The Other Side of Animation 104: Napping Princess 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!)

With Mother! by director Darren Aronofsky causing an honestly interesting “controversy” because of it failing at the box office, and splitting people down the middle in terms of liking it or hating it, do we really want original movies? I mean, people complain about wanting to see original movies all the time, but then don’t go see them, when they get bigger budgeted marketing or wider release. It’s infuriating because you can’t have it both ways. You want more “original” movies getting wider spread releases and bigger marketing budgets? Then you had better go see them and not complain. I’m doing my part, and you should do the same. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s honestly true. That’s why I went to see Napping Princess. Released in the states back in September, Napping Princess was a surprise pick up by GKids. At the very least, it caught me by surprise. It was directed by Kenji Kamiyama of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Eden of the East fame, and was released earlier this year, and was a competitor at 2017’s Annecy Film Festival. Needless to say, it got overshadowed by Lu Over the Wall, Loving Vincent, and In This Corner of the World. I wanted to get this review out of the way so people don’t overlook this film. Let’s dive in.

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The story revolves around a high school student named Kokone Morikawa, voiced by Brina Palencia. She lives with her dad, who is sort of a dead beat, but very talented car mechanic. Kokone is a rather sleepy individual, as when she drifts off into sleep, she enters a dream world her father told her about. Unfortunately for her, Kokone’s dad is under some kind of investigation with a company that is accusing him of stealing something. The two worlds then start to collide with Kokone’s dream world starting to mirror the real world.

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So, what is good about Napping Princess? Well, since it’s animated by SIGNAL.MD., a sub studio of IG Port (the merger of animation studio Production I.G and manga publisher Mag Garden), the animation is quite nice. It’s fluid, expressive, snappy, and just like Production I.G’s other animated film, A Letter to Momo, it has more realistic movements, but also has snappy comedic animation. I was surprised to see a film that I wasn’t expecting to be funny, have some truly hilarious moments. The comedy is mostly from good physical comedy, expressive facial animation, and some funny lines. Sometimes, it shows that the 2D animation is paired up with CGI elements, but thankfully, they gel well together, and is not as distracting as late 90s/early 2000s anime that used CGI to replace actual objects. Since this film has fantasy elements in it, I found a lot of the action and visuals to be fun, and pretty on a technical scale. The fight with the lava monster in the dream world is always entertaining, and I was excited to see how characters from the real world would gel in the dream world. Plus, you have to have some fun when you have a transforming moped with a side-car, and a pirate fighting alongside a young magical girl with a talking stuffed animal.

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In terms of themes and characters, I found the themes of not giving up on your dreams, and changing to the times to be interesting ones to tackle. Most of the time, when you think of animation, you think of themes that are fairly light-weight, so kids can easily absorb them on-screen. It’s a bummer when you can tell the people behind the story and writing didn’t think ahead of time to slip something in that is more challenging for viewers to watch. This film shows that change will happen, and it’s good to get with the times, and that no matter what challenges get in your way, do not stop. I also liked the characters. Sure, Kokone and her friend Morio are not new to the animation scene, but they are likable characters. I enjoyed their chemistry together, and the dialogue exchanges they have with other characters. While the story does mostly focus on Kokone, her dad, Morio, and the villain, I found myself not getting annoyed by side characters. The music is also fun to listen to, and if it sounds similar to something like Kingdom Hearts, that’s because it was done by the same composer, Yoko Shimomura. It adds a whimsical tone to the film that fits its fantasy and dream-like setup. Usually, this is where I talk about the voice cast for the film, but I only saw the English subtitle version, so, from the few clips I have seen of the English dub, it was pretty solid. Not the best dub GKids has done with a Japanese-animated film (I think Miss Hokusai is their best one), but the actors do a good job.

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Unfortunately, my biggest complaint about the movie is that later on, it doesn’t know how to combine both the dream world and the real world. It’s a great third act, but the seamless fusing of both worlds isn’t fully executed well. The final fight of the film is amazing, but when it cuts back to the real world, it’s jarring, and I found myself wondering what happened, or how they got to said location in the first place, while the dream world was fusing with the real world. Napping Princess also rides the line of being too long. It’s a well-paced film, but it’s just two-hour runtime almost runs the idea dry. I also wish the dream world had more whimsical designs. I perfectly get why it was more technologically-themed, but I was enjoying the fantasy world to the point I wish the movie was set in this one setting.

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While it is definitely not going to be winning any major awards, and I can understand if some people don’t like it (though I don’t agree with the user scores for the film), I had a blast watching this movie. It was full of charm, personality, and wonderful animation. It was a fun fantasy adventure flick with a nice mystery, keeping all the abstract imagery together. While I will be rooting for other GKids/indie animated films to do well at the Oscars, Napping Princess was an awesome surprise, and I hope more people get to see it when it hits DVD. Well, Halloween is about to be upon us, so let’s review a film filled to the brim with corpses with The Empire of Corpses. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

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The Other Side of Animation 102: The Cat Returns 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 two years since I started reviewing animated films, and I feel like it’s time to talk a little about myself, and what kind of movies I like to watch. I tend to enjoy a large variety of genres and different directors. I wouldn’t say I’m a hardcore film fan and watch every single classic film, but I watch what looks like something I would enjoy. However, I tend to mostly pick a film that I can watch with no need to learn about something beforehand, or require to research some lore or backstory before watching the film, so I can get into the story. I like to be instantly dropped in, and be able to not be distracted by in-your–face-world-building elements. In short, I want to be able to put in a movie, not have to be in a certain mood to watch it, sit back, and relax. I think that’s why for this two year special, I decided to choose the Studio Ghibli film, The Cat Returns. This is definitely an oddball of the Ghibli filmography. It was released back in 2002, and was originally conceived as a 20-minute short film for an amusement park. Unfortunately, they canceled the project, but Hayao Miyazaki decided to use the idea for his own studio. The individual sitting in the director’s chair this time around was Hiroyuki Morita. His name might not sound familiar, but he has done some work in the industry by starting at Ghibli as a key animator for My Neighbors the Yamadas and an in-between animator for Kiki’s Delivery Service. Morita went on to direct the anime series Bokurano, and was mostly an animator for stuff like Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Tales from Earthsea, Afro Samurai: Resurrection, Lupin III: Bye Bye Lady Liberty!, and Tenchi Forever! As it stands, The Cat Returns is one of the few animated films from the studio that was not directed by Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata. We didn’t get this film until 2005, and by that time, people were more focused on Miyazaki’s newest film, Howl’s Moving Castle. Let’s claw our way in, and check out The Cat Return.

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The story follows a high schooler named Haru, voiced by Anne Hathaway. Haru is having a rough spot in her life, where it seems like nothing is really working out for her. After coming back from school one day, she ends up saving a cat that was about to get run over by a car. By luck, the cat she saved happened to be a magical cat prince, voiced by Andrew Bevis. The prince thanks her, and later that night, Haru is visited by the prince’s father, The Cat King, voiced by Tim Curry. After some misunderstandings and complications, Haru ends up getting engaged to the prince, and tries to find a way to get out of the situation. She then meets a whimsical character known as The Baron, a small humanoid cat-like being, voiced by Cary Elwes. He decides to help her out, but right when he agrees to help her, Haru gets kidnapped and taken to the Cat Kingdom. It is up to The Cat Baron, along with his sidekick Muta, voiced by Peter Boyle, to help Haru escape the Cat Kingdom.

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The first thing you will notice about the film is the animation style. It’s still the fantastic 2D animation you know from such a studio, but it’s the designs that are for the most part, different. Everything is a touch more simplistic, and the human designs aren’t in the traditional Studio Ghibli design, and are more anime-style. It can definitely lead to more fluid animation, and for a film like The Cat Returns, it suits it. The story is very light, and while that might sound like a downside, it’s not. It’s a fantasy adventure film that uses its 75 minutes well, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s a film that knows what it wants to do. It’s just an easy-to-get-into fantasy adventure film. Now, that doesn’t mean The Cat Returns itself is lacking substance. It’s still a Studio Ghibli film, with likable leads, a solid set of side characters, a creative world, and a fun villain. It also has some amazing visuals from the Cat Kingdom to the action sequences that help cement the film’s more light-hearted tone. I have heard some people compare this to some fantasy comedies like the Princess Bride, and I can see where they are coming from. It’s funny and has an eccentric personality, but also acts like a fairy tale with odd rules and lush visuals. The film does have a message of never giving up on yourself or your dreams, but it’s more of a backseat moral. It wants to be more about the whimsical side of things, and to be a more comedic fantasy film, and I have no personal problem with that. It’s something that I have seen pop up from time to time, where critics in general dismiss a film being simple as a bad thing. I never really got that, since simple doesn’t always mean terrible. Of course, it does come down to execution, but even then, it’s not always seen in a positive light. I mean, do we call out The Wizard of Oz as being too simple and relying more on emotion than logic? No, we celebrate it as one of history’s best movies, and rightfully so. Sometimes, when I’m going out to get a bite, I’m not in the mood for something big, fancy, and complex. Sometimes, all I want is a cheeseburger that’s done well, and a $5 milkshake. Movies don’t always have to be complicated.

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As for everything else, the cast is pretty fantastic. Anne Hathaway does a pretty stellar job as Haru. While Haru might not be one of the classic Ghibli female characters, she is still interesting. She’s innocent and kind of light-headed, but she is still strong and wanting to make sense in a fantasy world, which is usually much harder than you would think. Cary Elwes is fantastic as The Baron, and it sounds like he was having a lot of fun playing another fantasy hero. Pete Boyle has some of the better laughs as Muta, and, of course, it’s hard not to talk about this film and not bring up Tim Curry’s old hippie performance of the Cat King. You can tell that he was having a blast as this expressive and hilarious villain. Then again, it’s Tim Curry, and he’s always a blast to watch, no matter what the film is. Andy Richter plays an assistant to the Cat King, and while I know in the Japanese dub, the character was female, and, yeah, it’s weird that they would do this, I think Richter pulls it off. Actually, the actors in this film do pull off excellent comedic timing. It’s probably one of the few Japanese-animated films I can think of, where the humor is easy to translate to any country. A lot of the times, and sorry if I have already said something similar in a previous review, comedy in different parts of the world ranges in what they define as funny, and it doesn’t always translate well when you place it in another country. A lot of older anime had this problem when you realize Japan loved wordplay and puns, and some of those don’t translate to English well. It’s why a lot of foreign films I tackle have more universally acceptable comedy, like old-fashioned Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin-style comedy, since you don’t need to know a foreign language to know why something in a film is funny in that form.

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I love this fantastical adventure, but I have some complaints. While the fight sequences are well-animated and are a blast to watch, the final fight between The Baron and the Cat King is underwhelming. There is a great action/chase sequence leading up to this battle, but then the battle itself only last a few seconds. I love the 75-minute runtime, but there are definitely times where the story could have been fleshed out more. You find out about Muta’s history in a scene near the very end of the film, and it doesn’t really add much. It’s more lore for the world of the Cat Kingdom, but not much else. There is this fun crow character voiced by Elliot Gould, and while it’s always good to hear him because his voice is unique, he doesn’t show up in the movie a whole lot. He pretty much shows up near the end of the first act, and then in the final act.

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The Cat Returns might not be one of Ghibli’s strongest films, or one of their most epic, but it’s still Studio Ghibli. It’s still well-animated, entertaining, well-acted, funny, and full of amazing imagery. I consider it the hidden gem of the studio, and to be honest, it has grown to be one of my favorites. Yeah it has its faults, but every film is going to have faults. It just depends on how big or bad they are to not be able to ignore. I would say go buy the Disney release of this film, but I would personally wait until the GKids re-release is available. Definitely not my favorite from the studio, but it’s still a splendid movie. Well, speaking of fantasy adventures, it’s time we look at 2017’s My Little Pony: The Movie. Everybody, 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 101: In This Corner of the World 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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With Hayao Miyazaki coming back for one more film, and a huge slew of teen/young adult-focused animated dramas coming out of Japan, Japanese animation is a big deal. There are a few directors that everyone should be following or watching their work. You have, of course, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, but you also have Mamoru Hosoda, Kenji Kamiyama, Hiroyuki Okiura, Masaaki Yuasa, and of course, Makoto Shinkai. There are definitely others that should be on your radar, but I’m going to be talking about one director today, Sunao Katabuchi. His contributions to the anime/animation scene can be considered not as big as some of the others I listed above, but he has left his print on certain products, like the popular Black Lagoon series, the award-winning Mai Mai Miracle, Princess Arete, and a film that is the focus of today’s review, In This Corner of the World. This animated film, based on a manga, was released last year to critical and wide-spread acclaim, bringing home multiple awards, and winning the Jury Prize at the 2017 Annecy Film Festival. It was then picked up and distributed over here in the states by Shout! Factory and Funimation. So, how is it? Well, let’s dive in.

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The story follows our female lead, Suzu, voiced by Laura Post, an innocent-minded individual who loves painting/art while living in her town of Eba. We follow her when she is a child through the rough times of marriage with her husband Shusaku, voiced by Todd Haberkorn, family problems on both sides, and of course, World War II. Can she find a way to get through this horrific couple of years? What will happen between her, her husband, and her two families?

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So, I know my plot summary sounded a bit half-baked, but I would consider this film to be closer to a Japanese-animated film from last year, Miss Hokusai. I compare In This Corner of the World to Miss Hokusai, because the story of In This Corner of the World is less structured, and is more about smaller sub-stories of Suzu and her life in Japan during the war. The film’s main theme is about resilience during such rough times. It’s different than other Japanese World War II films, like Grave of the Fireflies, where it was all about the consequence of pride battling against coming to terms with the times. Throughout In This Corner of the World, Suzu is constantly challenged with different obstacles, like how to keep meals going when shortages happen, dealing with the interactions with her in-laws, and the occasional bombing. You might see the lush and soft watercolor art style and shorter designs as this film is being something more innocent and romantic. Yeah, don’t be caught off-guard by the art style. This film has some incredibly savage moments of pure raw emotion. They do not hide the fact that this film takes place in a very specific part of Japan. The film actually has a very haunting note to it, because from time to time, they will show off the date of the month and year, and if you know anything about history, you know sooner or later, something is going to drop. The film will not leave these characters untouched or consequence-free by the war, and just because it looks more family-friendly, doesn’t mean you should ignore the fact that this is a war movie. The film does a mostly good job at pacing out the tougher and more loving moments. It’s not just depressing moment after depressing moment. Not to say that a film about war can’t be like that, since, well, it is war, but In This Corner of the World is meant to be more optimistic and hopeful in terms of its goal, and I think it succeeds. You care about the characters, and you want them to be okay. It makes it all the more emotional when something bad happens.

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The animation is beautiful. I love that they went with a more watercolor style that really makes this film stand out along with the character designs. In an age where a lot of anime is becoming more and more homogenous with its designs, it’s nice to see a film take a risk and look different. I don’t even find the designs to be distracting, due to the fact that you will see some horrific stuff happen. The film even takes some moments to be artsy, and it doesn’t come off as pretentious or trying too hard to be more. In terms of the dub of this film, I thought it was pretty good. The crew of Laura Post, Todd Haberkorn, Barbara Goodson, Kirk Thornton, and Kira Buckland did a good job capturing the emotion and performance of the characters.

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If I had to complain about something about the film, there are some small gripes. There was one scene where I feel like the dub team couldn’t find a way to get around the fact that a character is saying “I can recognize your accent is different, and not from here” when everyone is speaking English, but it’s still distracting. I also feel like there are some moments where the story has characters for very specific reasons. It’s a Miss Hokusai situation, so you probably know what I’m talking about. While I do love the overall film, sometimes, the really dramatic moments feel a bit odd in terms of pacing. Right before the film ends, they have another bomb drop, and show a little girl walking with her mother who was pretty much dead, and it felt odd because it came right after a very touching and emotional scene between Suzu and her husband. It ends on a good note, but it felt “off” to me.

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For now, In This Corner of the World is my favorite animated film of 2017. It’s touching, beautiful, wonderfully animated, emotionally gripping, and a really fantastic film. Since there is so much concern about how the Best Animated Feature will pan out, I think it’s time for the smaller releases to get some recognition, since let’s be real, the only big animated film to win this year will be Coco. If you love animated films that are more complex than what you get with most big-budget animated films, then please find a way to watch In This Corner of the World or buy it when it comes out on DVD. It’s one of my favorites of the year, in a year with some amazing small-scale animated films. Well, it’s been two years since I have started reviewing animated films. It’s time to look at something special. I think I’ll keep what it might be a secret. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the article, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

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

 

The Other Side of Animation 93: Porco Rosso 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!)

For as much as the film and entertainment industry loves to do movies about war-time settings, we rarely get them outside of the World War II area. Sure, we have Vietnam war films like Platoon and Apocalypse Now, but whenever we get a war movie, it’s more or less the second World War. They have started to spread out the settings and plots with some truly fantastic films like Hacksaw Ridge, and the upcoming Dunkirk, but I rarely see a movie that takes place, or is set around a certain period of time in World War I. I feel like as content creators for the entertainment industry, we could start expanding out into different time periods. I think that’s what drew me into today’s review, Porco Rosso. Directed by the ever amazing Hayao Miyazaki, Porco Rosso was originally made and released in 1992, but the US only got it in the mid-2000s with the help of Disney. Yeah, normally I don’t tackle films made or distributed by Disney, but since they don’t technically have the full rights to distribute the film anymore, I’m going to talk about Ghibli films more often. So, is Porco Rosso truly unique? Does it deserve to be one of my all-time favorite films? Well, let’s take a look.

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Porco Rosso follows our main hero, Porco Rosso/Marco Pagot/Rossolini (depending on what version you own or which dub you watch), voiced by Michael Keaton. He’s an ex Italian fighter pilot, who now lives in a post-World War I world, and is a bounty hunter. All he does is sleep the day away, drink wine, and on occasion, fight seaplane pirates. One day though, after seeing his longtime friend Madame Gina, voiced by Susan Egan, Porco gets called to task and ends up getting into a fight with an American pilot named Donald Curtis, voiced by Cary Elwes. After losing the fight with Curtis, Porco goes into hiding, and travels to Italy to get his plane fixed. He gets the help of a craftsman Mr. Piccolo, voiced by David Ogden Stiers, and with the help of his granddaughter Fio Piccolo, voiced by Kimberly Williams-Paisley, get Porco’s plane fixed. Can Porco get back into the air and take down Curtis?

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So, what makes this one of my all-time favorite movies? Well, it has a lot of elements that blend well together. For one, it has the trademark laid-back atmosphere of what you normally see in a Studio Ghibli film. While this is a film about flying planes and getting into fights with them, the fighting takes a back seat to focus more on the characters, and their interaction with the world and time period they live in. While I can understand the confusion of that aspect and maybe wanting one more fight sequence in the air, the film is more about Porco and his life after the World War I. As you can probably tell from the title of the film or from his name, Porco is a walking talking humanoid pig. Apparently, after a rather terrible and sad incident during the war, he was cursed to be a pig. His outlook on life was more lazy and cynical, and he really didn’t mind that. He knew how the world worked, and was disgusted by it. He would rather live alone in an island out-cove with his valuable plane, while drinking and laying around all day, than join a side, and fight for a country with certain beliefs. A lot of people have asked why they made him a pig in the movie, and, well, I think what I just said describes a pig perfectly. Stubborn, prideful, lazy, they would rather just wallow where they rest, instead of doing something else. It was also an inside joke from the studio, since Hayao Miyazaki has been infamous for being a stubborn, grumpy individual. He apparently loved pigs, and has always portrayed himself as one. It’s more about what the pig symbolizes than a simple gimmick. I have seen some reviewers not understand that, and constantly be distracted by that fact, without taking a moment to think about it and understand it. It’s one of the few times where the phrase “you didn’t get it” comes into play, and rightfully deserves use of that phrase.

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The film is also fairly light-hearted in tone. Everyone from Porco to the pirates are not really that imposing or intimidating. I mean, they kind of are, but it’s a more lightweight kind of intimidation. Even the leader of the pirates, voiced by Brad Garrett, is probably one of the best side characters Ghibli have ever come up with. He yells loudly, is also stubborn and prideful, but he isn’t above telling a bunch of little kids he kidnapped to calm down and not jump off the plane. The pirates don’t even hurt them. It does that thing I love where there is no real bad guy. Curtis is bad since he almost killed Porco, but he’s not evil. He’s just a celebrity in a time period where being a celebrity was becoming more of a big deal, and he thinks he should be getting everything a celebrity deserves. He even calls out Porco on some of his stubbornness in the last third of the film. This tone makes a lot of the characters fun to be around, from Mr. Piccolo, his family, and the seaplane pirates, to even smaller characters that Porco runs into, like the weapon crafters. Actually, I think the weapon crafters have one of my favorite scenes from any movie, where one of them asks what the difference between making money off war and bounty hunting is. The line basically goes “If you make money off of war, you’re scum, but if you can’t make money off of bounty hunting, you’re an idiot.” It took a few viewings for me to really hear that line, and find some charm in it. Don’t get me wrong, the tone can be rather mature, and it doesn’t shy away from the fact that a lot of people died in the war, and there is a lot to unpack with Porco as a character, but it’s not shoved in your face. It knows when to show off the more whimsical tones, the anti-war tones, and so on and so forth. It also feels unique, since it’s not really a war film. It takes place during that period in time, but it’s not about battles or killing soldiers. It’s just characters dealing with the changing times between periods of violent and terrifying war.

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Animation-wise, well, it’s Studio Ghibli. What should you expect from none other than some of the best animation around? Great character movements, spot-on physical comedy, fantastic expressions, subtle movements, gorgeous colors, breath-taking scenery, fast and fun flight sequences, and great character designs. This film also has one of my favorite voice casts of all time, with Michael Keaton doing a perfect job as playing stubborn and prideful Porco, Brad Garrett as a great comedic antagonistic foil, Susan Egan as Gina, a beautiful, yet stern singer at her own private island, David Ogden Stiers as the quirky repairman, and Kimberly Williams-Paisley as the optimistic and strong-willed granddaughter Fio. Probably one of my favorite casting choices is Cary Elwes as Donald Curtis. At first, it’s really shocking, since they got a British guy to do a rather over-the-top American voice, but it fits that point in history of how a stereotypical American would sound, and he brings a lot of passion and energy to the role. Even the minor characters voiced by Bill Fagerbakke, Kevin Michael Richard, Frank Welker, Jeff Bennett, Dee Bradley Baker, and many more all do a fantastic job, no matter how small their roles are. Of course, I would be silly to not bring up the beautiful and fun soundtrack by Ghibli composer, Joe Hisaishi. He definitely has more light, bombastic, and whimsical tones, but also beautiful slow-paced songs that fit the quiet tone of certain areas in the film.

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If I had to really nitpick, and I really do mean nitpick, I think I probably would have liked maybe the first time you see Curtis fight with the seaplane pirates not cut off so abruptly. I get why they did it, but I would have liked to have seen one more fun airplane fight.

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Outside of that, I have no real complaints. I love this movie from head to toe. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies, and is easily a film I would highly recommend showing off to anyone new or old to cinema. It’s also one of the best wartime films, and if for some reason you haven’t seen it yet, please do. I could easily talk about different lines and different scenes from this movie all day, and it stands up there with Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, and Paprika as one of my favorite Japanese animated films. Unfortunately, I must move onto the next movie to review. Luckily, it’s a film I also deeply love, as next time, we will take a look at My Life as a Zucchini. 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 91: Blame! Review

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In my Patema Inverted review, I talked about why universe building is important, and why you don’t really want to be taken out of the film because the world the film takes place in isn’t well defined. Sometimes, you need to take time to explain certain elements, because while the universe building could be seen as padding or exposition, it needs to make sense. However, if your entire film is just world building and set-up for an even bigger story, then you also need to be careful there. On one side of said spectrum, you have Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which talks about the origin/reboots the universe the franchise takes place in. It might be building up to what happens, but you still care about the characters and hate to see what happens. On the bad side of the spectrum, you have the first G.I. Joe live-action film where it’s not really interesting, has a lot of questionable elements, and doesn’t give us what we want until pretty much the end of the film. So, where does the Netflix-exclusive Blame! come into play? Based off the manga series and the online miniseries, Blame! is the first theatrical film adaptation of the property. It was directed by Hiroyuki Seshita, and was produced by Polygon Pictures, a studio well known for its help with CGI/CGI segments of films like Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, the Disney film Valiant, and the upcoming Godzilla: Monster Planet. I didn’t really see a lot of people get excited or talk about this film, and it got me concerned, since when there is no previews or that many articles talking about it, you wonder why that’s the case. Anyway, how is the actual movie? Well, let’s find out.

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Blame! takes place in a world where the entire earth is covered in giant metal skyscrapers, and there is barely any organic life left. It sucks to be a human in this world, since humans are considered pests by the security system that they ironically made, and are killed on the spot by the security system if they are spotted. Now, the human race is about to go extinct and live in these little settlements. As the viewer, you follow the lead of the film, Killy, voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch, a wandering individual who comes across one of the human settlements, and decides to help them out with the help of a decayed robot scientist. Can they survive? What will they find? Can they avoid the security system or maybe an even more dangerous threat?

blame02Right off the bat, Blame! does a couple of elements excellently. First off, let’s talk about the animation. CGI anime has been a touch controversial, due to the fact that 2D animation is more loved with this medium than CGI, since CGI in anime has been poorly used before, and is still poorly used. An obvious example of bad CGI anime would be the recent Berserk series, since it looks like they just replaced 2D characters with CGI puppets, and either don’t have the time or the effort to make sure they move fluidly. It’s aggravating, since you can understand that CGI animation might be cheaper and could get more jobs for people in that insane working conditions nightmare known as the anime industry. At the same time, CGI just doesn’t have the soul that 2D has, and it never, will unless they were willing to go the Disney/Pixar level quality route. Blame!, on the other hand, has for the most part, pretty good anime-style CGI. No one comes off as puppet-like, nothing is too floaty or cheap, and it makes the action scenes and overall film fun to watch. You can really tell with something like the recent Berserk series when the camera swings around or moves quickly to try and trick the viewer into not spotting the shoddy animation. It makes watching the series tough since you know how good action anime can be. You feel every shot, punch, and strike that are being given to the enemy and the lead characters.

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I think the world building is done pretty well. To me, it stands out, with while being very drab and gray, an interesting concept, since you always hear about how we, as a species can stop overpopulation. Granted, the story does fall into the “the humans forgot to do something, and now the thing we created, wants to kill us” trope, but I could look past that since so many sci-fi-focused products give us that story. I liked that these giant robots that build everything are not bothered by humans, I think it’s scary that there can be killer security robots that can disguise themselves as humans to avoid the barrier keeping the humans safe. I liked how bug-like the security robots moved, and so on. Killy is an interesting character, since he is a cyborg, but he’s left open enough to hopefully see more of him fleshed out in a movie or series. You wonder why this cyborg was made when everything else wants to kill the humans that are still surviving. I will also give Blame! credit, because it pulls off one of the best twists I have seen in not just anime, but animated films. Maybe I could have picked up on it more, but I found the twist to be legit shocking.

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However, this film does fail in a lot of areas. For one, this feels like one of those franchise films that are solely made to set up the universe, and then the second film is what you actually get. I say this because the characters outside of Killy, are really boring. I could care less about what happens to this set of humans. You get every single anime/sci-fi trope you can think of. The only two interesting characters are again, Killy, and the scientist that helps them out. By the end of the film, I had a lingering feeling they were expecting this to be super amazing, and either spawn more films, or a TV series. It gets a bit drab to watch, because the characters fight only two types of enemies. They also do that thing where Killy decides to stay behind to kill something horrifying looking so the rest of the human survivors can escape, but don’t show us the actual fight. Like, don’t do that! Don’t cut away from the most interesting character in the entire film. Nothing else besides the world the film introduces to you leaves a huge impression, and that’s a shame, since I could have seen this being one of the great anime action films. I also felt like some of the anime tropes that are in, well, anime are annoying. For example, why does the scientist, when she gets a new body, get heels? And why does the bigger threat in the film (not spoiling it here) have a skirt? I mean, it’s not that it’s attractive when this threat is killing people point blank with the same weapon Killy uses.

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Blame! is definitely one of the better animated films to come out this year, but in terms of animated films in general, I personally thought it was just okay. It’s nothing ground breaking, it has its moments, but I can’t see myself watching this movie again. It doesn’t have the full-on staying power that something like Ghibli and Hosoda would create and show off. I can’t really say rent it, since it’s a Netflix exclusive, but if you aren’t done watching the new season of House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, maybe give it a look. Though, if you haven’t seen The Little Prince, then watch that first.  Well, that was fun, and before we start heading into some really good movies, I want to tackle one more middling film that shouldn’t be getting a theatrical release, but it is. Next time, we will look at the Google Play exclusive, A Stork’s Journey. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Rent it!

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!