Laughing Under the Clouds

Masterpiece

Laughing Under the Clouds is a very strong character drama, supported by some world-focused drama and some action sequences.  Even on a superficial level, this anime puts on a strong face, making it interesting for viewers of all levels of experience.  It’s full of twists and turns that slowly reveal a larger and more complicated story.  Much of the complexity comes from subtlety and attention to detail, which ends up making this anime a Masterpiece (albeit at the lower end). 

Purpose: Masterpiece.  This is an anime that is difficult to talk about without spoiling it.  Generally, the anime is about Tenka, the oldest brother of three.  It’s generally split into two parts – the first half is about the man himself and the second is about the effect he has on other people.  The camera generally follows Soramaru, the second brother, who is also the viewer’s point of entry.  Although the first and last episodes were pretty much the weakest, the anime is strong enough throughout to forgive those weaknesses.

What is particularly special about the purpose is the constant eye on the details.  They properly added subtle cues and details that served as foreshadowing.  When looking back, there are lots of little things that set the stage for big reveals that, while surprising, are not out of the blue.  In addition, they manage the flow of information in such a way that the anime is constantly evolving the viewer’s understanding of characters.  Basically, they manage the viewer’s perception and attention in a really powerful way.  One of the easiest examples is with the theme of the anime, contained in the title “Laughing Under the Clouds.”  Even here, they manage to constantly evolve the viewer’s understanding of that phrase as the anime goes on.  This afforded them great control over the mood, which they used to great effect.

Characters: Excellent.  One of the best points of the character development was that we were shown depth – personality, character, and motive.  All three of those were developed through characters acting and reacting to events in the world.  Character development itself included both the viewer’s evolving understanding of some characters as well as other characters evolving based on events that happened.

The absolute strongest and most well developed character was Tenka.  He was the star of the show, both in his personality and his character.  Most of the other main cast were strong in their own right and had a solid amount of depth to them.  If brief, they do manage to grow characters to the point that you’re involved in all these characters’ lives.  Even certain side characters had an appropriate amount of depth and even growth for their place in the story.

World: Excellent.  There’s ninjas, magic, giant snakes and some indescribable weapons all set in the early Meiji era.  While it may sound crazy when listed like that, they’re combined with the practical in such a way that they don’t seem out of place.  Rather, they’re an organic part of the world, not tacked on.  Perhaps a part of this was a result of the really interesting blending of eras – pre-Meji, Meji, and some modern thrown in there.  The modern flair ends up making it more easily accessible because it’s prevents it from feeling stuffy, like many period dramas.

That aside, there are many different “factions,” or groups of actors that each have their own interests.  They often have different goals and motives for acting which puts them at cross purposes.  Here also, is a lot of subtlety – alliances shift, allegiances shift, and motives change.  If you’re not paying attention, keeping track of who’s doing what can become a bit confusing.

One final note, the costuming was really fantastic.  There were lots of really interesting and distinctive getups.

Plot:  Excellent. The basic structure of the plot was pretty standard, providing a good series of challenges and resolutions for the characters. Generally speaking, there were two large sets of plots – one involving the brothers, and one involving the world.   Ultimately, they were blended together pretty well by the end.  The brothers’ plot was a plot of discovery – it was more about growing up and learning the bigger, darker, and harder aspects of adult life and the sacrifices adults make for children.  The world-focused plot appears to be a standard fantasy saving the world plot, but there’s a lot more going on under the surface.  The undertone can be summed up as “overcoming the past.”  Here, it represents confronting grief, anger, and sadness on the road to saving the world.

Storytelling: Masterpiece.   Overall, they managed three separate storylines quite well and tied them together fairly seamlessly.  Part of the strength of the storytelling lies in how they made a place for everything and every character.  More specifically, everything had some role to play.  On a broader note, it was the little things and the attention to detail that strengthened the story.  The details ranged from trivial to extremely important, but lots of the important details were subtle and often easy to miss.  On the trivial end, a guy who loses his tooth early on is always missing a tooth.   On the important side, the demeanor by which one character treats another ends up being extremely subtle foreshadowing of later events.  For that matter, the character relationships were built in such a powerful fashion that even you will be caught up when things go south.

A final note – the buildup through episode 6 was truly exceptional.  If taken alone, it’s one of the standout story arcs that are extremely hard to find in anime .  Even though episode 6 was such a powerful climax, they still manage to hold a strong amount of interest and intrigue through the resolution.  While the resolution wasn’t exactly the strongest, the rest of the storytelling was strong enough to carry its weight.

Pace: Excellent.  Quite a strong pace throughout.  One of the most interesting choices was proving a “break” episode after episode 6 and before characters deal with the aftermath.  The break provided a great deal of context to what was going on and set the stage for what was to come.  It also let you reset so that you were ready to start dealing with the aftermath along the characters.

Himouto! Umaruchan

Good

Himouto! is a fairly solid comedy suitable for easy viewing.  The humor is fairly varied, and has its ups and downs.   Unfortunately, some gags end up being belabored a little too much, taking them from funny to obnoxious.  Even though this is a comedy-genre anime, there is actually a surprising amount of depth going on in the background, when the other characters take the spotlight.  Overall, it’s a good watch, but not a must-see.

Purpose: Good.  Himouto! is a little difficult to classify.   About 70%  of the anime is gag-oriented pure comedy.  The other 30% is more of a blended slice of life comedy.   The pure comedy portion is further split between sister-brother gags and sister-everyone else gags.  The oddest thing about this anime is that it’s at its weakest for most of the sister-brother gags.  They become generally predictable because they all involve the same subject matter.  In a lot of ways, the anime is about every character other than its namesake.  Most interesting is that Himouto! actually seems to use the older brother as its center-point, around which almost everything revolves.  He’s also the viewer’s point of entry into the anime.  While not the main character, he ends up becoming something like the star of the show, not to mention a strong candidate for brother of the year award.

Characters: Good.  Again, this is mixed.  Most of the characters had strong potential, but in unexpected ways.  The viewer’s understanding of just about every other character grows throughout the anime.  For most of the main girl cast, they all had some sort of issue or hangup that prevented them from being normal.  Not that that’s a bad thing – they ended up becoming endearing in uniquely different ways.   Oddly, only one character remained mostly static – Umaru, the show’s namesake.  We saw little bits of perspective on her only through her interactions with two of the other characters.  The entirety of Umaru’s character is dependent on the dichotomy between her “outside” and her “at-home” lives.  This resulted in a fairly shallow character, especially in comparison to the rest.  Moving beyond the girls, the brother ended up being a really well done character, so much so that he kind of steals the show.  He’s a strong counterpoint to his sister’s character, or lack thereof.  He demonstrates a powerful balance of serious and silly that the other characters can work off of to great effect.

World: Decent. While generally plain and uninteresting as a backdrop, it’s used in an odd way.  For much of the anime, it’s almost done to compartmentalize and isolate character pairs into situations.   In other words, the create several worlds that really only exist between combinations of characters.  As the anime goes on, they slowly start to blend these separate worlds together, which starts to add some life into the world as a whole.  Unfortunately, they added the history and depth to the world at too late of a point – had it been much earlier, the world would be rated more highly.

Plot: Decent.  Frankly, there isn’t too much plot to be found.  The plot can be separated into the Umaru gags and character building categories, although character building is few and far in between.  Normally, I wouldn’t really even be talking character development in a comedy genre, but they decided to use some plot time to develop characters, in addition to making it funny.  The main problem with the plot comes from the complete dependence on the “Umaru personality” for much of the comedy’s plot, stifling the variety of comedy.  While entertaining at first, it slowly loses its flavor through over-use.  Putting Umaru aside, they do a solid job of providing steps and situations for the viewer’s understanding of the other characters to grow.

Storytelling: Good.  In spite of the weaknesses belabored above, the storytelling manages to mitigate some of the weaker points.  The humor’s a little bit hit-and-miss, with the misses coming mostly in the middle.  The brother-sister gags were more than enough to carry the early stories, but it wore thin.  They started to pick up the humor again when they started playing with other characters and characters’ relationships.

Pace: Good. Basically, the comedy was selected in such a way that it ultimately mitigated the Umaru gags, preventing them from becoming completely tiresome.  Aside from that, the pacing felt somewhat on the slower side.

Tunes for the Commute

Driving in traffic, riding on a train, or flying to your destination can often be a dull thing.  I’ve created a playlist for my commute from anime singles and soundtracks I own.  I’ll provide links to ones I can find online.   Enjoy!

  1. Connect (ClariS) – Puella Magi Madoka Magica 
  2. A/Z (Sawano Hiroyuki & Mizuki) – Aldnoah Zero
  3. Que Sera Sera (fhana) – The Eccentric Family
  4. Namae no Nai Kaibutsu (Egoist) – Psycho Pass
  5. Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari (Supercell) – Bakemonogatari
  6. &Z (Sawano Hiroyuki & Mizuki) – Aldnoah Zero
  7. Days of Dash (Konomi Suzuki) – Pet Girl of Sakurasou
  8. Resuscitated Hope (Komine Lisa) – Gosick
  9. Beautiful World (Utada Hikaru) – Evangelion 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone
  10. Rising Hope (LiSA) – Irregular at Magic High School
  11. To the Beginning (Kalafina) – Fate/Zero
  12. Bre@thless (Sawano Hiroyuki) – Aldnoah Zero
  13. Friends (Stephanie) – Gundam 00
  14. Sorairo Days (Shoko Nakagawa) – Gurren Lagann
  15. Maware!  Setsugetsuka (~multiple artists~) – Unbreakable Machine Doll
  16. Keep on Keepin’ On (Sawano Hiroyuki) – Aldnoah Zero
  17. Ambiguous (GARNiDELiA) – Kill la Kill

Daily Lives of High School Boys (series + 6 shorts)

Very Good

This is an oddity in the slice of life comedy genre because it’s about average high school boys.  Well, weirdo high school boys, but normal nonetheless.  Daily Lives of High School Boys is certainly fun to watch passively, enjoying the comedy.  You can also pay attention to the subtle (and sometimes in-your-face, not so subtle) commentary worked into the background.  With that in mind, this anime does some really interesting things that are very rare in the slice of life and comedy genres.  Overall this anime was structurally sound and pretty entertaining to watch.

Purpose: Very Good.  The first half of the anime is somewhat hit-and-miss with respect to the consistency of the humor.  Once it settles into its stride, and finds out what works well, it’s consistently strong.  The type of humor present in the anime varies quite a bit.  However, much of the humor is perspective-based, which may be somewhat surprising to the unaware.  This means that certain actions and reactions and even violence are exaggerated to the viewer to give a sense of how the characters interpret it.  Some of the perspective-based commentary is perhaps a bit too overt.  The commentary varies, but seems to generally coalesce around frustration at the differences between girls slice of life and boys slice of life comedy.  That aside, this anime truly shines when it accompanies a scene with characters’ internal thoughts.

Characters: Very Good.  Characters generally aren’t deep, but this is an example of a type of anime where they don’t need to be.  Instead, characters are generally interesting enough by acting in a distinctive enough way.  What was surprising was that several characters ended up having a good deal of depth, but in an unexpected way.  The strongest characters are the ones where we can see their internal thought processes.  It’s a really odd, yet effective, way to build a character since we really learn about that character by the way he thinks.  That ends up creating almost a template where, even if we don’t see the character’s thought process in another scene, we know generally what he’s thinking. By the end, they manage to develop a surprising attachment to the characters and the everyday struggles they face – you sort of feel like you knew these guys.

World: Good.  On a physical level, while fairly plain, the world served its role solidly.  For this anime, the world ended up being much more of a backdrop of everyday locations.  Those locations actually served as a passive indicator of the kind of humor to be expected.  As the anime smoothed itself out, the settings generally resolved themselves into themes that set the stage for the comedic gags.  The other aspect of the world is all the ways the characters are related to each other.  That sets up a continuity between gags.  The continuity supports and lends credibility to the characters, especially in creating a general mood and atmosphere.  This anime includes something that is also quite rare in this genre’s worlds – the solid progression of time.  The anime is far from the “slice of life that never ends.”  In all, the world did a solid job of supporting other elements.

Plot: Very Good.  Normally, in slice of life comedy, you’d expect the plots to be very, very short – often limited to the several minute gags.  For the most part this is true.  However, with the addition of time, and continuity, there ends up being a plotline to several running gags.  There is a surprising amount of progression and development that happens, which is another oddity in the slice of life and comedy genres.

Storytelling: Very Good.  Storytelling in genres of this type is also usually limited to how they set up the gags.  Continuing to praise the addition of continuity, the storytelling both benefits and utilizes it very well.  It represents a constant evolution of how you understand the characters and their odd relationships with each other.  Several of the running gags are told in such a way that it makes you want to know what happens in the end.  Fortunately, they are kind enough to show us.

Pace: Good.  While this anime suffers a little bit in the beginning, it eventually finds its internal pacing.  Once it does, things run smoothly.  As it hits it stride, they begin to vary the skits’ internal pacing – some slower and some faster.  Once things are running smoothly, the pacing’s role in the gags ends up increasing.  They manage to play with pacing in a way that manages expectations and allow for several gags during the specific skit’s runtime.

Daybreak Illusion

Good

Daybreak Illusion is in the same category as Puella Magi Madoka Magica – it’s a darker take on the magical-girls genre.  Although it gets real dark, fast, compared to Madoka Magica, it pulled its punches for the most part.  While interesting to watch, it lacked the proper development to be truly great.

Purpose: Not Really Good.  It wasn’t entirely clear what they were trying to do.  Much of the anime was more weighted to action.  Rather, it was the impact of the action on the characters.  However, events that they spend half of the anime agonizing over were glossed over in the end.  It’s almost as though the author tired of that theme, treating it as more of a several episode plot-arc instead what they set it up as – an overarching theme.  The focus then shifted to the “ultimate mysteries of the world.”  Oddly, they don’t even go too far there.  They give hints of even greater and darker revelations, but never really explore them.  Frankly, that got lost in what appeared to be an odd attempt to tie in the old “plot arc” into what was going on. The lack of focus ended up sapping some strength from all of the other elements.  By the end, it felt as though the events should have been really gripping – edge of the seat gripping – but they didn’t really manage to set it up properly.

Characters: Weak.  It’s important to note that character depth and interesting characters are two different things, although they can be related.  The characters in Daybreak Illusion were interesting, both in their character design and personalities.  Each of the characters played a different role and provided a slightly different take on what was going on.  However, they lacked depth.  In this case, the depth was relegated to the characters’ backstories and some problem that came up, related to their past, that they had to overcome.  Basically, it was a one-off problem that, once solved, was the end of the character’s development journey.  In this way, it was a rather short trek for our characters to make.  This ended up robbing many scenes and plot elements of their impact because the characters weren’t strong enough to make it a compelling personal struggle.

World: Good.  This was another world that involves Tarot cards.  However, this only serves as a basis for giving the main girls powers.  Only the most basic and superficial things are explained – just enough to give you a sense of what’s going on.  For over half of the anime, this bare-bones setting is used.  Most of the actual world-building comes after the halfway point.  Once that happens, it actually begins to explain things.  Sadly, there ends up being more questions than answers – they hint at something bigger and darker lurking behind the scenes.  They don’t go much further than hints, though.  With all that said, the world gets the job done by providing an interesting enough setting for interesting things to happen in.

Plot: Very Good. The plot itself was quite good, in spite of some hiccups.   There were a good deal of strong plot points that were clearly designed to test a character’s personality.  Many of those plot points resulted in changes in perspective or trajectory of a character’s development.  However, the strength of the plot was squandered by the weaknesses in other elements.  That’s not to say the plot was uniformly strong.  One problem was that it was a bit predictable – each character got a turn in resolving an outstanding personal problem. Another problem was that a major plot point was discarded, only to be hastily tied in at the end.  This created an odd disconnect in the logical progression of events.  In spite of these failings, it still managed to be quite strong, perhaps too strong for the rest of the elements.

Storytelling: Decent.  While it feels like the storytelling was a major letdown, it still did a basic enough job to work without really detracting from anything.  Some of the scenes were quite strong because they set up moments that were supposed to be solidly emotional.  One of the strongly notable scenes involved creating an odd sense of wrongness, as though something was off.  This ended up being quite important.  Unfortunately, some of the stronger scenes that had proper buildup didn’t end up working out the way it should have because the weak characters that prevented the payoff.  Other scenes, however resulted from a story that was disappointingly done in several areas, weakening the overall mood.  Rather, it failed to set up the appropriate mood.  One example is how they don’t manage to convey important information until way past its relevance.  This isn’t good because it leaves the audience speculating about what’s going on instead of guiding the audience through the story.  When that happens, it hurts the overall mood because the audience gets out of sync with the events that are unfolding.

Pace: Very Good.  The pace wasn’t really a problem here.  While the anime does get quite dark, fast, they leave enough space to prevent it from becoming overwhelming.  The pace is fairly uniform throughout, fast enough to prevent things from getting stale.

Ah! My Goddess (TV)

Good

This isn’t to be confused with the OVA series of Oh! My Goddess, which came before it.  Apparently, Ah! My Goddess more closely follows the manga.  This series contains a blend of three different kinds of stories, which prevents it from being truly great.  As a consequence, most of this anime is fairly plain and forgettable. That said, it’s a fairly laid-back story that’s suitable for easy watching.

Purpose: Decent.  Ah! My Goddess is, overall, a light slice of life comedy with some light romance and a little bit of world-focused plot at the end.  The slice of life-type comedy is fairly simple and plain, without any truly crazy antics.  However, this anime really shines when it focuses on the sweet/romantic moments.  What is surprising is that about 2/3 of the way through, they suddenly transition to a much more serious tone and actually create something that resembles a plot line.  The division of time doesn’t really detract from the series so much as preventing it from reaching its full potential.  Overall, the anime was solidly Decent, but some of the stronger elements managed to barely pull it up to Good.  

Characters: Decent.  The oddest thing about the anime is that much of it was focused on amusing antics, but they didn’t make the characters “spectacularly crazy.”  To be more specific, none of the characters were strong enough to be memorable in any way.  Once the anime settles down into its routine, roughly halfway through, the basic setup is the “nice-guy” and the “nice girl,” coupled with two instigators.  One instigator is designed to try to make the two closer, the other designed to create some distance.

The problem with this setup is that, instead of developing the characters very well, they decided to create other characters to artificially create situations for the main two to react to.  So, for much of the anime, rather plain characters were reacting to new situations.  Thus, much of the character interaction was reaction to other characters.  Now, that setup actually worked quite well when it was just the main two characters since it ended up creating some really sweet or cute moments.  It just wasn’t well suited to everything else.  That said, the last 8 or 9 episodes actually went to create character depth… but in the secondary characters.

World: Good.  This was another category resurrected in the last handful of episodes.  For much of the show, the world was just there to allow some characters do to interesting things.  For that, it was, again, a really plain magical world-setting.  Much of it was a real-world setting with a “cheat code” of magical powers.  In the last handful of episodes, it described some of the greater workings of the world, which served as the basis for a semi-fantasy drama type event towards the end.  The world was full of potential, but not really explored.

Plot: Decent.  The vulnerability of the plot is that it was mostly non-existent.  Normally, that is perfectly okay for slice of life-type anime.  However, the addition of magical powers, both positive and negative, served as a cheat to bypass solid plot-writing.  Thus, the problem and the solution was often magical in nature, yet artificial.  Basically, magic was the plot hole. This created some internal inconsistency, working at odds with the characters.  Thus, instead of acting as steps for the characters’ relationships and growth, the plot served as an aberration – a weird hiccup that sort of forced things along for our characters.  The reason the plot is Decent in spite of this is because (fortunately) the characters were plain enough that it didn’t really affect anything.

Storytelling: Good.  Much of the storytelling was taken up by light comedy.  However, when they actually focused on the main characters’ relationships, they really shined.  Sadly, the setup was often incomplete and the sweet/awkwardly romantic moments came at the tail end of a forced plot.  One other area that is notable is the world-based plot.  It served as a really interesting exploration into character relationships other than the main two.  Once they started doing that, it made everything fall into place and actually paved the way for some emotional investment in both the characters and the overall story.  With all that said, frankly, the storytelling did the best it could, given the setup.

Pace: Good.  Overall, the pace is quite slow.  Internally, however, there are several pace changes that took place, namely when they focused on relationships and then the overall plot.

3-Day Quote Challenge – Day 3

Thanks again to Kuro Sama for the nomination!  This was an interesting trek into memory lane, remembering all the little gems of wisdom I’ve picked up from anime.  I’ve saved the best for last.

RULES:

  • Post one quotation a day for three days (they can be from other sources or one of your own).
  • Nominate 3 other bloggers to participate per post.
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you

There’s always the question of whether Avatar: The Last Airbender is anime or not.  If there were a line between “anime” and “cartoon,” I’d probably put Avatar on the anime side because of its uniquely Asian approach and classical Eastern themes.

Uncle Iroh… is everybody’s uncle.   He’s an example of an exceptional character, standing out in all ways.  Whenever someone asks the question “if you could meet anyone, real life or fictional, who would it be?,” I immediately think I would love to have tea with Uncle Iroh.  Pretty much everything from this guy is both quotable and contains lessons of wisdom.  The quote I have selected I have found to be an excellent guiding principle, based on my experiences here and abroad.

“It is important to draw wisdom from different places. If you take it from only one place it becomes rigid and stale. Understanding others, the other elements, the other nations, will help you become whole.  It is the combination of the four elements in one person that makes the Avatar so powerful. But it can make you more powerful too.” – Iroh

It’s a fascinating quote.  What I find striking is what it doesn’t say.  It’s not telling you to adopt those beliefs or become one of another element.  Rather, it’s saying to learn from them to bring completeness and balance to yourself.  Interestingly, balance comes through wisdom learned from a variety of perspectives and people.

MY NOMINEES:

Anime Madhouse

Medieval Otaku

The Anime Analyst

3-Day Quote Challenge – Day 2

Alright!  Day 2 of the Quote Challenge!  Thanks again to Kuro Sama for nominating me.

RULES:

  • Post one quotation a day for three days (they can be from other sources or one of your own).
  • Nominate 3 other bloggers to participate per post.
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you

My second quote comes from something of an oddball character.  His name is Kaiki Deishu, from the Bakemonogatari series.

“The fake is of far greater value. In its deliberate attempt to be real, it’s more real than the real thing.” – Kaiki Deishu

This really speaks to me at my odd crossroads of psychology and philosophy.  Of course, the fake has to have a desire to be real, or as close as possible to the real.  Then, it has to make the effort to be. Essentially, it’s saying that a combination of desire and effort is what is valuable, and more real.   The real just is.  It doesn’t require anything more than mere existence.  In that sense, it’s easy.

When applied to work life, it brings another quote to mind – “fake it until you make it.”  If you pretend to be competent and that you know what you’re doing, eventually you will be. When you fake it through intention and effort, eventually it will become real.

My Nominees:

Takuto’s Anime Cafe

Aniwhat? Aniwho? Anime.

Unnecessary Exclamation Mark

3-Day Quote Challenge – Day 1

Thank you Kuro Sama for nominating me to do this challenge.  I happen to have a soft spot for pretty words, so this works out quite well.  I’ll try to remember some of the quotes that have struck me from my wanderings in anime.

Rules:

  • Post one quotation a day for three days (they can be from other sources or one of your own).
  • Nominate 3 other bloggers to participate per post.
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you

My first quote is a little bit of cheating.  I did first see it in an anime, My Neighbors the Yamadas, but it’s borrowing a rather famous haiku from Taneda Santoka.

“A lone figure / back turned / receding into the mist.”
うしろ姿のしぐれてゆくか
Ushiro sugata no shigurete yukuka

My Neighbors the Yamadas is a Studiio Ghibli film.  It’s a rather fun, yet irreverent look at a Japanese family.  This particular anime I find can resonate with families from many cultures.  This quote comes at the end of a somewhat sad scene.  The father wants to take a picture with his family to commemorate the first snow of winter.  Meanwhile, the family is enraptured by a drama playing on TV.  His solution – to set the camera on the TV and take a picture in a way that made it look like all of them were together outside.  Of course, there’s a ton of symbolism in the scene, but it’s greatly enhanced by this haiku.

Since I went to Japan to learn both language and culture, I have gained a tremendous appreciation for haiku.  Some of the best haiku are so very descriptive, they create a clear image in your mind’s eye.  Translating haiku is an exceptionally difficult task, so I can appreciate the effort that went into this translation.  In the translation above, they went to encapsulate the feeling of the haiku.

One of the odd things about the haiku is its little か at the end, which makes it contemplative.  Santoka was reflecting on how Santoka appeared to his friends as he left them.  If you add in his really tragic past, it makes the phrase quite somber in tone.  That’s what I really like about the quote – it’s a quiet reflection on how you appear to others.

My nominees:

Mistakes Cheerio for Chesto

Caraniel’s Ramblings

Anime Vios

Space Pirate Captain Harlock (Movie)

Poor

Visually, it’s extremely impressive and incredibly detailed.  The best descriptor for the animation is “cool.”  However, it’s quite clear the budget was heavily loaded towards the animation, but not much else.  If you are a fan of the original Captain Harlock, you will find this movie extremely disappointing.  Really, the best way to watch it is with the attitude that it’s a pretty, but mindless action flick.

Purpose: Poor.  It serves well as your average sci-fi action movie.  The basic setup was: here’s some really cool characters, doing cool things that you get to learn about.   The underlying problem was that there really wasn’t a clear goal to the movie.  Instead of a goal, we got little more than a camera following scattered elements, watching from afar.  It lacked any real sort of hook that draws the viewer in.  Several times, they attempted to throw out those hooks, yet they never delivered on what they promised.  This ended up robbing even the pretty fancy and cool action sequences, turning them into an “I’m rooting for the explosions” type of event.  Sadly, instead of an experience that said “wow! I want to join the pirates right now!” this movie was more of “well, let’s not do that again.”

Characters:  Bad.   If you’ve watched and loved the original Captain Harlock, these characters are nothing short of a travesty.  Even putting that aside, they are bad.  At their best, most of the characters are incredibly shallow, falling even below a plot delivery device.  To put it into words, the characters had little to no presence – they acted like mannequins or hand puppets that did some talking and some fighting, but, ultimately, were completely empty and lifeless.  At all points, the viewer was treated as an outsider, learning little, if anything, about the characters.  Even when we got something approaching a character motivation, it was highly one-dimensional and felt like a label, without any real meaning behind it.  The best way to describe the characters is as if you are watching a sport you aren’t familiar with – you see some people from afar, running around and doing things and sometimes the crowd cheers.

World:  Weak.   There was so, so much potential.  There were extremely cool things happening, but without any sort of foundation to make it consistent.  The problem is: Nothing.  Is.  Explained. While you don’t need a spill session on the finer points of interstellar warp or a explanation of exactly how a super-positron cannon works, you do need to build the world to a point where those things can exist without explanation.  Instead, we have random bits of jargon thrown in and super-weapons that come out of nowhere.  Stuff happened when convenient to do so.  Oops, shields not working?  kay.  Random misfires?  check.  Awesome wheelchair-thingy?  Awesome! (No, seriously.  That was pretty cool.)  I’m not saying that it wasn’t extremely cool or neat to watch, just that the world lacked any sort of consistency.  It was almost more of a sandbox-style game instead of a world governed by its own rules and causality.

Plot:  Bad.   Continuing on this theme of random, this movie lacked any unifying plot to tie disparate narrative elements together.  Frankly, there were more holes than plot and the name of the game was to leap from action sequence to action sequence.   Since the action was the main plot (I think), the subplots were everything in between.   They tried to include too many subplots and give them equal attention.  Even then, they lacked the appropriate, logical steps to make them interesting.   However, the subplots were horrifyingly identical in execution.  They were: give some action, add some little bits of character plots that are unrelated to each other, and then the character the camera is following changes his mind.  Every.  Time.  This ended up creating an extremely jarring mood, that eventually led to desensitization.

Storytelling:  Bad.  Starting off slowly, the movie doesn’t even tell you the names of many characters until over halfway through.  This creates a rather obvious problem on its face because it’s not even telling you that those characters are important enough to warrant a name.  This ends up de-emphasizing many characters and preventing any sort of attachment a viewer might have for them.  Next, they never really clarify any sort of relationships between characters.  It’s an awful place to be, confused as to whether key events are between brothers and sisters, co-workers, friends?   This ended up robbing a great many scenes of a much more potent impact.  It also helped enforce the feeling of randomness on the story – we only get to find out things way after they were supposed to be relevant.  All those things are annoying, but the biggest problem with the storytelling was that it never properly developed anything.  Thus, when the time came, there was no one to root for.  Effectively, all we had were varying degrees of bad/selfish/shallow people that were at cross-purposes.  If done properly, that actually could have been a strong, interesting story.  However, since the storytelling didn’t really carry any weight, there was nothing to make anything compelling.

Pace: Decent.  It never felt like the show was dragging on or even that it was progressing quickly, it just existed.  Actually, we can thank the action for that – it was flashy and spaced at well enough points that it prevented any sort of dragging.  Honestly, the action and the accompanying pace became the only thing to look forward to as the show progressed.