[Repost] The Great Pretender Review: Cases 1 through 3

The following is my review of Cases 1 through 3 of The Great Pretender that I wrote for Anime Quarterly back in September. If you like what you read and are interested in reading more by the AQ crew and me, be sure to bookmark AnimeQuarterly.com and make it your next frequent stop for anime news and reviews. Also, help us grow by supporting us on Patreon.

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Beyond The Boundary | Kyoto Animation Unleashed

My heart has belonged to Kyoto Animation for a long time. And their shows have always looked good – that’s not even a faintly nuanced observation. The 2010s was the advent of an in-house style that helped forge their identity without ever feeling like a stagnant or limiting trait of the production house. Be it the character work by Miku Kadowaki, Futoshi Nishiya, or others, the character art is something that hasn’t quite been matched by another studio.

Even before their in-house style became synonymous with their identity, their artwork was rarely a sore spot in the final product. However, how well do we regard the actual “animation” of Kyo Ani’s works?

Pretty well as a matter of fact. Consistently. From Liz and the Blue Bird to Silent Voice, I’ve praised the subtle character movements and facial twitches that create the small reveries of human pathos. Occasionally, these dramas or slice-of-life comedies might even present an action scene. Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid had ridiculously bombastic action and even Clannad had a pretty dope fight scene. However, I get the feeling that when people say that Kyoto Animation has great animation, they actually mean “great artwork.” It’s worth distinguishing between the two.

I don’t think any show from the studio has consistently reminded me of how great their animation talent is more than one particular show. If you would permit the generalization, the average viewer may not stray close to offering a critique of actual animation outside of shows or genres that incentivize consistent motion in their presentation. Hence why most people, regardless of their inclination to media criticism, often praise the animation of the hottest shonen/action series.

Following that line of logic, this week’s review is an action show with plenty to gush over. Beyond the Boundary – Taichi Ishidate’s directorial debut – is one of my favorite works by Kyoto Animation, and what I believe to be their best-looking show. Or rather, it is the most consistently upfront with what the studio is capable of, both in TV and film.

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A Project Itoh Retrospective, Part III – Genocidal Organ

Part I – The Empire of Corpses

Part II – Harmony

I find it amusing that the Project Itoh films adapted Itoh’s novels in the reverse order of when they were released. While that wasn’t the original intention, as the release schedule was different before The Empire of Corpses‘ announcement, it nevertheless became this way.

Empire was a mere concept of a story never completed by Itoh himself before he lost his battle with cancer. Next, Harmony, the tale of medical dystopia, was written amid Itoh’s cancer treatment. Genocidal Organ might not have a clear parallel to Itoh’s plight, but it was his first and most prominent written work. Through this film project, it’s almost like Itoh was becoming alive again.

That said, the film was hardly as optimistic as such a claim would imply. Genocidal Organ is a militaristic sci-fi drama that dissects the mind of soldiers in a future where they can be made to feel nothing. The influence between Itoh and the works of Hideo Kojima is plain as day and this story arguably goes even harder in portraying the horrors of modern warfare than MGS4 did.

This film was also delayed from late 2015 to late 2017 as Manglobe went bankrupt and production resumed under a new studio. The production problems combined with the long wait meant that the film project lost steam while the expectations grew larger for those still anticipating it. When all was said and done, was Project Itoh a success?

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A Project Itoh Retrospective, Part II – A Review of Harmony

Part I – The Empire of Corpses

Rarely in discussions of book-to-film adaptations am I in a position where I’ve read the book. Most times I come at those discussions from a neutral standpoint, weighing the deviations vs the quality of the work. Additionally, the difference between the two mediums has to be accounted for. Some things work better in a book and some things work better in a movie.

The only work by Satoshi Itoh that I’ve read is Genocidal Organ, his first and most famous novel. I read it in anticipation of the delayed animated film. Part of me felt like I should indulge in the original material after the second film in the Project Itoh trilogy left me disappointed. From Studio 4°C, this is Harmony.

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A Project Itoh Retrospective, Part I – The Empire of Corpses

I’ve only ever read one of the works by the late Satoshi Itoh. It was his first novel, Gyakusatsu Kikan, or in English, Genocidal Organ. It was a stirring sci-fi novel depicting a future in which first-world countries became surveillance states out of fear of terrorism. Once you’ve read some of his work, it isn’t surprising that he was great friends with Hideo Kojima, the writer/ director behind the Metal Gear Solid series.

Itoh wrote three published novels in his time before losing a battle with cancer in 2009. Genocidal Organ was followed by Harmony in 2008. In the same year, he penned the novelization of Kojima’s grandest work yet, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Before losing a battle with cancer in 2009, Itoh began work on another story, The Empire of Corpses.

That final story would go on to be finished by Itoh’s friend Toh Enjoe and published in 2012. In 2014, a film project was announced, adapting all three of his original stories to animation. Genocidal Organ would be animated by Manglobe (Samurai Champloo, Ergo Proxy). Harmony would be helmed by Studio 4°C (the Berserk: Golden Age Arc movies, Mind Game). Finally, The Empire of Corpses would be helmed by Studio WIT (Attack on Titan, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress).

This ambitious project would be simply titled: Project Itoh.

Even with no subtitles, this trailer gives me chills

Back in 2017, I wrote briefly about Itoh’s history in anticipation of Genocidal Organ‘s theatrical release in the US. However, I missed an opportunity to truly explore the merits of these films. It’s been three years and I haven’t seen much attention given to these unique science-fiction stories. It’s time to consider whether or not this project truly did justice to the works of a talented author who passed away too soon.

From director Ryoutarou Makihara, this is The Empire of Corpses.

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A Review of ACCA: 13 – Territory Inspection Dept.

Rarely does a show come along that makes me rethink what I want from a story. Across any number of genres I’m interested in, there is an expectation of how the story will explore “drama. The numerous action shows I watch explore their drama through physical interchange, be it spectacular or grounded in realism.

Even adult dramas with a sparse number of action scenes will present other, more personal forms of violence as well as confrontation through dialog. Slice of life dramas or comedies may have lighter tones, but they may culminate in some dramatic climax where the tone changes.

This week, I’m exploring a show that approaches its story in a far more relaxed manner. It presents its political theater in a captivating way unlike any other show I’ve watched, and made me reassess how I look at what makes a drama “mature.” From director Shingo Natsume and Studio Madhouse, this is ACCA 13 – Territory Inspection Dept.

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A Review of Burn the Witch

Bleach, despite the myriad criticisms I’ve heard leveled at it, has maintained a reputation akin to anime royalty. Even from the outside, it isn’t unfathomable as to why. The art direction and style is striking enough that I can’t say I’ve seen many shows that have mirrored the look of its characters. Additionally, the show’s lifespan on cartoon blocks like Toonami guaranteed it a legacy in the minds of a generation that stayed up way too late on a Saturday night to see the newest episodes.

2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the franchise and in celebration of that, the series seems to be getting a resurgence in more ways than one. Firstly, it was announced that the manga’s final arc would be adapted in a new anime project. Secondly, a new manga spinoff of Bleach would begin in the summer of this year. The spinoff had previously started as a one-shot back in 2018 but would now turn into a full series, with a short film meant to generate hype and interest. The series in question: Burn The Witch.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn, My First Gundam Series

Mobile Suit Gundam is the pinnacle of the mecha genre and has been astonishing fans for decades with classic after classic. Whether in the “Universal Century” canon or the numerous alt-universe spinoffs, Gundam has explored so many different possibilities and stories, all under the care of one studio: Sunrise.

It is surprising, then, just how long I went without having ever completed a full Gundam series. I remember watching Iron-Blooded Orphans on Toonami when it aired, but I didn’t get too far into it before moving on to other shows. To be honest, I’ve held off for so long because the Gundam series, as important as its reputation has made it out to be, has always appeared rather daunting.

Just as the Fate series can seem overwhelming from the outside, I was never sure where to start with Gundam. Thankfully, at the recommendation of some friends, I found myself falling in love with a comparably short but oh so deep entry to jumpstart what I’m sure will be a longtime fandom. From Kazuhiro Furahashi, the director of Dororo, Hunter x Hunter (1999), and Rurouni Kenshin, this is Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn.

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[Repost] A Review of BNA: Brand New Animal

This is a review of Trigger’s recent series BNA that I wrote two months ago for Anime Quarterly. You might recall that I wrote about how I started contributing to the site when it launched back then. Going forward, I’ll be re-uploading my reviews and other such content from Anime Quarterly here two months after they have premiered on AQ.

If you like the review and are interested in reading more by me and the rest of the AQ crew, be sure to bookmark AnimeQuarterly.com and make it your next frequent stop for anime news and reviews. Also, help us grow by supporting us on Patreon. Without further ado, here is my review of BNA.

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A Review of Boogiepop and Others

Sometimes a show comes on your radar that just seems impossible to fail. There are just the right people attached to get you hyped by their pedigree alone and the prospect of a joining of those parties only makes you more excited. Unfortunately, hype is a gamble. No creator is perfect and no matter how good one work is, it doesn’t guarantee that the writer or director can’t fumble with another project.

Kouhei Kadono’s novel series from the late 90s, Boogiepop, is – according to fans I’ve talked to – one of the most influential light novel series out there. It paved the way for meta works like that of Nisio Isin’s Monogatari Series. It was a psychological, supernatural drama about otherworldly entities preying off of the anguish of humanity and the angel of death that released people from that anguish: Boogiepop.

In the west, the novel series and manga didn’t get official translation until the mid-2000s and even then it became mired by low sales and dropped. It wasn’t until 2019 that the fourth and fifth novels were finally released in English when a renewed interest in the series was stirred. A byproduct of this was last year’s animated adaptation.

Madhouse would be producing the new series. Back in 2000, the same studio made Boogiepop Phantom, an original story not based on a particular novel entry. Directing would be Shingo Natsume, famous for Space Dandy and One Punch Man, among other things. The music would be composed by Kensuke Ushio, whose aesthetic talents have captured hearts with A Silent Voice and Devilman Crybaby. Even Yoshiaki Kawajiri was credited for the storyboarding.

From the staff to the promotional PV (seen above), everything was promising. And then after 18 episodes, almost none of what was in the promo was in the final series. What I got ended up feeling like a fraction of what the universe of Boogiepop had to offer. Was there a silver lining or was Boogiepop and Others another adaptation to be forgotten.

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