The 1948 novel Ningen Shikkaku, known in the west as No Longer Human, is considered a masterpiece of literature in Japan. It is considered autobiographical, as the torment of the main character seemed to mirror the demons of author Osamu Dazai. Dazai had completed suicide by the time the final part of this serialized book was released.
After many adaptations across many mediums over the years, Polygon Pictures has produced a new vision of the classic. Re-imagined as a sci-fi dystopian tale, Human Lost by director Funimori Kizaki is a striking film with a lot of ideas. Unfortunately, those ideas are seldom explored to the fullest.
Honestly, I’ve never been too worked up over finding originality. I know that a tried and true story can still be told in over a million ways. Is the setting a fantasy where it used to be sci-fi? Are there comedic beats or is it more series? What sets this apart from others? John Wick‘s concept wasn’t necessarily original, but we never saw a revenge film about a dog being killed, nor did we see one with such elaborate world-building.
Even the most acclaimed creators’ works can be traced back to the maker’s inspirations. Media is all about inspiration and telling old stories in new ways by combining myriad elements in a really creative way. Today, I want to look at a film that in a lot of ways is unoriginal, but that I don’t think has to be discarded because of that. From Studio 3Hz and director Kazuya Nomura comes Black Fox, a new film that just recently released on Crunchyroll.
Look at any of Japan’s most prominent genres and you might notice how self-referential the country’s media is. The tropes and visual iconography seen in classic Mecha like 1988’s Gun Buster can be seen mimicked in everything from Gundam to other classics like Gurren Lagann. I think of this as a cultural signature of Japan that they love to pay homage to the art that inspires new works. It’s about embracing new while not forgetting the old.
This past fall, SSSS Gridman hit the scene, especially committed to capturing the magic of classic Tokusatsu beyond visual cues. In the same vein, a new series on Netflix appears to have the same intentions, though arguably more accessible than Gridman. With sci-fi directors Kenji Kamiyama (Stand Alone Complex) and Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed) helming the series, I was dead set from the first trailer. Here is my review of the Netflix Original Series, Ultraman.
Ghost in the Shell (GITS for short), the acclaimed manga by Shirow Masamune, portrays a future Japan after a third and fourth world war that has advanced prosthesis to the point that full-body cyborgs exist. The series has existed in animated form ever since the classic from 1995 by Mamoru Oshii and each new entry has taken a different approach to utilize this world to talk about philosophy and ethics through the lens of a post-singularity world. There is one entry, however, that has been glossed over in the past, but which I believe to be criminally underrated.
This is my unedited essay on Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. This will contain spoilers for the film, so read at your own peril. If you would like the SPOILER-FREE review, click here.
It’s one thing to review anime that no one talks about, and that’s pretty fun. Chances are if I’m struggling to find content discussing an obscure show that looks cool, there are others just as aggrevated. I feel obligated to give these shows some publicity, whether it be good or bad. What’s more interesting are the times when the anime I’m reviewing is a more obscure part of a well-known series.
Recently I had the opportunity to analyze a film for my course on media criticism and decided to write about Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, the sequel to the very influential Ghost in the Shell from 1995. Despite having the same director and an impressive visual onslaught, the film has never gotten the same acclaim. after all these years. This surprises me, because given the choice between which I like better… I might enjoy Innocence more.
This is a reworked, SPOILER-FREE version of that essay, so treat this like a review of the film. For the UNEDITED ESSAY, click here.
Towa no Quon’s upwards trajectory in quality is not a perfect one. It was marred in its beginnings by mediocre storytelling and inconsistent animation quality. It only won me over when it began to truly… well… begin.
But what a pair of sequels three and four were. The main cast shined as a team, Quon became more compelling and Epsilon stole the show in some surprising ways. One cliffhanger later, and it was time to see if Towa no Quon could stick the landing with its last two entries.
After the first two films left me unimpressed, I went into the subsequent entries with lowered expectations, yet an open mind. After all, the drought of trailers available for the series didn’t really give me much to build an idea of what awaited me. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t see the potential for the series to save itself. Sure enough, the third film, The Complicity of Dreams, was the first truly great entry in the series.
After watching Star Driver, I didn’t think that Bones could surprise me like this again. I like to think that the studio couldn’t have had any more hidden gems to uncover, partly cause I don’t want to be known as “the blogger who never shuts the fuck up about Bones.” But a short series of films?… How the actual fuck?
Towa no Quon, a six-part series of short films, was previously only known to me by an animation cut by Yutaka Nakamura in a MAD. So obviously I looked into it and, after much delay, am finally giving it a look, since not a ton of people talk about it. Perhaps an omen, as the back of the box claims it has the potential to be remembered as “a classic” and after watching the first two films… I don’t see it.
The “best” anime of all time is different for everyone. Across all media, in fact, you would be hard pressed to find a unanimously agreed upon “best” thing, outside of the agreements found within one’s own tight-knit group. Even then, there will be differences in taste.
“It’s all subjective,” is the point I’m trying to get across, but perfection doesn’t have to be dismissed in critique just because it’s improbable. If the perfect anime is different for everyone, and no consensus can be reached, then perfection is purely personal taste. It is absent of objective standards of quality and instead panders to the greatest amount of our interests.
I believe most people have not found their perfect movie or TV show, possibly because it doesn’t exist yet. We all have favorites though, so it stands to reason that if I took three of my favorite anime of all time and picked them apart, I could get a sense for what my perfect anime would be. Bear with me, this is going somewhere.
It was reported back in August that Production I.G. would be going forward with two new seasons of the acclaimed sci-fi series, Ghost in the Shell. Not only that, directors Kenji Kamiyama, previously responsible for the amazing Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed) would be directing one season each.
With this comes excitement but also caution. Ghost in the Shell is one of my favorite series and in my view, the best sci-fi franchises of all time. However, it would be an understatement to say I.G. hasn’t made some missteps recently. This year alone, we got B: The Beginning, a show I enjoyed, but that was terribly marketed and is already obscure. Who could forget the FLCL sequels, the first of which was god awful and the second of which I haven’t finished but have heard was decent.
Having directors like these on the projects gives me hope, no doubt, but I can’t help but worry that this will just be a lifeless cash-in like FLCL Progressive. Especially after Arise, the latest animated entry that was met with mixed reception, and a poorly received live-action film (Oh look, I wrote about that). GITS needs to get back to its roots and this new series might just be the chance for that, but this new story needs to be built on a strong foundation. Continue reading →