t have enough to warrant talking about in individual articles. At least, that is my opinion on the other categories. The one major change they made was a new category called Contrechamp, a category with animated features that are in competition, but have visuals that challenge the medium of animation. Otherwise, the films on the list will be from the screening events and In Production section of the festival. Let’s get started!

Children of the Sea (Contrechamp)

Directed by Ayumu Watanabe, the story focuses on a girl named Ruka, who saw a ghost in her dad’s aquarium when she was little. She becomes attracted to the aquarium and the appearance of two mysterious boys named Umi and Sora, all the while the adults who work there figure out the mass disappearance of the earth’s fish. In a lot of ways, it’s almost unfair that this film is the perfect representation for the Contrechamp section of the festival. It’s almost unfair how downright jaw-dropping-off-your-face beautiful the film is. Studio 4C has done a lot of great work, but this easily looks like it will be their best. Plus, with GKids now attached to bringing it over to the states this year, I have major hopes it’s going to be at Animation is Film 2019! If that wasn’t enough to get you hyped, Joe Hisaishi, the composer behind many of the Studio Ghibli classics, is composing the music for this film.

Away (Contrechamp)

Directed by Gints Zilbalodis, Away is about a young man who’s riding a motorcycle, trapped on a mystical island while trying to avoid a shadowy monster chasing him. This is also a film that looks like it will be taking advantage of the Contrechamp title. Sure, it kind of looks like an indie game that’s trying to be the next artistic achievement in gaming, but that’s sort of the fun of it. Plus, this was directed and animated by someone who is 25 years old. That is wildly ambitious and I give him kudos for that. It looks like a visually creative film that I hope does well.

Underdog (Contrechamp)

Directed by Sung-Yoon Oh and Chun Baek Lee, the story revolves around a blue dog that was once a house pet, but ends up back in the wild. He encounters wild dogs, and tries to help them survive and live freely. Generic title aside, I really like the visual look of this film. It reminds me of the work arounds French animation uses in projects like The Painting. It has a super vibrant color palette, and while the CGI may not be Pixar or Disney level at all, it has its own identity and personality to it. I’m happy to see South Korean animation finally making some break-out titles to show that they can make animated features that aren’t tied down to propaganda, and can be watchable by all. Though seeing some of the marketing blurbs say it was more emotionally gripping than Zootopia? Yeah, we will have to see about that.

Ville Neuve (Contrechamp)

Directed by Felix Dufour Laperriere, Ville Neuve focuses on a man named Joseph, who moves into a house with his friend, and tries to get back with his ex-wife, and this is happening with the 1995 Quebec Referendum happening in the background. I like the minimalist approach with its focus on whites, blacks, and grays. It comes off like a more personal and intimate film, and I can’t wait to see what the reviews say about this one.

Playmobil (Screening)

Now then, let’s jump in with the first film in the “Screening” category. Directed by Lino DiSalvo, the story focuses on a young woman named Marla, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who gets pulled into this Playmobil world with her brother Carlie, played by Gabriel Bateman. They get separated, and it’s up to Marla to team up with Rex Dasher, a secret agent voiced by Daniel Radcliffe and Del, a food truck driver voiced by Jim Gaffigan, to get her brother back and avoid the evil clutches of Emperor Maximus, played by Adam Lambert. Yeah, this film did not get the warmest impression, being negatively compared to the 2014 The LEGO Movie. I can understand why. It comes off as a bit outdated that there needs to be a reason for the Playmobil world to exist, when people would rather just enjoy the world that they make. Still, the film looks silly and aware about itself, and some of the jokes I saw got a chuckle out of me. Hopefully it can be an entertaining flick once it releases later this year.

The Prince’s Voyage (Screening)

Directed by Jean-Francois Languionie and Xavier Pircard, this is a follow-up to a film Jean Francois did a while back called A Monkey’s Tale, which follows the prince from that film, as he washes up on the shore of an island, and encounters an individual named Young Tom and his two parents, who were exiled scientists. The film itself looks great, but that should be no surprise, because it’s the same guy behind The Painting, but I am curious to see how they make this film work, because who remembers A Monkey’s Tale? It has only gotten an English UK release, and no one in America has probably heard of this guy or his films. Still, the CGI looks stylized, and I’m curious to see how this film does in continuing the story with these characters in a travel diary-style form.

Abominable (Screening)

Finally, we are seeing actual trailers and footage for this film. Directed by Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman, we follow the exploits of a young Chinese woman named Yi, voiced by Chloe Bennet, as she encounters an actual Yeti on the rooftop of her apartment building. It was previously caught by a scientist named Dr. Zara, voiced by Sarah Paulson, and an evil rich man named Burnish, voiced by Eddie Izzard. It is up to Yi, her friends Peng, voiced by Albert Tsai, and Jin, voiced by Tenzing Norgay Trainor, to get the Yeti back to his home in the mountains. This is an important film, due to this being DreamWorks first Chinese collaboration with Pearl Studio. As per usual with their non-comedy stuff, Abominable looks visually great, and has some endearing moments, but the jokes and references made in the first trailer and in the recent trailer are iffy. Hopefully, this is more of DreamWorks working at a How to Train your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda level, and not Shrek the Third level. Also, what is up with their marketing for this film? Everyone has already seen a trailer for the film for two or so months before the “official” trailer was released last week. What was the point of having two trailers and one of them was already viewable in theaters? Oh well, I hope this is a good movie.

Toy Story 4 (Screening)

Directed by Josh Cooley, we follow our heroes dealing with their new lives and a new encounter with a self-made toy named Forky, voiced by Tony Hale. One day, Forky gets out, and Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks, sets out to bring Forky back, but also runs into Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts. Shenanigans then ensue as Woody and the gang try to get Forky back to their new owner Bonnie, and Woody starts to have a crisis of what it means to be a toy. It’s too easy and frankly lazy, to say how this is a “cash grab”, when all films are cash grabs. We didn’t need a 4th one, but if we needed this one to get back on the train of original films starting with next year’s Onward, then so be it. Plus, I have been hearing good early word of mouth, and plus, who doesn’t want to see Keanu Reeves in his first ever voice role? Even if we might “not need it”, I’m glad to go back if the story is good.

Frozen 2 (Screening)

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, our heroes from the first film, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf are off on another adventure to go beyond the kingdom of Arendelle. Yeah, there isn’t much known about the film right now, so let’s talk about how incredible the teaser trailer was. This film looks jaw-dropping-off-your-face-and-exploding gorgeous. I’m sure a lot of this is just teaser editing, and the film may not be this serious in tone, but wouldn’t that be awesome if it was? I know there is a bit of Frozen burnout, but I liked the first movie, and I’m excited to see how this new one unfolds.

Weathering With You (WIP)

In the Work in Progress section, we have the newest film from Makoto Shinkai. The story revolves around a young boy who moves to Tokyo alone, and almost becomes broke, until he gets a writing job for an odd occult magazine. His life feels like it’s constant misery, as rain and dark clouds follow him everywhere. One day, he encounters a young girl who has a mysterious power to clear the sky of the clouds and rain. While I have been critical of some of Shinkai’s efforts and directorial touches in the past, this one has me very excited. To no surprise that Shinkai has more drop-dead eye-popping visuals, something about the story feels instantly likable, and GKids recently announced that they will be bringing it over! I can’t wait to see this film, and I hope to see it sometime soon.

Promare (Midnight Special)

Finally, for the Midnight Special, we have Promare. Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, and animated by Studio Trigger, we follow Galo Thymos and his team, the Burning Rescue Fire Department. Their main goal is to take down a group of evil mutants called BURNISH that emits and can control a special fire that is engulfing the planet. This movie looks so over-the-top, silly, nonsensical, it’s super drenched in its anime identity, and this is why I follow foreign/indie animation. This movie looks crazy in the most positive way possible. Sure, if you know anything about Studio Trigger’s previous work like Kill la Kill, Space Patrol Luluco, Little Witch Academia, and SSSS Gridman, then you know you are going to get some of the most vibrant Japanese animation around. It looks like a lot of fun, and I hope to also see it soon.

And that wraps up what I think looks to be the most promising at the Annecy International Film Festival. Even with these listed, there are truly more interesting features being shown in their completed form or work-in-progress form. Just go check out the site, and see the multitude of animated projects being shown, and find your favorites.