I love reviewing movies, but sometimes I feel like I can’t review the things that mean the most to me. How stupid is that? I’ve been doing this for almost four full years now. My greatest pride and joy has been putting into words why things do and don’t work from my perspective in the hopes that people who aren’t film critics but merely film enjoyers can appreciate things more.
But sometimes when I love something so much, I can overhype it. It happens all the time. Something will come along that isn’t just a great movie. To me, after I’ve watched it, it’s THE great movie. And if I hype it up too much, will people not feel the same way I did? Will they not cry as hard, or smile as brightly when it’s over?
I’ve decided that I can’t undersell how a film made me feel though. After all, I have the words to explain what about this film made me love it. And I can’t get too worked up over whether or not everyone who reads my thoughts will feel the same way I do. This is a review, but more importantly, it is an account of how Violet Evergarden: The Movie made me incredibly happy. And I hope it can make you happy too.
Ever since 1967, Lupin the Third has been a staple of Japan’s animation culture and one of the most storied and recognizable icons in the international market’s perception of anime. Despite having persisted in so many different iterations by so many different teams, it was only in preparation for this very review that I watched a Lupin anime all the way through for the first.
Why? I’m not sure. It’s a certified classic, and it isn’t as though I couldn’t have gotten into Part IV or V, both of which aired within the last few years. Not to mention Sayo Yamamoto’s critically acclaimed series, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. Yet it was a story set in the same continuity as that last series that truly caught my eye.
Takeshi Koike is insane. I say that lovingly as a man who loves his 2009 film Redline, which was famously in production for seven years. Koike is a frenetic and wildly imaginative director and when he has the freedom to direct and do character designs, his style treads this line of adult maturity and wild cartoonish exaggeration so well it becomes a dimension all its own. So when I asked myself “where the hell has he been lately?” I was pleased to find the answer in the form of Lupin.
From Telecom Animation Film and TMS Entertainment, this is Takeshi Koike’s Lupin the Third, a bold vision of a beloved classic that just so happens to be my first true entry into this series.
Imagine: It’s 2013. You’re Tetsurou Araki, the famed director behind Death Note and Highschool of the Dead. Now, you and WIT Studio, the offspring of Production I.G., have blown the minds of anime fans new and old with an adaptation of Hajime Isayama’s manga, Attack on Titan.
The problem: You adapted too much of what was already written and there’s not nearly enough content to make a second season immediately. People are frothing at the mouth for more and you want to give it to them. That’s when a script by Ichirou Ookouchi and Hiroshi Seko catches your eye.
It’s similar to Attack on Titan, but only on the most surface level. It’s about humans surviving in walled cities against a horde of monsters with a specific weak spot. However, the setting, technology, aesthetic, and philosophy behind the action are a beast of their own. There’s something here. An opportunity to do what Attack on Titan did, with the same people, unconstrained by the wait for source material.
From director Tetsurou Araki and WIT Studio, with music by Hiroyuki Sawano, this is Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, the anime that was meant to surpass Attack on Titan.
Back in May, I reviewed Given and concluded that it was precisely the kind of fun that I needed in my life. It was also a sign of more normalized, modestly budgeted LGBT anime on the horizon. And if the fancy title card for publishing company Blue Lynx at the beginning of Given‘s movie was any indication, they’re getting bigger and bigger.
I don’t think this will be a very long review primarily because this wasn’t a particularly long movie. I wouldn’t even bother calling it a movie. It was was more of an OVA. The budget didn’t necessarily increase. The CGI during performance scenes wasn’t great but wasn’t terrible either. This was more of what I liked and for a casual viewing on a Saturday night, I wasn’t disappointed.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.