Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence Anime Movie Review

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Movie - 100 minutes - 1 disc
$39.98 (2009) Blu-Ray
$29.98 (2009) w/book
$19.98 (2009)
$26.98 (2005) w/Millennium Actress
$29.99 (2004)
ISBN 678149175721
Japanese Audio - English Subtitles
English Audio (Blu-Ray only)
Director - Mamoru Oshii
Studio - Production I.G/Studio Ghibli

Synopsis: The future of humankind in the year 2032 is the progression of technology and its affect on organic life.  Scientific advances have allowed complete transference of human consciousness into prosthetic, cyborg bodies.  More commonplace is the addition of cybernetic enhancements to natural bodies.  Society has leaped forward with access to boundless information over the net and crime has followed.  Special units have been developed by the governments in an attempt to control the infinitely devious forms of cyber-crime.  Can you hack a person's soul?
Your standard black market sex doll dressed up as a geisha
Public Security Section 9 investigates the most serious cyber-crimes and has access to the most advanced technology.  They were once led by Major Motoko Kusanagi, a full-body cyborg, but she went rogue after merging with a completely artificial intelligence called The Puppet Master.  The rest of the group remains intact and continues to operate.  Batou was the Major's second in command and was very close to her when she disappeared.  He's a stoic tough-guy with a soft side as seen only by his pet basset hound.  Batou continues to search for clues to the Major's activities.
Let's just say you don't want to buy a malfunctioning sex doll
Batou's is now partnered with Togusa, the most human member of Section 9 (least artificial enhancements), who is a family man and was recruited from the police force.  The two investigate a series of gruesome murders perpetrated by life-like sex dolls.  It seems the dolls have malfunctioned and killed their masters.  Now the two Section 9 detectives must unravel the mystery behind the killer dolls.  Is it possible the artificial intelligence programmed into the dolls has gained a life of its own?  Could the Major somehow be behind the evolution of the dolls?  When a faint ghost is discovered in the most recent killer doll's body all bets are off!
Batou and partner Togusa are called in to investigate the grisly murders
Pros: Great animation, exhaustively detailed CG for the time period, lush backgrounds, focuses on Batou who was a favorite of mine from the first film and the manga, more Section 9 characters show up, presents an interesting detective case in the form of the dolls' artificial sentience, a lot for action than the first film, return of the Major (sorta)
The case runs deeper as Batou and Togusa investigate the sex dolls
Cons: Original DVD versions didn't include an English dub, English subtitles include sound effects ("helicopter approaching"), CG effects don't mesh well with regular animation and are too stiff (reminded me of a 3D video game background), Batou is a less compelling main character than the Major from the first film, too many quotes in the dialogue, action for action's sake, indulgent for the director (too much basset hound)
Batou is a complete hardass until he comes home to pamper his basset hound
Mike Tells It Straight: The first Ghost in the Shell was a classic, iconic film which helped define anime for a generation.  Oshii created a cutting edge masterpiece with international appeal and cemented himself as a major director.  The movie was so good it influenced the creators of The Matrix franchise.  Although it deviated from the original manga by a great degree GitS the movie was a standalone experience with its own philosophical and haunting voice.  A sequel was welcome news for fans everywhere and especially with Oshii at the helm again.
These sex dolls bear a striking resemblance to a certain Major
Animation technology had advanced considerably by the time the sequel was in production.  Computer graphics evolved in leaps and bounds with entire backgrounds being rendered digitally.  Even figures could be rendered, but the technology still lacked an organic feel to the human eye.  Oshii went with a combination of the two processes by digitally rendering the backgrounds with seemingly hand-drawn characters.  Western animators would fully embrace the all-digital process (Toy Story, Shrek), but Japanese animators were slower to adopt all digital and make a point to keep character renderings 2D in appearance (which I personally agree).
Batou has a difficult time buying dog food at his usual store
This film is an intense mash-up of incredibly rendered digital backgrounds with traditional ('organic') characters.  The attention to detail is ridiculous and works fairly well until we get to scenes with actual movement (like cars driving down a city street) where the differences become fairly obvious.  The combination works particularly well during the scene where Batou has a shoot out in a convenience store.  The first film was on the cutting edge of animation technology and Oshii continues this trend in the sequel.  Despite the lush backgrounds I felt the CG elements awkwardly interacted with the 2D elements at times and distracted me from the story.  In a few scenes I felt like I was watching a video game with the 2D characters moving through a poorly rendered background.

The CG work in this film is incredible.  This particular parade scene is crazy!
Oshii makes a real case for animation as high level art with this film.  The story is an obvious progression of his viewpoint on society and technology's potential for change, but I felt his execution and particularly the script was a bit too much.  It's a long movie and has quite a few drawn out scenes.  The dialogue was rife with literary quotes which stifled any natural feel to the character interactions.  Try talking in quotes all day and see how long people take you seriously.
Batou and Togusa follow up a lead with an unsavory hacker
With the Major out of the way at the end of the first film, Oshii would shift focus to fan-favorite character Batou and explore deeper into the consequences of limitless advances to technology.  The stage was set for a repeat performance of the first film's success.  Even the composer returned for the sequel.  It was a no brainer, right?
Oshii has mastered the fish eye lens
Batou's personality in the movies is much different than in the manga and Standalone Complex television series where he's a bit of a clown, but Oshii makes him a stoic hardass.  He's just not as compelling or deep of an individual as the Major.  The DVD released by Dreamworks had no English dub which cut it off from a majority of fans of the first film.  Unless you're into foreign films with subtitles then the pre-2009 Innocence releases were not aimed at you.  Thank goodness someone finally added a dub to the Blu-Ray release.
Batou has commando training and he gets to use it!
Dreamworks even pissed off the hardcore anime fans who hate dubs by making the subtitles closed captioned = including sound effects.  My favorite is the very first subtitle in the movie - ("helicopter approaching").  Despite its flaws I thought GitS 2 was a beautifully rendered movie and the story was mildly compelling.  It dragged on forever with those damn quotes, but I got what Oshii was trying to say. Check out this movie if you liked the first film and want to see where Oshii's vision goes.  Definitely get the Blu-Ray version with English dub and crisper visuals.  Standalone Complex is much more interesting and I recommend watching both television series if you haven't already (they were both run on Cartoon Network several times).
Is that the Major?  Is she behind the malfunctioning sex dolls?

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Welcome to the N.H.K. Anime Review

Welcome to the N-H-K
N.H.K. ni Yokoso
Complete Collection - 6 discs
600 mins. - 24 episodes
$29.98 (2010) S.A.V.E.
$69.98 (2009)
$59.98 (2008) Parts 1-2/ea.
$39.98 (2007) Vol. 2 w/artbox
$29.98 (2007-08) Vol. 1-6/ea.
ISBN 704400096662
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Yusuke Yamamoto
Studio - Gonzo

Synopsis: Tatsuhiro Sato dropped out of college and now seldomly leaves his apartment.  He spends time on his computer, watches anime, and reads manga.  His parents support him from overseas and he hasn't had a job in years.  Sato is a NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) and is slowly turning into a hikikomori (a person who doesn't leave their home for many months). He's a total recluse and has developed a conspiracy theory that the Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai (NHK) is purposely causing people to become hikikomori for their own nefarious ends.
Sato is a complete slob and has sequestered himself in his apartment
Despite Sato's best efforts he still comes in contact with people that want to pull him out of his hikikomori state.  An odd girl, Misaki Nakahara, takes an interest in him and claims she has developed a program to cure him of being a hikikomori.  She convinces him to sign a contract for the program and he tries to downplay his recluse lifestyle.  He discovers his next door neighbor (who keeps bumping the incessant theme song for Puru Puru Pururin 24-7) is actually a former high school classmate,  Kaoru Yamazaki, who Sato rescued from some bullies.  The bullies later kicked Sato's ass.
Sato's neighbor Yamazaki is a complete otaku and animation student
Yamazaki is an animation student and Sato ends up working on an erotic computer game to prove to Misaki that he's actually working on something.  Sato drives Yamazaki crazy because he gets distracted so easily (like spending an entire night downloading porn for 'reference material').  Yamazaki is a hardcore otaku and introduces Sato to all of the standard material - manga, doujinshi, erotic manga/doujinshi, erotic computer games, massively multiplayer online role-playing games, and anime.  Yamazaki wants to unveil their game at Summer Comiket to impress his classmates and especially the cute girl, Nanako, who he has a major crush on.
Sato is approached by this cute girl named Misaki.  Huh!?
We learn about Sato's past before he was a hikikomori when he runs into another old classmate, Hitomi Kashiwa.  She appears to be a successful government worker, but learn her life is less than perfect.  She's the one who first introduced Sato to the idea of a big conspiracy working behind the scenes to manipulate people's lives.  When these two get together anything can happen and it puts Sato's relationship with his friends (and his very life) in jeopardy.
Sato spends an entire night looking up online porn, ahem,
'researching' for the gal-game he's writing for Yamazaki
Misaki and Sato meet every night to work on her curriculum and he is a semi-willing student.  Why is a cute girl like her spending time with an obvious loser like Sato?  Misaki's past is a mystery and contrasts greatly with her innocent demeanor.  Is she part of the NHK conspiracy?  What happens when Sato's parents finally pull the plug on his solitary lifestyle?  Can he possibly shed his hikikomori ways and rejoin society?  Why bother?
Sato becomes obsessed with playing an online RPG game after
meeting a cute cat girl who partners with him
Pros: Explores a lot of interesting themes relevant to the Japanese and society in general - hikikomori, NEETS, otaku culture, pyramid schemes, online gaming, and internet suicide pacts (yeah, that one was unexpected), Gonzo does some decent animation, good opening/ending theme songs (although ending theme is a bit frenetic)
Sato dreams he has an affair with former senpai Hitomi
Cons: Sato has a weak character and can be pretty mean to Misaki, the little NHK conspiracy goblins are kind of lame, no real resolution to the story at the end, this series is actually kind of depressing as it progresses
Hey, why are those people holding hands and walking toward a cliff?
Mike Tells It Straight: Welcome to the N.H.K. was completely unexpected and fairly interesting.  I was expecting something completely different after seeing the DVD covers and preview.  These prominently featured scantily clad women and manic comedy, but the show was a lot deeper.  The subject matter is slowly unveiled from beneath the comedy and concerns deep psychological problems among the main characters.  Each one has something they are dealing with like Sato being a hikikomori, Misaki's past, Hitomi's desperation, and Yamazaki's avoidance of responsibility with childish pursuits.  What I thought was going to be a satirical comedy (like Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, although that had a serious side as well) ended up being a serious show.
Misaki pretends to be Sato's girlfriend in front of his Mom, but
is he really falling for her?
Don't get me wrong, it has a lot of comedy elements and Sato/Yamazaki are complete spastics.  As the story progresses however and we really get to know the characters and their pasts it becomes clear this is not merely a comedy.  Sato has removed himself from regular society and gets nervous in crowded places.  He doesn't quite fit in with regular people and is easily influenced.  It's fun to watch him cycle through addictions to anime, erotic computer games, online porn, and get caught in the web of a pyramid scheme.  He's truly pathetic and the viewer can enjoy watching his prat falls with the smug certainty that they would never fall prey to these petty traps.  NHK was originally a light novel and then a manga series with a decidedly mature tone to it.  The anime is a much more toned down version than the manga, but I wouldn't mind checking out the manga some time.
Misaki and Yamazaki try to save Sato from a pyramid scheme
I enjoyed the slice-of-life aspect of the show and learning about Japanese culture.  That part of anime is always fascinating to me because it differs greatly from American culture.  The concept of a hikikomori sounds exotic until you consider how many shut-ins and adults still live with their parents.  This show veers off in some strange directions (like the internet suicide pact thing) which kind of lost me for a minute.  It's character-driven and we learn about a group of dysfunctional young adults who have generally lost their way in society.  Each must overcome their own personal obstacles and it gets a little depressing.  I generally recommend this show, but you need to know what you're getting into first (and it has some instances of mature subject matter).  Although I laughed out loud at many parts (the cat girl from the MMORPG is hilarious), it's not just comedy and fan-service you'll be watching.  Be ready for some serious subject matter by the end.
Welcome to the N-H-K!
TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sekirei Pure Engagement Anime Review

Sekirei: Pure Engagement
Sekirei Season Two
Complete Collection - 5 discs
350 mins. - 14 episodes
$64.98 (2012) Blu-Ray/DVD combo
$69.98 (2013) Season 1-2 Blu-Ray/DVD combo
ISBN 704400058417
Japanese/English Subtitles - English Subtitles
Director - Keizo Kusakawa
Studio - Seven Arcs

Synopsis: Minato Sahashi has joined the Sekirei Plan as an Ashikabi.  He was just a regular guy having trouble passing his college entrance exams when a beautiful girl bumped into him.  Her name is Musubi and she is a Sekirei.  The Sekirei are numbered (up to 108) and must battle each other according to the Sekirei Plan which is a run by the clandestine MBI Corporation.  Musubi has chosen Minato as her Ashikabi, the human partner who can amplify a Sekirei's power through a kiss.
Musubi and Tsukiumi have a hardcore rivalry on who can shop fastest
The pair's bond has been tested through battles with other Sekirei/Ashikabi pairs as well as MBI's cruel Discipline Squad.  They have become stronger as a result and Minato has proven himself a confident individual.  He and Musubi live at a boarding house, the Izumo Inn, filled with other Sekirei.  Most of them have chosen Minato as their Ashikabi and compete with each other for his attention.  They include Musubi (who uses hand-to-hand combat), Tsukiumi who considers herself Minato's actual wife (she wields power over water), Kusano is a young girl who plans to marry Minato when she gets older (her ability is plants), and Matsu the computer-genius.
It's always party-time when Kazehana is around!
The Inn is also home to a few mysterious Sekirei including the ridiculously well-endowed Kazehana (she controls wind and drinks a lot of sake) who develops a keen interest in Minato, the secretive Homura who hides a chilling secret (yet is a Fire Sekirei), Uzume who hides the fact she is a Sekirei (what is her true goal and who is her Ashikabi?), and the frightening innkeeper Miya whose roots reach back to the birth of the Sekirei Plan.  We also get to meet Minato's mother who actually works for MBI - will she protect her son or choose her employer?
Homura doesn't like getting interrupted in the bath.  Mystery or
just common privacy?
The Plan progresses and peripheral participants are forced into the forefront by MBI's maniacal chairman, Hiroto Minaka.  This includes Uzume, Homura, and even Kazehana.  Minato and the girls are thrust into action to oppose MBI and the Sekirei Plan.  Events take a serious turn as friends are pitted against friends in a battle to the death.  Can they stand up to the Discipline Squad and the other Sekirei, or will they be torn apart?
The original Discipline Squad has a few familiar faces
Pros: Decent opening theme music (ending theme is just okay), this show is all about fan-service and there's a lot, good animation, Minato is a stand up guy and not the typical harem genre wimp, more action than the first season although perhaps less fan-service O_o, we learn more about the Sekirei Plan and MBI
Tsukiumi warns Kazehana to keep her giant boobs away from Minato!
Cons: Story is not very deep or compelling, more attention is given to the peripheral Sekirei and not as much to the Musubi/Minato relationship as the first season, MBI's chairman is a ridiculous jackass, the plot moves slowly forward without many real answers
Not this douchebag again!
Mike Tells It Straight: I watched the first season of Sekirei and despite being heavily focused on fan-service I found it to have a good heart.  The growing relationship between Musubi and Minato was charming and I was really impressed at him being an atypical harem-genre male protagonist.  He actually had a spine and stood up for the girls in his 'harem' which was very refreshing.  The plot wasn't so great and it was more about girls losing articles of clothing during battles (or the ample bath scenes), but showed enough promise to make we watch this second season.  
Kazehana must rescue Minato from the current Discipline Squad
The story picks up as the Sekirei Plan moves forward and MBI's chairman forces Sekirei/Ashikabi pairs to participate.  Focus shifts to the mysterious Sekirei living at the Izumo Inn as we get the story of Kazehana, Homura, Uzume, and Miya.  I was a little let down by the overall story progression of this season despite and maybe because these peripheral characters take away the focus from Minato/Musubi.  I found the firs season's best aspect was their buddy relationship and the 'harem' aspect of the show blocked them getting closer.
Who is the Veiled Sekirei?
Focus shifted toward the story vs. the fan-service in this second season, but there's still plenty of busty half-naked girls.  It felt more serious and one of the peripheral cast is taken out.  MBI's chairman is a total chump and not a menacing villain at all.  I really hope there's a third season because the finish of this season didn't resolve the story.  If you liked the first season then check this one out (you should obviously watch the first season before this one), but if fan-service and ridiculously-proportioned women are not your bag then steer clear.
Each year the Sekirei submit themselves to a physical examination
by the MBI Corp.  Yeah, it's pretty hot.

TO BUY and Recommendations: