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 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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The Anthology From the Man Who Brought You Akira

No convention has been a greater boon to animation as a whole than the anthology. Granted, I love anthologies in most mediums. A collection of short stories from a slew of diverse, creative minds can expose audiences to all kinds of stories and genres they wouldn’t normally see or seek out themselves.

In terms of animated anthologies, works like Batman: Gotham Knight, The Animatrix or recent experiments like Love, Death, & Robots are perfect examples. They expand upon established works and introduce their own lore spanning myriad genres and subject matter, all while experimenting with myriad art styles.

The best part is that you can hook the audience with at least one story and they’ll surely be curious enough to see how the others fare. Maybe they don’t love all of them, but even one or two great stories can make the entire collection worth it, especially if the whole package is an hour and forty-five-minute film with three stories.

In 1995, Madhouse and Studio 4°C collaborated to create Memories, a collection of three short films based on short manga stories written by Katsuhiro Otomo, the man who created Akira. Since Otomo seems to always be involved in the animated adaptations of his work, he was the executive producer for Memories and even directed the third and final short himself.

Together with Darker Than Black director Tensai Okamura, Studio 4°C co-founder Koji Morimoto, and legendary director/writer Satoshi Kon, Memories was an ambitious fusion of three very different kinds of stories. If the objective was to make something that would stick in your mind, then they certainly picked a fitting title.

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The End of the Game – A Review of Psycho-Pass 3: First Inspector

I finished watching the conclusion to Psycho-Pass 3, titled “First Inspector,” just before writing this. After eight 45-minute long episodes, the story concludes with a “film” meant to wrap up the season’s plot threads that had felt unfinished. My thoughts were a mixture of “ok, cool” and “what the fuck even was that?.”

I should address a mistake on my part right out of the gate. Back in the final part of my Psycho-Pass retrospective, I claimed that First Inspector would be a recap film. I was incorrect. Info at the time led publications to believe that was the case but, no, they wrapped up the story in a neat little bow, which I appreciate.

However, I don’t think I’ll be referring to this as a film so much as a delayed finale. For some reason, Amazon divided the story into three episodes, despite it being marketed as a film and even given a limited theatrical run in Japan. Though, if I’m honest, judging by the production quality, I can’t imagine being impressed by the visual quality magnified on a theater screen, save for maybe the final episode.

If the snark was any indication, this may not be the most positive review. Far be it from me to spoil the verdict before you’ve even scrolled down or clicked “read more,” but if you weren’t the biggest fan of season three, the ending probably isn’t going to make you change your perspective. Regardless, here are my thoughts on how the film tied up one of the most ambitious sequels to Psycho-Pass yet.

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A Review of My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising

Save for a rant-filled, canceled post from this past summer, I have never formally written on the topic of My Hero Academia. That might seem sacrilegious given my prior reputation as a Studio Bones devotee, but it never felt like there was anything to be said that hadn’t already been said.

It’s a super fun show given greater clout by its colorful cast and a uniquely relatable protagonist who goes through quite a lot of punishment to become the hero he wants to be. It has also been well-produced, taking year-long breaks in-between seasons to ensure a sustainable level of quality between arcs.

After a somewhat underwhelming third season (to me at least), the fourth season has been stellar so far, and high on hype from the last arc, I think everyone had high expectations for the new film, Heroes Rising. And to make a great year even better, those expectations were most certainly met.

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An Obligatory, Arbitrary List of Anime Fight Scenes

While not necessarily in vogue among anime critics lately, it isn’t hard to find rankings of very specific subjects within the community. “Top 10 Strongest Anime Characters”, “Top Ten Anime Villains”, “Top Ten Anime Couples”, etc. And of course, who could forget the perpetually memed “Top Ten Anime Betrayals,” which I don’t think I’ve ever seen created unironically.

However, while overdone, it has never felt like the kind of thing that anime critics do begrudgingly out of some unspoken tax as per the job. After all, anime has a lot of cool shit and fights are no exception. It’s only obligatory so far as such a thing is relatively easy to create and an ample excuse to ramble about things we like. That’s half the reason people like me become critics anyway.

So in no particular ranked order, here are a few my favorite anime fight scenes.

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