The Other Side of Animation 81: Vampire Hunter D Review

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

I am never going to get tired of what I’m about to say, and I will warn you right now that when I see situations like this, I’m going to bring it up again. A movie based off a property like a book, comic book, or whatever should be a good movie first and foremost. This is an argument I hear all the time when people are defending movies like Ratchet & Clank or old school anime films like Akira, in which I am told that I should read the source material first, or they let me know that I just don’t get it. It’s such a flimsy argument that should never be taken seriously. It also doesn’t work as a counter-argument towards criticism aimed at a movie based off a source material, because there are so many movies that are based off source material that are amazing. Do I need to know about the original books to enjoy How to Train your Dragon, Ernest & Celestine, Mary Poppins, The Rabbi’s Cat, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Dark Knight, and The Prophet? No! I can watch those movies because they were adapted so well into a movie that I could show these films to anyone, and they would be able to enjoy it without having to read the source material. A movie should be able to be well told and fun, and not require a moviegoer to do what is essentially hours of homework to watch a two hour or so movie. It’s backwards logic, and something that hinders my enjoyment of today’s review, Vampire Hunter D. This was a film released back in 1985, directed by Toyoo Ashida (1986’s Fist of the North Star film, Ultimate Teacher, Grenadier, Batman: Gotham Knight’s In Darkness Dwells section), and was brought over to the states in 1992. One of the more interesting facts about this movie is that the character design was done by Yoshitaka Amano, the same illustrator who has worked on the Final Fantasy franchise. Sadly, a good artist can only go so far in the animation scene. If you don’t have anything else, then what’s the point? Let’s get started.

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The plot is essentially Castlevania, but I’ll explain it anyway. An evil vampire has taken the reins in ruling a land that includes a small town. A lone wanderer named D, voiced by John Gremillion, wanders into town, and decides to help the town get out of the evil grasp of the intimidating Count Magnus Lee, voiced by David Wald. Can D stop the evil vampire, and make sure no one is hurt?

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I want to be kind to this film, so let us talk about the good elements that this film brings to the table. First off, the character designs. While some of the side characters have that stale anime look, the rest are diverse and memorable. I really do think having such a unique artist like Yoshitaka Amano does give this film some levity. When the film decides to be atmospheric, it really does give you a small chill, with the calm surroundings, dark colors, and super-natural fiends looming around the night sky. For the original release of the film from Streamline to the Sentai Filmworks release, the two English dubs are both pretty solid. I think the Sentai Filmworks release is a tiny bit better, but I’m sure you won’t really care, since the dub for an anime of this time period (1992 for the USA) could have been so much worse.

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Now that we got the positives out of the way, let’s breakout the Vampire Killer whip, and take down the negatives that this film offers. First off, good luck enjoying this if you didn’t know one thing about the series, because this film doesn’t ease you in at all into the universe. It really doesn’t explain how this world has old world outfits, use of horse and carriage when combustion engines are around, robotic horses, werewolves, dinosaurs, and so on. There is really no reason this couldn’t have been late 1800s-early 1900s. I think the one element that cements this criticism is this weird hand thing D has. I’m sure the face he has on his hand probably has some kind of explanation, but if this was your first time watching the film, you will be confused and horrified by that thing. The film is also inconsistent with its rules at different points in the story. For example, there is a villain in the film that can bend space and time to avoid damage, like say, getting stabbed by a sword. Well, the villain uses this ability once, and never again. It makes it out like the writers wanted an “oh, snap” moment, but then forgot that the individual has this ability and just let him get his arm cut off, and then his head blown off by the big bad vampire. Some scenes are also not explained or executed well. Like later on in the film, the bad guys obtain a special candle that is dangerous towards vampires. Well, the bad guy that can control space and time attempts to use it on D, but realizes that it’s not the candle that he got in the first place, but a fake. It then turns out another crummy individual in the film somehow swapped the real candle with the fake one. They don’t show how or when he did it, so it means you add another unexplained element to the pile of other unexplained plot elements in this movie. Even on top of all this, I found the film to be boring. You would think this would be an entertaining film with D being a vampire slayer, and taking down a horde of monsters to save a town from Dracula, but it’s not. It might be only 80 minutes long, but it can drag in a lot of places. The characters are also not worth writing about. They are all cookie cutter, and D isn’t even that interesting of a lead character. Sure, there is intrigue in terms of who he is, but I don’t really feel invested to watch him succeed, since he can sometimes come off as too weak in terms of being the lead. Once again, it shows how infuriating the animation industry can be when they decide to take an idea that should work, but screw over the execution and make it a boring pile of mud.

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In the end I think Vampire Hunter D suffers from being a bad adaptation with too much of a focus on the fans. While it might be amusing for fans of the franchise, it isn’t an enjoyable sit for the rest of us. I would rather a film be enjoyable to all, than make it for one small group of people. Still, I have seen worse, and Vampire Hunter D might be bad, but it’s not in my top 10 worst animated films bad. I can totally see why people would love the franchise, and think if you are going to check it out, read the manga, and then watch the film. Luckily, we will take a look at the sequel in the near future that definitely does everything better, even if it still falls into a few traps. Well, we have some time before Ghost in the Shell comes out, how about we take a look at Lionsgate’s newest animated offering with Rock Dog? Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster

The Other Side of Animation 33: Japanese Animation Month: Short Peace 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 female nudity and violence in this movie. Parental Discretion is advised. Hope you enjoy the review!

Well, I might as well get another Katsuhiro Otomo film project under Japanese Animation Month. I mean, yes, I will be tackling Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Hosoda in the future, but for now, let’s take a look at Otomo’s most recent film project known as Short Peace. This anthology film was released back in 2013, and was brought over to the states by Sentai Filmworks. It got some publicity because one of the shorts, Possessions, was nominated for an Oscar for best animated short. Short Peace includes four different shorts, with an opening animated segment directed by Koji Morimoto (Franken’s Gears segment from Robot Carnival, and Magnetic Rose segment from Memories). The other directors besides Katsuhiro Otomo involved are Hiroaki Ando (Ajin, Five Numbers!, and Digital Juice) and Hajime Katoki (Gundam and Super Robot Wars series). So, how good are these shorts, individually? Well, let’s find out!

While not technically part of the four anthology films, the opening animated sequence from Koji Morimoto has a young girl following a rabbit into a bunch of magical worlds.

The first official short is called Possessions, and is directed by Shuei Morita (Freedom, Kakurenbo: Hide & Seek, Tokyo Ghoul, and Valvrave the Liberator). It’s about a lone traveler taking shelter in an abandoned shrine during a rainstorm. Once inside the shrine, he then has to deal with a group of spirits.

The second short is called Combustible, and is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo himself. Combustible tells the tale of a woman of royalty, and her experience with her childhood friend. It’s a tragic romantic story, which centers around traditions and firefighting in ancient Japan.

The third short is Gambo, which is directed by Hiroaki Ando. It’s probably the most violent of the four shorts, with a giant white bear in ancient Japan, who helps a little girl take care of a red demon that has plagued her village.

The final short is called A Farewell to Weapons. This entry in this anthology is directed by Hajime Katoki. It revolves around a group of men in the distant future that are tasked with destroying robotic tanks that are still lurking around, while finding important items from the past.

So, since these are all individual shorts themed around Japanese culture, how do they all compare? Well, all of them are visually creative, interesting, and impressive on a technical scale. Since this was made in 2013, they used more CGI animation, than the 2D animation with minimal CGI used in Memories. In that film, the CGI was used to help engross you into the world and help out with some of the more technical aspects. Now, usually, I don’t like it when Japan decides to mix 2D with CGI, since it’s always distracting, and never looks good. Sure, the three Berserk films look better than Sin the Movie in terms of 2D animation mixed with CGI, but even after years of technical progression, it’s still obvious to the eyes when they switch between the two. Luckily, in Short Peace, the mixture of 2D and CGI is not horrible. I actually like how fluid it all looks, and while it’s noticeable that there is CGI, it’s balanced out with some really, and I mean really, good art styles. Possessions, Combustible, Gambo, and A Farewell to Weapons are all distinct with Possessions having a beautiful CGI painted look, Combustible looking like those woodblock paintings, Gambo having a rough sketchy style, and A Farewell to Weapons having the more traditional anime that you would recognize. If I had to pick my favorite shorts in terms of overall enjoyability, I would have to choose Possessions and A Farewell to Arms. Possessions feels like a short film made by Mamoru Hosoda or Hayao Miyazaki. It’s charming, and shows what kind of stories can come out of anime when they aren’t catering to the lazy anime tropes we see today. It’s an experience with very little fighting, and that is impressive to me. A Farewell to Weapons is an intense action flick that is based on one of Otomo’s short stories, and has probably one of the most black comedy twist endings that I have ever seen. It really reminds me of the Stink Bomb segment from Memories in terms of endings.

Sadly, I found Gambo and Otomo’s Combustible to be the weaker of the two, but Combustible is definitely the weakest, in terms of shorts. I think the biggest problem with both shorts is that they should have been longer and had more details. Gambo is interesting, but who was Gambo? Was he a God? Was he a spirit? I mean, I can understand Gambo a bit more than Combustible. While elements of Combustible can be thrilling, like the intense firefighting scenes, and seeing what life was like back during that time period, the interaction and connection between the female and male lead is not super strong, and the female lead isn’t interesting. I also found her logic of trying to escape the fire questionable at best. Did she just not want to listen to the guy wanting to save her life?! I want to feel badly for her, but she does herself in by not telling anyone about a fire she started, or getting out of there instead of staying there until the fire got way out of hand. I honestly don’t know if the writers and Otomo wanted to make the final tragic scene something symbolic or not. I always hate saying that Otomo’s segments of these anthology films are the weakest parts, but his “emotional experience over proper storytelling” style does creep up in this film. Not to say you can’t get what is going on, and downright love/adore the unique art style and how it looks like it was all on a scroll, but it’s hard to overlook the narrative problems.

Still, the best part about this movie is that it’s good and very ambitious. In a day and age of CGI animation becoming very similar looking, since most third-party studios want to be the next Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar, Japan and other countries still want to try out and use different styles, and for the most part, do 2D animation. Short Peace is a great example of both style and ambition to be something different. If you haven’t purchased this movie yet, you definitely should. Even with its shortcomings, it’s still a great watch. Sadly, Japanese Animation Month is over, but that doesn’t mean I am done talking about animated films from Japan, since next time, we take a look at Lupin the 3rd’s first outing in a movie with The Mystery of Mamo. Thanks for reading my work, I hope you like it, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation: The Garden of Words Review

(If you like what you see, go to camseyeview.biz to see the rest of my written work. If you want to, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the article!)

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!