The Other Side of Animation 138: Flavors of Youth 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!)

In general, a problem I keep seeing within the animation scene is that twitch reaction to when something like a film or show hits it big, and then everyone and their long dead grandma wants to jump in on the hype. It leads to a profitable, but artistically limited batch of shows or films that want to be like that one popular thing, but only go so far. Sure, some films or shows break out and form their own bit of popularity and greatness, and this is nothing new, but you would think studios would make sure to play the long game, and keep doing what makes them great. For example, due to the success of Your Name, we are getting a slew of teen romance films with fantastical quirks. We already had A Silent Voice, which was pretty good, Fireworks, which was not, and now we have a studio that pretty much asked the studio that made Your Name to make a movie that is essentially a Makoto Shinkai film, Flavors of Youth. This is a Chinese/Japanese collaboration with the Japanese animation studio, CoMix Wave Films. It was put together by Li Haoling, who was inspired by Makoto Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters Per Second. It was then distributed by Netflix here in the states recently, but, thanks to Netflix, I don’t really hear anyone talk about it. Let’s see if this anthology rises above as its own thing, or falls flat as it tries to be like Makoto Shinkai’s other work.

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The first short is called Rice Noodles, and is directed by Jiaoshou Yi Xiaoxing. It’s about a young man named Xiao Ming, dubbed by Crispin Freeman, who reminisces about his love for a rice noodle dish he would get in his childhood. It brings back loving memories of him and his grandmother, a girl he had a crush on, and his youth.

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The second short is called A Little Fashion Show, and is directed by the lone Japanese director of the group, Yoshitaka Takeuchi. It’s about a fashion model named Yi Lin, dubbed by Evan Rachel Wood. She lives with her younger sister, and is going through the typical trials of being a fashion model, like age, personal life ordeals, and the ever-growing competition for younger models.

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The final short is directed by Li Haoling, the creator of the overall project, and the story is called Shanghai Love. It follows a young man named Limo, dubbed by Ross Butler. He is moving into a new downtown apartment that is near a couple of old buildings that hold nostalgic memories of his childhood friendship, his crush, and the changing landscape of Shanghai. He does this by listening to some old cassette tapes.

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So, what does this anthology get right? Well, I found two out of the three stories to be very interesting. The Rice Noodles story was probably my favorite out of the three, because I think everyone can connect a piece of their childhood to a dish, and how the unfortunate constant movement of time will cause things to change. Sure, not being able to regain that feeling of the past can feel soul crushing, but it’s never truly gone from you. The three stories revolve around a Chinese idiom, that translates to “clothing, food, housing, and transport”. I can definitely see how some of that idiom is used, as in the Rice Noodles short. There are also themes of dealing with regrets, as the second and third short have more plot elements dealing with actions from the past, and somehow making amends with said actions to make a better future. I think there will definitely be something for everyone to connect to within these three stories.

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Animation-wise, it looks pretty good from what you can expect from a Chinese/Japanese co-production. I have my issues with certain elements of its appearance, but only because I hold the animation studio, CoMix Waves to a high standard, due to their more recent work being downright beautiful. It still looks good, and has more polish than most anime films. I also enjoyed the music for the three shorts. It was mostly very calming, and set more in the background, but it fit the mood that the three shorts were going for. The dub is a mixed bag, but overall, it’s more good than bad. I liked Crispin Freeman in the first short, and how he captured the somber, but uplifting tone found in the main character during the Rice Noodles short.

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I think the biggest problem with Flavors of Youth is that while it can definitely be called its own thing in a lot of areas, like the story and setting, it never got rid of that feeling that this did feel like another Makoto Shinkai film. I get that the chief director/person in charge of this project was inspired by one of Shinkai’s first films, but I didn’t see unique visions. I saw directors trying to copy what Makoto Shinkai does. I know I can dish out some tough criticisms towards Shinkai, but at least when I was watching a film of his, I knew that it was his work. The art also isn’t as good as Shinkai’s other films. Sure, they look prettier than most series, but you get the feeling that they missed out on Shinkai’s little touches and bits of flair. I found the animation to also be stiffer. While the studio’s usual designs were not always the most interesting or memorable, they moved beautifully. The overall feel of the stories felt like they needed some more time to be fleshed out. The middle one with the fashion model feels the longest, due to how bored I got. It was a story with no real twists or turns with some rather generic story bits that come with the storyline. The first short also relies too much on the narration. It makes you wonder if the short would have been better if you didn’t have it, and expressed everything through music and the visuals. I also know that the voice actor, Ross Butler’s first role was in this film in the third story, but I found it to be the worst part of the English dub. He sounds so bored and disinterested. Even in the most emotional moments, he sounded wooden. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, and maybe he will improve, but either he wasn’t putting in his all, or the director didn’t tell him that we weren’t in the 90s anime dub scene, and people need to start, well, emoting.

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Your enjoyment of Flavors of Youth will probably vary depending on your standards and hype for this animation studio. As a whole, I think it worked, but the hang-ups for me were really distracting. I definitely recommend checking it out, because unless you can catch the smaller animation releases, this will have to do until Small Foot comes out near the end of September. I respect this production, and I hope more projects come from this collaboration, and we get more anthologies with beautiful animation and interesting stories. Speaking of limited releases, I think it’s time to review one of the two Mamoru Hosoda films I have yet to do with Summer Wars. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

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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!

Worst to Best Animated Films of 2016 Part 3

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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 editorial!)

Welcome back, everyone, to part 3 of this very long list. As usual, if you haven’t seen part 2, here is a link to it. I’m counting down the worst-to-the-best animated films that I saw from 2016, and we shall now move onto the films that are really good, and I would start highly recommending them as not just rentals, but purchases. These are the films that you should have in your movie collection.

18. Batman: The Return of the Caped Crusaders

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I think it’s safe to say that The Return of the Caped Crusaders was the most universally loved of the films DC put out in 2016. While yes, it did go off of nostalgia of the Adam West TV series, it still was able to hold its own with very clever writing and commentary about how Batman has been portrayed in recent history. The jokes are hilarious, and the cast of actors are all pretty good. The film does start to lose steam in the final act, and sometimes the actors deliver some clunky lines, but don’t let that get in the way of you from checking out the best DC film from 2016.

17. Mune: Guardian of the Moon

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I consider this to be the The Book of Life of 2016. Mune: Guardian of the Moon has a really great CGI visual style, a cool world, and it does that thing I like about foreign animated films, and dips into both CGI and 2D animation. I love the idea about how everything is a cooperative effort, and one side can’t do everything without having some setbacks. I also think it does the foreign CGI animation the best alongside The Painting, since it looks great with a truly unique visual style. It’s a shame though, that it suffers from the same problems that The Book of Life suffers from in that the lead characters aren’t that interesting and the token female is very bland. The world also need a tiny bit more fleshing out, since the beginning of the film sort of rushes you into it. They also could have taken out some characters, and they would not be missed. Still, I overlooked those flaws, because I had a blast watching a film that also gave off a bad first impression. Once GKids releases this film in August, I would definitely recommend watching it.

16. 25 April

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If you wanted something to compliment your copy of Hacksaw Ridge, then this is the film for you. 25 April tackles a real-life battle from World War 1 known as the Gallipoli Campaign. Like a lot of foreign animated CGI films, they use motion-capture, but pair it up with a rather colorful and vibrant comic book-style art to the characters. However, you shouldn’t think this is going to be nothing but rainbows and cupcakes that spew kittens. Why? Because the battle they show is brutal, violent, but since it’s animation, it also brings in some very pretty and creative visuals. I was really hooked on the characters, and learning a bit about the history of the battle since I’m not fully familiar with what went on during the first World War. However, the motion-capture movements can come off as wonky, and there are a few odd decisions in the story that did take me out of the viewing experience. I haven’t seen an official US release announcement of the film yet, but I hope to hear about it soon, so hopefully, everyone else can check out a rather unique film.

15. Your Name

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When I was making this list, and everyone was saying this was the best film of 2016 along with the best animated film of 2016, I knew I was going to upset everyone when I put Your Name so “low” on the list. I still very much enjoyed the movie. The animation was gorgeous, the scenery was beautiful, I enjoyed the chemistry between the two leads, and I think the overall idea and experience is one everyone should check out. Unfortunately, I found the story to fall apart by the second half. They also needed to explain some elements better, like the body-swapping, and what exactly is going on in the second half after the big twist. I was still invested by the end, and I still enjoy this movie, but personally, this film was overhyped. It’s flawed, but I still liked it, and people should indeed go support it.

14. Phantom Boy

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You mean the duo of directors behind A Cat in Paris made a new movie? Of course, I’m going to watch it and buy it. This tale about a sick boy who can leave his body, and gets wrapped up in a crime thriller is one of the more fun animated films of 2016. The kid is great, the police officer is great, and Vincent D’Onofrio is just perfectly hammy as the villain. It has the same charming chemistry and alluring atmosphere that kept me invested all the way through A Cat in Paris. It does have some issues, like I think they could have gone deeper and more complex with the lead’s ability to leave his body, and the ending is sort of confusing, but I still had a fun time with this creative crime thriller.

13. Kung Fu Panda 3

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Be prepared everyone, this is the last good DreamWorks film we are going to get for a while. Seriously though, all joking aside, I really did like the third film with its emphasis on the father-to-son relationship, and the father-to-stepfather relationship. It was really the heart of the movie on top of the great humor, fun action, and gorgeous animation. There is a reason why this is one of DreamWorks best franchises. Unfortunately, it fell a tad flat, due to a weak if enjoyable villain, and it had a few too many familiar story elements from the previous films. I still love this movie, but it’s one of those films that got hit by the sequel-itis bug, and couldn’t fully escape it. Even then, I really loved this film and it showed you can have good movies in January.

12. Finding Dory

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I know this was also a very popular movie, since it was one of the most financially profitable films of 2016, but like Kung Fu Panda 3, Finding Dory did fall into a tiny bit of sequel-itis that holds it back from me fully enjoying it. Sure, it’s just the first 20 minutes, but still. I also just love Finding Nemo so much, and no matter how good this film was going to be, it was never going to top the original. However, even with all that said, Finding Dory is still really good. I love Dory’s story arc, and how the themes are aimed more at adults than the children, the animation is downright amazing, the colors are vibrant, the voice cast is perfect, and the characters are very memorable. It’s a movie that touches the heart and soul, even if it wasn’t my favorite film of the year.

11. The Red Turtle

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While it is a bummer that this film didn’t make more money, since it’s one of the most unique films of the year, it’s understandable, since for some reason or another, people don’t really know how to react to films with minimal or no dialogue. It means that with no witty or creative dialogue to rely on for the overall experience, the film’s animation and story has to be tight. For the most part, The Red Turtle does succeed in completing such a task. It’s a beautiful and emotional meditation on life, and how one goes through the hardships and challenges that life can put in front of you. I think the story could have been a bit tighter, and some elements could have been explained better. I also don’t see myself watching this Oscar-nominated film a lot, but I still really think people should support it.

Stay tuned for the final part of the list coming out in the future.

Why Your Name Probably Wasn’t Chosen at the Oscars

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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 editorial!)

So, recently the Oscar nominations came out, and for the most part, people did a collective “no surprise” shrug at the nominees for film of the year and out of morbid curiosity, decided to see what the other nominees were, since they also matter. With the exception of the backlash for La La Land getting more nominees than any other movie, everyone felt fine about who was nominated. That is, unless you were an animation fan. The five animated films nominated for Best Animated Feature were Zootopia, Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Red Turtle, and My Life as a Zucchini. While this sounds like a pretty good line-up, the internet was having a collective heart attack that Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name was not selected. Of course, the usual comments that “they are full of Disney bias” or “the academy is flawed and doesn’t watch all the films that are nominated” came up, and of course, the less favorable comments that popped up will not be mentioned here. So, are people just being upset for no reason and are not thinking straight about why it wasn’t chosen? Personally, I feel like there are perfectly understandable reasons that Your Name was not chosen. Let’s just ignore the flawed thought process of the Oscars, and as best as possible, take out personal bias for the film itself, and dive into why Your Name probably didn’t make it on the list.

There was literally no hype or push for the film in the states.

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So, like it or not, films get chosen by the groups who push and lobby for their films to be chosen by the voters of the Academy. It also helps if you get your films out there to as many viewers as possible, whether it be showing them at film festivals, or being released and getting hype a couple of months before the actual award show. There is more to this than what I just said, and there are definitely videos talking about what goes on with the films released during the Oscar season, and how to know what will get chosen. So, what did Your Name not do here? Well, everything. Now, not to say there was literally no one talking about it, but most of it was “Look how amazing it’s doing in Asia and Japan” or “It’s the highest grossing Japanese animated film in Japan”. Doesn’t seem like there was much talk about the American viewers, or even the rest of the world for that matter, was there? The only hype it got over here was when Funimation announced that they got the rights to distribute it. I mean, that’s cool, but there wasn’t much else. Funimation either couldn’t or, quite frankly, didn’t lobby or hype the film. They released a subtitled trailer, but no English dub trailer, and unless you were able to see this film at some convention or in Australia or any of the countries outside of Asia and Japan that got to see it in a limited theatrical run, there was no way to legally watch the film. So, this must mean that that America will get to see the film soon? You wish. The only possible legal way to watch the film will be when Funimation releases it in April. So, to recap, if you live in the states, and want to feel morally well-rounded and see this film, you will have to go two months after the award show. Even if voters were to watch every film in the running, how can anyone check it out when there are barely any possible ways to watch the film? Why didn’t Funimation make the push for people to see it?

So, you must be wondering then why The Red Turtle and My Life as a Zucchini get chosen when no one was really able to see them until now? Well, they have been making their rounds in the film festivals, and have been winning awards left and right, which result in the spread of word of mouth. It also helps that the two films have companies that are attached to them that have weight, GKids, Sony Pictures Classics, and Studio Ghibli. Those are all recognizable names that have had their films in the awards for years, so it’s no surprise that they got into the award show. Just because the film was doing gangbusters in regions that could relate to it more, doesn’t mean that same success is going to happen everywhere else if you don’t do anything to make it viewable to as many people as possible.

 Cultural themes and personal opinion might get in the way.

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Heads up, I am going to be using my personal opinion on the film for a bit with this example. Okay then, even if you were able to watch the film, would you honestly consider it better than what came out in 2016? Personal opinion will be put into perspective, and I simply couldn’t get into the movie as much as so many people praising it from head to toe did. I just don’t feel like it’s a film that can appeal to everyone in the right way, where it’s both entertaining, but complex enough to not be mindless fluff. I also found the film’s heavy use of Japanese culture, themes, and lifestyles to be distracting, and made it hard to get into the film about a boy and a girl swapping bodies.

Now, how does that make sense? Shouldn’t a film, no matter the country of origin, culture, and themes, be able to be enjoyed and understood by anyone? So then, why do films like Ernest & Celestine, The Boy and the Beast, and the American-made Kubo and the Two Strings, which has a heavy lean on Japanese folklore and visuals be so beloved by everyone? Easy, because they have stories and themes with characters everyone can get behind. The Boy and the Beast is about a father/son-like relationship, and has a unique moral for parents to be upfront with their kids and not constantly lie to them, and the consequences of doing so. Ernest & Celestine deals with discrimination, and is about the friendship of two souls who feel ousted by their own communities. Kubo and the Two Strings deals with the fact that life is about the balance of happiness and sadness, and how shielding yourself away from the hate and sadness in the world is not a good idea. These films are able to grab you, since they don’t really focus on their country of origin. They were telling good stories, and having interesting characters first. Personally, Your Name doesn’t do that. While it might have a pretty good chemistry among its characters, the film’s surroundings seem to take over the forefront. It also doesn’t help that a third act time travel twist happens, and ruins the film for me. I would have loved if they just focused on the romance between the two, or keep focusing on the body-swapping thing that somehow vanishes as the film goes on. Like, I get Makoto Shinkai has this thing about long-distance relationships, but once the third act comes into play, it feels weird and confusing to me. I really couldn’t get into it. I’m sure there are themes and ideals as to the sudden twist and the body-swapping, but it drags the film down. Plus, the character design and school day setting might be a bit bland and tiring to some. Make no mistake, Your Name is beautifully animated and looks downright gorgeous, and the fact that it has a theme of “everyone has someone out there” is nice, but it looks like a lot of other anime out there. I just felt too distracted by the film at certain points. I keep harping on the fact that so many people keep trying to say Makoto Shinkai is the next Hayao Miyazaki, but Makoto Shinkai needs to work on his storytelling and writing before he can get to levels of filmmakers like Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, or Mamoro Hosoda. Shinkai is a very talented individual, but he uses “flash over proper substance” way too much, and I just won’t sit here and agree with the world saying it’s the best movie of all time, when it’s not what I believe. Even if the voters in the academy were not going by bribes or sweet swag offerings, personal opinion is still going to be a thing, and not everyone is going to agree on it being a good movie. Even checking out the reviews for it, there are people who don’t like it for understandable reasons. They aren’t doing it because it’s the popular thing to do by bashing a film everyone loves. Heaven forbid, that is what makes us unique, when we all have our own opinions.

 2016 was a tough year for animation.

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Personal preference for the film aside, it’s not like Your Name was going to get a spot in the Oscars so easily. To me, 2016 was one of the best years of animation of all time. Zootopia, Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings, Finding Dory, The Little Prince, Phantom Boy, Miss Hokusai, My Life as a Zucchini, April and the Extraordinary World, 25 April, Mune: Guardian of the Moon, Sing, Storks, Sausage Party, Kung Fu Panda 3, The Boy and the Beast, and you get the idea. It was going to have major competition. You have films from both big and small studios with distributors who aren’t going to be holding back in terms of wanting to be selected for those award nominees. It was a tough year. If this was something like 2002 or 2011, I would understand, but it wasn’t. It was 2016, and animation was strong.

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With all that out of the way, am I saying that these are the 100% facts? Of course not! This was never meant to be actual factual information. It was a guess as to why the film wasn’t recognized at the award show, and some logical reasoning behind the “snub”. Was I annoyed that Frozen beat out Wolf Children, The Wind Rises, and Ernest & Celestine? Of course, but I knew they weren’t going to win. Was I annoyed that Big Hero 6 won Best Animated Feature, when there were Song of the Sea, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, The LEGO Movie, and DreamWorks’ How to Train your Dragon 2? Yes, but I’m not going to sit here and be grumpy that Disney got yet another Oscar. Yes, it’s very hard for non-Ghibli Japanese-animated films to get recognition from the Academy, but in the end, what makes these types of films special to you also makes it not  matter if they get an award or not. GKids might have not won any of the American Awards, but it doesn’t diminish that the films they bring over are fantastic. While I’m not fully on-board with Your Name’s popularity, it shouldn’t matter if it was nominated for an award or not. Some recognition would be nice, but if you consider it a good movie, then by all means, keep considering it a good movie. It’s in my top 20 of 2016 for a reason, since I feel like its strengths are indeed strong. Don’t let it being left out of the Oscars weaken your love for the film. Go see it when it comes to theaters in April, and buy it when it comes out on DVD. I’m just saying don’t be freaked out that it wasn’t picked.

Was It Really Our Fault For The Death of 2D Animation?

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Around the mid-2000s, 2D animated films were struggling, with a majority of the flops coming from Disney and DreamWorks. This was when their 2D animated films were not bringing in waves of delicious greenback bills, and were instead being critically panned, and flopping/underperforming. This list of films include Home on the Range, Brother Bear, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, Treasure Planet, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and you get the idea. The only 2D animated films that were doing really well during this time period were the films made by Studio Ghibli, like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. When Home on the Range and Sinbad came out, both Disney and DreamWorks told the world that 2D animation was not a profitable way of filmmaking anymore, no one was seeing 2D animated films, and the new profitable form of animation was CGI-animation. This was essentially throwing 2D animation under the bus. So, was it really the public’s fault that 2D animation was dead? Is there a reason Europe and the rest of the world is keeping it alive and not getting wide releases? Well, let’s talk about what was going on around this time period.

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On one side of the spectrum during the early to mid-2000s, the only financially/critically successful animated films that were being made were of CGI, and Pixar and DreamWorks were leading the charge. This was when we were getting films like Shrek 2, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. All of these films were critical darlings, and are pretty fantastic films. On the other spectrum, you were unfortunately getting Disney and DreamWorks 2D animated films that were not doing well with audiences and the bank. Like I said above, the 2D animated films were not making enough of a profit, and were getting critically panned at the same time. Sure, you would get a film like Lilo & Stich, Emperor’s New Groove, and Spirits: Stallion of the Cimarron, but those films were few and far between in terms of being successful 2D animated films. The point is Disney and DreamWorks were losing money, and the only thing that was bringing in the cash besides their live-action films were their CGI animated films. Not to say that each CGI animated film during this period was a success, since this was when DreamWorks was trying to compete with Disney/Pixar, but the numbers and money talked.

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So, does this mean that 2D animation was 100% dead? Of course not! Even if Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks were moving toward full-on CGI animation, due to the masses leaning more to CGI animation by overall audience appeal, there were a few studios and directors that were passionate or really stubborn about Hollywood’s sudden lack of 2D animation. This was when we were getting a lot of the Studio Ghibli films brought over by Disney, like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Porco Rosso to name a few. Other directors like Sylvain Chomet gave the public The Triplets of Belleville, one of the best pieces of 2D animation around, and was a critical and Oscar winner. Japan has a multitude of amazing animated films during this time period, and even today we have incredible 2D animated films, like the late Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children, The Boy and the Beast, and Summer Wars, Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words, and of course, Katsuhiro Otomo’s slew of films like Steamboy, and anthology project, Short Peace.  Europe has been rocking the 2D animation, with films from France, Spain, Scotland, and other areas including Song of the Sea, The Secret of Kells, A Cat in Paris, Phantom Boy, Ernest & Celestine, The Illusionist, Nocturna, Wrinkles, and Chico and Rita. Even Disney came back with two 2D animated films, with The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh. Sure, they didn’t break a gigantic amount of bank, but I love that Disney at first was going to do one 2D film, then a CGI film, and go on like that until they went full-on CGI animated. Even Brazil gave us Boy and the World, one of the most visually amazing films, not just animated films, I have ever seen.

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So, if 2D isn’t technically dead, since the rest of the world and the indie scene are treating it with the respect it deserves, then what really killed it? Well, it’s actually pretty obvious and simple. There is no reason to go into a college-based philosophical journey for the answer. Really, it’s the Hollywood machine, and the studios’ fault for killing off 2D animation.

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Yeah, I know it sounds like a hipster thing to do, and blame the bigwigs for killing off a style of animation, but it’s quite frankly the truth. So, during the mid-2000s of 2000-2005 or so, what were the companies releasing during this time that was 2D? This was when Disney was releasing films like Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Brother Bear, Treasure Planet, Lilo & Stich, Emperor’s new Groove, and Home on the Range. On top of that, this was also the tail end of their Straight-to-DVD fling, where they released a bunch of mediocre sequels to their popular Disney films. I’m sure you can find merit and something positive to say about certain elements of these films, but they were really scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of quality with these straight-to-DVD flicks. DreamWorks on the other hand only released about two 2D animated films, with one being a hit, and the other causing the infamous “2D animation is dead” quote with Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Sinbad. Now then, we’ve got our suspects from the 2D side of things from both companies, what went wrong with the studios making these films? After watching them recently, with the few exceptions that I have mentioned above, the rest feel like movies that were ruined by the higher-ups putting their focus-grouped hands into the mix. Films like Brother Bear, Sinbad, Treasure Planet, and Atlantis: The Los Empire could have been incredible movies, but what you get are films with bits and pieces of greatness and things to like, but then have to get past the elements that are distracting or not very interesting. Most of the time, the biggest blunder these films made was within its dialogue. When the characters talked like they were part of that time or setting, it was great and engaging. You felt like you were there with them. However, when the modern dialogue, Disney whimsy, and hip lingo pops into time periods where it isn’t remotely appropriate, and is only put there because some idiot higher-up thinks everyone would like it, it’s frustrating. It’s like they couldn’t fully stay invested in their own tones. If you want to be dark in Atlantis, then you need to keep the mature tone, and not throw in so many side characters, humor, and a weak bad guy. How much better could Brother Bear be if he didn’t turn into a bear and he was kept just as a human? I could say all of this with the other films like Treasure Planet and Sinbad. These studios, for the most part, would rather throw someone or something under the bus to avoid the honest truth that they made a bad movie that no one wanted to see, or have to admit that they were trying to cater to the lowest common denominator, and it wasn’t working. Oh, and was anyone really asking for Home on the Range? I mean, really?

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Yeah, I don’t buy that 2D animation died because people stopped caring about it. I think it died because studios here in the states kept giving us films that either couldn’t stay in the tone they set out for, higher-ups got their meddling hands into the pie, or were just terrible movies. Luckily, with the huge success of films like Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets, Finding Dory, and the animated films distributed by GKIDS, animation has become a huge success during 2016, where with a few exceptions; a mass majority of the 2016 big Hollywood flicks are not panning out. Sure, you could argue it’s just the summer movies, but I feel like the animated films and indie films have been getting more of the spotlight and praise. Hopefully, this means that the bigger companies can try and come back to 2D someday, but due to how current Hollywood is run, it will probably take some time. Just remember, it’s not always your fault Hollywood made a stupid mistake. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked the article, and see you all next time.

The Other Side of Animation: The Garden of Words Review

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After that grating, obnoxious, and horrible heap of a movie that I previously reviewed, Cool World, it always makes me glad when I get to see something good. Sure, seeing the bad will help improve one’s filmmaking skills and make sure it doesn’t happen again, but sometimes, I just want to watch something that is interesting and something that resonates with me. After watching what the Hollywood entertainment system thinks we like to watch, it’s good to revel in something that at least made you think and be engaged. I just so happened to find a short film that has what I am looking for. Today’s review is of the short film, The Garden of Words. This 48-minute short film was distributed by Toho, and animated by CoMix Wave Films. It was directed by Makoto Shinkai. If Makoto Shinkai sounds familiar, then you have probably seen his films before, since CoMix Wave Films and Makoto have made such well-received films as Voices of a Distant Star, and other films like The Place Promised in Our Early Days, 5 Centimeters Per Second, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices. So, what do I think about this short film? Well, let’s dive in and get started then, shall we?

The Garden of Words centers two humans. The first is a 15-year old male named Takao Akizuki, voiced by Blake Shepard. On a rainy day, he cuts class to go sit in a pavilion in a park to draw shoe designs in his sketch book. One day, he meets an older woman named Yukari Yukino, voiced by Shelley Calene-Black. After a while, they create a bond between one another as friends until they realize that they may have known each other in more ways than one.

So, what is great about this short film? Well, what this film downright immerses you with is its atmosphere. By golly, this film just pulls you into its quiet, wet world. A lot of the time, there is no music or background score playing, and all you hear are the sounds from the areas around the main characters. The many rainy scenes are something right out of a yoga or meditation CD. It also helps that the film is beautifully animated, and while the character designs are, in my opinion, okay, everything else looks amazing. I have read where some people had a problem with how this film was presented and animated, but to me, I wasn’t distracted. While I have some problems with the personalities of the two main characters, I do like the relationship between them. Sometimes, all you need to find is a kindred soul that you can talk to/relate to. Another element that helps pull you into the movie is the beautiful piano score. It’s just gorgeous music to listen to. If you are curious about who wrote the music, it was Daisuke Kashiwa.

With all that said, this film does have problems. The two biggest problems are the character themselves and the running time. The two characters the film follows are not really that interesting, personality-wise. Granted, they are both suffering some form of depression, and you could argue that people display depression in different ways, but I blame the running time for the weak characters. I mean, it’s not like the characters have no personality or interesting things about them, like how the male is a hard worker. But, if the film was a bit longer than 46 minutes, I think we could have gotten more breathing room with the two leads, instead of multiple montages set to the beautiful scenery and musical score. This short film is based off a one-issue manga, but it doesn’t mean they couldn’t flesh things out more. For example, besides the two leads, who are likable in their own ways, everyone else feels petty and mean-spirited. A lot of this comes from the twist in the film, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who may have not seen this short yet. Of course, they could just get curious and look up the plot on Wikipedia. I also found the ending to be rushed and overly dramatic. Not that there isn’t some kind of corny enjoyment out of it, but again, a longer running time and a better-paced ending could have fixed so many problems the short film has.

Overall, after a couple of viewings, I ended up really liking The Garden of Words. I still think Makoto Shinkai could have fixed a few problems, but when he really hits the nail on the head, he is truly one of the best talents that Japanese animation can offer. The film itself is about $20, but if you can find it for cheaper, I would definitely recommend it. It has its issues, but it’s one of the more beautiful and atmospheric movies that I have ever seen. Well, we have seen what good Japanese animation can give us, let’s see what the worst of Japanese animation can give us with OVA, Cybernetics Guardian. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Rating: Go See It!