Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review | Movie | Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni Live Action

HIGURASHI NO NAKU KORO NI LIVE ACTION : Keiichi Maebara transfers to the small, peaceful town of Hinamizawa, where he befriends four girls in his class; Rena, Rika, Mion and Satoko. His new friends tell him all about the town, including the town's fearsome guardian god Oyashiro-sama, and its fury over any who dare enter its shrine. Keiichi is doubtful of the god's supposed wrath at first, but when he enters Oyashiro-sama's forbidden shrine, he becomes wrapped up in the town's horrible secret, and falls victim to the god's deadly curse.

I haven't yet gotten around to watching the Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni anime, which I probably should have watched prior to seeing the film. I've read so much about the series (including spoilers), I almost feel like it's unnecessary. The highly anticipated live action film of the popular horror series became a little less than highly anticipated once reviews and clips began to roll around. Fans went into an uproar over several missing key points of the original series; specifically, over Mion's twin sister Shion failing to appear in the film. Upon hearing Mion has become an only child for the film, it was boycotted by many. Shion's not the only character to be booted from the script. Such characters as Hanyu, Satoshi (who is merely referenced), and the rest of Mion's powerful family are nowhere to be seen.

We'll begin with the compliments. The film successfully captures the quaint atmosphere of the village of Hinamizawa. Word of Keiichi's arrival, and actions, get around quickly. You can feel the peace of the endless summer in the scenery welcomed to the movie, and yet as beautiful as it is, it maintains the wry, eerie gut feeling of the evil going on behind the scenes in the town.

A perfect blend of special effects are used to keep us tuned in. Nothing over the top, and not too little. Just enough to illustrate Keiichi's mental state of panic and chaos, and the Hinamizawa ladies' simple yet boisterous derangement. The overall set-up of the film gives excellent vibes to fit a horror film, giving off a strange sense of entrapment and peril, and not just for Keiichi, but for the viewer. There were times when I just had to hit pause and run to my kitchen for a refreshment of comfort to remind myself that it's Keiichi trapped, not me. That, to me, was one of the most exciting parts of seeing this film.

Now, onto the criticism: American actors and Japanese actors are very different, because they act in different manners, so it's often hard to tell who could be called a bad actor; An actor considered completely stale in Japan could be extraordinary to an American viewer. Despite that, Keiichi's actor could read as unengaged completely. His temper tantrums appear staged and many of his lines are given as if he is reading off of a script from far away. It's hard to watch him next to our sociopathic village girls, who are nicely fitting for their roles (though their triumphant laughter could have been more psychotic), except when they're diluted by Keiichi's bland disposition. Several Higurashi fans who have gotten a chance to see the film have noted that the producers could have landed a better actor for such a tough role.

I've read up on key points in the original anime series, and many of them could have served the film quite well, but alas, were left out. This may have been an attempt to transition out of Higurashi's typically chaotic atmosphere into a calmer, more psychological feel. Many would agree that due to the great reception the series received for the riotous blood carnival delivered to audiences, the film would hardly live up to its name when placed next to the anime, making the live action adaption seem tepid.

I think it may even be best to start this film before starting the series. A mind oblivious to the original anime may find this film quite enjoyable for its mind games, and can later look to the series for the pandemonium fans have come to expect from any adaption of the hit dojin.

Overall Rating:
/ 5



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Wheel of Fortune (opening theme)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Review | Anime | Wolf's Rain

WOLF'S RAIN : 200 years in the future, wolves have been
declared instinct on Earth, now ridden by wars. In reality, wolves still exist
by hiding themselves among humans by taking human form. When a rebellious
wolf named Kiba wanders into the city looking for the Lunar Flower of an
old wolf legend, three other wolves band together with him on a search for
the Paradise ruled by wolves. The obstacles that await their journey are
horrific woodland creatures, Paradise-seeking warlords, and a crazed wolf hunter
determined to rid the world of any and all wolves.

Wolf's Rain has gained widespread fame in the anime world, and though it's not the most cheerful anime available, it's definitely one of the most action-packed.

The world of Wolf's Rain exists two centuries from today's world, and it's exactly the future forewarned; wars, big and small, in every corner, with only the rich and highly-placed living comfortably. The tales of the four protagonists begin in a town called Freeze City, when in wanders Quent Yaiden, who has been obsessed with killing wolves since he witnessed a pack of wolves destroying his home and killing his wife and child. With the help of his wolf-detecting dog Blue, Quent travels from city to city checking every corner for traces of a wolf. This only gains him ridicule from citizens, who try to convince him wolves no longer exist, but Quent is well onto the fact that wolves have every capability of hiding amongst humans.

Simultaniously taking place are the tales of the city's only known wolf citizens, Hige, Toboe and Tsume, oblivious of each other's existences. They are finally brought together accidentally when a lone wolf named Kiba wanders into town, seeking the way to Paradise. He follows the scent of the Lunar Flower, the key to opening Paradise, which eventually puts him on the unfortunate path that leads him to Quent, who immediately shoots him. Kiba is not killed, but is discovered resting under a tree and is taken to a laboratory to be examined. After all, it's the strangest dog they've ever seen. The Lunar Flower turns out to be Cheza, a girl that is half human, half flower, that was created by a noble using a form of alchemy. Cheza's current state is an inconvenient one; suspended in the lab by tubes, and unconscious until she is awakened by Kiba's presence. It seems Kiba has finally found what he came for, until Chesa is kidnapped by Darcia, one of the three most powerful nobles known to the anime. In order to recover her from Darcia and his fiendish intentions, he ultimately meets Hige, Toboe and Tsume, who detect the Lunar Flower as well. They don't hit it off immediately; two are anti-social and prideful, one (the primarily disliked one) is a peacemaker, and one couldn't care less. The one thing keeping them together is their ultimate goal: Recover Cheza and unlock Paradise.

I am as great a fan of anime as I am its music, and I will be honest in saying that the soundtrack of Wolf's Rain remains one of the greatest anime soundtracks I've ever had the privilege to listen to. It was the opening theme, "Stray", that led me to begin the series, and it was the underscore that kept me connected. The music can be serene, haunting, mournful or mystical; a few songs have succeeded in containing all four key elements at once. One of my favorite anime composers, Yoko Kanno, lends her talents to the soundtrack with impressive blending of instruments and sounds, common for her music. Wolf's Rain also selects excellent vocalists, including anime regular Maaya Sakamoto, for its songs to narrate the wolves' stories with beautiful and idyllic lyrics. If the Wolf's Rain anime turns out to be the wrong cup of tea, I hope that will not discourage you from picking up its incredible soundtrack.

Wolf's Rain is a perfect blend of common fantasty and wartime conflict. Not being a mecha fan (at all), I was a little turned off by the use of mechanics at the beginning of the series, but my curiosity led me on. Despite my dislike for mecha, this series holds an excellent amount, only using mecha when it's needed to support the story, rather than using it just to show off the artists' free time or the animators' talent with shiny metal. The series requires lots of patience, however, as it is very slowly paced because of the complexity of the storyline. Kiba and his new pack have a long journey, and the producers are definitely making sure to chronicle every last detail down to the last bona fide meal our protagonists manage to scrape together.

If you're not the biggest fan of bloody violence, you may want to pass this one by. The series sports wartime violence and wolf/human, wolf/wolf conflicts. Wolves are consistently injured severely during battles and attain bloody, sometimes graphic, wounds. There are also conflicts involving several human characters; characters are shot, stabbed, blown up, and of course, attacked by wolves. Wolves are seen biting human body parts, mainly the neck and other vital regions, killing them. The series becomes bloodier as it nears its completion.

Wolf's Rain is a great blend of sci-fi fantasy and action, with plenty of guns thrown in, accompanied by mutated wildlife and a bleak depiction of the future of our planet. If you enjoyed Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke, this anime may be one for your list.

Overall Rating:
/ 5


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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Review | Anime | Vampire Knight

VAMPIRE KNIGHT : The prestigious Cross Academy offers a
special Night Class to certain students of the academy. The Night Class is
unique because it is inhabited entirely by vampires, unbeknownst to the Day
Class students. To keep peace and reasonable distance between the vampires and
humans, prefects Yuuki and her best friend Zero are hired, and work to ensure
that Day Class students never discover the Night Class students are vampires,
and most importantly, that the vampires don't lose control of their urges to
feed on human blood.

While attending an anime con last year, my friend and I sat down for a 3-episode preview of Vampire Knight, which had just been released in Japan the week before. Along with Monochrome Factor, Vampire Knight was added to my list of animes to check out.

Vampire Knight sports the common "haunting Gothic elegance" element throughout, and plenty of beautiful vampires that make Edward Cullen look like a convenience store clerk. Yuuki is fortunate enough to have the strongest of the vampires, Kuran Kaname, as one of her dearest friends. Yuuki has had a crush on Kaname ever since he saved her life from a rogue vampire - which are know as "Level E Vampires" - when she was a child. It is unclear whether her crush is an actual romantic crush or more of an academic sisterly crush, but because Yuuki is a prefect responsible for keeping the screaming fangirls at bay whenever Kaname emerges from his dormitory with his Night Class classmates, it makes it that much harder to stare at him.

Naturally, Yuuki's orders to not bombard the Night Class gentlemen go in one fangirl ear and out the other as they trample her to get to the sparkly vampires (no thanks to Aido Hanabusa, who just fuels their fangirl fury with his witless charm as he waves and flirts.) Fortunately, there to intervene when Yuuki loses control is another good friend, Zero Kiryuu, who was taken in by Yuuki's family when he was orphaned by a Level E vampire. Zero's cold personality and frozen glare is powerful enough to stop even screaming fangirls dead in their tracks, and send them running back to their dorms. Zero's disposition is so cold, even Yuuki, whom he considers his best friend, has trouble getting through to him. It doesn't help that Yuuki's belief that not all vampires are evil clashes with Zero's firm reckoning that all vampires, regardless, are scumbags.

Vampire Knight is the definition when the question of the closest anime version of Twilight comes up. The only difference? Vampire Knight is actually good. Too much bloodsucking, perhaps, but it's watchable. The artwork of Vampire Knight is very unique and recognizable, and in turn assists tell the story in a great way. It's playing with fire if you intend on making an anime and don't use the right animation. Many believe the animation style of an anime is irrelevant to the series, but this is not the case. In order to tell the story properly, your animation must match the story in many ways, otherwise the viewer tunes out. Vampire Knight successfully harnessed the right animation style for their anime, thus creating a brand new smash hit in the anime community.

Parents should know there's plenty of blood (naturally, where there are vampires, there's blood) and violence, courtesy of the Level E vampires. Once you finish season one, you should move straight along to Vampire Knight: Guilty, the second season of Vampire Knight, which a lot bloodier as we near the completion of the series. Yuuki's blood is like a drug to vampires, which can smell her a mile away, and Kaname's willing to do anything to prevent her blood from being taken, and is not above resorting to violence.

Vampire Knight is a must if you're trying to stay in the anime loop, because where there's an anime fan, there's probably a Vampire Knight fan somewhere in there. Enjoy, and don't go out at night.

Overall Rating:
/ 5


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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Review | OVA | Le Portrait De Petit Cossette

LE PORTRAIT DE PETIT COSSETTE : College student Eiri Kurahashi receives
shipments to his family's antique shop, when he comes across a beautiful antique
glass, and in the glass, he begins seeing visions of a hauntingly beautiful girl
named Cossette d'Auvergne and the tragic end of her life. Eiri ultimately falls
in love with the ghost of Cossette and becomes obsessed with freeing her from
her cursed state. Cossette accepts Eiri's wishes, and Eiri becomes entrapped in
Cossette's gruesome world and must now suffer for the sins that bind Cossette to
her fate.

At first glance, the imagery of Le Portrait De Petit Cossette (The Image Of Young Cossette) is enough to draw in plenty of attention because of its dark but majestic composition, and probably Cossette's choices of Elegant Gothic Lolita dress as well. I thought at first that this was a short series, and was surprised to learn that it's actually an OVA of the manga of the same name. That may have been the problem.

Le Portrait De Petit Cossette starts out with an indirect introduction to our protagonist Eiri, who works, as it would appear, by himself at his family's antique store. Changes in Eiri's personality makes his college buddies suspect there's a girl wandering around somewhere in his mind. Well, yes and no; there is indeed a girl Eiri can't keep his eyes off of, but this girl happens to be merely an entity that appears to him in a Venetian wine glass that found its way to the antique store the week before. The entity is Cossette d'Auvergne, the daughter of a rich aristocrat from the 18th century. Eiri can't peel his eyes away from Cossette's simple life on her family's estate playing out for him in the glass. Eiri does suspect at first that the image of Cossette may be a figment of his mind due to illness, or perhaps a few too many, but when Cossette's life finally plays into her death, Eiri realizes exactly what's going down: that girl IS a ghost, unjustly killed by her painter fiance, Marchello Orlando. Desperate to free Cossette's soul from the torture of her prison within the world of the glass, Eiri accepts the pact offered to him by Cossette, in which he is brutally punished for the sins of Marchello.

With the bleak and dreary atmosphere of the show, plus its haunting music and plot, why not indeed? The first thing you expect to find (or I did, anyway) in Eiri's purgatory is an elegant finish to the curse, which would match Cossette's cushy lifestyle surrounded on every side by her parents' vast land and beautiful home. What we get instead is a blood show reminiscent of Braveheart, and that may have been the downfall of this show. Sure, everything needs a little blood to make it real, but too much unnecessary blood just makes it annoying. There's blood at the beginning that's useful to the plot, but as the episodes drag on (literally, drag), there becomes so much pointless use of blood, it gets a little ridiculous. There are several points where it would appear that there's just blood in the scene because the crew felt like putting blood there. It just stopped getting disturbing after the 10th event of exaggerated blood spewing lasting a good 5 minutes.

The show's assembly was overall pretty terrible. I think the problem is that what should have gone into a few dozen episodes were instead put into 3, and the editors appeared to try hard to fit the telling of 30 episodes' worth of material into an OVA, and the final compression make the series way too repetitive to watch. I admit I got a little tired of watching Eiri lose gallons of blood he shouldn't even have at this point.

I don't know that any child would express interest in watching this OVA, but I would definitely not let them check this one out. There are several scenes (well actually, the entire OVA) depicting very graphic, fantasy-occult-style tortures with lots...and lots....and lots....and lots of blood. Characters also appear nude in a few scenes, but private regions are shaded or at a distance and can't be made out. The OVA is overall very disturbing and one I suggest the family should stay away from.

Speaking of staying away, if you don't like violence, repetition, or ridiculous and pointless blood, you should probably pass by this one. It just didn't work as an OVA, it should have been a full-length series, that probably would have helped it a lot, because each episode is around 40 minutes long, and there are so many special effects and conversion into dream-like states, you'll start to wonder if you're watching an anime or getting high. There's just too much for the brain to swallow, and what should have been given in small doses was taken way overboard.

Overall Rating:
/ 5