The Other Side of Animation 30: Akira Review

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

It’s funny, to me, anyway, that I am going to review pretty much everything by Katsuhiro Otomo before I get to anything by Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Hosoda. I didn’t plan this at all, but it’s interesting to look at a well-known director’s work, and see his little touches in whatever he is working on. Of course, the casual moviegoer won’t know who this guy is, but if you know anything about anime or animation, you have definitely seen his prized pupil, Akira. This legendary film, based off Otomo’s manga of the same name, was released in Japan in 1988, and was brought over to the states in 1991. It’s considered one of the greatest animated films of all time, and one of the best pieces of Japanese animation around. It’s a landmark title, not only for Japanese animation, but for filmmaking, in general. So, what do I think of the film?  Well, let’s dive into Otomo’s classic, and you will see what’s up.

The story takes place after Japan was hit by a large explosion during World War III, and it is now 2019. One of the many plots that go on in this movie revolves around a young biker named Tetsuo Shima, voiced in the redub by Joshua Seth, who is in a gang with his friend, Shotaro Kaneda, voiced by the lovable Johnny Yong Bosch. One day, after picking a fight with another gang, Tetsuo crashes his bike in front of a small blue-skinned boy with white hair. This somehow unleashes the psychic powers that were inside Tetsuo. After gaining said powers and being experimented on, he goes on a bit of a rampage to find a being that these psychic children (like the blue-skinned one that I just mentioned) know as Akira. Now, the entire city is after Tetsuo, including the government, a military organization, a terrorist group, a cult that worships an individual known as Akira, and even his own friend, Shotaro. On top of all this, you also have a huge rebellion going on inside the city that is causing mass destruction, with the main goal of taking down a corrupt government.

Before we get into what is wrong with this adaptation, let’s talk about the good stuff since there is just so much to love about this movie from a technical point of view. For Japanese-made animation, it is truly breathtaking. Knowing that a lot of this had to be done by hand is just a feat that is herculean, since cel animation is expensive work. It’s so smooth, and not herky-jerky like anime was in the past. This was during a time where anime was getting slightly better in terms of being able to move every single part of the character, but Akira was the starting point for anime to start looking like it had a budget behind it. I also adore the music. I know it can be made fun of, but it sounds emotional and primal. It helps immerse you in this film that is definitely about emotion, as the overall experience felt like a volcano just building up and ready to explode.

Too bad that volcano’s explosion is no more than just a bunch of nothing. Yeah, as much as I love watching Akira for its visuals and pristine animation, the story is not well put together. I mean, there is plenty of it, but since it’s 2016, it’s time to start laying down the fact that the film version Akira is a poorly put together adaptation. Basically, it pulled an Age of Ultron and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice by having way too much going on in it. You see what’s going on, but don’t understand it. I have watched this film four times in my lifetime, and each time I have watched it, I always felt a bit confused about certain elements. Sure, I could go read the manga that is 2000 pages long, and look up the facts on the internet, but an adaptation should stand up on its own without having to know the source material. Films like Mary Poppins and the How to Train your Dragon series are a blast to watch, and you don’t need to have to know about the product at hand to enjoy them. It’s an argument I never fully agreed with since this is a movie, and what we see should be good, first and foremost. Make sure the story/characters are good, then worry about everything else. It’s quite obvious Otomo didn’t really know how to tell the entire story properly. It’s something I have known/heard about Otomo, where he’d rather make a film as a more emotional experience than a “set in stone” story. It’s an interesting quirk about him that you see in his films, like his directed segments in MemoriesRobot Carnival, and Short Peace.

With how condensed and cut up the story feels, it leads you with characters who are not really interesting. Why should I care? What the heck is going on? Why does Tetsuo’s change from arrogant biker punk to psycho feel a little out of left field? Why do they want the kids with the psychic abilities? I was asking a lot of these kinds of questions during the film’s two-hour runtime. While I do enjoy longer movies, due to how the story was set up in this movie, it personally feels a tad too long. A lot of the second half and final third is basically Tetsuo cleaning house with the military, which could have been used to either show or dump exposition on the world that this film is set in. Here’s an idea, why not make Akira into two movies, or not make it a movie at all? Sometimes, the source material is not made or set up to be turned into a movie. Or at the very least, Akira should have been two movies instead of one. You don’t really learn why the public is turning to terrorism, or a bunch of little details that could help explain elements better about the psychic abilities, and so on. The ending is such a non-ending, where I overall felt cheated out of something that so many people praise as an all-time classic. Nothing is more infuriating than having so much potential built up, and it all falls flat in the end. It makes this film tedious to watch.

Listen, I’m not saying Akira is a horrible movie. Sure, its story is denser than 15 hummers crushed into one giant metal cube, but there is something to admire about the movie as a whole. It’s an animated marvel, and I never want this movie to lose its legacy just because I didn’t care for the story. It deserves the legacy that it brought with it, and should be checked out if you haven’t seen it. It might be a mess, in terms of storytelling, but it’s a film everyone should see. It just reminds me how great Japanese animation can be when it’s done well, and not the usual male gaze-filled tripe we see today. How about for the rest of April, we do a Japanese Animation Month!? Next time, we will be looking at REDLINE. Thanks for reading this article! I hope you liked it, and see you all next time!

Rating: Rent It!

The Other Side of Animation: Henry & Me 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!)

Sometimes, it’s hard to tackle certain animated films. This is especially true when the film has obvious problems, and is really schmaltzy, but you feel bad or at least a little uncomfortable criticizing since it’s about a kid going through cancer. Yeah, this is review is about Henry & Me. This animated film was directed by Barrett Esposito, created by Reveal Animation Studios, distributed by Henry & Me Productions, and was released on August 18th, 2014. This is an interesting movie. It’s definitely a lot more interesting to talk about than most of the animated schlock that comes out. It’s a 2D animated film with some CGI elements and a cast that includes Richard Gere, Chazz Palminteri, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, and a slew of famous New York Yankee players from past to present. So, how well executed is this animated film of baseball and a child going through cancer? Well, let’s find out.

The story revolves around a young boy named Jack, voiced by Austin Williams, who was living a good life until cancer shows up and, well, ruins it. As he is waiting in the hospital by his loving parents and nurse played by Cyndi Lauper, Jack is greeted by a magical individual. The individual himself is a man named Henry, voiced by Richard Gere. Henry decides to take Jack through a dream-like experience, meeting both past and current New York Yankee players to cheer him on through the experience.

I feel more comfortable talking about the positives first since I don’t want to come off like a jerk reviewing a film about this subject. First off, the animation is actually better than I was thinking. The 2D hand-drawn stuff is gorgeous to look at. Sure, it doesn’t blend well with the CGI, but seeing it at all in this day of CGI animation is quite nice. I also like the voice cast. It’s nothing mind-blowing, but they do a serviceable performance, considering what kind of film this is. You actually get a tiny bit invested in a film that has some, quite honestly, corny lines. Even the child actor, who is usually the more challenging to take seriously as an actor, does a decent job. I also like the bright vibrant colors. In an industry that seems like you can only have drab colors, it’s nice to see something with vibrant colors. I also give the film credit for getting a lot of actual Yankee players to actually “act” in the film as themselves.

That said, Henry & Me, has a lot of problems. I hate to criticize this film due to the subject matter, but it is way too sweet and mushy for its own good.  There is just too much overly cheerful dialogue and “you can do it” speeches, and it can be a bit much. Speaking of “you can do it” speeches, the film is rather repetitive since each person Jack and Henry meet, tells him the same thing. I wouldn’t mind this, but it’s basically the same thing over and over again in a film that already doesn’t have a lot of substance to it. It also feels a tad cynical, since it is all about the most popular players in Yankees’ history, and, well, they do skip over a few glaring/bad moments in the history like Alex Rodriguez’s drug fiasco. A bit of my cynical side also tells me that this was just to support the purchase of Yankee merchandise. I know that seems harsh, but this film does have a lot of stuff to poke fun at. It also takes a bit of a weird twist where you think the entire thing was a dream, but then, yeah…you can kind of guess what happens in the end.

Henry & Me is tough to talk about in a couple of ways. It’s not a great movie by a long shot, due to a lot of problems. On the other hand, it is touching, and it wasn’t just made to promote the Yankees. I can understand if some child who might be going through the horrible experience of cancer gets inspired to keep pushing and make sure to stomp cancer into the ground, but you could also argue that it has a limited market and limited mass appeal. Like I said though, it feels like a film that had nothing but good intentions in its creation. I would see if you can find a way to check out this film if you are curious. Not the greatest baseball-focused movie ever, but you can do a lot worse. Well, I might not like Henry & Me much, but considering what I may be reviewing for my 30th review, Henry & Me is going to look like a masterpiece! Thanks for reading! I hope you liked this article, and see you next time!

Rating: Rent It!

The Other Side of Animation: Halo Legends Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work. If you want to, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. Thanks for checking out the article!)

So, to quickly follow up on my Robot Carnival review, I recently picked up the Discotek Media version, watched it through to the end, and compared it to the import copy I already had. You get a crisper visual quality to the Discotek version, but overall, both are pretty much the same. If I had to look back and suggest getting one version over the other, I would get the Discotek version, but neither DVD has a lot of content to them.

Now then, let’s take a look at another anthology film that is, sadly, not one of the better ones. Released in 2010, Halo Legends is one of the larger anthology films I know about, with eight individual stories by different animation studios. I mean, technically, it’s seven, since two of them are part one and two of a single story, but still. The release of Halo Legends on February 16th, 2010 got mixed reviews, with the criticism of the stories being uneven in quality, and making the odd choice to combine Halo and Japanese animation. Let’s see if these criticisms are valid years after the release.

The first and second stories are called Origins, which are animated by Studio 4°C and directed by Hideki Futamura (Beyond, The Second Renaissance Part I & II, A Detective Story, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, and Perfect Blue). The plot to this story is basically a briefing of the Halo universe from the original invasion of the Flood, the Forerunners, and the massive weapons known as Halos, to what happened in Halo 3.

The third is called The Duel, animated by Production I.G, and directed by Hiroshi Yamazaki (Karas: The Prophecy, Eden of the East, and Ghost in the Shell.) The plot is set up like some kind of samurai short film where an alien known as an Arbiter seeks revenge for the death of his wife by the hands of The Covenant religion for not converting to their beliefs.

The fourth story is called Homecoming, and is animated by Production I.G again, and directed by Koji Sawai (Patlabor, Ranma ½, Trigun, and .Hack//Sign). The plot is about a group of soldiers who are rescued by this female red-armored Spartan, and their attempt to escape a warzone full of The Covenant.

The fifth story is called Odd One Out. It’s animated by Toei Animation, and directed by Daisuke Nishio (Dragon Ball franchise, and One Piece franchise.) This is a more humorous story about a Spartan soldier named 1337, who has a massive ego, but a huge case of bad luck as his body crash-lands on a planet and away from the ship on which he was riding.

Our sixth story is called Prototype. It’s produced by Studio Bones, and directed by Tomoki Kyoda (RahXephon, Saiyuki, and Darker than Black) and Yasushi Muraki (Steamboy, Welcome to the Space Show, and Cowboy Bebop: The Movie). Prototype tells the story of a marine sergeant with a devastating past, who goes by the nickname of Ghost. He and his demolition team are sent to protect a weapon facility from being overrun by The Covenant,and get rid of a new prototype weapon.

The seventh story is called The Babysitter. This segment is produced by Studio 4°C again, and directed by Toshiyuki Kanno (Berserk: The Golden Age Arc 1- The Egg of the King, Black Lagoon, Trigun, Digimon: The Movie, and has worked on multiple Dragon Ball Z films). It follows a group of elite soldiers, who help a Spartan soldier to take down an important target known as The Prophet.

The eighth and final story, which was only put on the physical disc versions of this anthology series, is called The Package. Produced by Casio Entertainment, and directed by Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed Alpha, Star Diver, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Soul Eater, and Harlock: Space Pirate), The Package follows Master Chief and a group of soldiers that must obtain a very important package on an enemy ship.

So, with eight (seven if you are being a stickler) stories with different settings and animation-styles, how do they gel? Well, I do not have a lot of positive elements to say about this anthology, but let’s get the good out of the way, okay?

In my opinion, the best stories are The Duel, One Odd Out, and Homecoming. The Halo franchise is not really known for in-depth and amazing storytelling, but the stories for these three are rather well executed. If I had to pick my favorite story, it would have to be The Duel. I chose this one because it did something different with the lore and universe of the games, and turned it into a samurai film with a downright gorgeous painting-like presentation. It also hits on a lot of elements, like having atmosphere and characters you want to invest in. Odd One Out also does this same thing, but instead of characters you emotionally invest in, you just turn your brain off and laugh at some fun, over-the-top anime-style entertainment. It helps that while Odd One Out does stand out in tone, it has some of the better writing since it’s committed to being silly. This is what works with the shorts, like in The Animatrix. In that anthology, the directors and producers took their own ideas about The Matrix, and got creative in, well, creativity and emotions.

Unfortunately, the rest of the anthology is rather forgettable. It doesn’t help that, in my opinion, the universe of Halo is not very interesting. Origins is a helpful tool to tell the backstory of the franchise, but it doesn’t have that visual flair that The Animatrix has, and the history pretty much boils down to “humans are stupid for constantly fighting, and when The Flood returns, we will ban together and fight, but then go back to killing each other.” I felt like the story was trying to be more than what it was. The anime-ish tropes that plagued the stories like The Babysitter and Homecoming also take me out of the experience, since I felt like I was watching a boring sci-fi anime. I will say at least Homecoming has the better story, but beyond the plot twist of the red female Spartan’s past, the rest is pretty forgettable. Babysitter suffers as well, because this anthology loves to drill into your head that anyone that wears the Master Chief Spartan armor is not interesting, personality-wise. Instead, Babysitter incorporated not only characters that die and we don’t care about, but it also has the whiny, talented individual that is supposed to learn some lesson at the end, but it all falls on deaf ears. Another unintentional element of some of the Spartans dying in these shorts is that they are built up to be these invincible super-soldiers, but fail. I mean, I guess if you make your character godlike, then you stop caring about them, but still. However, the final short that was on the disc, The Package, is boring. It’s just forgettable action with again, characters you don’t really care about. I know short films are limited in terms of building up multi-dimensional worlds, but this short I think hurt Halo more than helped. I also found the animation to be the least impressive of the core shorts

As of now, Halo Legends, is the weakest of the anthology films I have seen. It has a few good elements, but for every good part, it has about three bad parts. I originally picked up the film for $10, but that is a tiny bit much if you ask me. For this middle of the road anthology film, I would recommend spending maybe $5 or so on it. It at least has enough in it to make it worth seeing once. I know this was a downer review, but that is bound to happen from time to time. Sometimes, we have a good day and sometimes, we don’t. You just keep pushing through, and if you are like next week’s review of M.D. Geist, then you are bound to have something good happen to you. Thanks for reading, and see you all next time!

Rating: Rent It

The Other Side of Animation 2015 Christmas Special Part 2: Santa’s Apprentice Review

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Adaptation is a tricky thing to pull off in filmmaking when you are making something based off a popular product. You want to stay loyal to the source material whether it is a show, book, comic book series, and so on. However, making a film is a lot different than writing a book. You have to make changes, and adapt the license so it can fit into a film format. For example, you shouldn’t shove a full 20-episode season into a film that is 103 minutes. You know, like how The Last Airbender turned out. But, you don’t want to change it up too much and use very little of the original source material, like the recent worst movie of 2015, Jem and the Holograms. There are other bad adaptations of popular franchises, like Galaxy Express 999, but since this is the holidays, I wanted to talk about an animated film based off a TV series called Santa’s Apprentice. This French/Australian/Irish animated film is based off the animated series, SantApprentice. It was originally released in 2010 to a solid reception. So, why did I choose this animated film for Christmas instead of many other animated Christmas films? Well, this film was co-produced by the team at Cartoon Saloon, who made one of my favorite films of 2015, Song of the Sea, and The Secret of Kells. So, without knowing anything about the original source material, I am going to go into this film as if it was its own thing. I feel like that would be the correct thing to do, since an adaptation of something should be enjoyable for all, and not just for the fans, hardcore or not. Now then, let’s begin!

This film is set in a world where Santa exists, and has a very particular rule. After a certain period of time, the current Santa must bring in a new apprentice to become the new Santa Claus. So, where shall we find our new future Santa? Well, why not Sydney, Australia? The individual that was chosen is a young orphan boy named Nicholas. As the movie goes from the beginning to the end, Nicholas encounters a baby polar bear, a female orphan that lives in the same orphanage as him, a really crummy bully, a reindeer with lights on his antlers, and magical Christmas wonder. Can Nicholas become the new Santa Claus? Can this 77-minute film stand on its own, without relying on the original animated series?

Let’s begin with the positive elements of the film. Since this is animated by the same studio that made Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells, it is beautifully animated. While it might not be up-to-par with Song of the Sea, it still looks fantastic. Fluid movements, visually impressive locales, and bright colors are all gift-wrapped into a really remarkable-looking film. A lot of the backgrounds and scenery moments look like something out of a children’s storybook. It just screams Christmas. I also like the whole process of training to become Santa. Having to get presents under the tree without being spotted, going down a chimney on a house with no chimney, having  to play with toys from the past to get an idea of what to make in the future, learning how to fly in the sleigh, and so on. It’s pretty cool to see the movie break the job of Santa Claus down into individual challenges. I also like the voice work. Most of it can be soup of the day, but I think my favorite actor in the film is the one behind Santa’s voice, Shane Jacobson, who is most famous for his role in the mockumentary, Kenny. Maybe it’s because it the accent, but I really like this version of Santa. He likes jokes, is a hard worker, and is a pretty likable individual. I also liked Santa’s wife/personal assistant, Beatrice Lovejoy, who is voiced by Magda Szubanski. If that name sounds the tiniest bit familiar, she was Esme Hoggett from the Babe films. Anyway, Beatrice is also a hard-working and committed individual making sure Santa is okay.

Sadly, this is yet another one of those animated films that is lovely to look at, but has some lumps of coal under the tree. As much as I love the animation and scenery, the animation itself can get a little choppy at times. Another problem I have with the film is that the characters, besides the current Santa and his assistant, are not that memorable. The kid characters are boiler-plate, and they put in a really tacked-on antagonist, which is another orphan boy. I really don’t like the forced conflict of this villain, since I feel like the stake of the entire film is that Nicholas needs to be the new Santa. This jerk of an orphan is just not needed. Seriously, this kid should be in juvenile detention, not an orphanage. It’s funny how rotten this evil boy acts, since he is upset he wasn’t chosen to be the next Santa Claus. Well, maybe because you are a rude mean-spirited individual is the reason why you can’t be the new Santa. The little girl orphan is also forgettable, since she is just there to be the love interest for the main character.  I also think the pacing of the film could have been better. For a film that is 77 minutes long, they really cram in a lot of plot points, with characters who are not interesting, and are there for, well, plot reasons. It feels like to me they took a few story bits from the animated series and threw them in. You don’t even find out the orphan girl’s name until the last five minutes of the movie. It’s tedious to have to watch these forgettable characters, since it makes me focus on the somewhat ignorable art style of the film. The only design that stands out is Santa, and everyone else looks like something from a children-focused magazine. Granted, it looks much better than the animated series, but still, I think this film could have more unique designs in the kids and other characters.

So, that was Santa’s Apprentice. I honestly really wanted to love this movie. It has everything that I want in a good/entertaining Christmas special, but it so clunky in its plot, pacing, and characters, that it just misses that “Check it out!” rating. I think if they streamlined the plot, took their time, had more genuine emotional moments, fleshed out the relationship between Santa, Nicholas, and the young orphan girl, the film would be a true hidden gem. Who knows, maybe I’m being a bit too much like a Scrooge in terms of this movie, since I have seen a lot of positive reviews for the film. I don’t 100% hate this movie, I adore a lot of elements this film brings to the table, but if it’s flawed, then it needs to be talked about. I do know there is a sequel of sorts to this film, but from what I have read, and by read, I mean the 50% internet research and 50% personal guessing from said internet research, Cartoon Saloon didn’t help animate the sequel that is titled, The Magic Snowflake. Maybe if I can find this movie, I will review it for next year’s Christmas special. If you are looking for something a little different from a very talented studio, then maybe you should check out Santa’s Apprentice. Maybe you’ll like it more than I did. Well, that might have been somewhat underwhelming, but let’s end the year on a positive note with Robot Carnival. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Rating: Rent it!