The Other Side of Animation 176: Ni No Kuni Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Well, it’s 2020. The start of the New Year, a new decade, and I want to focus on the feature-length animation side of things. This year is going to be wild because we have mostly original animated films coming out. I am always hopeful that what looks great turns out to be great, and films that might be bad eggs to be, well, not bad eggs. I’m always going to be like this going into every animated film no matter the situation, but sometimes, the walk down the yellow-brick road will lead to disappointing films. This where we are with the newest Netflix animation purchase, Ni No Kuni.

Directed by Yoshiyuki Momose, written by Akihiro Hino, based on the popular video game franchise, animated by Oriental Light and Magic (the same studio that animates the Pokémon anime and film series), and put out by Netflix here in the US, is our first major animated film. I was surprised by the sudden release of Ni No Kuni because once it was released in Japan last year, there was barely any news about it. No box office reports, and barely any reviews. Now that I’ve seen it, I can understand why. Why? Well, let’s dive in.

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The story revolves around three young teens named Yusuke Ninomiya, dubbed by Max Mittelman, Haruto Ichihara, dubbed by Alejandro Saab, and Kotona Takashina, dubbed by Abby Trott. They are best friends, even though some tension is there with Yusuke being confined to a wheelchair. One day, Kotona calls both Yusuke and Haruto because she’s being chased by a shadowy and creepy looking individual. The two boys save her, but were too late to prevent her from getting stabbed. As they try to take her to a hospital to get better, they almost get hit crossing a crosswalk. Luckily, instead of dying, Yusuke and Haruto get warped to a magical world known as Ni No Kuni. The two boys try to find their friend, and discover that this magical world runs parallel with their real world, and that every person in both worlds has a version of themselves. They find out that their friend Kotona who was hurt is the princess in the magical world. They also realize that if something happens in this magical world, it affects their world as well. Can the two find out how to make it back and solve the crisis of who attacked the princess and their friend?

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On paper, this movie looks like a fantasy feature that would offer something complex with its theme of what are you willing to do for the people you love. Unfortunately, the biggest downside to this film is the story and writing. The film is not based on either the first or second game, and I like that it tries its own story, but it’s too basic. The characters don’t evolve beyond their character traits, the side characters aren’t interesting, and the villain is boring. The drama of the two male leads should be strong enough to carry the film, but it’s not. It’s even more disappointing when the female lead is then relegated to the damsel in distress. This is bad, because the female leads in the first two games are great and active characters. Also, don’t be going in thinking the mystery of who tried to kill the two women to be captivating or something on the level of Knives Out. If you know anything about anime character designs, then you know who’s going to be the bad guy. The last-minute twists in the film are also so lazily integrated that I rolled my eyes when they happened.

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So, the script plays it safe, but what about the animation? Well, it looks like a Studio Ghibli and Studio Ponoc film, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to look as good as films from those studios. Like I said above, it’s animated by the people who do the Pokémon series and films, and it looks as good as some of their regular films, but at this point, you are wanting to see all of the little details that come with seeing a Ghibli or Ponoc film. You take it for granted, because while it’s not badly animated, it has nothing that I would say looks grand or theatrical. It also has CGI that doesn’t blend well. It doesn’t take full advantage of its setting, and that drags the experience down. What about the film’s voice work? Well, it’s not bad, and it at least tries to match the European/British tone of the two games. You have a solid cast including Max Mittelman, Alejandro Saab, Abby Trott, Patrick Seitz, Erica Lindbeck, Armen Taylor, Robbie Daymond, John DeMita, Spike Spencer, Wendee Lee, Kyle Hebert, Derek Stephen Prince, Kirk Thorton, Ray Chase, and others. Joe Hisaishi returns to compose the music, and it’s fine. Maybe it’s more of the Ghibli bias in me, or it’s the fact that another recent film he worked on, Children of the Sea had a much better soundtrack, but Ni No Kuni‘s usually iconic sound was not here. I think I liked one of the songs, and that’s it.

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I still stand by my opening statement that I go into every film hoping for the best. Sometimes I end up enjoying the film, and sometimes, I don’t. It helps that I also go in with a mid-level hype for every film because then, I don’t judge the film too harshly if they didn’t reach my impossible sky-high standards. Sadly, not every film can be a hit, and while I don’t think Ni No Kuni will be one of the worst animated films I have seen, it will be one of the most disappointing. I can now see why Netflix sort of buried the release of Ni No Kuni, and why most of the reviews were fairly mixed to negative. It had all of the elements to be a great film, but due to a bad script and weak story, the film falls flat. Check it out if you are curious, but there is no rush to watch Ni No Kuni. Now then, I think it’s time to check out Masaaki Yuasa’s newest film, Ride Your Wave.

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it (It’s on Netflix, but still)

The Other Side of Animation 132: Satellite Girl and Milk Cow 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!)

I decided to start us off on some weird movies. While Lu Over the Wall is definitely a weird movie, it’s still pretty sane in terms of the overall story and setting. It’s a middle school boy befriending a mermaid, learning how to grow up, and how constant communication and being able to talk to one another with no hesitation is a good thing. It’s definitely going to take some convincing to sit someone down and take in the world of Satellite Girl and Milk Cow. This South Korean animated flick was written and directed by Hyeong-Yoon Jang back in 2014. It was supposedly a critical hit in South Korea, but once it traveled the animation circuit, it got mixed reviews. However, GKids apparently saw something special about it, and decided, with the help of Shout! Factory, to bring it over to the states. Granted, it was direct-to-video, but still. Well, how weird is this film? Does having the famous wizard Merlin as a roll of toilet paper sound weird enough? Let’s dive in.

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There is a lot going on in this film’s plot, so I will do my best to sum it up without spoiling anything. The story follows a satellite named Kitsat-1, dubbed by Ryan Bartley. One day, she hears a young man named Kyun-chun, dubbed by Daniel J. Edwards, singing a song that she finds enticing.  After crashing onto earth, she encounters a magical roll of toilet paper, who turns out to be Merlin, dubbed by Kirk Thorton. As she searches for the young man who sang that song, she finds out that due to a broken heart, he has turned into a milk cow. They must find a way to solve this situation, while avoiding grungy individuals who hunt animal people for their livers, a pig witch that takes these broken-hearted souls to live in a forest, and a giant walking furnace that eats the broken-hearted. Can they save Kyun, and turn him back to normal? Will a really off-beat romance build up between the satellite girl and milk cow?

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So, for as weird as this film is, for as many positives I am going to be saying about this movie, this film is a mess. It basically feels like a fairy tale-like story. That means that its logic and sensibilities are going to be only somewhat grounded. To me, this kind of defense can work in two ways. One, if the world, setting, and logic works, then that’s fine. However, it also comes off like a defense of “please don’t use logic so my movie can avoid any legit issues with this film’s world-building”. It introduces plenty of things to bring into the world of this movie, but at the same time, they don’t really explain half of the tidbits that are in it. It’s weird to criticize, since the dub and the film points out how absurd some of the aspects are, like how there is a dog that acts pretty much like Gromit, but walks on two feet. It’s also odd that a giant killer furnace can move around the city, and not be spotted once. Maybe it only comes out at night, but it seems like such a stretch that no one sees a giant fire-breathing piece of metal in the city. They also don’t explain how the secondary villain can travel through reflective surfaces. It gets to be a weird movie when the main characters have to make money, and decide to get the male lead to make milk for them. By that, I mean literal milk. It never happens again, and is not brought up again in conversation. I get being weird for the sake of standing out, and having an identity, but sometimes, being too weird is off-putting.

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I know I’m asking a lot for a film that’s about a satellite falling in love with a man turned into a cow, but when they don’t really build up everything properly, I’m going to be pulled out of the story. I don’t know if there were some edits made that ended up with plot or world elements that feel like they are unfinished, or this was exactly what the final product was supposed to be like, but it’s a movie that’s definitely a wonky ride from beginning to end. Oh, and there are two poop jokes around the beginning of the film. While they aren’t as bad as the one in Big Fish & Begonia, it’s still distracting and unnecessary. I simply don’t get why bodily humor is funny anymore.

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Outside of that, I do have a lot to enjoy about this movie. While the animation is definitely not as good as other animated features from that area of the world, you have to grade on a curve sometimes, depending on what film you are watching. Sure, the film looks like an anime from the early 2000s with its digital coloring and sometimes wonky way of characters walking around, but it still looks polished. It has smooth animation most of the time, and it has really strong physical comedy. Since one of the characters is a satellite that was turned into a robot girl, they take advantage of that aspect, and it leads to a film with some of the funniest and most surprising comedy out of an animated film this year. What also helps is the cast that they acquired. While I wouldn’t say everyone does a good job, the three main actors that they got for the dub all feel like they were committed to such a weird script. Animated properties from different cultures are definitely going to be weird and unusual to adapt, and that is nothing new for voice actors to encounter when doing voice work for anime series, but they don’t skip a beat with their characters. I think my favorite performance came from Ryan Bartley. She does a great job voicing this weird satellite girl, who can’t pick up on certain emotional cues, but is still understanding and loving. A lot of this film relies on the whole aspect of loving someone beyond their looks, and it’s handled pretty well. You felt for the two of them, and got annoyed with them, when they got selfish. I think the scene when they finally confess their love for one another is both very touching and very funny, as she finds out that he loves her for who she is.

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While clunky and bizarre, Satellite Girl and Milk Cow will probably be the cult-favorite animated feature of this year, alongside Big Fish & Begonia. It’s weird, but there is heart to it. If you are hesitant about buying the blu-ray of the film, you can watch the subtitle version on the service VRV. Plus, the movie comes with the director’s first short film that got him acclaim. I would definitely recommend this movie if you are into offbeat romance, fantasy, and comedy movies. Sadly, due to work and life getting in the way, Far East Animation Month will end next week, but we will be looking at another fan favorite film from Studio Ghibli, with Isao Takahata’s My Neighbors the Yamadas. 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 Lupin the 3rd Special Part 1: Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro Review

(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!)

Welcome to part one of the Lupin the 3rd special! This is where we look at films/specials that are all about our favorite thief! After such an enraging experience of watching of Norm of the North that will be topped by two other movies, I think it’s time to talk about one of the top 3 greatest animation icons of all time and has no equal, Hayao Miyazaki. Ask anyone who is into animation who this guy is, or heck, ask any film lover who this guy is, they will tell you that he is a one of a kind animation god. He executes stories and characters like no other, and has a creativity that animators and studios wish they could copy. Sure, not all of his ideas work, and his grumpy old man attitude can be a tad tedious, but those are just minor nitpicks since, when it comes to movies, I would watch anything he has done. I wanted to pick out a movie to talk about from him since his films are so special. I was thinking about talking about a TV show he worked on called Sherlock Hound, since it’s a wonderful hidden gem series that anyone should check out, but I haven’t watched all the episodes, and I want to make sure I see the whole thing before writing a review about it. I mean, how stupid would it be if critics wrote reviews of films or shows that they didn’t fully watch? So, what did I choose to review of the great Hayao Miyazaki? Well, I thought, “why not watch his directorial debut with Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro?”  This 1979 film was the second film based off of the Lupin the 3rd franchise, and came out essentially a year later after The Mystery of Mamo. It’s an interesting fact to know that we can thank a lot of the current characteristics of Lupin the 3rd and the gang, because of Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli partner/co-founder, Isao Takahata. It really does show off the best elements of the franchise, and cuts away all the tripe that would otherwise plague most anime these days. And if you are curious, this does mean I’m going to be talking about Lupin the 3rd more often now, because there’s so much to talk about with this franchise. Let’s get started on this great underrated gem.

The story once again revolves around our hero Lupin, voiced by David Hayter, and his best friend and partner-in-crime, Jigen, voiced by John Snyder. After a successful heist at a casino, they realize the bills are all forgeries. Lupin then hatches up a new plan to head toward a country where the forgeries might have originated. During a pit stop on the side of the road, Lupin and Jigen encounter and try to save a princess-in-distress named Lady Clarisse, voiced by Bridget Hoffman. After a creative car chase, they find out that she is the soon-to-be bride of the Count of Cagliostro, voiced by Kirk Thorton. Can Lupin and his friends find out about what the heck is going on and solve the mystery within the Grand Duchy of Cagliostro. By the way, the actors I listed are from the Animaze/Manga Entertainment dub. This film has a Streamline dub and the already-mentioned Animaze/Manga Entertainment dub.

So, what is so great about the second canonical film of the Lupin the 3rd franchise? Well, I find it to be a superior film to The Mystery of Mamo, and a lot of the Lupin the 3rd films/specials combined. Let’s talk about the designs for the first part. The art direction/animation has a lot of Miyazaki’s fingerprints. The characters are much more expressive, the lines are smoother, and the animation is actually quite fluid for the time. And that is saying something, since The Castle of Cagliostro came out essentially a year after The Mystery of Mamo. As much as I love the Lupin series from that period of time in the late 70s, the first movie’s animation wasn’t really movie quality. Everything here just feels more impressive in terms of the technical and animation side of the film.

Luckily, The Castle of Cagliostro is not just great animation from 1979 and has some really fun action sequences. The car chase that pops in at about five minutes into the movie is one of the best moments of any action/adventure film. It’s over-the-top, intense, there are stakes, and it put a smile on my face from beginning to end. There are many great scenes, from breaking into the castle to the climatic fight between the Count and Lupin in the clock tower. Another element that is lovingly executed is the slapstick. Unlike Go West!, the slapstick is restrained and is used only when the mood calls for it. It results in the comedy between the characters hitting its target, and makes me smile and laugh every time the quirky moments happen. The voice acting is top-notch. I think the Animaze/Manga Entertainment dub of the film is also pretty iconic and at the same level as the Geneon dub of the original Lupin the 3rd show. They get some pretty good actors for these parts, big and small, including David Hayter (Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid franchise), Kirk Thorton (Jin from Samurai Champloo), Bridget Hoffman (KOS-MOS from Xenosaga), John Snyder (Raoh from the Fist of the North Star animated series), Kevin Seymor (Tessai and Shijima from Ninja Scroll), Dorothy Elias-Fahn (Meryl Stryfe from Trigun) and the fantastic Michael Gregory (Professor Gill from the original Kikaider anime series, Laughing Bull from Cowboy Bebop, and Brilliant Dynamites Neon from Trigun). They all do fantastic work bringing the characters to life. One of the elements I love about Miyazaki’s interpretation of the Lupin cast is how he cuts the fat with everyone. Lupin isn’t as perverted as he is in the show, Fujiko isn’t seen as a great thief/sex object for Japanese sex jokes, but an actual great thief/character, Jigen is pretty much the same, and for what little time Goemon has on-screen, he is pretty humorous. I love the franchise, but I find some of its more anime trope-laden elements to be crude at best, and painfully distracting at worst. It’s like how in Lupin the 3rd: Jigen’s Gravestone, if you took out the scene where Fujiko is naked or just take her out entirely, you would lose nothing from the overall plot. I get why the Lupin cast is how they are, due to the time period they were made, and I still love them, but some of its elements either don’t age well or don’t translate well into other cultural mindsets.

If I had to pick apart a few things I didn’t like about the film, it was probably be because of the intense work schedule and elements that had to be taken out due to the said stressful work schedule, but I found some of the plot elements could have been handled better. Like, there is no mystery as to where the forgeries are coming from, since Lupin knows exactly where they are. While the plot element of Lupin knowing the countess from the past is charming, it could have been taken out. I also wish Goemon had more time on-screen. He had only 14 lines. Yeah, when you have a samurai that can cut a plane in half, you shouldn’t be underutilizing him.

In the end, The Castle of Cagliostro is one of the best adventure movies around. It’s fun, with likable characters, great action, and, for the time, amazing animation. Sure, it does have a little bit of fat it could trim from the plot, but for a first-time movie for Miyazaki, it’s pretty much spot-on. Not many directors can say their first movie was a huge hit. You can get either a DVD or Blu-ray version of this film from Discotek Media. I wish they did a combo pack, but overall, it’s a fantastic movie that I think anyone can enjoy, and not just fans of the franchise. Speaking of fans of the franchise, let’s dive into why making a film only catering to fans can be a bad thing with Lupin the 3rd: Green vs Red. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the review, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!