Thursday, July 24, 2008


Subject: Noir
An update: I got a hold of the BluRay for Gotham Knight and sure enough, the "Field Test" episode was produced by Koichi Mashimo at Bee Train.

I haven't watched the whole thing yet, and only quickly watched that segment (and the credits) with the commentary track on.

A couple of things to look for:

- Bruce Wayne as a young man who looks like a cross between Carroseur Doon from MADLAX and Orpheus from Meine Liebe... no, really...

- The special Bat-armor he's testing looks like something straight out of some sort of post-modern Gatchaman. No, really!

Anyway, I'll probably have the chance to watch more closely this weekend. Discussion in the Gotham Knight thread in the Bee Train Fan forum, of course.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Batman: Gotham Knight" anime short done by Bee Train?

Subject: Noir
I came across a couple of reviews when scanning Google News for any "Bee Train" alerts. Details of what I found are on the thread in Bee Train Fan forum, but to sum up:

- Hiroshi Morioka (.hack, Tsubasa) directed the "Field Test" segment (which ANN says has a "bishonen Bruce Wayne"... *chortle*)
- Only two reviews actually say it's Bee Train; there's nothing on their official site or ANN (ANN says Production I.G. was one of the production companies)

Anyway, looks like I'll have to rent it sooner than later so I can confirm for myself.

Monday, July 14, 2008

"Blade of the Immortal" debuts

Subject: Noir
...and I forgot all about it! *sigh*

Anyway, I'm back to work today and won't have a chance to watch it for a little while. In the meantime, the OP was posted to the 'Tube:

So far on Animesuki, it's mostly complaints, go figure. Watching the blood-spatters and angst in this blurry little OP doesn't exactly inspire me just yet, either, but I'll comment more when I get to give it a go. Bee Train Fan discussions in the forum, of course.

Update: On first impression, nothing changes too much in my opinion. Dark, bleak, and rather bloody. Though not all-out gut-splattering gore, still a lot of spatter.

Seeing that this is a co-production with Production I.G., I kept trying to refrain from prejudging any particular shot as having the same kind of soulless look that Otoshi Zoshi had. I'd bet that if I were to go shot-by-shot and say "Bee Train", "IG", I'd probably get every single one wrong.

One thing it's got going for it is that it's far, far from "generic". It's very graphically strong, composed of a near-infinite blend of dreary grays and sepia shading, but punctuated by strong, saturated colors. Mostly reds so far, though interestingly, not so much the blood, which is rather dark. More the flowers, the kimono, the Avenger-esque red moon.

Effects are quite slick, as well, with a myriad of blade glows and light patterns and action montages. Camerawork is almost restrained in a Mashimo piece, though there's some experimentation around some of the "off-camera" slicing 'n dicing that kind of flew by too fast to make much impact on me just yet.

Dialouge animation is kind of stiff and some of the framing is a bit flat in those sequences. And there's a lot of dialouge. In fact, I suspect that once I see a translation, there may be a few "lighter", more humorous moments to help break up the overall dreariness. The one reaction shot where the lead jumps up and hits his head makes me suspect that some of his lines beforehand may have been wisecracks of some sort. We'll see.

I'm hoping there's a true HDTV release for this, as the muddiness would benefit from more detail and less compression. I'm also going to need to pay close attention to details in the background and settings, as there has reportedly been a lot of research and focus on those elements such that my lack of exposure to Japanese history and culture would put me at a symbollic disadvantage.

At any rate, I'm in for the long haul with this one, no matter what.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Watch now: Persepolis

Subject: Cinema
I pre-ordered the Blu-Ray release of Persepolis sight unseen, because I figured it would be good. I was wrong.

It was out. fucking. standing.

If all you've really watched in animation is anime, be prepared to be shocked by a true sense of depth, expression, and storytelling that you've probably rarely seen. As a long-time conneseur of animation, I was rapt with joy.

And yet, that was only the smallest part of just how wonderful this film was.

Ben @ Anipages reviewed Persepolis way back when it was released to theaters a while back, and I purposely tried to avoid reading what he had to say at the time, though I caught the following tidbits:

Persepolis is the best film I've seen in animation in a while.

Aside from Kaiba, this is dead-on! But then there's this bit:

Watching the film, I was appalled by how anime in contrast seems utterly devoid of sincere expression of the sort I felt in every simple composition in each shot of this film. They weren't simply running frantically in a hamster wheel to catch up with a card-deck of pre-chewed expressive symbols and predictable dramatic cliches. They had a very interesting story to tell that created its own arc, and a very unusual but appealing and original design ethos to do so with that was throughout visually compelling and helped the story speak what it needed to say, without being bogged down in pointless photorealism or allowing things to get distracted by stylistic handstands. On a technical note, perhaps it was just my imagination, but I wondered why the characters seemed to suddenly move with much more richness and nuance during the scenes in which they where in silhouette.

If there was ever a distinct, concise and accurate description of why mass-produced anime has generally been dismissed by Western enthusiasts and critics, this is likely why. It's not Ben's imagination; not by a long shot. The visuals, though simple, are graphically strong, emotionally crafted, and very personal. And above all, the truth from the point-of-view of the author.

For a yankee like me, it's a little-seen perspective. And that admittedly adds a layer of fascination to the story. But it's still so human and honest and universal that you can't help but being drawn to these series of drawings. "Compelling" is the most accurate thing about it.

It's simple and beautiful and real and amazing.

It's all the more serious and poignant and relevant right now because of the heated US rhetoric about Iran and the possibility of immediate war and destruction. The story details the perspective of "the other side" during the Iranian revolution of the late 70's that gripped us in a stupid, nationalistic fervor (I am, and have been, embarressed by my pre-teen ignorance back in those days), and the fact that it's all coming back with a vengance, without any perspective or just-cause, is all the more alarming. Persepolis, if anything, shows the human side of history over there. It's easy to apply some sort of un-informed simplistic rhetoric on the situation we face today, but without an accurate undersanding of the past, the history, and the people, there's only bad news in our future if we ignore the reality of the situation.

And, for some reason, I'm drawn to be political about the subject. The film isn't political in a contemporary sense, outside of the whole perspective of the time it took place -- where it's quite simply political, totally in it's own context. How could it not be? The whole period from the revolution onward is an extremely political act, with conflicting and passionate philosophies in play. Watching them as they play out on a very young, naive girl; and how they affect every step of her development (from aquiring black-market Iron Maiden tapes to living homeless in Vienna) is a personal and important reflection on just how much we don't understand the reality "on-the-ground" over there, and just how much the real human lives over there are like us, and always have been. When the film is done, the politics aren't the important part, and yet the awfulness of the repressive regime hangs heavy over everything. That's not the key -- the key is that there are humans with lives and dreams and they party and "life finds a channel to fill" despite everything.

All in a rapid sequence of simple drawings. That's the miracle of animation, that's the miracle of cinema that keeps me searching, and brings me bliss.

If you're going to go over-the-top, might as well have fun!

Subject: TV
The last ep of Doctor Who finally aired on the BBC last week. And it will probably be the last regular airing for a while, as next year it's being taken over by the writer of some of the better episodes, and they're only going to have a handful of "specials".

The cliffhanger for the next-to-last episode was the usual fun jaw-dropper, but the finale itself was a bit silly (to be kind). But fer crying out loud, it's Doctor Who, not some sort of high-drama! The silliness and scenery-chewing and triumph is all part of the entertainment package. A little eye-rolling now and then doesn't hurt it overall.

Especially when it's obvious that everyone involved is having a blast doing it. It's infectious. It's a blast to watch. If it were a live show at the theatre, it would bring the house down.

There's another little silly bit of potential-fun that just started on one of the lesser corners of cable TV. It's called The Middleman, and it's kind of a cross between Get Smart (the classic Mel Brooks TV show, of course), Pushing Daisies, and Torchwood (but in a good way. No really!).

I'm not convinced that they're having the same kind of "fun", but it's definitely a bit over the top. Slightly-geeky hipster gal gets a job as a sidekick to a goody-two-shoes "fixer" of comic-book-worthy problems. Lots of straightforward cliche-slinging and attempt obscure-reference-dropping. "Frank Herbert Middle School" was amusing, but "J.R. 'Bob Dobs' Memorial Airport" was quite a snarky coup, I thought. A rival gang of Mexican wrestlers, replete with masks. Funny.

It's dumb fun, but it's been tottering closer to the "dumb" side on occasion. The writing is that same kind of self-aware patter that Pushing Daisies was pushing, and for all I know (and I'm too lazy to check), there's some crossover there (it's airing on "ABC Family", so it's all from the Disney Corp.)

It's probably, ultimately, a waste of time, but I'm not figuring on watching it religiously. The barrier-to-entry for downloading shows like that is really low, and sometimes wasting a little time is just what the neurons ordered. And if it's fun, well, bonus!

Chiko - The Daughter of Twenty Anime Titles

Subject: Noir
So the summer anime season is just getting underway, and I have a tiny bit to say about that; which I'll do a bit later. The spring season didn't yield all too much for me, despite a few interesting titles back at the start.

That said, I've stuck with one other show besides the incredibly awesome Kaiba -- but it goes by a few names and I'm not entirely sure what I should refer to it as besides "Chiko", the lead character. "Daughter of Twenty Faces"? "Heiress of the Phantom Thief"? Depending on the translation, it's one of those.

Anyway, I wound up giving it a go based on Bee Train Fan member Section_8's quick review in the forum:
the above series features a young Japanese girl in the lead role who is, in many respects, what Kirika would have become if Altena had taken Prozac: a brilliant, charming young woman who can flip out like a ninja and has one heck of a traumatic upbringing. Best part of it is you actually get to see her BECOME this woman, because the show starts when she's 10 and ends (by the looks of it) when she's 18. I'd almost go so far as to say that this is an alternate universe Noir where instead of being raised by the Soldats Kirika's adopted by Lupin crossed with Roger from the Big O.

...and it turns out that Chicko is a lot like a young, 1940's alternate-universe Kirika from Noir. And watching certain shots, certain expressions -- there's a case to be made that if the animators & designers didn't watch Noir specifically, they probably watched it a lot. There's a few shots here and there that seem like a direct like-for-like lift -- well, homage for certain. They're fleeting, quick moments, but they're convincing evidence (watch Chiko jump over a wall in the episode after she returns to "normal" life).

Of course, the design and the expressions and whatnot aren't exactly unique to anime, and Chiko and Kirika could rather be descended from a common ancestor, is all.

The animation in general is kind of generic, though. The details are rather flat and simplistic. The ancillary characters are often cliche and annoying. But because this draws on a classic series of fictional novels, the stories themselves aren't bad, and there aren't too many punches pulled with respect to violence and death. Not that it's some sort of gore-fest, mind you; but people die and the enemies are actually dangerous - ingredients that rather betray the apparent youthful demographic it's aimed at.

I guess overall, there's nothing all that special about it beyond those two hooks. And it won't take too much to make me drop it, though it's managed to skirt the edge and keep up reasonable episodic stories. It makes a good replacement "Sunday breakfast" show for me, which I've been missing for a while now. Fansub releases aren't all that predictable, though, so it hasn't quite worked out as a regular thing for me yet. No biggie.