(Recommended, once again, by Kalavente.)
I do like sci-fi. If my appreciation for Star Wars, Blade Runner, and the Metroid series is any indication, many already knew this. (more…)
Indeed, your eyes do not deceive you. There are quotations around the word “Review” in the title. That is because this will not be quite like the traditional style of review, but also not quite my own version of putting down my thoughts. Instead, I will treat this post as a hybrid creation, something that can both pass off as an official review and personal diary. And for those aware, I did also do this with my “review” of La La Land.
So then, what do you call a film you consider good, yet cannot help but not enjoy?
mother! is symbolic to its very core. Everything that is shown onscreen is an allegory to some bigger picture that the audience is pressed to figure out. Now, a number of theories creeped into my head with every scene, with issues such as female empowerment, idol worship, abusive relationships, rape culture, patriarchal dominance, and the toxicity of humankind giving weight to the things being shown to me. Little did I know, there is an answer to this film, a key to understanding the puzzle of mother!. After learning of it, I’m left with only regret. Something of this magnitude, so delicately precise and foreboding in its imagery and atmosphere, to all come into one simple answer.
This isn’t a fault of the film itself, but rather the intentions behind it. I believe ambiguity could’ve served to make this film all the more interesting, without the need to pin it all down on a single aspect which generalizes the film’s potential. This also isn’t a disagreement with mother!’s ultimate message, as I feel it makes (enough) sense to have the scenes collide the way they do. Strange as it sounds, I can’t find myself enjoying the film after knowing the answer; I found the film a lot more inviting when I hadn’t a clue.
It ended up being more fantastical than what it appears, especially in the beginning. I found out a lot about myself when all the theories I concocted for myself, things that shroud themselves in today’s society by the screeching mouths of dozens, ended up being of a practical sense. I considered nothing of the fantastic, of how or why the bizarre things occurring could be happening. Assuming it would all explain itself in the end, the final minutes only strengthened my previous theories. It seems I do not enjoy giving up without a fight.
Should this review seem obnoxiously vague, that’s because it is intentionally. Much like mother! itself. Critiquing the film is more akin to the Chinese finger trap, where one can only pull and struggle with the solution when, in reality, the answer lies through unexpected perspectives. An open mind is critical when viewing, as the film certainly doesn’t pull any punches (or kicks or insults). It’s no surprise to me that mother! is such a polarizing experience for many. In the end, how one feels about it may very well say more about the person than the film. This sounds like common knowledge, but I think there’s more to it than that. Either you enjoy a cryptically chaotic experience or you prefer the simple strategies of good vs. evil. In this case, there’s very little in-between.
Final Score: 7/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
(Recommended by a pretty humble guy, completing his recommendation trifecta.)
Will make this entry quick. Want to get a move on.
I would encourage anyone interested in my semi-quick thoughts on the first season to check here, as this post will deal primarily with the second season, the one I hadn’t seen coming into this. I will note that upon rewatch, my impressions of the first season were more positive than before, but only slightly.
The second season is a MASSIVE OVERLOAD OF FUCKERY. While it deals with a lot of the same conflicts and characters as the first season, R2 has a tendency to not only alter one’s expectations, but completely overloads them with mindfucks and retcons. It’s too abrupt, too glossy for its own good. To some extent, it’s hard to watch because it’s so horribly overdramatic, but one must admit that it’s by no means unentertaining.
There was a nice potency to the emotional value in R2 that, while somewhat better handled in the first season, was spectacularly used to create one of the most intriguing and twisted endings I’ve seen in all of anime. People whom I would have never expected to die are ripped from the world cruelly and coldly. If only the series did that more often. With the first season going more for intellectual set-up and strategy, the second season kind of just throws logic into the afterlife and employs all sorts of different strange scenarios, some I feel could ultimately have been avoided.
To some extent, it becomes a soap opera. One that is not handled in the best manner and cannot seem to find that same balance as once before. Its ambition is admirable, but their effort is wasted on trying to make it all seem true and real. And the manifestation of everything into a single line of thinking for the ending to indulge in is just insulting. It made for a bitter taste. Certainly not as good as it could be, but better than most that would rather go for clichés.
Personal Score: B-
Critical Score: C+
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.
(Recommended, once again, by a pretty humble guy.)
Fun fact: before completing this today, I had watched one episode of this series in the past. It had been left sitting, alone and afraid, in my “on-hold” category for, no joke, nearly five years. I was intrigued by it, especially it’s #4 overall rating on MyAnimeList in terms of average user score, but I could never find myself properly motivated to delve into something with such mountainous expectations. I’d like to thank Mr. Humble Guy again for giving me an excuse to pick it back up after all of these years.
After completing it, I only have this to ask: why is this series rated so high? I mean it. I am scratching my head wondering why, specifically, this series has an average rating of 9/10 on most anime databases and is heralded by many as a modern masterpiece. Is it the time travel aspect? The kooky characters? The presentation of never being able to escape fate? Is it because it somewhat resembles Doctor Who???
By no means is Steins;Gate a bad anime. Before throwing every insult at me for shaming such a flawless series as this, let me present my overall, general feelings immediately by saying I think the anime is… good. It is good. Not great, but good. By traditional anime standards (I am very cynical), it’s leagues better than the standard high school rom-com, but #4 ever? The Magnum Opus, the Mona Lisa, the Statue of David, of anime? I… I can’t lie and say it even compares. The series is good—perfectly, solidly good.
A part of my feelings towards the show is the result of how little emotional attachment I had for it. I see a lot of members put Kurisu and Okabe among their favorite anime characters. This only further confuses me. The characters of Steins;Gate are likable and definitely solid within the performance of their one-shot personalities. I question, however, their development and the relationship they have with one another, specifically Okabe and Kurisu, seeing as the concept of time as a play thing resets the progression certain characters could have with one another, yet goes forth as if everything somehow retains itself because magic. Characters are rather important in a series that relies so much on drama and a heavy-narrative foundation, so if they are not examined and executed perfectly, one likely won’t be along for the emotional ride (I’m likely within a small minority).
Another thing of note I almost never see when people discuss this anime is its roots as a visual novel. And its anime adaptation doesn’t really transition all that well. One can simply feel the way they position the characters in the second-half, one by one without any interruption with one another, as they are “saved” by Okabe. More than repetitive, it comes off as formulaic, something that contradicts the first-half’s somewhat varied approach at telling a story and creating a quirky family bond between the many characters that tag along the “mad scientist’s” eccentric exploits. While I understand the context of Okabe’s feelings within the second-half, as he tries his hardest to prevent tragedy upon his loved ones due to fate’s cruel hand, he loses a lot of the charm he originally had as a character as he becomes more in line with “Standard Male OC #4,502.” It feels as though the anime flipped a switch that was marked “Serious Mode,” with characters being toys for the plot to do whatever with and suffocating their more charming characteristics.
A lot of this seems completely out of context, but I think this is a series best served with as little detail as possible. Still, it’s difficult to properly rely what I found wrong with the series without ruining everything, seeing as it is so wordy. I guess the best way I could properly wrap it up is with a neat little bullet point chart.
With this avalanche of negative aspects, don’t let this muddy the waters for an otherwise very intriguing and entertaining experience. Steins;Gate is not among the greatest anime I’ve ever seen, but it is definitely worth a watch if one hasn’t seen it already. There could definitely have been more to the characters, but the story was pretty compact and air-sealed in terms of (non-nitpicky) plot holes. Consistently entertaining, splendid art and animation, and a nice change of pace with a sci-fi setting that actually makes sense. There’s no guarantee this series will become one’s all time favorite (or maybe it will), but I can absolutely recommend it as an overall pleasant viewing experience.
Personal Score: B-
Critical Score: B-
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.
If one is stepping foot into the world of anime for the first time, a name that may come up often amongst connoisseurs of anime films specifically is Satoshi Kon. While Kon doesn’t have a large collection of films under his belt, what he was able to produce before his untimely death of cancer in 2010 speaks volumes to people within the anime community and industry. Known for his distinct style of disorienting storytelling, his films are typically consumed with pleasure by fans of psychological or methodical thrillers.
Watching anime for a number of years, I’ve never experienced one of Kon’s films, nor have I been one to dabble in anime films in general. With my recent trek into the March of the Movies, I felt a desire to finally give Kon’s work a shot, knowing a fellow anime consumer is practically in love with his entire library. I was aware beforehand of the kind of reputation Kon had, though I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I finally decided on his directorial debut: Perfect Blue.
Among the first distinctions of Perfect Blue that struck deeply was how un-anime-like it felt in general. Characters were animated realistically, complete with noses, proportional eyes, and lips. Its setting allowed for an immediate hook for those looking for something more mature, with adult characters trying to find work within the entertainment industry. While the concept of “pop idols” are entirely of an anime (or Japanese) stigma, there’s very little that the film requires other than the bare minimum, allowing for short, controlled reactions and behavior from the cast. With hardly a thing jutting out to manipulate high-energy humor or drama, it requires the audience to pay careful attention to every movement, as it vows not to be taken lightly.
Due to this feeling of somberness, one can almost be bored by the first thirty minutes or so of Perfect Blue. One aspect of the film that can be simplified is its very gradual speed, choosing to let every possible introduction take place. Who the characters are, what they do. How the situation came to what it did. Where the characters’ priorities lie. Why all of this is important. It’s somewhat of a chore to try and take in every prerequisite that is shown before “the good part” begins. By that time, however, many may likely forget they were ever bored in the first place.
Once things begin to unwind, the real fun of Perfect Blue reveals itself. What’s even more admirable is the amount of foreshadowing leading up to that point—things that don’t even seem like foreshadowing. The symbolic nature of the build-up gives meaning to the characters involved and genuine disturbances within their positions. Mima, an aspiring actress after a semi-successful circuit of being a pop idol, must face constant self-scrutiny for the decisions she makes to further her career as an actress. For someone transitioning from something as sweet as a “pop idol” to a far more vile environment as acting, her gradual mental breakdown, while not heavily noted at the start, is an assuring detail to her character and morality. She, herself, along with those around her, act as the catalyst of these barrages of self-doubt and regret, eventually spiraling into a place where she (nor the audience) can truly comprehend what is real.
This climactic breakdown is the pinnacle of psychological thrillers, something that would make fans of anime such as Neon Genesis Evangelion take notice. Even if one were to be indifferent to the characters or their struggles, the last twenty minutes of the film is a triumphant spectacle of Kon’s brand of directing. Allowing each little trinket of knowledge became something of an indisputable necessity, all leading up to an eruption of unwinding realities and scenes. A very strong ending almost single-handedly makes Perfect Blue recommendable, if not for the well-prepared journey to that point.
Though realistic in its presentation, animation isn’t quite the same spectacle as the story. Some shaky movement here and there isn’t entirely distracting, just the fact that it could’ve been altered more, particularly within the last twenty minutes, to further cement the feeling of dementia. There also exists a sort of graininess about Perfect Blue that makes it far less than a perfect blue. A sign of the times, one could say, though one could also say that it’s simply an indicator of the film’s realistic setting and tone. Despite the sudden vibrancy of the fantastical imagery of Mima’s idol half, there’s a sort of “dull” manner to the animation that could turn off viewers.
Another issue arises in that while the plot is intriguing and eventually becomes captivating, characters are not as wonderful. They do what they must for their role within its structure, leaving them to fester within the realism of their situation—distilling their core personalities. One could describe Mima outside of the mental fragility and one wouldn’t be entirely sure if it’s Mima. Characters simply react to what’s in front of them, picking and choosing their moments of propensity. That isn’t to say the characters are dull, rather none of them really stand out in a positive way based on who they are or what they cherish. Some become interesting based on what they eventually mean to the plot, though not of their own accord. Not everyone will take issue with this, but those who do will leave the experience without any strong emotional attachment.
At the end of the day, one’s pleasure surrounding Perfect Blue may very well come from whether or not they prefer its dominant genre. Execution is key here, with everything coming into focus just so they can direct to a horrifying conclusion. Kon’s mastery of this is on full display in his first project as director, though one could likely expect more out of his mind than what was shown here. Perhaps it should be noted that the film is an appetizer to the mind of Satoshi Kon, something that can be appreciated as time goes on.
Final Score: 7.5/10
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.
Three episodes in, Little Witch Academia is enjoyably bland.
One of the things I most look forward to when I decide to watch a work by Trigger is the bountiful amount of energy it typically puts into its animation and characters. Kill la Kill is a fantastic example of this, and Kiznaiver toned it down a tad but still gave off enough within its first two episodes to make me optimistic (until it burned itself to the ground). In this case, the series is a more fleshed-out retelling of a Special/Movie that Trigger had released some years prior. As of now, the series is a lot more like Kiznaiver than Kill la Kill, in that the energy is contained by individual scenes and characters rather than continuously all throughout.
What is the most disappointing aspect of Little Witch Academia, however, is the measure of predictability based on its storytelling. Now, I have never seen one Harry Potter movie or read any Harry Potter book, but I feel the anime takes a lot of inspiration from it, to the point where certain situations are almost homages to it. And again, I don’t know a lot about Harry Potter in general, but I do know the books are directed towards kids, so the writing is likely to reflect that demographic. What I mean by this is that characters are going to be incredibly one-dimensional, the narrative is going to appear whimsically up-beat at first, then turn dark as the plot moves along, and the execution of short-term conflicts will showcase the untapped potential of the seemingly inept main character. Oh, look, I just described the anime based on its first three episodes.
It’s a more controlled approach by Trigger this time around, so much so that I feel any studio aside from Trigger could’ve animated this and I wouldn’t be able to tell. Still, this is more of a subjective criticism than anything, as I’ve become expectant of the studio to be wild and bouncy with their animation skills. The way the story has progressed, it certainly has that Disney-esque vibe to it, something in recent years I’ve come to hold in disdain. That’s for another time, though.
Energy within Little Witch Academia comes in the form of the female lead: Akko. Her naive enthusiasm for magic and the antics she involves herself in because of it is the only remains of Trigger’s hand within. She’s played off like a combination of Ryuuko and Mako from Kill la Kill, with the straightforward confidence of Ryuuko and uncanny enthusiasm of Mako. However, her role within the story makes her likable only from her charisma, as her part as “inept dream-pursuer” has been done to death in many other mediums. Her friends (and rivals) are little better. Lotte is the booknerd nervous type. That’s it. Sucy is the ill-moraled occultist freak. That’s it. Diana is the rival character who’s good at everything and constantly shows up Akko by simply doing what’s natural to her. That’s it. Props to Diana, however, as the anime has shown some semblances of her being overwhelmed by the expectations placed upon her. Again, typical, but it’s something. I predict that a lot of these characters will eventually get solo episodes dedicated to expanding their characters, but for now, they’re just along for the ride.
The overall appeal of Little Witch Academia’s design makes a full return for those enamored by its movie counterpart. Though as mentioned before, the approach is a lot more controlled. There are individual moments that stand out from the rest, but are pretty scarcely scattered throughout each episode. Trigger’s distinct style of character design is still present, which I’ve enjoyed tremendously, but that’s all to really look forward to. Something of a random note, but I feel the anime goes out of its way to reference its own studios works. A random bout of fan service for fans of the studio’s other works. In the third episode, Akko will zoom through a family’s home as someone is flipping through channels on their TV. Before it cuts to the next scene, the screen will show MOTHERFUCKIN’ INFERNO COP! The way it gets to this point, however, is questionable, as it doesn’t make much logical sense in hindsight. I’m getting off-track. It has its moments of animated enthusiasm, but not quite enough to keep me consistently bedazzled.
Its predictability will probably bore me for a while. Seeing as it’s a two-cour series, it has all the time in the world to throw some curveballs at us. And while its narrative and characters do little (or nothing) to differentiate themselves from past stories, the clichés present aren’t a complete downfall to the show’s simple charm. I would say it’s the best show I’m currently watching this season, but only because it has the pieces in place to remain consistently entertaining, at the cost of being entirely impactful. If you’re a fan of Harry Potter or Disney, give Little Witch Academia a shot. If you’re a fan of Trigger, be wary.