Persona 3 The Movie #2 Review

At the time of writing we’re just days away from the release of the latest Persona game, Persona 5, so what better way to get into the mood than with the second movie adaptation of Persona 3? This movie might be subtitled Midsummer Knight’s Dream, but it certainly isn’t dreamy for our cast…

The second movie kicks off in style with Makoto Yuki and the SEES group battling a tough Shadow, and then promptly drops us into some summer- themed fun. The first half of the story sees the team going on a getaway to a nearby island for some time at the beach (yes, there are plenty of swimsuit shots). While on the island they also meet Mitsuru’s father, who reveals some important secrets about the history of the Shadows. With their history now clear and the news that the Dark Hour can be stopped by defeating twelve Arcana Shadows (some of which SEES have already defeated), the team resolve to bring an end to the nights of terror.

Much of the 93 minute runtime is used to showcase the cast living out their summer mostly in peace, and it also introduces a couple of new cast members to the group. Most notable of these additions is a Shadow fighting android known as Aigis. Due to the fact that most of the more interesting story progressions happen so late, I’ll refrain from mentioning anything. Just believe me when I tell you that the sweet fluffy summer fun definitely doesn’t last. The news of bringing the Dark Hour to an end stirs up new conflicts inside Makoto, who believes that if it ends, he will no longer have a place in the world. Because of this, he struggles to fight alongside his teammates and this begins to create rifts and confusion that are likely to continue on into the next movie – possibly even beyond.

The animation for Persona 3 The Movie 2 continues to be wonderful and A-1 Pictures have created some really striking battle scenes for Movie 2. They’re well shot, fast and incredibly fluid. The scenes definitely appear to have had plenty of time and money put into them. Even away from the more action-packed shots there is a lot to be said for the creepy atmosphere A-1 builds for the Midnight Hour. It’s impressive work and I’m looking forward to seeing more of it in the future.

Musically there is little to complain about with this movie either. Composer Tetsuya Kobayashi continues to offer varied and emotional tracks that really fit the action or situations on-screen, and even away from the context of the movie, they’re memorable scores. The main theme song for this movie is “Fate is In Our Hands” performed by Lotus Juice, and is a quiet but emotional track that will also stick in your mind.

I wanted to write a quick note about the voice actors because while I don’t have too much to say about them, they all do a great job. Most notably, Akira Ishida, who plays Makoto Yuki (Yoshinobu Kubota in Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto, Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Bungo Stray Dogs), continues to perform the role wonderfully.

This release comes to the UK thanks to Anime Limited, who have brought out Persona 3 The Movie 2 on DVD and in a collector’s edition including both Blu-ray and DVD. The collector’s edition also includes a booklet. It’s worth noting that the movie is subbed only as no English dub for it exists.

As a quick note: I am aware of a problem with the 5.1 audio track for this release but have not mentioned it in this review as my system doesn’t work with 5.1 audio. The issue involves the central dialogue channel not coming from the centre speaker. If you wish to know more then myReviewer has a much clearer write-up for it.

Overall Persona 3 The Movie 2 feels like a bit of a stopgap between a brilliant starting point and better things to come in the future. It’s not bad by any means and the last 30 minutes are terrific, but I do wonder if we could have gotten away with cutting out some of the summer fluff. Still, a must-watch for Persona fans.

Title: Persona 3 The Movie #2 Midsummer Knight's Dream Collector's Edition
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Drama
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 15
Running time: 93 minutes

Score: 7/10

Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale Review

Quick disclaimer; prior to seeing this movie, I had not seen a single episode of Sword Art Online. This particular reviewer only knows the basic concept of the show, can visually recognise a few of main characters based upon artwork seen on the internet and, as a Yuki Kajiura fan, has a few pieces of music from the series on my iPod, but that is it. If you’re looking for a review from a die-hard SAO fan, you won’t find it here. However, if you’re interested to know if the film can stand on its own outside of fan service or whether SAO-newbies can enjoy it too, please read on.

Now that that’s out of the way!

It’s 2026, and the survivors of the Sword Art Online game have moved on with their lives in the real world, including the now-famous heroes Kirito and Asuna who are planning their lives together whilst applying for colleges. However, a brand new augmented reality title has just been released and it quickly becomes extremely popular, allowing players to participate in a variety of games and earn rewards such as free food and gym vouchers, whilst remaining conscious in the real world. Of course, the SAO survivors have quickly taken a liking to this new game, but as secret boss battles start popping up around the city and players start experiencing real life consequences from said matches, things quickly become far more sinister.

If you are new to the Sword Art Online franchise, and are wondering if there’s any point in seeing this movie, you’ll be pleased to know that the film kindly takes time at the start to summarise the story of SAO. Granted, it’s as basic as they can get but it was enough to clearly show where the characters are at in this point of their lives; they’re survivors of a MMO that had them trapped for two years, fighting for their lives and losing friends along the way. Their actions are also legendary, with a book detailing the events and the names of survivors, who are now trying to move on from that monumental experience.

Saying that, the film does not go out of its way to detail character relationships and who is what, so a newbie like me was constantly wondering many things that veteran fans will most likely not blink twice at whilst watching. For example, why is there a pixie-like character calling the main characters ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ that seems to exist in the virtual and real world? How does Kirito know these seemingly important scientist/government people? And who are the various female side-characters that seem to know the main protagonists? (According to a wiki I read, one of them is supposed to be his cousin but I did not get that at all when watching the film).

The actual plot of the movie, thankfully, is very straightforward. Although it uses the pixie character and the other females to further push the plot in places, you do not need to fully understand who or what they are to comprehend what is going on. If you get the overall gist of the above summary and have general knowledge of video games, you’ll be fine to watch this without prior familiarity with the series.

The ‘Ordinal Scale’ part of the movie title is actually the name of the brand new augmented reality (AR for short) video game that requires people to purchase a headset, which then creates gaming challenges, shops, messaging capabilities and more but in the real world. The AR game itself, whilst incredibly creative, does stretch itself a little too far in terms of believability. The game is freshly launched at the start of this movie and yet it’s managed to integrate itself into the culture so quickly that it extends from video games to gyms to even how we pay for food; it’s quite farfetched to say the least. In a VR game the believability can be  stretched as far as you want because the player is stationary and taken out of the real world, but an AR is in real life, so the stretches of plausibility are at breaking point in parts of the movie. You could also argue that the random boss fights that occur in the city are pushing it, especially since the plot relies so heavily on having all the Sword Art Online survivors participating, but considering that last year we had a mass crowd of New Yorkers running into a park to catch a Vaporeon when Pokemon Go was released, suddenly it doesn’t seem so ridiculous. In fact, you could see the whole Ordinal Scale as a future evolution of Pokemon Go, which is both fascinating and terrifying in places.

Regardless of the plausibility, the game does allow for a lot of big scale battles and imaginative environments; some of which may seem like a weird clash of cyberpunk and fantasy. The final boss of the movie seems overly bombastic and cheesy but it’s all in the spirit of fan service, giving the characters a grand ‘hurrah!’ that fans will love and making the movie feel like a big-budget epic rather than just several episodes mashed together.

The weakest links of the story, however, are the villains and their overall goal that relates to the new character Yuna; the first villain we meet, Eiji, gets set up for what seems to be an interesting arc, having been part of the SAO experience. His relationship with Yuna is also established as being very important to him, but the end of it is flatly cut off so the build-up feels like it was for nothing. As for Yuna, her origins became clear once the main big baddie comes to the forefront; they both have a better payoff but sadly they’re still one-dimensional characters that attempt to go for the emotional tie-up without any of the proper groundwork set up to make it truly work.

At the centre of the story, though, are Kirito and Asuna. They are the leads of the series too but the movie does dedicate a lot of screen time, especially the quieter moments, to further develop their relationship. Going in I didn’t expect much from them and was surprised to find them quite endearing, even cheering for them as the film went on. What made them enjoyable to watch was the movie’s refreshing take on their relationship; for long standing couples in media, writers can get into a terrible habit of recycling the same gags and pointless drama to keep the brush of ‘early love’ going but only end up making the couple in question act like idiots and the writers themselves seem like they’re incapable of writing a proper relationship. I was fully expecting a series of boob gags, Asuna to be a token tsundere and Kirito a bumbling fool, but we get none of that in the movie. Instead, the couple have legitimate conversations. They are not afraid to be vulnerable around each other, and they also share tender kisses and discuss their future together, which is very rare in anime. Even when the movie does use a few older sappy tropes, such as them promising to see the stars together, you want them to get to that stage and live happily ever after because you’ve seen them grow and fight together, for each other and themselves.

Series composer Yuki Kajiura returns to score the movie and all of her established musical elements are in here; powerful strings, techno beats and female operatic vocal cues. There’s nothing in the score that really pushes what we’ve already come to expect from her, but fans will be pleased to pick up a few remixes of her well known tracks, such as Swordland, in the background.

Animation is a highlight for obvious reasons; fans who love the original style will be thrilled to see a bigger budget version with beautiful animated fight scenes which take full advantage of the extra cash to make them feel as impressive as possible. And since a few SAO bosses make a comeback, you can enjoy them on the big screen as well. There are a few lulls in the quality, however, as a couple of dialogue-heavy scenes rely too much on mostly static images; granted the conversations tend to take place either within an MMO world or AR alternative, but there’s a few scenes where more could have been done to make the exposition parts of the story flow better to help the audience feel less bored.

Sword Art Online Ordinal Scale is a fun romp; mostly for the fans for obvious reasons but the plot is simple enough for non-fans to enjoy as well. It’s larger than life, creative, a bit cheesy in places and sprinkled with a couple of unnecessary fan service shots of Asuna’s figure shoved right into the camera. But it’s easy to see why the franchise has become such a hit with fans, and the movie is a love letter to them as well as opening a new chapter for the characters. Oh, and there’s a post credit scene, so stick around to find an extra tease for Sword Art Online fans to lap up.

Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale is in UK cinemas from 19th April. Purchase tickets from your nearest cinema here.

Title: Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale
Publisher: Fetch
Genre: Action, Adventure, Science fiction,
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2017
Format: Cinema screening
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 120 minutes

Score: 7/10

Film Review: A Silent Voice

Shoya Ishida is a typical delinquent elementary school boy with a large group of friends and not a care in the world, that is until a new student– Shoko Nishimiya, who happens to be deaf – joins his class. Despite her shy and friendly nature, her presence stirs Shoya’s small world and he begins to bully her, with encouragement from his friends. When the bullying reaches its peak, and he is punished severely for it, his friends disown him and he becomes an outcast himself. Several years later, now in High School, Shoya crosses paths with Nishimiya once again and he slowly begins to reconnect with her, as well as make amends for his past actions.

The role of ‘the school bully’ is normally reserved for antagonists or side characters where they, for the most part, remain one-dimensional (mean for the sake of being mean). If they do have an arc, it’s almost always them getting called out on their behaviour usually by the protagonists, then they quickly reform from their bullying ways and the world is set to rights. However, A Silent Voice makes a bold move in making the bully the protagonist, and there’s no doubt that he is a bully; it starts off with childish lashing out at something (or in this case, someone) that he does not understand but escalates into outright horrible behaviour that makes it incredibly hard to watch. But then his world comes crashing down; he gets told off by the teachers, his friends and the rest of the school completely turn on him AND his mother has to pay a huge fine for Nishimiya’s damaged hearing aids. In a lesser movie, or a movie not set around Shoya, that would be the end of his arc, the audience would assume that he has learned his lesson and that the balance is now restored. But A Silent Voice dares to explore his character further: what happens after he’s punished for his actions? What becomes of his home life and mental state? The answer is that over the years of being exiled and living with the crushing guilt of his actions, he has become incredibly depressed, suffering from anxiety, and is suicidal. It would be easy to brush off Shoya’s plight and emotional state as ‘karma’: he deserved what he got. But A Silent Voice does not set out to do that, or attempt to take the easy route; it instead lays the groundwork and then sets off on a journey for an incredibly involving and significant film.

A Silent Voice talks about a lot of issues that many films either gloss over, sensationalise or wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. This list includes but is not limited to depression, anxiety, loneliness, suicide, self-hatred and learning to forgive yourself. A person suffering from any of these things in media such as television would typically have it communicated to audience via actively saying what they feel or suffer from, looking miserable all the time, or having a cut-away of them taking pills (shorthand for medicating whatever they’re suffering from). A Silent Voice doesn’t do any of this, but takes a more realistic and natural approach; Shoya’s depression and self-deprecation is not limited to being expressed via dialogue but also in his body language and animation techniques. Whether he’s speaking or not, we see him constantly having his head down, struggling to make eye contact with other students, being apprehensive of taking actions if it involves other people and in one scene he even slaps himself as self-punishment for saying something embarrassing. Over the course of the film we discover that it’s not just Shoya who has problems but also other members of the student body, especially Shoko Nishimiya, whom we learn deals with her life-long struggle of deafness and the stigma that comes with it by putting on a friendly but aloof front, and in turn speaks very little about how she actually feels, which is just as damaging as the way Shoya goes about it. Then there are the other side characters who have reacted or thought differently about what happened in elementary school, whether it’s via denial or choosing to move on, and so forth. The side characters don’t get the same amount of attention as Shoya or Nishimiya but how they all interact with each other, and discuss or choose to ignore the issues hovering over them all adds layers to the important themes shown in the movie. There’s no one way to cope or live with these issues, and as the movie shows different sides of them, and uncovers what creates them – or how they remain if not treated – the results are both heart-warming and heart-breaking.

In turn, the animation allows the audience to see exclusively through Shoya’s point of view by having all the students’ faces covered up with a cross; a reflection of how he sees them all as people he cannot communicate with or reach out to. It’s over the course of the film, as he begins to work through his problems, that the crosses start to come off, but like a reflection of real life where we have setback days, the crosses are sometimes slapped back on as Shoya retreats once more into his shell. There’s also a variety of other techniques: blurry images, flares, water ripples/reflections and, right at the beginning of the movie, we see a long dark tunnel with an incoherent image at the end which comes full circle in the final scenes of the film. Although a lot of these images are eventually explained and make sense over the course of the story, when they are first introduced, they’re hastily thrown in back-to-back and therefore it feels a bit of a mess. Imagery and symbolism is important and should absolutely be used but for the first half of this movie they play out more like ‘ideas the director thought up and wanted to throw in there’ rather than strategically placed elements. Even the ‘cross over the faces’ trick, which is the strongest and most frequently used animation metaphor, only comes into play about 20 minutes into the film.

If you only looked at the trailers and did minimal research before seeing the movie, you could have easily been fooled into thinking that it’s a high school romance story with the unique selling point being that it involves a deaf girl. Whilst the ‘deaf girl’ angle is definitely interesting and a hook into the movie by itself, Shoko Nishimiya’s condition is more than just a gimmick. She expresses a lot of her personality in the way she moves, smiling at others despite what they are saying about her and in the way she tries to communicate with everyone despite her limitations. What’s also charming is that she’s not portrayed as a martyr, someone that everyone needs to love and she doesn’t have (for instance) super awesome intellect or heightened senses that have come about as a result of being deaf; she’s a normal high school girl with flaws like everyone else and a lot of emotional baggage, that in a way mirrors Shoya’s struggles but she chooses to bury it as her way of coping. The time-skip also serves as an important point in her character arc as well; her being deaf and a victim of said bullying absolutely would warrant such intricate dejected feelings, but having the bullying issues resolved by the time she enters high school doesn’t mean that the mental trauma suddenly no longer exists, or that they make up solely who she is as a person. Also, having a boyfriend or your bully coming back as a better person, wanting to make it all better doesn’t make the world suddenly a better place. Real life is more complicated than that; just like having Shoya being punished for his actions doesn’t make it OK that he grows up into a suicidal wreck of a boy, or Nishimiya choosing to forgive and befriend him makes her accountable for any emotional turmoil that happens to her later on in the movie. Nothing is black and white, there are all shades of grey, especially when it comes to the issues this movie chooses to talk about.

The pacing of the film is an odd one, especially since it plays out like a romance/coming-of-age story for the majority of its run time, so when it comes to the big emotional moment between Shoya and Nishimiya you expect the film to wrap up quickly afterwards. However, it continues on for a while but not because it has to resolve multiple plot points like, say, in Your Name. It’s important to note that it’s Shoya Ishida story, it’s his emotional arc, and the problems he has don’t automatically fix themselves in a single moment. Problems such as his, as many of those who have or are suffering from depression will know, are a constant battle and sometimes there are good and bad days. So even though the final scene of the movie feels (as a movie watcher) as if it takes ages to come after the big high, it’s an important moment for the character and wraps up the core themes very nicely.

Kyoto Animation, who produced the visuals for A Silent Voice, have a ton of experience with romance-themed and especially high-school-based stories with series such as Clannad, Air and K-ON! under their belts (the K-ON! series and movie being the series that director Naoko Yamada is best known for). As mentioned earlier, they use a lot of little techniques to get Shoya’s world across to the audience but outside of that, there’s much to admire, from the bright colours and the fluid animation, to the way the school environment is drawn to look familiar, yet different. It avoids the usual pitfalls of the main cast’s desks being on the window side of the classroom, or each room in the school looking exactly the same as the previous one. It’s a well thought out and drawn environment that the story is set in with beautiful imagery for the passing seasons.

Kensuke Ushio, the score composer, doesn’t have many credits aside from Space Dandy but his minimal yet emotional score complements the tender and sensitive nature of the film’s themes. Aiko provides the ending theme ‘Koi wo Shita no wa’ which is sadly rather standard fare but musically it flows from Ushio’s work nicely. However, the movie’s opening is edited to The Who’s ‘My Generation’, which sticks out like a sore thumb against the rest of the score. Lyrically, however, it adds a whole new level of negative connotations to the song, considering that it plays over a montage of young and naive Shoyo hanging out with his friends before the events of the movie properly kick off.

A Silent Voice is an emotionally important coming-of-age tale, it tackles a lot of themes that will resonate with audiences on numerous levels with its deep, delicate examination of uncomfortable but significant feelings without falling back on familiar tropes to gain an easy ending. It’s a beautiful, thought-provoking film that shouldn’t be missed.

Title: A Silent Voice
Publisher: All the Anime/Anime Limited
Genre: Drama, Coming of Age, Romance,
Studio: Kyoto Animation
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Cinema screening
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12 A
Running time: 129 minutes

Score: 9/10

Ian Wolf reviews We Are X

“To create some kind of art, I don’t think you should be in a normal mental state of mind. It’s a war.” – Yoshiki, X Japan’s drummer, pianist and composer.

As this is an anime website, it is probably best to start with something that most people here may be familiar with. Chances are that if you are familiar with the rock band and “visual kei” pioneers X Japan, it is because of their work connected with Clamp’s manga X. The 1996 film version used the band’s song “Forever Love” as their theme and in 1993 a series of short films was made featuring artwork from the manga set to the music of X Japan. More recently, in 2011 they composed and recorded “Scarlet Love Song”, which was used as the theme for the anime film version of Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha.

If you are wishing to know more about any connection between X Japan, Clamp and Tezuka however, then this film may not be for you as there is no mention of it. However, don’t let that put you off. First of all, this documentary film, We Are X is brilliant. Secondly, now is a better time than ever to look at this band, who are releasing their first album in over 20 years in March to coincide with a concert at Wembley.

We Are X tells the story of X Japan primarily through the band’s frontman Yoshiki, who plays the drums, the piano, and is the principle composer of the band’s songs. The backdrop for the film is a concert at Madison Square Gardens in October 2014, and it tells of the band’s origins, successes, failures, break-up and reunion. Perhaps the best comment on the band is made by Gene Simmons of Kiss who says that if the band was from either the USA or the UK, “they might be the biggest band in the whole world.” Among other notable names featured in the film include late Beatles producer George Martin; co-founder of Marvel Comics Stan Lee; other rock musicians from the west including Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit), Richard Fortus (Guns N’ Roses) and Marylin Manson; and other Japanese rock bands such as MUCC, Ladies Room, Luna Sea, Dir En Gray and Glay.

The best way to sum up X Japan is this: if Spinal Tap were real, they would be looking at X Japan and be exclaiming: “How come their drummer’s still alive?!” Whereas some musicians perform music about love or sadness, with Yoshiki his music appears to be about pain, and he has gone through a lot of pain both emotionally and physically. When Yoshiki was ten his father committed suicide; two more members of the band died by their own hand – bassist Taiji hanged himself after he was put in a cell over an air-rage incident, while lead guitarist hide’s death was reported as suicide at the time, although Yoshiki believes the death was a result of a drunk misadventure while doing a neck stretching exercise; the band broke up for a decade after the singer Toshi was brainwashed by a cult; the London concert that is happening in March was meant to happen last year, but had to be postponed after the guitarist Pata had to be rushed into intensive care; and Yoshiki himself has so many physical injuries it is a miracle he can still perform. Years of constant head banging while drumming has resulted in a deformed neck bone, so he has to wear a neck brace while performing otherwise his neck might snap. Also, he has such bad asthma that he needs oxygen tanks backstage because he has so little air in his lungs while performing, and is often on the verge of death during gigs.

The film details the struggles they had previously trying to break into the English-speaking world, with a failed attempt to make an English-language album back in the 1990s when the band itself was going through some trouble.

This is something that it has to be said is still true today. If you include the forthcoming sixth album, only three of X Japan’s six studio albums are legally available to download via iTunes. The other three albums are not available over here, and the only way you can get them is to import the CD or record from abroad. Also, while certain aspects of modern Japanese culture like anime are popular, Japanese music is not often appreciated. Visual kei is a rather obscure movement in the west and most people don’t know about it. I think the biggest way of showing the lack of attention to any music from the Far East, is that most people are only aware of one single song, and that’s “Gangnam Style”, which is more famous for its comic dancing than the actual music.

But what makes me really angry is that while the film has been recognised by some organisations such as the Sundance Film Festival, it hasn’t been recognised by other more notable institutions. I thought We Are X was bound to be nominated for an Oscar, namely “Best Documentary”. In the end, the only Oscar it was considered for was “Best Song”, and it failed to become a nominee. Not only that, but two of the songs in that category both come from the same film, La La Land. How is it fair for one film to be nominated twice in the same category? Mind you, this is the same category that in 2014 thought that the best song in all cinema that year was “Let It Go” from Frozen, so arguably you could say they dodged a bullet there.

However, X Japan certainly deserve to be better known, simply because they were the first heavy metal act to make it big in Japan, and to a mainstream audience. It is thanks to them that other rock and metal bands were able to make it. Plus, like X Japan, other Japanese rock bands have occasionally had the odd brush with anime too – examples include The gazettE, who provided music for Black Butler, and Buck-Tick whose music has been used in shows like Trinity Blood, xxxHolic and Shiki.

If there is a downside to the film, it would be that I question the need for there to be subtitles whenever any of the Japanese people in the film speak English. Most of the time they seem to be speaking perfectly well.

We Are X will premiere at Picturehouse Central, London, on 28th February, and then be shown nationwide on 2nd March for one night only, with encore screenings. It will also be a special version of the film to be shown at 17.00 at Wembley Arena on 4th March, prior to their concert there at 20.30. The film will be released On Demand, on DVD and on Blu-Ray on 1st May. The soundtrack to the film is out on 3rd March on CD and as a download.

Title: We Are X
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Documentary, Music
Studio: Passion Pictures
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Mixed Japanese and English (Japanese parts are subtitled)
Age rating: 15
Running time: 95 minutes

Score: 10/10

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

place-promised_3d_

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?

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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.

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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