Please don’t ask me to explain what this one was about. The film makers tried to cram a long, complicated manga into a two-hour movie. It looks spectacular but there is way too much going on for any of the themes to be properly developed. Let’s see: there are motorcycle gangs, a corrupt government ripe for a military coup, a bitter, angry punk with immense psychic powers, aged children with similar powers, speculation on the next stage of evolution, shattered windows, demolished buildings, the ruins of Tokyo, and blood. Lots of blood. If this had been a live-action movie it would have been nauseating, and, well-drawn and smoothly-animated though Akira is, it’s an ordeal to watch. Four stars (out of five) for ambition and art, minus one for incoherence and extreme violence. I suppose it’s worth watching once, but once is enough.
Cowboy Bebop: the Movie
This one is sort of a western/noir hybrid, even though it’s set on Mars. In it a quartet of bounty hunters look for a madman who plans to wipe out life on Mars. There’s an actual story that mostly makes sense and interesting, often sympathetic characters. The art and animation look good to my non-expert eyes, and Yoko Kanno’s pop/rock soundtrack works better than I would have expected (unfortunately, despite the title, there’s no bebop. There’s also no “Tank!”). Anime aficionados often declare that the TV series is better than the movie; if that’s the case, then it must be one of the best television shows ever broadcast. Too violent for youngsters.
Astoundingly silly. Mink, a half-human, half-dragon girl, has a crush on a singer who is also a dragon hunter. It makes very little sense, but sense is beside the point. Some of the humor is vulgar, and Mink, who doesn’t wear much clothing, wears even less by the end. If mindless fun is what you like, here it is. If you love Beethoven, skip the closing music.
Ghost in the Shell
This one reminded me of early, noir-ish William Gibson. The main character is a cyborg, wtih a human brain in a human-looking but inhumanly strong “shell,” and the central story concerns artificial intelligence developing self-consciousness. There’s quite a bit else, including a lot of violence (though not to the Akira extreme). Definitely not for kids.
Heroic Legend of Arslan
This is one big, disorganized, unfinished mess. An epic set in a fictional version of ancient Persia, it begins with two movies in wide-screen format, continues as lower-budget 4:3 OVAs, and stops at the half-way point. The kingdom of Pars has been conquered by a neighboring kingdom, and young Prince Arislan — or is it Arslan? — assembles a band of allies to recapture his homeland. The pity is that this could have been a very good series, but it was crippled by uninspired writing and inconsistent production, and it was never finished. (The books do tell a complete story.) The version I watched was dub-only, which starts mediocre and gets worse; possibly the subtitled version is better. As it stands, I can recommend it only to cosplayers who are looking for an excuse to dress in silks and jewels.
His and Her Circumstances
After he was through with Evangelion, Hideaki Anno started this story of two neurotic high school overachievers who fall in love. About half-way through he abandoned the project, which was continued by others and allegedly features numerous recap episodes and a notorious non-ending. Based on the reviews I’d read, I was expecting anime as Woody Allen would have done it; what I found was too much angst and not enough wit (perhaps it is like Woody Allen, after all). I did time at three different high schools, but I never met anyone like any of the characters here. It is worth watching an episode or two of His and Her Circumstances to see how it is possible to make an anime without an animation budget, but otherwise I can’t recommend it.
Kyoji discovers that he is the reincarnation of an Inca warrior. His teacher Tate also is an Inca warrior; in fact, virtually everybody Kyoji knows in modern Japan is a reincarnated Inca. Tate wants to cleanse the earth of all its corruption using some mysical Inca power, or something like that, and Kyoji must stop him. Perhaps the connection between the Incas and modern Japan is explained in a later episode, along with why the cultured and considerate Tate now wants to destroy the world, but what I’ve seen of the story doesn’t make much sense. Nor do the costumes — when did the Incas discover spandex? The plodding pace doesn’t help.
Shinesman: The Special Duty Combat Unit
Corporate power rangers — Red, Moss Green, Grey, Sepia and Salmon Pink — save the world from alien invaders. It’s a cute idea, and it would have made a good skit for Saturday Night Live. But one cute idea is not enough to sustain an hour-long DVD, and Shinesman is never more than mildly amusing.
For a better spoof of sentai shows, see the “Municipal Force Daitenzin” episode of Excel Saga.
Those Who Hunt Elves
There’s a fine line between silly and stupid, and this series is generally on the wrong side. A trio from Japan — an idiotic martial arts expert, an actress and a little girl skilled with guns — are stuck in a sword-and-sorcery universe, along with a tank. To get back to their own world, they must find pieces of a spell that appear as tattoos on the bodies of certain female elves. Do the three ask nicely and secure the cooperation of the elves? Of course not. I was surprised when an anime-enthusiast friend handed me these DVDs, and having watched them, I’m still surprised. It’s not as prurient as you might expect from the synopsis, and some of it is clever, but I can’t recommend it.
The Wings of Honneamise
I wish I liked this movie more — it looks beautiful and the story and characters had potential — but I can’t. It’s excruciatingly slow-paced (I ended up fast-forwarding through much of the first 20 minutes, something I almost never do) and painfully earnest. After the first half-hour or so this story of the space program in an imaginary world picks up the pace sufficiently to hold your interest. It remains grimly sincere, though, and ends with a ten-minute exhortation to pray. An attempted rape early in the movie — by the hero — doesn’t help. Not for youngsters.