Kekkaishi

Kekkaishi begins with cake. Yoshimori Sumimura is a Kekkaishi, a type of caster who can create temporal spaces. This power is used to capture and destroy ayakashi (demons). Of course, other than a few instances, the first several episodes of this anime is focused on Yoshimori’s love for baking. He makes various cakes to win over his neighbor and fellow Kekkaishi Tokine Yukimura. …Way too many episodes were wasted on cake.

But if you are patient this anime gets much better.

Yoshimori and Tokine spend their nights defending Karasumori, a plot of land that has powers that attract and transform ayakashi power. Their school just happens to be built on the site.  Yoshimori is the a-typical anime hero. He defends everyone, and particularly Tokine, with all his strength and without regard to himself. Tokine, the responsible one, is a scalpel to Yoshi’s hammer. She comes off as prissy at first.

The simple days of cake, and nights of weak ayakashi, don’t last long. Stronger and more dangerous ayakashi appear….at about episode 20.

One of the main villians in Kekkaishi

Kekkaishi is the love child between Bleach and Inuyasha. It has a lot of Bleach like action and elements mixed with the world of demons and critters from Inuyasha. Unfortunately, the pacing of Kekkaishi is bad. The cake jokes last until episode 8..a full 6th of the show. The main storyline doesn’t even get started until around episode 20.

But the character development is very good.

Yoshimori, Tokine, and family are believable…if a bit odd. The dynamics between Yoshi and Tokine are a nicely conflicted mix between friendship, siblings, and love. Yoshi can be frustratingly proud. The fact I felt frustration with him tells me how well developed he was.

Kekkaishi has a lot of twists in the plot. I was surprised with most of them. The show certainly wasn’t predictable. The buildup in tension was well done. Also, the animation is very good.

Despite the pacing problems, Kekkaishi is a good anime. If you can get through the first part, you will be rewarded with good character development and surprising plot twists.

Gunslinger Girl

Classical music and firearms are oddly complimentary. Add in cyborg children and Gunslinger Girl almost pulls the ol’ heartstrings…almost.

Gunslinger Girl follows the missions of Italy’s (yes Italy for a change) Social Welfare Agency. Sounds like a retirement home…only it puts down its guests. The Agency, as it is also called, specializes in counter-intellengence and counter-terrorism. Section 2 uses young girls with cybernetic implants along with her “brother” to assassinate threats to the government. Each cyborg girl (and they are only girls) is paired with a “handler” to train her and take care of her. Each of these “brothers” are allowed to use whatever methods he wants to train her…

No, there aren’t any creepy sexual things in this anime…not overt anyway.

These young girls were once fatally injured or ill in various ways. Once they are submit to the Agency and become cyborgs they are pretty much healthy…other than side effects of brainswashing and the implants anyway. The technology is miraculous. The paralyze walk. The blind see. Unfortunately there is a price. First, the girls forget their past and eventually develop a swiss cheese memory. Next, they have very short life spans compared to their handlers.

Gunslinger girl’s characters are interesting…but the short pace of the first season (only 13 episodes) keeps you from really growing attached to any one character. Even the main character Henrietta doesn’t see enough time to develop. Although her handler’s, Jose Croce, reservations about using young girls as murderers is interesting.

Why the Agency chooses teenage girls isn’t clear. Their youth makes it easier for them to adapt to the implants, but guys could do the same. The anime glosses over a lot of the manga’s story in favor of action.

Gunslinger Girls

The music of Gunslinger Girl is wonderful. It uses classical music including Beethoven’s 9th Symphony to excellent effect. The animation quality wavers between sharp detail and crisp motion to more standard fare. The character close ups are where this show shines…literally. There are a lot of wet shine in character’s hair and jackets. It does look good, however.

Gunslinger Girl is a decent show. It felt rushed with just 13 episodes in a season. The next season is supposed to focus more on the storyline and less on action. The anime is tragic and just…just…begins to tug at the heart strings by the end of the season. It has a lot of rather messed up ideas. Using a young girl as a weapon is just one of them. The anime has a lot of potential if they would just focus on the characters more.

Kairo (The Pulse)

Kairo or the Pulse as it is known in America follows a group of college students who investigate a mysterious webcam feed that invites people to talk to ghosts.  American moviegoers may remember a movie called the Pulse that came out in 2006, featuring a bunch of CGI antics and a lot of action and explosions (at least that’s what I recall anyway, I’ve not watched the movie in years.)

In any case, Kairo is the movie that the Pulse is based off of.  The American version is essentially an exact remake of the original, save that in true American fashion the movie is more of a “Boo! I scared you!” kind of movie than the typical Japanese atmospheric ghost story.

Kairo does rely a lot upon atmosphere.  It seems no one in Tokyo paid their electric bill while the movie was being made because most of the scenes were so dark you couldn’t see what was going on.  Normally I like the build up in a Japanese movie; the Audition was mostly build up but man did it pay off!

But here it never did.  Kairo was a joke without a punchline, if you will. This is one of the few times where I can genuinely say that I enjoyed the American remake better than the Japanese original.  The American movie at least made me jump: the Japanese one almost made me snore.  I found myself lapsing into checking my Twitter feed and doing research for the current story I’m working on.

There were a lot of interesting themes in this story; it wasn’t so much a ghost story as social commentary with a ghost story facade.  As is often the case, social commentary was what made this story ponderous.  It was basically about how lonely and disconnected modern society is, how we basically live together apart.  I’m told that’s more of a problem in Japan than it is here in America, but I’m thinking we’re increasingly catching up with them on that front (after all, America has to be #1 at everything….even bad stuff!)

I don’t mind deep themes and all that jazz, but first and foremost a movie has to be entertaining.  It must engage me before it tries to preach at me; who knows if I’m engaged I might listen?  Kairo didn’t do that.  I was mostly just bored.  And kind of hungry.  Hey look! Shiny!

…see what I mean?

If you’re a fan of the American movie give this one a look, if only to see where the remake came from (I always like to compare them to see how they match up.)  If you’re a fan of psychological thriller’s this one is for you (they’re hit or miss for me.)  If you like a fast-paced, scare-your-pants-off thrill ride, this isn’t the movie for you.  All and all I give Kairo an “eh, it was okay.”

Evangelion: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance

Evangelion 2.22  picks up where Evangelion 1.0 leaves off…but not with another rehashed scene from the original series. Thankfully 2.0 has very few of those compared to the first film. You Can (Not) Advance kept me…dare I say?…riveted.

Like Eva 1.0 You Can (Not) Advance continues the story from the original series, only it does it properly. Most of this OVA is new stuff: new scenes,  characters, and designs.  Shinji even stops his wrist cutting and acts more normally. His father, Gendo, also displays his human side. Gendo severely lacked any type of humanity in the original series. Here, he is a father who is forced to choose between those he cares about and the greater good.

Eva 2.22  grabs you by the throat by opening with a spectacular fight between Mari Makinami (a new character) and the remains of the Third Angel. The pace of the film continues at a comfortable cadanance of robot fighting and character interaction. The fights only get heavier. The red head Asuka Shikinami joins the crew – adding some interesting tension between Shinji, Rei and herself. Characterization, despite the limited time frame, feels better done than in the original.

I think that is because Shinji isn’t wrist slitting as often.

The main story line involving NERV and SEELE still requires heavy lifting in the believability department. It tries too hard to be deep as it draws in more religious elements.  Shinji, Rei, and Asuka are where Eva 2.22  is at it’s best. Their interactions (thanks to Rei being more talkative than in the original) did more to keep me interested than the fights or the unwieldy storyline.  I prefer a few more relating scenes to the fights, as grand as they are.

The animation looks more modern and smoother while still keeping the same feel as the original. The mecha fights between the Evas and the Angels are computer animated and blend better than in Eva 1.0. No computer screen or commander/staff action montages here. There are only detailed, crisp movements. The music is an excellent complement. It really heightens the mood appropriately.

Mari Makinami posing.

Evangelion 2.22  takes the series in a good direction. Despite the time limitations, the story flows better than the original and the characters are more believable. Shinji isn’t anywhere near as irritating. The sexuality of the series startles me consider the characters’ ages, but it makes the damaged characters feel more vulnerable and human as well. It is nice to see them joke, get embarassed, and cry. The humor feels natural and helps shove back the darkness. The unrelenting depression of the first series just turned me off to it.

I find myself looking forward to the next installment of the series. The Rebuild of Evangelion has turned a series I considered overrated and repugnant into something I am enjoying.

Evangelion 1.01 You are (Not) Alone

I didn’t really care for the original Evangelion series. It was just too pretentous, and the characters rubbed me the wrong way. Shinji in particular was a whiny wrist cutter who made me want him to just go “up the street.” So, when I heard Evangelion was releasing an OVA series I was hesitant to watch it.

I was actually surprised.  In fact, I must say, You are (Not) Alone is pretty good. Shinji still grates on my nerves, but with the faster pacing I can actually tolerate it and even see his character develop better than in the series. The story just works better in this shorter format.

You are (Not) Alone opens with Shinji being called to NERV headquarters by his father just as an Angel attacks. Angels are aliens bent on the destruction of humanity. Shinji is forced to pilot the last hope of humanity: the Eva. Mind you, Shinji had no experience piloting anything let alone a giant war machine. Evangelion never did get into exactly why teenagers had to be pilots. The OVA continues with Shinji’s meeting with Rei Ayanami. Asuka Soryu doesn’t fit into the timeline covered.

I still dislike how Shinji and Rei (along with the other characters to some extent) seek external validation for their lives to mean something.  Hmmm..the original series never did resolve this from what I remember.

I had forgotten the sexual awkwardness Evangelion had between the characters. There was  also a surprising amount of fairly detailed underaged nudity…Rei fans will be excited I guess. The jumpsuits were disturbingly tight.

The animation was polished, but kept the original’s feel. The computer animated Eva’s and Angels was noticeable against the animated backgrounds. Like in the original most of the action was in montages of computer screens, connection animations, and people spending 5 minutes announcing this or that system is ready. You know. The traditional mecha version of announcing an attack. At least the Evas fought crisply. Generally the animation is good but still looks dated compared to more modern feasts like my favorite mecha Eureka Seven.

I still think Evangelion is overrated, but it’s not terrible by any means. It takes itself far too seriously. How seriously can we take giant robots fighting each other?  The OVAs still are too pretentous.

Surprisingly, I was looking forward to the next installment. The characters were  far more interesting…and tolerable…in this shorter movie format. I’m just hoping the ending for the OVAs will be better than the mess the original ended with.

Onibaba

Onibaba is a classic Japanese horror movie.  It’s set in the 14th century, during the time of the warring states when Japan was torn apart by civil war.  It follows two women, a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law who eke out a living by waylaying wounded samurai and selling their equipment to a corrupt merchant.  ]

I figured since this was considered a classic that I would really enjoy it.  However I’m disappointed to say that I really didn’t.  I found it quite dull actually.  There were some things that I really did like about it, but for most of the movie I felt like it just kind of drifted aimlessly.

That being said, the movie was beautifully shot.  I didn’t find it very scary, not really, but the atmosphere set by the cinematography was creepy in and of itself.  It was shot in black and white, and took place in a huge field of reeds.  The reeds were literally everywhere and stood taller than all the characters.  They closed in on and framed every scene, lending an air of claustrophobia.  There was a sort of quiet desperation to the entire film: the movie took place in desperate times when there was scarcely enough food to feed an army much less the common folks. Also there was a brooding pit that opened amidst this sea of reeds.  The women would dump the samurai they found down it once they dispatched them.

The two women are on the edge of starvation, and when Aichi returns from the war it starts to drive a wedge between them.  Aichi and Kichi were drafted into the war.  Kichi was the old woman’s son and the daughter-in-law’s husband.  Aichi returns home alone and starts to make advances towards Kichi’s wife.  I don’t want to give away too much, but suffice to say shenanigans ensue.

Music was used sparingly in this film, only for scenes that I imagine were supposed to be scary.  I liked the music though, as it was pretty interesting.  It mainly consisted of drum rolls punctuated by what sounded like death screams or screams from battle.

the demon from “The Exorcist”

The word “onibaba” means “demon woman,” and the name is why I watched it.  Or rather, the mask to which the name refers.  I came across the movie when I was poking around for information about “the Exorcist,” especially that white demonic face that would appear randomly throughout.  Turns out “Captain Howdy” was inspired by the demon mask in “Onibaba.”

All in all this movie left me cold.  I was bored through most of it in all honesty.  It didn’t scare me and it didn’t entertain me all that much either.  The cinematography was beautiful though and the music well done.  It had a good atmosphere, but to me at least nothing of real substance happened inside that atmosphere it so well developed.  If you like old timey movies, give this one a shot.  If you are looking for a scare, I’d look elsewhere.  Maybe the Exorcist…I know that movie scared the crap out of me!