The Big O is a Big Hit

After writing for the cult classic, Serial Experiments Lain, Chiaki J. Konaka took to scripting The Big O, a 26-episode mecha series for the premier studio of mecha anime, Sunrise. However, given Konaka’s now-revered talent of writing bizarre, psychological dramas, this show was anything but ordinary.

Over the years I have come to know it as a stylistic blend of art deco film noir and sci-fi mecha. It took clear inspiration from Batman: The Animated Series, with the original concept by Keiichi Sato likening the setting to Gotham. After the original 13 episodes, however, the show was canceled, or, more accurately, it was given a shortened season by producers.

And then it aired on Toonami in 2001.

The international reception alone pushed Cartoon Network to co-produce The Big O‘s final 13 episodes. The demands of western producers were limited. Sunrise was still animating it and Konaka was still writing with seemingly as little restraint as possible, so long as he added more action and was more forthcoming with the mystery plot.

This is yet another cult classic I have been meaning to watch for a while, considering it seems to be right up my alley. Whether it be allusions to film, or it’s stylistic similarities to my childhood obsession Batman, this review was bound to happen. And yet, I can’t honestly say I was prepared for what I was in for.

Continue reading

Ignore the Hate, Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 is Good

The new Ghost in the Shell is good

This isn’t up for debate. Not because I’m opposed to dissenting opinions but because the festering shitholes known as the comment sections and forum posts about this new series have made such a claim a necessity.

About three years ago, Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 was announced. After 14 years, Stand Alone Complex was getting a direct sequel, something that was welcome after the middle-of-the-road Arise series from 2013. Even better, it would be directed AND WRITTEN by Kenji Kamiyama, the same guy who directed and wrote the original SAC. As a bonus, he would be co-directing alongside Appleseed director Shinji Aramaki.

Production I.G. would be working on it (no surprise there) along with Sola Digital Arts. In a big surprise, the character designs would be handled by Ilya Kuvshinov, someone who is mostly known to me for making beautiful art that people always set as their Soundcloud thumbnails for some reason.

Just last year we got a sense of what this very production team, sans Kuvshinov, was capable of. They released the Netflix original Ultraman, the animated sequel to the legendary Tokusatsu show of the same name. It was a cool show that got praise at the time, for good reason. So you’d think that knowing that these same people were working on the new Ghost in the Shell that people would look at the two and think “ok, this is the kind of animation I can expect.”

Instead, a lot of stupid fucking people acted like they didn’t see it coming when the new Ghost in the Shell was entirely CGI. Now that it’s released, I’d like to believe that people realized they were wrong, but nope. So I’m coming out of my hiatus swinging to get you motherfuckers cultured.

Continue reading

A Love Letter to Animation – A Review of Keep Your Hands off Eizouken!

In 2015, P.A. Works produced what would be remembered as one of the best shows of the year, Shirobako. The series was, funnily enough, an anime about making anime. It was praised for its depiction of the hardships of working in the industry as well as the optimism with which it approached its story of overcoming hardship.

There have been a few shows that have dealt with similar subjects, usually in a business-type setting. There was New Game, about game development, Girlish Number, a cynical comedy about the darker side of anime production, and all-in-all, plenty of shows about working women in creative fields.

However, no other show quite retained the same popularity and acclaim over time quite like Shirobako. That is, until now. After ONA’s like Devilman and films like Ride Your Wave and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Masaaki Yuasa returned to TV anime for something truly special.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na, or Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken, might very well be one of the most uplifting, insightful, and inspiring shows I’ve seen in a very long time. It does for the industry much what Shirobako did, openly disclosing the ups and downs of the business, but in a way far more imaginative and stylistic than it’s predecessors.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Bungo Stray Dogs: A Novel Portrait of Good & Evil

How does one sanction evil?

The end goal of any traditional story of good versus evil is to battle to a point at which good has triumphed and evil has been defeated. The setting returns to or discovers a comparably peaceful status. From there, it can be assumed that peace will persist for as long as it can after the curtain has closed.

But what happens when a story paints that perpetual conflict between good and evil not as a disturbance or ongoing plague, but as the goal? Furthermore, what if a story progressively affirms it to be preferable to another, worse turn of events. While it may not be clear at first, Bungo Stray Dogs is the very thesis of this notion.

On the surface, this show is about the conflict between the simply named Armed Detective Agency and the Port Mafia, set in modern-day Yokohama, Japan. Every main character is named after and based on a popular author or poet, each possessing supernatural abilities based on their works.

Beyond the first season, the story evolves slowly into something far grander in such a way you might not notice it. It’s the kind of stylish show that could be unfairly criticized as lacking, narratively. My purpose in writing this is to parse the purpose of a story that I consider to be the very essence of character-driven storytelling.

[Spoilers for Bungo Stray Dogs Seasons 1-3 Ahead]

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

A Psycho-Pass Retrospective, Part Three – Sinners of the System & Season Three

Last week I looked at the divisive continuations of Psycho-Pass, both the second season and the movie. The latter marked the end of what I consider the first phase of the franchise, one bookended by two solid stories by Gen Urobuchi, held back by an abysmal second season and some missed potential with the film.

In 2018, a new trilogy of films set in the Psycho-Pass universe was announced for a 2019 release date called Sinners of the System. The three short films, each about an hour in length, take place at various points throughout the timeline. It would be the first new entry in the series in about four years. In the same year, a third season would be announced and released in the fall.

Psycho-Pass was back, with original director Naoyoshi Shiotani’s involvement being a major selling point. They wanted us to know that the series was returning in good hands. Even so, with such a long delay and the second season still a sore spot for many fans who felt the film didn’t make up for it, how well would this new phase fare?

Continue reading

A Review of Dororo

More and more lately I find shows and films that I call “pseudo-nostalgic.” They are stories that fill me with a sense of yearning for the days of older trends in storytelling, even if the subject matter is not something which was known to me when I was younger. Are these films and shows which I attribute this label just banking on nostalgia? I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. I believe revisiting an old formula in a new time can feel just as refreshing and an older story adapted for the now can be made to fit in rather nicely. Today, I’m reviewing an adaptation a long time in the making… 52 years to be exact. This is Studio MAPPA’s Dororo.

Continue reading

What the New ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Needs To Accomplish

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 amazingĀ 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