TV Review: Arcadia of My Youth: Endless Orbit SSX (1982-1983)

Original Run: October 13th, 1982 – March 30th, 1983
Created by: Leiji Matsumoto
Directed by: Tomoharu Katsumata, Masamitsu Sasaki
Written by: Leiji Matsumoto, Hiroyasu Yamaura, Hiroyuki Hoshiyama
Based on: Space Pirate Captain Harlock by Leiji Matsumoto
Music by: Shunsuke Kikuchi

Discotek Media, Toei Animation, Tokyo Broadcasting System, 22 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This second Captain Harlock series served as a loose sequel to the Arcadia of My Youth feature film that came out in the same year.

Following the events of the film, Harlock and the crew of the Arcadia are exiled from Earth, which has been taken over by the Illumidas, along with several other planets.

For much of the series, Harlock explores space while also having battles with the Illumidas. He’s also searching for the mythical “Planet of Peace”, a place where all intelligent species can live free of war and interplanetary conflict.

The show was originally planned to have double the episodes that it got. It struggled in the ratings due to competition from new series like the original Gundam, which was a quicker paced, more action oriented show.

Still, this did have a proper and good conclusion, even if production was cut short.

I also liked this show a hair bit more than the earlier Captain Harlock series. I enjoyed the stories, the characters and the overall style of it.

Rating: 8.75/10

Film Review: Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Also known as: Hotaru no haka (original Japanese title)
Release Date: April 16th, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: Isao Takahata
Written by: Isao Takahata
Based on: Grave of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka
Music by: Michio Mamiya
Cast: Japanese Language: Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara, Akemi Yamaguchi; English Language: Adam Gibbs, Emily Neves, Shelley Calene-Black, Marcy Bannor, Andrew Love

Shinchosha Company, Studio Ghibli, Toho Co. Ltd., 89 Minutes

Review:

“[first lines] September 21, 1945… that was the night I died.” – Seita

Man, this is one of the most depressing movies I have ever seen but it is also one of the greatest anime pictures ever crafted. It’s a massive gut punch to the soul and it’s also one of the sweetest, beautiful films I’ve ever experienced.

This was made by Studio Ghibli and it was the first film they did that was directed by Isao Takahata, as opposed to Hayao Miyazaki. Upon its release, it was paired up with another Studio Ghibli film, Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro.

The story is about a fourteen year-old boy and his four year-old sister, whose father went off to war and whose mother was burned alive by an American attack on their town during the height of World War II. The orphaned kids go to live with their horrible aunt but eventually, she rejects them and they have to try to survive on their own, living in a cave by a lake. They have no money, no food and eventually the little girl gets very sick. Once the boy finds out that his father is most likely dead, things really, really get dark and whatever hope these kids had is gone.

Yet, in spite of all that, the bond of these siblings is powerful and there’s nothing but love between them and that’s what makes the picture so precious and so heartbreaking once you reach the tragic, immensely depressing end of the film.

I respect that this movie shows the horrors of war and also that it shows it from the perspective of the other side, at least for those of us in America. I think it’s an important story to tell, as these are things that most people don’t want to think about. Especially, when our government is at war with another government because its not the regular civilians that are generally doing the fighting but it’s those people who are the victims of the fighting, more times than not.

The fact that this is a story about kids is supposed to make the message more powerful.

Grave of the Fireflies is an incredible, beautiful and emotional picture about what can happen to innocence when it’s confronted by the worst parts of humanity. The film is astonishingly effective and it not only accomplishes what Isao Takahata wanted to say but it greatly exceeds it.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Castle in the Sky (1986)

Also known as: Laputa (alternative title)
Release Date: August 2nd, 1986 (Japan)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cast: Japanese Language: Mayumi Tanaka, Keiki Yokozawa, Kotoe Hatsui, Minori Terada; English Language: Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill, Andy Dick

Tokuma Shoten, Studio Ghibli, Toei Company, 125 Minutes

Review:

“The earth speaks to all of us, and if we listen, we can understand.” – Uncle Pomme

This is the first official Studio Ghibli movie and the studio was off to a tremendous start with this one.

While the same core creative team did Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, two years earlier, this picture took that style and formula and improved upon it.

Where Nausicaä paved the way for Studio Ghibli to be born, it’s this movie that really became the studio’s foundation and allowed for other great animated features to see the light of day and touch the world.

This is just a really fun adventure film that’s family friendly, sweet and kind of cool.

This should go without saying but the art and animation are incredible and pretty damn flawless. This was one of the best looking animated features, up to the point of its release. Ghibli would continue to improve, though, but their later work still doesn’t diminish the visual look of this one.

This may even be a good jumping on point for those who would really like to dive into Studio Ghibli’s oeuvre.

I liked the story here and it was pretty simple, which is all it needed to be. This didn’t need to be overly complex with an overabundance of details that would be unimportant by the end. This, like all Ghibli films, carries a message in its story and its something that is timeless, meaningful and I think that kids can grasp it.

I don’t really want to give too much away with these movies, though, as I want to encourage people to check them out if they haven’t.

Rating: 8.5/10

TV Review: Hellsing (2001-2002)

Original Run: October 10th, 2001 – January 16th, 2002
Directed by: Umanosuke Iida (chief), Yasunori Urata
Written by: Chiaki J. Konaka
Based on: Hellsing by Kouta Hirano
Music by: Yasushi Ishii
Cast: Joji Nakata, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Fumiko Orikasa

Madman Entertainment, Funimation, Manga Entertainment, Fuji TV, 13 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Man, I loved this anime series when I first discovered it almost twenty years ago. I watched through it multiple times and was kind of annoyed that they only produced 13 episodes. Granted, they did a 10-part OVA series later on, which kind of told a much more complete story.

Anyway, I hadn’t seen this since about 2009 or so but I wanted to review it for awhile and I figured the week leading up to Halloween was as good of a time as any.

First thing, this still holds up. Tremendously well, in fact.

While I think that the OVA releases are better, this is still probably the best introduction into the Hellsing franchise outside of reading the manga, which are hard to find in the United States, currently.

The story is about Hellsing, a secret British agency that deals with supernatural threats, primarily vampires and vampire related monsters. They have a vampire in their employ, Alucard, and he’s pretty much their best defense (and offense) against these supernatural threats.

You have a pretty good cast of other characters too but the entire show really rest’s on Alucard’s shoulders. Frankly, he’s just a cool and badass character and I feel like he’s somewhat inspired by D from Vampire Hunter D but he’s not chill, he’s a lot more aggressive and talks a good amount of shit before turning his enemies into fodder. Sometimes he meets a solid rival and his fights aren’t so easy but you know immediately, that Alucard isn’t someone to fuck with and if you do, you’re going to have a really bad day.

I like the animation in this a lot, as well as the music. Both are perfect together and really give this series life and a neat tone.

Horror anime fans should dig the hell out of this but at the same time, they should’ve already seen it.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Vampire Hunter D (1985)

Also known as: Kyûketsuki hantâ D (original Japanese title)
Release Date: December 21st, 1985 (Japan)
Directed by: Toyoo Ashida
Written by: Yasushi Hirano
Based on: Vampire Hunter D: Volume 1 by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Music by: Tetsuya Komuro
Cast: Kaneto Shiozawa, Michie Tomizawa, Seizo Kato, Keiko Toda

Ashi Productions Co., CBS Sony Group, Epic/Sony, Toho Co. Ltd., 80 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve lived for almost ten thousand years. Believe me you have no idea what that means: boredom. Everlasting and hideous boredom. A never ending search for ways to pass the time… and mating with a human female is one of the few I enjoy. Eventually they become tiresome. For in spite of their vitality, they are fundamentally stupid creatures who couldn’t survive without the nobility to rule them. Perhaps now you’ll understand my wanting to have some fun every thousand years or so?” – Count Magnus Lee

Vampire Hunter D is one of the first “not for kids” anime films that I ever saw. My friend Carlos had it and showed it to me when I was in high school. I pretty much fell in love with it, dubbed a copy and watched it a dozen times or more over the next few years. However, I haven’t had a working VCR in at least fifteen years, so I’ve wanted to revisit it for quite some time.

Seeing this, in HD for the first time, I was pretty blown away. Man, the animation really holds up and I forgot how atmospheric this movie was from the visuals, the sound, the music and the talent of the English language dub cast.

I also forgot how many monsters and characters were in this and all of them are pretty cool and interesting in their own way. While there are small sequences in the film that kind of get in the way of the overall flow, they all still features cool creatures and villains for the hero to fight.

Other than the title character, D, I really like the primary villain, Count Magnus Lee, who was a very large, elegant looking vampire. The character was named and somewhat modeled after Christopher Lee, specifically his version of Dracula. The Count was just a damn cool, intimidating villain that you kind of like despite him simply killing and doing evil things out of boredom.

This is just a cool fucking anime film. It really takes you to a cool, unusual world and let’s be honest, here, this obviously was a major influence on the Castlevania video games, as far as aesthetics and designs go.

While there was a second Vampire Hunter D film, as well as a series, years later, this is something that deserves to be a bigger franchise than it is.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Also known as: Kaze no tani no Naushika (original Japanese title)
Release Date: March 11th, 1984 (Japan)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Based on: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cast: Japanese Language: Sumi Shimamoto, Gorō Naya, Yōji Matsuda, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Iemasa Kayumi; English Language: Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman, Chris Sarandon, Edward James Olmos, Frank Welker, Mark Hamill, Tony Jay

Nibariki, Tokuma Shoten, Hakuhodo, Studio Ghibli (unofficially), 117 Minutes

Review:

“Every one of us relies on water from the wells, because mankind has polluted all the lakes and rivers. but do you know why the well water is pure? It’s because the trees of the wastelands purify it! And you plan to burn the trees down? You must not burn down the toxic jungle! You should have left the giant warrior beneath the earth!… Asbel, tell them how the jungle evolved and how the insects are gaurding it so we won’t pollute the earth again. Asbel please!” – Nausicaä

This wasn’t officially a Studio Ghibli film, as that studio didn’t exist yet, but many consider it to be the first and it helped pave the way for that studio’s creation and it becoming the standard barer for what was possible with classic, hand-drawn, 2D animation.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is also the first Studio Ghibli-associated movie that I ever saw. When I fired this up, I didn’t think I had seen it but once certain scenes came on, it flooded back into my memory from childhood. But I’m not sure if I saw this in the theater in the ’80s or if it was on VHS or premium cable. The version I saw would’ve had a different dubbing track than the version that exists now.

Anyway, I absolutely loved this movie from beginning to end. Sure, the story is a bit convoluted and I found some of the details hard to follow, although I am getting older and I partake in edibles in the evening on most nights. So I don’t want to pound too heavily on the plot. Also, some things may be lost in translation, which is common with anime and usually due to how well or poorly the translation and dubbing are.

I felt like the dubbing was pretty damn good, though, and I enjoyed the English voice cast quite a bit. I especially thought that Chris Sarandon’s work really stood out and provided some solid laughs at points, because of how pompous he made his character.

The thing that blew me away, which typically blows people away with Ghibli films, is the animation. It’s just beautiful and smooth and for 1984, I can’t think of any other non-Ghibli movies that looked better.

As I said, this helped pave the way for Studio Ghibli being born. Without this film, we may not have ever gotten all their other iconic work. While I can’t say that this is Hayao Miyazaki’s best feature film, it might very well be his most important.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

Release Date: September 29th, 2003 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: RZA
Cast: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, Michael Bowen, Jun Kunimura, Kenji Ohba, James Parks, The 5.6.7.8’s

Super Cool ManChu, A Band Apart, Miramax, 111 Minutes

Review:

“Do you find me sadistic? You know, I bet I could fry an egg on your head right now, if I wanted to. You know, Kiddo, I’d like to believe that you’re aware enough even now to know that there’s nothing sadistic in my actions. Well, maybe towards those other… jokers, but not you. No Kiddo, at this moment, this is me at my most… [cocks pistol] masochistic.” – Bill

The Kill Bill films are my favorite movies from Quentin Tarantino, which makes me happy that there are two of them. I felt that reviewing them was long overdue, so I had myself a little marathon with these two movies and some of the classic Pai Mei flicks I’ve already reviewed on this site.

The two films work really well together even though the first one plays more like a martial arts/Yakuza flick while the second is more akin to a spaghetti western. I think this is probably why they were split into two parts, as opposed to giving us one big epic film. Granted, I’m still waiting for the combined version that Tarantino promised years ago. Hell, I think it’s also about time for the third film, which he also promised years ago.

Anyway, this is a review of the first movie, so let me get to it.

The film is just great from top-to-bottom from the opening scene to the big, action-packed, blood-soaked finale.

My only reservations with it, seeing it for the first time in quite a damn while, is that some of the dialogue came out fairly cringe. The scene with Uma Thurman and Vivica Fox exchanging pleasantries seemed a lot less cool and a lot more forced and unnatural for me. It never really bothered me before but it set them film up poorly and because of that, I thought I was going to be disappointed and discover that this just wasn’t as good as I thought it was when I was a lot younger.

I’m glad to say that even though there is more dialogue cringe, it doesn’t really wreck the film or its dramatic effect. Quentin Tarantino is always getting props for the dialogue in his movies but I’ve never been as big of a mark for it. It’s almost always compelling but it tends to be an example of something that sounds great on paper but doesn’t work as well onscreen. And honestly, I think that’s what happened in some of these scenes and I don’t blame the actresses for it.

That gripe aside, everything else is pretty much perfect and the film moves at an incredibly brisk pace, leading to the big showdown with one woman against an army of Yakuza’s wielding samurai swords.

While Tarantino’s films always look fantastic and cinematically impressive, this one really takes the cake for me. Especially, during that final fight, as the film goes from color, to black and white, to just silhouette. The changes work really damn well and the visual tone helps to set the narrative tone, as it shifts during the battle. It also helps break it out into segments, keeping it fresh, as it does run on for a really long time.

Also, I love how after the fight, it switches back to regular color, where it reveals a giant hall full of downed Yakuza, blood absolutely everywhere and limbs just randomly dropped throughout the set. This whole sequence gives you pure, ultraviolence but you don’t actually see the sum of all its (body)parts until that final moment and its kind of breathtaking.

Additionally, the one-on-one final fight between The Bride and O-Ren Ishii is a beautiful, artful and calculated confrontation that works in contrast to the massive fight before it while also being a stunning exclamation point on the film.

The movie is also full of stupendous dramatic scenes and places where the dialogue is so damn good that it sort of washes away the cringe from earlier in the film. The scenes between The Bride and Sonny Chiba’s Hattori Hanzō are fucking beautiful, sweet and intense.

The closing moments of the movie, where The Bride explains her plan to Sofie is ominous as hell and spectacularly effective, as is the big reveal and twist, delivered by Bill, as the final line of the movie.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is pretty close to being Tarantino’s greatest masterpiece. But then, it is slightly edged out by its sequel, which I will review in about a week.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Kill Bill films, as well as other movies by Quentin Tarantino, as well as the many films this homages.

TV Review: Galaxy Express 999 (1978–1981)

Original Run: September 14th, 1978 – March 26th, 1981
Created by: Leiji Matsumoto
Directed by: Nobutaka Nishizawa
Written by: Hiroyasu Yamaura, Keisuke Fujikawa, Yoshiaki Yoshida
Based on: Galaxy Express 999 by Leiji Matsumoto
Music by: Nozomi Aoki
Cast: Masako Nozawa, Masako Ikeda, Kaneta Kimotsuki

Toei Animation, Fuji TV, 113 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Out of Leiji Matsumoto’s big three series, this is my least favorite. One of them has to be the odd one out, I guess, but it never appealed to me in the same way as the Captain Harlock stuff or Star Blazers a.k.a. Space Battleship Yamato.

This is a much smaller story and even though it has some action and adventure, it isn’t on the same epic scale as the other two franchises. But they all do exist in the same universe and crossover and because of that, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for this series, as well.

I also hadn’t seen anything Galaxy Express 999 related in decades, so it was kind of cool revisiting it. A lot of Matsumoto’s stuff is actually free to watch on Tubi for those interested.

Overall, I’d say that I actually like this even less now. I’d check it out when I had access to it in my younger days because it was pretty imaginative and was full of a lot of cool visuals and ideas.

However, the animation doesn’t hold up very well. I guess it’s fine for the time but it just doesn’t feel like it is in the same ballpark as Star Blazers or Harlock. I recently revisited both of those series too and I didn’t seem to really notice any glaring problems with the animation like I do with this. Mostly, it just feels kind of choppy and not as fluid.

The story is interesting enough but I was only able to watch about a dozen episodes and couldn’t commit to the entire run, which I did with the other series. Still, I will probably review the film versions that came out in the same era and see how I feel about those.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Galaxy Express 999 films and shows, as well as Leiji Matsumoto’s other work: Captain Harlock and Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a. Star Blazers.