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July 30, 2012

Sentou Yousei Yukikaze 4-5 - anime (2002)

Title: Sentou Yousei Yukikaze 4-5
Format: anime
Length: 5 OVA episodes

Holy fuck! The two most intense episodes of the set! I started watching Yukikaze a few days ago and I've finally managed to finish it. Let me just say the drama got turned up two-fold as the story hit its climax. The relationship between Rei and Yukikaze becomes a little clearer as we learn more about the JAM and the war that's going on. 

Likewise, the relationship between Rei and Jack hits a critical point as the plot speeds towards the conclusion. I should have expected a dramatic, sad moment to crop up as the war hits its peak and victory seems bleak, but even if I did, it still would have hit me hard in the gut. 

What I like about this series is the ever constant grip on reality despite the obvious sci-fi elements that allow the audience to step away from the real world for a moment. Gonzo's choice to consult the air force about tactics and maneuvers helped to keep the fight scenes believable while still creating a sense of disbelief during the parts when Yukikaze and the JAM excel perform beyond the scope of reality.

I'll admit, the military jargon and sequences can be hard to follow at times, if you're not used to it. Those familiar with militant speech, or have any active military backgrounds probably would have an easier time catching all the details and understanding what they mean. The good thing is, even if you aren't too familiar and get a little lost in all the talk, the action scenes make up for it. 

The animation and coloring are superb. And since I've set aside my prejudice about 3DCG in anime for this show, I have to applaud the animation group for blending the two platforms together, both drawing and CG. It made the actions scenes so much more exciting to watch. I think I actually tensed up during the final battle, almost shrieking for the good guys to win. 

So much happened in Operation 5 I can't even begin to describe it. My mind was overloaded by the end of it all. The epilogue was tears worthy, and any sentimental who enjoys shedding a tear or two over aftermaths of a great, emotional battle, will definitely be affected by the ending provided. 

After I cool down a bit and give myself a few more days to process everything, I have a feeling I'm going to go back and watch the whole thing again and see if I can pick up on any information I missed the first time around. 

I can definitely see why this story became popular in its original print. The visuals just make it that much more awesome. :)

Overall: 4.5 out of 5

July 28, 2012

Sentou Yousei Yukikaze - anime (2002)

Title: Sentou Yousei Yukikaze, 1-3
Format: anime, OVA
Length: 5 episodes

I've recently discovered this show called Sentou Yousei Yukikaze (i.e. Battle Fairy Yukikaze; or simply, Yukikaze). It's set in the future, with a heavy sci-fi, military setting. The main character, Rei Fukai, is the pilot of B-503 aka: Yukikaze. Secondary main character, James "Jack" Bukhar, is Rei's commanding officer and seemingly only friend. 

To my understanding, this OVA set is actually based off a novel series by Chohei Kambayashi.

When I first saw a trailer of the anime, I wasn't too sure what to expect of it. Since it's only a five episode OVA, I didn't know how they would execute the story. I was under the impression it would be something along the lines of Macross or Gundam, only much shorter and more condensed. 

Upon actually seeing the first episode, I found it to be completely different from what I was expecting. While not quite as brightly colored as Gundam or Macross, or heavily laced with political messages disguised as key plot points, the story is very involved and thought provoking. 

Yukikaze is an AI system built into the B-503 that seems to be almost sentient. The thought of machines gaining a consciousness of their own has been stewed in the backs of many people's minds over many years, so on that basic concept, it's nothing new. But the way Yukikaze reacts to the situation, and takes control during key parts of the story is intriguing. 

I enjoy how Yukikaze is not omnipotent despite its (her? his?) power. I have seen in various other anime or other story platforms where sentient AI are too overpowering. They control too much of the situation and leave little room for human choice to enter the equation. Yukikaze's power is restricted, seeming to focus solely on aiding Rei during critical moments. 

Rei has full power to leave the machine behind and pursue a different course of action. If only his conscience would allow it. Rei's complicated personality and principles make it difficult for him to step away from Yukikaze as others might have long ago. There is a sense of trust there that's almost frightening because of the things that Yukikaze projects and the truths that it reveals throughout the story. 

I haven't finished the series yet, I'm slowly working on it, but I find the relationship between Rei and Yukikaze to be rather fascinating. I can't quite find the words to describe what it is that interests me so about them. I suppose it's the same sort of fascination that draws me to Jack too. 

Rei and Jack seem to also have a complicated relationship. They're friends, but also stand on two different stages of military ranking. There is a subtle history being played throughout the episodes that describe their relationship, and since I haven't quite finished watching, I'm sure I'm missing a few key points that would tie everything together. 

So until I can connect all the plot points and whatnot, I'll talk about the simpler stuff: 

The animation. To note, I've always had this unfair prejudice against animations that rely heavily on CG effects to help in particular action sequences. I've always seemed to prefer a more hand-drawn style, with minimal aid/interference from CG (which is why I love the old Ghibli movies so much; despite being aided by a lot of CG, it still looks drawn).

To be honest, I was anxious about the flight scenes in the show. But as I've immersed myself in the story, and concentrated more on what's going on, and less on how easily I can tell someone used a 3D program to do the jet fights, I actually don't mind that much. There are times when I still get that squirmy, uncomfortable feeling when the blending isn't smooth enough to my liking, but for the most part I've come to ignore them in favor of a more fruitful and enjoyable experience. 

And besides, it's pretty interesting to see how accurately they have animated the projected flight patterns of a F-15 fighter jet. From my understanding, the animators of Gonzo (a company I've come to love for their affinity for obscure plots and unique directive executions) worked with a real Air Force team for their flying scenes. 

The voices, too, are interesting. I've only watched it in Japanese, but from accidentally hearing a few clips in English, I think the translation is palatable. The quality of voice and the inflections of speech seem to follow the original Japanese audio. If I had to guess, I would say it wouldn't be hard to watch this in English as well as Japanese. (some shows have horrible English dubbing but excellent Japanese dubbing, while others are the exact opposite. This series... I think could go either way.)

I'll have to go back and listen to it again to make sure, though. I'm pretty sure even after I watch the last two episodes, I'll want to go back just to recap so I can draw a proper conclusion about the series. I'll just watch it in English the second time around to kill two birds with one stone.

Simply put, this discover has been an unexpected treasure. Fans of military type of shows would probably enjoy this. As would sci-fi fans. People who have watched anime like Macross or Gundam or anything obscure that's a product of Gonzo will probably enjoy this. Granted, it's not for everyone, but I think I really like it. It's a shame I haven't seen more stuff about it on the internet. It seems to be under-appreciated by most audiences. 

Overall: 4 out of 5

July 24, 2012

Young Justice - season 1 (unfinished)

Title: Young Justice - season 1
Format: animated series
Length: 24 minute episodes

Still on my DC kick, I've recently started watching Young Justice. I never got to watch it before because it always came on at times I couldn't watch it, or I forgot, or I was obsessing over a different series at the time. (Or I was probably really busy with academics.) Either way, I've got time now, and I'm in a mood since Nolan's Batman trilogy has ended, so I'm kinda marathoning it as much as I can between stuff I have to do. 

It's interesting to say in the least. It's definitely shoved full of teenager hormones, and sometimes the impatient part of me that has a problem with teens/kids wants to just smack them around when they get into these silly fights with each other. But the DC fan in me still watches and forces that impatient part aside to enjoy the little plot points that get dropped throughout the episode (or several episodes). 

One thing that's cracked me up since starting the series is... well, Kaldur/Aqualad. He's dark-skinned. This doesn't bother me, even though it was kinda surprising (Aqualad was originally pale skinned, like Aquaman).

Twice, while watching a few episodes in a row, a roommate has passed by the television right when Aqualad introduces himself or the others call on him, and stopped to say, "Aqualad is black?!" while wearing a shocked, incredulous expression on their face.

It's really amusing.

On the other hand, Superboy/Conner, has some major anger issues. Reasonable, but still major. It probably doesn't help that Superman isn't being very accepting of their biological relationship. (Or the truth about his birth.)

I'm still trying to figure out which Robin is behind the mask. I'm pretty sure it's Tim, but I could be wrong. I don't know, and I don't want to cheat and use the internet just yet to find the answer. The bad thing about all the Robin's (male ones anyway) is they all pretty much look alike except for their eyes. (Jason sometimes has his white streak, and sometimes not; depends on the timeline and who's drawing.) 

Anyway, it's pretty interesting so far. Strange, since I'm not used to watching these types of shows anymore, but I'm getting used to it. In the meantime, I think I'll keep going and reevaluate my opinions once I'm at least done with the first season. 

June 11, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

Title: Snow White and the Huntsman
Director: Rupert Sanders
Format: live action movie
Length: 127 minutes

The new Snow White movie came out just the other week and I managed to see it yesterday. I didn't get the chance to review right away, but my memory is fresh enough that one day won't hurt. To start, let's talk about the movie as a whole. It was visually stimulating and the soundtrack was well suited for the moments. The graphics of mythical creatures was alluring, even the troll under the bridge. I especially liked the graphics that aided in expressing the Queen's (played by Charlize Theron) magic. What you see in the previews is very much what you get in the movie.

Now let's go with the plot. This movie takes on an old fairytale (and Disney favorite for many people) and puts an interesting twist on the plot. We see how Snow White came to be, and why the Queen wants her so much. Yes, we know it's because she's supposed to be "the fairest of them all," but there's a little more depth do it than just because she's pretty. The Queen's character is complex, and her background plays a major role in dictating why she acts the way she does. We see how her foundation sets into motion this terrible chain of events that poisons the land and her own soul.

I would have liked to see a little more of her story, but for what little we do see, Charlize does an excellent job of projecting that history through the Queen's current actions and the emotions that ride her. I believe Charlize did a wonderful job in making the Queen someone who was believable and creepy. Someone who you could possibly relate to. (I wanted her to win, frankly.)

On the opposite side, we have Snow White (played by Kristen Stewart), aka: the Princess. They hardly say her given name in the movie, only mentioning it in the narrative in the beginning. Otherwise she is only known as "the princess." Snow White's character has lived a harsh life, and the journey she takes is a grueling one. She has to learn to trust, and find her resolve to fight the Queen and put an end to her reign. It's not easy. She meets many trials along the way.

As a character, I thought SW was okay. But played by Kristen, I had a hard time relating to her. I couldn't get into her character because Kristen didn't portray SW's emotions well. I noticed that Kristen only wears one expression on her face: blank. Her facial muscles don't move very much, least of all to close her mouth (the only time she seems to close her mouth is when she's dead -- that's not a spoiler, we already know from the original Snow White story that she has to die). I couldn't tell if she was angry or surprised or happy or sad except when she inflected her voice and showed tears. Otherwise, it was hard buying into her acting.

(Personally, I think Kristen would do better as a voice actress since she can convey the emotions in her voice well, but not a visual actress since she can't portray them on her face.)

As for the Huntsman (played by Chris Hemsworth), I felt neutral about him. I wasn't overly impressed or disappointed with his character. He was, quite plainly, a support character. Chris plays his role well, but there were times when I wondered if he couldn't be a little more vocal with his emotions during more serious parts of the movie. Perhaps I didn't give him a close enough look when I watched the movie, but he didn't really stand out to me.

One male character that did stand out was the Queen's brother, Finn (played by Sam Spruell). While not an overly 3-dimensional character, I very much enjoyed his interactions with his sister. Sam and Charlize had an interesting chemistry. They seemed to feed off of each other. You could believe they had a dysfunctional sibling relationship. (And as an extra little tidbit, I also enjoyed the fight scene between the Huntsman and Finn. Can anyone say pimp cane?)

Speaking of actors and characters, one thing to note while watching this movie is that you'll recognize cast members from a recent, well known saga. Cast members from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides play key supporting characters in this movie. If you've seen it before, you'll instantly recognize them here.

But apart from the acting and visuals, the movie was a pleasant experience. It felt like the story could have been extended upon, but I'm not sure if I could have stood to watch SW's character be mistreated by a poor choice in actress for a minute longer. Also, there were some wardrobe inconsistencies, especially with SW's character, that bothered me a bit. It was blatantly obvious when they were trying to make her look "sexy" during certain parts, because it didn't quite fit with the context of the story. Likewise, not just with the clothes, you could tell when they dyed Kristen's hair to better fit the character's description. Kristen's hair is three different shades of brown, and finally in one scene it's actually black as night.

There were a bunch of little things that the editors didn't catch and fix while they were making the movie that you can see rather obviously as you watch the movie. While it doesn't necessarily detract from the experience, I had a hard time ignoring it altogether. At the very least, I enjoyed most of the movie, especially key characters, both main and supporting. Overall, it's an okay movie. If there's a discount theatre that shows this movie, I would suggest going there instead of paying full price. Or maybe even wait until you can rent it.

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

April 16, 2012

Tiger & Bunny, 2011 - anime

Title: Tiger & Bunny
Genre: action, comedy, mystery, (b)romance
Length: 25 episodes
Format: anime

Oh boy. Where do I start? It was the title that got me. I was wondering what sort of show could have a name that cheesy and initially thought it would be full of tiny characters with overly cute features, or something having to do with animals and life lessons. Instead, I got the brain child of the Power Rangers, Marvel and DC, and every other western superhero/mutant-based comic or show that's out there.

T&B is littered with western comic book superhero influences, including but not limited to The Avengers, TMNT, X-Men, and Batman. But unlike our normal western superhero drama, T&B puts a twist on the classic by giving it a sports-like atmosphere. We don't just have superheros or people with superpowers, they're contracted to major multimillionaire companies, sponsored by popular consumer products like Pepsi and Bandai. They compete with each other to earn the most points by capturing criminals and saving citizens.

I must say, the game spin caught me off guard, as well as the full blown CG that's used on the characters' costumes. More often than not I shy away from such obvious shows of CG because I don't like how it meshes well with the 2D art that's notorious in anime/cartoons. I prefer to have CG being used as cinematography aids rather than key factors in the show.

However, I managed to put my prejudice aside for this show. After getting past my initial shock and discomfort, I found I didn't really mind it because of the type of action scenes the characters engage in. For those who share the same discomfort as me, I think you'll be able to enjoy this show anyway.

Of course, to enjoy this show, you have to first be familiar with western superheros. Not just Superman and Batman, but even the other branches as well. The organizations and the affiliations. You don't have to be a major geek to understand it all, but it helps to be familiar with the main trademarks and characters of each series.

It is this knowledge that will help you pick up the cues that are peppered all throughout the show. Characters in T&B have been designed with one or more western super' in mind. To give you a hint, one of Wild Tiger's handy gadgets is reminiscent of Spiderman's web. I could tell you more, but some key factors are spoilers. I'm sure if you watch you'll see what I mean.

Now, apart from the homage to western comic book heroes, the show if very lively and dramatic, touching on almost every major genre. You've got a bit of action, a bit of adventure, a bit of family drama, friendship drama, mystery, and romance -- though that one takes a backseat to the action and drama.

I added bromance to the genre because this show deals heavily on the partnership of Wild Tiger and Barnaby/Bunny. They have a partnership that begins in adversity and grows into something powerful and indestructible at the end. Their teamwork and trust helps them to overcome obstacles both in the crime fighting world and on a personal level. They are a dynamic duo.

If you want to have a few laughs and indulge in something that brings you back to your childhood days of fantasizing about Superman and Wonderwoman and whatnot, I think this series is right for you. It's fun and suitable for various types of audiences.

Overall: 4 out of 5