Sunday, November 30, 2014

Anime Review No. 91 (Wolf Children)

‘Give life my best smile’
Wolf Children (2012 movie)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Writers: Mamoru Hosoda and Satoko Okudera
Studio: Chizu and Madhouse

So, I close out the year on the blog with another movie from Mamoru Hosoda. I covered Summer Wars this past spring and found it to be a fun, entertaining yet very heartfelt movie. I like it quite a lot, even after watching it both on TV and owning it on DVD. Around the time that I got Summer Wars last time, I heard word that Hosoda had done another film, and that Funimation was releasing it to the States late last year. Then one day, around late September/early October, I saw the following trailer:

I knew, almost that instant, I got to have this. So I ordered it along with Girls und Panzer and got it in early November. The movie in question, is of course, Wolf Children or Wolf Children Ame and Yuki as the original Japanese title for the film.

Wolf Children tells the story of Hana, a young college student living in Tokyo who one day meets a mysterious young drifter who turns out to be a ‘Wolfman’. Over time they develop a relationship and later they get to live together and have two children Yuki (snow) and Ame (spring). It’s a bit unclear whether or not they actually married or just agree to a mutual living space, who knows. However a set of varying circumstances force her to move out to the countryside with her two children and she does the best she can to raise them in human society and helping them sort out what their path in life will be.

It is a sort of ‘A fairy tale’ as Yuki points out in the narration, given the dream-like and tranquil atmosphere, punctuated by a few tense and sad moments, one which did give me a few tears. All things aside, Wolf Children is a rather casual and soothing slice of life story and it is charmingly simple and straightforward but it does this so well that doesn’t veer into being dull and rote. The ending is a tad bittersweet but overall a very satisfactory conclusion I must say.

In terms of visual presentation, the movie looks fantastic-being a collaborative effort between Madhouse and Hosoda’s own studio Chizu. There are a few obvious CG shots here and there but that aside its look very good, a high level production to be sure. Lots of visual storytelling with stretches of time with no dialogue abound in this film, which is a breath of fresh air not done often in animated features today. The scene with the mother and children frolicking in the snow is a marvel to behold and a highlight of the film. Narration provided by an adult Yuki as if she is recalling it from the past despite the fact that in the film present the story is being told is a nice touch, lending to the fairy tale aspect of the movie’s story. What is nice is that the story is equally about the mother Hana as well as the titular Wolf Children-about Hana’s struggles and triumphs as single mother (somewhat romanticized) as well as the coming-of-age tale for Ame and Yuki and the paths they choose in life. Music by first time composer Takagi Masakatsu is phenomenal and I hope he gets brought into do more music work for other productions; I just adore full scale orchestral score music.

Now the English dub is very strong effort by Funimation as expected from them nowadays. Sentai Filmworks may be my favorite when it comes to dubbing, but Funimation is the best one in the game presently. Mike McFarland directed, Patrick Seitz written, same team that helmed the dub for Summer Wars and is just as fantastic as that movie’s dub. Colleen Clinkenbeard deserves huge kudos for her performance as Hana and honestly deserves all the kudos for her acting. Houston veteran David Matranga puts in a nice effort as unnamed ‘Wolf-Man’ during that character’s part in the story. In addition, there is some really nice and convincing voice acting for the children, a rare feat these days in dubbing, so kudos to the voice actresses/actors that play the children. In fact there is some brilliant acting from the bit parts as well, especially with the cranky Grandpa Nirasaki, voiced by veteran Funi character actor Jerry Russell-granted he is only in a few scenes but he does a great job with such a small but integral role Sadly he died before the film got its commercial release, and the film is dedicated to his memory though really fitting for a film that explores the many wonders and struggles of life.

Overall, I really like this movie and proves that Hosoda has more the same tricks he showed in Summer Wars and can tackle a film with quite a lot of emotional drama, or ‘the feels’. I hope that Hosoda continue making films of caliber of Summer Wars and this, especially considering Miyazaki and Ghibli are pretty much not doing films as much nowadays. Of course, Hosoda doesn’t have to be the next Miyazaki-he can just be himself, and at least with Summer Wars and Wolf Children proves that he can.

Ok, so that's it for the blog this year. Next year's set of reviews begin weekend after the New Year. Of course, I am doing a review for Animation Revelation for the month of December, to be posted on there around the middle of that month. Here's a preview of that:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Anime Review No. 90 (Mardock Scramble The Third Exhaust)

Mardock Scramble III

Ok, so now time to finish off this film series. It continues from where Part II left off, with Rune Balot and Dr Easter are still at the casino. They are still losing, but its all part of the plan-they have a long game in mind for sure. Meanwhile, Shell is able to track down them at the casino and Boiled still is trying to get back Oefculque. It is clear right from the get-go that this feels like the last third of a larger movie, where everything is coming to a head.

They end up in a card game against Ashley Harvest (some official at the casino who was in one scene near the end of Part II) but the game turns to a draw every time. Of course he tries to get under her skin but she is strong-willed and determined and also gets some advice from Bell Wing, the casino worker Balot met in Part II. Then Shell brings in some heavies to settle the score, however Balot and the doctor get away from the casino. But uh-oh a car chase ensues with Boiled but they get away from that as well. Car chase is quite good, granted that there is some obvious CG in places.

Rune Balot and Dr. Easter then sort out the memories acquired from the casino chips, because Shell’s obsessed with implanting memories into those…..because, there’s a lack of explanation, but whatever. So, Balot dives into Shell’s memories and its quite interesting. Shell’s brutality towards his ‘girlfriends’ is quite harrowing and shocking, and mostly puts his actions up to this point in context. His reasoning… both predictable yet still unsettling. I won’t spoil but suffice to say yeah I kind of figured that but it's still shocking.

The trial date is set (yeah remember that from Part I? Yeah it slipped my mind, and the production crew it seems) and Shell gets the conviction. But Rune Balot ends up having to protect Shell for some reason, in part due to the October Corporation (which Shell was part of) has now to decide to detach Shell from them and thus go after him as they are practically mobsters. Balot and Dr. Easter go to his place, only to find Shell’s fiancee murdered in the bath.  

Last bit of it is quite bloody as Shell struggles to get away from Rune Balot who wants to kill him for what he did, but Oeufcoque is her conscience in trying to get her to stop. There is the very tense final fight between Balot and Boiled but had a very satisfying end after all.

Now, the third installation, which I got back last spring, contains both the Theatrical and Director’s Cut versions. I watched the Director’s cut mainly on a whim. Pretty much the same things I noted in my reviews for Parts I and II can be applied here. Mardock Scramble is impressive looking, with a vibrant and diverse color palette and tense atmosphere throughout this installment. If nothing else, it is visually striking and quite wondrous. Granted the story is a bit rote and hues to cyberpunk tropes and formula but its good enough in everything else that I can give it some slack.  

Now, the English Dub, directed by Janice Williams and written by Josh Grelle, is a very solid effort by Sentai Filmworks. Hilary Haag, David Matranga and Andy McAvin put in some of the best work here in this film series and should be commended for that. The rest of the cast (includes Andrew Love, Leraldo Anzaldua, Susan Koozin and David Wald) is very good as well.

In the end, Mardock Scramble is really good, but not quite great. It is however a remarkable tale of redemption and revenge and the delicate line between the two.The trilogy is worth at least a look if you like cyberpunk and sci-fi action. Of course, I would recommend anyone who wants to check this out, watch all 3 parts in one sitting-its something you can dole out on easy-going afternoon.

So, next review is my last one for the year on the blog, and its a very special movie for me….

Til next time, dear readers…...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

November 2014 Schedule

Well, I have to make an update for my November reviews

Mardock Scramble The Third Exhaust, originally planned for November 9th, will now be posted on November 16th.

My final review for the year on the blog, likewise will be posted on November 30th.