Film Review: Ocean Waves (1993)

Also known as: Umi ga kikoeru (original Japanese title)
Release Date: May 5th, 1993 (Japan – television)
Directed by: Tomomi Mochizuki
Written by: Kaori Nakamura
Music by: Shigeru Nagata
Cast: Nobuo Tobita, Toshihiko Seki, Yoko Sakamoto

Tokuma Shoten, Nippon Television Network, Studio Ghibli, 76 Minutes

Review:

This Studio Ghibli film reminded me a lot of Only Yesterday, which I stated in that review, was my least favorite Ghibli movie I had seen up to that point. I did like this one a hair bit better but it was also shorter and a bit better paced because of that.

This is a coming of age story about two male friends and how, as they get older, they find themselves in a love triangle.

Overall, it’s not really my cup of tea and even though I’m generally okay with slice of life stuff, this one doesn’t connect as well as Ghibli’s other pictures on an emotional level.

This is sort of dry but that doesn’t mean it’s bad and I can see the reasons why a lot of people actually like this one.

The characters are likable and their lives are fleshed out well, developing them into real characters with some depth.

I thought that the animation was good but it’s also less stylized than typical Ghibli pictures. That could also be because this was originally developed for television.

Overall, this was decent but it’s far from the Studio Ghibli movies that I hold in really high regard. Also, unlike those, I don’t know if I’d ever want to watch this one again.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Berserk – The Golden Age Arc Trilogy (2012-2013)

Release Date: Part I: ….ber ..th, 2012; Part II: ….ber ..th, 2012; Part III: ….ber ..th, 2013
Directed by: Toshiyuki Kubooka
Written by: Ichiro Okouchi
Based on: Berserk by Kentaro Miura
Music by: Shiro Sagisu, Susumu Hirasawa
Cast: Hiroaki Iwanaga, Takahiro Sakurai, Toa Yukinari, Marc Diraison, Kevin T. Collins, Carrie Keranen

Studio 4°C, Madman Entertainment, Viz Media, Kazé UK, Lucent Pictures, 76 Minutes (Part I), 91 Minutes (Part II), 107 Minutes (Part III)

Review:

“Heed my words, Struggler. Soon a rain of blood, the likes of which you cannot imagine, shall fall down upon you. It will be a storm of death. But take heed, Struggler. Struggle, endure, contend. For that alone is the sword of one who defies death. Do not forget these words.” – Skull Knight

Since I watched the anime television series that served as a sequel to this first, I had a very different perspective going into this trilogy of anime films.

Being that I knew where these characters would end up, actually made me a lot more interested in how they got there, which is a place very far from where they start at the beginning of the first movie in this trilogy.

I also now have all the context regarding the three main characters in these films and it’s made me want to go back and watch the anime series again, as I think it’ll have even more of an impact.

I guess whatever order you watch these in is up to you and you probably should watch the animated Berserk material in order. If you’d prefer to do it that way, you should start with the original animated series from the late ’90s, which I actually haven’t seen yet. But I’m going to watch it in the next week or two, coming off of the high of this.

As far as these three films go, they’re pretty fucking exceptional.

The story and the relationships of the three main characters is what made this so great. A lot happens in these three films and by the end of them, you’re left exhausted and emotionally overloaded. And to be honest, I didn’t expect this to end with such an emotional punch to the gut.

It’s fucked up, tragic and you find yourself pretty fucking angry over what a particular character ends up doing to those you assumed he loved. Especially, after everything they went through together over a pretty long passage of time.

The animation is also pretty damn stellar. Overall, this looks better than the show that followed it.

As these three films rolled on, I wasn’t sure how all of this would pan out and whether or not there’d be a grand, worthwhile payoff. This exceeded any expectations I could have had for it and from my perspective, I’d call the entire body of work a masterpiece.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Mobile Suit Gundam – The Original Trilogy (1981-1982)

Release Date: Part I: March 14th, 1981; Part II: July 11th, 1981; Part III: March 13th, 1982
Directed by: Yoshiyuki Tomino
Written by: Yoshiyuki Tomino
Based on: Mobile Suit Gundam by Yoshiyuki Tomino
Music by: Joe Hisaishi, Takeo Watanabe, Yushi Matsuyama
Cast: Toru Furuya, Hirotaka Suzuoki, Toshio Furukawa, Kiyonobu Suzuki

Sotsu Agency, Sunrise, Kodansha, Nagoya Broadcasting Network, 139 Minutes (Part I), 133 Minutes (Part II), 144 Minutes (Part III)

Review:

“A mobile suit’s abilities don’t decide a battle’s outcome. I’ll teach you that!” – Char Aznable

Yes, I have watched anime my entire life. Yes, I have loved Robotech and other mecha-centric anime since I was about six years-old. No, I have never watched anything from the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise until now.

While I know that’s basically a crime in nerdom, it’s not that I didn’t want to watch Gundam, it’s just that there is so much of it that I found it overwhelming and didn’t know where to even start. But luckily, one of my hardcore Gundam homies said he’d walk me through it. Also, since a literal fuck ton of Gundam is now on Netflix, I figured there was no better time than the present to finally jump into this massive I.P.

So I started with the original theatrical trilogy of Gundam movies, which aren’t technically the first things released. Well, I guess they sort of are but let me explain.

The film trilogy was created using footage from the original anime series. Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino wanted to streamline it down, omit some of the stuff that didn’t matter as much and then re-edit everything into a three-part epic, telling the main story with the most important parts.

I think that Tomino succeeded, even though I can’t compare it to the original series, as I haven’t seen that yet. But I don’t know if I would consider the television series and all 43 episodes to be a masterpiece and pretty damn close to perfection. I consider this trilogy of films to be exactly that, though.

The lore to this series is so well defined and the introduction to the movies fill you in on it pretty quickly. Beyond the general framework and concept, though, the story and characters all evolve in really unique ways.

While war is the thing that hangs over everyone’s head, this greatly explores the characters’ places within that, as well as their relationships with one another. In many instances, this stuff gets pretty deep and it reminds me of the character development and exploration of relationships in Robotech but this surprisingly does it better and the pain of the characters cuts deeper. It’s a hard thing to quantify or explain, really, but you find yourself caring about these people, even the ones you wouldn’t expect at all, on a pretty profound level for an animated series/movie.

The relationships and the challenges that come with them is actually the main thing that makes me want to watch all of the 43 episodes that were whittled down into these three pictures.

As far as the fun stuff goes, which is the general action, the mecha suits and the big battles, this does all that exceptionally well. This has fast-paced, exciting action and it’s different than the other sci-fi anime properties before it. It just shifts into high gear in a way that anime hadn’t before this.

If you’re like I was, and love this sort of stuff but haven’t seen this yet, you really need to.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Porco Rosso (1992)

Also known as: Kurenai no buta (original Japanese title), The Crimson Pig (literal English title)
Release Date: July 18th, 1992 (Japan)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Based on: Hikotei Jidai by Hayao Miyazaki
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cast: Japanese Language: Shuichiro Moriyama, Akio Otsuka, Akemi Okamura, Tokiko Kato, Sanshi Katsura; English Language: Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Susan Egan, Brad Garrett, Bill Fagerbakke, Frank Welker

Japan Airlines, Nibariki, Nippon Television Network, Studio Ghibli, 94 Minutes

Review:

“I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.” – Porco Rosso

I’ve gotta say, I went into this with no real expectations but it kind of blew me away and impressed me a great deal.

The humor in this is fantastic and up to the point of this film’s release, this may be Studio Ghibli’s best use of comedy. It helped set the film’s playful tone from the get go.

The story is about an ace pilot during the World War I era. He’s Italian and work as a bounty hunter around the Adriatic Sea. He’s also been cursed with the head of a pig, even though he’s a pretty normal human being.

Over the course of the film, he develops a rivalry with an American ace and loses a contest against him. He then is convinced by a young girl that she can design and build a better plane for him, even though he doesn’t initially like the idea. Over the course of the story, they develop an incredible bond and Porco Rosso sets his sights on redeeming himself against the American ace.

While this is more of a comedy than a drama, it has very strong dramatic moments and I think it’s those parts that make this pretty great.

I watched the English dubbed version and I thoroughly enjoyed the voice acting. I especially liked Michael Keaton and Cary Elwes as the voices of the two rival aces, which made their banter pretty entertaining.

As far as the animation goes, this is exactly what you should expect from a Hayao Miyazaki picture. I also think this has a lot more energy than many of his films, as it features so much aerial action.

While I doubt that I’ll ever discover a bad Studio Ghibli film, this wasn’t one that I expected to be really impressed by. In the end, it did just that and I think this may be one of my favorites of the bunch. But I still have many to get through, that I haven’t seen.

Rating: 8/10

TV Review: Berserk (2016-2017)

Original Run: July 1st, 2016 – June 23rd, 2017
Directed by: Shin Itagaki
Written by: Makoto Fukami
Based on: Berserk by Kintaro Miura
Music by: Shiro Sagisu

Liden Films, GEMBA, Millepensee, Universal, Sony, Wowow, MBS, TBS, CBC, 26 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

So I’ve heard people rave about the manga Berserk for years. I’ve wanted to read it for awhile now but there’s like 40 volumes and it’s going to be a real undertaking. However, I figured that I’d check out the anime, as it’s streaming on HBO Max.

I found out, after being a half dozen episodes deep, that this actually takes place after a trilogy of anime films and an earlier anime series from the ’90s. So I guess I started at the end but even then, I found this pretty easy to get into and never felt like there was a lot of context or knowledge missing.

For the most part, I dug the hell out of this, especially the first of the two seasons. I guess some people found the animation style to be off-putting but I actually liked it.

I’m also not a big fan of the mixture of CGI with traditional hand-drawn animation but for whatever reason, I liked how they blended together, here. I think that has to do with the style of shading in the art, which looks like thin-lined pencil shading.

I think most of all, I really liked the character designs. Everyone was distinct and pretty damn cool in their own unique way.

I also found the stories to be pretty solid and interesting. However, it really just left me wanting more, so I’ll probably try and check out the previous anime releases and then start reading the original manga, at some point.

All in all, this was dark, twisted, really fun and pretty damn entertaining.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Only Yesterday (1991)

Also known as: Omoide poro poro (original Japanese title), Memories of Teardrops, Memories of Yesterday (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 20th, 1991 (Japan)
Directed by: Isao Takahata
Written by: Isao Takahata
Based on: Omoide Poro Poro by Hotaru Okamoto, Yuko Tone
Music by: Katz Hoshi
Cast: Japanese Language: Yoko Honna, Miki Imai, Toshiro Yanagiba; English Language: Daisy Ridley, Alison Fernandez, Dev Patel, Grey DeLisle, Tara Strong

Nippon Television Network, Studiopolis, Studio Ghibli, 118 Minutes

Review:

“Rainy days, cloudy days, sunny days… which do you like?” – Hirota, “…cloudy days.” – Taeko, “Oh, then we’re alike.” – Hirota

I would have to consider this my least favorite Studio Ghibli film, up to this point in their history.

Honestly, it just didn’t connect with me in the ways that their other movies have. It’s just okay and pretty dry. It moves at a snail’s pace.

The story is about an unmarried woman being fixated on memories of her childhood. She does what we all do, looks back, overanalyzes the moments that shaped her, and questions where she is in life now.

I watched the English dubbed version, as the most modern English dubs of  Studio Ghibli films are typically top notch. However, I found Daisy Ridley’s performance to be really underwhelming, compared to the performances by voice leads in other films.

It sounded as if Ridley was just reading lines and putting just a bit of inflection in her voice. She felt like a teacher reading a book out loud to a classroom of elementary school kids.

I know that this movie has its audience and that many people love it. I’m just not one of them.

Still, it’s visually and technically sound as far as the animation and production goes.

Rating: 6/10

TV Review: Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999)

Original Run: April 3rd, 1998 – April 24th, 1999
Created by: Hajime Yatate
Directed by: Shinichiro Watanabe
Written by: Keiko Nobumoto
Music by: Yoko Kanno
Cast: Koichi Yamadera, Unsho Ishizuka, Megumi Hayashibara

Sunrise, TXN, Wowow, 26 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Decades upon decades of hype and Cowboy Bebop just didn’t live up to it for me. But this is what happens when people, for years and years, claim that something is the “best ever”.

In those situations, I think that a lot of people who hear that, repeat it, as they don’t want to be the asshole that disagrees with everyone else. It’s just this effect that happens with things that are grossly overhyped by a passionate few who are able to push something beyond cult status.

Now that’s not to say that Cowboy Bebop isn’t enjoyable, it certainly is. I also wasn’t quite ready for it to be over when it was.

I like that it’s unique, features an incredibly jazzy score and finds itself wrapped up in several genres not really committing to any of them fully. It’s a mix of noir, western, cyberpunk and space opera. But it also features real human drama, comedy and often times plays like a crime thriller.

Essentially, I like it for all the reasons that other people do. I just don’t think it’s the greatest anime I’ve ever seen and just because it was unique and fresh when it came out in 1998, doesn’t mean that its some sort of masterpiece.

The show has some weak, forgettable episodes, some of the characters begin to grate on you like the shrill little kid with the barky dog.

However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not game to check out the animated film that came after or any potential sequel or animated reboot.

In the end, this is still high tier anime and much better than the norm. I’d even call it a classic. However, I can’t look at it as the greatest thing that ever existed in anime. It simply isn’t. But that’s also subjective and doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Also known as: Majo no takkyûbin (original Japanese title, lit. Witch’s Special Express Delivery) 
Release Date: July 29th, 1989 (Japan)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Based on: Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cast: Japanese Language: Minami Takayama, Rei Sakuma, Keiko Toda, Kappei Yamaguchi, Koichi Yamadera; English Language: Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Tress MacNeille, Janeane Garofalo, Matthew Lawrence, Debbie Reynolds, Edie McClurg, Pamela Segall, Lewis Arquette

Kiki’s Delivery Service Production Committee, Nibariki, Nippon Television Network, Studio Ghibli, Toei, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Without even thinking about it, I used to be able to fly. Now I’m trying to look inside myself and find out how I did it.” – Kiki

Kiki’s Delivery Service is a pretty cute movie. Well, not as cute as My Neighbor Totoro but that film is on a different level of cuteness.

Here, we meet a teenage witch that goes off into the world to train as a witch but also has to survive and thus, gets a delivery job for a baker that also lets her live upstairs.

Ultimately, this is a sweet coming of age story where the character is full of doubt and lacks confidence but has to find those things within herself and does.

If you don’t love the character of Kiki, you’re probably not a human being. Also, her cat Jiji is the perfect feline sidekick. I loved the hell out of him, especially in the English language dub where he’s voiced by Phil Hartman, sadly in one of his last roles.

The American voice cast in this is great all around, though. While I typically watch anime with subtitles because of their history of shitty dubs, the second generation English dubbings of the Studio Ghibli films are top notch and it’s this one that really solidified it for me.

Overall, this is a great feel good movie that should appeal to all ages but especially kids closing in on their teenage years.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf (2021)

Release Date: August 23rd, 2021
Directed by: Kwang Il Han
Written by: Beau DeMayo
Based on: The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski
Music by: Brian D’Oliveira
Cast: Theo James, Lara Pulver, Graham McTavish, Mary McDonnell

Platige Image, Hivemind, Studio Mir, Netflix, 83 Minutes

Review:

“This is the last time I allow any of you to ever hesitate.” – Vesemir

I assumed that after The Witcher show on Netflix did exceptionally well, that they’d milk it for everything it’s worth. While that’s not initially a bad thing, it probably won’t take long for them to water down the IP and make it just another franchise fans get fatigued on.

So the first next Witcher thing is this anime film, which I guess is the first of a series. If they want to keep my interest, they’ll have to do better than this, though.

That’s not to say it was bad, it was just okay. Honestly, it felt like a fairly half-assed effort and even though it focuses on the backstory for Vesemir, Geralt’s father figure, I don’t feel like it really gave anything meaningful to the mythos. Honestly, this felt more like fan fiction and nothing like what Witcher creator Andrzej Sapkowski would have intended.

Granted, the Netflix show takes tremendous liberties and this is just an expansion of that version of the property.

I thought that the character designs were okay but the animation didn’t blow me away. This, like a long line of modern anime by Netflix, is bogged down by a weird mixture of what appears to be traditional animation and CGI. To me, the two never blend together that well and it’s an issue I had with those shitty Netflix Godzilla animes and their original flagship anime series, Knights of Sidonia.

After seeing this, I’m not too enthused about future anime features based on The Witcher. I guess it just depends on what the premise of those future released will be.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Also known as: Tonari no Totoro (original Japanese title)
Release Date: April 16th, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cast: Japanese Language: Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto, Shigesato Itoi; English Language: Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Frank Welker

Tokuma Japan Communications, Nibariki, Studio Ghibli, Toho, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Trees and people used to be good friends. I saw that tree and decided to buy the house. Hope Mom likes it too. Okay, let’s pay our respects then get home for lunch.” – Tatsuo Kusakabe

Considering that this was released with Grave of the Fireflies, I don’t know how Japanese families got through both movies, as the feels are so damn strong in both of them. However, I hope that this one was shown second, as it’s the one that leaves you on a positive note.

This is one of the cutest movies ever made and I think it’s damn near impossible not to love, unless you’re a heartless heathen that hates everything wholesome and sweet in the world.

The story follows two very young sisters as they move into a new house with their father in the Japanese country. Their mother is sick in the hospital, so throughout the film, they visit her when they can but as the story rolls on, you learn that her condition has worsened.

All the while, supernatural things are happening in and around their home. The girls eventually meet a spirit named Totoro. As legend would have it, he only appears to those who are near death. The girls can see him because of their mother’s condition.

The girls have a few cool adventures in this and the spirit world opens to them more and more. However, even if it feels like the writing is on the wall regarding their mother’s mortality, this does have a wonderfully positive ending that I wasn’t expecting, especially after seeing Grave of the Fireflies before this movie.

Up to the point of this film’s release, this was Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus and for great reason. It’s his most endearing and human story out of his earliest pictures. This is also the first that I feel became truly iconic outside of Japan. In fact, Totoro went on to be Studio Ghibli’s mascot.

Rating: 9.5/10