Two of the most praised anime series of the shōnen and shōjo genre are undoubtedly Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon. The two classic shows grabbed the hearts of millions in the 90’s, along with being “the anime” that influenced a vast amount of individuals to become dedicated fans of Japanese animation.
I promise to be brief.
Personally speaking, the best one can wish for in regards to those who inspire and imbue us, is for them to seek (and hopefully find) truest happiness. Already several glances at today’s news, and here I am, hoping it is indeed true. Several hours into the morning, and the news of animation legend, Hayao Miyazaki announcing his retirement from feature direction has been bouncing across my screen like colored lights at a pachinko parlor. And while the animation fan community shares with the expected sad face emoticons and sentimental musings, the only thing that will come out from me as response is, “this had better be serious this time”. Much like another breakup announcement by The Cure, the retirement of this cartoon grandmaster has been one that has been long delayed, and is a relief to hear.
And it isn’t due to any direct disapproval, or wish for any manner of ill will, but rather that in the years post Mononoke Hime (1997), there simply hasn’t been the same manner of flare in Miyazaki’s works that have felt as strident, or as important. Often escalating in visual quality, and much less in narrative or spiritual immediacy, his films have become an almost thinly veiled lament over his inability to retire peacefully. There simply hasn’t been as much for him to say in a while outside of either screeds against contemporary Japan(Chihiro), or to merely dabble in less involved, less coherent tributes to the written works of others. And while there were truly some memorable images and scenes in the films post-1997, it often felt as if there was this lingering feeling that the last word had been said, and everything else was a perfunctory series of bitter and indifferent post-scripts.
But prior to all of this, his career with Studio Ghibli has remained and will remain an all-important benchmark in animation history. From his early television work, to his run with the now Disney-like icon of a wheelhouse, it will be hard to imagine another creative name who will have such a wide-reaching impact. His thematic and artistic imprint has grown to influence generations of visual story lovers, and likely will continue to for generations more. Even as word spreads that he may remain with Ghibli in some other supervisory capacity, it can be finally said without hint of irony, and in best supportive voice, “arigatou kantoku”. (Be free.)
After what seemed like years since the anime streaming market reached something of a cooling point, the week was aglow with news that there was more than one bold newcomer aboard, ready to challenge the current model in ways few others have yet to venture. As recently mentioned, the Daisuki concept and site represents a bold shift in how anime is ready to be considered and marketed to fans overseas with plenty of recent and even perhaps new series. So when folks at Yomiuri (and the help of some unexpected sources) begin working with many long-heralded anime studios in what is a most ambitious move, it might be best to take heed. Anime Sols has indeed arrived, and by way of a Kickstarter-like streaming model, could be the godsend many fans (young and elder) have been longing for.
Initial rumblings regarding this concept were made a little over a year ago, when Sam Pinansky made an appearance on the Anime News Network’s ANNCast, where he leaked a few tiny details regarding an unprecedented effort on the part of several celebrated anime studios to bring die-hard favorites streaming to the world. By the use of dedicated pledges from fans all over, the vision is to fund a prospective dvd release for each featured series in box sets of 13 episodes, each with their own unique monetary goal. Pinansky has since reappeared on ANNCast as well as AWO this last week with some fun results. Well worth the listen!
For more details as to how it all works..
Having just begun earlier this week, the Anime Sols website is already host to several classic titles long elusive to American fans, including Black Jack TV, Ninja Senshi Tobikage, Yatterman, New Yatterman, Aoi Blink & Creamy Mami!
And more updates are under way.
Not going to water any of this down, I couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity for fans to step up. There are worlds of goodness that stateside anime lovers have yet to truly explore, and this is a terrific way to fall in love with a cherished medium all over again.
When we last left Tokyo-3, the world had suddenly reached critical mass as one Shinji Ikari took it upon himself to break the confines of possibility to rescue a thought-lost Ayanami, to the impending destruction of all around them. But alas, Third Impact is thwarted by the surprise appearance of one Kaworu Nagisa, who contends that this time, it is he who will grant the always hapless Ikari “Happiness”. Flash forward, and Ikari is now at the center of a spectacular rescue in orbit by Mari, and a now one-eyed, and very much alive Asuka. It is after this that Ikari comes to realize that he had been in suspended animation for roughly eleven years, and that the world and friends he once knew have taken an almost completely new tack. With the newly-formed organization, WILL-E, Misato, Ritsuko, the lieutenants, and the rest have taken it upon themselves to rebel against Shinji’s ever resolute father’s still forging-ahead NERV. And this is far from all, the boy’s role in what could have spelled the end for all involved has made for some startling new revelations involving his choices, and everything he holds dear.
Only made worse by the turn that he may have in fact, done all of this before..
Enter Evangelion: Shin Gekijyoban “Q”, part three of the four-part Rebuild Of Evangelion film series.
Things I Liked About Evangelion 3.0
1. The Bold Setting
The choice to break completely free from the confines of the familiar is among one of the most exciting things about the whole affair. It’s no secret that this is very much what has kept me most involved in these films since 2007. If there is anything that Evangelion has successfully offered up in regards to lasting impressions, it’s in the design works of the world, its characters, and the overall texture. And in the case of Q, we have a bounty of spaces and ideas to play within during its running time. While the previous two largely flirted with bringing the design aesthetics into The Oughts, there was still quite a bit of retro-future still working as a mid-1990s filter for consistency. And here, we get ships, buildings, entire geographic structures & machines with an almost fine art feel coming off of it from nearly every frame. It, along with the film’s aggressive editing all proves intense to the point of fetishistic at times, and often dizzying to absorb in one sitting. Q wants to be an explosion of pure-anime nuance, and while other elements may lack, it is here that the film impresses.
2. The Animation
Since the film was delayed a few times during its troubled production, there are action sequences here that are about as dumbfounding in their animated prowess that it could only have been made by obsessives. From the disorienting, and eye-raping rescue sequence at the opening, to the bizarre finale, there are details that will perplex, and perhaps inspire those into the integration of computer, and old fashioned cel animation. Cameras do the impossible, while titans and aliens clash, leaving little to chance. Clearly, extra time was devoted to making this an ultimate demo reel for some very talented artists under Anno & Tsurumaki’s wings. It’s like Disney on a bad trip.
3. Shiro Sagisu’s Score
With sounds ranging from the operatic, to the quietly emotional. Sagisu unleashes his greatest arsenal here, while not forgetting what I consider to be major characters in the Evangelion universe, the lone piano and brass. It’s clear from the offset, that this is Evangelion with all the stops ripped out as familiar themes(From even more Gainax/Anno collabs- As 2.22 contained a lot of Kare Kano, there is a lot more updated non-Eva stuff this time. ) weave into some truly evocative refrains, and updates to previous movements. The addition of electronic pulsing, raging guitar, and the return of the lonely analog sounds from the original series makes for a bit of an emotional ride outside of the film. It’s easy to see how many rushed to catch the film in theatres just for the packaging alone.
4. The Promise Of Upping The Ante (Between Generations)
The idea that one generation of Evangelion seems primed to duel it out with the previous is a compelling impetus for this series. Q is the unveiling of a deep divergence, and as such, it surely has the feel of creators more than ready to take their classic into uncharted territory. The challenge (of course), is figuring out how it can rival the original whilst making a name for itself by itself.
5. The Cast
As always, one of the biggest highlights of the Evangelion franchise is the cast. And here, there’s zero exception as everyone brings their game to the event. Still shocks me to this day how much Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, and Yuko Seki still sound their parts after all these years.
Just about everything else..
Let’s call this as it all really has been, a battle of wills (both for and against) between father and son.
To the complaints that immediately arose from early screenings, on one hand, they seem to be right on the mark declaring the film overwrought and more than a little strange considering all that had come before. On the other, I can see what was the creative germ was for such a choice. To do away with the TV series’ voice-over therapy session, and to present Shinji in a world that literally doesn’t need him, is a conceptually visceral one. It’s only that when the film is tasked with giving us more in regards to the whys, hows, and whos, that the whole thing feels less like a continuation of the series, and more like a crew yearning to do something else. It attempts to be the more contemplative section to the series, but frankly isn’t patient enough to follow through. Rebuild Of Evangelion, if taken as a four-section story, we are at what is meant to be gap between the second and third acts (often known as “triumph of the villain”, with Shinji being his own worst enemy), and as such, it requires some much-needed information regarding the world we are now in, and the status of all the major characters. And even though Shinji’s meeting and subsequent burgeoning relationship with the ever mysterious Kaworu Nagisa is given a fair amount of coverage, there is nowhere near enough granted to anyone else. Things just happen, and we’re expected to follow along without any real context.
In all fairness, the setting choice is something that Anno & Tsurumaki have tackled before. In fact, thrusting the world forward near the finale is something of a GAINAX staple that goes all the way back to Top Wo Nerae!’s last two episodes. Even Imaishi’s Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagaan resorts to this flash-forward technique. (Sagisu’s gargantuan renditions of tracks first used in the latter section of Fushigi No Umi No Nadia should prove to be the largest tip-off) This is perhaps the first time in which it is employed with Shinji’s (and in turn, some fans’) villification in mind. Instead of discussing his neuroses, and legendarily touchy relationship with his reality, we are dropped willy-nilly into a world that is the polar negative of the one he chose to undo, thereby illustrating his growing need to become something he had such a hard time grappling with back in the original timeline. It’s a purgatory of his own making, and the entirety of 3.0 is merely a shallow representation of it, punctuated by two grand scale action pieces that seem far more interested in the engineering wizardry of the staff than in telling a comprehensible story. The machine fetishization leven in these sequences are so detailed, and even surreal that while all of it unfolds, one realizes that so much more story could have been covered. (shades of STEAMBOY) There is even this lingering feeling that this was not the film as initially planned. The whole affair feels like a troubled production, real-life natural disaster notwithstanding.
Another film that comes screeching to mind, is Back To The Future II, which also dealt largely with awakening to a parallel world that houses the protagonist’s worst possible fears. In the world of Evangelion, even doing nothing remains a choice. And what we have here is the end result of several iterations, temporal choices that have led to this point where virtually every road going forward presents unwelcome consequences. The caveat here, is that there is no simple Macguffin with which our heroes can find themselves out of this bizarro realm.
Another of the most important casualties this series of films has yet to avert, has been that of the characters. While many might point out that with a film, it is expected that many would get short shrift in the name of pacing, it troubles me that so much of these movies offer up so much time to action, and so much less about character motivation, and expect spectacle to compensate. In classic summer movie fashion, this is rarely to never the case. And with a story as often technical and operatic as Evangelion, it’s a little sad to see such a rich cast get whittled down to a mere series of inflated cameos. It doesn’t help that everyone’s motivations have been changed without us understanding anything, but it only gets worse as new crises keep coming up, offering up very little in the way of consequence, or hint as to where these new aims are coming from.
The biggest offender of this is in the character of Mari, who has been fun to watch in action, but since her introduction in 2.0, has yet to show any agency but to be another figure to sell to the maniacal. With small hints, leading to a bizarre speech last time, to merely playing support to eyepatch Asuka, we continue to get nothing about her and her role in the greater scheme. While some fans may wish to point out that there is one more movie, to not do this in TWO films is pretty suspect. It only makes her look that much more superfluous. It’s pure pander-bait, and not the kind of thing one does in a big film series that seeks to be both grand and personal.
And speaking of pandering, this is pretty much where much of the biggest issues I have with Q reside. Instead of offering up a more dramatically sound summation of where Shinji has led us and his friends astray, once our lead meets the ever-angelic Kaworu along with a strange-behaving Ayanami with NERV, the film almost screeches to a complete stop–for fujoshi-baiting of the most egregious kind. From their initial meeting, to the beautifully animated piano duet, the oozing of the doujinshi-fueled grue puts the off-putting product-placement to complete shame. Had they figured out how to integrate their meeting with more actual story from both sides of this newfound conflict, it all might have been fine. But as it is, it’s largely distracting, and nowhere near as functional as it could have been. It seems to know what buttons it wants to push, and it’s clearly not buttons of those who prefer a little more meat to these fancy bones. It’s relentlessly disingenuous to the point of almost hearing the director(s) asking us “HAPPY NOW?” to the plunk of Comiket change.
But therein lies perhaps the saddest part of the whole Rebuild affair; that we are one film away from a series that wants to be a revealing status report on the minds behind one of the most important animated series of all time, as well as a commercial blockbuster. And as it stands, this has been the feeling that has dogged me since the first film. That the packaging offers up plenty of bang for the buck, but that it never settles down long enough to actually chew on its own ideas in service of making its points. One thing the original series was so astute about, was in how they made it clear that the trappings were nowhere near as important as what was going through the minds of all that were experiencing these psychological trials together. Evangelion at its best was always about relationships, and the blockage that can happen when intentions diverge harshly, even between family. Now Q was delayed, partially by the tumult caused by and around the Tohoku quake, and subsequent tsunami, and nuclear disaster. And as such, we can cut a tiny bit of slack in knowing that some things are unavoidable. But this can’t fully be what was initially planned. There is very much a feeling that the Rebuild series could have gone in a very different direction (the Next Episode break at the finale of 2 offered up some dramatically unique things). It all feels like a general throwing up of well-animated hands.
I have come to peace with the idea that the original Evangelion series was a failure that exceeded expectations, and worked simply because it was a deeply personal reflection of one person’s struggle against personal demons and production ennui. This time, we have a failure that just attacks without provocation, focus, or reflection. While I applauded when Anno & crew split off from Gainax in the name of creative freedom, this all feels reflexive, and not as impassioned about context so much as fan-jerking. Where the original stumbled almost- ungracefully towards a memorable conclusion, the new just falls flat on its face – and that makes me sad.
Taking a most unusual detour from its previous home at UCLA, I took a short trip from home to spend a few hours as part of american anime lover history celebrated 30 years of mecha, music, and love at Macrossworldcon 2012. This time, taking place deep in Arcadia (no, not that one), CA. , and within a modest-sized business & shopping center, virtually hidden from any manner of public view. After badge pickup, and a colorful yet narrow walkway leading to the heart of the event, I found myself surrounded by a virtual cityscape of toys and items commemorating decades of the Macross franchise, from the original groundbreaking series, to the candy-heavy Frontier. UN S PACY heads from numerous generations and backgrounds convened in what remains a remnant of the anime con that once was..
We arrived just in time for a “Free Art Contest” where a group of talented sketch artists tried their hand at delivering a memorable Macross image with only two stipulations; A) Image must contain an audience-selected character from the franchise, and B) they only had ten minutes to make it so. (Sadly, my idea: An image of hapless Valkyrie pilot, Hayao Kakizaki–a character often characterized as a plate of steak, or a ball of flame, was never voted in.)
Couldn’t help myself from being knocked nostalgic, and also expressing deep excitement at the evolution of character and mecha goods on display. There were times when it felt like member-owned toys and items would never stop coming in to take residence on one of several counters set against the main event room’s walls. Was wonderful enough just to be in the presence of it.
But toys, raffles, and art aside, the major centerpiece of my trip occurred when beloved singer, songwriter (and inimitable voice of Lynn Minmay herself), Mari Iijima took to the main floor, and performed a short and potent set of songs. With Sunset Beach, and a haunting rendition of the legendary Ai Oboete Imasu Ka as the only Macross tracks, we were host to two of her personally written songs which were equally, if not more impressive. True to her ever-self-defining nature, the set was both emotionally charged, and wildly disarming. (Fave track of the day, “Anatano Tame Ni Jibun No Tame Ni” offers up both a charm-filled sense of longing, and a dramatic sense of real knowing that was impressive. A stirring hint that her latest recorded effort, “Take A Picture Against The Light” may be her most deeply personal to date.)
So in all, my day in Arcadia was one filled with smiles, melancholy, and togetherness. A strange feeling again filled me as I stepped out of the venue, back into the real world that we all share, aware that I had just left a room of shared dreams and memories so many would never see. Perhaps just as well, as the event itself embraces something that is far too often missing from modern cons, a sense of unseen, yet solid community.
For Further Investigation..
This last weekend marked the 38th anniversary of the day Uchu Senkan Yamato launched onto Japanese TV screens, ushering in a new era for the anime medium. So with such a notable date glaring at me from that north star of my absurdly long fandom, it was with both a natural feeling of apprehension & unfettered excitement that I had been able to get a decent look at the first few installments of Yutaka Izibuchi’s all-star remake of the Yamato legend. This grand scale retelling of the seminal series has the distinction of Izibuchi(RahXephon, Patlabor), not only taking over reins of direction from Hideaki Anno (who started with some initial storyboard work), but Yamato 2199 also sports the work of Junichi Tamamori as lead Mechanical Designer, Nobuteru Yuki(X, Escaflowne) as Character Designer, and starring the voices of Daisuke Ono as Susumu Kodai, and Houko Kuwshima (Martian Successor Nadesico) as Yuki Mori. With a large scale Shochiku theatrical releases of episode bursts, followed by bilingual subbed Blu-ray months before a major TV debut, this is a project on a size that only the prestigious can experience.
And while so many projects come and go by way of massive ad-campaign, and internet hype, Yamato 2199 is in my estimation, the real deal. An event that lives up to every expectation thus far, offering up a faithful, and passionate return to one of anime’s greats. I won’t go too much into plot details as the story is pretty universal, and such heavily covered territory can be discussed elsewhere. But what I can say for now, is that the new series is an at-times lavish affair that is every bit as detailed in its trappings, as it is in its characters. In many ways, the Voyage To Iscandar has been given a denser, almost novel-like treatment, and is most effective when it offers more depth in places that the much lower-budgeted original found itself unable to. From the Battle Of Mars, to the launching of the legendary battleship, the treatment of all these famous moments is nothing short of Class-A.
Among some of the changes made to this rendition, while reflective of more to the minute tastes, rarely to never distracts from matters at this point in the tale. Substituting Dr.Sado’s ever cute cat, with a curvy nurse could so easily have been a bad sign, but Harada turns out to be a fine, thoughtful addition to the crew, as the roles of Science Officer Niimi, and the changing of Zero pilot, Yamamoto from man to woman. But most welcome for me is the upgrade of Yuki Mori, which offers her a more central role on the bridge, as well as a greater amount of complexity right out of the gate. She is clearly a more mysterious character this time around, and a nice change from the one-dimensional “Starbuck” facelift she received in the recent live-action adaptation.
The new design work is a smooth mixture of classic and contemporary, and is more than worth noting. Virtually everything from the underground cities of Earth, to the Gamilas Empire feels weighty enough for a feature film. From the earliest moments of the show, space battles, while in no way carrying the painterly feel of the classic series and films, has an often graceful amount of depth & detail that borders on obsessive. (Turn boosters on the side of each battle class ship!) And the costume changes offer up a more functional look than before. Particularly with the uniforms that hew closer to Nicolas Meyer’s more nautical concepts for his game-changing Star Trek II:The Wrath Of Khan. But perhaps the most impressive, is the design and interior of the Yamato itself, which is lovingly rendered with a sense of the tactile which is more often than not, severely not present in recent anime. Going above and beyond what is usually attainable with current CG-driven animation art, Yamato is so far one of the premier examples of how beautiful science fiction can look through the lens of anime art. (I will not go into just how impressive things get once they reach Jupiter-btw)
But most importantly, all of this comes in the service of retelling a story that is almost as important to the modern Japanese narrative as to animated television. Ostensibly an operatic rumination on the Pacific War by way of romantic space, the Yamato story begins with a sure-handed flow that is unprecedented in today’s climate. The tale of Kodai, a young pilot, eager to understand the man responsible for the loss of his decorated older brother, as humanity makes one last gamble to save itself remains as potent as ever. From the first episodes, it’s pretty clear that no expense was spared in making the world and characters paramount. By the point where I left off, it was also quite apparent that this version of the tale is ready to take on a few new wrinkles that are bound to pleasantly surprise. Whichever way one comes into the universe Yoshinobu Nishizaki & Leiji Matsumoto created, I’m happy to state here that the legacy of Yamato seems to be in ideal hands. Anime lovers parched for something sincere and grand, prepare for a flood come a few months from now.
May Yamato live on..
For More Information As It Happens..
In a far-flung future, Earth has become a scorched, near uninhabitable body in space due to mankind’s innate tendency toward violence. And from the ashes of this apocalyptic scenario, those remaining develop and implement the SD protocol (Superior Dominance), which is a system that requires humanity to expand out into the farthest reaches of space, and with its invitro-borne young to be emotionally, mentally maintained via an all-omnipotent computer designed to weed out any notions it deems undesirable towards an improved, utopian future. And yet amidst this clinically monitored civilization, a race of humanoid psyonics has arisen, known as the Mu. Instantly deemed a danger to the system, the powerful, and yet physically fragile Mu have long been attempting to return home to the world they call Terra.
Led by the ailing, yet potent psychic, Soldier Blue, the Mu have at long last found the individual whom they could pit their greatest hopes on. A seemingly average boy named Jomy Marcus Shin, who’s required education is near an end. On the day he is set to be graduated to adulthood, and separated by his appointed mother and father, he is soon questioned for discussing a series of bizarre dreams. Declared a latent enemy of society, he is soon rescued and taken in by the Mu who claim him to be a most powerful member of their kind. In denial of this revelation, it isn’t long before Jomy is plunged deep into the conflict, as the future of Earth’s inheritance hangs in the balance.
After the previous natsukashii gush-fests I’ve been occasionally littering upon these pages, it felt justifiable to dip back into the time well to perhaps dig up some views on another noted title from days long past. And perhaps it is best to be up front by stating that even after years of having this film in my collection since the VHS era, the 1980 adaptation of Keiko Takemiya‘s science fantasy epic is much less a successful adaptation, and more a Cliff’s Notes trip caught in afternoon gridlock. A project headed by live action television veteran, Hideo Onchi, the film ultimately succumbs to the classic problem of continuously biting off more than it can possibly chew, leaving viewers in a space better reserved for clips shows -which is only made worse by inconsistent pacing, and clearly on-the-fly, wooden scripting.
The first of the film’s many problems comes right at the offset, when it attempts to compress what is clearly a huge character arc within the opening thirty minutes. By the manner in which the story unfolds, the movie seems to believe that Jomy’s life must be narrated to us rather backhandedly than told in any comprehesibly visual manner.
To illustrate: The story opens with Jomy Marcus Shin as something of a coddled member of what is SD’s ideal society, a system that has worked so well up until the moment we join in. And he is portrayed as something of a flighty, insensitive brat who not only openly shares about a series of strange dreams, only to be deemed a subversive by the planet’s main computer, and trailed by an army of Esper Interrogators(agents tasked with the specific duty of sniffing out and terminating Mu upon detection.), but often pushes people around willy-nilly, and starts fistfights with friends over virtually nothing. In half the time it took me to type this, we are told that this is the case rather than treated as witness to it. The revelation that Jomy is experiencing an awakening of latent Mu genes is virtually glossed over in the most rushed fashion imaginable, and therefore offers little in the way of drama, let alone economical storytelling.
Peculiar since animation is specifically geared toward illustrating action, and granting the viewer a means to explore worlds our characters reside in. And given the very idea of attempting to create a film version of such a rich, layered world featuring several generations of characters, the very idea that we are to accept the Jomy character’s journey from spoiled child of controlled world, Ataraxia to the Mu’s heir to leadership. There’s simply no means for us to even clock the story’s central character, and this is a trend that continues throughout the film, going from introducing a story beat, only to conclude it within five minutes of establishing it. Sometimes, even a few seconds. Upon the moment Jomy decides to shoulder the mantle of Soldier Blue, as he attempts to lead the Mu toward the home planet they had long been exiled from, nothing is earned, and everything feels perfunctory. For this main character to go from jerky ne’er do well to destined savior within merely thirty minutes is not only slapdash, but jarring.
And this continues for the remainder of the running time as we are introduced to a bevy of characters meant to create a tapestry exposing how complex Terra e’s central conflict is. From Jomy’s introduction, to near non-existent courtship with the powerful empath, Carina, to the story’s counter lead in test-tube humanoid, Keith Anyan’s quest to understand the system’s inability to weed out the Mu gene at the source comes at far too rapid-fire a pace for anything to have any significant impact. It’s the movie equivalent of an outline for making a movie.
We are merely told what is happening, rather than experience it. And this methodology only serves to undercut the original manga’s star-spanning, epic quality, making it something of a failed blueprint of a better film. Even as it attempts to fill in the gaps by making it clear how not black and white the conflict truly is, the pacing is often all over the map. And for a story that is on the scale level of Frank Herbert’s Dune, or even The Lord Of The Rings, there is never a single audience identification figure to be had to help the viewer ground themselves. While not all films should rely on this narrative crutch (even I agree it can be one), this is one story that could truly use one. Even as Jomy’s role takes on more mythic levels with the birth and subsequent rise of his aggressively charged son, Tony, things never really engage on any kind of emotional level. Stuff just happens, and that’s a serious problem.
Toward The Terra’s reputation amongst the world manga & anime has remained something of a timeless favorite by many, and even this film has been regarded by many to be something of an understated classic. However, this film can only truly be seen as something of a curio piece of a most interesting period in theatrical anime productions. Being that this was initially released in 1980, this is dead center of a most transitional time in the medium, as Tomino’s Gundam had helped rewrite the books in regards to animated science fiction storytelling, and yet was still a few years from a burgeoning era of anime children-turned-creators. Released amidst the real heyday of feature films based on the works of Leiji Matsumoto, Terra e had all the potential to at the very least compose a dreamlike encapsulation of the Japanese equivalent of SLAN, with an ambitious production backing it. But alas, the film seems to be a victim of incessant corner-cutting, and can only serve as another reminder of the once ambitious scope of a medium, often obsessed with reaching far beyond the confines of the familiar, with a sensitivity toward the simple and relatable. Conversely, a TV update of the series aired in 2007. And while I’ll admit to not having seen it, I still believe there’s a means to someday tell this tale with the breadth, and sensitivity it deserves. And for now, Vertical has released the original 3 volume manga for those looking to rediscover this tale that could very well give X-Men a run for its money. There is a wealth of relevance and emotion within these pages, something the film rarely has the momentum to generate.
Long and short, with Takemiya’s reputation as being perhaps the most instrumental name in the evolution of manga into worlds of shoujo, and BL, her work deserves a much grander stage.
(Oh. And is it just me? Or does the SD insignia make a dead ringer for Scooby-Doo’s collar tag?)
If there’s anything more played out, and dangerous than a reboot, it is the “enhanced” reissue of a classic. Be it for the celebration of an anniversary of a favorite title, or merely due to certain interests, the re-release has become something of a tainted concept since the days Jorge decided to being his legendary Star Wars back to theaters with new effects and sound back in the mid-to-late 90s. Before this, we were more privy to just seeing a favorite on a large screen years after it hit. And only a few films ever came back into circulation with added scenes, and various nipping and tucking thrown in for measure. For me, this goes all the way back to when Spielberg went ahead and re-released Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. But it’s a rare beast when the changes exhibited do anything but give us an alternate version of a story so many are familiar with. And with the advent of digital cinema, the temptation for filmmakers to revisit has sometimes been to great to resist, often leaving viewers with baffling, and let’s just face it, unsatisfactory results. I’m sure I don’t need to bring up Han Solo & Greedo to further make this point. So when I initially heard that Mamoru Oshii was to supervise a cosmetically updated version of his turning point feature, Ghost In The Shell(1995), my initial response before I saw any imagery was,…an all-digital Koukaku Kidotai sounds cool in theory, but would be nothing less than a pretty footnote. Three years came and went, and for whatever reasons I never got around to catching this version until last night.
So what are my reactions?
Well let’s just say right now that this is by no means meant to be a review of a film that I already own in a number of forms, and continue to enjoy at least once a year. Being a fan of each rendition of Masamune Show’s dystopian masterwork of a manga, the film was something of a watermark, not only for anime as a whole in regards to global consciousness, but for me as a longtime lover of speculative fiction dealing in the blurring lines between humanity and machines. I many ways, it takes the best elements laid forth by Blade Runner, and offers up a bolder examination of the themes Philip K.Dick, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson & others had been ruminating in literary form for years in a cinematic manner not before seen anywhere. It is a seminal piece of cyberpunk cinema that transcends genre, and offers more insight to those curious to explore the career of one of anime’s final pioneers & most curious personalities. More than this, the film also functions as a declaration of sorts by its director long tiring of merely spinning cartoons for overgrown children.
Oshii’s Ghost is something of a tale of transfiguration, of leaving the nest, and embracing that which being endlessly young fears most. By using the framework established in Shirow’s complex, and yet often self-relfexively humorous universe, Oshii takes a more serious route by using the manga’s iconic lead character of Major Motoko Kusanagi, and giving her a journey of self discovery beyond the confines of not merely her occupation, but of her own definable form. What starts off as a hard science fiction tale of espionage, cybercrime, and harder hardware, the film directly posits questions of the characters of the mysterious Section 9, and their place in a world ever coming closer to Kurzweil’s Singularity. Not the most easy film to pick as a breakthrough hit, but somehow, against all odds, the film became a cult milestone beyond Japan, where it was only mildly received. Also sporting some of anime’s first major use of CGI, multlayering, and cyberspace imagery, the film is a nearly seamless feat even by today’s standards. The film has gone on to helping create an ongoing tv franchise that exists in its own separate universe, as well as a quasi-sequel in the large budgeted 2004 arthouse anomaly INNOCENCE. A film that for better or worse, cemented Oshii as not only a brilliant visualist, but increasingly oblique in his boldness as a majority of his filmography in recent years has included live action work that has also remained an acquired taste.
So it’s pretty difficult for me to It’s difficult to articulate into words what went on as Ghost The Shell 2.0 is concerned. If anything, it reveals more definitively that Oshii is much less interested in what the masses enjoyed about the original, and is more interested in keeping his own stamp on matters. Which would be fine if any alterations made to the film had any basis on the story. In 2.0, much of the original film is as it was, save for a near audio-visual trimming overhaul. Which is to say that the film is now attempting to be a lot more visually in line with the world of INNOCENCE’s Hong Kong than it is interested in anything else. Mostly gone are the grayish, and humming green hues that once were considered major inspiration for the world of the Wachowski’s The Matrix. Which makes one wonder if Oshii was going out of his way from the opening scene to distance himself from that as much as possible. Especially considering that his live action virtual world exploration, AVALON (2001) shared such amber & gray tones. But the choice to basically change at least 95% of the film’s color grade remains nothing more than a means to maintain some kind of visual continuity between his films, and again, has no bearing on events.
(For more instances of these alterations, please consult this post by the ever reliable Tim Maughan.)
What makes this all the more disconcerting is when we see the opening scene which puts us en media res as Section 9 members are watching over a rogue programmer looking to leave the country. A scene that has already had a lasting impact on the visual language of anime, and maybe even cinema in general. And what we have here is an almost complete 3D computer animated version of the Major, perched over the edge of a building, listening in. Again, an already visually impressive moment, redone in CG, as the interior scenes remain 2D cel animation. Why? If this is all they set to do, then we’re already in trouble. And sure enough, much of the film’s most memorable bridging moments in its very clearly established 3 chapter structure are done in this half-CG, half re-colored 2D method that just screams uninvolved. While the helicopters & buildings in the opening scene are now more in line with the INNOCENCE world, why is it that other machines, and vehicles not similarly upgraded? This creates a schizophrenic effect that murders any sort of world building consistency the original film had, and it’s astonishingly frustrating. Again, there are no real words to best approximate just how cold, and careless this feels. Especially when the then-unprecedented CG work in the original film does nothing to detract from the film’s complex, and often provocative themes. If Oshii wanted to keep a work consistent regarding intent, all of this is clearly shot in the foot with a full clip at point blank range by these decisions. There’s simply no reason for it, other than money, and perhaps ego. It’s like adding trick lights, and plasticy looking import accessories to a vintage Chevy Impala for no other reason than it seems impressive to one person; the differences are simply gaudy & distracting.
One of the most standout nitpicks I can recall from this version is the botching of one of the original’s prime visual motifs; Major Kusanagi’s eyes. Her eyes are a major point that Oshii, along with character designer Hiroyuki Okiura went out of their way to sell with the film as we are meant to essentially see the world through the eyes of a construct in the guise of a human. We see this happen throughout the film every time we are meant to empahize with her as she observes the world around her, even as she begins to question her role. And one of the most telling images of the film is at the beginning of the second section of the film (the boat scene) as she is scuba diving. It is in this moment that she begins to quietly resurface. She reaches, and passes through her reflection against the rippling surface of the ocean. And we have a sustained single shot of her seemingly dead stare into the sky. And in this version, we have….this…
Again, I’m not sure whether this was a technical issue since they decided to go 3D with this moment or not, but whatever the case, the flow of this theme is almost completely compromised by obscuring her eyes like this. If one is going to redo a film in this manner, it pays to go all the way, or not at all. This is a glaring example.
For this viewer, there are those rare instances when small changes are necessary. When Blade Runner was re-released without voice-over in 1992, many of us rejoiced. And more recently, as the film celebrated 25 years with a beautifully rendered FINAL CUT, much mention was made in how the new alterations were small, and slight enough to both add layers to the world of the film, and not distract from the film’s thematic center. Ridley Scott seems to understand that the changes need to be virtually invisible in order for them to function in story. However, in the case of Ghost In The Shell 2.0, the new images, shots, added lines, and voice actor change for the central “villain” of the Puppet Master stand out like a skin infection. There’s simply no way this could make for an alternative viewing experience for those new to the film, as much as one for fans. The only folks I could have seen to have “benefitted” from making this would have been Oshii, the producers, and CG artists hoping to work. It’s just a shame they didn’t get a chance to do any work on a full-narrative project in hopes of making a dent in the current landscape. Even Randy Thom’s updated sound renders events lifeless sans much to any reverb in outdoor scenes. There’s simply no sense of space to the proceedings, making it sound even more cold & artificial than the often stock anime sound mix the 1995 version exhibited.
Not sure why there was any reason to make these alterations outside of putting a lacquer on a classic, and hoping fans would bite, no matter how it looked. Sometimes all it takes is some respect for the works of the past, and a re-iusse to share great love for a work. I can see a number of better things to have been done than this.