The Other Side of Animation 195: 5 Year Special – Children of the Sea Review


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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. 


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? 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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

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Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation: Halo Legends Review

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So, to quickly follow up on my Robot Carnival review, I recently picked up the Discotek Media version, watched it through to the end, and compared it to the import copy I already had. You get a crisper visual quality to the Discotek version, but overall, both are pretty much the same. If I had to look back and suggest getting one version over the other, I would get the Discotek version, but neither DVD has a lot of content to them.

Now then, let’s take a look at another anthology film that is, sadly, not one of the better ones. Released in 2010, Halo Legends is one of the larger anthology films I know about, with eight individual stories by different animation studios. I mean, technically, it’s seven, since two of them are part one and two of a single story, but still. The release of Halo Legends on February 16th, 2010 got mixed reviews, with the criticism of the stories being uneven in quality, and making the odd choice to combine Halo and Japanese animation. Let’s see if these criticisms are valid years after the release.

The first and second stories are called Origins, which are animated by Studio 4°C and directed by Hideki Futamura (Beyond, The Second Renaissance Part I & II, A Detective Story, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, and Perfect Blue). The plot to this story is basically a briefing of the Halo universe from the original invasion of the Flood, the Forerunners, and the massive weapons known as Halos, to what happened in Halo 3.

The third is called The Duel, animated by Production I.G, and directed by Hiroshi Yamazaki (Karas: The Prophecy, Eden of the East, and Ghost in the Shell.) The plot is set up like some kind of samurai short film where an alien known as an Arbiter seeks revenge for the death of his wife by the hands of The Covenant religion for not converting to their beliefs.

The fourth story is called Homecoming, and is animated by Production I.G again, and directed by Koji Sawai (Patlabor, Ranma ½, Trigun, and .Hack//Sign). The plot is about a group of soldiers who are rescued by this female red-armored Spartan, and their attempt to escape a warzone full of The Covenant.

The fifth story is called Odd One Out. It’s animated by Toei Animation, and directed by Daisuke Nishio (Dragon Ball franchise, and One Piece franchise.) This is a more humorous story about a Spartan soldier named 1337, who has a massive ego, but a huge case of bad luck as his body crash-lands on a planet and away from the ship on which he was riding.

Our sixth story is called Prototype. It’s produced by Studio Bones, and directed by Tomoki Kyoda (RahXephon, Saiyuki, and Darker than Black) and Yasushi Muraki (Steamboy, Welcome to the Space Show, and Cowboy Bebop: The Movie). Prototype tells the story of a marine sergeant with a devastating past, who goes by the nickname of Ghost. He and his demolition team are sent to protect a weapon facility from being overrun by The Covenant,and get rid of a new prototype weapon.

The seventh story is called The Babysitter. This segment is produced by Studio 4°C again, and directed by Toshiyuki Kanno (Berserk: The Golden Age Arc 1- The Egg of the King, Black Lagoon, Trigun, Digimon: The Movie, and has worked on multiple Dragon Ball Z films). It follows a group of elite soldiers, who help a Spartan soldier to take down an important target known as The Prophet.

The eighth and final story, which was only put on the physical disc versions of this anthology series, is called The Package. Produced by Casio Entertainment, and directed by Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed Alpha, Star Diver, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Soul Eater, and Harlock: Space Pirate), The Package follows Master Chief and a group of soldiers that must obtain a very important package on an enemy ship.

So, with eight (seven if you are being a stickler) stories with different settings and animation-styles, how do they gel? Well, I do not have a lot of positive elements to say about this anthology, but let’s get the good out of the way, okay?

In my opinion, the best stories are The Duel, One Odd Out, and Homecoming. The Halo franchise is not really known for in-depth and amazing storytelling, but the stories for these three are rather well executed. If I had to pick my favorite story, it would have to be The Duel. I chose this one because it did something different with the lore and universe of the games, and turned it into a samurai film with a downright gorgeous painting-like presentation. It also hits on a lot of elements, like having atmosphere and characters you want to invest in. Odd One Out also does this same thing, but instead of characters you emotionally invest in, you just turn your brain off and laugh at some fun, over-the-top anime-style entertainment. It helps that while Odd One Out does stand out in tone, it has some of the better writing since it’s committed to being silly. This is what works with the shorts, like in The Animatrix. In that anthology, the directors and producers took their own ideas about The Matrix, and got creative in, well, creativity and emotions.

Unfortunately, the rest of the anthology is rather forgettable. It doesn’t help that, in my opinion, the universe of Halo is not very interesting. Origins is a helpful tool to tell the backstory of the franchise, but it doesn’t have that visual flair that The Animatrix has, and the history pretty much boils down to “humans are stupid for constantly fighting, and when The Flood returns, we will ban together and fight, but then go back to killing each other.” I felt like the story was trying to be more than what it was. The anime-ish tropes that plagued the stories like The Babysitter and Homecoming also take me out of the experience, since I felt like I was watching a boring sci-fi anime. I will say at least Homecoming has the better story, but beyond the plot twist of the red female Spartan’s past, the rest is pretty forgettable. Babysitter suffers as well, because this anthology loves to drill into your head that anyone that wears the Master Chief Spartan armor is not interesting, personality-wise. Instead, Babysitter incorporated not only characters that die and we don’t care about, but it also has the whiny, talented individual that is supposed to learn some lesson at the end, but it all falls on deaf ears. Another unintentional element of some of the Spartans dying in these shorts is that they are built up to be these invincible super-soldiers, but fail. I mean, I guess if you make your character godlike, then you stop caring about them, but still. However, the final short that was on the disc, The Package, is boring. It’s just forgettable action with again, characters you don’t really care about. I know short films are limited in terms of building up multi-dimensional worlds, but this short I think hurt Halo more than helped. I also found the animation to be the least impressive of the core shorts

As of now, Halo Legends, is the weakest of the anthology films I have seen. It has a few good elements, but for every good part, it has about three bad parts. I originally picked up the film for $10, but that is a tiny bit much if you ask me. For this middle of the road anthology film, I would recommend spending maybe $5 or so on it. It at least has enough in it to make it worth seeing once. I know this was a downer review, but that is bound to happen from time to time. Sometimes, we have a good day and sometimes, we don’t. You just keep pushing through, and if you are like next week’s review of M.D. Geist, then you are bound to have something good happen to you. Thanks for reading, and see you all next time!

Rating: Rent It