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

Ghost in the Shell live-action movie: What the critics think

Reviews for the long-awaited live-action Hollywood remake of Ghost in the Shell are in, and the reaction is mixed.

Most critics agree that the film directed by Rupert Sanders looks great, and that while Scarlett Johansson is a controversial choice to play Major Motoko Kusanagi she handles the part well. However, there are also a few who say the film itself lacks substance. Many critics have complained that the film has “too much Shell, not enough Ghost”. The majority of reviews appear to have given the film three stars out of five.

Below is a selection of some of the comments from the UK press about the movie.

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The Telegraph: Purists may not want to hear it, but she’s [Johansson] ideal at the conceptual side of the role. The unusual disconnect between Johansson’s intelligence and her coolly dispassionate looks has been exploited before, most brilliantly in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. Here she is both ghost and shell – a pair of soulful eyes, welling with memory and confusion, stranded inside a gorgeously supple action figure. – Tom Robey (4 stars)

iNews: Sanders’ live-action version is remarkably faithful to Oshii’s animated classic, to the point where several shots are lifted directly from the original. Plot-wise, there have been a few compromises, like over-explaining what the title means and adding an emotional backstory. But this is otherwise a largely respectful remake that does full justice to the source material. – Matthew Turner (4 stars)

The List: This is fantastic sci-fi for the 21st century: smart, exciting and absolutely stunning (with cityscapes and images that put one in mind of Blade Runner and, now an influencer itself, The Matrix) and featuring strong set-pieces. – Angie Errigo (4 stars)

The Guardian: It is a spectacular movie, watchable in its way, but one which – quite apart from the “whitewashing” debate – sacrifices that aspect from the original which over 20 years has won it its hardcore of fans: the opaque cult mystery, which this film is determined to solve and to develop into a resolution, closed yet franchisable. – Peter Bradshaw (3 stars)

Metro: While visually staggering and better than cynical anime fans are perhaps expecting, it’s a streamlined, lesser version which struggles to go beyond its already deep-rooted cult appeal. If you like flashy sci-fi films with a few GCSEs, you’ll find something to enjoy, but this is neither the success or disaster anyone perhaps wanted it to be. – Adam Starkey (3 stars)

NME: Whatever your take on the whitewashing controversy, Ghost in the Shell is no masterpiece. It’s another entertaining but slightly frustrating origin story with one eye on creating a franchise. There’s substance here, but it doesn’t match the film’s glorious style. – Nick Levine (3 stars)

The Independent: The movie is as much of a hybrid as its lead character. It combines high-minded postmodern philosophising with very generic, often very banal, thriller elements. – Geoffrey MacNab (3 stars)

Empire: So heavily derivative it doesn’t feel like anything new, and there’s little depth beneath that slick surface. But it’s solid and attractive, at least, with a retro appeal to its cyberpunk stylings. – Dan Jolin (3 stars)

Radio Times: A clunky finale that echoes an episode of Robot Wars (with a piece of hardware that could have been made by A-level students) reveals where Sanders has veered off track. Its bluntness at times means Ghost in the Shell probably won’t go down as a classic, but it does keep the cogs turning and if the ticket sales warrant it, there’s ample scope for a sequel to flesh out this fast and furious fembot. – Stella Papamichael (3 stars)

Den of Geek: Fans of the original manga and anime, who expect something as thought-provoking as the original, may be disappointed that the movie spends more time on gun-fu, chases and lingering shots of buildings than on fully exploring the ideas it raises. As a live-action, glossy evocation of the original Ghost In The Shell, however, Sanders’ film is well worth seeing on the big screen. – Ryan Lambie (3 stars)

Digital Spy: Utterly, unquestionably gorgeous to look at, but at heart a fairly bog-standard futuristic action movie, GITS is all Shell with barely a Ghost of anything inside. – Ross Fletcher (3 stars)

Financial Times: The main plot questions — “Can a cyborg have human feelings?” and “Might this one, named Mira, have human memories too?” — are sci-fi riddles that have become riddled with age and cinematic overuse. Worse: Scarlett Johansson herself has done this alien-being stuff so often (Her, Lucy, Under the Skin) that her casting seems criminally lazy. – Nigel Andrew (3 stars)

Daily Mirror: Beneath the glossy exterior there’s not much spirit to be found in this curate’s egg of a sci-fi action thriller. A hard working Scarlett Johansson stands at the centre of the spectacular visuals, but even the Avengers star can’t bring the soulless storytelling to boil. – Chris Hunneysett (2 stars)

FACT Mag: The best thing you can say about Ghost in the Shell 2017 – beyond crafting nostalgia for Oshii’s original film – is that it has inspired many to speak out about Hollywood’s diversity problem. If the prospective audience stays home and Paramount Pictures learns from this experience, there will be more than a basis for the Majors and Motoko Kusanagis of the future to be played by Asian actresses – regardless as to what Oshii may think. – Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy (no rating given)

The Spectator: Ghost in the Shell is the Hollywood live-action remake of the 1995 Japanese anime of the same name and it’s set at a time in the future when, it would appear, the world is populated by blandly one-dimensional characters. Evil is perpetrated by our old friend, Corporate Evil Man — yes, still — and everyone communicates via dialogue so stilted and ham-fisted it makes you die inside a little. That said, at the media screening I attended we were all given a free bag of high-end crisps, so it wasn’t two hours totally wasted. (I do really like crisps, high-end or otherwise.) – Deborah Ross (no rating given)

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

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

Psycho-Pass The Movie Review

psycho-pass-the-movie-collectors3dDue to the huge success of the Sibyl System, a surveillance and biological monitoring system that gauges the likelihood that individuals will commit a crime before they do so, Japan has begun the process of exporting the technology in the hope that one day Sibyl will be in use all around the world. The first country to receive the system as a test bed is the war-torn state of the South East Asian Union (SEAUn) in the hope of restoring peace and stability to the town of Shambala Float. However, when a group of anti-Sibyl rebels arrive in Japan, the Ministry of Welfare’s Public Defence Bureau discovers evidence that former enforcer Shinya Kougami is working with guerillas. Inspector Akane Tsunemori is sent to SEAUn to bring him back.

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After the somewhat disappointing follow up to the original series in Psycho-Pass 2, original series creator and writer Gen Urobuchi (Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero) reteams with Production IG (Ghost in the Shell, FLCL, Eden of the East) to deliver a worthy successor to the first season.

Whilst I don’t think season two of Psycho-Pass is awful, probably the most disappointing thing about it was how it didn’t follow up on the cliffhanger ending of the original series. Given that the first season definitely teased a follow-up with the after credits scene of Kougami on a boat of some kind, you couldn’t help but feel that season two was jogging in place a little, a fact that certainly wasn’t helped by the fact it was lacking both the original studio and the original writer. However, with all the talent back on board this movie finally delivers on the promise of that cliffhanger, as this movie it completely centered on what happened to Kougami after the events of season 1. Psycho-Pass 2 isn’t completely ignored, with characters from the sequel making brief appearances at the beginning and end. However, this does feel like it was written as a direct follow up to the original, and I think you could probably go straight from season one to this film without missing anything, which only makes season two feel a little bit more illegitimate than it already did.

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The biggest difference between both previous series of Psycho-Pass and the movie is that the movie is no longer really a detective show. You won’t find any grand mystery to unravel here or any kind of serial killer terrorists; instead it feels more like a traditional sci-fi action anime, with a whole lot more action sequences than either of its predecessors, and honestly, I think this was a change for the best. Given that the original show was 22 episodes long it had a lot of time to set up and execute its mystery, and the 11-episode follow-up felt really rushed in its second half, if they did try and pull off a similar mystery story it would have felt even more rushed than even the second season, and more than likely would have turned out messy. With that in mind, I actually really quite like the plot, despite its more simplistic approach. The idea of Sibyl expanding globally to gain more control feels like a natural progression of the story from previous seasons and seeing how other countries would react to such a system being implemented is interesting.

psychopassmovie_1With the film having a more simplistic story you’d think this would allow for a bigger focus on the characters, so I can’t help but feel a little bit underwhelmed by that aspect. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but the reunion between Akane and Kougami felt very underplayed, and somewhat disappointing considering that it was one of the biggest selling points of this movie, at least to me. In general, I felt that characters were lacking in growth or development, although given it’s a film and limited on time, I was kind of expecting that anyway, and I don’t think it really harmed my enjoyment. Something I would have liked to have seen, however, is more of the supporting cast. Given that Akane is shipped off to another country about 15 minutes in, the recurring cast of the other seasons are reduced down to cameo appearances, with only about 20 odd minutes of screentime between them. With Kougami back in the picture, it would have been nice to see how both the old cast from season 1 and the new cast from season 2 react to him.

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Along with the return of Urobuchi, it’s also great to see Production IG back at the helm of Psycho-Pass The Movie. Not that Tatsunoko did a bad job with season 2, but the quality of IG’s animation is undeniable, and whilst Tatsunoko replicated the visual identity of the first series, this film has a unique look of its own. Since the story takes place outside of Japan for the first time, we get to see the what a country not under the control of Sibyl looks like. This allows IG to mix the slick sci-fi visuals from previous entries with the more run down environment of a war-torn country, including a lot of scenes taking place in abandoned capital city, which is in stark contrast to Season 1.

Including both a 5.1 English audio track and a 5.1 Japanese audio track with English subtitles, both the English and Japanese cast return to reprise their roles from earlier seasons. As per usual for Funimation, the quality of the dub is excellent with not a bad voice actor among the bunch. Everyone delivers fantastic performances, with Kate Oxley (Darker Than Black, My Hero Academia, Fullmetal Alchemist) and Robert McCollum (Barakamon, Dragon Ball Z, Attack on Titan) taking center stage as Akane and Kougami respectively. The band Ling Tosite Sigure contribute their third opening song for the franchise, “Who What Who What”; probably the least memorable OP they’ve done out of the three but isn’t bad, and the first ending theme from Psycho Pass, “A Best Without a Name” comes back as the film’s credits song, which is a nice call back.

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As for extras, the limited edition release by Anime Limited includes a rigid box, digipak and artbook, as well as both a Blu-ray and DVD copy of the film. On-disc extras include trailers, ad spots and a commentary track from the dub cast.

In Summary

It isn’t quite as good as the original Psycho Pass, but it’s still a brilliantly entertaining film and a great return to form for the franchise, finally resolving the cliffhanger ending of season 1 and expanding the world in an interesting way.

Title: PSYCHO-PASS - The Movie
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Sci-fi, Military, Police
Studio: Production IG
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: 113 minutes

Score: 8/10

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.

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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

Expelled From Paradise Review

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Expelled From Paradise is an original feature film created by Gen Urobuchi (of Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero and Aldnoah.Zero fame) and directed by Seiji Mizushima (of Fullmetal Alchemist and Gundam 00 fame). It’s simply one of those films not based on anything other than a company (or two, in this case: Toei Animation and Nitroplus) deciding to hire some talent to make one.

Set in a good old fashioned post-apocalyptic future, most of mankind now lives on a spacestation named DEVA, where just a few months after being born they are digitised and live out their lives in a computer-generated paradise… well, sort of. Each person has an allocated amount of “memory” that they can use to learn and experience things, and the harder you work, the more you get, and if you slack off you’re “put in storage”, or effectively imprisoned. Still, DEVA agent Angela Balzac is happy with her lot in life, so when a hacker starts breaking into the simulated lives of the DEVA citizens and talking about traveling to the stars with them, Angela is happy to be given the task to track the culprit down. Sadly for her, that involves getting a “simulated flesh body” and being sent down to the actual Earth, as the hacker appears to be operating from down there. She meets up with the rather cool and laid back “Dingo” (that’s a codename), an informant working on Earth in order to get more money and food for the starving 2% who were left on the planet.

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Cue lots of Angela experiencing things for the first time, “dusty air”, heavy gravity and eventually a simple fever/cold, which is upsetting for her, having never gotten ill in the computer paradise. This all leads to the discovery of “Frontier Setter”, the hacker in question, and a good discussion on what being human really is, whether Angela’s paradise is really a prison, and how the struggling people of Earth are more alive than they’ll ever be. I won’t spoil any more, but it really is well done; it makes you think and still enjoy what you see. There are a few action scenes towards the end involving some mech-like suits, but really that almost seemed unnecessary given how the plot moves.

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As you probably will have guessed (given that it’s a film) the animation is top-notch, fluid and bright; even a few CG sweeping shots are so well blended that you have a hard time telling when it’s switching between the two styles. The voice work for both languages is great, with the English voice track featuring Steve Blum pretty much reviving his role as Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop in order to voice Dingo. The extras are a “making of” feature (available in Japanese with English subtitles) and some trailers.

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So, an overall look at Expelled From Paradise. It looks great, sounds great, and although some story arcs go as predicted – Angela, for example, being the Eve and having to get used to living in the real world after being… well, expelled from paradise, has a pretty obvious character arc – in a lot of ways the story will surprise you, or just generally makes you think about what it means to be human without being too preachy or on-the-nose. The post credits scene will leave you with a smile, even if it is quite sad.

Expelled From Paradise is a perfectly fine way to spend an hour and forty-ish minutes. It’s one of those films that as the end credits roll up you look at the clock and realise that time really has flown by that quickly.

Rating: 9/10

Anime Quick Information

Title: Expelled From Paradise
UK Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Sci-fi
Studio: Toei Animation
Type: Movie
Year: 2014
Age Rating: 12
Running Time: 104 minutes