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Samurai Champloo

Manglobe StudioShorewood Standard Ocard1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

In a mad series of events including a bar fight, a fire, and a couple of near executions, 15-year-old barmaid Fuu loses her home and her job–and recruits two young samurai to accompany her on a harebrained quest to find a “samurai who smells of sunflowers.”  Seriously, if they didn’t owe her so much, you’d really have to question the reason of Mugen (a rakish vagabond with an obviously rough past) and Jin (a mysterious ronin who clearly has some dark secret) in following her. Not that they do it particularly well. Although they do mostly follow the same (usually hungry) path together, it seems like any mention of women, food, or a ready fight will draw Fuu’s two bodyguards away. Not that you can entirely blame them. . . .

Samurai Champloo has got to be one of the most ridiculous by fun anime that I have watched in quite a while. Just to give you an idea: it’s the only anime I can think of in which you can hear both enka and hip-hop, sometimes in the same episode! Music really is a significant factor in this story, so if you’re a music geek like me, that’s a fun factor. Similarly, the story is this huge mish-mash of history and absurdity. You totally can’t accept it as historically accurate, but at the same time, you can get a good idea of some of the major events and issues that were present in the Tokugawa (Edo) Era of Japan. But then you get all kinds of random hip-hop cultural references thrown in as well–like punk kids who beat box around town. The three main characters are fantastic, definitely the carrying force of the story. Fuu is all ditzy and cute; I could see folks being bothered by her damsel-in-distress sort of role, but I personally didn’t get that feeling so much. Jin is totally badass and scary in the quietest, most subdued way possible. Mugen, on the other hand, is equally scary, but in a noisy, rowdy sort of way that contrasts strongly with Jin’s manner. Maybe that’s why they’re always at each other’s throat. . . . In any case, the interactions between these three characters provide the majority of the humor and heart of the story, although there are plenty of outside forces causing action. Lots of impressive sword fights. And I will say, you need to be in the right mood to watch this show, because it’s just that sort of story. As for the art, it’s mostly really attractive, although a bit older; there are a few spots where the faces get somewhat distorted, like an assistant was left with the responsibility to draw them, but it doesn’t really detract from the story. The voice acting is excellent; I especially love Kazuya Nakai’s work with Mugen (well, I love his voice acting in general, but he does a particularly good job with this character). Only other thing I’d like to note is that this really is an 18+ show–there are lots of mature themes, sex, drugs, violence, etc. Lots of violence. But if you’re an adult who’s in the mood for a fun samurai anime, Samurai Champloo has a lot to offer.

Written by Shinji Obara/Directed by Shinichirō Watanabe/Produced by Takatoshi Hamano, Takashi Kochiyama, & Tetsuro Satomi/Music by Nujabes, Tsutchie, Fat Jon, & Force of Nature/Voiced by Kazuya Nakai, Ginpei Sato, &  Ayako Kawasumi

Note: This anime has two seasons for a total of 26 episodes.

 

 

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Carpe Diem

Carpe DiemCreated by Eyzi

My rating: 3.5 of 5

How precious is your time really? Jung’s life has been so busy that he only has today to spend with Ai. What choices should he make so that the time they have together is well spent?

Carpe Diem is a super-short kinetic novel that’s free to play on Steam (took me a whole 12 minutes). The entire plot centers on Jung’s day with Ai, and the camera angle is always focused on her and her adorable anime-style expressions. In general, simple but very cute animation. There’s a nice improvised-sounding piano soundtrack as well. You get one major choice, and from there the story pretty much flows to the same ending without any other real player interaction–so sit back and watch the day unfold. I loved the surprise ending; that totally took the story from “meh” to “quite nice” in my books. For a free game that doesn’t chew up lots of time, I think Carpe Diem is not only fun but a great reminder to spend our time wisely.

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When Marnie Was There

Studio GhibliWhen Marnie was There

Written by Keiko Niwa, Masashi Andō, & Hiromasa Yonebayashi/Produced by Yoshiaki Nishimura & Toshio Suzuki/Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi/Music by Takatsugu Muramatsu/Based on When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Anna very well understands the way the world works, the fact that some people are accepted and others are necessarily outsiders for whatever reason. She doesn’t question that she herself is an outsider, alone at school, ill-tempered at times, a worry to her foster parents. When her asthma causes the doctor to recommend she be sent away to get some fresh air away from the city though, things begin to change a bit. She stays with relatives (of her foster parents) on an out-of-the-way island where everything seems to be more laid back and she can spend time exploring and drawing alone without being fussed over so much. And in her explorations, Anna finds herself drawn to an old, abandoned manor house across the bay . . . . and it’s at that old manor that she meets Marnie, a girl who will change her life in all sorts of unexpected ways but also a girl who will baffle Anna in many ways.

Okay, before anything else, I’m just going to say that there are going to be spoilers here. Because I have no idea how to honestly review this movie without spoilers. Sorry. So . . . I truly enjoyed When Marnie Was There, although I was kind of baffled through most of the story. It was worth sitting through the confusion, because when everything was explained it was extremely moving to the point that I cried. The way the story develops is almost dreamlike at parts, or rather, it’s as though dreams are being woven throughout Anna’s reality. Or perhaps it’s more as though two disparate points in time are briefly connected. In any case, although at times confusing, the friendship that develops between Anna and Marnie is really sweet and cute. And this is where the spoilers come in: the story totally seems like it’s shoujo ai through most of the plot, but the end reveals something very unexpected and different and absolutely touching. All in all, it’s a sweet story that’s developed quite nicely with plenty of drama and mystery. I appreciate that it also delves into deep issues like child neglect and the insecurity that orphans can feel sometimes even in loving homes. And of course, being a Studio Ghibli film, the art is absolutely stunning; I always enjoy their attention to all the fine details that make the illustration not just nice but amazing. Essentially, I would recommend When Marnie Was There to pretty much anyone, although I will note that if you’re not comfortable with shoujo ai, you might find watching this a bit weird (even though it’s technically not).

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Hal

HalWit Studio

Directed by Ryotaro Makihara/Produced by Jouji Wada/Written by Izumi Kizara/Music by Michiru Oshima

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

 

When her boyfriend Hal dies in a plane crash, Kurumi is broken, utterly devastated and unable to function. Desperate to bring her back, the people who love her design a robot to take her boyfriend’s place–one that looks exactly look Hal. This robot’s one mission is to draw Kurumi out of her grief, and he takes to the task in his own innocent, slightly baffled but sweet way. Initially, Kurumi rejects him utterly, not wanting a fake replacement for the person she loved. But gradually, robot-Hal’s efforts begin to show fruit as he delves into the complexities of the relationship Kurumi and Hal once had. He’s not truly prepared for all he finds though, for it seems the original Hal was not such a pristine individual as he seemed on the surface. Now he must try to repair not only Kurumi’s loneliness from losing her boyfriend but the complications his original left behind in other aspects of life as well–no easy task, even for a robot!

I wasn’t particularly expecting a lot from this random anime movie I happened to stumble upon, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found Hal to actually be quite good. Probably the most immediate impression is that the animation is stunningly beautiful–there was one point where the water animation literally made me gasp out loud (yes, I’m a sucker for good water animation; it’s super-hard to do and super-rare to find done well). What creeps in next is the world building: this is set in a futuristic Japan, probably somewhere in the southern islands, and the setting is a non-stereotypical and interesting blend of advanced technology and down-to-earth simplicity. The contrast is striking, especially when so many science fiction stories are set in worlds of glistening chrome–there’s so much green in this world! Then when you get into the story proper and see Hal and Kurumi’s growing relationship, you find (or at least I certainly did) that the characters also are interesting in a breaking-stereotypes sort of way.  They’re complex and unexpected–a fact that is emphasized by details such as huge button collections scattered everywhere, wishing on Rubik’s cubes, and “pet giraffes” among other things. One thing I noticed not noticing in this movie was the music; unlike many Makoto Shinkai or Studio Ghibli movies where breathtaking music is a significant part of this story, the music in Hal gets out of the way and lets the story happen. It’s a quiet, gradual sort of story, so I feel this is quite fitting. Honestly, my one real complaint is that the story’s too short; an hour simply doesn’t allow for as much development as I would have like to see, and I feel the characters were strong enough to bear greater development. Still, what is provided is beautiful, sweet, and surprising (seriously, do NOT look at spoilers for this movie before you watch it). I would highly recommend Hal to anyone who enjoys a sweet romance story; just be prepared for more than you expect.

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The Wind Rises

Studio Ghibli

Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toshio Suzuki/Music by Joe Hisaishi

Ever since he was young, Jiro Horikoshi has dreamed of the sky and the aircraft that inhabit it so gracefully. He would have loved to be a pilot, but due to his poor eyesight, that dream would never come to pass. Realizing this early on, he takes a note from his hero, the Italian airplane designer Caproni, and pursues a career in aircraft design. A combination of innate talent and unflagging work keep him on the path, designing better and better planes, always pursuing the ideal craft that exists only in his dreams.

Over the years, I have come to expect great things from Studio Ghibli, and from Hayao Miyazaki in particular–and I must say The Wind Rises is something special indeed. It is, at its core, nearly a documentary on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero–a plane used by Japan during the second World War. Yet Miyazaki transforms this young man’s life story into something beautiful and spectacular. Jiro deals, throughout the story, with the impossible question: would you pursue your dreams, even knowing what you create may be used in war, or would you live in a world where you abandon your dreams and refuse to create? The telling of the story itself is fascinating–you are given snapshots of various important events in the life of Horikoshi, but each is filled out in great detail, enough to give a good idea of who the characters are. I love that Miyazaki included Jiro’s brief, fateful relationship with Nahoko his beautiful, sickly wife (although I find Nahoko herself a strikingly Mamoru Hosoda sort of heroine). All the aircraft that are included only serve to emphasize that this is a Hayao Miyazaki movie–they’re kind of his trademark. The art is classic Studio Ghibli–breathtakingly beautiful. I think the inclusion of certain rather surreal elements, particularly in Jiro’s dreams, adds a lot to the story as well. I think my favorite Miyazaki movies will always be his fantasies like Spirited Away and Howl, but The Wind Rises is pretty incredible as well–you should check it out, especially if you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli or of older planes.

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Children Who Chase Lost Voices

CoMix Wave Films

Written & Directed by Makoto Shinkai/Produced by Noritaka Kawaguchi & Makoto Shinkai/Music by Tenmon

Ever since her father’s death, Asuna has lived alone with her mother and her adorable kitty, Mimi. Her mother, a nurse, works a great deal, and Asuna loves to spend her alone time in the nearby hills (at her secret hideout), tuning in to mysterious broadcasts on her amateur radio receiver.On her way to her hideout one day after school, she finds herself attacked by a bear-like monster–but one that is clearly no monster known on this earth! Just when it looks like she’ll never make it, Asuna is rescued (rather abruptly and shockingly) by a boy a bit older than herself (who reminds me of Howl more than I can express!). There’s something special between the boy Shun and Asuna, a feeling of a destined meeting–enough so that she is struck very strongly by his death the very next day. . . . Enough to join with her substitute teacher Mr. Morisaki and pursue Shun into the underworld in hopes of bringing him back from the dead.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices is the first Makoto Shinkai movie I’ve seen that isn’t slice of life. As such, it has a unique feel for one of his stories–while still being distinctly his. (Although, as my brother has noted, in many ways it feels like a dark Miyazaki.) The characters are rich and deep–and they express quite evocatively the longing born in each of us when someone we love dies. The plot is strange and ethereal; it works very well for the ideas Shinkai is trying to express. And fortunately for his viewers, he takes steps to keep it from becoming too utterly dark and hopeless (like including an absolutely kawaii kitty)–because ultimately this is a story of hope and forward motion, not despair. The art and music are classic Shinkai in the best sense possible–stunningly beautiful throughout. I particularly enjoyed the “northern lights” display that painted the night sky in the underworld; it was gorgeous! The predominance of Aztec designs, philosophies, names, etc. was extremely interesting, providing a unique flavor to the story that was strange but that I liked. I think that for a mature individual who wants a beautiful, thought-provoking, and deep, yet richly enjoyable movie, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a great choice.

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Howl’s Moving Castle

Studio Ghibli

Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toshio Suzuki/Music by Joe Hisaishi/Based on Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

The town is abuzz with talk of the war. Which naturally leads to talk of the wizards the king is dragging in to help with the war efforts. Which then leads, of course, to talk of the Wizard Howl–notable for holding out on the king, for living in a moving castle that roves the wastes, and for only coming into town to seduce beautiful young women. Not that young Sophie cares for such gossip; she’s always been a homely, responsible girl, and Howl’s not the least interested in that sort of woman. That’s what they say, anyhow. When Sophie runs afoul of a rather nasty witch and finds herself burdened with a curse that makes her appear (and feel) like an old woman, she leaves her home and wanders into the wastes where she happens to run right into Howl’s castle! Given a courage she never had when she looked young, Sophie elbows her way in and firmly settles herself as the new cleaning lady (and yes, they desperately need one!). What she finds while there is a prissy, womanizing, rather hopeless young wizard, to be sure, but there’s more to Howl that gossip would suggest, and Sophie’s bound to find it out.

I absolutely love Howl’s Moving Castle! Of course, it’s a fusion of two things I absolutely love already: Diana Wynne Jones and Studio Ghibli. The story is one of those amazing cases where the book and the movie–while having some characters, ideas, and events in common–are essentially unique and can be regarded as completely separate stories. They’re different enough that I can enjoy both without constantly comparing the two (and so, I will review the book another time). Ghibli’s Howl is incredible: a blend of the absurdly humorous, the epically fantastic, and the sweetly romantic that creates something greater than the sum of the parts. The scenery is gorgeous in the extreme, especially the mountain landscapes. The machines are fascinating (slightly steampunk, but not quite)–from the classic Miyazaki flying machines to the train running through town to the cobbled-together castle walking on four legs. A strong anti-war message permeates the story (but not overpoweringly)–again classic Miyazaki/Ghibli, it seems. The soundtrack is also amazing, absolutely beautiful (Joe Hisaishi, what else need be said?). Perhaps most outstanding in this movie are the characters: Sophie, who always underestimates herself. Calcifer, the stubborn fire-demon who’s actually quite cute (and very good for comic relief). Cute little Markl, Howl’s apprentice. And of course, Howl himself–indecipherable, devastatingly beautiful, selfish, secretive, overly dramatic, too concerned about his looks, yet somehow so much better a person than he seems like he could be. (May I just say, I love the green ooze tantrum?!) All in all, Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my absolute favorite movies, one I come back to regularly and never find disappointing. You should check it out!

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