Tag: anime (page 2 of 2)

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Lady Death

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/lady_death.mp3]

Not every adaptation has to be 100% accurate in its translation of the source material. I mean, honestly, how would the Lord of the Rings film trilogy had been helped by the presence of Tom Bombadil? In spite of his absence, the films are faithful to the spirit of the books, encapsulating the epic journeys of the Fellowship and the struggle to overcome the forces of evil. I bring this up because Lady Death suffers from a problem entirely different from missing a couple incidental characters. It’s missing just about everything that made the original enjoyable.

Courtesy ADV

Lady Death got her start in the now-defunct CHAOS! Comics, the brainchild of Brian Pulido and the late Steven Hughes. She was initially cast merely as the eye-candy head-girlfriend of flagship character Evil Ernie, but proved popular enough that she got her own stories in the form of several mini-series and the occasional unrelated but not-unwelcome ‘swimsuit’ issue. Her story was that of a young girl named Hope who had the misfortune of being labeled a witch in Mideval Europe. Burning at the stake, she cries out to anyone or anything that can save her, and Lucifer answers. Hope has no desire to suffer in Hell has she did in life, but is told by Lucifer that she will never go free as long as living men walk the Earth. Hope’s answer is to hook up with a renegade eldritch blacksmith and vow to kill every single human being on the planet just to stick it to Lucifer. Now there’s a female empowerment story for you!

The movie takes a slightly different tack from a plot perspective. Instead of looking to get one over on Old Scratch, Hope undergoes her transformation and training for a more straight-up showdown scenario, the plan being for her to overthrow Lucifer and reign in Hell as a slightly less prickish potentate. The intent was to make Lady Death a little bit more of a ‘positive’ heroine instead of an anti-heroine. At least, that’s my understanding. While the concept alone takes away from some of the uniqueness of her character, it doesn’t dilute her symbolism. A woman consistently and thoroughly screwed over by men taking up arms to overthrow a male oppressor is still in keeping with Pulido’s original concept. While Lady Death can face challenges or even defeat, she never, ever plays the victim.

Courtesy CHAOS! Comics
We miss you, Steve.

The same cannot be said for the rest of the source material. Pulido and Hughes were never afraid to veer into camp territory occasionally, and more than once you’ll catch Lady Death enjoying the slaughter she visits upon those in her path, sporing one of Hughes’ trademark grins. The movie’s masters, on the other hand, seem to have drained all of the life and joy out of Lady Death’s character along with her skin color. While playing her as more of the stereotypical stoic anti-hero might seem more fitting of the character by virtue of her name, both Brian Pulido and Neil Gaiman would tell you that a character named Death need not be… well, dead.

A big part of this major flaw in the movie comes from the era in which Lady Death was born. You see, in the 90s there was a trend of comic book protagonists who had some connection to the afterlife, be it J.O. Barr’s resurrected avenger The Crow or Todd MacFarlane’s anti-hero-from-Hell Spawn. While J.O. did it better than just about anybody else, there was no shortage of pretenders to this genre and the concurrent explosion of dark, edgy entertainment just about anywhere you looked. The explosion of the goth subculture seemed to have a lot of young people dressing in black and extolling the virtues of these damned heroes. Lady Death, in retrospect, seems to have had purpose that was two-fold, at least while she was under the control of CHAOS! – bring a much-needed female protagonist into this mix, and take the piss out of the genre at the same time by letting Lady Death enjoy being an infernal vixen of might and destruction. She never seems to enjoy anything she does in the movie, and the whole thing suffers as a result.

Courtesy ADV
I could do better line work than this. And I suck.

It also suffers from some of the choppiest animation I have ever seen. I’ve indulged in more than my share of both anime and US-grown cartoons. ADV Films usually distributes anime, but don’t be fooled by the emblem on this thing. This is nowhere near as good as Evangelion or Berserk in terms of art or execution. The whole thing feels rushed, like it’s more the result of a high-schooler’s Lady Death fan-fiction brought to life than the concerted effort of a serious animation studio. And if it were based on a fanfic, there’d be a bit more titillation going on. A big part of Lady Death’s appeal has been her look and the way she casually flaunts her sexuality, even if the art that followed in the wake of Steve’s unfortunate passing dialed down the nihilistic glee that was just as much a part of her character as her skimpy outfits. But the lackluster nature of this animation means that there isn’t much enjoyment to be had looking at her. Add some flat voice acting, a plodding story pace and a total lack of originality to the mix and you have about a hundred minutes of completely wasted time.

Don’t take this review as a condemnation of Lady Death. On the contrary, even after a few reboots she still functions as the rare female protagonist in comic books who isn’t over-sexualized or completely undermined by the presence of males. Sure, she’s fun to look at, but her exploits are usually just as much fun to read. Seek out her books if you’d like to find out more about her, but as for the movie, skip it. Your time would be better spent finding some of that fan-fiction I mentioned. Especially if it crosses over with, say, Vampirella or something.

Courtesy CHAOS! Comics
…Apparently, this is a canon crossover. …AWESOME.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Titan A.E.

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/titanae.mp3]

“Science fiction” is a broader term than you might think. It covers a wide variety of stories, from the space exploration and future cultures of Star Trek to the time-travelling shenanigans of Doctor Who. In the best cases when it comes to science fiction films, these stories use their outlandish or otherworldly settings to tell us something about ourselves here on the mundane, present-day Earth. In the worst, they dump the latest special effects technology on the screen to make a bit of money and distract the audience from the lack of plot or multi-dimensional characters. Of course, special effects tech can be expensive, but Titan A.E. proves that sometimes the oldest tricks work the best. A bottle of ink and a little paint, after all, has got to be less expensive than a room full of top-flight computers and all of the Red Bull necessary to keep their operators going.

Courtesy Fox

The A.E. in the title stands for After Earth. This animated film begins with a malevolent alien species, the Drej, scouring our long-suffering mother world of all life. One of the survivors is Cale, whose father leaves him on the eve of Earth’s annihilation to undertake a mysterious project. The only memento Cale has of his father is a ring. Adrift and alone as one of the few remaining humans, Cale takes odd jobs as a mechanic and salvager until a rugged ship captain named Korso tracks him down. No sooner does Korso tell Cale that his father is out there waiting for him, and that his ring is the key to the project “Titan” that can rekindle the human race, the Drej show up and start blasting things. Not one to stand around and get disintegrated, Cale joins Korso and his crew in a quest to find his father, the Titan and possibly hope for his entire species.

Don Bluth is no stranger to the otherworldly and fantastical. He is, after all, the animator who gave us The Secret of NIMH, the Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace video games, An American Tail and The Land Before Time (but not its bazillion sequels). While much of his style is clear in Titan, the sheer oddness of some of the aliens and the behaviors they engage in feel much more in line with Ralph Bakshi. There’s a bit of an edginess to it, which isn’t uncommon for works from the turn of the millenium but may surprise those of you who know Bluth only due to talking cuddly dinosaurs.

Courtesy Fox
Akima: All this and brains, too.

Further pushing Titan away from the realm of children’s movies is the sheer amount of violence present. Sure, it’s mostly bloodless and taking place in the same sort of universe where you might find Luke Skywalker or his even whinier dad, but there were a couple times where I found myself gobsmacked in an “I can’t believe that just happened!” sort of way. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as savagely violent as anime entires like Ninja Scroll, but it’s a far cry from the wide-eyed optimism of Fivel the immagrant mouse.

While we’re on the subject though, Titan A.E. immediately reminded me of one of the first anime features I ever saw, Lensman. Given that the anime is an adaptation of the sci-fi novels of one E.E. “Doc” Smith, I consider this a good comparison. Titan aims to be an old-school two-fisted space western, harkening back to the days when Star Wars was unsullied by major merchandising. It’s mostly plays like Flash Gordon without the camp, but at the same time has the good sense not to take itself too seriously. A more cynical way of putting it is that they keep the story and action sequences moving so you don’t think too hard about the science.

Courtesy Fox
Somebody turned off the gravity? Korso’s shirt is unimpressed.

Since we’re in the sort of story where space is the open range and asteroids might as well be tumbleweeds, you shouldn’t expect to get a whole lot of hard science out of Titan A.E. – it’s no 2001, in more ways than one. I mean, this has plot beginning to end, instead of bookending a 20-minute character-driven tragedy with two hours of model spacecraft dancing to classical music. Anyway, while some of the things that happen do have basis in science – weightlessness, exposure to vaccuum, etc – one might be forgiven for wondering how Cale is able to safely eat extra-terrestrial food, for example. Or how the “wake angels” emit dolphin-like song in that one superfluous scene they have. It’s really not the sort of thing that detracts from this kind of story. Titan A.E. is definitely on the softer side of science fiction, as most of the technology exists primarily as a backdrop and mechanism to drive the plot. And on that level, it works. Even if we have no idea how they broke the faster-than-light barrier.

If Titan A.E. has a potentially crippling flaw, it’s the Drej. Given that this is a 2000 film, the decision to mix hand-drawn animation with CGI was innovative for its time and half the time it’s not too much of a disadvantage. The Drej, however, are so decidedly different from every other character involved in the story that they might as well not be from this story. Then again, maybe that’s the point? Anyway, the big problem with the Drej isn’t really their animation, but their motivation. They fear the potential power of humanity. Why? I mean, antagonists lose some of their mystique when their motivations are laid out for us in plain English, but at the same time little hints would be nice. Especially given the way the movie ends, it seems that the Drej were just as responsible for their inevitable defeat as Cale and the surviving humans. If they had a prophecy that drove them to scorch the Earth, shouldn’t it have included something along the lines of “Let the human race die out in peace” or “Keep destroying planets when they settle but don’t go after them when they’re transient, desperate and heroic”? There’s certainly nothing wrong with the actions of a malevolent alien race driving the plot of a story like this, but the Drej run after humanity so fast with the intent to end the race that they run themselves smack into a brick wall and brain themselves. They certainly can’t hold a candle to the Cylons. Hell, I think the Romulans could probably give them a bruising. At least Nero had a bit of charisma.

Courtesy Fox
“So, Akima… you, me, some simulated candlelight…”
“Cale? You remember I have access to large weaponry, right?”
“…We’ll talk later.”

The hero cast, on the other hand, is pretty well done. None of the characters really fall into the realm of stereotype. Co-screenwriter Joss Whedon’s trademark snarky banter shines through in some of the scenes, and there’s never a moment of over-the-top emotional dramatics from the ensemble. In fact, the heroes strike that precious balance of being both well-developed enough for us to care about their well-being and wish them success in a general sense while not trying to turn a rock-em sock-em space romp into a Greek drama. It’s a lot like the hero cast in Independence Day. And hey, that’s Bill Pullman as Korso! Coincidence? I think not!

When all is said and done, Titan A.E. can be best summed up in the word “solid.” Solid concept, solid story, solid screen-writing, solid animation and solid execution. It lurches a bit here and there, and the Drej could have used a bit more work to become truly effective, but those are mostly nitpicks. If you like the sort of action-packed space adventure where a young hero has to learn something about himself while dodging blaster fire and trading quips with an attractive and capable young lady who’s clearly no slouch when it comes to shooting back at the bad guys, you could definitely do worse than Titan A.E. and it’s worth adding to your Netflix queue for an evening’s light entertainment. It’s old-fashioned space-based fun. And I for one have to respect a movie that doesn’t screw around and blows our planet out from under us in the opening scenes. Apparently they lost track of their books in the future, though, because I didn’t see a single human being fleeing the Earth who had the good sense to take a towel with them.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/yugioh.mp3]

There is a difference, in my mind, between a request and a challenge. A request is somebody asking an artist to do something for a personal reason – they have a particular subject they want exalted, or a pet peeve they’re dying to see run into the ground. A challenge, on the other hand, is a sharing of misery. When I did my review of Rise: Blood Hunter, that was a request. What happened last night was the result of a challenge, issued during the Classholes Anonymous podcast a couple weeks ago. If you missed it, go click the ad in the sidebar of my blog. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The gauntlet was clearly thrown. And I, like a moron, took it up, apparently just to repeatedly punch myself in the face.

Courtesy 4Kids Entertainment

I should have taken Black Eagle’s advice to find the abridged version. Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie doesn’t even get off to a good start. The opening narration, about an ancient ‘shadow game’ between Anubis, god of the underworld, and some nameless pharoah is redundant, dry and utter nonsense. “Not even eternity lasts forever.” Um, yes, it does. That’s the definition of eternity. Oh, and isn’t it a great sign when a kid’s movie begins with a scene of people being horribly buried alive?

Anyway, we cut to this little pipsqueak Yugi trying to solve this unsolvable Millenium Puzzle, an ancient Egyptian artifact that apparently hangs around your neck despite the fact it looks like it weight about five hundred pounds. When he solves it, he apparently becomes or is inhabited by the soul of the pharoah. I’m not entirely sure what the deal is, there. I have the feeling that if I’d suffered through the first few seasons of the horribly dubbed TV series I might have more of a clue, but I only have information from the movie to go on. And the movie doesn’t say shit about how this transformation of his actually works. Also, whenever the pharoah takes over Yugi’s body, he suddenly transforms from a shrimpy little kid into a tall young man with a much deeper voice and angrier hair. And nobody comments on the strangeness of this whatsoever.

The world has been taken over by this obsession with a collectible card game called Duel Monsters. It’s kind of like Magic: The Gathering, except that this game suffers from a problem of having its brain missing. Every single person who plays it doesn’t just carry a deck with them, they wear this retarded-looking gizmo on their arm. At all times. Now, if this were Hell’s Kitchen and these kids were carrying switchblades, I’d understand that. It’s a rough neighborhood. But, come on, you don’t have bags to carry this crap in? Are you that paranoid that a duel is going to break out at any moment? And while we’re on the subject of the gizmos, which are unnamed, if they project holographic images of the cards’ monsters and spells, the only way the images could do physical damage to the players – which apparently they do, judging by Yugi’s vocalizations when he is, among other things, brutally backstabbed (in a kid’s movie!) – is if they have the old Star Trek problem of the safeties being disabled. Or not having safties. What a great little toy for kids, huh? A card game where you can summon monsters to savagely beat your friends half to death during lunch hour. The PTA’s going to love it.

Courtesy 4Kids Entertainment
“Prepare to duel! FOR YOUR LUNCH MONEY!”

So the opening of the film and the premise for its battles are utter bullshit. The battles themselves should look cool at least, right? WRONG. Not only do the creatures in these duels look lackluster and almost entirely interchangable, as well as having needlessly complicated and similar names, the duelists make it a point to stop in the middle of their duels to explain what the card is and what it does. And this happens with every card. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Watching people play a CCG is boring enough as it is, but when this sort of crap is done every time a new card is played, complete with overly dramatic gestures and voice acting that is absolutely gut-wrenching in its amateur dramatics elocution, I have to believe the only adolescent audience really chomping at the bit to see this in theaters rode the short bus to school. Back when they had short buses.

When we’re not being thrown against the walls of our intelligence by this aggressive assault of stupid, the movie dumps exposition on the screen through the mouths of its characters with such utter blandness that I found myself almost wishing to be back in the middle of a duel. Not only is the exposition stupid, it contains perhaps the worst Egyptology lesson ever. Now, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have super-powerful baddies resolving their conflicts through mundane games. Puzzle Quest proves that. But I couldn’t help but feel sorry for poor Anubis. The god of the afterlife who judged the souls of the dead, to my recollection, never set a plot in motion to bring about the utter destruction of the world. And I know this is probably a case of the dub making an already flimsy premise even more stupid, but if those cards Yugi has represent Egyptian gods, I’d love to find the part in the Book fo the Dead that refers to Slifer the Sky Dragon.

Courtesy 4Kids Entertainment
So apparently Egyptian gods actually look like this.
Courtesy 4Kids Entertainment
Or… like this. I guess.

So far we’ve got a shitty plot, shitty battles, shitty animation and shitty mythology. Let’s see if we can find anything to even partially redeem this. At one point, the character of Kaiba climbs into a vehicle that I can only describe as a robot dragon. I have no idea where Kaiba got the resources to put this thing together, but it looks pretty badass. At first. Then the music comes in. Remember some of the incidental music from Transformers: The Movie? And I’m talking about the 80’s version, here, not Michael Bay’s somewhat bland explosionfest. The incidental songs were typical 80’s fare, but at least they were tolerable to listen to. This little song that plays while Kaiba flies up to see the fabulous Max Pegasus sounds like it was banged out by garage-dwelling wannabes that are trying way too hard to be Nickleback. If their aspirations begin and end with wanting to emulate the most unpleasant form of what can only tentatively be considered rock music, mission accomplished, I guess.

And while we’re on the subject of Kaiba, how the hell can he afford to build a highly complicated dome where he can test his deck against a simulations of Yugi’s? I know, I know, seasons of television in two countries, dubs suck compared to subs, online wikis, slashfics, derpy derpy doo. I am watching a movie, here, and am judging the movie based solely on what it provides its audience in terms of explanations and clarifications, i.e. none. Like Yugi’s inexplicable dual souls or the ways the holograms beat the crap out of the players, Kaiba’s fortune and resources go unexplained. We’re left with a hell of a lot more questions than answers. Why is Kaiba’s coat always billowing? If Kaiba’s really this interested in beating Yugi, why isn’t he doing it in a tournament setting where Yugi can be publically humiliated, instead of this private setting where he can cheat as much as he wants since there’s no oversight? And if Kaiba did win, who’d believe him? Couldn’t he at least have televised the event? Is anyone going to bother explaining the rules of this brain-damaged game? Why doesn’t Yugi’s grandfather have the hairstyle of an adult? And if this is a kid’s movie, what’s with all the fan service?

Courtesy 4Kids Entertainment
“Mommy? Why do my pants feel so tight?”

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, the plot goes from nearly non-existent to completely incomprehensible. In the final act, Yugi’s soul is sucked into this magical MacGuffin and forced to navigate an MC Escher painting. While the pharoah in Yugi’s much more adult body gets its ass kicked by Kaiba’s dickish cheating and topdecking, Yugi and his pals have to fight mummies. Apparently they’re not going to survive until the girl among them jumps in, saying that as long as they’re together, they can prevail. As if a lesson on the Power of Friendship wasn’t enough, they apparently drew a symbol while their hands were joined at some point in time before the movie that gives them super-powers. A reference to something incidental from the television series is, in a film, still a deus ex machina, and still sucks.

So the big climax happens when Anubis manages to manifest himself as a retarded-looking pro wrestler guy with super-powerful monsters and the ability to MAKE THE MONSTERS REAL! Wait. If the monsters weren’t real before, why did Yugi act like he was getting stabbed for real when he got stabbed by that creepy-ass clown? Anyway, an ass-pull happens, Anubis is destroyed or banished or sent to his room or whatever. Point is, the movie ended. And all of those questions I brought up? Never answered. Not a single one.

Courtesy 4Kids Entertainment
I know, Yugi. I know. It hurts me too.

Watching Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie is an experience in cinematic torture. It’s bland, stupid, ill-conceieved and shamelessly pandering all at the same time. American children frothing at the mouth for the next obsessive collection of things on which their parents will spend money just to shut them up might have been entertained. But I’m more and more of the opinion that American children, by and large, have yet to unlock their higher brain functions. Maybe the school system is holding them back, maybe they’re eating too much fast food, maybe there’s too much exposure to things like Twilight and Halo and Justin Beiber, but it’s a moot point. I’m not here to discuss those matters, I’m here to review a movie. And this movie sucks. It’s atrocious. It was shat out by a studio looking milk more dollars out of impressionable youths who will stampede to the stores to pick up the awesome cards they saw on-screen. Here’s where I pick up my walking stick and shake it at these bunch of brain-dead drooling perpetual disappointments.

Back in MY day, when Magic: the Gathering was the only card game in town, we didn’t need a TV series or a shitty movie to get us to buy the cards. You know why? That game is good. There’s balance (more or less), clear rules (for the most part), fantastic card art (until anything potentially satanic gets edited out)… okay, it’s not a great game, but my point is people picked up the game, played it, and bought more cards to play more on the merits of the game itself. The card game born out of Yu-Gi-Oh is, as far as I can tell, every bit a product of the show and, if this film is any indication, it’s completely and utterly worthless. Do not go anywhere near this title. The series, the movie, the game, the other merchandise which includes those retarded things you wear on your arm because tables just aren’t cool enough – it’s all designed to make you stupid. It feeds on your intelligence. Avoid it at all costs. My deepest hope is that, since little to nothing has been said or heard about this franchise for years, it’s finally on its way to the same yawning abyss that has claimed Beyblades and those absolutely craptastic Go-Bots.

As for my “friends” Kona Kona and Chan… well, there’s a reason they put friendly fire in Alien Swarm, ya bastards.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Ghost in the Shell

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/gits.mp3]

Back in the days of the late 80s and early 90s, when the excess of the previous decade were giving way to the ‘edgy’ goth culture that emerged to dominate a lot of the media in the next – The Crow, Spawn, A Nightmare Before Christmas, etc – America was getting its first real dose of animé. The Sci-Fi Channel, back when it was called ‘The Sci-Fi Channel’ and didn’t worry about its Google page rank because, well, Google didn’t really exist yet, ran a few animé features every year or so just to whet our whistles for what lay in store for us on the other side of the Pacific. The first round included Lensman, Casshan Robot Hunter and Vampire Hunter D, which while visually stunning and unique in their aesthetics, amounted to pretty standard but well-done action flicks. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that we were introduced to the truly introspective and headspace-violating works such as Akira and this week’s review fodder, Ghost in the Shell.

There’s also the fact that none of those three ‘early’ animé features are available on Netflix, which is a shame because Lensman is a great reworking of E.E. Smith’s novels, Casshan is one of the best treatments of a Mega Man-style protagonist I’ve ever seen, and Vampire Hunter D is… hmm? Oh, right, Ghost in the Shell, sorry about that.

Courtesy Production I.G.

The year is 2029. The world is connected by a global information network that is to the Internet what a Peterbilt 378 is to last year’s Ford pick-up. In Tokyo, the government has divided its various responsibilities into sections, and Section 9 is their covert operations and network security division. Top badass amongst the ranks of Section 9 is Major Motoko Kusanagi, who along with being a crack shot, an expert martial artist and pretty damn smart in terms of both brain and mouth, is also a full conversion cyborg, meaning that other than her brain and most of her spinal column, her body is entirely robotic. A case involving a hacker called ‘the Puppet Master’ falls into Section 9’s lap, and the investigation leads Motoko to question the nature of her own existence even as she tries to unravel the mystery as to who this hacker is and what they’re after.

Ghost in the Shell, like a great deal of animé, is based upon the manga of the same name. The manga was crafted by a guy named Shirow Masamune, and in the interest of full disclosure, I need to make the following statement: I love Shirow Masamune. This is the guy who brought us Black Magic, Appleseed and Dominion, which might be better known by the animé feature called Tank Police. His work is, in my opinion, best described as ‘camp cyberpunk’, a marriage of the mentality behind such works as Blade Runner and Snow Crash with balls-to-the-wall action and genuinely funny humor that has mechanized characters like Briareos from Appleseed acting far more human than some humans do in similar works, even his own. There’s plenty of philosophy, sociological commentary and bits of political satire woven into his stories, and they’re told and drawn well enough that you’re having just as good a time contemplating what he’s trying to say as you do watching cops with tanks blast their way through the bad guys. Ghost in the Shell is exemplary of this style, with discussions on the nature of human existence occurring almost simultaneously with cybernetic supercops doing battle against advanced walking tanks.

Courtesy Production I.G.
The big guy’s Battou. He’s awesome.
He gives us the phrase ‘standard-issue big gun’ among other things.

The action from the manga exists almost intact in the animé feature. Instead of trying to wow an audience with laser guns or giant fighting robots, Ghost in the Shell keeps the action, for the most part, on the human level. While the Major is super-strong, very fast and well-experienced in combat, when the action takes place it happens on a scale to which an audience can relate. I mean, seeing a space battle happen in, say, Star Blazers or Robotech is exciting, but a great deal of that comes from our relationship with the pilots of those fantastic vehicles. Without characters that we like and can relate to, it’d just be so much sound and fury like the opening of Revenge of the Sith. The grounding of Tokyo 2029 in reality, coupled with the interesting characters involved in the combat, lends it weight and makes it more exciting, ramping up the tension as the stakes get higher.

Unfortunately Ghost in the Shell doesn’t have the pace or the occasional tongue-in-cheek aside of its manga source material. Some bits of the film just drag, especially when it comes to Motoko’s navel-gazing. It’s like watching a tense episode of Law & Order: SVU only to have Stabler & Benson stop in the middle of tracking down a serial rapist to discuss the sustainability of the world in general and New York City in particular. It’s interesting, sure, but we didn’t come here for moral philosophy, get the hell on with the detective work. Instead of weaving these questions into the narrative, director Oshii Mamoru stops the action dead to have us ruminate on the nature of human existence.

There’s also the fact that the Major inexplicably gets naked any time she needs to use her cloaking device. “Therm-optic camouflage” didn’t require nudity in the manga, and even in the film a guy is able to use therm-optics just by pulling up the hood of his jumper – he didn’t have to whip out his junk to turn invisible. I don’t object to the idea of seeing Motoko in her skivvies, even if she is a cyborg, but the gratuity and lack of necessity for it in context kind of bugs me.

Courtesy Production I.G.
Sad cyborg is sad.

Ghost in the Shell was ground-breaking for its time. Now, “ground-breaking” is not entirely synonymous with “good”. It’s also a phrase that can get abused by people in the marketing world. Sonic Unleashed, for example, could be described as ground-breaking in that video game series because never before as a hedgehog that runs fast turned into a hulking fur-covered pile of rage and sharp bits that’d be called a ‘werewolf’ if it weren’t a complete misnomer. The DaVinci Code broke new ground for anti-Church conspiracy theorists, but the book is at its best when it’s wedged under a piece of furniture to keep it from wobbling. Twilight was ground-breaking in both its existence as genre fiction aimed at young female readers and the psychological and sexual implications of its characters, but it seemed like the flat characterizations and plodding story pace were set to drain vampires of all of their menace and mystique until the advent of Daybreakers. Incidentally, one has to wonder the fun that could be had if the aforementioned vampire hunter D came across the Cullen household. Hilarity would ensue, I’m sure.

Anyway, Ghost in the Shell is not only a ground-breaking work in terms of cyberpunk animé and post-modern information-age personal philosophy but also pretty damn good as a story. Long treatises and monologues aside, this is a seminal work of the genre and definitely worth seeing if you have any interest in well-done hand-crafted animation that isn’t afraid to be violent, sexy or intellectually interesting for adults. The thing about the film which ultimately works against it is, as good as Shirow’s work is, it tends to be dense, with layers of philosophical and socio-political commentary layered between the character development and action sequences. It’s a similar problem that we have with the recent adaptation of Appleseed, and I suspect that if Black Magic or Dominion were to be revisited as films, it’d be no different. Trying to cram everything Shirow does in his works into a two hour film without a careful hand in the editing process can leave the final result feeling disjointed and lead to some problems with pace. Ghost in the Shell is pretty much the best example of this, but it’s also a fantastic example of the counterpoint to the problem with adapting Shirow’s work to film.

Courtesy Production I.G.
Even today, scenes like this are gorgeous.

Even when there isn’t anything going on, it’s extremely well-drawn or well-rendered nothing. Even if you’re not an animé fan and just have a passing interest in things like cyberpunk action, artificial intelligence that doesn’t want to destroy the world or just characters that are both intelligent and badass, you can do a hell of a lot worse than Ghost in the Shell. And if you like it as a feature, go read the manga or, better yet, check out Stand-Alone Complex, an animé television series that stays a lot closer to Shirow’s original vision. You can expand on a lot of the themes and subjects in those inner layers when you have a dozen hour-long episodes to work with instead of a feature with a ninety minute running time. I mean, imagine if you tried to take one of the many, many themes from a tv series like Star Trek: The Next Generation, let’s say relocating a native population for the sake of governmental whims, and condense it into a feature film that’s accessible to the masses as well as diehard fans. The result would probably be a total disaster! I mean, who would be so stupid as to…

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

…Wait…

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Pokémon 3

This week’s IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! brought to you by a generous donation by Rachel Kraft. Thank you for your support!

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/pokemon.mp3]

I went into this knowing I’m probably not the right audience for the film. I’m not an adolescent and my brain is, as far as I can tell, relatively intact and undamaged. However, attempting to do criticism of any medium in which you get paid for it will mean that, from time to time, you have to undertake an endeavour that isn’t up your alley. So me reviewing Pokémon 3: The Movie is a bit like seeing Yahtzee take on a real-time strategy game or JPRG for Zero Punctuation. It just isn’t going to end well.

Courtesy Nintendo/KidsWB

I used to be a pretty big animé fan, but I never really got into the whole Pokémon scene. My tastes in the genre tend to lean more towards the artsy Miyazaki films and the rather adult escapism of series such as Cowboy Bebop, Rurouni Kenshin, Macross Plus, Record of Lodoss War and Death Note. So the art style of the film didn’t bother me as much as it might some others. However, this film is meant to draw in and entertain youngsters fully enthralled by the Pokémon series of games, or those that are just distracted by bright colors and “catchy” tunes. Though I doubt most of them understand why Brock’s so interested in getting laid.

Courtesy Nintendo/KidsWB

This exercise in adaptating the long-running Nintendo franchise in animé format opens with the short Pikachu & Pichu, in which the titular Pokémon get involved in a city-street caper. Surprisingly, at least to me, I found this wasn’t half-bad once I got past the nature of the character designs and methods of communication. This little romp would be decent in exemplifying wordless storytelling if it weren’t for the insipid narration. This is probably adaptation decay to make sure ignorant large American children understand what’s going on since subtlety is likely lost on their squishy over-stimulated brains. The music and style seem to be something in keeping with Charlie Chaplain or Laurel & Hardy (if they were rather cute ‘monsters’) but the knowledge that the narrator’s going to chime in to point out the obvious at any moment waters down any potential enjoyment for an American viewer over the age of 6. My favorite part was a little in-joke Brock makes on the unchanging nature of most animé characters’ costumes.

Courtesy Nintendo/KidsWB

The movie proper begins by introducing us to Professor Spencer Hale and his daughter, Molly. They’re shown as being happy which means that something awful’s going to happen and, within about five minutes, Spencer’s been sucked into a pocket dimension by a type of Pokémon known as the Unown. Molly, understandably upset by her dad’s disappearance, stumbles onto the means to summon the Unown and they start granting her wishes, including creating a facsimile of a legendary Pokémon called Entei who basically serves Molly as a surrogate dad. Into this situation wander Ash, Brock and Misty who are joined by Professor Oak and Ash’s mom, since Spencer was one of Oak’s top students. Entei appears before the group and makes off with Ash’s mother since Molly also wished for a mommy. Naturally, Ash doesn’t take his mom’s abduction lying down and heads off to rescue her. Upon seeing the trainers climing the crystal palace of dreams created by the Unown, two things happen. Molly decides she wants to be a Pokémon trainer too, setting off a series of matches with Brock and Misty; and Ash’s mom snaps out of the hypnosis that yanked her into the dream in the first place. The confrontation escalates, more Pokémon battles are waged, and since this is a kid’s movie everything resolves happily and plenty of Pokémon are seen so the kids who go home can spend more time pursuing them in whichever Pokémon game came out most recently.

Now, I can’t pretend that I don’t understand how this movie got made. Nor can I pretend that I don’t get its appeal. Heck, seeing Ash riding Charizard around made me smile a little, because even at my age the idea of riding a fire-breathing dragon into battle is pretty damn cool. However, the thing that got to me about Pokémon 3: The Movie is how safe it felt. To me, at least, there was never really any sense of danger or tension. There was the knowledge in the back of my mind that even if Molly wished for a neutron bomb or to wipeout the firstborn or a new Dan Brown book – you know, some sort of apocalyptic event that’d destroy humanity – Ash and company would emerge on the other end unscathed because there are more episodes of their TV series to produce along with video games, action figures, plushies, bed dressings and toaster cozies. When you have a cute mascot of a lucrative franchise, you don’t want to feed it to a wood chipper just to see if it’s still the same color coming out the other end. Well, Nintendo doesn’t, at least. But I’m somewhat curious.

Courtesy Nintendo/KidsWB

Anyway, my point is that this movie, for all of its various forms of what might be considered monsters, has no teeth. There might be some narrative nuance with Entei sacrificing itself to grant Molly’s wishes for peace when the Unown spin out of control but I must again consider a form of adaptation decay at work because the voice acting just felt flat and uninteresting. None of the principle characters seemed all that concerned with what was going on outside of stock reaction noises. And if they don’t care about what’s going on, the audience won’t either. A grown up audience, that is, won’t care. Kids are far more likely to be invested in the characters since they’re more focused on the pictures in motion than the writing or acting or motivation or passion behind the figures. This isn’t really the fault of the writers or actors, though, more the fault of the material itself. There’s only so much you can do with something this generic when aimed at a narrow age group. At least kids can see a cautionary tale with the moral “Never summon anything bigger than your head.”

Imagine a peice of toast. Functional in that it will sustain you, but bland. It’d be livened up with some butter or jam or peanut butter or cinnamon or something. But it’s possible to ruin toast, by burning it or dropping it butter-side down or having the dog snatch it from your plate when you’re not looking. Pokémon 3: The Movie isn’t ruined or burnt but it’s not tasty or sweet, either. It exists mostly for its own sake and to further drive the sales of games and merchandise to impressionable young kids. If you do have young kids and they’re into Pokémon, this is likely to get added to the Instant selections they can watch over and over again while you do important things like make dinner, tidy up the house, balance your budget or break out the gimp. If you’re an adult without spawn, this animé will pass you by and be forgotten almost as soon as you finish watching it, meaning I really can’t recommend it. In your case, may I humbly recommend something a bit more adult, especially if you can watch it in the original Japanese. Your mileage may vary, but for my money, a much better adult animé experience can be had watching a little 1995 flick called Ninja Scroll.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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