April Bonus Review: The First Doctor

Doctor Who has been a staple of Science fiction since the early 60s. There have been comics, novels, audio dramas, video games and a whole lot of merchandise. Obviously, I can’t review the whole franchise in one go. Not only is it impractical, but the various runs have had vastly different qualities. So, I’m going to look at the first Doctor’s television run. I even watched the reconstructions of those episodes which have been lost due to stupidity within the BBC. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, it used to be common practice at the BBC to cull old archived shows to save space. a a result, a bunch of the first and second Doctors’ runs were destroyed. Leaving only some still images and the audio. 

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Story:

We open with two teachers, Ian and Barbara, discussing a strange student, Susan. They ultimately decide to go to her supposed address, which leads to a junk yard, to investigate what’s happening with her. They end up in a conversation with an elderly man outside of a police box. This eventually leads to them entering and finding Susan inside. Strangely, the inside is larger than the outside. After an argument, the old man uses the control console to take them all to the past. Thus begins their adventures through time and space. 

the first issue that comes up is that it does take the series a couple serials to settle into an aesthetic. The early episodes are a bit off in that regard. Even after it settles, the serials do vary in quality. You get some, like Planet of the Giants or The Gunfighters, that aren’t very good. Gunfighters is outright boring, actually. You also get serials, most notably The Daleks’ Master Plan, that meander and drag. 

That being said, there are a lot of clever and/or creative ideas on display and there are certainly more strong serials than bad or weak ones. Basically every serial featuring Vicki is really good, particularly The Space Museum. 

Characters:

Here’s an area where the First Doctor’s run falls a bit short. While he is an interesting character (once they get past the early stage and settle on a character for him), most of his companion characters are pretty flat and dull. He also has Katarina, possibly the most pointless character in the franchise. She shows up, takes a short ride on the TARDIS and basically dies immediately. There are really only two companions who aren’t just inoffensive and boring.

The first is Susan. She’s a really annoying character. Honestly, part of the problem with her is just that they didn’t think her through. Here’s a girl who’s loomed from the same genetic cloth as the Doctor (because people from Gallifrey aren’t born, they’re loomed). She’s travelled with him for a while. Supposedly, she’s been on quite a few adventures. Really, she should be the most seasoned of the companions during her time in the group. So, why is she absolutely terrified of absolutely everything even slightly unusual? I’m not even exaggerating when I say that this girl screams all the bloody time and with little provocation. See a plant move? Scream. See something odd looking at you? Scream. See a tiny black and white dog in a bunny costume? Scream.

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How did she manage to travel with the Doctor at all? You’d think that she’d have had a heart attack or mental breakdown long ago given how high strung she is. 

The other exception is Vicki, the first great companion in the franchise. Not only is she a breath of fresh air after dealing with Susan, being plucky and adventurous, but she’s also pretty badass. She can use her cleverness to not only get herself out of bad situations, but the others as well. A trait which is highlighted in the aforementioned Space Museum serial. Honestly, it’s no surprise that the serials with her tend to be the best. She’s got more personality than most of the companions and she’s a delight. 

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Visuals:

By today’s standards, this series is pretty dated. They’re very much at that mid 60s level. A lot of the alien designs are goofy by today’s standards and there are definite times when the sets look cheap. But, in all fairness, the effects were pretty good for their time and they don’t really spoil the series. 

Acting and Music:

The acting is largely competent. The best performances come from William Hartnell and Maureen O’Brien. Probably because they’re playing the most interesting characters. The other companion actors, Jacqueline Hill, William Russell, Peter Purves, Jackie Lane and even Carole Ann Ford are decent enough. The music is largely good. The theme tune in particular. There are occasional exceptions, however. The song that they keep playing during The Gunfighters is boring the first time they play it and gets grating when they play it the next fifty times. 

Final Thoughts:

All in all, the First Doctor’s run holds up pretty well. While it does suffer from Susan, early episodes not knowing where they’re going, Susan, the occasional weak serial, Susan & dated effects it also has quite a bit going for it. It has creative, interesting ideas. Vicki is amazing. The Doctor quickly becomes a great character and it’s just a solid start for the franchise. All in all, I give it a 7/10.

Iria: Zeiram the Animation- Kick The Immortal Monster In its Hat Face

Iria: Zeiram the animation is a six episode OVA from Ashi Productions and Bandai Visual. If you’ve been following my reviews for a while you may recall Ashi as the ones behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Superman Legend. The OVA is actually set up as a prequel to a live action film from ’91 called Zeiram. To be completely honest, I haven’t seen the film in question and I’m not going to know how well it follows it. Basically, I’ll be judging the OVA entirely as its own thing, is what I’m saying.

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Story:

We open with our heroine using her Shine Aqua Illusion to bring in a baddie. Or she just beats him up. Unfortunately for her, a different bounty hunter shows up to steal the bounty away. We cut to later where she’s conversing with her older brother about the situation while he prepares to go on his own mission with his friend, Bob. Events unfold, she follows and they end up on a space station looking to rescue the crew and recover the cargo. They find no cargo and a whole lot of bodies. When they do locate some survivors, they indicate that the cargo itself may be to blame. Iria and her brother quickly have their first encounter with the monstrous Zeiram.

The biggest narrative issue is that the OVA doesn’t explain some things very well. Most notably, there’s an episode that ends with Iria on the run from the authorities for reasons and the very next episode opens with her back in good standing. I don’t know how it happened but I’m just going to assume her shrine priestess girlfriend pulled some strings. Another issue is just that things are pretty predictable and it makes things less interesting. Not uninteresting, mind. The Ova is still kind of interesting.

On the positive side, I do like the way the OVA manages to bring Zeiram and Iria’s confrontation into play in a variety of situations. The climactic confrontation works well. And the story telling is pretty good, as a whole.

Characters:

Iria is a pretty compelling character. Her dynamics with other characters also work well. Particularly with Gren and Bob. That being said, most of the characters aren’t particularly interesting aside from their dynamics with Iria. It’s kind of like Spice and Wolf where the main female lead just carries the cast because everyone else is dull. There are two child characters who are kind of obnoxious little sods. Zeiram is also very much one of those not remotely complex and menacing because of supernatural abilities villains.

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Art:

By today’s standards, the art and animation are a bit dated. That being said, it holds up pretty well. The action sequences are strong. The character designs are nice. The sci-fi trappings look good. About the worst I can say for the art is a nitpick, the hair bead things don’t look like they should stay in place. They don’t look so much braided into the hair as they do haphazardly attached to it.

Sound:

Most of the performances in this are competent. Not good, but decent enough. The exception is Hisakawa Aya (also the voice of Mizuno Ami). She’s really good in this. Yoshikawa Yoichiro did a good job with the music composition.

Ho-yay:

There really isn’t any.

Final Thoughts:

Ultimately, Iria: Zeiram the animation is a decent little OVA. Not good, but okay. If you’re a big fan of adventurous sci-fi, it’ll probably keep your attention. You may even like it more than I did. For myself, however, the rating is going to stand at a 6/10. Next week’s review is Mob Psycho 100.

Film Festival Week: Windaria

Windaria is a Studio Gallop film from 1986. Yes, the same studio that did the early episodes of Rurouni Kenshin.Like many of the other films I’ve reviewed during this year’s film festival, it’s not based on anything. It’s also one I’d never heard of prior to browsing random anime films. So, was it worth dredging up? Let’s take a peek and see.

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Story:

We open with a young couple, Izu & Marin, taking their cart to sell their wares in the kingdom of Isa. Their idyllic time is ruined when someone tries to flood the city. An attempt which gets thwarted by Izu’s intervention. Turns out, the nearby kingdom of Paro has its sights set on the lands occupied by Isa. Izu and Marin find themselves in an awkward situation, with their village between the two countries. To make things more complicated, Prince Jill of Paro and Princess Ahnas of Isa are romantically attached. What will happen to these young pairs of lovers when war breaks out? Yes, it’s one of those stories.

There are a lot of problems with the narrative in this film. First of all, the warring kingdoms are both inexcusably stupid. Paro starts this whole conflict after clearly planning an offensive but they’re also completely unprepared and undisciplined. They probably do as much damage to themselves through complete incompetence as Isa does to them. What kind of imbecilic leader gets into a rough situation with bugger all preparation? Putting King Trump aside, Isa is just as bad. After the whole near disaster at the beginning their “defence” against someone unauthorised messing with the gates that could flood their city comes down to giving one old guy a spear and some armour. Yes, Isa, that will keep your flood gates closed. It’s a much better solution than proper guards working rotating shifts. Fecking morons. The film also suffers from adding completely pointless fantasy elements. We have a ghost ship that we see floating across the sky at different points. It contributes nothing. There are unicorns for, like, five seconds. There are spirits that we see take to the sky without actually doing anything. There’s a forest with illusions which could be removed from the film completely without losing anything. You get the impression that Gallop wanted to craft a massive world with a lot of lore behind it, but the writing is too incompetent to do it well. There’s also a general issue with the film taking a tired concept and not really adding anything of value to it. It’s not horribly written, but the execution behind it is pretty bad.

Characters:

The characters are actually a pretty big issue here. This type of “lovers torn apart by conflict” narrative needs strong leads who we want to see find happiness in order to work. This film, however, gives us two pairs of really boring, flat characters. Maybe Fujikawa Keisuke thought that the potential for tragedy was a guarantee and he couldn’t be bothered to flesh out the characters or their dynamics. Whatever the case, the consequence is that what should be a tragic tale transforms into watching a bunch of morons we have no investment in scramble around.

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Art:

The artwork actually does look, for the most part, pretty good. There are some awkward facial expressions and movements here and there. Which is kind of to be expected of anime from that era. Actually, the fantasy elements of the film might solely exist to make the thing more visually interesting rather than as an incompetent attempt at world building. The action sequences are a bit weak too.

Sound:

There are some decent actors in this. Matsui Naoko (Dorothy Catalonia), Furuya Toru (Chiba Mamoru), & Inoue Kazuhiko (Yuki Eiri) have all given strong performances before. This is not one of those times. Listening to the acting in this is roughly equivalent to listening to a Junior High school theatrical production where they know the lines and they seem to be trying but they aren’t very good. The music is pretty decent.

Ho-yay:

Honestly, this film doesn’t have strong enough character dynamics for any of them to seem romantic. No, not even the main het ones. We just know they’re supposed to be romantic because the film outright says it and shows the occasional kiss.

Final Thoughts:

Windaria is a pretty bad film. The narrative takes an old idea and combines it with poor execution. The characters are beyond bland. It’s just generally a bit of a mess. My final rating is going to be a 3/10. That’s all for this year’s film festival week. Next Wednesday I’ll look at Iria: Zeiram The Animation.

Film Festival Week: Stranger: Mukou Hadan

Stranger: Mukou Hadan is a 2007 film brought to us by Bones. That’s right, the studio behind Fullmetal Alchemist, Wolf’s Rain, Heroman and more. So far, the works I’ve looked at by them have a strong track record. Will this one continue that tradition? Let’s take a look and see.

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Story:

We open with a boy, Kotarou, and his dog, Tobimaru, running away from some kind of danger. We cut to a strange group of travellers being attacked by bandits and easily staving them off. We then go back to Tobimaru and find him helping his boy steal some food. The two of them encounter a wanderer with a sword. They’re sharing a meal, much to the boy’s displeasure, when soldiers arrive to take the boy. The wanderer gets dragged into it and ends up agreeing to travel with Tobimaru and his boy. But who is this lad and why are these soldiers chasing him? For that matter, who is this strange wanderer?

Honestly, there aren’t many narrative problems with this film. About the worst I can say about it is that it does delve into long action sequences for the spectacle of it a bit. There are also some kind of pointless scenes. The whole thing with Nanashi dying his hair, for example, contributes nothing.

That being said, those moments are few. On the whole, the film is very well paced. The whole mystery behind this kid and why they’re chasing him does keep you interested. I also quite liked the ending and the specific way it uses ambiguity.

Characters:

There are some interesting characters in this. Tobimaru and his little group are pretty compelling and have interesting dynamics. There is also effort put into giving a lot of the side characters motivations. They aren’t particularly complicated, but they work pretty well when you factor in the length.

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Art:

The artwork mostly looks pretty good. The action sequences are bloody and intense. The character designs are good. The backgrounds are detailed. The animals look like what they’re supposed to be. Tobimaru is bloody adorable. That being said, there are flaws to it. There are action sequences that go overboard with trying to be intense and end up being a bit silly. There’s a scene where we see a bloke’s hand hanging on by a thread of flesh and he starts lecturing the person who cut it. I’m sorry, Bones, but at that point it stops being an intense action sequence and delves into unintentional hilarity.

Sound:

There are some great performances in this film. From the likes of Nagase Tomoya, Yamadera Kouichi & Chinen Yuri. The music is actually by a bloke I’ve talked about this week, Sato Naoki. Yes, the same gent who was responsible for the music in Futari wa Precure. The music in this is completely different for obvious reasons, but it’s still really good. Never let it be said that this man doesn’t have range.

Ho-yay:

There’s a little bit. One of the male antagonists is implied to be romantically attracted to another of the male antagonists.

Final Thoughts:

Stranger: Mudou Hadan is a really good film. While it is action heavy, it also has a strong underlying narrative to go along with it. As well as a good sense of character. The film actually reminds me a bit of Rurouni Kenshin, and that’s not a bad thing. Ultimately, I give it an 8/10. Tomorrow, I’ll end this year’s film festival week with a look at Windaria. Which isn’t to say that I won’t review any more films this year. I might if I get requests (because I love you guys and can never say no to a reasonable request from you) or just need something shorter to review while working on a long request. I just shan’t be doing another entire week with reviews every day until next year. 

Film Festival Week: Bakemono no Ko

Bakemono no Ko is a 2015 film written and directed by Hosoda Mamoru. We talked about him yesterday with Ookami Kodomo. I guess people just want to see me look at his films this year. So, how does this compare to his other two films I’ve reviewed? Will it be the first bad one? The best one yet? Exactly in between the other two? Let’s find out, shall we?

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Story:

We open with some exposition about the world of beasts and how two certain ones, Iouzan Kumatetsu, are the top candidates to become the successor of the retiring Grand Master. We cut to a young boy, Ren, evading the authorities and living off of the street. He’s resting when he encounters a strange, cloaked beast. He’s invited to become the man’s disciple and proceeds to follow him right into the realm of beasts.

As usual, let’s start with the elements that weren’t done as well as they could have been. First off, the reason that Ren runs away is pretty vague. Yeah, we know that his mother died but there’s nothing to give us any sense of why he doesn’t want to live with the relatives who offer to take him in. We also have the whole return to the human world later on in the film. Honestly, there’s not much reason for it. Everything that happens because of it could have been done just as well, if not better, while keeping the focus on the beast realm. As a result, a lot of it feels like filler.

That being said, there are quite a few positives about the film. It handles the whole concept of Ren being essentially adopted by Kumatetsu pretty well. It’s very good at foreshadowing important plot points and following through with them. I also do like the way it connects Ren with Kumatetsu and ties their stories together.

Characters:

This is much like Ookami Kodomo in that it has some characters who are interesting and have strong dynamics. In this case, Kumatetsu, Ren & Ichirouhiko. Aside from them, it has a bunch of characters who are kind of flat. It tries to do something more with some of them, notably Kaede, Iouzan & Hyakushuubou but the attempts aren’t particularly well executed. For example, the attempt to make Hyakushuubou more complex comes down to a single scene where he gets uncharacteristically mad. Kaede also suffers from the same problem Hana’s character had in Ookami Kodomo. She far too readily accepts the strange events that are happening. The big difference is that Hana was generally interesting in spite of that whereas Kaede is just your archetypical “good woman.”

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Art:

This is one area where I’ll keep giving Studio Chizu a lot of credit, their artwork is really good. The beasts have interesting designs. The backgrounds are good. The climactic action sequences are dynamic and have some superb visuals.

Sound:

The best performances in this film come from Yakusho Koji, Sometani Shota & Miyano Mamoru. That being said, there are no poor performances. Everyone in the main cast is competent. The music was composed by the same Gent we talked about yesterday with Ookami Kodomo, Takagi Masakatsu. His soundtrack in this film is just as good as his soundtrack for that film was.

Ho-yay:

There might be a little bit. When Ren is raised in the Beast World he basically has three dads. Although the film never extrapolates on just how close their relationships with each other are, there are indications that they’re really close. So, make of that what you will.

Final Thoughts:

Bakemono no Ko is about on par with Ookami Kodomo. It has different narrative problems, but ones that are about as damaging. It also has charm and is an interesting film overall. So, my final rating for it is going to also be a solid 7/10. Tomorrow I’ll keep film festival week going with Stranger: Mukou Hadan.

Film Festival Week: Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki

Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki is a Studio Chizu/ Madhouse production from 2012. It was directed and co-written by Chizu founder, Hosoda Mamoru. The same bloke who directed the Girl Who Leapt Through Time. So, how did the film turn out? Better than that one, I hope, considering how mediocre it was. 

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Story:

We open with Hana, a University student. She’s attending a class when she notices an intense looking young man without a textbook taking notes. One thing leads to another, and romance blossoms between them. With some hesitation, he reveals the truth about himself to her. He’s a werewolf. At will, he can take on a lupine form. She is surprisingly completely, unreservedly okay with this. To the point where she reacts as though he’d told her that he has a bit of a nasty looking boil on his back and not that he can actually transform into a wolf. Her general lack of concern about it allows their relationship to continue without any kind of conflict and she has two children. Unfortunately, things go wrong when he’s shot and killed while in wolf form. Hana finds herself undergoing the trials of being a single parent with the added complication of her children being part wolf.

Honestly, the biggest issue with the film as a whole is just that things get resolved way too easily. It’s not just the whole werewolf revelation either. There are a good three other major plot points where the resolution pretty much comes down to an instant solution. Don’t you wish things were that easy in reality?

That being said, I will credit the film for keeping your attention with those various conflicts. Even if the resolutions are weak, the stuff leading up to is interesting. It’s also a clever way to put a new twist on the whole coming of age formula. And the narrative does have heart to go along with all the fluff.

Characters:

The characters who really matter in this film are Hana and her children, Yuki & Ame. I do like that both Yuki and Ame have their own arcs and have to come to terms with who they are for themselves, even though it causes tension within their family. I also like the way that Hana’s extraordinary challenges are portrayed. Even if she is too readily accepting of strange things. I like the isolation she goes through what with not being able to get help through conventional means for fear of the truth about her children being discovered. Those three aside, however, the characters are pretty boring and bog standard.

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Art:

The artwork and animation in this film are really well done. The backgrounds are lively. The sequences of the children transforming and running around are very well animated. It is a very nice looking film.

Sound:

The main cast is pretty good. Nishii Yukito, Miyazaki Aoi & Kuroki Haru all do a good job. The other actors are all competent enough. The music was composed by Takagi Masakatsu and he did a really good job.

Ho-yay:

There isn’t any to be seen.

Final Thoughts:

There’s quite a bit to like about Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki. The main three characters. The unique take on the coming of age formula. The music and visuals. That being said, it certainly has its problems. The generic supporting cast and the weak resolutions being the big ones. The film still has charm and it is entertaining, but it’s not one of the best out there. My final rating for it is going to be a 7/10. Tomorrow we’ll keep film festival week going with Bakemono no Ko.

Film Festival Week: Kaze Tachinu

Kaze Tachinu is a Studio Ghibli film that was released in 2013. So, at the very least we can expect it to look pretty. It was directed and written by Miyazki Hayao. And he rarely turns in a film that isn’t good, although he has written some average ones. I’ve honestly heard mixed feelings on this one. Some people claim that it’s the pinnacle of his work, which would be a sight to see. Others say it’s not all that interesting. So, this film festival week, let’s take a look and decide.

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Story:

The narrative of this is a bit odd. It combines the professional accomplishments of aircraft designer Horikoshi Jiro with the personal life of the protagonist from the short story The Wind Has Risen. So, we get a story that partially focuses on our young protagonist and his dreams of designing aircraft and that partially focuses on tragic young love.

Therein lies the biggest issue with the film. The elements don’t really tie together well. The tragic love story barely connects with the story of this young man following his dream and neither one ever impacts the other. The film is just very clumsy at trying to tie them together. Another issue is with the whole tragic love story stuff itself. It doesn’t have much going for it beyond very generic elements that every tragic love story seems to have. Even the connection betwixt the leads is pretty tenuous. The film is also quite clumsy with its attempt at having an anti-war message. Most of it consists of characters having kind of stilted, foreboding dialogue with occasional glimpses of World War II imagery. Which is odd since Miyazaki can incorporate anti-war rhetoric seamlessly into a narrative. At least, he did with Nausicaa. So why is this attempt so awkward?

The positives for this film are all with Horikoshi’s professional life. There’s a charm to the dreams that inspire him. Seeing the obstacles he has to get past is interesting. As are the encounters that inspire him to greater heights. If this had been the entire film, it could have had a strong story.

Characters:

The big problem with the characters is much the same as the series. The whole tragic romance segments have no real sense of personality for the characters. You could literally change the names and character designs slightly for those segments, present them separately and you’d never guess from the characterisation that they were supposed to be a part of the same whole. So, we have uneven characterisation that’s different based on whether you’re watching the professional segments or the tragic romance segments.

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Art:

This is one area where I can completely give the film credit. The artwork and animation are absolutely gorgeous. The dream sequences have some nice, creative imagery. The backgrounds are vibrant. It is, no question, a lovely looking film.

Sound:

the vocal cast is mostly fine. There are two exceptions to that. The first is Stephen Alpert, the actor for Castorp. His delivery is pretty stilted and awkward. The second is the actor for our protagonist, Hideaki Anno. There are two problems here. The first is that he’s really miscast. Usually Studio Ghibli is good at finding capable actors who are roughly the age of the characters they’re voicing. In this case we have a young man who sounds like he’s in his sixties or seventies. There’s also an issue with the acting itself. It’s very emotionless and wooden. When the script calls for an emotional moment, the character’s facial expressions have to do the acting for him. The music is pretty decent. It’s definitely not Hisaishi Joe’s best work. He’s done better scores for Ghibli films. At least a half dozen times.

Ho-yay:

There really isn’t any.

Final Thoughts:

It’s probably obvious by this point that this isn’t my favourite Miyazaki film. It certainly doesn’t compare to Nausicaa, Spirited Away or Mononoke Hime. While there are aspects that work, it also feels like two different works clumsily forced together. It’s an okay film, but certainly not one of Ghibli’s better offerings. My final rating for it is going to be a 6/10. Tomorrow we’ll continue film festival week with a look at Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki.