The Other Side of Animation 260: Tekkonkinkreet

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

There was an article going around in Japan that talked about the current climate of animated films that aren’t big anime franchise films. After Your Name was a smash hit in 2016, the industry has been trying to find the next big Your Name hit, and unfortunately, or what was apparent from that article, the returns haven’t been promising when the big franchise films like Demon Slayer: Mugen Train and Jujutsu Kaisen 0 have been smash hits. That isn’t all true, with Belle becoming a financial hit, but it makes you hope that they do not regress into doing big IP-driven ONLY films. Now, we could talk about the fact that the industry all over the world keeps glomping onto the next big hit and trying to replicate it, and how chasing the trend first and making a good film second is always going to end in tragedy, but you know how the industry works. It takes action first without thinking about the long-term game. It’s a shame, because while making money is important, letting the art and the teams make something distinct is also important, because most franchise-based films are underwhelming. When you want to see something that looks like it goes off the beaten path, then you need to see films like Tekkonkinkreet

Directed by Michael Arias, one of the first non-Japanese directors for a major Japanese-animated film, this film is written by Anthony Weintraub, and was animated at Studio 4°C. The story follows two young boys named Black and White, dubbed by Scott Menville and Kamali Minter. They live on the streets of Takarmuchi, a once-thriving metropolis that is now bloated and overrun with criminal gangs trying to take down one another. Black and White try to take control of the streets by protecting everyone from said gangs. Can the two boys survive these dangerous times inside a crumbling city? What else is this character-driven city hiding or dealing with? 

While this is the part where we talk about the plot of the film, let’s instead focus on the standout feature of the film, the animation. If you were looking for something unique, then it would be tough to find something as distinct-looking as this film. The art direction was handled by Shinji Kimura, who also helped out in films like Children of the Sea and The Portrait Studio. Character designs were handled by Shojiro Nishimi, who also did character designs for MFKZ. They were able to translate the immensely detailed buildings and city life and blocky character designs from the original manga by Taiyo Matsumoto to life. Some moments in the film even go into this dream-like imagery that looks like it was all drawn by colored pencils. Even the action beats are as fluid as ever, despite the designs being blocky at points. The city feels intensely lived-in with so much of the city feeling like it’s falling apart. Most of the metal and buildings are covered in rust or chipped paint. There doesn’t seem to be much that isn’t overrun by industrial factories as the many civilians from the typical citizens, the different gangs, and everyone in-between give off vibes of Tokyo, Hong Kong, Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Shanghai, which were the direct inspirations for the city as they were looking for a Pan-Asian look. Even with the grime and roughness of the overall city via its visuals, there is a lot of love put into the world and how people love living there. The voice cast is also distinct because it’s more US-animation-driven than the usual anime dub casts you see in most Japanese animation. You have the likes of Scott Menville, Maurice LaMarche, John DiMaggio, Tom Kenny, Phil LaMarr, Dwight Schultz, Rick Gomez, Kamali Minter, David Lodge, Quinton Flynn, Alex Fernandez, Yuri Lowenthal, Kate Higgins, Steve Blum, Matt McKenzie, Crispin Freeman, and Dave Wittenberg. It’s a nice mix of what you would normally see in US and Japanese animation. The music is composed by the group Plaid, and they bring this minimal touch to the world mixed with some industrial and fantastical beats. 

Now that we’ve got the talk of the visuals out of the way, what is this film actually about? It’s not that it’s a complicated story, it just follows more of a vibe or mood-like approach to its storytelling. It’s vastly different from what you would see back in 2006 and some would argue even now. Then again, with a film from the same studio that made Children of the Sea and is usually the origin of those fantastic anthology films like Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond, you should expect something off the beaten path. It’s more flowing and not in your face as we follow the two brothers and the police chasing after the multiple gangsters trying to squeak out a living in a world that is constantly changing. It brings back historical moments like the change from 1970s New York when it was filled to the brim with sex, drugs, and violence before it was cleaned up. The city around them is dying and pushing them out, but some love the city as it is, while reminiscing about what it was like back in the day. The loss of childhood innocence, freedom, and dealing with your personal demons is rampant throughout this film, as there are tales of kids that run and fight freely throughout the bustling city streets. Corruption slithers its way through the alleyways, and this is all while the two brothers at the center of this story are both at the forefront and at points on the sidelines to focus on everyone else. It results in a story that is working on a more emotional than logical level, and that will definitely turn off some people. It’s not the most cohesive story as it goes through the different seasons, and much of what can be interpreted by the audience is either hidden within the dialogue or through visual storytelling. You might not want to focus too much on a film’s plot to get everything, and it’s not the best-told story, but with everything listed above, it’s one of the easier to follow films, whereas the similar-looking Mind Game, which Masaaki Yuasa directed, was a touch more complicated to follow exactly what the story and themes were without breaking them down yourself. However, sometimes, you may want to simply watch a movie that’s an experience and hits a certain part of your brain that likes those less straightforward stories.

 

While its visuals and atmosphere may overtake the story and how the story is told, Tekkonkinkreet is a film that you don’t get too often and should be celebrated when we are all, as of right now, looking for films that are different from the big franchise fodder or tentpole releases. Yes, they might not always work out 100%, but no film is ever going to be quote on quote, “perfect.” Yes, that would be nice, but then every film would be boring. Wouldn’t you rather talk about a film that has some big hits and maybe some misses of varying sizes? At least you have more to talk about than just, it’s good, it’s bad, or something in the middle that doesn’t leave that much of an impact on your filmgoing experience. As of writing this film, there has been no re-release and there is a Blu-ray and DVD release, but the Blu-ray seems like it’s hitting that out-of-print situation where it is hitting absurd prices on Amazon and the like. It’s a shame, because this is a fantastic film, and you would hope a company like Discotek or GKIDS would re-release the film. Still, if you can get a hand on a copy out in the wild, you are in for one of the many examples of why animation is such a vibrant medium, and how it’s not just for kids. Now then, the next time ya see a review, you will be hanging out with DreamWorks The Bad Guys

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 239: Poupelle of Chimney Town 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/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Studio 4C is one of the premiere animation studios from Japan. While they might not be as well known as Science Saru, Ghibli, Chizu, or Madhouse, their work is some of the most visually stunning and impressive to be seen. The thing is, you probably have seen their work. If it’s not Masaaki Yuasa’s Mind Game, then it may be their shorts seen in anthologies like Batman: Gotham Knight, Memories, and The Animatrix. You may also have seen their anthology films like Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond. Their other films include Tekkonkinkreet, Spriggan, Princess Arete, the Golden Age Arc Berserk films, Harmony, Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, or the visual masterpiece from 2019, Children of the Sea. Whether you gel with their experiences or not, you can’t deny the immensely talented animators, directors, and artists they have that craft some of the most distinct films out there. They are also one of the earlier adopters of CGI among the many studios in Japan. It’s not always perfect, but when you live in a world that has both Ex-Arm and Tesla Note, you can do so much worse. Plus, a lot of Studio 4C’s work is quite good! This includes their newest CGI feature film, Poupelle of Chimney Town. 


Directed by Yusuke Hirota, the story follows a young boy named Lubicchi, dubbed by Antonio Raul Corbo. He lives with his mother in a large city known as Chimney Town, a grime-and-smoke-covered city where the only lights visible to the people are from the buildings, as the smoke is so thick that it covers the sky. Before he went missing, Lubicchi’s father Bruno, dubbed by Stephen Root, told Lubicchi about stars in the sky and a world not covered in smoke. Unfortunately, anything relating to said stars or any kind of optimism is squashed by a zealous cult that gets rid of people that bring that kind of stuff up. One day, Lubicchi encounters a being made entirely of trash, who is dubbed by Tony Hale. Lubicchi learns that this trash individual may have been from beyond the smog-and-smoke-filled sky, and decides that he wants to see what the outside world is like while avoiding the grasp of an evil cult. 

A good way to go into this film’s story is that it plays out more like a fairytale. It has very dream-logic  and fantasy world-like logic, but if you try to put too much logic in what is going on, then you will probably not like this movie. Luckily, there is more than one way to tell a story, and luckily, this film has a lot of substance behind its fairytale-like story with commentary about the environment, family, connection, believing in the truth, and is scathing towards organized cults and capitalism. The entire plot and why Chimney Town is in this condition is based around someone trying to solve the problem with greed. It’s a film with an ambitious story within its whimsy, and it finds a way to properly balance out both. It takes a lot of time to let the characters bond and let them breathe within its smog-filled world. Some characters are not as memorable as our two leads, but there are enough characters that are appealing that will make up for some of the film’s lesser characters. 

Animation-wise, this was going to be one of the interesting elements to the film. The original picture book has such a vibrant style that would be a challenge to bring it to life in film. The film and studio decides to go the route of using CGI animation, which to some animation purists is a sin when it’s really not. Sometimes, CGI is the only way to properly bring certain visual styles to life. While Japanese animation studios are still getting used to working with CGI, the visuals are really good here! The animation is snappy and expressive, the world around the characters is oozing with small details, and the world they have crafted feels fully realized. The music is also whimsical and even has a random Halloween dance number. It’s all composed by Yuta Bando and Youki Kojima. Voice acting-wise, the English dub is the first time I have seen Eleven Arts dive into the world of bringing on celebrity voice actors. At least they brought on great character actors with Tony Hale and Stephen Root having some of their best performances not only as voice actors, but actors in general. Antonio Raul Corbo is also good as our child lead. For one of his first voice overperformances, he does an excellent job. You also have Misty Lee, Hasan Minhaj, Ray Chase, Kari Walghren, Aleks Le, Mick Wingert, James Mathis, Laura Post, Greg Chun, and Fred Tatasciore. It’s a cast that does a fantastic job with their roles. 

Now, it might get overshadowed by the other foreign features being released during award season, and sadly, we might not be seeing this in limited release until 2022, but when you can find a way to watch the film, please do. It’s one of the most charming animated features from 2021 and one of the best and most visually stunning films from the acclaimed studio. It’s great that Eleven Arts is bringing over more animated fare and we can all hope they do more of that. Now then next time, we will be talking about another Netflix original series as we are diving deep into a few screeners. 

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

Rating: Essential

The Other Side of Animation 238: Fortune Favors Lady Nikkuko 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/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)


2021 seems to have brought up a debate about directors and studios, and the quandary about how they go from grand-scale philosophical struggles about life and being human, and then go to making an experience that’s smaller in scale. That’s not really fair to expect directors or studios to keep one-upping their latest projects. The animation industry is already a really taxing career even if it can be fun and produce amazing films and shows. It does seem a touch silly to say a film is a downgrade from the last one because it’s a different type of story. As long as the film is good and the context of the production is relevant, it shouldn’t matter what came before or after a certain film release. Plus, when you are a director like Ayumu Watanabe, who has a ton of great work behind him, it should be no surprise that his newest film, Fortune Favors Nikuko, is quite good. 


Directed by Ayumu Watanabe, the story follows a young girl named Kikuko, voiced by Cocomi. She lives with her mom, a woman of size and full of positive energy and spirit named Nikuko, voiced by Shinobu Otoke. They go about their lives in a small town while living in a boat house by the shore and grill where NIkuko works. There has always been this tension between Kikuko and Nikuko, but Kikuko hasn’t really been able to figure it out. Will she be able to find happiness with her life in the town and with her mother? 



So, this sounds like another slice-of-life film that focuses on small vignettes rather than having an actual three or five act structure. Normally that would make a plot feel aimless, but there is a throughline with the small story beats shown throughout the film. If you had to find an arc that keeps the experience together, it’s Kikuko’s journey of who she is, and what she is looking for in life and her relationship with her mother. It’s a story that focuses on themes of family and connection. The film delves into the connections between our leads with the other townsfolk and teenagers. It’s a very laid back movie, as it’s more focused on the smaller character moments and the comedy sprinkled throughout the film. While there are some unfortunate fat jokes at the beginning of the film due to how they make a point to focus on Nikuko’s weight, they back down from them and what is nice is that Nikuko is a fantastic character. While life has been rough for her, she has an extremely upbeat vibe and is probably the most expressive and the speediest individual in the entire town. Everyone loves her, and she’s a real bright spot to many of the people in town. It’s a film that takes its time with its story and the way it builds its bonds with the characters. 




Animation-wise, this is Ayumu Watanabe and Studio 4C, so the animation is topnotch. They take the same approach with Children of the Sea with lucious backgrounds, color usage, and smooth movements. The character designs come from Kenichi Konishi who did character designs for Tokyo Godfathers, Tale of Princess Kaguya, My Neighbors The Yamadas, and Bokurano. The music was composed by Takatsugu Muramatsu who also composed the music for Masaaki Yuasa’s Lu Over the Wall. The acting is great with Cocomi, Shinobu Otake, HIro Shimono, Ikuji Nakamura, Izumi Ishii, Matsuko Deluxe, Natsuki Hanae, and Riho Yoshioka. 





The one downside to this film is that, like most episodic stories, the third act conflict comes up fairly abruptly. Yes, it’s a way for the story to wrap up, but it always seems like the tone suddenly changes and then everything is in trouble at this point. It works some of the time, but you can always tell when a film is about to start wrapping itself up. It’s a shame, because the rest of the third act is so delightful and heartwarming with a real emotional gut punch at the end that really solidifies the film’s theme of motherhood and family. 

It’s a surprise that this film hasn’t been picked up by anyone, which is impressive, because Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko should have some fortune for it. GKIDS will probably pick this film up for a 2022 release, and when you can find a theater to play it or when it hits on demand, give it a watch. Animation is a beautiful medium of storytelling, because you can tell any kind of story, and space it however you want. If we limit how stories and arcs are told, then we are only limiting the art of filmmaking. For now, we shall move on to another Japanese film that was at Animation is Film that Elevenarts is releasing with Poupelle of Chimney Town

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

Rating: Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 195: 5 Year Special – Children of the Sea Review

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

In terms of media that we consume and observe, a term that gets thrown around is tech demo. It essentially describes a product that’s made more to show off what a studio or game engine or whatever can do. It might look pretty and powerful, but it’s made to show off something more than anything else. I’ve seen this term used a lot to describe certain studios’ work, and the one that seems to get that title a lot is Studio 4°C. Founded in 1986 by Koji Morimoto and Eiko Tanaka, most anime and animation fans would know them for their work on films like Memories, Princess Arete, Spriggan, Mind Game, Tekkonkinkreet, the Berserk: Golden Age Arc films, MFKZ, Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, some sequences of The Animatrix, certain sequences of Batman: Gotham Knight, Halo Legends, and Genius Party and its sequel Genius Party Beyond. Most of their films or work are known for their interesting visual aesthetics, and to me, they push the limit of anime. Unfortunately, most consider their work more style over substance, and that might be true in some areas, but I think they are better than what most people give them credit for. Out of a lot of the anime studios that are around right now, at least Studio 4°C has an identity. I can tell what a film or project from them looks like. I also love that they want to push the boundaries of what anime visuals can be. This is why for my 5th anniversary special, I want to talk about a film that has been hovering around my brain since last October, Studio 4°C’s Children of the Sea.

Based on the manga by Daisuke Igarashi, directed by Ayumu Watanabe, and produced by Eiko Tanaka, Children of the Sea was originally released back in 2019, and has toured the film festival scene, from Annecy to Animation is Film. It even won Best Animation Film at the Mainichi Film Awards and the Grand Prize in the Animation Division at the Japan Media Arts Festival Awards. It was brought over to the states by GKIDS, and is now widely available to purchase on Blu-ray, DVD, digital, and you can watch it, as of writing this review, on Netflix, so let’s dive into the deep ocean, and check out one of 2019’s best films and one of the most stand-out films in animation. 

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We follow the life of Ruka Azumi, dubbed by Anjali Gauld. She is a junior high school student who is going through a bit of a rough patch in her life. Her parents are in the midst of possible separation, she ends up in a falling out with her classmates during an altercation during sports practice, and all of this while her summer vacation is was about to begin. After some friction with her mother, she goes to the aquarium where her father works. There, she meets a boy named Umi, dubbed by Lynden Prosser, who was raised by dugongs (manatees), and must be soaked or in the water in order to survive. While befriending Umi, Ruka also encounters Umi’s “brother” Sora, dubbed by Ben Niewood. What mysteries do these two water boys hold, and what is their connection with the huge migration of ocean life? 

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So, what is this film about? What kind of message and themes is it trying to convey? Well, to me and many others, it’s a film about loneliness, finding your place, and our connection to the ocean and the universe. Our main character feels alone in the world, and honestly, after the day she had and her family situation, I don’t blame her. Even a normal person can understand or have a point in their life where they feel lost. Sure, the film in the third act gets a little 2001: A Space Odyssey with its psychedelic imagery, but the overall theme and story I think are universal. The world feels vast, and you realize how small you are compared to everything else. It’s a very Men in Black way of looking at the world, but without the dark comedy cynicism. It’s a film that takes its story seriously, and you do feel for our lead character and her trials of finding out where her journey takes her. The other characters like Sora and Umi are interesting as well, with their free-spirited personalities that contrast with Ruka. The other characters are likable, but they are mostly there to help elevate Ruka, Umi, and Sora. Still, I dug the interactions and dialogue between everyone. It’s a hefty script, but without the feeling of the script being pretentious and bloated. The dialogue felt natural, and that’s sometimes very hard for an anime and Japanese animated film to pull off. 

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Now then, the highest praise for this film should absolutely go to the animation. I mean, look at it. Watch a trailer, find a clip, and look at the still frames of it! This is hands down, the prettiest and one of the most well-animated films I have ever seen. It does use a mix of 2D and CGI, but the studio mixes it up so well, that you can’t tell unless you know what you are looking for. It’s probably the most visually stunning animated film of the last decade. I know that sounds shocking, since we have also had films like The CongressKlausI Lost My Body, and you get the idea, but I think Children of the Sea outweighs them all on a visual level. You can tell they were painstakingly recreating the manga’s gorgeous artwork, and they do a good job with everything looking like it was drawn and colored by colored pencils. It’s like you can see every little hand-drawn line. The color palette is also gorgeous and just as detailed. Almost every frame could be taken out of the film and put in a picture frame, because of how jaw-dropping gorgeous the film is. 

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In terms of music, it’s also top-notch, as we have the reoccurring Studio Ghibli maestro himself, Joe Hisaishi composing the music for this film, and you can tell it’s him with his ethereal scores. It feels atmospheric and otherworldly as you try to figure out everything. In terms of acting, I saw the film both dubbed and subbed, and you can’t go wrong with either language, but as usual, I prefer listening to the dub, because I want to focus on the visuals. Still, the dub is a good one with a strong cast including Anjali Gauld, Lynden Prosser, Ben Niewood, Beau Bridgland, Marc Thompson, Karen Strassman, Wally Wingert, Michael Sorich, and Denise Lee. I also have to give a shout-out to the theme song of the film, Spirits of the Sea by singer-songwriter Kenshi Yonezu. It brings out all of the emotions and the grand nature of the visuals. 

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The only nitpick I have is that the third act might be a bit much. It’s very 2001, and you are either down with what happens or not. There is also a small side plot going on, and I don’t know if it needed to be there, but like I said, these are minor nitpicks. This is one of those films that I think I regret putting at no. 10 on my Worst to Best List of 2019. If I could redo that list, I would probably put it higher than some other films on the list. It’s a one-of-a-kind film in a year that had some incredible and stellar animated films. As of writing this review, it’s readily available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital. It’s also on Netflix, so now you have no excuse to not see this artistic and cosmic experience. Watch it however you can. It deserves a re-release in theaters once everything dies down. Well, it’s been five years, and I’m going to hope for five more years of writing about animated films. Now then, let’s move on to another artistic triumph in animation with Cartoon Saloon and Tomm Moore’s newest masterpiece, Wolfwalkers

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

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

Animation Tidbits: Annecy Part 2

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(Originally written: May 29th: 2019. Sorry for posting this late!)

(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!)

Alrighty, for the final part of this look at Annecy 2019, I decided to combine a bunch of films from different categories. This is because the various categories don’t have enough to warrant talking about in individual articles. At least, that is my opinion on the other categories. The one major change they made was a new category called Contrechamp, a category with animated features that are in competition, but have visuals that challenge the medium of animation. Otherwise, the films on the list will be from the screening events and In Production section of the festival. Let’s get started!

Children of the Sea (Contrechamp)

Directed by Ayumu Watanabe, the story focuses on a girl named Ruka, who saw a ghost in her dad’s aquarium when she was little. She becomes attracted to the aquarium and the appearance of two mysterious boys named Umi and Sora, all the while the adults who work there figure out the mass disappearance of the earth’s fish. In a lot of ways, it’s almost unfair that this film is the perfect representation for the Contrechamp section of the festival. It’s almost unfair how downright jaw-dropping-off-your-face beautiful the film is. Studio 4C has done a lot of great work, but this easily looks like it will be their best. Plus, with GKids now attached to bringing it over to the states this year, I have major hopes it’s going to be at Animation is Film 2019! If that wasn’t enough to get you hyped, Joe Hisaishi, the composer behind many of the Studio Ghibli classics, is composing the music for this film.

Away (Contrechamp)

Directed by Gints Zilbalodis, Away is about a young man who’s riding a motorcycle, trapped on a mystical island while trying to avoid a shadowy monster chasing him. This is also a film that looks like it will be taking advantage of the Contrechamp title. Sure, it kind of looks like an indie game that’s trying to be the next artistic achievement in gaming, but that’s sort of the fun of it. Plus, this was directed and animated by someone who is 25 years old. That is wildly ambitious and I give him kudos for that. It looks like a visually creative film that I hope does well.

Underdog (Contrechamp)

Directed by Sung-Yoon Oh and Chun Baek Lee, the story revolves around a blue dog that was once a house pet, but ends up back in the wild. He encounters wild dogs, and tries to help them survive and live freely. Generic title aside, I really like the visual look of this film. It reminds me of the work arounds French animation uses in projects like The Painting. It has a super vibrant color palette, and while the CGI may not be Pixar or Disney level at all, it has its own identity and personality to it. I’m happy to see South Korean animation finally making some break-out titles to show that they can make animated features that aren’t tied down to propaganda, and can be watchable by all. Though seeing some of the marketing blurbs say it was more emotionally gripping than Zootopia? Yeah, we will have to see about that.

Ville Neuve (Contrechamp)

Directed by Felix Dufour Laperriere, Ville Neuve focuses on a man named Joseph, who moves into a house with his friend, and tries to get back with his ex-wife, and this is happening with the 1995 Quebec Referendum happening in the background. I like the minimalist approach with its focus on whites, blacks, and grays. It comes off like a more personal and intimate film, and I can’t wait to see what the reviews say about this one.

Playmobil (Screening)

Now then, let’s jump in with the first film in the “Screening” category. Directed by Lino DiSalvo, the story focuses on a young woman named Marla, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who gets pulled into this Playmobil world with her brother Carlie, played by Gabriel Bateman. They get separated, and it’s up to Marla to team up with Rex Dasher, a secret agent voiced by Daniel Radcliffe and Del, a food truck driver voiced by Jim Gaffigan, to get her brother back and avoid the evil clutches of Emperor Maximus, played by Adam Lambert. Yeah, this film did not get the warmest impression, being negatively compared to the 2014 The LEGO Movie. I can understand why. It comes off as a bit outdated that there needs to be a reason for the Playmobil world to exist, when people would rather just enjoy the world that they make. Still, the film looks silly and aware about itself, and some of the jokes I saw got a chuckle out of me. Hopefully it can be an entertaining flick once it releases later this year.

The Prince’s Voyage (Screening)

Directed by Jean-Francois Languionie and Xavier Pircard, this is a follow-up to a film Jean Francois did a while back called A Monkey’s Tale, which follows the prince from that film, as he washes up on the shore of an island, and encounters an individual named Young Tom and his two parents, who were exiled scientists. The film itself looks great, but that should be no surprise, because it’s the same guy behind The Painting, but I am curious to see how they make this film work, because who remembers A Monkey’s Tale? It has only gotten an English UK release, and no one in America has probably heard of this guy or his films. Still, the CGI looks stylized, and I’m curious to see how this film does in continuing the story with these characters in a travel diary-style form.

Abominable (Screening)

Finally, we are seeing actual trailers and footage for this film. Directed by Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman, we follow the exploits of a young Chinese woman named Yi, voiced by Chloe Bennet, as she encounters an actual Yeti on the rooftop of her apartment building. It was previously caught by a scientist named Dr. Zara, voiced by Sarah Paulson, and an evil rich man named Burnish, voiced by Eddie Izzard. It is up to Yi, her friends Peng, voiced by Albert Tsai, and Jin, voiced by Tenzing Norgay Trainor, to get the Yeti back to his home in the mountains. This is an important film, due to this being DreamWorks first Chinese collaboration with Pearl Studio. As per usual with their non-comedy stuff, Abominable looks visually great, and has some endearing moments, but the jokes and references made in the first trailer and in the recent trailer are iffy. Hopefully, this is more of DreamWorks working at a How to Train your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda level, and not Shrek the Third level. Also, what is up with their marketing for this film? Everyone has already seen a trailer for the film for two or so months before the “official” trailer was released last week. What was the point of having two trailers and one of them was already viewable in theaters? Oh well, I hope this is a good movie.

Toy Story 4 (Screening)

Directed by Josh Cooley, we follow our heroes dealing with their new lives and a new encounter with a self-made toy named Forky, voiced by Tony Hale. One day, Forky gets out, and Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks, sets out to bring Forky back, but also runs into Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts. Shenanigans then ensue as Woody and the gang try to get Forky back to their new owner Bonnie, and Woody starts to have a crisis of what it means to be a toy. It’s too easy and frankly lazy, to say how this is a “cash grab”, when all films are cash grabs. We didn’t need a 4th one, but if we needed this one to get back on the train of original films starting with next year’s Onward, then so be it. Plus, I have been hearing good early word of mouth, and plus, who doesn’t want to see Keanu Reeves in his first ever voice role? Even if we might “not need it”, I’m glad to go back if the story is good.

Frozen 2 (Screening)

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, our heroes from the first film, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf are off on another adventure to go beyond the kingdom of Arendelle. Yeah, there isn’t much known about the film right now, so let’s talk about how incredible the teaser trailer was. This film looks jaw-dropping-off-your-face-and-exploding gorgeous. I’m sure a lot of this is just teaser editing, and the film may not be this serious in tone, but wouldn’t that be awesome if it was? I know there is a bit of Frozen burnout, but I liked the first movie, and I’m excited to see how this new one unfolds.

Weathering With You (WIP)

In the Work in Progress section, we have the newest film from Makoto Shinkai. The story revolves around a young boy who moves to Tokyo alone, and almost becomes broke, until he gets a writing job for an odd occult magazine. His life feels like it’s constant misery, as rain and dark clouds follow him everywhere. One day, he encounters a young girl who has a mysterious power to clear the sky of the clouds and rain. While I have been critical of some of Shinkai’s efforts and directorial touches in the past, this one has me very excited. To no surprise that Shinkai has more drop-dead eye-popping visuals, something about the story feels instantly likable, and GKids recently announced that they will be bringing it over! I can’t wait to see this film, and I hope to see it sometime soon.

Promare (Midnight Special)

Finally, for the Midnight Special, we have Promare. Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, and animated by Studio Trigger, we follow Galo Thymos and his team, the Burning Rescue Fire Department. Their main goal is to take down a group of evil mutants called BURNISH that emits and can control a special fire that is engulfing the planet. This movie looks so over-the-top, silly, nonsensical, it’s super drenched in its anime identity, and this is why I follow foreign/indie animation. This movie looks crazy in the most positive way possible. Sure, if you know anything about Studio Trigger’s previous work like Kill la Kill, Space Patrol Luluco, Little Witch Academia, and SSSS Gridman, then you know you are going to get some of the most vibrant Japanese animation around. It looks like a lot of fun, and I hope to also see it soon.

And that wraps up what I think looks to be the most promising at the Annecy International Film Festival. Even with these listed, there are truly more interesting features being shown in their completed form or work-in-progress form. Just go check out the site, and see the multitude of animated projects being shown, and find your favorites.

 

 

The Other Side of Animation 145: MFKZ Review

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

One of the things I can’t stand about the current image of animation is how many see it in a fairly limited way. They think that animation can’t be successful or good if they step beyond the family market, which is just incredibly ignorant thinking. That’s like saying adult comedies can’t go past a Seth Rogen stoner comedy, or horror films can only have jump scares and gore. The best part about animation, and I will say it as many times as I need to, is that animation is limitless. You can do anything you want with the medium. For every Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch (2018), you get a Liz and the Blue Bird. For every Incredibles 2, you get a Mirai. For every Duck Duck Goose, you get a How to Train your Dragon. My point is, films like today’s review, MFKZ, is to show how varied and vibrant animation can be. Directed by Shojiro Nishimi and Guillaume Renard, and produced by Ankama Animations and Studio 4C, this high-octane action flick stood out from rest of the films from 2018 for its odd, grimy, and intense visuals that were based on the comics made by Guillaume Renard himself. It was one of the first films during 2017’s Animation is Film Festival, but got a wider US release in October of 2018. So, was the wait worth it? Well, let’s check it out!

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So, what is this movie about? Well, a lot. We follow the story of Angelino, dubbed by Kenn Michael. He lives in Dark Meat City, a hyper-stylized, grimy, and grungy version of Los Angeles. He scrapes by making rent money with his friend Vinz, who’s a walking skeleton boy, dubbed by Vince Staples. They have to deal with living in the more poverty-riddled parts of the city and deal with the rent situation from their landlord Willy, dubbed by Dino Andrade. One night however, Angelino and Vinz get their apartment raided by Stormtrooper-like policemen that are chasing down Angelino for yet unknown reasons. This is on top of Angelino getting over an accident where he crashed into an armored car. The accident in question has him able to see individuals who are not who they supposedly are. This is probably why Angelino is being targeted. After that, Angelino and Vinz get sucked into a world that mirrors They Live (the John Carpenter horror flick). They encounter a group of luchadores who protect the world from evil forces, a group of thugs led by a man named Shakespeare, dubbed by RZA, a lovely woman named Luna, dubbed by Dascha Polanco, and getting relentlessly chased down by an evil man named Mr. K, dubbed by Giancarlo Esposito and his right hand Bruce, dubbed by Danny Trejo. Can the two make it out alive, and find out the mystery behind Angelino’s new abilities?

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So, yeah, let’s get this out of the way first, this film has a lot going on. However, unlike many movies with plenty of plots happening, MFKZ is definitely more focused. It’s more They Live, but with over-the-top action. I know nothing can beat that infamous brawl between Keith David and Rowdy Piper, but the action in MFKZ is easily one of the best elements of this film. Once again, with the knowledge that its animation, and the fact that Studio 4C is the studio that animated the film, the action is topnotch. It’s fast, intense, gritty, over-the-top, and varied. You get car chases, luchadores body-slamming Stormtroopers, Angelino gains new tentacle nightmare powers, and gunfights. For the most part of the film, you are constantly moving and learning about the characters. It’s a lot of fun to see them deal with one another, while dealing with constant action and darkly comedic dialogue. I mean, you can be critical of this film, but you can’t be mad at a thug leader who quotes Shakespeare while carrying large machine guns. It’s deep enough for you to care about the characters, but the film knows you want the fun schlocky sci-fi action, too.

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Another major highlight is that the cast is probably one of the most diverse groups of actors for dubbing and films in general. Rarely do you ever hear or see voice actors who aren’t white. There are ethnic voice actors, but they don’t seem to balance out with how many white voice actors there are in the business. It makes sense that MFKZ would then have ethnic actors/voice actors, including Kenn Michael, Vince Staples, Dino Andrade, Michael Chiklis, Giancarlo Esposito, Jorge Gutierrez, Dascha Polanco, RZA, Danny Trejo, and you get the idea. They all do a pretty good job with their roles.

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While I do love this movie, am happy that it exists, and overjoyed to see an action-animated feature aimed at adults, I’m not entirely surprised by the overall rating and the critic-rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not saying that it’s bad, because I really enjoyed it, but it is flawed. The third act especially has some pacing issues. It goes full steam ahead when the story gets going, but then it halts in its tracks. It then underplays some of the major plot elements by that point in time, and scales it back down to being more intimate and personal about not losing yourself to your darker intentions, and being human on top of the anti-establishment They Live story beats. The final scene also ends on a sequel bait joke that was funny, but also rubbed me the wrong way, because who knows if we are going to get a sequel or not.

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While it sort of unravels in the end, and I get why people aren’t fully on-board with this movie, I love that this movie exists. I’m always down for more action animation and films with weird and out-there plots. I find it hard for myself to be mad at its flaws, because there are a group of luchadores that protect the world from demons, and it’s essentially a wacked-out version of They Live. I definitely recommend either finding a theater that will play this, or checking it out when it hits DVD. While not perfect, I’m glad films like MFKZ and Ruben Brandt exist. For now, let’s talk about what is possibly the best animated feature of 2018 with Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!

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 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!