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PostPosted: Wed Aug 25, 2010 8:22 pm 
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Location: New England
Kon was an interesting and distinctive creator of anime -- even though his work was rarely the sort of thing I enjoyed a great deal. I think his projects often showed more potential than they delivered. I was hoping that eventually he would develop into a more steady and reliable artist. That said, Millennium Actress was generally pretty appealing. For those not especially enamored of Asian Extreme cinema (Park Chan-wook, for instance), I suspect MA is the best introduction to Kon's work.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 25, 2010 11:09 pm 

Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 1:57 pm
It's certainly odd to recall that I attended the first screening of Perfect Blue in Montreal in 1997, and that I wrote one long Usenet post concerning a film that I felt was interesting if not a total success:

http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts ... ode=source

To be honest I can't recognize the writing voice. And it's odd to me that I've never seen any of Kon's subsequent works aside from a bit of his TV series Paranoia Agent given I didn't think the film was bad...


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 26, 2010 10:08 am 

Joined: Tue Nov 25, 2008 12:39 pm
Location: Lebanon, PA
Kon's films are beautiful to look at (moreso even, I think, than Miyazaki) and marked by marvellously intricate plotting where fantasy & reality are not always distinguishable, or at the least, are constantly shifting. Kind of like LADY FROM SHANGHAI, but anime. My favorite image from one of his films is probably the squence in MILLENNIUM ACTRESS where the couple is riding a bicycle downhill and barge through a gate into a different time-period. I think that sums up his narrative/visual approach quite well.
On the other hand I find his story ideas rather banal. A reviewer friend of mine was bowled over by PAPRIKA & couldn't understand why I felt SPIRITED AWAY was superior. It was because, in my case, I'd seen PAPRIKA's basic plot in many, many sci-fi movies & comic books. While the visuals and the narrative technique were impressive, I didn't find the story all that much.
My feeling is that MILLENNIUM ACTRESS would be the one to start with (though from what I've read TOKYO GODFATHERS might have a much more approachable plot - but then you're not really being exposed to the director's trademark, if that's the case), but I'll note that at least one friend (& that reviewer) was bowled over by PAPRIKA with no prior exposure to Kon's work.


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 26, 2010 2:30 pm 

Joined: Thu Jun 05, 2008 1:47 pm
Kon's films sometimes have a tendency for being a bit too "cute" for their own good--and not "cute" in the sense of "Ponyo looks cute." Miyazaki's films may feature cute characters, but his films themselves rarely get too "cute" themselves.

I think Millennium Actress is the nadir of Kon's "cute" tendencies. That kind of cineaste-pleasing checklist of homages to Japanese films past initially seems appealing, but for me it's his most empty work in that the film is only about references and doesn't really stand on its own. As much as some argue that his characters usually don't stand on their own anyway, this is most evident in Millennium Actress. Chiyoko doesn't register as a character, more like a device to move the narrative along. At the same time, the two reporters are ciphers--they're the audience's eyes and ears but don't emerge as anything beyond that. When the narrative finally reaches the end, you feel more like you watched a visually appealing clipshow where you play a game of spot-the-reference rather than something that had any kind of substance. Furthermore, I feel like the "upbeat" ending in MA is almost well, flippant.

I generally thought Paprika was his most well crafted film technically, but the film became less interesting as it approached the end. I still think that little romantic wrap-up was also completely unrealistic and completely unnecessary. That said, I really think that this is the best entry point--you pretty much decide whether you'll like or dislike his work from this film.

Paranoia Agent, ironically, seems fresher to someone who hasn't watched a lot of anime than someone who has. It seems like it's doing something different, but in fact was actually a bit late to the game. Essentially, it was a satire of otaku behaviour and lifestyle. In 1996 this might have seemed fresh but by 2004 it had actually already been done in various ways already by other shows.

As someone said, a person's mileage varies with Kon, but I still find his most interesting work to be the ones that people usually remark, "He could have done this in live action." It's that very point that makes Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers stand out for me. They may be pretty generic "B" grade films for seasoned film fans, but by animating them he gives them an added dimension and outlook that make them stand out from the pack, at least for me. If, like me, you considered him less an "arthouse" anime director and more of a director who experimented within certain conventional genres (albeit not native to anime), then he becomes much easier to "get", I think. I think it's erroneous to label him as a guy who was pushing anime into new directions...he's more a guy who was trying to show how versatile animation could be with various genres.


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 26, 2010 2:52 pm 
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Personally, I consider Kon far superior to Oshii, which has completely gone in a weird experimental way.

But strangely, I hadn't been really moved by Millennium Actress, while Perfect Blue had been a instant shock for me, Paprika even more.
There's something really beautiful, or maybe hypnotizing, in his work I can't define.


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 26, 2010 2:59 pm 

Joined: Thu Jun 05, 2008 1:47 pm
tenia wrote:
Personally, I consider Kon far superior to Oshii, which has completely gone in a weird experimental way.

.


I might be one of the few people in the world who liked Sky Crawlers better than most of his 90s work.
:lol:


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 16, 2010 6:33 pm 
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I'm new in this forum but I'm more and more delighted to discover new topics of my interests :)
I think I'm not new to anime, so here is my anime recommendations...

1) CLAYMORE
My favorite anime series. The good fights the evil. In order to beat it, the good has to become a little more evil with every new fight. If you're sick of seeing cute girls running around with impossibly short skirts, then you have no excuse for skipping this one-season anime series which is depressing, action-packed and intellectually loaded.
2) GHOST IN THE SHELL (1&2)
What can I say? That it's not an anime movie, that it's cinematic art at its best? Well actually it's true.
3) GHOST IN THE SHELL: STAND ALONE COMPLEX (Season 1&2)
I even got misty eyed at the end of some episodes, so I can't recommend these series highly enough. The action is always at its peak, but there is also the human touch to every episode of the series.
4) ELFEN LIED
OK so it's not an anime series for everyone, cause it has so many gore scenes that you can have enough of them in just three minutes. But it's an anime that should be "experienced". At least watch the first two episodes if you're having second thoughts.
5) PAPRIKA
6) PERFECT BLUE
7) MILLENNIUM ACTRESS
These three Satoshi Kon movies are all stunning in their own way. I think what they have in common (all Kon films) is that you don't get the impression of watching an anime... It's always like you're watching a big budget live action movie. Perfect Blue has really disturbing scenes, I was shocked seeing how much a "cartoon" can impress and disturb me. Satoshi Kon is my favorite anime director. Rest in peace, Satoshi-sama.
8) BERSERK
An old anime series full of action but the "ancient ages" texture is very tempting and captures the spectator right away. Great music.
9) EVE NO JIKAN (Have You Enjoyed The Time of Eve?)
A great short anime series (6 episodes) about the chemistry of love through the relationship between men and cyborgs/robots. Very interesting piece of art. Give it a try. The character designs are eye catching, great music too.
10) THE MELANCHOLY OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA
Now, this is the anime series that stole a big amount of my time lately because it's so much fun to watch... There are cute girls, there is high school romance, but there is also serious action scenes and most important of all, a very heavy science fiction content (that you have to work on it to understand)... A real treat with wonderful musical scores, don't miss it.


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 27, 2010 3:14 pm 
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Every Anime Opening Ever Made. Besides being fun, it's a good collection of the different visual tropes in anime.


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 27, 2010 3:22 pm 

Joined: Thu Jun 05, 2008 1:47 pm
John Woo would have loved the last 20 seconds or so... :lol:


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 08, 2011 5:22 pm 
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Has anyone seen Eden of the East? I just heard of it by way of FLCL, but that's all I know. Is it any good?


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 09, 2011 4:32 pm 

Joined: Thu Jun 05, 2008 1:47 pm
Jean-Luc Garbo wrote:
Has anyone seen Eden of the East? I just heard of it by way of FLCL, but that's all I know. Is it any good?


It's okay. It's more of a crowd pleasing, modern day version of political anime like Ghost in the Shell SAC.

Although the "mainstream" anime fans love to jizz over it, I've heard some reasoned arguments that Eden of the East is a plot-hole filled, video game-like concept in the end.

I'm a big fan of GITS SAC and enjoyed Eden of the East but I don't think the latter is as fascinating or as densely packed with ideas.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 22, 2011 3:09 pm 
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Just finished the new release from Funimation of Fooly Cooly and it's a recommended release. Everything (episodes, commentaries, music videos, and some deleted scenes) is stuck on one disc which concerned me at first, but the picture looks as good as I remember it. (I'm sure the Blu looks even better.) The audio sounds great as well. If anyone has the previous R1 discs, I can't say there's a reason to upgrade aside from having it all on one disc or on Blu. It's good to have the series back, though.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 23, 2011 5:18 pm 

Joined: Thu Jun 05, 2008 1:47 pm
The anime well has gotten pretty dry of late. Of the "newer" stuff, I enjoyed Casshern Sins, which is a slow, "existential" take on the classic anime, and it's filled with gorgeous images despite working with a fairly modest TV budget.

Aside from that, I usually keep my eye out for the comedies and stuff from the high-end studios like BONES.

I caught the first Eva "rebuild" movie in theatres last year and I have zero interest in the remaining films. Many anime fans seem to prefer these new movies over the TV version, which is a sure sign that these movies have it all wrong. :lol:


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2011 5:16 pm 
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Darth Lavender wrote:
Gantz - Ultra violent by televised anime standards, the series has a great set-up before moving into a somewhat cliche humans vs monsters storyline. But, even then, it continues to have some interesting meditations on compassion vs sociopathy...

Moving on to the general subject... Fan-service is a bit of a nuisance throughout anime, to varying degrees. Some series manage to avoid it almost entirely, or use it in an interesting way (perhaps because I had just injured my back when I started watching it, I was feeling genuinely sorry for the over-endowed female lead in 'Gantz,' and the attention she tended to attract (making her first appearance untintentionally nude, being spontaneously raped, etc.) Given the series' themes, I suspect these were deliberate choices designed to use the fan-service stereotypes in a new and more thought-provoking way.)

zedz in the Source Code thread wrote:
I found Source Code on the best of the recent round of life-as-a-video-game movies (Inception et al.), but thought Gantz was better. The first movies Trailer) at least, which, even more than Source Code, explores the emotional cost of the multiple-lives / multiple-deaths concept. The second is hamstrung by having to try and explain everything and ends up taking way too many liberties with the very slick world it had conjured up in the first film (but does have the saving grace of a really fantastic set-piece battle in the subway).

Following the above two recommendations I recently watched both the Gantz anime TV series from 2004 (produced while the manga was still being written, so its ending is apparently totally different) and the first live action film from 2010. I found them both highly entertaining, if flawed in certain aspects, but interestingly flawed and in a way the anime series and the film complement each other nicely (I'm at least curious to see the second live action film, Gantz: Perfect Answer, and see if I can get my hands on the original manga now). I thought that it might be interesting to run through a few things I noted while comparing the two:

Both the anime and the film run through the three first missions more or less entirely (there is some simplification in the film version, presumably for budget reasons - for example the robots in the second mission have birds inside them; and there are two giant statues, invasive pools of blood and lots of extra guards in the third mission on top of the Shiva statue being much more elaborate in itself), but the anime TV series also carries on into the fourth mission following the utter devastation of the makeshift team of heroes during the Shiva statue third mission. The fourth is the one in which Gantz pits the rest of the team against Kurono turning him from 'hero' into pariah and describing him (for his longevity, perhaps?) as now being the alien that they have to destroy to complete the mission. The latter part of the third and the fourth mission also have Kurono cycle through a number of female characters who feel as if they are acting as impossible substitutes for the lost Kishimoto in Kurono's affections (i.e. Kurono's teacher and the woman he had been caught by Kishimoto having sex (and losing his virginity) with before the third mission started in the hallway attached to the Gantz room. That scene already felt like a 'no turning back' moment in the sense that it underlined Kurono's pettiness and frustration at losing Kishimoto, turning it into a concrete moment of separation between them that foreshadows the tragic third mission all too well on a repeat viewing. It was also interesting that the small hallway area off of the main Gantz room in the anime often gets used as the spot to modestly attempt to change into the suits in preparation for the mission but also often turns into the spot where the characters perform illicit acts too - for example the two attempted assaults on Kishimoto herself take place there whilst she is vulnerable).

I'll particularly be curious to see Gantz: Perfect Answer to see if any of the fourth mission involving Kurono as the target himself is used there, or whether the action will follow what I hear to be the very different direction that the manga ended up taking instead.

Although as things stand at the moment I slightly prefer the anime series - Kurono is allow to be a much more unlikeable character than in the film, obsessed with Kishimoto long after she has shown literally no interest in him (the scenes between the two in his apartment are by far the most uncomfortable in the series!) with her instead being obsessed herself with Kurono's friend Kato. Kato is shown as heroic almost to a fault, often at least going to help but usually ending up powerless (and often missing a few limbs during the missions! Kato in the live action film by contrast is much more conventionally heroic. The 'real world' relationship with his younger brother also gets filled out more in the anime, with a Grave of the Fireflies-esque brutal treatment of them by uncaring relatives before they leave/get thrown out to start a new life by themselves - the brief flicker of hope being immediately extinguished by the Gantz calling Kato back).

Kishimoto is also a more complicated character in the anime - her character feels much more understandable with the inclusion of a subplot about her still surviving in the 'real world' due to Gantz having made a mistake in having cloned her at the point of death (which adds to the pathos after her death in the third mission, when Kurono folornly tries to make contact with the 'other' Kishimoto), something which upsets her at being a literal doppleganger but also eventually becomes seen as being a kind of liberation (as with Kato finally getting the nerve to take his brother and leave their abusive relatives after his heroic Gantz missions). Kishimoto begins are very needy and blank in many ways, and the anime series highlights this, as Darth Lavender noted above, through birthing her into the Gantz world naked (because she committed suicide in a bathtub) and then having her almost sexually assaulted in the Gantz room at the beginning of the first two missions by some of the more disreputable people who are brought there. The crush that she develops for Kato therefore feels much more understandable as he was the only one to prevent this as everyone (including the audience identification figure of Kurono) looks the other way, and it feels understandable that she would appreciate him as a protector (In comparison in the film Kishimoto, while also presented naked initially, immediately is given the powerful Gantz suit to wear before the first mission, while in the anime only Kurono has brought the suit with him for that first mission. Kishimoto in the film therefore becomes much more of an action heroine from the very start, rather than growing into the role as things progress. This also makes her crush on Kato in the film seem to come as more of a surprise and feel both more sudden and less motivated than in the anime)

Kishimoto seems to come to terms with her new circumstances over the course of the first two missions and eventually seems, while still having the crush on Kato, to be more excited about the possibilities for the future as an entirely new person starting out with a blank slate, something which had not existed for her in her old life, and which was the reason for her suicide attempt.

I was thinking that Kishimoto was very like Hari in Solaris at times because of this. And this feeling of hope which many of the characters have, at the possibility of a new beginning, is all the more tragic for eventually being wrongheaded - while the figure of Gantz (both the ball and the person hooked up to machinery inside it) is often impassive, letting the participants in the missions read into their predicament whatever they wish, it does seem to be telling the truth when it says that their lives were over from the moment they got transmitted into the room and that they now belong to Gantz to do with what it wishes - they had their chance in their lives and blew it, and are now just meant to do the missions until they inevitably die. The anime series has a much more pervasive and distressing sense of futility than the film, as the film offers the slight chance of the 'resurrection' of a companion (or the chance to leave the game) when someone reaches 100 points, something which even though it is presented as almost totally impossible is as least some kind of a goal to aim towards. The anime just leaves the scoring system and the possibility of there being an end to any of this (other than death) a blank. Much like life in a way - people make plans and goals that they want to achieve in the absence of any guiding force, with no guarantee that their actions will 'save' them; and often their hopes and plans get rudely interrupted by circumstance. So once everyone but Kurono is massacred during the third mission, the anime series gives absolutely no get out clause or indication that it may be possible to retrieve Kato or Kishimoto, something the film raises as a possibility, in some ways softening the impact of their loss.

There are also a couple of moments in the anime which I found improved the story a lot. For instance Kurono actually making the decision to jump onto the subway track himself in order to help Kato lift the drunk back onto the platform (in the film he helps Kato lift the drunk whilst standing on the platform himself and then ironically gets pulled in front of the train when trying to pull Kato up), which is a nice moment since Kurono agonises over whether to help or not, eventually does so more motivated by embarrassment of being recognised by Kato, and for this small helpful gesture ends up being killed and dragged into the Gantz room. This almost bipolar shifting between absolute reticence here and eventually a recklessness during the third mission is something Kurono has to deal with over the course of the series, before eventually becoming a true hero in the fourth mission when he is the only one left with experience of a Gantz mission.

This also contrasts with Kato's attempt at heroism by saving the tramp - while Kurono starts off reticent and grows, Kato starts off heroic and then realises the essential futility of existence. Through the first two Gantz missions he has been clinging onto the idea that at the very least they saved that tramp's life, despite in doing so dying themselves. But then during the third mission set in and around the Buddhist temple, as every previously held 'certainty' is collapsing around the team, they come across the body of the tramp they saved and see that he has been beaten to death by two thugs purely for fun (the thugs themselves die and become part of the newly Gantz-selected team attacking Kurono in the fourth mission).

This totally destroy's Kato, as he is confronted by the utter futility of having saved the tramp only to see him killed elsewhere (this is also another aspect where the anime differs from the film - while the film shows the areas in which the team are fighting aliens as eerily empty of life, the anime shows that both the aliens and the teammates are invisible to the 'real world' during the period of a Gantz mission, though the damage that can be caused by them is real. This leads to some interesting juxtapositions, such as the sequence of the team killing one of the giant statues which gets intercut with the tramp being beaten to death), and foreshadows the team's utter decimation by the Shiva statue later in the same mission. The anime is much more about these notions of sacrifice and whether such a thing still matters in a world in which such an action can be utterly, and almost immediately, negated.

The character of Gantz itself also has a few interestingly fantastical moments in the anime compared to the film - from the literal appearance out of thin air at the beginning of the series (a sequence of shots which is simply reversed at the very end of the series), to the satellite point of view shots of the area of the city that the team are to fight in, along with the ability to make the team invisible to the rest of the world during a mission, there is the sense of Gantz being a kind of alien intelligence, compared to say just being very advanced technology in the film version. (The anime also has a brief but amusing 'Exterminating Angel' shot of the characters trying and failing to open any of the doors from the Gantz room)

Plus (and I'll be interested to know whether this idea comes up more in the second live action Gantz film), Gantz itself seems to show more of a consciousness as events progress, setting increasingly hard tasks with devious secondary and tertiary elements to them along with the implication that it is more than prepared to bend the rules, such as stopping the mission countdown clock in order to ensure that a team member dies 'in game', or the way that after Kurono attacks the man hooked up inside the ball in anger after the end of the third mission, this causes Gantz to make him the 'alien' of the next one, as if in retribution!

It is a really fascinating series and at this point I do prefer it to the film, simply because it provided me with much more food for thought, while the film in many ways seemed desperate to definitively explain every element of the bizarre situation (one of the elements I found fascinating about the film though was the way it used Tomorowo Taguchi, playing a character who simply died in the first Gantz mission in the anime, but who here survives all the way through the film without taking much part in the action beyond providing words of encouragement for the rest of the team! I'll be interested to find out if the filmmakers have been saving his character for a larger role in Gantz: Perfect Answer, or if he will remain bizarrely under utilised).

I also wish that the wonderful (but utterly useless!) dog from the anime had been transferred to the film as well! The presence of the dog was something which really seemed to highlight that Gantz was just throwing combinations of every kind of team member into the mix and seeing how all the characters worked together as part of some kind of bizarre group dynamic test (hence why the indulgent grandmother and her young, mollycoddled grandson end up becoming part of the team in both the anime and film, even if they immediately and predictably get killed off!)

Though the idea that this Gantz room is some sort of purgatory or trial that everyone who dies has to go through, or whether specific people who have died are being specifically and consciously chosen for missions, is one of those aspects of the work that is left pleasingly wide open to interpretation!

(Oh, and the team mates eventually come to the conclusion in the anime that the goal appears to be to actually capture and beam the aliens away (exactly where is never revealed) rather than killing them (even if killing the aliens is still more often than not the first resort!), while in the live action film despite Nishi being shown to be carrying the capture gun in one wide shot during the first mission, the idea of capturing the aliens is not really considered and the capture gun is never used. So the film becomes much simpler for that omission, just becoming about the logistics of how to go about killing the opponents)


Having praised the anime TV series at length though, I should point out a few of its flaws as well. As already pointed out by Darth Lavender above the treatment of big breasted Kishimoto (or "Miss Melons" as Gantz calls her!) might be a comment on fan service cliches but it does go into quite extreme territory here, as when Kishimoto asks if she can live with Kurono because her original self is still in her old home, and says that Kurono should just treat her "like a pet". On hearing this we get a brief flash of Kurono's fantasy of Kishimoto, naked and on all fours with a dog collar around her neck! Although I suppose this scene, and later ones of Kurono being rather lecherous around Kishimoto, do help to characterise him as an extremely flawed audience identification figure and not exactly a conventional hero! I suppose it also shows the way that Kishimoto herself feels almost like a non-person too, and that she is going to build a new persona from this state of just being an object, moving away from being projected onto by admirers and pushy family members alike! And at least in the anime Kishimoto registers a lot more as an individual character with her own willfulness here, something which heightens the impact of her sacrifice and death much more than cutting all of the rough edges of the character to fit her into the 'generic action heroine' template does in the live action film.

Another problem with the anime is that it often underlines and drags out points to much, taking moments that should be tense and impactful and pushing them far beyond their peak into "just do something, already!!" semi-tedium. A tighter version of the show with some of the treading water scenes (as in some of the action sequences where characters stand angst-ridden about what to do while others are being beaten to death metres away!) removed would make the work much more successful, I think.

Finally, the series does eventually fall a little too obviously in Battle Royale territory, especially during the fourth mission of Kurono against a totally new team of barely introduced characters who arrive, get killed and get added onto Gantz's casuality list. This process of introducing new characters has been going on for all the previous missions, but in the final mission it is beginning to feel a lot more like a blackly comic "how is this person going to be killed?" situation than seeing how these characters will work together. That may be the point, as we are seeing things through Kurono's jaded, traumatised eyes by this point, but it still feels a little reductive after the way this material was handled during some of the earlier missions.

But this series is still well worth watching for the swerve into total futility towards the final run of episodes, along with one of the more bizarre opening titles (one that changes in content for each of the missions, acting both as a portent of the monsters and action the characters will be about to face and, especially in the third, almost endless, mission as a reminder of when the action was simpler and less costly in terms of the lives of characters that we have come to care about), and especially for the beautifully simple, yet utterly devastating, end credits animation. And for the dog, of course!

(Gantz also reminded me a lot of Clamp Studios 1999 film X, in particular the way that production dealt with the fights between their characters, which also takes place in a 'different dimension' of a real location (one that the fighters cordon off from the real world using magic before they start battling), but with the destruction caused suddenly taking effect in the real location once one of the fighters loses their battle. There's also the cabal of good guys eventually getting totally decimated here as well. Though I think Gantz handles this similar material more effectively, as X was hampered by a regular problem in fantasy: the deadly combination of having quite confusing character relationships along with extremely repetitive and samey-feeling battles, leading to boredom more than building excitement)


Last edited by colinr0380 on Wed Oct 02, 2013 4:08 pm, edited 7 times in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2011 5:23 pm 
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Which movie should I watch first, Gantz or colin's post? :wink:


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2011 5:27 pm 
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My post of course! It has all of the emotion and drama that you could ever ask for! :-#


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2011 5:39 pm 
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In case you value this sort of feedback, I am currently proofreading a technical report for work that represents the culmination of about six months of effort on a ~$30,000 project, and it is shorter than your post. (Not to mention decidedly less entertaining!)


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PostPosted: Sun Nov 20, 2011 12:32 pm 
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Thanks swo! This is one of the reasons why I do not think I will ever go on Twitter - I've got far too much to talk about on some subjects/am far too long-winded!

One thing I forgot to talk about with Gantz was the interesting way that the series combines the CGI with the standard animation, leading to some quite strange, jerky three or four part camera moves during a single shot. It feels weirdly right in creating a strange off-kilter world viewed from an unusual omniscient perspective, even though I suppose the effect may probably unintentional one by the programme makers!


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2012 7:31 pm 

Joined: Thu Jun 05, 2008 1:47 pm
Now that Revolutionary Girl Utena is out again by way of Nozomi's super re-release (honestly, it may be the best treatment of a "classic" anime I've seen in the U.S. in, well, ever. Tons of extras, 3 really meaty booklets, tons of interviews and essays), people can finally dig into this flawed, beautiful and allegorical show on a more substantial level.

While the show was finishing up, I was really struck by how much from Sailor Moon Ikuhara had brought to Utena. On a structural level, it follows a very similar series format as Sailor Moon--reused pre-battle animation, a heroine who fights a series of battles against lesser enemies (which could be considered "filler" by some viewers), eventually working her way up to different "sub-bosses", and then finally the Ultimate End Boss. Of course, many anime follow this format, but the theatricality, the extreme melodrama, the sense of the endgame as more than just a clash of Good vs Evil but rather a clash of Ideals, it's all very Sailor Moon.

But Utena isn't just the clash of Idealistic Innocence vs Cynical Adulthood as Sailor Moon is (though Utena is that as well), it's a clash of many things--Women vs Patriarchal Institution, Freedom vs Insulation, Independence vs Dependence.

The final 10 episodes of Utena are highly allegorical. It stops being a series about just a spirited tomboy fighting a series of battles against various enemies--at this point in the series Utena herself has been positioned as The Ideal SuperFemale, the antagonist Akio as The Ideal SuperMale, and the "Rose Bride", Anthy, as the submissive Woman. That is woman with a capital W, because Anthy seemingly is positioned to symbolize all the women who are subjugated within a patriarchal society (and in the Utena world, she is the possession which whom every character is fighting to attain for themselves, as possessing the Rose Bride promises some elusive and mysterious "Absolute Power" at the end of the "game").

Since Utena gains "possession" of Anthy very early in the show and keeps her for most of the series, the show is centered on their relationship--many early episodes feature Utena trying to force Anthy into being more "normal" and "assertive"... or at least, Utena's own perception of what is "normal" and "assertive". Since Anthy is a submissive woman who will do the bidding of whomever "owns" her at any given moment, she complies. It's only at the quarter mark of the series that Utena realizes that Anthy was only pretending to be what Utena wanted her to be, and at this point, Utena lays off attempting to enforce Anthy's behaviour and sets to simply freeing Anthy from whatever invisible bond that is holding her into the role of "Rose Bride". This is key to enforcing Utena's position as the Noble Female Prince in the show. She becomes less a "realistic" character and more an ideal.

As the show runs towards its conclusion, Utena the SuperFemale is seduced by Akio the SuperMale as he attempts to make her his "princess"; to subjugate the SuperFemale is the ultimate conquest for the SuperMale. Much of the suspense of these final episodes revolves around Utena's waning will to "free" Anthy as she continues to fall deeper and deeper into Akio's seductive SuperMale charm. The outcome of the series arguably reaches its highest moment of doubt when
[Reveal] Spoiler:
Utena sleeps with Akio, shattering her virginal purity
and the audience's perception of her as the naive and innocent girl fighting against the odds. She's now a woman, and she doesn't have youthful ignorance as a power on her side anymore.

The final battle is less a battle of physicality and more a battle of wills. By now, the show has long stopped pretending to be a "real" show altogether and more a show about what each character is symbolizing. It doesn't even pretend to hide the symbolism anymore, as the symbols become literal, basically. Utena the SuperFemale ultimately rejects Akio the SuperMale and she regains her original purpose to "free" Anthy from the institution binding her, now made literal by the thousands of swords Akio has conjured to pin Anthy into place. The "door" to Anthy's soul becomes a literal door that Utena must open to reach her.

In seeing Colin's post analyzing Gantz in each of its respective media, I guess it might be good if I mention a few things about the Utena movie, in comparison to the TV series.

The film basically retells the TV series in a more distilled way, albeit focusing more on the lesbian subtext of Utena and Anthy's relationship and making it reality in the film. The climax of the film isn't a clash of wills but rather an escape to a better place. It features a thrilling chase sequence where Anthy drives Utena, who has turned into a car(!), but Akio has been almost completely dropped. It's not the threat of the SuperMale blocking Utena and Anthy's path anymore, this time it's simply the threat of being stuck in an oppressive (though extremely beautiful) world. Even more surreal and baffling than the TV series in many ways, it still doesn't capture even close to the dramatic punch of the TV series, but it's one of the most gorgeous anime films ever produced. As far as pure visuals go, it's ravishing.

The extras that come with the show provide much to chew on. I was surprised to discover that many of the more "Feminist" pushing elements in the series were rejected by Chiho Saito, the lone significant woman working on the show. While the director, Kunihiko Ikuhara, was aggressively pushing to test the standards of what could be allowed on Japanese mainstream television, she was constantly worried about how the show wouldn't turn a profit because of its eccentricities, aggressive feminist messages, and overt depictions of homosexuality, incest and the like.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2012 12:59 am 

Joined: Thu Jan 05, 2012 12:29 am
I'm a big animation fan - and I have tried, REALLY tried to like 'anime' (I always feel weird referring to Japanese Animation with a french word for 'animation'), but the only film I really love out of any of them is "Night on the Galactic Railroad".

I was lucky to have first seen this projected with a great print, and the great, cosmic score, jewel-like colors and graceful dream-like rhythms were mesmerizing.

I guess I've seen about 4 Miyazaki films now and IMHO not one of them came close to living up to the hype. Most 'anime' films spend 3/4 of their efforts on elaborate background art, with the character animation being left as something of an afterthought. When I saw an extra on the DVD of "Spirited Away" ("the making of...") - I understood what the 'issue' is here - with all these films the characters are animated first and then actors kind of 'lay' the dialogue over generically moving mouths (in most quality animation voices are recorded first and the animators job is to 'embody' the voice').

Grave of the Fireflies was, I thought, sadly sabotaged by the shoddy character animation. In the extras for the DVD the director said as much - that the animation was rushed through production (this seems to be the case with a lot of these films).

The great thing about "Galactic Railroad" is the emphasis is less on the characters than the atmosphere as a whole - there is a stillness to things that makes it perfectly OK for the characters to just be still and stare into space for minutes at at time.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2012 6:22 pm 

Joined: Thu Jun 05, 2008 1:47 pm
The thing is, anime does things on a lower budget, far lower manpower (some studios can have less than 50 employees total) compared to their American counterparts, plus the system of animation is different. Studio Ghibli would be considered a small, "independent" studio, by American standards.

You criticized the animation for Spirited Away, for instance. True, the framerate is lower than your typical Disney 2d feature film, animation in some scenes done on 3s. On the other hand, being more "stiff" means that the character movements can achieve more solidity. You get more of a feeling of the bones and sinew underneath a character when they have more of a stiffness to them. That's one advantage to being creative with a lower framerate.

Now take Aladdin. It's a lavishly animated 2d film done at the height of Disney's powers and budget during the 90s. Each movement features a ton more frames than most other animated features done before or since. On the other hand, character movement is so fluid that it achieves a sort of "spongey" quality. While that certainly has its strengths in scenes of comedy or in certain cases lighthearted action, it can often have an effect of over-pantomime, which means it's difficult to play off subtle, quieter scenes when your characters have a "spongey" or "watery" quality. In some ways, the move to CG with Pixar has added more "stiffness" to American feature length animation and, perhaps, it has been to the benefit of the genre's range.

I would like to point out, however, that generally, anime is more popular for its TV shows and mini-series than for its contribution to animated film, Studio Ghibli aside. As such, I think it's a little unfair when someone compares a TV show to an animated feature film budget. However, there are plenty of TV anime which are every bit the technical equals of various American TV animation.


Last edited by jojo on Sat Jan 07, 2012 6:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2012 6:36 pm 
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Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK
And then there are the 'actual' TV series and OAV or "Original Animation Video" (straight to video) series as well.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2012 6:50 pm 

Joined: Thu Jun 05, 2008 1:47 pm
I once heard that the Ghost in the Shell TV series was the most expensive TV anime ever made, costing about 2 million (?) for all 26 episodes of season 1. I'm not sure if it still holds that record, though. Now that seems a lot to the layman, but then someone noted to me that 26 episodes of something like, say, Futurama would be triple that amount, and even something visually mediocre like Family Guy might be double that amount. And I think even the most hardened animation critic would have to be impressed on some level at how they squeezed so much out of that budget.

A lot of that is a combination of creative direction, choreography, art, lighting, etc,. When an industry must consistently find ways to create animation without the backing of a billion-dollar studio, they have to create their own animation language altogether.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 10:33 pm 

Joined: Thu Jan 05, 2012 12:29 am
jojo wrote:

Now take Aladdin. It's a lavishly animated 2d film done at the height of Disney's powers and budget during the 90s.


Actually, I would argue that Aladdin is an example of one of the sporadic occasions Disney seems to be trying to emulate the feel of classic Warner Brothers cartoons (more Avery or Clampett than Jones though).

Of course good things can be done with 'limited' animation. There was a really nice-looking feature film recently "Sita Sings the Blues" that was done by one person in Flash for heaven's sake.

But I think the CHARACTERS in most anime are depressingly lifeless and alienating. Like I said, I think dubbing voices over already-finished animation is a big part of that.

There are often exceptions to any rule though, "Night on the Galactic Railroad" is absolutely classic 'anime' and I love it.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 10:49 pm 
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D_B wrote:
But I think the CHARACTERS in most anime are depressingly lifeless and alienating. Like I said, I think dubbing voices over already-finished animation is a big part of that.

Do you like the Fleischers' work?


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