The Other Side of Animation 95: Wolf Children 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!)

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While many other filmgoers and I cry and rally behind the idea that more original films should be made, we do accept that franchise/blockbuster films have a purpose. They rake in the cash, along with the sequels, reboots, and remakes. Hopefully, when they have a few big hits on their hands, Hollywood will invest into some more original projects and throw caution to the wind. Of course, there is the risk that no one will see the original film, since the studios do advertise them, but not enough or help get them into as many theaters for the mass public to see. If word of mouth is good enough, then more people will see it, but it’s a struggle, since the original films in question have to be good. So, where am I going with this opening bit? When you do find that one original movie, and it’s just the bee’s knees, it’s a great feeling to have. That is why I chose one of my new favorite movies of this decade, Wolf Children. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, animated by both Hosoda’s own studio, Studio Chizu with help from Studio Madhouse, Wolf Children was originally released in 2012, but got a stateside release in 2013. If you have seen my Worst to Best Animated Films of 2013, then you know this was my favorite movie of that year. I probably don’t need to remind you why that is, but let’s gush about it anyway.

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The story is about a young college woman named Hana, voiced by Collen Clinkenbeard. As she is going to classes and working a job to pay the bills, she becomes interested in this male student who comes to her classes from time to time. After getting to know him, the two bond, and become romantically involved. Hana even finds out that the guy she likes, who is voiced by David Matranga, is actually a werewolf of sorts. However, that doesn’t stop them from having two kids named Yuki and Ame. Sadly, the husband ends up passing away, leaving Hana with their two kids. What doesn’t help the situation either is that her children are also part wolf, and can shapeshift into wolves. After thinking about it, Hana decides to move to the countryside with her two kids and raise them there. Along the way, they meet likable side characters, and we get to see how the two kids grow up.

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There is a lot to unload with this movie, but I think I will start off by talking about one of my favorite aspects of watching a Mamoru Hosoda film, its themes. From the films I have seen of his, Hosoda likes to have a lot of themes revolving around families. Like in The Boy and the Beast, where it was about a father-son dynamic, being upfront with your kids, and different family living situations, Wolf Children follows themes of a mother and her children, and adds in the topic of how kids will grow up differently. Throughout the movie, the two kids end up being vastly different from one another, and as the film follows their journey, grow up and define themselves by their surroundings. Ame becomes more connected to nature and his more wolf-like side of him, while Yuki wants to be more like her human side. Both children make the film really interesting in how they interact with other humans, nature, and their own mother. I know that sounds odd to say that a movie has great and complex kid characters, but for some reason, Hosoda knows how to write them expertly. Hana is also a great inspirational female character, since it could have been so easy for this film to simply show how overburdened she is with raising the two kids, and play her misery off as comedy. Luckily, the film is smarter than that, and makes her a very capable woman. She does work hard and is a fast learner. She almost succumbs to the stress, but since we are human, she finds the strength to keep pushing.

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The film, while having mystical elements, is a very laid back film that’s more about the day-to-day life of Hana and her children. There are conflicts, and I would definitely not label it as laid back as say Only Yesterday or My Neighbor Totoro, but it doesn’t dissolve into anime action schlock. It’s more about the life between Hana, and her children growing up in the environments surrounding them, and that’s all the film needed to be. Heck, they even find ways to make good jokes around their situation, like when one of the kids gets sick, Hana doesn’t know whether to use a human doctor, or a vet to look at them.

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The animation is beautiful. Hosoda always has a unique look to his designs, where it has its anime design tropes, but everyone moved more realistically. Yes, you can see certain scenes where Hosoda uses CGI crowds and faceless characters to put focus on the leads, but it’s still fantastic animation. The film does a great job making lush countrysides, lovely white snow-covered fields, and damp rainy days. The music by composer Takagi Masakatsu compliments the visuals. I think the best scene in the movie that combines Hosoda’s great animation and Masakatsu’s music is when it becomes winter in the countryside. The scene with them playing in the snow is powerful, and it really hits me seeing the family be happy for this moment in time. No struggle to grow food, or what the kids are going to do for education, or anything else. It’s a moment where they can enjoy each other’s company and love. The voice dub is also great. I think everyone does a good job with their roles, and Micah Solusod and Jad Saxton, the actors for the kids, do a good job making them likable and endearing.

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If I had to complain about something with the film, it’s the fact that there is a sort of forced romance for Yuki. I won’t spoil what happens, but her relationship with the kid could have been fleshed out more. I get why they had this relationship, but there is no time set up for it. However, that is my only real complaint.

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Wolf Children is an emotionally powerful movie that did a better job at being a Disney/Pixar film than either of those two companies back in 2013. It’s easily one of my favorite films from this decade, and one of the few films that I think can stand up to the Ghibli best like Porco Rosso and Spirited Away. For some reason, if you do not have this movie in your collection, Funimation put out a great collector’s edition of the film that has a lot of nice extra stuff, like a small booklet that comes with the film. If I haven’t said it enough, do watch and buy this movie. I want it to be remembered as much as the bigger animated films, and not wallow in cult classic territory. Speaking of cult classics, next time, we will be looking at what could be one of the 90s most beloved underrated cult films with Cats Don’t Dance. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

 

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The Other Side of Animation 85: Japanese Animation Month 2 Part 3: Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive 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!)

Well, it’s been a while since we have seen our favorite anime thief, Lupin the 3rd. As much as I love talking about this franchise, and not shy to say it’s one of my favorite anime franchises, I always want to choose specific films/specials from the series, since I don’t want to do every single film from the series. At the very least, not yet. That’s why to close out Japanese Animation Month 2, I am going to review Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive. This 1996 animated film is notable for a few things. For one, the director of the film is the creator of the franchise Monkey Punch, who hasn’t directed a film from the series before. The film is also considered by many of the fans to be one of the absolute best films about the lovable thief. So, is it as good as the fans make it out to be, or is The Castle of Cagliostro still the king of the films?

lupin02Lupin is back at it again, and this time voiced by Sonny Strait. Alongside his buddies Daisuke Jigen, voiced by Christopher Sabat, and Goemon, voiced by Mike McFarland, their goal in the film is to try and find this treasure that’s held on a deserted sunken ship. The downside to this is the fact that the ship has some kind of highly advanced defense system that keeps people from getting close to it. This means that the quirky thief must find a way to get past the defense system which seems to be connected to the country of Zufu. The good news is that finding the solution to the problem shouldn’t be a problem for our daring thief. The bad news is that the solution is being guarded over by the country’s current leader, General Headhunter. Not only that, but Inspector Zenigata, voiced this time by Phillip Willburn, is on Lupin’s case, and helps reinforce Headhunter’s already strong military force. Of course, shenanigans ensue as Fujiko, voiced by Meredith McCoy, also gets thrown into the situation, and the team now has one of their toughest opponents yet. Can they find a way to get the treasure, and avoid the eye of Headhunter and Zenigata? What about the female accomplice that they end up teaming up with? What exactly is the treasure?

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Let’s start with some of the good elements to the film. This is a very action-packed film in the franchise. It not only starts out with a prison break that’s a lot of fun to watch, but Lupin and his friends are kept on their toes during the entire film. I would argue that a lot of the intense action from this film is all from General Headhunter. He’s probably one of the most intimidating and imposing villains Lupin has ever had. He might be a bit one-note, but this guy is ruthless. Usually, Lupin and his gang always have the upper hand, but this time, they really, and I mean really, struggle. Endless goons and men armed with guns keep Lupin and his friends on their feet, and it was rather refreshing to see our heroes face such a challenge. I have mentioned before in my review of Jigen’s Gravestone that you want to watch the lead characters be stopped by a challenge, and overcome it. This hurdle we see our heroes go through makes much of the action intense and fun to watch them bob and weave through the enemy to find their way to the treasure. It gets even tougher when Zenigata is actually competent in this film.

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That’s probably the next thing to talk about, the interpretation of the characters. Most incarnations give Lupin, his friends, and the overall series a fun and light-hearted tone, with some good physical comedy and fast-paced action. This film has a slightly more serious edge, with less of a focus on comedy. I know a lot of people have said that it’s closer to how the manga was and how the original series was intended, but I can understand the more serious tone being a bit off-putting to more casual fans of the franchise. I think it works, since you still have some of the over-the-top sequences you should be familiar with from the franchise, and even with a more serious tone, it still feels like Lupin the 3rd. It’s still Lupin the 3rd, with all the hijinks and likable characters that you have come to know and love.

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In terms of animation, it’s good for what it is, a film based on an anime. Characters move pretty fluidly, and when the highly advanced security system sequences kick in, it looks fantastic. The designs are also worth noting, due to how non-cartoony they look. I mean, in terms of how the characters usually look. Everything feels a bit more “realistic”, but they still have those familiar designs you have come to expect. They just aren’t going to be the exaggerated versions you see like in the most recent anime series. It can be a tad distracting, since one of my favorite aspects of the series was how everyone looked. It made the anime stand out, and they still do here. I think it’s also nice to see two characters in this film, Fujiko and Inspector Zenigata. It’s yet one of the few films I have seen where Fujiko is actually helpful, and isn’t there for just pure fan service. It’s also nice to see Zenigata in a more serious light. Usually he is the buffoon that thinks he can capture Lupin, but never can. This time, he’s not holding back. He actually becomes a major threat to the characters. I enjoyed the voice cast. I think everyone does a solid job at their respective characters, even if I personally prefer the cast in The Castle of Cagliostro or the Geneon dub. Sonny Strait does a good job making a likable Lupin, Kyle Hebert is an intimidating villain, Chris Patton does a good job as Headhunter’s right hand, Phillip Wilburn does a hard-edged Zenigata, and you get the idea.

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If I had to complain about something, it’s with some of the tropes that come with feature films based on anime. The secondary leads are not very interesting, and are there to just get the plot going. It’s not their fault, but it’s a trope that I don’t personally care for. I also don’t care for the more sci-fi elements of the film. I don’t know, for some reason, I just don’t think sci-fi fits with the Lupin the 3rd universe. The security system in the game seems more like something from Patlabor than Lupin the 3rd. The only reason it’s in the film is because the tech used in the defense system used gold as a fuel source.

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While I don’t personally think it’s better than The Castle of Cagliostro, Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive is still a fun action movie to watch. Currently, Funimation has a DVD out for it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Discotek Media picks it up in the future, since they are distributing some of the Lupin the 3rd films that Funimation released back in the day. If you love the thief, and want an intense action adventure, then I highly recommend you check this film out. Well, Japanese Animation Month 2 was fun, but next time, it’s time to dip back into the well of DC animation with Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. 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 67: The Boy and the Beast 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!)

Finally, I get to talk about one of my favorite new directors in the animation scene, Mamoru Hosoda. Even though I say he is “new”, Hosoda has actually been around the anime/animation scene for a while, starting all the way back in 1999 when he had a hand with working in both minor and key animation roles on the Digimon Adventure series, Yu Yu Hakusho The Movie: Poltergeist Report, Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball Z: Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan, Dragon Ball Z: Broly – Second Coming, Galaxy Express 999 Eternal Fantasy, and Sailor Moon Super S: The Movie to name a few of the projects on which he worked. Only in 2006 after some directing gigs with the Digimon: The Movie and One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island, did he finally get to work on his own original projects. His first release was The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, but essentially started to get more popularity among animation viewers when he released Summer Wars and Wolf Children. However, I’m going to look at those three films at a later date. For now, I want to talk about his newest film, The Boy and the Beast. This movie was originally released last year in 2015, but was brought over in 2016 by Funimation. So, how does Hosoda’s newest film stack against his previous works? Well, let’s dive in.

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The story is about a young boy named Kyuta, voiced by Luci Christian, and Eric Vale when the character is older. He is currently unhappy with a rather upsetting family incident where his mother passed away, and the father isn’t anywhere to be found. Kyuta runs away, and accidentally ends up meeting a humanized animal being named Kumatetsu, voiced by John Swasey. As a result, Kyuta takes the offer of Kumatetsu and follows him into another realm known as Jutengai or Beast Kingdom. After being shocked at running into a world not his own, he becomes the apprentice to Kumatetsu, even though Kumatetsu’s two friends, a monkey man named Tatara, voiced by Ian Sinclair, and a pig man/monk named Hyakushubo, voiced by Alex Organ, are concerned about the situation. The story also involves a fight between Kumatetsu and a boar man named Iozen, voiced by Sean Hennigan, about who becomes the new lord of the land. Will Kyuta train and become a great warrior? Will Kumatetsu be able to train Kyuta, and what will happen between the Beast Kingdom and the human world?

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I’m going to, of course, start off with the positives of The Boy and the Beast, since I really love this movie and want to talk about how great it is. First off, the animation is fluid with more realistic movements, but nothing that feels stiff or awkward about it, like when they do all cgi or rotoscope. It leads to some pretty beautiful animation with some outstanding fight choreography. I think what helps make the fighting in this movie so fantastic is that it’s more grounded and not flashy. The punches and kicks feel real, with actual weight behind the blows that characters give each other. Yes, there are some mystical elements, but it’s mostly punches and kicks. It gives Hosoda’s films a unique and iconic look, which is hard to say about anime these days with how generic and homogenous it can all look.

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Some of the other great aspects are the themes The Boy and the Beast tackles. The film deals with stuff like different family situations, not letting hate take you over, what true strength is, and what is probably the film’s greatest message, being upfront with your children. Yeah, we actually have an animated film that essentially tells the viewers that parents should be upfront with them and not lie to them. It’s a rather refreshing message, since so many films these days rather follow something generic and something we have seen before. It leads to some great parallels to the characters and their chemistry among the entire cast.

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The voice cast is also very strong. I felt like everyone had the right voices connected to their characters, and I love how natural the dialogue feels. It isn’t like in Ghost in the Shell where no matter how good the cast is, the dialogue is not organic, and feels robotic and unnatural. The music is once again extremely beautiful, and fits the mood in each scene. This is due to the talented Takagi Masakatsu, who also did the music for Wolf Children. It’s elegant, beautiful, atmospheric, and upbeat when the time calls for it.

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If there was really one major nitpick about the film, it’s the pacing in the second half. For the most part, the pacing is perfectly done, but some areas later on could have been better. It’s like how in Kubo and the Two Strings, in how there was no build-up for Monkey. She just appears and it’s like “um, okay.” The second half isn’t horrible. It still has a lot of plot-relevant moments and some really touching scenes, but its pacing is more noticeable in terms of how the story progresses.

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Even with the minor pacing problem, The Boy and the Beast is one of the best animated films of 2016, and one of my favorite films of the year. It’s touching, funny, mature, creepy at times, and an all-around endearing experience. If you can find the time to purchase or rent a copy of this film, I highly recommend doing so. Well, next time, we will take a look at the first in a month of Christmas-related animated films with The Magic Snowflake. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials