Category Archives: Review

Dumbbell Nan Kilo Moteru- Lifting Tips for people who will never enter a gym

Dumbbell Nan Kilo Moteru is an anime from last year. It’s a Doga Kobo series based off of a Web Manga. You know, the studio behind New Game & Yuru Yuri. I have yet to review a bad anime from them. So, let’s dive in with a little cautious optimism.

dumbbell

Story:

Sakura Hibiki is worried about her weight and her inability to attract a hunky boy. So, she decides to hit the gym. Little realising that her unattractiveness stems from being dumb as a brick and not her appearance. She tries the newly opened Silverman gym and winds up collaborating with a group of classmates on a light-hearted journey to physical fitness.

There are two fundamental flaws with this series. The first is that it spends a huge amount of time on fitness and nutrition tutorials. You know, the kind of stuff you can learn about much better and more efficiently elsewhere and don’t need to watch an anime for. I thought Tsuritama spent too much time with its fishing tutorials but this series easily has twice the tutorials with none of the charm.

That’s the second big problem here. This series is not funny. It tries to be, but its idea of “comedy” is exceptionally stupid. Hibiki tries to hit on a boy, finds out he has a bodybuilder’s physique and looks disgusting to her. The girls try to do exercises at home using chairs for support, accidentally break chairs because they weren’t sturdy enough. Their teacher cosplays and doesn’t want them to know. These are the kinds of jokes you can anticipate. Half the time you only know they’re trying to be funny because they use some hideous, exaggerated face one one of the main girls.

Characters:

I’ve said in the past that a comedy doesn’t need characters who are deep or complex and I fully stand behind that statement. What a comedy does need are characters who have strong interactions and mesh well for comedic moments. The characters in this range from being bland and unfunny to just being a bit obnoxious.

It’s like Sandrovich Yabako wanted his characters to be different, noticed that other comedies tried to make characters who were funny and endearing and decided that he was going to go in the opposite direction. Jokes on him, Seth MacFarlane did that first.

Art:

The character designs are pretty much the standard “cute girls doing cute things” type. But with obnoxious amounts of fan-service and changes to ugly faces as a signal to the audience that it’s time to laugh. Because otherwise you would never know which parts you were supposed to find funny.

On the subject of the fan-service, this anime is downright sleazy with it. Most of the main characters are in their early high school years. And the fact that they frequently mix the fan-service with exercise tutorials makes it seem like Sandrovich specifically made this series to appeal to the types of guys who perv on women at the gym. With some overly muscled dudes thrown in just in case there’s someone with a bodybuilder fetish who finds this all tolerable.

Dumbbell1

Sound:

The acting isn’t bad. Not the best I’ve heard from Amamiya Sora, Touyama Nao or several others. But it’s basically passable performances with occasional bad direction leading to exaggerated delivery. Although, in fairness to the director Yamazaki Mitsue, exaggerated performances are often a hallmark of bad comedies. It’s like there’s this idea that if the actors just go full ham on their lines, they might get a pity laugh for trying so hard.

The music is mostly bland. The ending theme tune is really annoying. The opening theme tune is almost decent but ten it throws in the characters shouting the names of exercises and that just sounds terrible. It kind of reminds me of the American cartoon C.O.P.S, where the theme tune had a nice beat but when you throw in all the random “Cops” throughout it just makes you want to hear the tune without lyrics.

Ho-yay:

There’s very little. There’s one scene where Gina seems almost interested in her female teacher. Then all the characters go back to chasing that elusive boyfriend who finds them charming and not imbecilic and annoying.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. You don’t need tutorials in an anime. Seriously, anyone who wants to learn about strength training and nutrition has much better sources available. All your audience is going to do is get up and get some crisps, kinder eggs or other junk food while there’s a lull. Or fapping to the images of under-aged girls exercising because they can’t do that at a real gym any more.
  2. If complex characters are beyond you, which they clearly are. At least make characters with endearing qualities who can work well for comedy.
  3. If you want to go all in on the fan-service, at least make your main cast grown women. Honestly, there’d have been no real difference if the main cast had been made up of young ladies in University and their teachers. Except that the adults in the fan base wouldn’t be under observation by law enforcement. And it would be significantly less skeevy.

Final Thoughts:

This comedy is pretty bad. It’s unfunny, downright obnoxious at times, spends far too much time on boring fitness tutorials and sleazy. That being said, I have seen much worse comedies. I’ve seen ones with much more annoying characters. I’ve seen ones with much more wretchedly bad humour, this one is mostly just stupid. And I’ve seen ones that are much worse with their fan-service. It’s still bad, but I’d hesitate to call it terrible. My rating is going to be a 3/10. As for people who might enjoy it, fitness nuts who really want to watch media that tells them how to do the exercises they’re already doing might get a kick out of it. Guys who want to gawk at women exercising but either don’t want to enter a gym, can’t because they got kicked out already or just don’t want to act pervy in public will certainly find an outlet here. I can’t really suggest it to anyone else.

June Bonus Review Excalibur: The Sword is Drawn & #1-5

Excalibur was one of many groups that came out of the X-men. Back in the day, the group was very popular and you’d already seen the New Mutants and X-Factor. Let’s take a look at how the group started with Excalibur: The Sword is Drawn (1988) and look at the first five issues. (88-89)

Excalibur

Story:

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the X-men comics, I’ll briefly explain the events leading up to Excalibur. Basically, Nightcrawler and Shadowcat had both been injured and left on Muir Island, the rest of the X-men, along with Scott Summers’ wife Madelyne Pryor, seemingly sacrificed themselves to save the world. The group decided not to tell Kurt and Kitty that they were alive and well out of concern that they’d try to rejoin and exacerbate their injuries.

We open with Kitty Pryde having strange dreams about the believed dead X-men as actors and the lost Rachel Summers appearing to speak to her when the X-men peel back their skin and reveal themselves to be monstrous creatures called War Wolves. Meanwhile, Captain Britain’s lover, Meggan hears the news of Psylocke’s apparent death and finds Brian sitting in his costume and drinking. The group eventually comes together against a strange group of bounty hunters and the War Wolves from Kitty’s dream. Rachel suggests that they protect Xavier’s dream in much the same way as Arthur’s knights protected his and they become Excalibur.

Issues 1 and 2 place the group against the loose War Wolves. Issue 3 sees the team face off against The Juggernaut and some escaped prisoners. Issues 4 & 5 put them in Murderworld against Arcade and Captain Britain villains The Crazy Gang.

There are a lot of strong moments in these comics. Nightcrawler shaking Brian out of his drunken stupor & Rachel’s big speech that inspires the characters to group up both stand out from the special. Shadowcat deceiving and then bursting from a War Wolf stand out about the first two issues. As does the ending. Meggan standing up to the Juggernaut and then getting comforted by Nightcrawler stand out in the third. Then we have Shadowcat figuring out how to break Arcade’s plans and Lockheed guarding Arcade’s control console.

We also see all of Claremont’s signature strengths at play. He really excels at using every member of a group to their full potential and balancing things so that every character gets their moments and the “more powerful” characters don’t dominate things. He’s also fantastic at pacing, with some slower moments for build up and to allow the characters to reflect on things they’ve been through along with the more intense action sequences where we see our heroes in action. We also get a lot of build up for future stories with the implication that Rachel escaped from Mojo, some sequences involving Opal Saturnyne and the implication that Rachel is some kind of threat she wants to deal with and scenes with a strange robot head that causes a mutant child to vanish. It makes you want to read more and find out where he’s going with all of it.

It’s also interesting to see the team try and come to terms with living together, even though Captain Britain and Meggan don’t know the rest of the group all that well. And there is something compelling about seeing Kurt and Kitty try to overcome their problems while making a difference. With Nightcrawler finding his teleportation extremely limited and Shadowcat having trouble staying solid.

The one negative I’ll bring up is that Claremont doesn’t do the best job of showing The Crazy Gang as a threat. I mean, the group is basically made fools of by a normal human woman and then they only put up something of a fight by switching bodies with the members of Excalibur. Although, in all fairness, the comic does categorise them as inept. But it seems odd to bring in an entire group of villains just to use them for a one-off gag.

They also don’t have the strongest introduction. We see Tweedle -Dope in the first issue along with a poster, but we don’t know anything about them as characters. Unless you happen to be from the UK and have read the Captain Britain issues with them. But given that Excalibur was the first time the group was seen in America, it would have helped to get some background. And Juggernaut feels a bit under-used in his appearance. We get to see him toss Captain Britain around for a bit before being quickly shut down by Phoenix.

Characters:

The cast of heroes is really good. Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Phoenix, Captain Britain and Meggan are all interesting characters. Having three of them know each other really well and two of them be romantically involved also leads to some interesting dynamics and interactions. There’s an early implication that Kurt is attracted to Meggan but doesn’t want to get between her and Brian but she also seems to be attracted to him, subconsciously transforming to have skin and eyes like his and nearly kissing him at one point.

Rachel and Kitty also have a really interesting dynamic. With them being close to the same age but Rachel also being familiar with a much older Kitty Pryde from a dystopian future.

Art:

Alan Davis did the pencilling and Paul Neary did the inking. The pair worked on the art for all six issues and they did a really good job. The colouring is vibrant. The characters look good. The action flows well. About the only negative I have is that they have the common comic practice of only having backgrounds when they need to. So, a lot of panels just don’t bother. You do have to give them some leeway since they came out monthly and this was back when everything was drawn by hand.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Have stronger introductions for the Crazy Gang so that readers outside of the UK know what their deal is. Besides the obvious them being a group of loonies.
  2. Let The Juggernaut do a bit more.
  3. Backgrounds.

Final Thoughts:

These comics are pretty fantastic. They have strong characters, fantastic story-telling and a lot of build up for future adventures. If you’re a super hero fan, this is a series I would recommend getting into. It has a lot of heart and showcases just why Chris Claremont is one of the best writers in the business. As a group, I give them a 9/10.

Film Festival Week: Sennen Joyuu

Sennen Joyuu is a 2002 Madhouse film written and directed by Kon Satoshi. Yes, the same man who also wrote and directed both Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers. He’s also done some rubbish, but I haven’t reviewed that so we’ll pretend we don’t know about it. To close out this year’s film festival week, let’s take a look at Sennen Joyuu.

Millenium Actress

Story:

We open with a dude, Tachibana Genya, watching old films when he’s startled out of his seat by an earthquake. We see that Ginei Studio is having their buildings demolished and Tachibana has decided it’s an opportune time to interview Ginei’s greatest former star, Fujiwara Chiyoko. They find her living in veritable isolation in a nice manor house and she tells them about her life growing up during the second World War & how she got into making films. Turns out, it all ties into an old key she used to carry around.

The only real criticism I have is that the ending feels a bit rushed and there’s a certain element of it that comes across as contrived for the sake of extra drama.

The film is very clever with its story telling, using a mix of Chiyoko’s films and actual scenes from the past to tell her story while also strongly hinting at later developments using those scenes from her films. The thematic content of the film is well executed. With such universal concepts as aging, obsession and the male gaze all being examined.

Characters:

The cast is not made up of characters who are particularly likeable. The main characters in this are both overly obsessive and unwilling to let themselves be defined by anything but very specific formative events. Which can be a little grating. That being said, they are complex, interesting characters. And they do have positive facets to them. Those aspects are just overshadowed by the way they hold on to their unrequited loves.

There are also a few side characters who feel superfluous. Like Chiyoko’s maid who gets one or two lines, is in the background for a while and then fucks off to search for the tiniest shred of plot relevance. It’s especially noticeable in her case, because every piece of minor information she gives other characters gets repeated by Chiyoko afterwards.

Art:

The film looks a lot like Kon’s other works. Nicely detailed backgrounds, well designed characters.  What sets this one apart from the other films of his I’ve reviewed are the transitions between film and reality, flashback and present. Which are very well handled. About the only negative I can bring up is that, occasionally, there are some awkward expressions. Doesn’t happen often, but it is noticeable. Overall, great looking film. 

Millenium Actress2

Sound:

The acting is well done. Iizuka Shouzou Orikasa Fumiko, Koyama Mami, Onosaka Masaya and the more minor characters all perform their roles well. Hirasawa Susumu did a great job with the soundtrack.

Ho-yay:

There is none whatsoever.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. A less contrived ending.
  2. A little more attention to detail in the expressions.
  3. At least let the maid do anything to give her some kind of reason for being there. As is, you could remove her from the film completely and it wouldn’t matter.

Final Thoughts:

This is a really well made film with a lot of interesting elements and interesting characters. I’m going to give it an enthusiastic 9/10.

Film Festival Week: Tibet Inu Monogatari

Tibet Inu Monogatari is a Madhouse film from 2011. Yes, Madhouse. The studio that can make things as good as Rainbow and Monster but also things as rubbish as anime X-men or Highschool of the Dead. I never know what to expect from them just because their quality does vary so greatly that I can honestly say they’ve made some of the best and some of the worst anime I’ve ever seen.

Tibetan Dog1

Story:

Our narrative opens with a youngster named Tianjin being moved up to the mountains of Tibet as his mother just passed and that’s where his father is. He quickly forms a bond with a golden-furred Tibetan Mastiff that he calls Duoji Yongzhi. Things become complicated for the duo when Duoji is accused of being responsible for a string of attacks against villagers and animals.

The biggest down side of the film is just that the climax gets a bit ridiculous, almost imbuing Douji with supernatural abilities. The arc is also going to be really obvious for adults. Which I’ll mostly excuse because it is a family film.

On the positive side, the whole emphasis on the bond between this young boy and his dog does work well. It leads to some strong, heart-warming moments. When the adult characters are arguing about what they should do, they do bring up some solid points that makes it feel like a legitimate discussion. The film also does take some risks and ends up involving a lot more death than you’d see in most family films. It may not be enough to make the narrative surprising, but it does make it a bit different and it’s nice to see Madhouse execute something like that in a subdued fashion.

Characters:

For the most part, the main characters are a bit shallow but kind of endearing and the side characters are very much there for a function. There are some interesting character dynamics. Like the tension betwixt Tianjin and his dad or the rivalry between his dad and the old woman who sells snake oil. Which do serve to elevate some of the cast so they’re above the regular archetypes.

The biggest problem is that there’s a particular character who loses all sense of reason and perspective at the climax of the film so that he can go full antagonist. His actions before that point all make sense even if they’re misguided but at the climax he just says “I’m not going to pay any attention to what I’m seeing here because I stubbornly refuse to be redeemable.”

Art:

The artwork is pretty great. The nature scenes look great. The animals are really detailed and look like what they’re supposed to. Which means the dogs are super cute. The characters look good. About the one complaint I have is that the monster they’re chasing down kind of just looks like a big, black blob with teeth and eyes. A stronger, more detailed design would have worked wonders, I think.

Tibetan Dog

Sound:

The acting is well handled. It is in Mandarin, which is an odd choice on Madhouse’s part. Maybe they were going for that sweet Chinese market that’s so lucrative for media developers. The music is well done. There are some really nice scenes with flute playing.

Ho-yay:

There isn’t any to be had.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Tone down the climax to fit better in with the rest of the film. Seriously, most of the film seems like it could take place in a real world setting. Then we get supernatural elements and absurdities in the climax.
  2. Have the particular character I’ve already talked about actually believe his own senses.
  3. Give your monster a stronger design.

Final Thoughts:

Tibet Inu Monogatari is a pretty solid, enjoyable film. It has a few issues, but they don’t detract from it too much. In the end, I’ll give it an 8/10.

Film Festival Week: Alice in Dreamland

Alice in Dreamland is an independent anime film from 2015. Of course, it’s based on the classic novel, Gulliver’s Travels. You can just tell from the name. Let’s dive in and see how it goes.

Alice in Dreamland

Story:

Alice is a young girl who loves reading. One day, she’s approached by the White Rabbit, who she recognises from stories. He needs her to come with him because Wonderland is being consumed by the darkness and if she doesn’t come help them, Tim Burton will make it grim, gritty and irredeemably stupid forever. Thus begins the quest to save the beloved classic from Tim Burton. And you might say “Ktulu, they’re saving it from the Darkness, not Tim Burton.” But if you think about it, the Darkness wants to twist the story into a grim, gritty version. Which sounds like Tim Burton to me.

The biggest issue with the film’s story arc is that it’s full of turns that aren’t well developed but are kind of obvious. Alice going from saying that she can’t do a lot to fully embracing her role as the saviour of Wonderland. The whole thing with the Knight. It’s all stuff you can easily see coming but the development surrounding it is pretty weak.

On the positive side, I do kind of like the idea of the Wonderland characters rising up to save their world from the dark, grittiness brought on by Tim Burton so that they can make it bright, colourful and fun again. And we do have to consider that its target audience is children. So, we can’t be too harsh on it for having simplistic writing.

Characters:

The cast is very simple. The film kind of relies on you being familiar with Alice in Wonderland and doesn’t really bother doing much with most of the characters. And Tim Burton is just a typical kid’s film villain. He wants to engulf Wonderland in darkness and make everything grim to compensate for his insignificant genitalia. What, you thought the people writing dark and edgy versions of light-hearted media were just stupid? No, they’re all compensating.

I will say, even for a piece of children’s media, the characters are overly simplistic. There’s no real difference between The Hatter, the Dormouse, The March Hare, The Lion, The Unicorn or the Tweedles. At least in terms of personality.

Art:

One one hand, I give the art style credit for being unique. On the other hand, it’s pretty off-putting. The characters are dolls and the backgrounds, while weird, look like paper backdrops. It’s not really an attractive style and it’s not one that you can really express emotions with since the characters always have the same expressions.

Alice in Dreamland1

Sound:

The acting is a bit exaggerated but works well enough. It’s not so overdone that it makes it difficult to listen to. The theme tunes are a little annoying. They’re that variety of anime tune that involves a lot of high notes and random English phrases.

Ho-yay:

There’s no romance whatsoever. Ho-yay or otherwise.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. This would honestly work better if Alice spent less time trying to reject the call to action and there was more time spent on those turns instead. They could be much better fleshed out that way.
  2. Differentiate your characters. A couple minutes spent giving each of the Wonderland denizens more personality would really help the world seem more vibrant and raise the stakes of Alice’s battle against Tim Burton.
  3. Better theme tunes. Like I said, the ones they have are pretty annoying. It might be kind of interesting to start with something slower and a bit dark and end with a song that’s much lighter and more vibrant just to make the tunes match the state of Wonderland.

Final Thoughts:

Honestly, I’ve seen much worse takes on Alice in Wonderland. The Burton films being the obvious examples. There was also that anime one with a bunch of consent-challenged lesbians I reviewed. If you can get past the doll art and you can appreciate the concept of saving Wonderland from the grim and gritty, you may well enjoy this one. For me, I really don’t like the art style. I don’t think it’s unique in a positive way. I kind of like the concept, but I thought the execution fell short. So, I’m giving it a 4/10. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it bad, but it’s a bit weak.

Film Festival Week: Yuukai Anna

Yuukai Anna is an original short film from Studio Deen. It was released in 2018, so a pretty recent offering from them. Deen is one of those studios that’s difficult to predict the quality of, because their output is so varied in terms of quality. So, let’s just jump into it.

Yuukai Anna

Story: 

We open with a wedding. It’s quickly interrupted by a woman crashing in on her motorcycle and taking the groom away. We learn that this is Anna, a woman known for doing kidnappings for people.

First off, why hasn’t she been arrested? The authorities know what she looks like. She, apparently, does this all the time. She in no way disguises herself and she’s open to the point where she did a television interview.

You might think that egregious lack of logic is the worst part of the film. It’s not. Most of the film follows Anna as she converses with this bloke she’s kidnapped. And the pair of them talk like they’re idiots who are trying to sound smart and just wind up spewing bollocks. If I wanted to watch a moron spewing bollocks while trying to look smart, I’d watch select political speeches. The film also features a “big moment” where the kidnap victim is confronted by his past that spits in the face of logic just as badly as Anna being free. The ending is complete bullshit. To the point where I yelled something that best translates to “Are you fucking kidding me?” when I got to that part.

Characters:

The characters are ceaselessly obnoxious and their dynamic is complete rubbish. Even limiting themselves to two characters who actually matter and putting a huge spotlight on them apparently wasn’t enough for them to make characters who were complex, interesting or endearing to any degree.

I mean, I’ve seen other anime that can manage at least a degree of that in twenty minutes, this one just fails.

Art:

The art can be summed up as exceptionally low quality, no effort rubbish CG art. You can never quite tell what emotional state they’re trying to express. Honestly, there are Flash animations that look much better than this and were made by a thirteen year old after school just because they were bored. The backgrounds are lacklustre. The driving sequences are visually unappealing and uninteresting. It’s just awful.

Yuukai Anna1

Sound: 

If you want to hear Takeda Anna and Morikawa Toshiyuki put in zero effort and generally provide all the energy and emotion of reading a phone book out loud, you’ll be happy with the acting in this. Also, why would you ever want that?

Frankly, these two are too good for their performances here. We have the voice of Sephiroth and… Deneve from Claymore. Yes, even the more inexperienced actor who doesn’t have all that many roles to choose from is still far too good for this. The music is the best part of the film because it’s just weak and not outright rubbish.

Ho-yay:

I would prefer if people who can’t write character relationships well just stay away from ho-yay, which they did here. At least that’s something.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. if you’re going to base an entire short film on discussing a topic like love, have something complex or at the very least a bit interesting to say about it. Don’t just drop a load of rubbish dialogue that’s roughly equivalent to audible diarrhoea.
  2. Have something going for your characters. Anna and the Professor have no complexity, no interesting characteristics and no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
  3. Have some basic logic. Because in twenty six minutes, this film has three huge, nonsensical points. If you just want the dialogue without worrying about thinking or writing a coherent plot, you can just have them stand by a tree or something.

Final Thoughts:

This is easily among the worst films I’ve reviewed. The plot is nonsense. The dialogue is imbecilic. The characters are rubbish. The art is terrible. The acting is zero effort. We had a good run of quality with this year’s films, but this one is clearly an exception. I’m giving it a 1/10. If you like listening to conversations between dumb people who are trying to sound deep and philosophical, this one is for you. For anyone else, I can’t recommend it.

Film Festival Week: Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka- Dear My Sister

I’ve talked about GochiUsa twice before. And now we’re looking at the film. The film came out in ’17, after the second series. Now, the real question is how you make a film out of a slice of life series that has no real story and is basically just about moe girls playing around while working at cafes.

Dear my sister

Story:

The narrative is pretty simple. Cocoa returns home temporarily to help at her family’s bakery. So, we see her with her family. Meanwhile, the rest of our cast interacts with each other and tries not to feel lonely with Cocoa gone. Which is especially difficult for Chino.

It has all the hallmarks of the franchise. It’s endearing, enjoyable, cutesy and has a grand sense of humour. The film is really good about taking full advantage of Cocoa’s dynamic with her family and the way the rest of the cast copes with her temporary absence.

You won’t enjoy the film if you demand involved, complex narratives from your comedies but I don’t think most people who aren’t Karen do. So, that’s fine. About the only real complaint I have is that the film could take better advantage of having Cocoa deal with customers in her family’s bakery but it’s basically one scene where you barely see her do anything. The film could also show the passage of time a bit better. It feels like she’s only gone for two days instead of the week we’re told she’s leaving for.

Characters:

There are a lot of enjoyable character moments to the film. Seeing Cocoa interact with her mum and sister leads to a lot of good moments, including a really heart-warming chat with her and Mocha. It’s also nice to see how the other characters respond to Cocoa’s absence. It just really reinforces what an integral part of the group she is. There are also quite a few good comedic moments that stem from their various reactions to missing Cocoa.

The cast remains relatively simplistic but they more than make up for it in entertainment factor and the strength of their dynamics.

Art:

The backgrounds and nature scenes are superbly drawn. The characters are very standard moe but they still look good, if you enjoy that style. There’s also some stuff with plush bunnies and a dream sequence where the visuals are pretty interesting.

Dear my sister1

Sound:

The actresses do a great job. Minase Inori, Sakura Ayane, Taneda Risa, Kayano Ai, Sato Satomi, Uchida Maaya and all our other returning actresses perform fully up to the high standards that the series has set. The music is nice and fun. It suits the aesthetic well. My one, minor gripe is that it all sounds like it came directly from the series proper. Which is a bit lazy.

Ho-yay:

Sharo still has a blatant crush on Rize. Which doesn’t come up that much in the film since its more about the familial interactions with Cocoa and her family and the not so familial dynamic betwixt Cocoa and Chino. She really wants to give Chino that rosary and be called Onee-sama in the shoujo-ai trope way. And Chino will say she doesn’t need it but take it any way and be happy about it.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Have a bit meatier of a scene where Cocoa deals with customers.
  2. Have a stronger indication of time passing. A short montage of cutesy scenes would do wonders.
  3. Have some film exclusive music.

Final Thoughts:

This film is pretty delightful. It has its share of strong moments and all the charm of the main series. If you enjoy GochiUsa, you’ll definitely have a laugh with it since it’s more of the same. So, I’m giving it a solid 8/10.

Film Festival Week: Harmony

Next up for this year’s festival is Harmony. Not to be confused with the Harmonie I reviewed three years ago. This one is based off of a novel by sci-fi writer Itou Satoshi aka Project Itoh aka Itou Keikaku aka Uncle Itou Stardust. I may have made one of those up. The film version was handled by Studio 4° C. Which you may remember as the Tekkon Kinkreet guys. Which is not a good sign. But let’s see what Uncle Itou Stardust can do. Maybe it’s good.

Harmony

Story:

We open with a strange, pulsating room with a pillar that looks a bit like something from 2001, the film not the year. We cut to a group of peace keepers making a deal with a militant group for alcohol and tobacco. Their leader is a woman named Tuan. She’s sent back to utopian future Japan to consider her actions. Then things go wrong and it seems to be connected to events from thirteen years ago when she attempted suicide with her two companions, Miach & Cian.

The biggest issue with the film is just that it tries to do a bit too much and the ending winds up coming across as a bit rushed. It’s an interesting ending that works well, don’t get me wrong. There are just elements to it that feel rushed and slightly under-developed. The ending in general could have benefited greatly from an extra ten minutes to flesh things out fully.

On the positive side, the story is highly compelling an has a lot of strongly developed intrigue. The dystopia is also well handled and the film pushes the questions of how much of your humanity is it worth sacrificing for a utopian society and whether or not we can overcome our worst impulses as a society and still be human. The way it uses flashbacks to Tuan’s childhood is also very cleverly handled. And the dark content isn’t overdone and is handled well. Trigger warning for people who can’t handle graphic descriptions of sexual assault.

Characters:

The characters have a good amount of depth and a lot of interesting traits. Less so the more minor characters, but they still have a good level of verisimilitude. It’s also interesting that neither side is portrayed as being particularly moral. What they have is fundamentally a major philosophical clash with both sides having a point to make that we, as the viewers, may agree or disagree with. Although you’ll most likely disagree with both sides in some regards.

The flashback interactions between Tuan and Miach are really well done and the way they serve both the plot and strongly inform Tuan’s character is quite brilliant.

Art:

There are two issues I have with the artwork. The first is that some of the disturbing, bloody scenes do go overboard with the blood fountain type of thing that’s more suited for something like Hellsing. The second is that the futuristic cities can be a little monotonous. They look interesting at first, but when you get large, scenery scenes the buildings all look the same in both design and colour which makes them look a bit drab.

That being said, character designs are great. The future technology and backgrounds look really good. And the animation is very well done.

Harmony1

Sound:

Ueda Reina and Sawashiro Miyuki are both stellar in this. We also get some strong performances from Miki Shinichiro, Suzaki Aya, Morita Junpei and more. There are no weak performances in this. Ike Yoshihiro did a good job with the soundtrack. It complements the action on screen really nicely.

Ho-yay:

There is a lot. Very early on, the flashback sequences heavily imply that Tuan and Miach were romantically involved and it just gets more and more obvious as the film continues.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Better explicate on some of those ending elements. I know, I haven’t gone into great detail on them, but I really don’t want to spoil the film.
  2. Tone down the blood. I get it, there aren’t many bloody scenes and they want the ones they do have to be more impactful. But I would argue that blood fountain physics just look silly.
  3. A longer ending. A longer ending means a more extrapolated upon story which would lead to a stronger film.

Final Thoughts:

Frankly, I don’t have many negative things to say about this film. It has a few things that could be improved. A few elements that could be expounded upon. But overall, it’s intriguing, complex and fantastically constructed. As such, I’m going to give it a 9/10. And probably find the novel to see if Uncle Itou Stardust did it a bit better than the film version.

Film Festival Week- Dragonball: Saikyou e no Michi

I’ve reviewed the first three Dragonball films already. Now, it’s time for the fourth and final film before they moved onto Dragonball Z, Saikyou e no Michi. It was released by Toei in ’96, seven years after the Dragonball series had ended and the same year Dragonball Z saw its finale. Which seems like odd timing. Like, the non-canon GT had started airing when this came out. In any case, let’s take a look and see what they had in store for us.

Path to Power1

Story: 

We open with Goku meeting Bulma for the first time. Yay, another re-telling like the first film. So, they meet Oolong and Yamcha and then things surprisingly get switched up and they encounter the Red Ribbon Army. So, instead of a straight up re-telling, it’s more an alternative scenario where the group encounters the Red Ribbon Army while first hunting for the dragonballs instead of Pilaf and his minions.

The biggest issue with the narrative is that some parts of it are overly predictable. Like, the big climax is very much of the “everything is obvious before it happens” variety. Of course, this isn’t a franchise that’s known for its surprising twists. It’s known for its big, over the top action sequences. But it’s usually not quite this obvious with every single beat being super telegraphed. The film also repeats some of the gags from the series verbatim and they just don’t have the same impact. It doesn’t help that they aren’t even close to the funniest gags from the series.

On the positive side, changing things around so that the group’s first major conflict is with Red Ribbon, does change things up enough to give the film a sense of uniqueness, in spite of being an alternative re-telling. Which is something of a rarity. It also does mostly capture the sense of fun of the series proper pretty well.

Characters:

Chances are, most of you are familiar with the major Dragonball characters like Goku, Bulma and Roshi. You also get more minor supporting characters like Oolong & Pu’ar. There’s also Yamcha for the one person out there who likes Yamcha. Fortunately for the rest of us, he pretty much just follows the group and gets used as a butt monkey. The somewhat surprising character is Cyborg Eight, or Hat-chan if you prefer. He gets used quite extensively in this one. It’s a fun cast, not all that deep but well suited for the film’s aesthetic.

Art:

Mostly, the artwork is pretty well done. There are some cool action moments. The character models look good. Bulma has purple hair instead of her usual teal for some reason and Goku wears a blue gi instead of his usual orange. Probably because the non-canon GT had just come out and he wore blue in that. The only real issue with the art is that they really overdo the shadow effects and there are points where it just looks a bit rubbish.

Path to Power

Sound:

The acting is well done. They got the usual cast with Nozawa Masako, Tsuru Hiromi, Tatsuta Naoki, Iizuka Shouzou and the others. So, it’s a group who know the characters they’re voicing really well and are good at them. The music is typical for the franchise. Which isn’t a bad thing. Dragonball consistently has some pretty strong music.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. A little surprise to the climax. Yes, this is a formulaic franchise but they could still put in something a bit unpredictable to make things more interesting.
  2. Rework the gags a little. There’s a reason Spamalot doesn’t use the exact same jokes as Quest for the Holy Grail. Gags are funnier when they’re fresh. If you know the punchline, they just don’t work as well.
  3. Stop Putting shadows over everything.

Final Thoughts:

Saikyou e no Michi is a solid Dragonball film, in spite of its late release and fans of the franchise will probably enjoy it once they stop complaining about Goku’s wardrobe change and Bulma’s hair dye. For myself, the climax was far too obvious and the recycled gags didn’t land particularly well, but I still thought it was a solid film. In the end, I’ll give it a 7/10.

Keishichou Tokumubu Tokushu Kyouakuhan Taisakushitsu Dainanaka: Tokunana- Low Effort

Keishichou Tokumubu Tokushu Kyouakuhan Taisakushitsu Dainanaka: Tokunana is an original anime from Anima&Co. I’ve talked about the one episode special already. It was highly mediocre. Now it’s time to look at the full series. Which I’ll just call Seven Little Officers, as its actual title is way too long to keep using.

unit seven

Story:

We open with newbie officer Nanatsuki Seiji getting caught up in a bank robbery. Fortunately for him, the titular Seven Little Officers’ unit is on the case. And they’re even so impressed with the way he handled himself that they transfer him into their little unit. Which is good because it gives them exactly seven officers and it makes their unit title more fitting. The series follows the group as they combat Nine, a ruthless terrorist organisation out to conquer the world. Probably because someone heard that stupid “Seven Ate Nine” joke and thought they’d have a natural advantage.

Let’s start with the most persistent failing of the series, it’s not really interesting. Every case they get is really obvious. Every investigative path they follow is predictable. There’s never a point where you aren’t certain what could happen next. And this is a series that includes magic. You’d think having magic would allow you to do something at least a bit unpredictable but both this and Cop Craft managed to not. I also have to bring up the fact that the writers of this don’t know what a dwarf is. They make them basically tall, hairy humans when they should be short, stocky people with long beards. Yes, even for the women. Just ask Cheery Littlebottom.

The biggest problem, however, is the frequent reliance on dumb shounen action cliché moments. The final battle is basically a string of them. Nanatsuki basically has plot armour and it does that thing that some really stupid shounen works do where a character has the ability and opportunity to make a big contribution but lets the main character do it for no adequately explored reason. In this case there’s a sequence where Akane gives Nanatsuki her sword for an action sequence even though she’s the one who’s actually skilled with a sword, there’s no reason to believe he’s ever even held one before and she’s not injured or incapacitated in any way.

Characters:

The characters in this range from one-dimensional archetypes to downright obnoxious. Bellemer is easily the worst. Just because she feels the need to call herself a ninja every ten seconds. Did you know she’s a ninja? It’s especially bad in the one episode that focuses on her character where she reminds you she’s a ninja roughly two thousand times.

Nanatsuki is also pretty bad. He’s that variety of shounen anime protagonist that’s dumb as a brick and full of empty platitudes.

The rest of the Seven Little Officers are just trite. Those two are the ones who make you wish you could say “And then there were none.”

Art:

The artwork has its lazy moments but it’s generally fine. The character designs are decent enough, even if the dwarf looks nothing like a goddamn dwarf. The action sequences are pretty generic, but functional. The backgrounds are… there.

unit seven1

Sound:

The acting is acceptable. I’m sure this is one of those cases where the performances are weakened by the characters having no depth whatsoever. But Tsuda Kenjirou, Kaida Yuuko, Shimono Hiro, Nomura Kenji, Suzuki Tatsuhisa and the others are all fine. And I hope I never hear Ozawa Ari say she’s a ninja again. Takahashi Ryo’s soundtrack is decent enough. Not as good as his work on Citrus, but it’s fine.

Ho-yay:

There really isn’t any to be found. The only characters we see in relationships or romantic scenes are in hetero-normative relationships.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Less Reliance on clichés. I get that no matter what you do with story writing, there are going to be some tropes and some elements that have been used by other people. There’s so much media out there, that’s just a reality. But you need to add your own flavour to it. Make it something you and only you can write. This could have been written by a robot that studied using TV tropes. It’s that bereft of originality.
  2. Characters should be complex. I get it, you have Seven Little Officers and only twelve episodes to work with them but even then your main partner pair should be pretty well developed and your more supporting characters should at least show some hints at having more to them.
  3. Take Some Risks. A lot of the issues with this series and its characters being overly trite and predictable seem to come down to the writers wanting to play it as safe as possible. But that just makes things too obvious and dull. Which makes the flaws more pronounced.

Final Thoughts:

Seven Little Officers is a mostly mediocre anime with some really annoying aspects. Which ultimately does put it a few steps below Cop Craft. It’s not one I can recommend unless you really love this type of crime show even when all the twists and resolutions are really obvious. In the end, I’m giving it a 3/10.