Month: February 2015

Expelled From Paradise

Expelled From Paradise

expelledfromparadise

  • Trailer: Preview trailer
  • What it’s about: The year is 2700, and the majority of humanity has escaped the increasingly hostile environment of Earth by uploading their minds to the digital playground of Deva. Indeed, most have never set foot in the physical world. Which is why it’s all the more concerning when a hacker from the outside breaks through Deva’s security to broadcast a message to its inhabitants, offering ludicrous sentiments about exploring the galaxy. A team of security personnel is assigned to track down and eliminate the hacker in the real world. Among them is Angela Balzac, a young woman desperate to prove her worth to her superiors.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s an interesting sci-fi detective story with a flair for adventure. The two mismatched personalities of Angela and her native Earth guide Dingo make for a fun dynamic and the dialogue between them is engaging and funny. There’s a solid sense of adventure woven through the plot as Angela explores the real world for the first time while Dingo does much of the actual case work. The action-packed finale is fantastically animated and choreographed, scratching the mecha-fighting itch that was promised in a lot of the promotional material. In all, it’s a good popcorn flick.
  • Caveats: Angela herself is almost painfully cliche as an anime character, right down to the suspiciously teenage body and brash attitude. While solidly written, the story doesn’t really offer much new – none of the themes are addressed in all that much depth, though it does at least touch on some interesting stuff here and there. Finally, it’s worth mentioning the graphics. It’s 3D-rendered with a sort of cel-animation aesthetic. If you’ve seen RWBY, it’s a lot like that.
  • Themes: Transhumanism, the ethics of meritocracies. Tradition vs modernity.
  • Similar works: Suisei no GargantiaSummer Wars. It also touches upon some of the same ideas and setting elements as Ergo Proxy and Ghost in the Shell, but both of those works are significantly darker.

Psychic School Wars

Psychic School Wars

psychicschoolwars

  • Trailer: English subtitled version
  • What it’s about: Seki’s worries are small in scale. There’s a girl in his high school that he’s trying to work up the nerve to confess to, his childhood friend won’t stop teasing him, and he can’t seem to make it into class on time. But things begin to change when a handsome, enigmatic transfer student arrives in his class. People begin to act strangely, or stop coming into school altogether. And why was it that the first words he heard from the new guy were “So this is Earth”?
  • Why you should watch it:* This is an utterly gorgeous movie. The animation, backgrounds, and especially the lighting are simply stunning in every scene. Despite the film’s title, it’s is not an action movie about psychic battles. Rather, it’s a gently meandering drama with a romantic bent to it. The plot is almost a sideline to the character interactions and simply presenting a visual feast for viewers to indulge in. Everything about the movie is calming, delicate and completely beautiful to watch.
  • Caveats: As mentioned above, don’t go into this expecting psychic battles, despite the name. I think the runtime could have been condensed a little; an hour and a half would have been enough to cover everything that needed to be said. Make sure to watch the after-credits scene.
  • Themes: Lack of communication as the root of most problems.
  • Similar works: 5 cm per second, Harmonie

Sunday Without God

Sunday Without God

sunday without god

  • Trailer: PV Trailer
  • What it’s about: God has abandoned humanity. That’s the assumption, at least, after it becomes apparent that no new children are being born, and nobody currently living is able to move on after they die. Instead, they continue to animate their corpses, existing more or less as they did while alive. The only way out is to be buried by one of the mysterious “Gravekeepers”. In a rural out of the way village, a young girl named Ai takes up the shovel to act as Gravekeeper for her community, without really knowing much about what the job entails.
  • Why you should watch it: The worldbuilding in Sunday Without God is first-rate. The premise alone was enough to get me to start watching, and the first two arcs flesh out the strange new world shared by the living and the dead with an interesting set of characters. When the soundtrack’s good, it’s *really* good – I particularly like the opening sequence, but the score manages to hit the key emotional moments with aplomb. The arc-based storytelling format means that if you don’t like a particular storyline, you can skip ahead a few episodes and pick it up when the cast move on.
  • Caveats: It’s rushed. The first arc alone could have – and probably should have – been given twice the space, and the second is no different. With worldbuilding put first and with so little time to tell each story, character development is largely limited to Ai herself. Each of the arcs leaves you wanting more – which is excellent in one sense but slightly irritating in another.
  • Themes: Growing up and assuming responsibility. Death, and moving on.
  • Similar works: Shinigami no Ballad, Hitsuki no Chaika.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion

evangelion

  • Trailer: English dubbed trailer for the first Rebuild movie.
  • What it’s about: Shinji Ikari did not set out to be a hero. In truth, he’s not qualified for the role, and he knows it. But when the alien “Angels” responsible for devastating Earth 15 years ago reappear and begin to lay waste to Japan once again, he’s told that only he is capable of piloting the Evangelion weapon system developed to defend humanity. Reluctantly, Shinji steps up. But there are good reasons not to place the weight of the world on the shoulders of a fourteen-year-old boy.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s not hyperbole to say that Neon Genesis Evangelion has a claim to being the greatest anime series ever produced. Others might have a more general appeal, or spin out a more epic tale, or have slicker production, but the impact that NGE has had on the medium since its first broadcast cannot be overstated. It would be worth a watch just to be able to pick out all of the references and allusions to it in your other favourite series, but on top of that it’s actually a good story. Binging through the whole show is far too easy. The characters are believable in their actions and motivations in a way that’s quite rare, there’s enough action going on to satisfy any mecha fan, and there’s enough depth to keep the attention of a more cerebrally-minded audience. The direction is supremely self-confident, and the writing doesn’t beat you over the head with its intent. It’s a show that has a lot to offer, and thoroughly deserves its reputation.
  • Caveats: To get it out of the way, this is quite an old series and it shows in the artstyle and animation. It actually holds up a lot better than its contemporaries, but for a viewer accustomed to modern anime aesthetics, it’s going to take a little getting used to. Secondly, the watch order: watch the original series all the way through, then watch the movie End of Evangelion. Give it a while to percolate before trying out the Rebuild movies.
  • Themes: Um, well. There have been entire theses written on this show and the different meanings and interpretations that can be pulled out of it, so I’m not even going to attempt a full summary. It’s safe to say that there’s a lot of Freudian subtext going on throughout, and the idea of the “hedgehog’s dilemma”, the yearning for close relationships coupled with an inability to commit or engage on that level without hurting one another, is a pretty central theme. Facing up to one’s responsibilities and the personal struggle with both depression and self-loathing is another.
  • Similar works: Madoka Magica is often brought up in the same breath as NGE for being another show that reflects and reinterprets the assumptions of its own genre. To see where Anno started off, try his directorial debut Gunbuster. It’s a little rough around the edges, and is a much more traditional mecha action show than Evangelion, but the connections between the works are there to see if you want them.

Himegoto

Himegoto

himegoto

  • Trailer: PV Trailer
  • What it’s about: The Yakuza are after Hime Arikawa’s parents for unpaid debts, but since they’ve skipped town, they’re willing to settle for Hime himself. He’s been fleeing from them for some time and has even gone so far as to disguise himself as a girl to throw them off the scent. One day, Hime stumbles into the Student Council room of his new high school and his secrets revealed to the members within. They’re simultaneously amused and sympathetic, and offer to pay off his debts…if he submits to crossdressing and serving them for the rest of his time at the high school.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s a pretty lighthearted comedy romp for the most part, playing up the funny side of crossdressing for all it’s worth. The ridiculousness of the situation continue to escalate as new characters are introduced (with some new crossdressers among them), and the show isn’t shy about indulging heavily in fan-service to keep the audience watching. The story itself is quite simple and forgettable, being a series of 3-minute shorts. Himegoto is perfect if you just want a quick throwaway laugh without thinking too hard about the actual content.
  • Caveats: Don’t go into this expecting a very in-depth or sensitive treatment of transvestism or transsexuality, it’s not that kind of show. The humour is about as lowbrow as it can get without resorting to fart jokes. In short, it’s a low-investment, relatively low-reward series, but still worth watching if you’ve got a few minutes to spare.
  • Themes: Respect for others, and friendship despite differences.
  • Similar works: In terms of comedy shorts, Mangaka-san to Assistant-san to the Animation has a similar style of humour, though the fetish is different. In terms of crossdressing anime, Ouran High School Host Club.

Paranoia Agent

Paranoia Agent

paranoia

  • Trailer: Fan-made English dubbed trailer
  • What it’s about: Tsukiko Sagi, creator of the beloved cartoon character Maromi, is on her way home from work when she’s attacked from behind. The description she gives of her assailant – a young boy with a bent golden baseball bat and inline skates – leads the media to dub him “Shonen Bat” (‘Lil Slugger in the English dub). But while Tsukiko was the first victim, she’s far from the last. The police are put under increasing pressure as more and more people are attacked, with seemingly no connection between the incidents or the people involved.
  • Why you should watch it: Paranoia Agent is the sole foray by the acclaimed director Satoshi Kon into TV anime. It’s a psychological mystery show aimed at an exclusively adult audience, and it isn’t afraid to swim in deeper waters in its content and themes. While loosely episodic, every character’s story ties into the central plot in some fashion, providing different insights into the mystery of Shonen Bat, little snippets of this giant world that you are trying to piece together. In the end, the multiple pieces come together to form something pretty amazing, that may or may not leave a good mark depending on how you enjoyed the rest of the show. The animation and character designs really stand out from the crowd, and Kon’s use of dreamlike sequences, magical realism and blurring the lines between fantasy and reality makes this a surprising and fun watch, especially as the plot comes to a head in the final few episodes. It also has one of the weirdest and most subtly disturbing intros of all time.
  • Caveats: This is a weird show. It doesn’t so much play with your expectations as throw them out and invite you to keep up. Disregarding convention can work really well for some people, but for a general crowd it’s just off-putting, and opinions are split on how well the show treads the line. It can also at times seem like it’s not really going anywhere, particularly with the trio of almost standalone stories in episodes 8-10.
  • Themes: The lies people tell themselves, and the false fronts they put up for others. The way that people tend to seize upon easy solutions and escapes rather than actually solve problems, and the way this comes back to hurt themselves and others. The power that fear, stress, paranoia, gossip and imagination hold over human society, and the way that mass media only heightens the effects. People more familiar than I with Japanese society read it as a condemnation of post-war Japan itself, particularly “kawaii culture” and otaku-ism. There’s a lot of different ways to read the show.
  • Similar works: The works of Haruki Murakami. Wind-up Bird Chronicle and maybe 1Q84 in particular. David Lynch too, now that I think about it. Within anime, look to Kon’s film work, such as Paprika and Perfect Blue, or to psychological shows like Serial Experiments Lain.

Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance

Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance

bladedance

  • Trailer: Anime opening/intro
  • What it’s about: Areisha Academy has long been the place to go to train in handling elemental spirits, for those with the talent and the social rank to qualify. Of course, only women are capable of forming a contract with these spirits in the first place. At least until word comes down that a new student will be arriving shortly, a male student named Kamito. Why is he here, and does it have something to do with the upcoming inter-school Blade Dance tournament?
  • Why you should watch it: It’s a harem romcom with a heavy action focus, similar to Infinite Stratos or Familiar of Zero. The protagonist is refreshingly competent and willing to flirt with the many girls he ends up running into, on and off of the battlefield. He’s neither dense, nor a pervert, nor incompetent, unlike so many harem male leads. The whole story is leavened by a strong dose of slapstick humour and ecchi fanservice – oh so much fanservice. The action scenes are brightly animated and have some nice choreography to them, and the show does well at spinning out the mystery of Kamito’s past. It’s a fun, lighthearted romp.
  • Caveats: The show doesn’t really venture very far out of the established tropes of the genre. Which is perfectly fine if you’re a fan of shows like this and want to see more of the same. But it is just that – more of the same.
  • Similar works: Infinite Stratos, Familiar of Zero.