The Place Promised in Our Early Days / Voices of a Distant Star Twin Pack Review

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Makoto Shinkai is currently known as the director of 2016’s biggest Japanese animated film, Your Name. But many years prior he was a beloved director of shorter, more unconventional pieces, originally starting out as a one-man production powerhouse – doing everything from the storyboards and animation to even voice acting – with only a few movies to his name. Back in 2013 Anime Limited announced they had licensed his earliest work, Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, as a Blu-ray and DVD combo, however it was subjected to numerous delays. It probably wasn’t planned at first, but its eventual release conveniently falls just after Your Name comes to UK cinemas, ready to satisfy newly-made Makoto Shinkai fans eager to see where his anime filmmaking skills started. This is the first time that both of these films are available in the UK in Blu-ray format.

Voices of a Distant Star is his earliest commercially available work; an OVA written, directed and produced by Makoto Shinkai telling the story of two teenagers whose relationship is torn apart when school girl Mikako is recruited into the UN Space Army to pilot a mecha against an alien race called the Tarsians, whereas Noboru stays on Earth and continues his education. The pair attempt to keep in contact via cell phones, with Mikako sending her friend texts from the battlefield, but as she travels deeper into space, the time it takes for her messages to reach him become impossibly further away.

The OVA is 25 minutes long so does not go into great detail about when the war come about, how Mikako learnt to pilot the mecha or why the aliens are as they are, but in this instance it does not matter. The OVA focuses on the main characters’ relationship with the themes of long distance communication and the loneliness it creates. Like the war backdrop, we do not see the full journey of Mikako and Noboru’s relationship but their simple interactions and emotions resonate clearly. The pair have a few intimate moments and clearly defined character motivations so it’s heart breaking to see the pair yearn for each other from a vast distance. Even if you haven’t experienced a long distance relationship you can empathise with Mikako as she chokes up realising that her simple message will take years to reach Noboru. It’s also refreshing to have a female as the mecha pilot fighting in the war and the male waiting for her to come home whilst staring at his phone, praying for it to ring – it proves that such emotions are universal, regardless of gender.

A premise such as that of Voices of a Distant Star could have easily drifted into Evangelion territory with a traumatised pilot, or even contained She the Ultimate Weapon melodramatic vibes but it avoids them both beautifully. Mostly because of the restricted running time but also at the end of the day, although they miss each other, they have to keep going. Mikako doesn’t stop fighting in the war because of her lost love, nor does Noboru grow old without moving on with his life; it’s a tragic but relatable tale.

Originally released back in 2002; visually it hasn’t aged well, and not because it’s in 4:3. The backgrounds are gorgeous, especially when we’re shot into space with Mikako, and the planet designs are unique too, but the characters themselves, especially in the facial department, are uneven and bland. The 3D is especially bad in places with the mecha units themselves most guilty of it. Harsh criticism considering Makoto Shinkai did it all by himself, but I will say that the little action we do see is choreographed well, and there are far worse looking anime out there with longer time frames and bigger budgets.

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The second movie of the combo pack, which is more prominent on the packaging, is The Place Promised In Our Early Days, which takes place in an alternative timeline where Japan has been divided after the second world war, with Hokkaido taken by ‘the Union’ to conduct experiments inside a mysterious tower built so high into the sky that it captures the interest of three teenagers: two boys Hiroki and Takuya, and a girl named Sayuri. The two boys are planning on building a plane and flying to the tower themselves to see what’s beyond it, but their plans are halted for three years when Sayuri suddenly disappears. Where she went holds the key to what’s going on in the mysterious tower.

This is Makoto’s first feature-length film that actually has many elements from Voices of a Distant Star all the way to his latest work Your Name, and its fascinating to see how his ideas have developed over time and been refined in latter works. Place Promised is clearly his very first attempt at a feature-length however as there are a lot of pacing issues and ideas that feel like separate mini-films tacked on into one. The opening act focuses on the relationship between the three teenagers; first the two boys who have been friends for ages, then the girl tagging along for the summer of 1996 where their relationship blossoms. Understandably it’s important to develop the relationship considering how central it is to the plot, however this act does drag and it doesn’t help that the characters themselves are all quite similar in looks (all sporting young faces and the same shade of brown hair) and more importantly, similar in personalities – idealistic, hardworking and rather bland overall. There are no big emotional outbursts or variety in character traits to help divide the group up; it’s easy to confuse the boys especially with each having their own intimate scene with Sayuri in the past. Even in the latter scenes when the stakes are higher, the three characters fail to really express much emotionally to drum their turmoil and character into the audience’s hearts.

Like Voices of a Distant Star, Place Promised has a rich history and an impending war threatening the relationship between the three characters that the film either glosses over, rushes out via technobabble, or leaves for the audience to look it up with Google. However, in Place Promised the lack of information actually hurts the film, especially in the second half when it starts to take over the main conflict of the film and directly affects the three teenagers. You could get away with this if the backdrop and main science fiction elements were simplified but sadly this film takes place in an alternative timeline, where parts of Japan have been split and owned by different parts of the world that’s not explained in the film itself, then there’s a terrorism conspiracy plot going on in the back ground and the scientists in the tower have their own plan of exploring the concept of parallel worlds. The parallel worlds idea is a fascinating one which is hinted in the easy-breezy opening act mostly via Sayuri, but doesn’t feel fully realised within Place Promised itself; they hint at multiple different ‘dreams’ existing at one time, and yet we’re restricted to just the two we’re shown in film. It feels like a wasted opportunity. Elements of people existing and being connected in different realities is thankfully explored again in Makoto’s Your Name, with far better results, but in Place Promised a lot of the film ends up being either a drag or half baked.

The animation for Place Promised shares Voices of a Distant Star’s stunning backgrounds but thankfully steps up the animation budget; everything is visually more fluid and brighter in colour, and despite the characters all suffering from very similar faces and hair colours/styles, they’re better drawn and animated compared to his previous short.

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Although it’s not advertised in the Blu-ray’s packaging there’s actually another Makoto Shinkai short in here; She and Her Cat, a five-minute short that he developed completely by himself aside from the score and the female voiceovers. Originally released back in 1999 it tells the simple story of a year in the life of a male cat and the relationship with his female owner. It’s a simple yet sweet tale and really worth a watch; even in five minutes you can see how much work Makoto put into it and his writing talent shines through. I wish, however, that there was an English dub for it; some of the subtitles go by fast but pausing breaks the poetic nature of the piece.

The short can be found in the extras menu; alongside alternative Japanese audio for Voices of a Distant Star with Makoto voicing the main male character, plus storyboards and a trailer collection. For Place Promised there’s a trailer collection alongside interviews with the Japanese cast of the three main protagonists. There are also two interviews with Makoto talking about the production of the films separately.

The Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days Blu-ray combo is an important collection whether you’re a long-term fan or new to Makoto Shinkai’s work. It’s fascinating to see how Makoto’s vision, unfiltered by bigger budgets and studios, unfolds on screen, and know that all the hard work he put into them brought him into the limelight we see him in now. The films are not perfect by any means but they are clearly the result of one man’s hard work and joy for the medium regardless of the obstacles he had to overcome to create them. This a collection to pick up if you’re a film buff, Makoto fan, have a curiosity for anime production or all of the above.

Title: The Place Promised in Our Early Days / Voices of a Distant Star
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Sci-fi, Mecha, Drama,
Studio: CoMix Wave Studios
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2002
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 116 minutes

Score: 7/10

Review: Harmony

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In the future, after a nuclear war and disease have destroyed most of the world; Japan has adopted a new modern way of living called ‘lifeism’. The aim is to preserve life at all costs via implants and software that takes control of people’s bodies, from their diets to exercise to medication. On the surface, it looks like a peaceful utopia, however underneath it all three teenage girls, Tuan, Miach and Cian, plan to commit suicide to rebel against the life that is forced upon them. Miach is the only one who dies, with Tuan continuing to live life jaded with it all and growing up to work for the very company she once strived to rebel against. It’s now many years later after her suicide attempt and the cracks of the perfect new world are starting to show, with it all somehow being centred on her former friend and their shared idealism.

The world within Harmony is fascinating yet startling; imagine living in a world free of diseases such as cancer and the common cold with extremely long life spans, but in exchange you’re taking pills given to you by a machine and your eyes are constantly seeing messages ranging from general health updates (low blood sugar for example) to warning you of the potential dangers of not washing your hands properly or climbing ladders incorrectly. You see the folks in the world of Harmony constantly glass-eyed and happy with everything around them yet they’re ultimately hollow and not really ‘living’, the fact that a bottle of merlot is considered contraband and everyone appears to be the exact same weight show a world free of both the highs and lows of living life. Then there’s the subject of words and books, things we physically leave behind. In this new world it’s all digital, so if you die will there be anything of you left for others to see or physically hold? Many would consider that world not truly living at all, and it’s these themes that Harmony seeks to explore via our heroine, stuck between a world she once wanted and a world in which she is forced to walk.

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Unfortunately, good ideas and interesting themes aren’t worth filtering through if the writing isn’t decent. Tuan monologues a lot throughout the film, especially in the first half an hour where the film slogs through setting up the three girls’ relationship, their suicide pack and why they felt the need to do so against the backdrop of their world. The script constantly repeats itself; so be prepared to hear ‘killing us with kindness’ several times across the movie and ‘the friend who once wanted to die with me’ is how Tuan describes her still-living friend twice within the same scene like we’ve forgotten mere seconds later. It doesn’t help that Tuan speaks in a way that’s incredibly patronizing and pretentious. She’s easy on the eyes, and seems at first to be a go-getter action girl, but this then falls apart with the actual plot. The ‘mystery’ of the movie and the whole finale it builds up to feels incredibly shallow, very slow in getting there and once it does, it’s predictable; you’ll figure out who the mastermind is before it’s said out loud. Tuan’s journey to uncover what happened and how it all adds up just becomes a running monotony of travelling from one person to another, from one exposition speech to the next, with little to no friction at all. The most interesting parts of the story such as the world building, the ‘master plan’ and the result of the villain’s threats either happen off screen or don’t affect the main character directly at all. We don’t even see how the final efforts of Tuan’s actions play out on screen, only a repeat of the opening shot.

It doesn’t help that there are only two action scenes in the entire movie; one opening up the film and another 40 minutes before the end, so the last one doesn’t even serve as a fulfilling climax. A movie doesn’t need to be full to the brim of action to be enjoyable, but you need to keep the audience engaged to make the dialogue-heavy meat of the film interesting, which sadly Harmony fails to do more often than not. There are a few striking scenes, such as the abrupt end to Tuan and Cian’s lunch and Tuan watching tapes of the victim’s final moments when starting her investigation. But on the other end of the spectrum we have a scene where the ‘big bad’ is threatening the world via a distorted recording to do what they say unless the public wish to perish, and the whole scene is just the text ‘VOICE ONLY’ zoomed into incredibly slowly and then back to full screen again. The scene lasts only three minutes but feels far longer as it’s very boring, going completely against the terror we’re meant to feel whilst listening to the villain’s demands. To summarise, Harmony suffers from a bad case of ‘tell, don’t show’. Which wouldn’t be so awful if the writing was at least tolerable.

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The movie also has many odd scenes where it experiments with its animation budget with excessive use of 3D, mostly via the World Health Organization meetings (which look like a cross between the SEELE meetings from Evangelion and Organsation XIII from the Kingdom Hearts series) but also in odd 360-degree pans of scenery that is not that interesting to begin with to fill out exposition-heavy scenes. The animation doesn’t look as bad in the flat, 2D scenes such as the lovely location shots in the latter half of the movie but for the majority of the time we’re stuck with bland scenery and character designs we’ve seen in other bigger and better films.

The DVD only comes with trailers as its extras; the Blu-ray collector’s edition comes with special packaging, art cards and a booklet.

Harmony has interesting ideas but is ultimately a depressingly boring movie, both in terms of how the story and themes pan out and on a technical level. There are good ideas in there, mainly stemming from the book it’s based on (which you can purchase via amazon) but the film itself is a struggle to get through and find fulfilling. Avoid unless you’re a massive Project Itoh fan.

Title: Harmony
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Sci-fi
Studio: Studio 4°C
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 119 minutes

Score: 5/10

Your Name

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Mitsuha Miyamizu is a young girl living in the countryside, desperate to escape her mundane village life and experience the wonders of Tokyo. Her wildest dreams seem to come true when she suddenly wakes up in a Tokyo apartment inside a boy’s body – a boy who just happens to have the ideal busy life with school, friends, a love interest and waiter job. When she goes to school the next morning, she discovers from her friends’ reactions that it was not a dream at all, whilst she was off parading around Tokyo, a boy by the name of Taki Tachibana was inside her body back at her village, interacting with her friends and family. Shocked by the sudden turn of events with seemingly no way of stopping the random body-switching days, the pair establish a few ground rules to cope with the sudden change and as they begin to learn more about each other, a drastic event threatens to tear them apart forever.

Director and writer Makoto Shinkai has been hailed as the ‘new Miyazaki’ in many publications and reviews, especially of late since Your Name topped the Japanese box office just 28 days after release, becoming the highest grossing non-Studio Ghibli and non-series- related anime film to earn over 10 billion yen. With the Western world’s limited scope for comparison when it comes to Japanese animation directors and Makoto Shinkai being a Ghibli fan himself, it’s easy to put two and two together. But what has struck a chord with Japanese audiences in Your Name? And is the ‘new Miyakazki’ tag warranted? Mr Shinkai already has a variety of films under his belt, as well as novels and manga. From the fantasy- driven Journey to Agartha to the more down-to-earth stories such as Garden of Words, there’s no doubt that he’s a talented storyteller, with Your Name not only exhibiting many elements of his previous works but creating a whole new heart-warming tale in the process for a new generation of anime fans.

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At the core of this tale is the tried and tested ‘body switching’ trope which is a common device in fiction from literature to TV to films, the latter’s most famous example being Freaky Friday, where a mother and daughter swap bodies for a certain amount of time. It’s often played for comedic effect with the actors involved hamming up their physical and/or voice performance to convince the audience of the change, and by the end of the experience it’s the age-old lesson of ‘walking a mile in each other’s shoes’ to understand each other better. Your Name is ripe for such hilarious comedy as it’s a boy and girl swapping bodies but Makoto Shinkai avoids a lot of the trappings and recycled morals, instead creating something new and innovative. That’s not to say it avoids comical beats entirely, both protagonists are incredibly curious about their ‘new’ anatomy when they wake up in the opposite sex’s body, and whilst there is a recurring gag of Taki being very aware of his new cleavage, he doesn’t perve over it as other anime have done before. The comedy comes from a more natural and relatable place; for example, when Mitsuha is in the male body she’s completely comfortable talking with the older female Miki and oblivious to the change in dynamic between the pair, whilst Taki has to deal with the sudden new attention he’s getting from her and the brunt of the jealous male co-workers as a result. Another shake-up of the trope is the time the pair exchange bodies; a lot of body swapping stories have the infected pair stay in their respective forms until they learn their lessons, whereas in Your Name it happens at random intervals. Not only does this prevent the body swaps from becoming boring but allows for the characters to experience the aftermath of the previous day (with entertaining results) and appreciate the time they have in their own skins. Then when they suddenly wake up elsewhere, picking up pieces of someone else’s life for better or for worse serves as a perfect catalyst for some very emotional and tension filled scenes in the second half. Also, because the first switch happens whilst they’re sleeping, they naturally think it’s a dream and act spontaneously, believing that there will be no consequences for their actions. When the sequential swaps occur, they change how they handle their situation and work together as they go along. It’s a very humane approach to an overdone plot device.

Most body swapping stories avoid officially explaining how the actual process works; Your Name is no exception, starting the film with the very first time it happens and failing to  explain it later on, even when more fantasy elements come into play during the story. But among the likes of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, the lack of scientific explanation does not detract from the enjoyment of the film; it’s an emotional journey that brings the audience into the concept and keeps them there, especially a third of the way in, when the first twist occurs. To avoid as few spoilers as possible: emotionally it hits you, as if a piano has been dropped on you, very suddenly and unexpectedly (considering the light-hearted lead-up) and in a lesser movie it would be unwarranted or too abrupt to carry forward, but this comes hand-in-hand with the change in focus of protagonist. The first third of the movie is mostly from Mitsuha’s point of view; a scenario born from a wish she makes on a whim as part of an expressive outburst, so as a result we see her having the time of her life in Tokyo and not thinking about the long term plans. Then it switches to Taki, who didn’t ask for the change and takes longer to accept his new weird situation. However, he’s more mature and it’s his desire to learn about the body he inhabits that brings the movie to a grounded space when he discovers more than he bargained for. The last third switches between the two and blends the two moods together, resulting in a rollercoaster ride of many emotionally charged highs and sudden stops for quiet moments that will pull on the audience’s heart strings for a glorious finale. The continuous up-and-down emotional spikes in the final act may have been stretched too far once or twice (the film runs to 107 minutes) but it’s to help wrap up the last elements of the story, rather than force another flood of tears from the audience. Building that heart-pulling connection however comes naturally, due to the protagonists; the two teens are very relatable in different ways because of her enthusiasm and his curiosity. They react naturally to an unnatural situation, and you want them to succeed in finding themselves and each other, as well as laugh along when the moment calls for it.

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Animation is provided by CoMix wave Studios, who have produced most of Makoto’s work so Your Name looks very similar to his previous films. Although visually it’s not as striking as Garden of Words, the animation for the lead characters is where it excels; the body switches are revealed through body language and facial expressions before a single word is spoken. From the small hand gestures to big reactions; it’s the little details here and there that really bring the whole premise and emotional core of the story together.

Japanese rock band Radwimps provide the score with mixed results; although the actual score is delightful that ranges from low key, to playful, to heart-breaking when the movie switches gears, the vocal tracks are more of a distraction than an addition to the experience. The songs themselves aren’t bad but feel shoehorned into the film, as if the band were promoting an album rather than the movie. This is especially true of the opening track which plays over a mini-trailer edited opening that’s more like a music video than part of the film.

Your Name is a delightful movie, gorgeously animated, that takes a wacky, unbelievable concept and shapes it into a genuinely thoughtful story, filled with relatable characters and emotional highs. It’s one not to be missed when it arrives in cinemas.

Your Name will be screened as part of BFI’s London Film Festival 14th – 16th October. In cinemas across the UK from November 24th.

Title: Your Name
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Coming of Age, Drama, Teen,
Studio: CoMix Wave Studios
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Cinema screening
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 107 minutes

Score: 9/10

The Empire of Corpses Review

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Project Ito may seem like a studio name but it’s actually a synonym for Satoshi Ito, a Japanese science fiction writer who produced four novels before his passing in 2009. Most of his books have been translated and released in the UK, including his novelisation of Metal Gear Solid 4. In early 2015 it was announced that his three original novels would be made into anime films, each with their own animation studio and directors to bring the stories to life. Two of these films so far have been licensed for UK release: Harmony and The Empire of Corpses – not only was the latter’s original book released posthumously but it has not yet been released in English (however, a small sample can be read here.) Luckily each film is its own entity so they do not need to be watched sequentially.

Set in the late 19th Century; the great Victor Frankenstein’s technology to raise the dead has become common knowledge. Although the ability to bring back one’s soul has been lost, along with the location of his first creation, the ability to reanimate corpses has become the backbone of society the world over; enabling easily-controlled corpses to do work such as waitressing, carrying cargo to boats, and even serving as soldiers in wars. Dr John Watson is a growing expert in this technology and he has been scouted by the British Empire as an agent to locate Victor’s original notes; however, he’s not the only one searching for such information and many other parties are willing to do whatever it takes to get their hands on it.

To make it clear: the main character is John Watson from the Sherlock Holmes books, and besides Victor Frankenstein, there are also cameos from real-life adventurers, presidents and inventors from the same period (for example Fredrick Burnaby). There are characters from classic French and Russian literature such as The Future Eve and The Brothers Karamazov, and a lot more British icons that I won’t spoil. Basically it’s a buffet of characters that join in the worldwide journey to recover Victor’s notes and stop a ‘zombie apocalypse’ (not really, but it’s a similar situation). That premise in itself is crazy enough to be a comic book, or wacky fanfiction, but half the fun is seeing the characters in a new environment outside their norm and having the audience figuring out who’s who – because unless you’ve read the relevant British, American, Russian and French material to know all of the name-drops, you’re only going to get a few. If you have read them all, good on you! You’re in for a treat.

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Outside of the iconic names however, most of the characters are very different to their original counterparts to the point that many would question why they are even named the same at all. Fredrick Burnaby and the Frankenstein mythos are the closest to their originals; the former maintaining his adventuring spirit and battle prowess, the latter drawing the most heavily from its work in terms of story and mythology. The others have little to nothing in common, but for the majority of the time whilst the movie flows from one stunning location to another, and action scenes keep the pace going, it really doesn’t matter because the characters are interesting in their own right regardless of what material (or country, in terms of the real life people) they come from. John Watson, for instance, is still a doctor but not the post-war Veteran kind, and he doesn’t show any physical health issues until close to the end of the film. However, he maintains his astute senses and curiosity about the unknown. It’s also a breath of air for the character that he’s able to shine alone; John Watson and Sherlock Holmes often come as a package deal for several obvious reasons, but it’s a great idea to let the character stand on his own, allowing him to take charge for once rather than just being in Sherlock’s shadow. We don’t need more Sherlock and Watson stories when we’ve got tons already, but we could do with more Watson tales; especially this one.

Adapting a text-heavy source to a visual medium often has lots of complications and issues, and these do not start to become apparent until the second half of the movie. The opening scenes are very engaging and set the tone fantastically, explaining the alternative history that has unfolded. The worldwide journey from England, to India, to Russia, to Tokyo to America not only gives the animators opportunity to really stretch their skills but also creates an epic feel to the whole movie. However, two thirds of the way into the film the characters start to play a cat and mouse game, merely chasing the villain to catch up with him before he does untold damage. That equates to jumping back and forth to locations we’ve already visited, a lot of action scenes with characters breaking into monologues over the top of them, hastily-paced character development and exposition to keep the movie going. It’s clear that there was so much material and world building going on in the original novel that there was simply no room to fit it into a standard movie running time. Enough is explained here and there to grasp the themes, character motivations and understand mostly what’s going on but there are many unanswered questions left at the end. For example, why does Hadaly have the unique powers she exhibits in the second half? What was the full extent of Friday’s and John’s relationship? How did they meet and come to reanimate corpses together? Why did the US president Ulysses Grant want the notes for himself? It’s clear a lot was cut from the source material and some of it was squeezed in to explain plot threads, but a large chunk of it could have been saved if they had dropped the constant travelling back and forth in the latter half. Credit to the production crew for not just having the movie all set in Japan, but the locations for the big finale and the previous fight scenes leading up to it could have been set anywhere so leaving it in one place would have saved a lot of ‘travelling’ animation and unnecessary scenes.

Despite the grand finale battle being weighed down by a lot of exposition and unanswered questions, the heart of the story – Watson’s mission to save Friday – remains strong even after repeated watches. Friday never says a word but you can see how much Watson adored his friend even after he’s long gone; Watson’s constant calling after him, the way he looks at him like he expects his friend to suddenly jump back to life, and the tiniest moments from Friday that give Watson hope to go on are really touching, and make the final scene at the very end all the more potent and heartbreaking.

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Wit Studio (the animators behind Attack on Titan) handled the visuals for this film and it does not disappoint. Aside from the aforementioned welcome changes in locations outside of Japan to set the film, the characters are designed marvellously with the corpses’ dead-eyed look and fractured movements making them appear just human enough to be recognisable but creepy enough to make the viewer wary of them whilst they’re on screen – they’re not just zombies, they’re something more and seeing them moving around with other humans, mostly blending in, is a freaky world to consider living in. Also a big thumbs up to the excellent use of 3D animation for the group corpses that loiter around the film; a common complaint with 3D animation is that it often looks out of place or flat compared to the anime style, but here that works to its advantage. Take the opening scenes, where you have rows and rows of corpse soldiers for example; the 3D-animated corpses look odd to the eye, moving awkwardly and inhumanly, but that’s exactly what they are. It’s a genius move on the studio’s part. There is some use of 3D for the last battle, which goes from high science fiction into fantasy territory, but its implementation makes the finale look as glorious as the story builds it to be.

Yoshihiro Ike provides the music for the film, and, like the animators, he gets to work with elements from the various countries the characters visit to his advantage to create a sweeping score. The theme song ‘Door’ by EGOIST is a jazz-inspired slow number that fits very nicely with the heavy British backdrop and mood of the final scene. Speaking of British; applause goes to Funimation for giving the characters the appropriate accents from English to Russian that make them sound as diverse as they are in the story. Although the accents aren’t completely perfect and some actors struggle more than others (you can practically hear Jason Liebrecht’s mind working in overdrive to say the word ‘corpses’ in the English way) it’s great they’ve gone the extra mile for the film, rather than just having everyone speaking in an American accent.

On disc extras include movie trailers, promos for other anime properties including Tokyo Ghoul √A and Psycho Pass, and there’s also a Funimation short where four members of the English voice cast discuss the movie, its themes, the characters, and so on. It’s an enjoyable little watch but be sure to watch it after you’ve seen the film as it’s full of spoilers! The collector’s edition comes in a very nice steel case, complete with dual formats and an art book.

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To summarise it in more modern wording, The Empire of Corpses can be described as a ‘hot mess’; it’s very fast paced with too much location jumping, leading to abrupt character development and world building that looks amazing but isn’t explained fully in the context of the story. The name-dropping of real and fictional characters is often no more than that. However, that doesn’t mean the film isn’t a blast to watch; a thrilling, wacky ride bursting with passion and imagination with lots of lovely Easter Eggs to get whilst watching or discover afterwards. If the idea of British, French, American, Russian characters coming together in one big corpse-slaying army interests you, then check it out.

One last note; stay through the credits for an added bonus scene that includes many more glorious cameos which will either have you squealing in joy or scratching your head in confusion. But it’s worth the watch either way.

Title: The Empire of Corpses
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Horror, Action, Sci-Fi
Studio: Wit Studio
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 120 minutes

Score: 7/10

Attack on Titan: The Movie Part 2 Review


Attack on Titan the Movie Part 2When I reviewed the first part of the
Attack on Titan live action movie I came away from it intrigued to know more about the story and the world it presented us with. Sure, the movie had some flaws, but overall I was looking forward to seeing part 2. However, having now watched it I don’t think my feelings are quite the same as they once were.

As a general note, this is a review for the second part of the live action movie so there are some spoilers for the first part.

This movie picks up just after Eren, who had gone out of control after transforming into a Titan, is saved by Mikasa. Eren has been captured and chained up due to the chaos he caused at the end of the first movie. His transformation ability throws whether he’s human or Titan into question, and whether he’s a risk to humanity.

Ultimately Captain Kubal decides that Eren must be killed, and despite protests from Armin and others in the Survey Corps (who feel he could be a tremendous aid in sealing the hole in the outer wall), the order is given to shoot Eren. However, before Kubal’s squad is able to kill him, a new, seemingly intelligent Titan drops into the prison to capture Eren (killing numerous Survey Corp members in its path) and quickly flees the scene with the boy in tow. When Eren next wakes he is greeted by Shikishima, who explains that he rescued our hero from the Titan and brought him to safety. The Titan apparently escaped, which Shikishima suspiciously glosses over, but Eren never questions this further. Instead, after a “philosophical” exchange about how Shikishima wishes to change the world, Eren decides to fight alongside him and use his newfound power for good (starting with blocking the hole in the wall). Will the two, combined with the Survey Corps, be able to make a difference?

Attack on Titan the movie 2 screen 3
As this whole movie is a bit of a mess and full of plot holes I need to warn you now that it’s unlikely to make much sense from this point onwards. From what I can piece together, in this world the government experimented on humans to change them into a stronger form. The government succeeds in their pursuit but it’s not long before everything goes horribly wrong (because don’t it always?). Not only does the first transformed human (which later comes to be known as a Titan) turn on the scientists, other humans begin transforming without warning and wreaking havoc all over the world. The remainder of humanity comes together to build up the giant walls to protect themselves. With little land, room, and food available inside the walls, humans had to coexist peacefully to preserve what was left of the human race – something that the government was seemingly aiming for all along.

Eren appears to have the ability to transform into a Titan due to his father experimenting on him as a child (perhaps he wanted to bring down the walls and go outside?). This is conveniently revealed through a dream sequence. It’s also mentioned that Eren has an older brother, but this is only talked about for a single line and then never resolved. On top of that, do you remember the big bomb that I talked about from the first part? The one that meant nothing but Titans could apparently survive beyond the outer wall? Yeah, that plot point wasn’t mentioned during this movie whatsoever, which is not surprising but would have been nice for consistency’s sake.

Attack on Titan the movie 2 screen 2
Even if we leave the plot holes aside, this movie is full of issues regarding continuity and convenience factors. The entire movie is set within the area that was invaded by Titans in the first part of the film yet we rarely see any beyond a few select scenes. They’re often briefly mentioned as being in the distance but even though human activity is meant to attract them, they never pose a problem for the group. Likewise, many important characters are protected from fatal injuries/mishaps because of convenience, like my personal favourite, Hans (the woman who creates the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment the group use). She really should have died a few times over. On the flip side though, any characters who aren’t classified as important are simply killed off without a second thought. It’s a mess of a story and very difficult to put any emotional investment into because you’re never given a reason to care.

The characters overall aren’t handled too badly, as long as they’re either Eren or Armin. Eren, Mikasa and Armin all get their time to shine and are a good mix of personalities that make for a somewhat interesting group. Regrettably Mikasa loses some of her fearless attitude from the previous movie and instead stumbles about wishing to know if Eren is safe or not, and even when she discovers that he’s fine this behaviour doesn’t really improve. However, Armin is much better than I found him in the original Attack on Titan series, so perhaps it’s not all bad. The rest of the Survey Corp members are good enough but don’t stand out. While Hans and Shikishima are the best characters on offer here they’re also laughably stupid if you take them too seriously – but then so is the movie itself. All of the actors do a fine job in their roles though, so at least I can say that the characters aren’t being let down by those playing them.

Attack on Titan the movie 2 #1 screen
There isn’t a great deal on offer here in terms of soundtrack. The vast majority of tracks are reused from the first movie and even the new stuff isn’t really memorable because its usage is either badly timed or overshadowed by the action on screen. Animation for the Titans also falls into the category of being ineffective as although the normal Titans are done well, the human-Titans, like Eren, just look like Power Ranger monsters. They’re not scary at all.

This release comes to the UK thanks to Animatsu and is on both DVD and Blu-ray. This is a subtitle only release and there are no extras to speak of on the disc.

Considering all of the above, I’m now left in the sad position of not being able to recommend this movie at all. Part 1 seemed like the story had potential and it was genuinely scary at times, but part 2 had so many problems that I’m not even disappointed – just sad. I’m sad because of wasted potential and wasted time on my part because these movies could have easily been so much more. The Attack on Titan live action movie is only worth your time if you have nothing else in the world to watch, and even then your time is better spent elsewhere.

Score: 2/10

Quick Information

  • Title: Attack on Titan: The Movie
  • UK Publisher: Animatsu
  • Genre: Horror, Drama, Action.
  • Director: Shinji Higuchi
  • Year: 2015
  • DVD/Bluray Release Date: July 25th 2016
  • Run Time: 83 minutes
  • Classification: 15

Attack on Titan: The Movie Part 1 Review


Attack on Titan movie part 1
It goes without saying that
Attack on Titan has exploded in popularity since the original manga received its anime adaptation in early 2013. Since then the series received countless manga spin-offs, two recap anime movies and OVAs, and a two-part live action movie. I’m here to review the first part of the Attack on Titan live action movie, which adapts the source in a rather interesting manner.

The live action take of Attack on Titan changes up the setting from Germany to Japan due to director Shinji Higuchi choosing to film the movie on Battleship Island (Gunkanjima), which is located off the coast of Nagasaki. It’s worth noting up-front for the Levi fans that this change resulted in Levi being written out of the movie completely. Due to Levi not being Japanese in origin, and his name including the katakana character ‘vu’ (which no Japanese name normally includes), the director felt that it would be wrong to to change his name or have a Japanese actor play a Caucasian role. However, to make up for this removal a Levi-like character was created to fill the gap.

Attack on titan movie 1
The first part of the movie is focused around the very early stages of the main Attack on Titan story – with numerous differences. The colossal Titan comes along and smashes a hole in the wall, just like in the original, allowing numerous titans to invade the area behind the outer wall and cause chaos for the residents. After waging a futile battle against the Titan onslaught, the humans take shelter and later evacuate to an area behind one of the inner walls. However, the torment isn’t over yet. With the farmlands now inhabited by titans and a food shortage taking hold, it’s clear that humanity is going to have to fight back to reclaim their home and plug the hole in the wall.

Attack on titan movie 3
There are some key differences between this adaption of Attack on Titan and the original story. First off, there is no Survey Corps to begin with, so no one knew if the Titans still existed beyond the walls as no human had seen them for a 100 years. The story explains that nobody had been outside the outer walls for a century because of a big bomb, which meant only Titans could survive the outside world. We never learn more about this bomb but we do discover that this world was once much more technologically driven than the original Attack on Titan. It’s stated that technology only bred war, lack of resources, and other such things. While we never learn more than this, it’s clear that this world is (currently) vastly different to the one presented in the manga. It’ll be interesting to see if the second part of the movie expands on this concept further.

In this story the relationship between Eren and Mikasa has also been changed, including what happens to them earlier on in the story. In the original series they’re brother and sister (although not by blood as Mikasa is adopted), but for this tale it’s never mentioned that the two are family. What’s more, Eren doesn’t even know his family because they died while he was a young child. Instead Mikasa acts as a love interest for Eren and is often jokingly referred to as his girlfriend. During the first half of this live action adventure Eren and Mikasa are separated, with Mikasa stranded in the part of town now overrun by titans. When Eren returns to the outer walls two years later, now part of the Survey Corps force, he reunites with Mikasa, who has changed drastically after being trained by a mysterious fighter known as Shikishima (our Levi substitute).

Attack on titan movie 2
While the core story of humanity versus the Titans is unchanged, it’s clear that the live action take is its own universe and should be treated as such. There isn’t a great deal of focus on the story once the Survey Corps are established and the troops head out to seal the hole in the wall. Instead the movie supplies endless amounts of gore to entertain the viewers. You definitely don’t want to be watching this while eating. Because of the lack of story later on, I’m not sure if the movie makes for a great rewatch, but it’s certainly fun to just sit back, turn your brain off, and enjoy the ride the first time around.

There is some good acting on show for the Attack on Titan core characters. Haruma Miura makes a fitting Eren, delivering his more threatening dialog with great emotion. Kiko Mizuhara, who plays Mikasa, and Hiroki Hasegawa, who plays Shikishima, are also highlights on an acting level and both do a tremendous job with their roles. So far I’ve neglected to mention Armin, who is a core member of the team in the original manga, but that’s because the live action movie sidelines him a great deal of the time. This makes it difficult to get a read on how good Kanata Hongo actually is at playing the role. It’s likely we’ll be seeing more of Armin in the second film, so hopefully that will give Kanata the chance to truly shine.

Attack on Titan movie 4

Overall the music isn’t anything to write home about but it does a decent job of compelling the movie along. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t really stand out on its own either.

For what it is, Attack on Titan has been approached in an interesting manner. The story might be different but the action scenes are incredibly fun to watch (if the titans don’t scare you to death, that is!) and it works as an interesting take on a well established story. I don’t believe that this is a good entry point for someone who has never watched and/or read Attack on Titan before, but if you already know the story then it’ll make sense. Based on the re-working of the original manga, I can’t recommend this very highly but as a whole it certainly makes a fun movie to watch with friends. I’m certainly looking forward to the second half of the adventure.

Score: 5/10

Quick Information

  • Title: Attack on Titan: The Movie
  • UK Publisher: Animatsu
  • Genre: Horror, Drama, Action.
  • Director: Shinji Higuchi
  • Year: 2015
  • DVD/Bluray Release Date: June 27th 2016
  • Run Time: 94 minutes
  • Classification: 15

Parasyte: Part 2 Review

Parasyte: Part 2

This review contains spoilers for Parasyte: Part 1

After the death of his mother at the hands of the parasites, aliens hell-bent on the extinction of mankind, 17-year-old Shinichi Izumi, along with his own parasite named Migi, starts hunting the horrific creatures. Before long, Shinichi finds himself embroiled in an all-out war between humans and parasites to save humanity and put an end to the invasion and restore peace to the Earth.

Director Takashi Yamazaki returns to give us Parasyte: Part 2, the conclusion to the live action adaptation of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s popular manga series which improves and builds upon the foundation laid by the first film.

While I was a fan of the story in Parasyte Part 1, it’s hard to deny that the sequel is certainly an improvement. With the first film, the scope felt very small, with the conflict centered around Shinichi and a small group of parasites, whereas here, the story feels much larger featuring a lot more parasites and focused more on the war that was teased at the end of the first movie. That being said though, I actually think that, whilst the increase in ambition is admirable and enjoyable, you can really start to feel the restraints of the budget in places and I don’t think it quite lived up to my expectations. We only really get one scene where we see two large forces of both species take each other on, and even then we don’t ever get a major human-on-parasite action scene, and it’s mostly just a slaughter rather than a battle, so I found that a little disappointing. However, I still don’t think that makes it entirely bad; I actually think I prefer the story here because it tries to do more, even if it doesn’t entirely succeed. Much as in the first film, the heart of the plot is two opposing species fighting for dominance but I had the exact same issue here as I did with Parasyte: Part 1 as we still only see a single parasite that isn’t just a bloodthirsty monster, so it makes them hard to empathise with, despite the film’s best attempts. Perhaps my biggest gripe with the story is that there is one large question that goes unanswered: what are the parasites? We know that they come from space but, apart from that, we get nothing. Considering that “Why were the Parasites created?” is right there on the back of the box, I’m really disappointed this wasn’t explored.

As well as the story, I also felt that the action here was handled much better than in the first film. Not that it wasn’t done well in the first film, but the action felt much more frequent and effective here, which is great considering how enjoyable these sequences are. These action set pieces serve to show off the film’s special effects, which are just as gross and disgusting yet incredibly impressive, as in the first film.

The biggest refinement in Parasyte: Part 2 is its characters. In Part 1 the characters were definitely its weakest point, so I was delighted to see the sequel improve them. I think this is mainly through a greater emphasis on the relationship between Shinichi and his love interest Satomi, which develops nicely throughout the film. Nevertheless, Ryouko Tamiya, the antagonist from Part 1, is still by far the most interesting character, being the only parasite trying to make peace with humans and seeing how the relationship between her and her child manages to change her character is really great.

The acting in Parasyte: Part 2 is, like in Part 1, still pretty good. Shota Sometani returns to star as the protagonist Shinichi. In my last review, I praised his performance seeing as he spends a lot of time talking to Migi, a parasite who is attached to his hand, who is entirely CGI, and he really takes it to the next level here. He has a scene with Migi towards the end of the film that manages to be incredibly emotional and is legitimately impressive considering what Sometani actually had to work with.  A new addition to the cast as Kuramori is Nao Omori (a name that fans of Japanese cinema will recognize as the titular Ichi in the Takashi Miike’s infamous film Ichi the Killer) who is fantastic, giving a very memorable performance, considering he has a fairly minor role.

Naoki Sato returns to compose the music and provides another fairly average soundtrack that gets the job done but is nothing memorable.

Animatsu’s release of Parasyte: Part 2 features a making of featurette as well as 2.0 and 5.1 Japanese audio options.

In Summary

Although it doesn’t hit the mark in every way, Parasyte: Part 2 is still a marked improvement over its predecessor, developing its characters, amping up the action sequences and increasing the breadth of the story.

8/10

Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Classification: 15
Studio: Manga Entertainment
DVD Release Date: 6 Jun. 2016
Run Time: 117 minutes