Day Eleven: Kindergarten Cop (MotM 2018)

kindergarten cop

A former flame of mine adored this film. She gasped in terror when I had told her I’d never seen it. Combine that with the surprisingly positive general consensus of the films among moviegoers, Kindergarten Cop became just interesting enough for me to include in this year’s March. But I had my prejudices; the film reeked of heavily-sentimental family films my Grandma would own and watch with me as a kid, completely ignoring the formulaic cues of plot progression and the less nuanced execution of development of any kind. Turns out I was half-wrong: Grandma would not have this in her VHS collection. It makes too many raunchy sex references for her to approve. (more…)

Entry #27: Mai-HiME (SoA 2017)

mai-hime

(Recommended by not-so-plain pasta, completing her recommendation trifecta.)

Thoughts will be quick, mostly because there’s little to say.

Mai-HiME is one of those old-fashioned anime that go by a set of clichés to formulate their story and characters. If comparisons can be made, it reminds me slightly of Nadia: Secret of the Blue Water, slightly of older JRPG titles, and slightly of Hanbun Tsuki ga Noboru Sora. It’s light-hearted when it wants to be and tremendously overdramatic when it has to be. Anyone not a fan of a lot of forced sex jokes/misunderstandings (like me) need not apply, though if one is willing to push past this, there’s a whole lot of darker themes lying in wait.

However, these dark themes are not presented in an interesting way—rather, much of this series isn’t presented in an interesting way. When not seriously cringing at whatever mood Mai-HiME wanted to convey, I had my head in my hand, fighting off the desire to close my eyes. It’s so, so, so formulaic that any veteran of the industry would rather be watching anything else that has done the shtick better. It ends up becoming the fatal flaw: there is nothing really unique here, only things that have been done before a thousand times in other settings.

Though this remains so, it’s not without spirit. I was slightly surprised by how certain things arose within the plot, as well as how well-handled the last few episodes were (until the retcon halfway through the final episode). My emotional state through most of the series was flatlined, yet the last few episodes had me intrigued in a way that the rest of the series couldn’t achieve, and left me with a generally good impression. Not good enough to recommend the series, but enough to think, “Hrmm. I could watch this again without wanting to scratch my eyes out.”

Painfully overdramatic, woefully unoriginal, forgettable to a fault; all of these describe the experience of Mai-HiME. Its saving graces lie within the very occasional points where the plot becomes appealing enough to override the level of ridiculousness and angst. Characters and art mean little to how gargantuan a presence the plot has on the entire series, such that everything bows to its influence like a religious idol. When that idol is uninteresting, everything else crumbles under the weight of its expectations.

Personal Score: C-

Critical Score: C-

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Quick Thoughts on Renai Boukun

renai boukon 3

It’s one of those shows. You know it the moment you see the cover. One of those shows where you look and immediately think, “This is gonna be pretty dumb.” That is the only context you need going in, because it will not leave you disappointed. Renai Boukun is pretty dumb.

That is its only merit. It is stupid fun for the sake of it. Should it have been that way all throughout, perhaps I would’ve liked it more. Much to my dismay, Renai Boukun gets ahead of itself and tries to take itself… seriously… by its final two episodes. Lord, have mercy on my soul, for thou hath given me a sumptuous pillar of sin.

It’s dumb fun, and that’s all it will ever be. So to try and incorporate serious dramatics into a series devoid of all seriousness, the series is effectively ruined. Love, bonding, character development; all that is a foreign concept that shouldn’t be trifled with. Should one throw fish on land? Should one try and put pigs in the sky? These things, these concepts, just do not exist. They do not happen. Without proper balance, neither does the dumb insanity, riddled in fan service, work with what Renai Boukun’s serious questions on love and commitment by its final episodes. The viewer couldn’t possibly take it seriously, and I would argue the series wouldn’t either.

The biggest asset to the anime’s arsenal is its almost parody-like aloofness. Harems are not normally subtle, but Renai Boukun takes every cliché and makes it seem necessary to its “plot.” It’s fairly intoxicating to see a series so willing to dine in on every meal on the menu without hesitation. Its expressiveness and enthusiasm isn’t entirely rare, but it serves itself well when it plays itself off as a play on its genre. But to then change course and have its cake and eat it, too, it effectively sabotages its chances of being, how should I say, ironically wonderful. Almost in a Cat Planet Cuties or Ladies vs. Butlers! kind of way.

There’s a lot to be said about how little can be said. Any more and I run the risk of overexplaining the obvious—that being that Renai Boukun screwed itself into being something almost transcendingly pleasurable. In a guilty way, of course. Initially, it almost seemed like one of those dumb series I could look back on fondly and reminisce about its wackiness. Now, it’ll be lucky to not fall within the category of “Oh, yeah. I watched that once.”

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Entry #2: NANA (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended by Sango.)

I’ve had this series on my radar for a long while now, what with its unusually high average rating and episode count. It seemed to exude a confidence not many anime series outside the Shounen tag contain. A rare case of a four-cour series, and a Shoujo no less, its popularity as both an anime and a manga are astounding within the ani-community. Of course, the episode count was what kept me away all these years, though I always wondered when and where I would eventually take the dive. “When” became June 1st and “where” became my basement. Alright then.

The most prominent thing about NANA is that it is, in every sense of the word, a typical Shoujo. Female leads with male sidekicks, lots of emphasis on love, romance, and introspection; lots of screen filters, and character design is very tall and lean. There is very little difference on a base level between this anime and, say, Lovely Complex. One thing that differentiates it, however, is its relative lack of comedy and heavier focus on a mature-minded setting. Characters (save one) in NANA are adults with adult responsibilities and (mostly) adult mindsets. Instead of worrying about school exams and school hierarchy, they worry about paying rent and accomplishing their dreams out in the real world. Without even doing anything, one can immediately appreciate the change of pace within the genre.

Of course, execution is far more important. It’s my pleasure to say that NANA executes itself well on a variety of levels, most prominently with its characters. There’s not a single character who appears more than a few times that doesn’t feel fleshed out and entirely human. Both likable and developed, one can only dislike them for their established personality, which is especially the case for me. Some characters are more tolerable than others, with actions that may differ from the opinions of each individual viewer. One cannot say, however, that any such character isn’t in some way layered with their line of thinking as justified by their person.

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With that said, I could spend the entire entry going over each character and what they bring to the table. Instead, I will only go over three characters: Nana, Nana, and Yasu. Yes, I meant to put Nana twice, as for those unaware, the two female leads in this series are both named Nana. One is a bubbly, hopeless romantic who dreams of being loved by her prince on a white horse. The other is a rough and tough rock star who oozes charisma and punk attitude. Both get their time in the sun for long periods of time, but the bubbly Nana seems to be the more major of the two in terms of screentime. Both give ample opportunity to twist the story to their whim through their actions, resulting in a reasonably paced drama of both sweet ups and painful downs… for some time.

I really did not care for Hachiko (Bubbly Nana’s nickname) for a good part of this series. I toiled with whether or not I should criticize her borderline insane indecisiveness as a critical or personal flaw until finally settling on the latter, as her character is prominently established as a bit of an airhead. Her decision-making and constant need for love and attention causes a ton of unwarranted drama later down the line, along with her constant moping and crying—good lord, does she cry a lot! She falls for the worst of men (as she notes herself) and is way, way, way too emotional for me to empathize with. Even so, for the first twenty episodes, she was within a degree of likable exuberance that made this tolerable.

Rough Nana (No nickname) is similar only on a more conservative level. Her dependency is often hidden behind lies and hesitation. Her assertiveness is a defensive mechanism for how much tragedy she’s faced throughout her life. She’s almost a tragic hero, though her current situation isn’t comparative to her past life. This Nana is a far more interesting character, which makes it nice that she’s focused on more later on when Hachiko becomes a walking depression and drags the mood of the anime down to Hell with her. Still, I wish there was more within the time focused so prominently on Hachiko that the series could’ve delved into her perspective. For a while, she almost feels like a secondary character, with the last ten episodes or so made for Nana to become the star of the show, which is nice, but a little too late. She’s somewhat more cliché than my description of her implies, but it’s handled almost so naturally that it’s scary.

Finally, Yasu is the greatest character in this entire anime because he is “me irl.”

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What the series truly lacks that makes it less than an absolute recommendation is the way the drama is handled. For those gamers out there, recall to how frustrating it is in video games where everything is smooth sailing, only to have a boss show up and wreck havoc on your party without even trying. Those random, huge difficulty spikes that make you throw down the controller in frustration. NANA does this, too, except with quantity of drama. Around the point where Hachiko becomes associated with a certain band member, the series changes its up-and-down approach to down-and-out and repeats it tenfold. There is far too much drama at the midway point of this anime. It creates this trapping, uncomfortable aura of melodrama that suffocates the viewer, and eventually dulls their emotions to the point where they forget how to care about the characters’ harrowing situations. They cry too much, they falter too hard, they echo soft, insightful whispers for no one to hear. When one has too much to cry about, they eventually adapt to becoming apathetic.

This becomes quite apparent upon the final episode of the series, as while it would leave many within a state of disarray, I felt only a twinge of emotional purging. It ended with somewhat of a hiss, something that lets one know it’s there, but not where or why. The finale is rather open-ended, especially for a number of important (and not so important) characters. In what should’ve been an emotional farewell, I felt rather indifferent.

I could also comment more about the art, but it’s Shoujo. Look up any Shoujo manga/anime ever. There’s your art for NANA. I mean it, there’s very little differentiation on that part. Animation, however, is fairly good for the time. It has more of a color palette than those within its time, as well as a variety of different ways in expressing characters’ emotions. And for a 47-episode series that hardly ever shows signs of wear and tear, that’s rather impressive.

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As it stands, it’s a good, but not great series. Somewhat overstays its welcome and relies on drama a hair too much for anything more than a satisfying watch. It has effort and a grand atmosphere for the first-half of its run, and a number of likable and developed characters. What it lacks is the drive to finish in the same way it began, with creativity and a passion for reigning itself in. Sometimes, the biggest statements don’t have to be long, grandiose speeches. After all, to most, “I love you” are the only three words needed for true happiness.

Personal Score: B-

Critical Score: B

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Quick Thoughts on Oshiete! Galko-chan (OVA)

oshiete-galko-chan-1

(I know this is the same image I used with the parent series, but the OVA didn’t have any new cover to provide.)

Truth be told, I watched this some time ago; been nearly a month according to MyAnimeList. To some, a month wouldn’t necessarily be that great a span in order to retain all that they had seen from a one-off OVA episode. For me, I remember next to nothing from this special. Before you close the tab, let me assure you that that says a lot more about this OVA than it does about my memory. If I’m able to remember 80% of my elementary school classmates’ names, I’m more than capable of remembering an OVA for a series I actually had a soft fondness for.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the parent (short) series was the sort of blunt openness of teenage women’s issues and sexual curiosity. Not often do you see anime openly discussing tampons and periods and such, at least without some sort of humorous melancholy attached to it. Per this special, the series decided to shy away from the more “vulgar” topics in exchange for some light-hearted, everyday antics, which essentially takes away a lot of what made the series stand out. That’s not to say one can’t enjoy the series without the constant spouting of the size and color of a woman’s nipples, but the series didn’t give much of a chance to develop these characters in a way that would suit them for a slice-of-life perspective.

Throwing the characters out of their comfort zone is exactly what makes this OVA so forgettable. There’s little indication that I was watching something from the parent series if not for the characters themselves, who only act normally in normal situations, with small bits of “Oh, gee, haha” inconveniences spread around. Without the stipulation of highlighting the struggles of female youth and such, the special converges into an aimless path with little idea of where to go. It’s nearly thirty minutes long, but half of it feels like one’s staring at an incomplete storyboard.

I gave it a shot because I genuinely enjoyed the parent series—how it turned out left me disappointed, which can only mean these feelings of affection inside myself are real. That makes it much harder to say that the OVA is worthless, despite being the length of nearly four episodes of the parent series. It didn’t follow the course of what made the core series so refreshing, and with so much time dedicated to one OVA, it’s disheartening to see all that potential wasted.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Day Twelve: The Great Dictator (MotM 2017)

great dictator

Another short post today. Feeling a tad ill.

Nazis are a popular subject in movies. They have been for quite some time. The Great Dictator is one of the earliest examples of using the Nazi movement to prove a point about its cruelty, as the movie makes it abundantly clear its intentions. Those who still believe in Nazism would paint this film out to be propaganda, but it’s still enough of an actual movie to be considered such. It just has very clear expectations of the audience.

In this sense, it’s hard not to fault the movie for being transparent. On the other hand, what’s being promoted should be universally accepted. Unless you really enjoy war and violence and treating others as inferior. Just because a movie has a good message doesn’t automatically make it a masterpiece, though The Great Dictator has enough going for it to make it entertaining on its own accord.

Charlie Chaplin is most known for his role in the silent movie days, which makes his starring role in this film all the more intriguing, as it is his first feature film to have him speak. He certainly used all that pent up vocal expression to good use, as combined with his bodily acting prowess, Chaplin makes for a riveting performer. More so as Hynkel, the titular dictator, which ironically uses more of the vocal aspects of performing than anything else. What came as a pleasant surprise was just how funny his performance of Hynkel was, especially early on during his maddening speeches that were little more than gibberish. I really enjoyed how Chaplin used what many would call into question about his role in the film and blew away all of it out of the water with his acting talent.

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Still, Chaplin alone doesn’t make the movie, as a number of other characters inhabit the stage along with him. To be honest, the best parts of the movie were when it focused on Hynkel’s empire and subordinates, rather than the people he was putting fear into. Not to say the characters whose roles were primarily that of the victims were bad or bland, but they didn’t exhibit the same charisma or charm as the attention dedicated to making the “evil” characters idiotic or menacing. There was more dimension to Hynkel and his men than to those they pursued, as their only role came to be the pursued, and little more. They act in accordance to their ordinary lives. There’s not much really interesting to them.

In essence, the great thing about this film is Charlie Chaplin. Others perform to varying degrees of quality entertainment or comedy, but Chaplin is the true star. He almost makes the whole movie, and the movie feels listless without him. A number of memorable scenes, from the ending speech, the globe dance (which I personally think is the best scene), and the food fight with the “Bacterian” dictator wouldn’t have been as tremendous if not for Chaplin’s energy. If not for the blatant device of peace and humanity, and a more endearing supporting cast, The Great Dictator would’ve been a more easy recommendation of mine.

Final Score: 6.5/10

The rating for all other films can be found on my IMDb account.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!