Tag Archives: whimsy

Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984 Anime Movie)

Kitty Films & Toho

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The kids at Tomobiki High School are all gearing up for the cultural festival, preparing shops, fitting costumes, and getting into their usual hijinks. They’ve been so busy, they’ve even been staying overnight at the school! But wait . . . how long have they actually been working on this? Once they start paying attention, more and more things don’t add up. Parents don’t answer the phones at home. When a staff member goes home, he finds the place covered in layer upon layer of dust. When the students go out of the school grounds, they find the city oddly deserted . . . and find themselves mysteriously re-routed back to the school. Someone should probably freak out or do something, right? But it’s kind of fun just hanging out together without a lot of responsibilities, isn’t it?

Beautiful Dreamer was just recently re-released in a beautiful collector’s edition, making this classic film once again readily available to the general viewer. Not being particularly familiar with Mamoru Oshii’s directing work, I can’t specifically comment on how this movie compares to his other work; however, I have heard others say that this is an excellent example of his early work, for those of you who are interested in that. The animation and story content do certainly show the age of the movie to a certain extent, while still being pleasant and enjoyable. For those who have watched or read Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura, I think Beautiful Dreamer will definitely strike a chord. While somewhat dated, the art is also undeniably classic Takahashi, giving it a timeless quality that is quite endearing. The story is classic for the series as well, full of hijinks and strange, unexplainable occurrences galore. Also, Ataru chasing girls and Lum shocking him for it. There’s actually a nice focus on a large number of classic cast members, which is fun. But this movie also manages to be more pensive, to delve into Lum’s mindset and Ataru’s relationship with her . . . it’s just generally a bit more thoughtful and philosophical than the rest of the series. Surprisingly, it works well and I found the movie to be enjoyable. Fair warning, those unfamiliar with the series would probably have a difficult time jumping directly into this movie, but for those who have enjoyed Urusei Yatsura in the past, I think Beautiful Dreamer would be a nostalgic and amusing choice.

Written and Directed by Mamoru Oshii/Produced by Hidenori Taga/Based on Urusei Yatsura by Rumiko Takahashi/Music by Masaru Hoshi/Voice Acting by Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamiya, Kazuko Sugiyama, Saeko Shimazu, Machiko Washio, Mayumi Tanaka, Shigeru Chiba, Akira Murayama, Shinji Nomura, Issei Futamata, Kenichi Ogata, Natsumi Sakuma, Michihiro Ikemizu, Masahiro Anzai, Tomomichi Nishimura, Ichirō Nagai, & Takuya Fujioka

 

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (2016-2017 TV Series)

BBC America

Status: Complete (2 Seasons/18 Episodes)

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/rated TV-14

“Have you noticed an acceleration of strangeness in your life of late?” It’s an odd question to be coming from the man who just forced his way through the window into your flat then had the audacity to be affronted when you’re upset by his presence. And yet, for Todd Brotzman, it’s an oddly apt one as his life has abruptly gone from one of inane consistency to a flurry of strangeness, ending with himself unemployed, a person of interest in a frankly impossible murder case, and, oh yeah, with an odd man in a yellow jacket climbing through his window. And the fun is just beginning.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is one of those shows that is absolutely brilliant . . . as long as you have the patience to deal with the utter absurdity of it. The WTF-factor is huge here, with weird happenings and an accumulation of strange coincidences that all happen to connect somehow just piling on en masse. But the story has a way of rewarding viewers who stick around for the weirdness, bringing everything together in the end to make an odd sort of sense. The characters are well written, brilliantly cast, and quite interesting. Moreover, they’re relatable, perhaps more than most any characters in a TV show I’ve ever encountered. Seriously, they’re so utterly not pulled together, and it’s actually endearing and affirming to see them going about their lives, trying to make things work, while sometimes not having a clue and being so ridden with doubt and guilt. They’re very human in the midst of something that’s completely strange, paranormal even. Which isn’t to say that all the characters are normal–I would say that Dirk himself, as well as all the other Black Wing subjects, are extremely odd in their mannerisms and their way of interacting with the world, the whole “holistic” leaf-on-the-wind thing. But they make for fabulous characters. I feel like the filming is visually rewarding as well–case in point the very beginning of the first season, where we go from close-ups of Dirk’s face (too close to actually identify him immediately) to an impossibly violent and improbably crime scene to a kitten in rapid progression. Or the beginning of the second season, where we are confronted with a fantasy setting, complete with a pink-haired prince and giant scissors wielded as swords (I was almost convinced this was a preview for another show at first, it was so strange!). Seriously, though, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is one of those shows that definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you’re willing to be patient with the weirdness, it’s oddly rewarding.

Created by Max Landis/Based on Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
by Douglas Adams/Starring Samuel Barnett, Elijah Wood, Hannah Marks, Fiona Dourif, Jade Eshete, Mpho Koaho, Michael Eklund, Dustin Milligan, Osiric Chau/Music by Cristobal Tapia de Veer & The Newton Brothers

 

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The Swamps of Sleethe: Poems from Beyond the Solar System

Author: Jack Prelutsky

Illustrator: Jimmy Pickering

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Past the outer reaches of our solar system lie wonders the likes of which you could never imagine. But beware! Not all of those wonders are friendly, and some are downright deadly . . . planets that make you laugh yourself to death, giant demon birds, a beholder who waits in silence with one solitary, staring eye. Scary stuff.

The Swamps of Sleethe does something most unusual–it combines the dark cautionary tones of older fairy tales with the chilling horror of a good ghost story with an absurd Seussical element. All in a variety of verse forms. And manages to do it well! I actually quite enjoyed this strange collection of children’s poetry. It’s obviously tailored to appeal to a middle-grade audience, but I enjoyed it as an adult as well. Fair warning that basically all of these poems are describing strange ways to die on equally strange and impossible planets. It’s all pretty macabre, but as with Last Laughs, it’s in  a darkly humorous sort of way that’s actually kind of appealing. (Or maybe I’m just a terrible person and they’re not really funny at all.) The last poem was kind of a sucker punch to the reader, but a timely one that made the whole volume all the more powerful and striking. Ooh, and the illustrations that accompany the poems are just fabulous–interesting color combinations and weird but fascinating designs that I really liked. I wouldn’t say that The Swamps of Sleethe is for everyone, but if you enjoy a bit more macabre sense of humor, this could be fun. Or if you’re a parent/teacher who’s having trouble getting a middle-grader to read poetry, this could be a good option to try; they might actually find it enjoyable!

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Robot Dreams

Author/Illustrator: Sara Varonrobot dreams

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Dog brings home a build-your-own-robot kit and finds his new best friend–Robot. The two do everything together: library trips, movies, the beach. Well, the beach was a bit of a mistake. Or rather, the water was a mistake for Robot. He rusts up so he can’t move! Dog doesn’t know what to do, so after trying everything, he quietly slinks away, feeling guilty for leaving his friend. Gradually, Dog tries to move past the guilt and loneliness by making new friends . . . with mixed results. Meanwhile, Robot lies abandoned on the shore, daydreaming about all sorts of might-have-been’s and could-be’s. But maybe there’s hope for both of them yet.

I really enjoyed this cute graphic novel, Robot Dreams. The art is simple but bold, not especially beautiful, but oddly attractive and expressive nonetheless. It works well for the story. And the story is unexpected, to be sure. At first, it’s all happy and sweet–the kind of story you give an upbeat soundtrack with birds singing in the background. Then everything gets all sad and poignant–somehow heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. I love that the story resolution is at the same time unexpected (not at all the stereotypical happy ending I had figured would come) and cathartic; there’s a great message of healing and forgiveness there that I think is great for readers of all ages. And that’s something else that is great about this graphic novel–it really is appropriate and enjoyable for everyone from pretty young kids to adults.

 

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Howl’s Moving Castle

Author: Diana Wynne JonesHowl's Moving Castle

My rating: 5 of 5

Wizard Howl’s evil ways are so rampant that word of them reaches even to the back room in the hat shop where young Sophie Hatter spends her days making hats (which may or may not be magical). It is said he eats the hearts of young girls!  But when Sophie accidentally falls afoul of the determinedly evil Witch of the Waste–who turns her into an old woman who can’t tell anyone she’s under a curse–Sophie wanders into the hills where Howl’s castle magically roams. And upon encountering this magical castle, Sophie lets herself in and befriends/bullies Howl’s fire demon, Calcifer, much to the chagrin of Howl’s assistant Michael. Surprisingly, wizard Howl doesn’t oust her from the castle the moment he returns home–although he doesn’t exactly give her a warm welcome either–so Sophie sets herself up as a long-term house guest and cleaning lady. It turns out that all those rumors about Howl eating hearts are just that–rumors spread by Michael to keep townsfolk from bothering Howl. Sophie quickly finds out that Howl isn’t actually evil at all . . . just selfish and vain and noncommittal as can be. How vexing!

How could anyone not love Howl’s Moving Castle? It’s one of my absolute favorite books ever. The concepts behind it are fascinating: a castle magically powered to wander the hill country, a door that opens to different places at different times, a curse you can’t talk about. Plus the delightful way Jones weaves all the different threads of the story together so that they fit just right in the end but are an enigma throughout the story. And of course, this tale is full to bursting with strong (temperamental) characters: Sophie with her nosy, opinionated ways–and her tendency to be a bit of a bully. Howl in all his vanity and womanizing and slithering out of situations–transformed from a sick, sad character into a wondrous one by his insight, kindness, and incredible skill. (You know, Howl reminds me remarkably of the Doctor now that I think about it. Odd.) Then there’s Calcifer with his tricksy cleverness–somehow you can’t help but like him. And nearly buried under these incredible characters are any number of other excellently developed individuals that you only really notice on a second or third reading: Sophie’s creative, determined sisters; Howl’s assistant Michael, who is actually a really nice guy with a lot of character when you get around to actually noticing him; and any number of others as well. Seriously, read Howl’s Moving Castle. Then go back and read it again, because as great as it is the first time around, it might just be even better the third and fourth time.

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Copper

Author/Illustrator: Kazu Kibuishicopper

My rating: 5 of 5

Copper and his dog Fred have the most unusual adventures. Sometimes it’s surfing incredible waves or going fishing. Other times, they travel in space or hop across mushroom tops over a huge gorge (ignoring the nearby bridge). Occasionally, they even do something normal like go shopping. Whatever the case, their imaginations illuminate the situation, providing both fun and insight–even if Fred does get a bit carried away.

My first experience with the work of Kazu Kibuishi was his incredible graphic novel series, Amulet. I was delighted to find this collection of his webcomic, Copper, at the library recently (although many of the comics presented in this volume are also available at his website. While his other works are more traditional graphic novels, Copper is more of a comic-strip sort of work. Most of the clips are only one page long and are completely self-contained, although there is something of a continuity and connection between them. I love the art style used in these comics; it’s classic Kibuishi, but with a simpler, more basic design than most of his other works. It really works well for the story. The characters are wonderful as well. Copper himself is optimistic and cheerful, but basically level-headed. And immensely imaginative–a substantial portion of the stories take place in his head, transforming the mundane into the incredible. And Fred . . . a talking dog with an imagination as huge as his boy’s. And I just love the way he’s so pessimistic about things at first, but then when he tries them, he ends up getting carried away and overdoing it. Too funny! I think Copper is a great collection for anyone, young or old, who enjoys creativity and a good laugh.

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The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins

Author/Illustrator: Dr. SeussThe 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins

My rating: 4 of 5

In the kingdom of Didd lives a small farm boy by the name of Bartholomew Cubbins. Now, Bartholomew has a rather plain hat that he wears nearly all the time, a very ordinary hat with a perky feather sticking up from the top. Nothing special, but Bartholomew likes his hat. But one day, something extraordinary happens: as the king passes by, everyone removes their hats, including Bartholomew. But the king and his whole processing come back to him, insulted, because there’s still a hat on Bartholomew’s head! Bartholomew, the king, the guards, and just about the whole king’s court do their best to bare Bartholomew’s head, but for every hat that’s removed, another appears in its place until it seems like Bartholomew’s snowing hats. Whatever shall he do?

I’ve grown up reading Dr. Seuss since I was little, but I only found The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins fairly recently. It’s fun–fairly different from, say, The Cat in the Hat, but fun still the same. It has more the feeling of an old-school children’s tale, something long ago and far away, maybe by Hans Christian Andersen. With a little bit of Through the Looking Glass thrown in–all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t fix the problem, you know? But at the same time, it does have a certain Seussical quirkiness to it, that sense of fun and whimsy. It doesn’t read in great swathes of rhyme and easily sounded out words, although the reading level isn’t particularly difficult. This would probably be best for readers in elementary school, although it would also be a fun read-aloud story for younger audiences. If I had to guess, I’d suspect that this was rather earlier in Seuss’s writing, so he was still developing his own personal style. But it’s still a great story, and the illustrations are great fun as well–seriously the facial expressions are great! I’d recommend The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins to anyone who enjoys a light-hearted, classic picture book–whether they’re kids or not.

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