Friday, January 24, 2014

Anime Review No. 72-Redline

The Need for Speed

"Redline" (2009 movie)

Director-Takeshi Koike, Studio-Madhouse, Writers: Yoji Enokido, Katsuhito Ishii and Yoshiki Sakurai

Nice, minimalist design for title card 
Well, its time for my first anime movie review in quite some time I suppose. Considering my last anime movie review was over Gall Force: Eternal Story, way back last summer, is quite something. What better way then to review Redline. My buddy Foggle from Animation Revelation encouraged me to check this out, and at first I was hesitant since it seemed to me to be another over-hyped movie that end up disappointing me more then not. However, once I watched it, my tune got changed real quick. I have seen it twice online (subbed and dubbed) before finally coming across at the local MovieStop for about 10$.

First best moment of the movie 
And no, Redline isn't just the name of the titular race in the movie. For those not in the now,
the definition is (from 2. To reach the maximum engine speed at which an engine is designed to be safely operated. In other words, it is the breaking point for any engine-based vehicle.

It starts off with a Yellow-Line race in the far future which our main dude, JP, participating in. He is the dare-devil racer who likes taking things to the limit, lives for the immediate thrill. The opening race really sets the tone of the movie right off the bat: Fast, quick, energetic. The soundtrack pops without a pause for breath or respite. Characters get the bare minimum of depth; but then again that's only because we (the audience) simply have to bask in the spectacle of the event. It is akin to watching wrestling or other event television-one might be slightly interested in the world or characters but its the event(s) that grip us. There are also a few characters introduced as well, including Frisbee: his manager who may or may not be screwing him over behind his back and works for the mob to get JP into races and Sonohee: requisite female racer/potential love interest.

Hmm....something about JP reminds me of some recent character...
Plot: He nearly wins the Yellow Line race before getting sabotaged by a bomb planted by his manager, Frisbee, meaning Sonohee wins it. During his recovery in the hospital, he finds out that he will end up in the Redline race, the famous underground race of the galaxy. However, it is to be taking place on Robo-World, which the locals of that aren't particularly pleased. Of course, he has to go and get his ride repaired. Along the way, when he isn't dealing with other racers or the Robo-World army. he discovers that when racing, its the ride that excites the most more then the finish line, though crossing it is so satisfying. And that's as far as I am going, as this movie is an experience everyone should go out and enjoy.

And you thought that skipping stones was hard as hell...
Simply put, this is a racing movie (Fast and Furious comes to mind) done in space, a rather fun and exciting space adventure. Nothing more, nothing less. It is pumped into action from the opening shot and never, ever lets up. It is also well aware of what it is, in on its own joke.

Bahahahaha....oh how can one take this guy seriously?!
Animation: phenomenal! This movie took 7 years of production and well worth the wait it would seem. Quick, kinetic, rather fluid animation throughout, without a bad shot in the entire film. 100,000 hand drawings were used in the production of this film, and it surely shows that traditional animation still has a place in the modern age of mostly/all CGI and digital productions. Seriously wish I could have found this on Bluray, but even on DVD it looks excellent.

Voice Acting: Very good in both language tracks, if I am being completely honest. Though, the English dub barely outdoes the original Japanese. Of course, that has little to do with the direction/writing (Madoka and SAO's dub director Alex von David handles this)and more to do with the voice actors/actresses themselves. It is like a who's who of the LA/West Coast Dub Scene, including Pat Seitz, Michelle Ruff, Liam O'Brien, and several others, along with some surprises as well. For instance, there is a bit part played none other then Spike Spencer that for me was a highlight.

Yes, Spike Spencer as the bug-eyed commentator....I'm in heaven 
If you do get this on DVD/Bluray, be sure to watch "The Quick Guide to Redline" which is essentially a brief look into the movie and supplying some details. Basically, it helps to explain some of the more inexplicable elements of the movie. In addition, it gives some information regarding the staff, with some short interview snippets thrown in for good measure. It very nice seeing these people at work, pouring their heart and soul into this project. It is certainly something to be admired. I do like how the director at one point says the main reason for this project, to push animation to the limits, for it to reach its own 'redline'. In the end, that is what Redline: an experience that pushes Japanese animation to an ultimate limit, one that probably will never be replicated. Why? Well, that is due to the fact that the box of comfort that digital productions bring is much easier to do, in addition to being cheaper. Granted, I would not expect TV series to do this long span production so then we get only a few TV shows of anime each season. Movies like these are good only once in a while, so as to not wear off the novelty.

True that indeed, Director-san ^_^
So, yeah Redline gets a recommendation for me. It is great for what it is: Slick, simple entertaining fun! I would say get it on DVD or Bluray, but if you can't; don't worry, it is available from Manga Entertainment on Youtube (Redline YT Link), free viewing! Seriously, Go watch it!

Anyway, what's next on the platter? Well, sometimes the constructed box of anime productions can lead to some interesting experiments in of themselves. And it being February, it means looking at relationships as I have done the past 2 Februaries.

'Til next time, dear readers.....

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Anime Review No. 71-FLCL

"Never Knows Best"

2000-01 OVA, 6 episodes

Director-Kazuya Tsurumaki, Studios-Gainax/Production IG, Writers: Kazuya Tsurumaki and Yoji Enokido


2 volume manga (2000-01)-Art by Hajime Ueda; story by Gainax

So, Happy New Year readers

Well, I figure I shall start out the new year with a review of a show that's over a decade old and done by one of my favorite anime studios-that being FLCL or Fooly Cooly. Note, I will be talking about FLCL overall, no need to worry about spoilers. That said, go see this!

Now a brief summary: Naota is just your typcial young kid living in a city, dealing with puberty and the implications of that, be it his brother's ex-girlfriend, etc. He likes life to be easy and dull, yet one day Haruko, a crazy pink haired girl, runs into him with her Vespa motorcycle and from that moment onwards, Naota's life changes forever, for better or worse (more the latter then former anyway).

Suffice to say that it is all I am saying about, because this OVA has been quite overplayed for the past decade, first airing by Toonami then subsequent reruns every now and then. Yet, this show is still quite popular and well-known here in the States. Why's that?

Huh, something about this looks familiar.....
Well, the greatest strength of FLCL is that it serves as a grand pinnacle to anime comedy, at least for Studio Gainax. It is just so quick-fire in pacing that the gags fly full and above the rest, nearly blowing out of the water many of the other anime comedies I have seen. Granted, a lot of the comedy presented is rather surreal so at first glance one might not get it. I stated back on my Anime Favorites page regarding FLCL as such, and I stand by that statement. I feel that Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, which I quite like, is a mere pale shadow of this: the jokes there are more hit and miss, dependent on your tolerance for toilet humor. FLCL is one crazy, insane ride from start to finish and it never lets up at all. In fact, FLCL can be more compared to Kill la Kill, the recent 2013-14 anime put out by Studio Trigger, which is made up of former Gainax staffers. If you have seen Kill la Kill (and you should because it's awesome), then that comparison becomes quite clear.

Why the malformed
Of course, this aspect is helped favourably by other factors. First off, there is a great director-writer team in Kazuya Tsurumaki and Yoji Enokido working on this. Now, prior to this, Tsurumaki had overseen the last third of Kare Kano anime (which I have looked at before) and Enokido had written a large part of the Utena anime and co-wrote a few episodes of Evangelion. So, in essence, we get a team getting their first project to run themselves. The result is nothing short of fantastic. The direction is vibrant and full of life, firing on all cylinders like a finely tuned machine. Of course, the animation derps and dips in place, but that seems to be delibarate. But when it is great, the animation can shine, due to this being a Gainax/Production IG collab, which both by this point had done some great work and would continue to do so for at least the next decade. Enokido provides a script which at first might be a tad confusing, but upon rewatching it clears some things up. FLCL is a series that is designed to be rewatched, in order to be fully understood. There is distinct lyrical, nah poetic aspect to the dialogue, though very postmodern, with little throwaway bits that later come into play in surprising ways. The middle of the OVA (episodes 3-4) might seem to be filler material and the ending is so ambiguous, but it manages to be entertaining enough so as to dissaude such accusations. Its no surprise that this same team would go on to make Diebuster a few years later, which is why those two Gainax shows are my favorite over some of the other entries in their catalog, though a good part of the Gainax catalogue holds a special place in my heart. Such a shame that Gainax has been in the pits for the past few years-their current stuff just doesn't match up to what they used to do, or rather they no longer suit my tastes which could be it.

A Faux-meganneko, if you will xD
The sound is equally terrific for FLCL: both the OST and language tracks. The entire OST is done by The Pillows, an alternative rock group who have been around for some time. In particular, the ending song "Ride on Shooting Star" is just awesome (FLCL ED). While serviceable in the Japanese, the English dub is quite good, with some noteworthy performances from Kari Wahlgren, Barbara Goodson, Stephanie Sheh, etc. Though, there exists a nagging problem with the dub: it is too faithful to the original Japanese. Not just in terms of the adapted script, but in how its performed vocally. This has been quite an issue with West Coast/LA dubs, in that they tend to hue more towards the original Japanese. I first actually noticed this with the dub of Lucky Star, which has predominance of 'chipmunk voices' in the dub in an effort to make the dub more like the original Japanese. Madoka also suffers a bit from this practice in the dub as well. It doesn't seem to me that anyone really notice or let them know about that. Regardless, the FLCL dub is still quite good.

Groovy  ^_^
And now for the manga adaptation, as I said before, this is an Anime vs. Manga article:

Typical start of your day....
Hajime Ueda did the artwork for the manga, having been a doujin writer prior to getting tapped for this manga adaptation. Story is credited to Gainax, though I'm willing to bet it was Ueda collaborating with Tsurumaki and Enokido in terms of the writing.

Volume 1 is nearly beat for beat the events of the first 2 episodes of OVA: Fooly Cooly and Firestarter. Some of the details are slightly altered, but the semblance of plot remains roughly the same. If you are thinking that the manga segments in the OVA are like the manga itself, then you are sadly mistaken. The art is very rough around the edges, very cartoonish one might say. Of course, it does fit the tone of the piece anyway, so any quibblings that can be made about the artwork are just that. There are a lot of more references made in the manga, such as one chapter starting off with a panel of Tak-kun and the robot making a rendition of Edvard Munch's The Scream.

Of course, the second volume is a different beast altogether. Sure, it starts off with what happens in Episode 3 and then veered off into totally unexplored territory. In many ways, this is where the manga makes less sense than the OVA, if that is even possible. The manga, in comparison to the anime OVA, ends on a more ambiguous note, but then again that's the open ended nature of the conclusion. That being said, the manga is a quick read (less then 300 pages between the two volumes), so if you have seen the OVA, then I definitely recommend checking out the manga as well. As for other work by Hajime Ueda, well, we shall take a look at that laterz.

Of course, Yoji Enokido did write a pair of novels based FLCL which has been released as well. I have yet to read those, but if given the chance I most likely will.

Actual Audience reaction after this 
At the end of the day, FLCL is a fun and twisted bundle of cartoony insanity. In many ways, it represents the pinnacle of Gainax as an animation studio, in the prime of its heyday. It is very nice that its legacy extends into the present with shows like Gurren Lagann, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt and Kill la Kill.

So, what's next on my platter? Well, its another project Yoji Enokido worked some years later....involving racing and fast action that would put the Fast and the Furious franchise to shame. 'Til next time, dear readers.