Mangaka: Rumiko Takahashi
Kagome was just your average middle-school Japanese girl until she got dragged (literally) into Sengoku-era Japan. There she finds she’s the supposed reincarnation of the priestess Kikyo. Her coming sets off a number of misadventures, including the release of the half-demon InuYasha (who used to be Kikyo’s lover, and now becomes Kagome’s biggest problem) and the shattering and dispersal of the powerful and dangerous Shikon jewel throughout the country. Now she must pair up with InuYasha to retrieve the shards of the jewel before they are snatched up by the evil half-demon Naraku–the very same one who came between InuYasha and Kikyo, murdering Kikyo, fifty years before. Joining them on their quest are Miroku (the monk of the wandering hand), Sango (the bereaved and angry demon exterminator), and Shippo (the adorable kid kitsune), all of whom have their own grudges against Naraku. Now if Kagome can only manage to fit in graduating from middle school between all the fighting demons, tracking Shikon shards, and digging up past grudges!
InuYasha is a manga that is near to my heart for many reasons: it was one of my very first manga ever, it’s led me to finding many other great manga, and it’s a great manga to talk about with other people, among other reasons. Even disregarding the history I have with this story, I think it’s a wonderful manga. Rumiko Takahashi is one of my favorite mangaka, and InuYasha is executed with her typical aplomb and signature art style (which I love). It’s an interesting blend of adventure (somewhat dark and bloody at times, actually), comedy (as per Takahashi-sensei’s norm), and romance (also classic Takahashi). While definitely being more serious (and battle shounen) than, say Urusei Yatsura or Ranma 1/2, it still maintains a lighter side that keeps it from getting bogged down and depressing. I think the relationship between Kagome and InuYasha is one of the most intriguing I’ve ever read–and the most amusing when she gets angry at him and makes him “sit!” And of course, Kagome herself is fascinating in general; I mean, what girl gets dragged to another era, sees a guy stuck to a tree with an arrow through his chest, and immediately thinks “Ooh, he’s got dog ears. I want to touch.”?! The inclusion of numerous wild-card characters (Sesshomaru, Kikyo (reanimated), Koga, Kohaku, and even some of Naraku’s subordinates at times) keeps things interesting as well. My only complaints are: 1) the story kind of dragged on a bit towards the end, like Takahashi was having a hard time figuring out how to end it (but the actual ending is really good), and 2) there’s unnecessary fanservice in the early volumes (understandable, just coming from writing Ranma 1/2, but still unnecessary). But I could keep talking about the things I love about InuYasha for pages and pages, so let’s just say that this is definitely a recommended manga.
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.
For as long as he can remember, Kimihiro Watanuki has been plagued by being able to see spirits–and worse, by attracting them! It is on a seemingly ordinary day, much like any other, that while he is attempting to evade a particularly nasty and persistent spirit, Watanuki finds himself drawn–physically, by powers unseen–into an eccentric-looking shop. Within this shop, he encounters the even more eccentric shop-keeper, Yūko Ichihara, who claims his coming is hitsuzen, fate. Before long, Watanuki finds himself employed part-time, serving the unusual, selfish, and frequently-drunk Yūko–and the steady stream of customers, human and otherwise, who frequent the shop that fulfills wishes.
XxxHOLiC has got to be one of the best manga out there, period. The characters are first-rate–well developed, unique, and showing immense and fascinating growth over the course of the story–and the relationships between them are subtle and beautiful. In particular, I love Watanuki’s overreaction to Domeki (his best friend, although he won’t admit it) and to Yūko. And the subtle developments in Yūko, going from a completely overbearing and selfish individual to a self-sacrificing and almost motherly one, is absolutely incredible and completely fitting with the story. Because that’s a major factor in the story, the idea that the people we encounter change us and that everything has a purpose. I also really enjoy the inclusion of lots of Japanese legends, especially as CLAMP weaves them into the modern world in a classic urban-fantasy fashion. The main story-line itself is intricate yet wonderfully consistent–and absolutely heart-rending. Finally, the art is beautiful–primarily a classic CLAMP style, but with a more traditional Japanese art flavor that fits the storyline perfectly. I would highly recommend xxxHOLiC to anyone, regardless of usual taste; it supersedes barriers like gender, style, and age in a wonderful manner.
Directed by Lee Sung-gang/Produced by Kang Han-young & Oh Min-ho/Written by Lee Chang-dong/Music by Yang Bang-ean/Starring Son Ye-jin, Gong Hyung-jin, & Ryu Deok-hwan
Yobi is a spritely forest creature, the sort you only see usually in old folk stories, a five-tailed fox. For a hundred years she’s lived with her friends, a group of fuzzy bug-like aliens who crashed their ship into her forest. However, when one of the aliens gets captured by the humans at a nearby school for troubled children, Yobi goes undercover as a human girl to rescue her friend. Never could she have known what fun it would be to play with human children. Nor the price it would cost for her to stay. . . .
Yobi, the Five Tailed Fox was quite an enjoyable movie to watch. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Miyazaki’s movies. It has an appreciation for nature, a spunky main character, and an unexpected cast of side characters ranging from random bug-aliens to an autistic little girl to a guy made entirely of shadow. The plot is interesting, somewhat roaming, but sweet and poignant; I’d almost call it a tragedy, except that I think Yobi would be satisfied with how it ended, if that makes any sense. The Korean cultural influences were definitely visible–some of them seemed a bit strange, but I found them on the whole enjoyable. They make the experience broader and more fun! The art in this movie is quite pretty, although the English dubbed version that I found was rather poor quality, so I didn’t really get to enjoy it as much as I would have liked to. (Someone really needs to get a proper high-quality DVD English dub out in the States!) The music is nice also–it’s not Joe Hisaishi by any means, but it sets the mood well. I particularly enjoyed the ending theme; I actually discovered this movie through a cover of that song, and it’s really pretty. In any case, for those who enjoy Asian animated movies, I think Yobi, the Five Tailed Fox is a pretty, fun story that you would enjoy.
Les Armateurs, Vivi Film, Cartoon Saloon, & France 2 Cinéma
Written & Directed by Tomm Moore/Co-directed by Nora Twomey, Script by Fabrice Ziolkowski/Art Directed by Ross Stewart/Music by Bruno Coulais
For his whole life, Brendan has been hidden away in his uncle’s walled abbey, forbidden to venture into the dangerous world outside. His uncle and only living relative, Abbot Cellach, has told him horror stories of Northmen invaders and wild animals that lurk outside the walls–which are essentially true. However, when a master illuminator, Brother Aidan, comes to the abbey for refuge from the Viking invaders, Brendan’s world begins to open. He sneaks into the forest outside the walls to get ink-making supplies and meets an incredible fey girl, Aisling, who becomes his friend and changes his world even more. As time goes by, Brendan must choose: exist in fear and supposed safety like his uncle . . . or let go and truly live, chase his dreams, and become a part of something greater than himself.
The Secret of Kells is one of the most ground-shaking movies I’ve seen in my life. It’s an incredible story of imagination, creativity, and wonder. The characters are great–I particularly love Aisling, whose fey non-humanness is so strong it’s nearly tangible. The music is also wonderful, carrying an old Celtic sort of feel. The voice-acting is well done also; I love the accents! However, the most obviously outstanding feature of this story is the animation. It’s made to somewhat mimic the old-style illumination such as was used in the original Book of Kells; a very apropos choice, since this is the story of that book’s creation. The style is unsettlingly different, using weird angles and perspectives, but it works. I found that it had truly grown on my by the end of the movie. The Secret of Kells is a movie that everyone needs to see at least once, although I personally intend to watch it again. Probably several times.
Pixar Animation Studios
Written by Brenda Chapman/Directed by Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman/Produced by Katherine Sarafian/Music by Patrick Doyle
Merida is exactly like her mother the queen–strong-willed, stubborn, and sure she knows best–so of course, they’re bound to butt heads. Frequently. However, when the queen invites the other member nations of their united kingdoms to compete for Merida’s hand in marriage, Merida feels her mother has taken things too far. . . . And decides to take her fate into her own hands.
Brave is a beautiful, touching story. It’s classic Pixar, with the strong family focus, “follow your heart” theme, and widespread spattering of comic (sometimes slightly crude) relief. The characters–particularly Merida and her mom–are well developed and carry the story well. I really love the setting–historic Scotland–and the animation brings out the rugged beauty of the setting to great effect. (Plus I must say, I adore Merida’s hair and the dresses.)The music is also gorgeous–intentionally tear-jerking at parts, but that’s Disney for you. All told, I’d say Brave is an enjoyable, relatively family-safe movie that I’d generally recommend for most audiences.