The Other Side of Animation 131: Lu Over the Wall 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!)

Welcome to Far East Animation Month! This is pretty much Japanese Animation Month, but since one of the films I’m going to tackle is not from Japan, I decided to change up the title, because the far east has some pretty promising stuff coming out of the animation scene. Taiwan has a film showing in this year’s Annecy Film Festival, and Japan, as usual, has a bunch of films in production or are about to be released. This time, we are going to start out with what can be considered Masaaki Yuasa’s biggest hit out of his animation career, Lu Over the Wall. Animated by Science Saru and Toho Animation, this was Yuasa’s first major hit that was both a financial and critical success. In his past, he was getting critical praise, but was not the most lucrative director, which unfortunately gave him a stigma of not being able to bring in the big bucks. Thankfully, this one did super well, and he’s having a fantastic career right now with his other film Night is Short, Walk on Girl that came out before Lu Over the Wall, and the hit Netflix anime series, Devilman Crybaby. Let’s just dive into this awesome film!

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The story follows a young boy named Kai, dubbed by Michael Sinterniklaas. He lives in a small fishing town that doesn’t really have the brightest future for anyone wanting to expand on their life outside of what happens in the town. He ends up getting pulled into this band with its two founding members Kunio and Yuho, dubbed by Brandon Engman and Stephanie Sheh. He decides to join them for band practice on this mysterious Merfolk Island, a place where mermaids live and the townsfolk are told to not mess with them, or play music, which supposedly attracts them. During practice, Kai ends up encountering a small mermaid girl named Lu, dubbed by Christine Marie Cabanos. What will happen now that he knows that mermaids actually exist? What will the townsfolk think when they realize that the mermaids are back? Will the songs be groovy and jamming?

So, I have commented in the past that Yuasa has a very distinct style and way of directing his stories. His animation style sticks out with thin lining, and characters who look simple, and while polished in a lot of ways, are very stretchy and bouncy. By a lesser artist, it would look sloppy and ugly, but this stretch and bounce-style of animation is balanced this time, and shows off the fun and energy the characters bring, and also the ugly anger that can come from them. Everything feels like the old Tex Avery cartoons made back in the day, which is no surprise, because Yuasa was inspired by him. It’s simply a lot of fun to watch the animation in motion, since you get to see a lot of it through dancing. Even with the designs as they are, it leads to great expressions and comedy.

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In terms of the themes, story, and characters, I liked it all. I have some issues with how parts of the story were handled, but this feels like the most focused of Yuasa’s work. It deals with the trials of growing up, being able to interact with your loved ones, the downsides to fame, and the dangers of fear mongering. I love seeing some of these themes, because while you definitely see them tackled in a couple of the foreign films, too many of the non-Disney or non-Pixar films decide to have different morals that you don’t often see in most animated films. Seriously, more animated family features need topics of parents and really, anyone needing to be upfront when talking about certain issues. It makes it better in the long run when everyone is on the same page. Lu Over the Wall is also very charming and sweet. I love the scene where Kai and Lu are walking around the town at night. It reminds me of hanging out with my niece. It’s easily the most heart-felt part of the movie. I even like seeing Lu’s dad interact rather peacefully with the humans. Her dad probably has some of the better laughs of the film.

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The voice cast is pretty stellar. I have seen this film in both English and Japanese, and I found the dub cast to be awesome. While I have made some snarky remarks that two of the leads are voiced by the same two who voiced the leads in the critically acclaimed Your Name, and they were chosen for that reason alone, I do think Michael Sinterniklaas and Stephanie Sheh do a good job with their roles. Michael pretty much kills it as a middle school boy unsure of his future and still bitter after his parents’ divorce. It was nice to hear voice actors like Derek Stephen Prince, because I love hearing from voice actors I don’t normally hear from, or simply don’t recognize them right off the bat. One major aspect that I admired about the dub was that they dubbed the songs. Usually, they would just put up some subtitles while the characters sing in Japanese. Kudos for GKids to make sure the dub also covered the songs. I can tell they did this for the next film I’m going to review, and hopefully this will be the case with Fireworks. While I would say the English singing of the song is not 100% perfect, I give the actors credit for having to deal with it, because I’m sure it’s not easy to have to speak and sing for roles like these. Speaking of music, Lu Over the Wall’s soundtrack was composed by Takatsugu Muramatsu. There is a great mix of jazzy upbeat tunes, soft, giving off the vibes of being by the sea, and dramatic tunes when needed for the story.

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The only major complaint I have is that there is a lot going on in the last third. It’s great, but the film builds up a couple of storylines, and they either didn’t know how to pace them, or couldn’t cut them. Some of the side stories get fleshed out decently enough, but a lot of them have endings that wrap up too quickly. Some have touching conclusions, while others give you that feeling of “Is that it? Okay, I guess that was somewhat satisfying.” It does end up making the last third feel drawn out a touch, and a bit busy. It was the only time where I felt like Yuasa’s busy mentality almost got free.

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Overall, I really loved Lu Over the Wall. It’s cute, funny, charming, energetic, and such a fun watch. I had a smile on my face from beginning to end. I know some are trying to twitch react to this film being a clone of Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo, but it’s not. Both are entirely different movies, both have entirely different themes, stories, and both are amazing. It’s still playing in theaters right now, but I bet by August or September, it will be out on DVD. If you can’t catch it in theaters, then definitely buy the movie. Next time, we shall tackle our first South Korean-animated feature that has weird baggage attached to it. That’s right! We will be tackling another GKids-distributed film with Satellite Girl and Milk Cow! Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

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Animation Tidbits #4 What’s Cam Looking Forward To 10/19/17: Animation is Film Festival Edition

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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 to another What’s Cam Looking Forward To on Animation Tidbits. I guess you can call this version the “Animation is Film Festival Edition”, because a lot of the films on this list will be at the LA-based Animation is Film Festival. So many of these animated films are making their US release at this festival. It’s a shame it wasn’t happening closer to me, since I live all the way in Texas, but I think anyone who wants to see some truly, in the sense of the word, “unique” animated films, they should go to this event. Now, some of these films I have talked about before, like The Breadwinner, Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, Zombillenium, and The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales. However, the mass majority of these will be new to the Animation Tidbit label. Let’s jump in!

Fireworks

While I am still bitter about Your Name’s success opening the floodgates for a slew of teen dramas/romances to overcrowd the market, I’m always willing to put that aside to judge the film on its own merits. Fireworks is helmed by the producer of Your Name, Genki Kawamura. It’s a tale of two junior high school boys, who fawn over the same girl who is going to be leaving their country-side town. One day, one of the boys finds a magical sphere that can control time, and uses it to try and get together with the girl, who by the time he finds this sphere, has fallen for the other guy. In the film, the boy will use the sphere he found to turn back the clock to fix a mistake, but may end up causing more consequences to doing such a thing than he would like. It reminds me of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which used the same plot idea. If handled well, it would lead to some touching scenes. The animation, while having fairly generic anime character designs, looks great, and I’m always down for a teen drama/romance to be taken or tackled in different ways. I wonder how good it will be compared to the mega hit Your Name, or the other massive hit, A Silent Voice. Granted, I am getting tired of Japan’s fixation on teen dramas and romances, but if the film can tell a compelling story and bring some creativity to the table, then I’m down to check it out. This will be playing the same day as The Breadwinner on Friday, the first day of the event.

MUTAFUKAZ

I love to consider this the French/Japanese-animated lovechild of a classic Robert Rodriguez action movie. MUTAFUKAZ is, like I mentioned, a French/Japanese collaboration combining Studio 4 ° C, director Shojiro Nishimi and Guillaume Renard, the creator of the comic on which the film is based.  It revolves around a young boy named Angelino, who lives with his skeleton friend Vinny in a dirty disgusting city known as Dark Meat City. After getting into an accident, Angelino starts to experience unknown powers, and boy, everything just hits the fan afterwards. Everything is thrown into this film, like a stew made of everything inside your fridge. You have gang fights, frantic car chases, Akira-style physic powers, trippy visuals, Jin-Roh-style soldiers, and utter chaos. It all blends together in this over-the-top action film that looks fantastic. I think for such a crazy idea, it was a good idea to get Studio 4 ° C because they are good at getting frenetic and fast-paced action done well. I’m concerned it’s going to be flash over substance, but it’s still one of the animated films I’m looking forward to seeing the most, due to the fact we rarely get action-focused animated features anymore.

Big Fish & Begonia

I have not been subtle about talking about the lackluster animation scene China has going on. It’s either bad anime-style clones, or really bad CGI with no thought about being creative with a small budget. This is why Big Fish & Begonia is poised to be the turning point for better animated features from that country. For a film that took a decade to make, the animation is gorgeous, and a lot of it makes the film look like this Chinese version of Spirited Away, which is fine by me. I have read early reviews of the film, which spoke highly of its philosophical elements, and it will have an English dub at the event, which means that Shout! Factory is probably getting ready for a more wide release and announcement for the film. If you want to see what could help turn China’s animation scene down a much more optimistic route, then you should definitely go check this film out.

Lu Over the Wall

Now, we have one of the big boys playing at the plate. Masaaki Yuasa, the director behind Mindgame, has two films out this year and at this event. Lu Over the Wall is the first film being shown, and is another take on the Little Mermaid story in the same way Hayao Miyazaki did with Ponyo. That means you will get offbeat characters, trippy animation, and a more light-hearted tone. It’s definitely what I got from the trailers and, from a few clips that are on YouTube, the charm really comes through the animation. It looks fantastic, and I hope GKids can bring this film over along with Masaaki’s other film that will be talked about later in this editorial.

Tehran Taboo

Now, this is a nice little surprise. Tehran Taboo is a German-Austrian collaboration about three different women and a musician trying to survive in a harsh and punishing city known as Tehran, where sex and drugs run amok under heavy religious and patriarchal ruling. It looks like an emotional and human experience, as we see these characters survive in such a restrictive life. I know some will argue about its animation, since it’s not technically 2D animation, but some form of rotoscope animation, but those purists can go bugger off. You are still tracing over living individuals frame by frame. Animation is much more vibrant and expansive these days, and this is a good example to show that. If you want something mature and adult during this festival, then it’s probably a good idea to step into the dramatic world of Tehran Taboo.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

It’s not a surprise that one of the two major viewings that are sold out is the spiritual successor to Studio Ghibli, Studio Ponoc’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower. First off, the animation looks fantastic. It has a style very similar to Studio Ghibli, and while I have heard people say that this is distracting, I don’t find that a problem. Studio Ghibli isn’t doing anything besides Hayao Miyazaki’s newest film, and if it’s a distracting thing to have fluid and very expressive Japanese animation, then I think that’s a pretty good situation to have. Even Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata have shown their approval of the film. It looks like a great one, and it has directors I trust behind it. It’s one of the most anticipated animated films of the year, and probably one of the sure Oscar nominees.

Night is Short, Walk on Girl

Finally, we have Masaaki Yuasa’s second film, Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Technically, it is a follow-up to a series he worked on called The Tatami Galaxy. The surreal romantic comedy of a girl and the guy who has a crush on her looks trippy, unreal, and hilarious. This is what I love about Yuasa’s work. Fantastic and vibrant visuals, interesting characters, and what might look random, has an underlying tone of something much more. I am concerned that I can watch this without having seen the TV series, which I just started, but the quality of the film will depend on if it stands strong on its own or not. Still, I hope GKids brings this and Lu Over the Wall over to the states.

The Other Side of Animation 83: Japanese Animation Month 2 Part 1: Welcome to the Space Show 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 I do like when a film that is set in space treats me like an individual with brain cells, I do miss when having a film set in space could mean fun and creative adventures. It’s not that I don’t like being challenged intellectually, but it seems like that is all we are getting with films like Interstellar, and while I enjoy that movie, I had a lot more fun watching something like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, where it’s all about the creativity, action, and adventure with something as big as space. That is why I was intrigued by Welcome to the Space Show. This 2010 Japanese-animated film was produced by A1 Pictures, the studio behind Fairy Tail and Black Butler. The film was directed by Koji Masunari and returning name from a previous review, Masaaki Yuasa, the man behind Mindgame. It was brought over to the states by GKids back in 2014, and has gone under the radar since then. Since I’m talking about it, this must be some pretty entertaining stuff. Well, you would be right. Let’s dive into this space romp.

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The story revolves around a group of kids who are staying in a school building for a week or so during summer vacation. These kids include Natsuki, voiced by Stephanie Sheh, her cousin Amane, voiced by Michaela Dean, Kiyoshi, voiced by Michael Sinterniklaas, Noriko, voiced by Cassandra Lee, and Koji, voiced by Michael Jacob Wayne. One day as they are searching for a lost rabbit, they come across an actual crop circle, and decide to investigate. Upon the investigation, they find an injured dog. After recovering, the dog turns out to be an alien dog named Pochi, voiced by Marc Diraison. Pochi thanks the kids by taking them through an adventure in space. They get wrapped up in a sinister plan set in motion by an alien named Neppo, voiced by Mike Pollock, who wants to become a God and rule the universe with a special weapon. Can Pochi and the kids save the universe before they get back home?

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So, what do I like about this movie? Well, I might use this term a lot, but it honestly fits this film, it feels like a 80s adventure film aimed at a general family-friendly audience. It might have kids as the lead, but you can tell a lot of the time was put into how fantastical the space world around them is. Since this is by one of the directors of Mindgame, you will be seeing many different aliens of all shapes and sizes. It’s hard to explain unless you actually see some of the screen shots from the film. It reminds me of the anime series, Space Dandy. Everything is so wildly imaginative and creative, from the vehicles used to travel to the planets to out-of-this-world alien designs. It looks like someone took a bunch of children’s drawings, mixed them with some LCD, a dash of Yellow Submarine, a hefty helping of Carnevale, and brought them to life, since there are very few designs that look alike that weren’t the lead or secondary characters. Everything is so colorful and vibrant. Sure, it has its moments to have darker or more sinister sequences, but for about 95% of the time, the colors are lush and diverse. Even with how bonkers the entire universe is that they explore, they do keep it grounded to a degree, and let the story and atmosphere take some time to envelop you into it. It’s nice that a film as crazy and vibrant as Welcome to the Space Show does slow down, since viewers need time to decompress and not feel like they are in constant state of movement. Sometimes that state of mind is great, but it can also be tiring.

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Due to the less-detailed designs, the animation is able to be faster and more fluid than some other films with more detailed animation. It makes many of the expressions on the aliens great, and the action fun. The first chase sequence and the final battle come to mind, where this kind of style and animation works great with battles that feel like every hit has weight behind it. Sure, I know some people could argue that due to the designs and animation, everyone looks a bit sloppy, but it does add personality to the film. At the very least, it’s not Samurai 7 where only the action scenes and the occasional emotional/character moment look great, and everything else can look like utter chicken scratch. While it doesn’t have that fluidity that Ghibli films or Hosoda films have, it’s still a pretty well-animated film. I also enjoyed the voice cast. I felt like, for the most part, everyone that they hired did a good job. It’s fun to see Michael Sinterniklaas and Mike Pollock in the cast, since I don’t’ always think of them in Japanese animation. I almost forgot that Michael Sinterniklaas was in this film, since he sounds so much like Yuri Lowenthal. Mike Pollock was a lot of fun as the villain, because he is pretty much bringing that entertaining energy that he uses for Dr. Eggman/Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog into his performance as Welcome to the Space Show’s lead villain.

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With all that said, I do have some complaints. In terms of the overall length of the film, it does tend to drag a bit. It has a touch too much filler going on, and by the third act, I was still enjoying it, but was hoping it would end soon. There are also a few scenes/things that kind of bothered me, and I don’t know if they ever thought about it before keeping these moments in the film. The first moment that bugged me was when the second oldest female lead was heading off to meet up with the others. You see her younger brother on top of a cow, but with no pants. Yeah, no offense or anything, but I do not want to see little kids naked. Another plot point that I find creepy is Pochi’s relationship with the youngest girl. It’s obvious that he has a crush on her, and, yeah, I find that a tad disturbing. I guess it’s trying to be comedic, but it’s once again fairly creepy. I also found the two youngest characters in the film to not have the best voice work.

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Even with the pacing problems and some questionable elements to the overall experience, Welcome to the Space Show is fun. It has good animation, great visuals, fun action, a solid voice cast, and is a fun adventure. It might not be in my top 10 in terms of GKids-released animated films, but it’s one space adventure I will never forgot. Well then, next up on the animation chopping block, let’s go topsy-turvey and review Patema Inverted. Thanks for reading. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 37: Mind Game 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!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP!: There is male and female nudity (though oddly drawn), cursing, and some adult content and sexual abstract/non abstract scenes. It’s a weird movie, so if you are a parent thinking about watching this, really do watch it by yourself BEFORE even thinking about watching it with a younger individual. Did I mention that this film is really freaking weird? Because it is! Enjoy the review!

With a lot of films, including animated ones, there is always this attempt to be philosophical, to try and have a bigger message to say about whatever the film wants to say, and so on. This usually leads the film to be more abstract in either story execution or visually. We have seen films do this with something like 2014’s Birdman, with the illusion of the film looking like one long uncut shot, and having unique visuals attached to the lead character. In terms of results and the reception from critics and casual moviegoers, I think it’s always going to be divisive. Sometimes, it depends on the individual viewer to say if the film’s message is deep, or sometimes, it’s how the overall movie is handled, in terms of the message being strong or if it’s trying to grasp for a purpose that it can’t reach. This is why I was a bit baffled about Mind Game. This interesting film is from our animation buddies from Japan, and came out in 2004. Mind Game is a very unusual film that has gained a rather large cult following with its weird artstyle, and odd way of telling a story. One thing to note about this film is the director behind it, Masaaki Yuasa, who has directed a multitude of projects including Vamplyan Kids, Genius Party, Kaiba, Kick-Heart, Ping Pong, and even worked on shows/ like Adventure Time on the episode “Food Chain”, Welcome to the Space Show, Wakfu, and Space Dandy. It’s not readily available in a physical format here in the states, but you can check it out on Netflix if you live in the states. It was supposedly come over in a physical form, but plans fell through. So, how is it? Well, let’s find out!

The story is about a young man named Nishi, who wants to be a comic book artist. One evening he meets up with his school girl crush, Miyon, to have a bite to eat at her father’s restaurant with her sister Yan and Miyon’s fiancé. Unfortunately, a Yakuza and a mentally “touched” Soccer player walk in, and decided to cause a disturbance by the Soccer player punching Miyon’s potential future husband, perversely harassing Miyon, and then killing Nishi. Luckily for Nishi, his spirit runs into who is essentially God, and God decides to give him the motivation to turn back time, and redo his life once more at the exact time Nishi was killed. Nishi gets out of the situation by getting the gun out of the player’s hand, and ends up killing the Soccer player, which quickly reaches the ears of the leader of the Yakuza, and boy, what happens next is insane. Nishi makes a run for it with Miyon and Yan, as they go through an intense car chase. They end up inside a whale, and meet an old man who apparently has been living in the whale for 30 years. Yeah, this film deserves the title “Mind Game”.

So, what is good about this film? Well, if I haven’t used this word enough, this film is the purest definition of “weird.” It’s a truly abstract film, with unusual visuals and a very different animation style. If you look at any pictures or watch any footage of this film, it has a very rough and thin-lined style. While it’s not the prettiest, in terms of designs, the characters are still animated smoothly, and they are still expressive. It’s a visually vibrant film with bright colors, chicken-scratch doodle designs, a mixture of the doodles and realistic figures, and drug-infused visuals that is something to behold. I also like the theme of the film, or, at the very least, what I thought was the moral of “Don’t stay cooped up forever, go out and explore the world! You won’t get a second chance!” I think it hits home to some people, because I myself have had a fear of pushing forward with certain moments in life because I was afraid of the consequences. It’s definitely a film that gets its message across, while not feeling over-its-head in terms of ambitious animation. I also like the subtle story about the Yakuza that, while not the main focus, is subtly woven into the beginning, bits of the actual film, and ending montages.

With all that said, I think this film does fall a little flat, in terms of pacing. The first part of the film is so fast-paced and frenetic, that once it gets to the whale part, it slows down and sort of drags its heels in its pace until the final third when the four escape the whale, and the film returns to that quick rush of energy. I also think the visuals, from time to time, hinder its message and story. It truly gets into some bizarre designs and moments that take away from the characters that are sort of memorable. I also feel like that it’s trying to grab more meaning than it knows what to do with itself, with the quick montages at the beginning and end of the film, and how it just ends with “This Story Never Ends.” Maybe I’m not seeing what the message is, but if it didn’t have this super abstract visual presentation, I could get it more, but maybe that is just me. I can understand if someone can find deeper meaning in the overall movie. At least it doesn’t ruin its message by bad logic like in A Wind Named Amnesia.

In the end, I can totally understand if people cannot get past the surreal weird pacing and story, but if you are into something really, and I mean, really different from Japanese animation, then you won’t find a better contender than Mind Game. It might be a bit too weird and abstract to get its message across, but I like it. It’s definitely a lot more interesting than what gets pushed into theaters. I would definitely recommend checking something out that is ambitious and kind of gets its message across, instead of an ambitious film that fails to get its message across. Anyway, let’s travel to France once more to see a recent animated film based off of a popular franchise with Go West! A Lucky Luke Adventure. Thanks for reading! I hope you like what you saw and see you next time!

Rating: Go see it!