The Other Side of Animation 127: Only Yesterday 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!)

It was incredibly depressing to hear that Isao Takahata, one of the cofounders of Studio Ghibli, passed away this year. While unfortunately being under the shadow of Hayao Miyazaki, in terms of being the face of the studio and Miyazaki’s films getting more of the spotlight, Takahata deserves to be just as well-known as his friend. If it wasn’t for Takahata, we wouldn’t have Ghibli, because he convinced Miyazaki to join up with him and Toshio Suzuki to make the studio. He is just as important as Miyazaki, and his films definitely deserve more recognition. This is especially true when he has films like Only Yesterdayunder his belt. Directed by Isao Takahata and produced by Toshio Suzuki, Only Yesterday is unique for its time, because while animated, it was a film aimed at an adult female audience. While we have recently seen more adult-focused stories in animation, you simply never saw that back in 1991. It was a commercial and critical success, but unfortunately, the US never got this film. You had to either import a copy, or watch a subtitled version online through questionable individuals. Thankfully, for its 25th anniversary, GKids decided to bring it over stateside with an English dub. If you saw my Worst to Best Animated Films of 2016, you know I love this movie. Let’s dive into this classic film from Isao Takahata.

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The film follows a woman named Taeko Okajima, dubbed by Daisy Ridley in the US release. She is turning 27 and pretty happy with her life, even though her mother is annoyed that she hasn’t been able to find a guy. Taeko decides to take a trip to the countryside to help out a family with their safflower farm. As she takes this trip, memories of her younger self start to pop up in her mind. She then starts to think back about her life and her relationship with her family, and with the family she is helping on the farm.

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I think what might turn off some people about this film is that it’s not as whimsical as Ghibli’s other offerings. It’s not really all that fantastical in its setting. Not to say there isn’t some whimsy, but it’s mostly kept with the flashbacks. This is a very grounded film, and you can see that through its themes and its visual style. Something I noticed about this film, and it’s probably because of Takahata himself, who made this decision, he adds a bit more detail in how the humans are designed. When it comes to designing human characters in animation, you can afford to sacrifice some details. It’s why many times when you see animated properties turned live-action, the added detail to the designs were not meant to look good in live-action. You can see this in a lot of the live-action Dr. Seuss films. The humans in Only Yesterday have more wrinkles and more detail to their facial movements that you don’t see with other Ghibli films. The more creative visuals come into play with the flashbacks when Taeko is younger. Instead of the gorgeous and highly detailed buildings, leaves, plants, and so on, everything has a soft watercolor style. The backgrounds have an interesting detail that they look incomplete. To me, this was a purposeful artistic decision, because memories can feel incomplete and fuzzy at times. However, do not take any of these comments as the animation isn’t good. It’s Studio Ghibli, and the animation they do is always amazing. It’s all very detailed, expressive, and it does not fall into any of the traps that anime falls into.

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I also love the music selection. While much of the wonderful music is done by Katz Hoshi, there are some foreign song choices that pop up from time to time that fit the tone of the film. If you can find the soundtrack to this film on YouTube or somewhere online, definitely check it out. It’s one of my favorite soundtracks. I also liked the voice cast for this film. While having plenty of great animation voice actors like Tara Strong, Nika Futterman, Ashley Eckstein, Laura Bailey, Grey Griffin, and Stephanie Sheh, I think Daisy Ridley, and Dev Patel, who plays Toshio, a man she meets on her trip, do a good job. While it might be distracting to hear their voices with Daisy holding back the British accent, and Dev Patel not really hiding that accent at all, they do gel into their characters. Even Alison Fernandez who plays Taeko as a young girl is also good.

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So, the animation is interesting and unique among the studio’s work, the music is fantastic, and the voice work/dub is done well, but what about the story and characters? A word I used for this film is grounded. It feels relatable to actual people. I think as we get older, we do look back at our childhood or maybe even a couple years back, and wonder if we are happy with what’s going on right now. Are there any regrets? Do we wish things had gone differently? Are you doing what you dreamed of when you were a kid? Are you doing what you are doing right now, because you want to? I think that’s fairly complex, and to my knowledge, not many films, especially animated films, tackle these types of plots. It’s refreshing to see an adult-themed film that doesn’t rely on cursing, violence, and sex. This film also got me to learn a few things about the Japanese culture. Some scenes might only make sense if you learn about certain parts of Japanese culture, like the scene with the pineapple.

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If I had to criticize anything about the film, I think Toshio, the character played by Dev Patel in the English dub, is not the most interesting male character. He’s likable, but much of his dialogue is about working with your hands, and how it’s different than using machines. I just wish there was more to him than simply that part. I mean, there is, but it’s mostly 80% of him talking about how working with your hands is better than corporate companies doing the work for you. I also wish the ending wasn’t covered up by the credits. It’s really sweet and endearing, but they add credits over it, and they do this with ArriettyNapping Princess, and I just don’t get why Japanese animated features do that.  You can wait and play the credits after the story literally ends.

Still, I really love this film, and I wish I could have told Isao Takahata how much this film connected with me before his passing. It has a lot of his trademark elements that he likes to use with his films, and I definitely need to catch up on his other films. If you haven’t seen Only Yesterday yet, do so! Buy the movie! I hope more people can watch it. I can sort of see why Disney didn’t originally distribute this one, due to some scenes, including visiting a bath house, and a small story part about periods, but I’m glad GKids brought the film over. I’m sorry for Takahata’s passing, and I hope more people can admire and love this man’s contributions to animation. Well, next time, I think we should go from Japan to the US. We will be looking at Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay. Thanks for reading! I hope you liked the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

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The Other Side of Animation 120: Your Name 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!)

Warning/Heads up!: I will be talking about the story and will be spoiling a bit to explain my criticism. If you have not seen this film yet, then by all means, watch it, and then come back to this review. Enjoy!

To be honest, I was having a brain tickler of a time choosing the 120th review. The beginning part of the year is usually not swarmed with obviously bad or notoriously awful films. Instead, I decided to choose a popular film. It’s an animated film that was universally loved, and won critical acclaim around the world. This Japanese film in question is Your Name. Directed by Makoto Shinkai, Your Name was released back in 2016, and became the biggest animated hit in Japan of all time. It even beat out Spirited Away, which held the title for highest grossing Japanese-animated film. When it was competing in the 2016 Oscars, everyone online got mad that it didn’t get nominated. It’s a film that surpassed expectations, and got so big that Makoto Shinkai told fans of the film to back down on the praise. Not that he fully hated it, but he felt like the film was flawed, and some aspects could be fixed. So, for me, I have been fairly vocal about not liking it as much as everyone else, but do I think it’s bad? Well, let’s find out.

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Our story follows the life of two teens. They are named Taki Tachibana, voiced by Michael Sinterniklaas, and Mitsuha Miyamizu, voiced by Stephanie Sheh. These two live in different parts of Japan, where Taki lives in Tokyo, and Mitsuha lives in Itomori, a small rural town. They live their fairly typical teenage lives without many problems. Well, besides the fact that they have somehow swapped bodies with one another. Yeah, for one reason or another, they constantly wake up in the other’s body, and don’t know who the other is. It then becomes a ticking clock for the two to find out who the other is, all the while going through their days in each other’s body.

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As usual, let’s talk about the positives. Even if my opinion on Makoto Shinkai’s work does not line up with everyone else’s, I do still have a lot to say that’s positive. As usual, his animation in the later part of the 2000s is gorgeous. I say later part of the 2000s, because I was never a fan of early 2000s digital anime with the flat colors and bland designs. It was also the time period when anime was trying to combine 2D and CGI, and it was distracting. To me, Your Name is his best animation yet. Even from his first film, Shinkai has always had amazing skyscapes. They are just so vibrant and awe-inspiring. They are also grand in scope, and really show off how huge the sky is. While I find the character designs to be fairly generic, in terms of looking like most polished anime designs you see today, they do move well, and are fairly expressive. The colors are also very lavish. It’s a gorgeous movie no matter where you stand on the overall quality. There are plenty of scenes and shots that could be put into frames and hung on a wall.

While I am not always on board with teenage characters, and what archetypes Makoto Shinkai likes to use in his movies, I found myself really invested with the two leads in Your Name. One of my consistent problems with Makoto Shinkai films is that he constantly has the emotion down, but the characters never end up as that interesting. It has pulled me out of his films quite a lot. Thankfully, at least for me, I was constantly invested in what was going on. It was fun to see how being in each other’s bodies would affect how they would interact with people in their own respective days. I know we have seen this premise in films like Freaky Friday, and there are a few jokes that are predictable with this kind of plot point, but the gimmick of the plot for the first half starts out slow, and then builds up to a twist and sequences that will keep you invested throughout the two-hour runtime.

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So, what do I not like about the film? Let’s start with the small complaints. While I find the film to be downright visually gorgeous, the designs are not all that memorable. They look like most polished generic anime characters you can see in most anime these days. While the themes and style of film is all Makoto Shinkai, I wish he had his own designs as well. When I watch a film by Miyazaki, Takahata, Hosoda, and Yuasa, I can tell when it’s their film by their art style. I also found the anime-style opening to be fairly jarring, since this is a movie, and having an anime series intro feels clunky. I also found a few jokes to fall flat. Like, you know the first joke they are going to go to when the male lead finds himself in the body of the female lead. It’s rather tasteless. Sadly, they play out that joke a couple of times, and it’s really eye-rolling.

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So, let’s talk about the biggest problem I have with the film. It is not with people overhyping it. While I can make an argument about hype culture and how it can really be a film’s downfall, and the fact YouTubers hyped this film up without having the foresight to not hype it to heaven and back, that’s all temporary. The hype will die down, and you leave all levels of expectations at the door. The biggest problem with Your Name is the twist. About halfway through the film, something happens that makes the entire plot way more confusing than it should be. I know some people will tell me some half-baked college drop-out philosophy about the twist, but it simply ruined the film for me. You can tell me how it works, but even then, I’m still not going to like it. I don’t get why this couldn’t be this fun romantic mystery film about the two finding themselves. The twist simply makes a charming and simple plot way more complicated. I don’t get why this couldn’t be simply Freaky Friday, but animated. Another problem I have with this film, and I feel like most people don’t notice or care to bring up, is the fact that outside of the improvements, it’s another Makoto Shinkai film. While I think he is good at what he does, it does feel like he is making the same film over and over. Every film of his deals with teen romance, skyscapes, long distance relationships, and feeling alone. It’s almost the same exact story as his other films. At least with directors like Yuasa, Miyazaki, and Hosoda, they use the themes they like, but still make every film feel vibrant and different. While I was watching Your Name, I kept thinking back to his other films more so than seeing Your Name as its own film. There is nothing wrong with a director using familiar themes in all of his work, but you, at the very least, want every film to feel different. It’s why my favorite of Makoto Shinkai’s films is Children Who Chase Lost Voices. While it might be similar to the works of directors like Miyazaki, it feels different from his other films. I’m not mad or dislike Makoto Shinkai because he’s a bad filmmaker, because he’s not. I do not like his work, because it’s repetitive. I want him to expand on other ideas. I also get that some of his themes are tied to Japan’s culture, but the best animated films from Japan do not make me think of that. I want to feel like I can get where a film is coming from, despite its place of origin.

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I know I came off strong with the criticism, but do not misunderstand me. I do think Your Name is a good film. It’s beautiful, has endearing characters, the emotional moments are powerful, and the music is wonderful. I do not agree that it’s the best animated film of 2016, or when it was released in 2017 stateside, and I’ll admit, some bitterness towards the film was because people did overhype. I do see some people start to criticize it more in recent times, but they still enjoy it. I enjoyed Your Name, and when I don’t have other purchasable priorities on the mind, I will purchase a copy of Your Name. It’s a film that is worth experiencing, if you want to see non-Ghibli animated features. Personally, I prefer directors like Masaaki Yuasa and Mamoru Hosoda more, but I do think Makoto Shinkai is one of the great Japanese animation directors. I just want him to grow as an artist. Now then, let’s move to a Chinese-animated film that had some controversy behind it, and let’s talk about Have a Nice Day. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 105: The Empire of Corpses 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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I have come to realize that I may have played my winning hand too early with picking out a “scary” or “horror”-themed animated film to review last year with Extraordinary Tales. It made me realize that there are not many dark or scary animated films. A lot of Halloween-themed specials are usually family friendly, and not really all that scary. It’s a shame, since animation breaks those chains that hold back horror in live-action movies, because you can do what you want with no limitations. That’s why I had to ask around a bit to see what I could review that was creepy or unsettling and not entirely made for a family audience. This is where The Empire of Corpses comes into play. This is part of a trilogy of films based on stories by late author Project Itoh or as he is known as, Satoshi Ito. It was followed up by Harmony and Genocidal Organ. It got a lot of hype behind it, because it was being animated by Wit Studio, the animation studio behind Attack on Titan. It was directed by Ryoutarou Makihara, and was brought over by Funimation. Once it was seen by more of the world, I didn’t really hear anyone talk about it. I think it’s honestly a cool little product, and that’s why I’m reviewing it here. Let’s get started.

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The film takes place in an alternate 19th century. In this world, back in the 18th century, England scientist Victor Frankenstein found a way to bring back dead corpses, and make them live again. After some shenanigans with the doctor ending up dead, and his one true prototype going missing, the technology he used called Necroware is now used in mass production, where the Government is using dead bodies and making them grunts, soldiers, workers, and so on. Jump to current day, and the technology has spread across the entire world. So, enter our lead, a promising Necroware engineer named John Watson, voiced by Jason Liebrecht. He has been working under the radar to bring his friend Friday, voiced by Todd Haberkorn, back to life after his passing. The good news is that Watson brings his friend Friday back to life! The bad news is that due to the current technology, Friday can’t talk or really do much besides a few simple actions. Oh, and I guess getting caught and almost getting a bullet through Watson’s head by the England Government is bad as well. Watson is then sent on a journey to find this book that had all of Frankenstein’s notes and blue prints on reanimating corpses. Along the way he meets his and Friday’s bodyguard Captain Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, voiced by J. Michael Tatum, a Russian guide named Nikolai Krasotkin, voiced by Micah Solusod, a Russian corpse engineer voiced by Mike McFarland, and a mysterious woman named Hadaly Lilith, voiced by Morgan Garrett. Together they try to find this book, and maybe find The One, voiced by R. Bruce Elliott.

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So, what is good about this film? Well, I love the idea. While not scream yourself silly scary, the idea of what the entire plot is based around is scary. I mean, people are able to bring back dead people to use for mindless tasks, and sending them to war, while the rich get fat and pampered. It gets even more disturbing when you realize that they can make zombies for different purposes, and give them back intelligence to a degree. I feel like there should, or would, be some kind of moral dilemma with this technology. I also enjoyed the chemistry between Watson and Friday. You really wanted to see Watson obtain his goal, and bring Friday back to 100% living. I also enjoyed their bodyguard, who was simply a fun character to watch fight, act snarky, and bring a good energy to the group of protagonists.

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Since this was animated by the studio that did Attack on Titan, Wit Studio, you can tell that you are going to get some high-grade animation. Everything moves fluidly, and the color pallet has a good mixture of drab colors and a vibrant color scheme when needed.  The action flows well with the movements, and they get really creative with the zombie types. I know some people complain that when you give zombies more to do than just stumble around, it makes them less interesting, but I think it helps the movie. You see different types of zombies, like the regular zombies, suicide bomb zombies, zombies that wear heavy armor and know how to fight, and you get the idea. It helps make the action more interesting, and kept me engaged when our merry group of heroes was under attack. The voice acting was pretty solid. I think some of the voice actors trying British or Russian voices are distracting, but everyone puts in a good performance.

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If I had to complain about something with the film, I think it would be the pacing. Now, as a movie, it’s a fun action romp with an interesting setting. On the other hand, I constantly felt this would have been better as a miniseries. Even at two hours, the pacing of the story feels weird. Like, I was really getting into the Russian guide and his comradery with our lead, the bodyguard, and Friday, but he then stops being in the film before the halfway point. It’s shocking what happens, but still. They also introduce elements to certain characters, and the twist feels forced. Not that they weren’t building up the twist in some way, but since the film is too long for its own good, I lost interest a couple of times, and had to take a break  of watching the film before getting back on the saddle. The final climax is intense, but so much goes on at once with the lead and the main villain, that it’s overload. I think everything would have been better if they made this a four to six episode miniseries, so they could have time to flesh out everything. It loses its steam by the end of the first hour, and that’s a real shame. You have a cool world, but not the best execution or intrigue of said world.

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In the end, The Empire of Corpses was a solid movie. I had fun watching it, and I am glad I watched it, but I don’t know if I would watch it again. I would recommend seeing if you can rent it, or see if a friend has it and watch it with them. When I’m usually on the fence about a film, a rental or free viewing helps me not waste $20+ buying a copy of the film. If you like zombie films, anime, or anime with zombies, then you will probably enjoy this movie. It might go off the rails at times, but for a non-family-friendly “spooky” animated feature, I think I did a good job finding this film. Well, I have had my fill of spooky ghosts, ghouls, and anime tropes, so how about we play a little catch-up with the year with Loving Vincent. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you next time!

Rating: Rent It!

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!

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