The Other Side of Animation 178: The Wonderland 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!)

It is nice that in the Japanese animation scene, more directors and creators are becoming more popular. Japan has some of the most talented individuals working in the animation scene, and it is satisfying that Makoto Shinkai, Masaaki Yuasa, Mari Okada, and Mamoru Hosoda are now world-renowned, but I feel like one director deserves some more recognition than he gets, Keiichi Hara. While starting by working on some iconic shows like Doraemon and Crayon Shin-chan, he has also had a small, but fruitful directorial film career working on films from those franchises, and his own films like Summer Days with CooColorful, and one of my faves from 2016, Miss Hokusai. However, we are talking about his newest film that got a small release thanks to Elevenarts, The Wonderland.

Originally titled Birthday Wonderland, and based on the 1988 story Strange Journey from the Basement, Hara’s newest film premiered last year in April, and was able to compete in the 2019 Annecy International Film Festival, but like many of the films there at the festival, lost to the festival smash hit, I Lost My Body. It even missed out on being shown at Animation is Film 2019, and hasn’t had the most fanfare. It doesn’t help either that while it got pretty positive reviews, they still came with hefty criticism. So, what do I think about this adventurous film? Well, you have to read the review.

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The story revolves around a teenage girl named Akane, a pretty average teenage girl with not a whole lot of self-confidence. One day, her mother requests she go visit her aunt named Chi to pick up a special gift. While there, she peruses the items that Chi has acquired. One of the items that stands out is this piece of stone with a handprint in it. Akane then decides to put her hand in the print and it ends up with the hand fitting in the, well, stone. Then, out of the store’s basement, a dapper individual walks out. He turns out to be a famed alchemist known as Hippocrates. He explains that he is from another world, and since Akane’s hand fits the print, she is the Green Goddess, and must come back with Hippocrates and his assistant Pipo back to The Wonderland. Reluctantly, Akane and her aunt go with Hippocrates to save their land and to avoid the evil plans of a masked individual. Can Akane save the day? Can she find the courage to make it through a magical world?

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There is a lot we can start with, but let’s talk about the standout element to the film, the visuals, and animation. This is a very pretty film with lush vibrant colors, beautiful landscapes, and fantastical locations. While there is CGI used in this film, you can tell it’s better integrated into the 2D animation than Ni No Kuni. I was in awe most of the time looking at all of the creative landscapes and designs. It’s hard to be grumpy at a film with large puffball sheep and being able to ride giant koi fish. The designs also stand out from the rest of the pack. Sure, the designs of the humans may not look unique, but it’s the person behind them that makes all of the difference. The designs are by Russian Illustrator Ilya Kushinov. She brings in a very unique look to the film, and it stands out among the different anime films coming out. In terms of themes, the film is another coming-of-age film about dealing with self-doubt and becoming a better person through trust and helping others. Akane starts out as a nervous wreck, who is reluctant to better herself, but throughout the film, she becomes a more self-reliant individual who has faith in herself. Even the villain this time around is more interesting, due to his circumstances brought upon him. The voice work is pretty solid, but I have only seen the subtitle version for right now, but since this is Elevenarts, I’m sure the dub will be good. The music is also stellar, especially with the film’s theme song by Milet, which has been stuck in my head for weeks.

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Now, I do have a few negatives to talk about. While I love the majority of the cast, Akane isn’t the most interesting female lead. She isn’t terrible, but she’s fairly boilerplate. I also wasn’t fully on board with some of the mannerisms of Chi. She’s great, but there are a few moments that made me roll my eyes. I think my favorite characters were Hippocrates and the villain. I also found the pacing to be wonky. A lot of the film has the characters driving around, and I don’t mind that aspect, but once it hits the third act, the pacing becomes very stop-and-go. It’s almost jarring how oddly paced the last third is. I also wish there could have been more time expanding on this world than it being taken up by driving, because I loved the fantasy world.

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While I still prefer Miss Hokusai, I liked Keiichi Hara’s newest film. It has a lot of personality, charm, and fantasy whimsy to recommend to anyone looking for a fun adventure. Sadly, with its limited release, you will have to wait for it to arrive on Blu-ray, but if you don’t mind the wait, then you will probably enjoy this flick! Well, it’s time to move onto our next film, but sadly, we have to wait for it to arrive on Netflix. Next time, we will be talking about one of three animated films based on video games this year. We already talked about Ni No Kuni, so we will be moving down to Dragon Quest: Your Story.

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: Go see it!

The Worst to Best Animated Films of 2018 Part 4 Finale

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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 editorial/list!)

So, two years later, we finally get to the end of 2018’s Worst to Best Animated films! I promise to get started on the Worst to Best of 2019 very soon. For now, if you have yet to see Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3, then I recommend you do that first, because if you don’t see a film in my top 10, then it probably didn’t make it there. Let’s get started!

10 MFKZ

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It might not have a tight story, and it meanders around a bit, but I loved my time seeing MFKZ. It’s one of the few dubs to have a POC cast, it has some great lead characters, and the action is off the wall bonkers. It’s such a fun ride, and while it isn’t for everyone, if you love schlocky trashy action films that are ambitious, then everyone needs to check out MFKZ. It’s a film that throws everything including the kitchen sink into the mix, and it’s quite a delight, warts and all, unless you are under 13, because this film is rated M for Mature.

9 Ralph Breaks the Internet 

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I know it wasn’t exactly the sequel people wanted with a follow-up to Wreck-it Ralph, but all things considered, I find myself loving and thinking about the experience of watching Ralph Breaks the Internet. Ralph and Vanellope are still great characters, the themes of toxicity are all well tackled. It might not have the best story, but the little details, the animation, the side characters, and the overall film was just great. Still, it almost didn’t make it into my top 10 due to some regressive elements in the script. Still, I enjoyed my time surfing the web with Ralph.

8 The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales

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It really shouldn’t have taken two years to finally get this film in my possession. Anyway, while Ernest & Celestine may have more story and heart to it, Benjamin Renner’s follow-up with the anthology film, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales is a cute and hilarious romp. The 2D watercolor animation is mixed with some of the best physical comedy you will ever see in animation. It’s light-hearted and it’s a comedy I think everyone should check out!

7 The Night is Short, Walk on Girl

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Masaaki Yuasa is going to be here on the list a lot. That’s because he made two films in one year that include what is probably my favorite adult animated comedy, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. You would think a story about a young college girl traveling through a booze-infused city would be limiting in its appeal, and while there are some anime tropes that I could have lived without, the film is just a surreal and wildly exciting trip through the city streets, as you learn about the young adults that live within the city. I had a very unhealthy obsession with this film, as it was the one I watched the most out of any film from 2018. It’s thought-provoking, intellectually interesting, funny, endearing, and one of the most unique experiences you can get with animation.

6 Lu Over the Wall

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It’s a shame Masaaki Yuasa’s other film, the family-friendly Lu Over the Wall, was considered by many to be a Ponyo ripoff when, to be frank, Lu Over the Wall is its own delightful and strange offering. It has a lot of the crazy Yuasa-style animation you know and love, the characters are vibrant, and it has a lot of heart and great music. It has a third act hustle that doesn’t fully work, but Lu Over the Wall deserves all of the love and acclaim it has received.

5 Isle of Dogs

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Many may not be down for Wes Anderson’s style of filmmaking, and yes, there are elements of this film that should be discussed with how they were executed, but man, I loved this film. I adored the world, the insanely detailed animation, the cast, the combination of stop-motion and 2D animated sequences, and the music makes for a very endearing fairy-tale-like story.

4 Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom

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Mari Okada’s first directorial feature about motherhood in a fantastical land is a film that flew too low under the radar. It has beautiful animation and a story that has made me audibly cry in the theater and at home watching this film. If this film isn’t on your radar to watch, then please make it happen. It’s one of Japan’s best-animated films of the past decade.

3 Ruben Brandt: Collector

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Honestly, these next three could easily be tied for no 1 due to how incredible and imaginative they are. Ruben Brandt is one of the most unique thematically and visual films of all time. It’s mixing of an action heist thriller with the surrealist art style that adds bits of intrigue and horror make it for one of the most impressive animated feats seen in the theatrical animation scene. I now wish Sony Pictures Classics did not screw up this film’s release, and put it on Blu-ray as it deserves.

2 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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It was tough to pick between Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and my favorite film of the year, but that’s because Into the Spider-Verse is the shot in the arm that western animation needs. Not only does it combine a complex story using one of the best lead characters in any superhero film, but one of the most unique animation styles seen in the last decade. It deserved all of the acclaim and awards that it won, and if you have yet to see this film, please do so.

1 Mirai

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Man, in one decade, Mamoru Hosoda has either been in my top 10, or has made it to the no. 1 spot, and that’s no different here with Mirai. Maybe I have a little bias toward it since it was the first film I saw at Animation is Film 2018, and I am giving it some points above Spider-Verse since it was an original concept, but I do love Mirai with all of my passion and love for theatrical animation. I love the low-key coming of age tale of a young son and his new baby sister. I love the music. I love the time travel concept. I adored the comedy in this movie. I love that the parents aren’t throw-away characters. The animation was beautiful. The music was fantastic. I could go on about why I love Mirai, and  why it’s my favorite animated film of 2018, and why I consider it the best animated film of 2018.

 2018 was a pretty solid year, and I promise to get the Worst to Best Animated Films of 2019 out faster this year, but before I work on that, I must work on my first The Other Side of Animation Award Show! Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading the list! 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!

The Other Side of Animation 153: Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom 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!)

Something that’s unfortunate not only in the animation scene, but the theatrical animation scene in general is that there is a huge lack of non- white male directors. At least, I find that to be a major observation. Maybe it’s a lack of awareness for the directors in question, because we know about women like Lauren Faust and Nora Twomey, but it could also be the fact that many powerful male creators for studios like the ex-head of Pixar and other areas of the animation scene have ruined the chances and passion many non-white male had with working in animation. Not every great story is going to come from one type of person. The more diversity we get with animation, the more stories we can tell, and the more voices that can be heard. A darn good example of getting a unique voice that told a compelling and powerful movie would be Mari Okada’s Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom. Released last year by Eleven Arts in the states, Mari Okada’s fantasy drama was her first theatrical directorial debut for which she also wrote the script. This is on top of a successful career of writing, including Anohana, Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, and The Anthem of the Heart. So then, let’s dive in and see why this was one of the best animated films of 2018.

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The story follows a young woman named Maquia, dubbed by Xanthe Huynh. She is a being known as a Lorph, a race of human-like individuals that stay young and live longer than normal humans. They also weave their stories in these giant cloth-like fabrics. One day, a kingdom attacks her people to take a maiden from her clan to offer to the kingdom’s prince, so they can make long-living children and keep the kingdom afloat forever. Luckily for Maquia, she escapes when one of the dragon creatures the knights rode on goes berserk, and she ends up riding on it out of the reach of the kingdom. She then finds herself in a village that was attacked by bandits. Among the debris, she finds a human baby in the arms of his dead mother. Maquia decides to take care of the infant as the film follows the challenges of raising a child, learning about life, the trials of love, and being a mother.

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So, what really cements Okada’s writing and directorial work in this film? Well, the themes this film tackles of loss, love, and motherhood. We have seen those themes before in films like Wolf Children, which has unfortunately been compared and contrasted with Maquia due to the focus on a mother raising a kid in a unique situation. What makes this film so dastardly with its way of using emotionally powerful moments is how Okada catches you off-guard. It’s like she sneaks up behind you, pokes you with a knife to tell you to get ready, and then when the time comes, stabs you right in the feels to deliver an extra powerful punch to your heart. I don’t think I have seen a film like Maquia that has made me cry harder the two times that I have seen it. Its themes are beautifully woven into the story as you get involved with the trials of Maquia taking care of this child when she is, considering her kind, young herself, and doesn’t really know what to do. You watch as decades pass and she stays the same, but everyone grows up and dies around her. You watch as her son gets older, and the challenge of their relationship and dynamic starts to get in the way of how they come off to other people. Everyone, from the kingdom to the immortal beings, see the rise and fall of mystical creatures becoming extinct and the fall of the kingdom at the end of the film. It’s a brilliantly somber but touching film that, while having incredibly gorgeous animation, shows Okada’s strengths as a writer. You feel heavily invested with the characters and what is going on with them. You want to see Maquia become a mother, you want to see her make sure her son grows up, you want to make sure the son doesn’t get killed, and you want to see her friendships blossom and stay connected. It’s a well-paced story that knows what main plot elements to focus on, and when to sparingly show off what is going on with the other characters.

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Animation-wise, Maquia is a gorgeous movie with beautiful vistas, great camera work, soft rounded character designs, and very well composted CGI. Yeah, once again, a Japanese animated film shows how to do it properly where many anime series fail in regards to the CGI. It can still be noticeable, but it’s not as distracting as say, any of Polygon Pictures’ products or that horrible Berserk continuation. In terms of the original language and the dubbed version, I think you can’t go wrong with either. Xanthe Huynh is incredible as Maquia and simply goes through the gambit of emotions, and you believe her every time. The other actors are good as well with Ryan Shanahan, Eddy Lee, Cherami Leigh, Kevin T. Collins, Brooklyn Nelson, Marc Thompson, H.D. Quinn, Ryan Bartley, and many other voice actors do great with their respective roles. While the music is nothing that you haven’t really heard before, Kenji kawai, the composer for shows and movies like Patlabor, Ranma ½, Devilman, Project A-ko, Burn up!, Ghost in the Shell, Dai-Guard, and Ip Man still delivers a sweeping epic score and soothing tunes that pull you into the experience.

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If I had to complain about something with this wonderfully touching film, I would say that the art direction isn’t all that creative. Yes, it’s a more human and adult story, but when you have the character designer Yuriko Ishii, who was inspired by the artist who did Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and Tactics Ogre, Akihiko Yoshida, you kind of expect something more creative. It all looks great visually, but there is nothing that unique or outstanding about the fantasy world that they live in. Also, while it’s not as bad as other films or anime series, you can definitely see when they use CGI. It’s not a major detractor, but it’s something worth noting. I also found a few times where the dub sounded like it got slightly drowned out by the music.

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Even with those criticisms, they are incredibly minor, because Maquia is such a powerful and moving film. It makes me excited to see what other directing gigs Okada will get in the future, and it makes me want to check out what she has done in the past. It’s finally out on DVD, but heads up. You can only get the Japanese dub version with the Blu-ray version of the film. The DVD version only comes with the English dub. Still, I’m happy and hopeful more people can finally check out this classic from Japan. Now then, we travel from Japan to go on a trip around the world! Next time, we are going to check out Laika’s newest film, Missing Link. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials