Sunday, May 18, 2014

Summer Announcement

Oh, hi there this is the Eclectic Dude

Well, Summer Wars is my last actual review for the spring. At least until August when I shall resume. I am taking a break of sorts. Granted I will still be doing a few things on the blog over the summer.

Entries on the 'Anime/Manga Collecting 101' on June 1 and July 6

A special review (82nd overall) around my birthday in late June

May do a special entry in early July covering the 5 shows I will be watching for Summer 2014 anime season, though that will depend on time availability.

Anyway, see y'all around ^_^

Anime Review No. 81 (Summer Wars)

“You Gotta Work for an Answer”
Summer Wars
2009 movie
Studio-Madhouse, Director-Mamoru Hosoda, Writer-Satoko Okudera

Well, time for another movie review and this time I figured it’d be something popular. If you watched Toonami last December, they air a few movies, including Akira (which I saw fully for the first time) and Trigun: Badlands Rumble. Of course, the one that caught my attention was, well, Summer Wars.

The story is focused on our main character, Kenji Kosio, a typical nerdy high school guy who works for Oz as a part-time coder. Oz is well like a VR cyberspace hub where communications, government He gets roped in by a older female student Natsuki to come with her to a family reunion event (her grandmother’s birthday) as her pretend boyfriend. So, basically, the initial premise reeks of a plot from a family rom-com. He meets several family members, including the tenacious grandmother Sakae Jinnouchi, jealous cousin Shota, the shut-in cousin Kazuma and various others mostly fitting typical Japanese family types.

Sakae is best granny 
However, trouble comes round in the form of Wabisuke, the black sheep of the family. Natsuki is a little too friendly with her uncle, which is irksome a bit, but doesn’t detract from the movie that much. However, Kenji gets a code that he works out but that ends up causing havoc to erupt in the Oz system with him framed as the mastermind. But the actual culprit is the Love Machine, very much a rogue computer program. So, now Kenji is facing a double dilemma as he must try to clear his name along with saving Oz and avoid getting outed as a fake by Natsuki’s family.

Now, there is quite a lot to like about this movie, starting with the characters. Very standard for anime, but given enough dimension to make us care about them. Kenji and Natsuki are the typical young protagonists and a lot of the family seems like the kind of people one would find in family dramas. Though I will note a few here. Wabisuke might at first be the black sheep who shows up unexpected but he ends up playing quite a larger part in the story. But, the one character I got to admire is the grandmother Sakae. She’s a tenacious but strong-willed older lady and perhaps one of my favorite elderly characters in anime. She’s the one who brings everyone to deal with the problems faced and strive to succeed. But what happens to the grandmother (not spoiling it) is perhaps the emotional high moment for the movie. It unites the family to the common cause. I watched Summer Wars with a friend of mine one time, who had lost his dad recently and got to say he was nearly in tears at that as I was. I too have lost some relatives as well and so it does get to me on a personal level.  
And so the dominoes fall...
Now, I won’t harp on the story too much since well its basically what happened if you took the internet battle sequence from the Digimon movie, and combine into a animated family J-drama. No surprise on the similarities since the Digimon Movie and this one are directed by the same guy, Mamoru Hosoda. Except its more substantive and integral to the movie. It has also some neat commentary on how the interconnectivity of the world via web and internet is a double edged sword, in that it can bring us together quicker in times of crisis or relaxation but also can be used to inflict misery to a lot of people as the movie attests. It also touches on the importance of family in the modern era  I wish that they did more with that, but considering the time length I am glad that these ideas were brought in and used. That, and the finale is pure spectacle which while pretty to look at however its rather inexplicable at points even 'deus ex machinia'.

Excellently executed fight scenes I must say
Now then the animation, which is stellar across the board. It’s fluid, dynamic and full of life and energy. Being a movie its got naturally high production values as expected. Not as high as Ghibli film, but close enough in terms of overall quality. If the character designs might seem a bit 90s Gainax, that due to Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (character design work for Nadia, Evangelion, FLCL, Gunbuster/Diebuster, etc) handled that.There is also a wide range and variety of facial expressions; in fact, the movie is worth watching just for that. Music is utterly fantastic, again very Ghibli-esque. Almost like this movie’s trying to ape Ghibli….. oh wait, heh, that’s for another time….moving on then.

DAT FACE haha >.<
Now, the original japanese language track has been best described by a colleague of mine as ‘a bunch of J-drama actors doing J-drama acting’ so I whole-heartily recommend the dub That’s not hard, since its a Funimation dub, so its top-notch effort here as usual. Mike McFarland and Patrick Seitz handled the direction and writing for the dub and they are a great team. They help to bring out strong and well-acted performances from just everybody involved. Summer Wars boast a veritable list of who-whos of Funi dub actors with a few Houston actors thrown in for the bit parts. Special mention goes to Michael Sinterniklaas as Kenji, Brina Palencia as Natsuki who are very good in the main roles. J Michael Tatum is at his best arguably with Wabisuke, pouring in his own snideness and charm into the part. But Pam Dougherty as Grandma Sakae is overall best and just about steals the entire movie well while her character is in the movie.

Overall, Summer Wars is a good ‘popcorn movie’; great for a watch with friends and a bunch of good fun. There are some flashes of brilliance with a few of the ideas it plays around with, but still a good time to be had.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Anime Review No. 80 (Girls und Panzer)

“Panzer Vor”
Girls und Panzer (2012-13 TV Series and OVA Specials)
Studio-Actas, Director-Tsutomu Mizushima, Writer-Reiko Yoshida

Well, its time for a review that I have been waiting for some time to do. It's another sports anime, this time a full series and it's Girls und Panzer (or GaruPan/GuP).

In the near future I assume, where schools are placed atop battleships. Our main character is Miho Nishizumi, the new transfer student at Oorai Academy. She’s nice, kind-hearted, bit clumsy typical high school girl but with a lot of heart. On her first day, she meets some new friends: Saori (genki girl whose big into fashion and talking about boys/romance) and Hana (soft-spoken Yamamoto Nadeshiko-esque, daughter of a flower arranger). However, she gets roped into joining a newly forming squad for tankery (Sensha-do in original Japanese) by the Student Council President.That, and she is marred by her dark past associated with the sport despite being from a family devoted to tankery, her older sister being the MVP in tankery.

Nevertheless, she decides to join her friends as she is the only one with tank experience at the school. But they search for tanks since their school is damn near broke and receive training from a top instructor Ami Chono. Training goes well and Miho becomes in effect the commander for the team since she’s really the only one who can.

So, the their school team is assembled with four squads. The main commanding squad is the main five, consisting of Miho, Saori, Hana along with Mako (sleepy and gloomy one) and Yukari (the tank otaku) who join in. The other squads include the Student Council trio, the volleyball players, a group of freshman girls and a quartet named after historical generals. Some others join in later in the show (Hall Monitors, Auto Club, MMO geeks).

Love the framing on some of these shots 
What I like about Girls und Panzer is that it’s both an individual story and a team story, compared to Battle Athletes which was about an underdog individual. The individual story being Miho rising up to the occasion and overcoming her past fear of failure in order to reignite her love of the sport. The team portion of the story being Oorai Girls Academy overcoming adversity and defying all odds to win big. In essence, it’s simple and effective storytelling with a strong message: Teamwork and friendship can bring you victory and fun.

In other words, while B.A. OVA was on the underdog individual athlete, GaruPan is about the underdog team coming into the fore for victory-a very ‘dark horse’ situation.
(i.e. BA OVA is like Rocky/Rudy/Invincible, GaruPan is like The Mighty Ducks/The Sandlot)
Characterization is enough on the main five that we care about them, and the rest have enough surface characteristics to distinguish them apart, though most of them rely on standard anime stereotypes/tropes.

Not the best camouflage lol
Tank Battles are the main attraction for the show, and easily the highlight of the show. The tanks, obvious CG aside,  look very cool and nice attention to detail (weapons, armor, etc) is appreciated The battles are a bit like Strategy or World of Tanks, with open area combat mostly, with various local conditions and rules akin to Capture the Flag. They are quite intense and gripping since each match is different from the last. It is also interesting as Miho’s strategy and tactical skills develop and grow. Finally, it is mood and mostly clean fun as II was practically grinning during most of the tank combat. Of course, there is some daily life stuff thrown in as the downtime portions between the match, as expected of this writer who specializes in slice of life anime series. There are some nice touches to add depth to some of the characters. Granted, the finale is one of the best in anime I have seen recently and my favorite of the series. It has plenty of varied tank action and just so damn inspirational and loads of fun to watch. It is epic to the max, in the words of other blogger and I found it to be the thematic and symbolic culmination of the series.

Girls und Panzer has an interesting Production history as the first 10 episodes aired in Fall 2012 (October-December) but due to delays the last 2 episodes, the finale, aired in late March 2013. Luckily they did do 2 recap episodes during the course of the first 10 episodes. In addition, a series of 6 OVA episodes were also released between December 2012 and June 2013. OVA 1-3 and 5 take place within the timeline for the show. There are basically nice bits of fluff and some comedy bits (especially OVA 5). And what I like about these is that they add some insight into the whole ‘school ship’ concept which in the show got like a throw-away line to explain that away. Essentially, its the “Semester at Sea” idea taken to its logical conclusion and amount of detail in that short is well appreciated though I wish they had time to add that into the show itself. IT should be noted that those OVA Specials were written by Taakuki Suzuki, credited Military History Advisor for the series, having done similar work on shows like Last Exile, Strike Witches and Upotte. OVA 4 is a glorified music video and shortest of the bunch. Finally, OVA 6 is a epilogue of sorts for the show, written by main writer Reiko Yoshida and really should be viewed only after you finish the show. A movie is slated to come out this year as well as an OVA featuring the Anzio fight that was cutted from the proper series and I am looking forward to this developing into a proper franchise.

Panzer Sentai anyone?

That's a real huge boat (model)
Music is very good. It was done by the great Shiro Hamaguchi who did music on Oh My Goddess TV and  Sakura Wars as well as other shows. The OST seems to take inspiration from John Philip Sousa and marching band music (main themes are akin to a march tune) full of bombast and energy. It includes culturally appropriate themes for each squad match (Battle Hymn of the Republic for instance). The OP is pretty good, but the ED is better if only for chibis in tanks (lolz). There is some localization issue with a song during the Pravda match (copyright issue I’m sure) though youtube probably has that song uploaded on there or one could just watch it on CR or Hulu.

GaruPan main theme
to this:
JP Sousas Stars and Stripes Forever

Both sub and dub are very good. I watched the show subbed on Hulu back in the summer of 2013 and then heard about it not only getting a release here in the States but with a dub no less. I was excited but held some reservations The English dub is from our good friends at Sentai Filmworks and directed by Janice Williams, who typically is their ‘Media Coordinator’ for Sentai releases since 2010. She has been around since classic ADV days and helmed a couple shows for ADV and Sentai: Dream Eater Merry, tsuritama, Clannad. The dub is good overall, admirable that they did dub it as it did require a very large (mostly female) cast. It is well-casted to a point though runs into some doubling/tripling for some voice actresses in some of the supporting/minor roles. Main cast consists of mainly new talent: Meg McDonald, Caitlynn French, Rekebah Stevens, Molly Searcy and they bring their best and hope to see them in more Sentai dubs in the future. However, this dub marks the return of Jessica Calvello to Texas dubbing for the first time in a while (been busy with work on Ikki Tousen and Queens Blade) and she does a terrific job as Saori. Some other notables include Kendall McClellan as PR Manager Momo, Kara Greenberg as Darjeeling and Hilary Haag as Katyusha. Oh yeah and Brittney Karbowski is in this dub, playing the cheating sub commander for the American school  

Overall, Girls und Panzer is pure fun entertainment. While light on plot and characters, it works effectively with what it gots and excels at times with it. That, and cute girls in tank battles! Who wouldn’t watch that?

Well, for next time, summertime is coming….

Til next time, dear readers