The Other Side of Animation 192: The Princess and the Pilot 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!)

We have talked about distributors in the past, like GKIDS, Funimation, Shout! Factory, Central Park Media, Elevenarts, and we will be talking about many more of them as more animated films from overseas are released in the states. However, today, we are going to talk about an animated film I have had my eye on for a while, and didn’t know it got a US release until I saw a distributor who brought it over, NIS America. While mostly a video game distributor, they did partake in releasing anime over in the US up until the mid-2010s. The most noteworthy title that they have brought over is the anime adaptation of the beloved, if notorious, Bunny Drop and the Love Live! seriesWhile not known for much else, I’m always interested to see what distributors like to bring over, and that includes today’s film, The Princess and the Pilot

Directed by Jun Shishido, who has directed other anime like Yuri!!! On IceKamen No Maid Guy, and To the Abandoned Sacred BeastsThe Princess and the Pilot is based on the light novel by Koroku Inumura. The film was also written by Satoko Okudera, who has written the scripts for many animated features like Summer WarsWolf ChildrenThe Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and Miyori no Mori. So, did this animated feature deserve to fly under the radar? Well, you will have to get into the co-pilot seat and find out!

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The story is set in a land where two nations, the Levamme Empire and the Amatsukami Imperium are, well, at war with each other. No one can live in peace or anything. Anyway, we focus on a pilot named Charles Karino, voiced by Ryunosuke Kamiki, who is tasked with escorting the princess of the Levamme Empire, Juana Del Moral, voiced by Seika Taketomi. The catch is that they are flying a plane that has no real combat experience, and must get across enemy lines to the homeland of the princess. 

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What do I like about the film? Well, despite showing off air-based combat, the film is more focused on our lead characters and the relationship and chemistry between them. If there was a theme or a topic that the film focuses on, it’s the theme of freedom. The pilot loves flying since he isn’t held down by the rules and limitations of the ground. The princess feels free of her legacy and her royalty while in the air. The two make for a fairly cute romantic couple, even if their fates are as clear as the blue sky. The film also does tackle other issues like racism, corruption, and discrimination, but they are more like flavor packets to the overall experience. The film does spend a lot of time with the two leads, but when the air combat happens, it’s impactful. Due to the fact the duo are flying a plane made for speed more than combat, they take advantage of Charles’ supposed flying skills, and the combat sequences are thrilling. Sure, they are using CGI for these planes and airships, but it doesn’t stop the fights from being fun to watch. It’s all in the execution. 

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Animation-wise, the film was produced by TMS and Studio Madhouse, and the results are pretty. The animation is gorgeous, and when they do use CGI, it blends pretty well. I know people love to rag on CGI used in anime, and yes, there are still some pretty bad examples of it today, but with the proper execution, it can look great. It also helps that the CGI is used sparingly. The music is also atmospheric and more environmental than grandiose, but it’s a solid soundtrack by composer Shiro Hamaguchi. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he composed the music for One PieceFinal Fantasy: UnlimitedOh My Goddess!Final Fantasy VII, and the original Monster Hunter. Unfortunately, the US release doesn’t have an English voice cast, but I found the overall Japanese cast to do well.

It was tough to write about this film because anytime I could try to layout this review, I kept thinking about Porco Rosso. To be clear, any criticisms I have for this film are not because this film isn’t one of my favorite Studio Ghibli movies. With that said, while I do, in general, like this movie, I want to talk about some of the issues. For a film that takes place in a fictional world, they try to act like it is a “based on a true story” award season film. Even down to the villains in the film being a touch too cartoony in their hatred. Not to say there aren’t just cartoonishly racist people in the real world, but the characters who are hateful are too “on the nose” about it. I also wish the film didn’t use so many of its flying sequences taking place from inside the cockpit of the plane. Not to compare every part of it to Porco Rosso, but that film made the sky and landscapes feel alive. Porco Rosso loved to show landscape shots and show the beauty of the world around Porco. Too many times The Princess and the Pilot only focus on the cockpit view, and it takes me out of the film. The ending is also abrupt and, again, it ends with “historical” text like they were real people. It’s a shame because I loved the ending up to that point. The side characters are also not all that interesting, and you don’t see many of them again after they are introduced. Honestly, one of the more fleshed-out characters is an antagonist pilot later on in the film, and unfortunately, he doesn’t stay long either. 

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Despite my criticisms of the film, I enjoyed my time with The Princess and the Pilot. It’s still readily available on DVD and Blu-ray, and you can find it on Amazon or on Rightstuf Anime. If you want to expand your anime film collection, then I recommend this film. It’s a shame not more people know about it, but I guess that’s what happens when you are with a distributor like NIS America that has pretty much stopped distributing anime. Well, it was fun to explore a new title, but we now must tackle an animated film that Netflix did nothing to advertise, and for good reason with Fe@rless

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: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 166: Lupin the 3rd: Goemon’s Blood Spray 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!)

Warning/Parental Heads up! This is a very violent special. You will see limbs fly off, blood, and visions of beheading individuals. There are also some sexual tension and minor pot smoking. This is absolutely not meant for a younger audience. Viewer’s discretion is advised. Hope you like the review!

When you have such an iconic cast of characters like Lupin the 3rd does, it’s always a bit concerning when the film decides to focus on just one of them, and that one isn’t Lupin. Sure, you can make an interesting story or experience with someone like Fujiko and Daisuke Jigen, but then you have Goemon. From all of my years of loving Lupin the 3rd, Goemon has been one of the more frustrating characters on which to focus a story, because of his stoic samurai character. He’s kind of boring, and only gets fun when he uses that sword to do over-the-top sword slicing stuff. That’s why today’s review is probably going to be the best way to form a story around him, Lupin the 3rd: Goemon’s Blood Spray.

Directed by Takeshi Koike, Goemon’s Blood Spray is the second of specials that connect back to the Fujiko Mine mini-series that may or may not take place at the very beginning of the Lupin the 3rd timeline. Listen, with continuity for this franchise, you just have to wing it, and not think about it so hard. Anyway, let’s dive right into this little gorefest.

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The story takes place after Jigen’s Gravestone, as we see our gang of likable thieves stealing from a Yakuza-operated casino ship. While on the ship, Lupin, dubbed by Keith Silverstein, Jigen, dubbed by Dan Woren, and Fujiko, dubbed by Cristina Vee, are just there to steal the money. Goemon, dubbed by Lex Lang, is there to protect a Yakuza boss from harm. Unexpectedly, a third party is thrown in the fray with a killer known as Hawk aka the Phantom of Bermuda, dubbed by Kirk Thorton. Hawk is sent to kill Lupin, Jigen, and Fujiko. Goemon tries to defend the three and fails to do so, but they are then saved by Inspector Zenigata, dubbed by Richard Epcar. Can Lupin and the gang avoid the killer ax swings of Hawk? Can Goemon redeem his failure to take down the giant killer?

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Like I mentioned above, while Lupin, Jigen, Zenigata, and Fujiko are in the film, much of this film’s focus is on the lone swordsman, Goemon. So, how do you make a character, which is usually untouchable, vulnerable? It’s rather simple, set the story with Goemon before he’s the unstoppable swordsman that he is in the main series. The plot is fairly basic in this film as it places Goemon against Hawk, and the main goal and drive of the story are for Goemon to achieve that level of swordsmanship that can put him on the same level or higher than Hawk. It’s a very samurai-style film, but it fits. A lot of that is because the special knows what it needs to focus on and to have a threat that can propel the story forward. One of the best parts about this special is Hawk. Along with Jigen’s Gravestone’s Yael Okuzaki, Hawk is one of the deadliest threats in the Lupin the 3rd universe. He’s big, strong, stoic, unmoving, and versatile with his two axes. He’s not a dumb or typical hired hitman villain either. Due to being an ex-military soldier, Hawk can and will adapt to the situation at hand. Even using bullets on him does not work. I love that he looks like something out of a Hong Kong or early 70s/80s action flick. He would fit perfectly in films like Commando or any of the action films Hong Kong was putting out at the time.

So, since this is pretty much Goemon’s story, what do the other characters have to do? Well, a lot of the plot that involves Lupin and Jigen starts and stops at the cruise ship heist at the beginning, and then becomes the targets of Hawk. Fujiko doesn’t have a whole lot to do, and I think that’s good. The problem with the last special within this Lupin continuity was that she did little, and was mostly fan service. In this film, she bails at the halfway point while Goemon is training. Zenigata has a bit more to do this time as he tries to not only capture Lupin and Jigen, but also find out why Hawk was there in the first place. The rest of the cast are setups for Goemon’s story, including the gang of yakuza that Goemon was protecting back on the ship.

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Animation-wise, it’s on par with the last special. The darker outlines, slicker designs, and action sequences are all beautiful to look at and watch on screen. The movements are so fluid, and you are constantly hooked to see how the fights pan out. Like I also said above, this is a very violent film. Not early 90s anime violent, but you will see limbs fly, blood spray, and Goemon get a part of his arm sliced like a Deli slicing roast beef. You will be getting action sequences that can be compared to the ones you see in Sword of the Stranger. The dub cast is also pretty spectacular. We have the returning cast of Keith Silverstein as Lupin, Dan Woren as Jigen, Richard Epcar as Zenigata, and Cristina Vee as Fujiko, but the two newcomers, Kirk Thorton and returning Goemon voice actor Lex Lang are wonderful additions to the cast. Kirk brings this weathered and tired portrayal to Hawk, and Lex brings his A-game and his best Goemon performance to date. Of course, this wouldn’t be a Lupin special if it didn’t have a pretty cheesy rock song at the end of the special by Rob Laufer.

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So, what did I not like about this special? Well, while it is stripped down, I would have loved a bit more connection and explanation about who hired Hawk to kill Lupin, Fujiko, and Jigen. They don’t explain it, despite this special being a sequel to Jigen’s Gravestone. Was it Mamo who sent Hawk after the gang? What happened to Hawk after the fight with Goemon at the end? I think turning this into a 90-minute feature would have helped flesh out the story more. I still love the plot, but it needed to either cut more or expand more.

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In the end, Goemon’s Blood Spray is a thrilling violent romp, reminiscent of some of anime’s best action films. I highly recommend picking up the recently released Blu-ray from Discotek Media. It’s very entertaining, violent, and it made a usually tough character to make interesting, well, interesting. It’s still not Castle of Cagliostro, but I consider it one of the best specials out of the Lupin the 3rd franchise. Now then, we shall move from the blood-soaked lands of Japan to the shivering mountaintops as we look at DreamWorks and Pearl Studios’ Abominable.

 Thank you for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to like and share this review! You can also be a patron for my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 42: Lupin the 3rd Special Part 2: Lupin the 3rd: Green vs. Red 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!)

Recently, there have been a slew of films released like Ratchet & Clank, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where a lot of “defenders” or stubborn fans, pick your poison, say that those films were made for “true fans” of the license/property. Well, these comments have led me to ask a question, “How much can fan service save a film?” I mean, we have seen this before where a film will mostly be for fans of the franchise with all the in-jokes and references. However, let’s be real, and not kid ourselves. Fan service can only go so far before you realize the movie is terrible. It’s like, how you can only go so far with a great cast, amazing animation, or near-realistic CGI, if the other elements of the film don’t work, then the movie is bad. I know you can make the argument of what defines “bad”, but seriously, if you are all flash and no substance, you aren’t going to last long. It’s why a lot of these films or projects based on popular properties don’t end up as overall good movies. Studios spend so much time making sure the fans of the source material enjoy it, they forget that you need to be a good movie. This is why I chose the Lupin the 3rd TV special, Green vs Red. This TV film was made to celebrate the franchises’ 40th anniversary. If you are a huge fan of the franchise, you will get all the winks and nods to the legacy of the iconic anime character. Sadly, if you are not a fan of the franchise, and want to see a film that is just as good as Castle of Cagliostro, then you are going to come up short. Let’s dive in, shall we?

The plot is rather complicated, so excuse me if I don’t give a super-proper plot summary. All over the world, a slew of thieves have shown up, all proclaiming to be the infamous Lupin the 3rd. While this is going on, a young man named Yasuo, a pickpocket and chef, one day obtains the iconic green jacket of Lupin the 3rd at a small little dive that he works at. Yasuo then gets wrapped up into another plot about obtaining the notorious Ice Cube, a new contraption made by a company called Night Hawk. Can Yasuo find out what exactly is going on, and why all of these imitators are popping up all over the world?

I don’t really have a lot of nice things to say about this special. First off, and this is pretty much a sin for not just anime, but animation in general, it’s boring. Why is it boring? Well, it tries to focus too much on being fan service for the fandom rather than focusing on a logical story. The whole Ice Cube subplot becomes very third-wheel, since it’s more about Yasuo’s transformation into the new Lupin, than obtaining the Ice Cube. Sure, I like the fan service and references to past Lupin series/movies/whatever, but to be the main focus when you have two other plots that should have been the focus, is a major problem. Is it cool that you see the red, green, and pink jackets? Yes. Is it cool that you get to see a lot of the differently designed Lupins? Yes. Is it great to see some of the winks to The Castle of Cagliostro and how the film loves this specific version of Lupin? Heck yes! But, it can’t be the only thing to carry this movie. The film also wants to have this, quite frankly, self-indulgent theme of how Lupin isn’t a real person, but more of a state of mind, and the representation of freedom and how everyone wants to be like Lupin. Listen, it’s nice that you wanted to be philosophical and all, but that isn’t the reason why you watch Lupin the 3rd. You watch anything from this franchise for the comedy, the interaction between lovable characters, and the fun, if goofy action that is pretty much a light-hearted version of anything spy-related. Like I said, the fan service distracts and takes over the time that could have been used on the characters from the actual franchise. While Jigen, Fugiko, and Detective Zenigata do get screentime, Goemon sadly shows up for a few lines and that’s it. It feels like they were at some kind of crossroads with how to handle this special. They needed to please the fans from young to old, but they needed a plot as well. I guess I wouldn’t have minded if I actually liked the characters they decided to focus on, but they were so boring and forgettable. They could have also not taken the plot through a Pulp Fiction-style execution, since the plot was already hard enough to follow.

I have to be honest; I found the art direction extremely bland. Sure, the main characters look alright, but the fun of the franchise was its art style. It was exaggerated and cartoony. Green vs Red looks like generic anime that tries to have the retro touch that makes Lupin the 3rd so memorable. That’s why the newest series, including the Fujiko Mine prequel series and the Lupin the 3rd: Part 4 series, work because the designs are so diverse than what you normally see in anime.

Okay, I think I have railed on this long enough, what is good about this special? Well, as much as the fan service and references get in the way, I do like seeing all the little things, like all the differently designed Lupins and the nods to Castle of Cagliostro. It makes me smile, even though the overall experience is flawed. While I do not like the self-indulgent philosophical elements, I do respect that they tried to do something deeper than a simple hour-long clip show showing off the franchise. The brief, but final showdown between Lupin and Yasuo is pretty neat, since they actually do a different art style for those brief seconds of action. Too bad more of the film couldn’t be like this or the giant robot scene.

As much of a fan as I am of Lupin the 3rd, I think this was a trainwreck. Not the worst movie I have seen, since that would mean no effort was put into this, but it’s still a mess of fan service being glorified, boring characters, and a sloppily put-together story. How would I have recut the whole film? Easy, keep the focus on the Green vs Red gimmick. Have Lupin encounter someone who looks exactly like him foil his heists, only to find out that someone made a clone of him. Skip the pompous college textbook philosophical elements, and have it be a great fun adventure. Unless you want to own everything Lupin the 3rd, you can pretty much skip this film. However, if you must have it, you can obtain a DVD copy by going to Discotek Media’s website, since they are the ones who are distributing it here in the states. Green vs Red shows what happens when fan service takes over the more important elements of a film. I don’t want to end this three-part special on a negative note, so let’s take a look at the recent spin-off special that was possibly a gateway to the newest TV series with Lupin the 3rd: Jigen’s Gravestone. Thanks for reading, I hope you like it, and see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster