Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Saturday Anime’ Category

By Bob Clark

Where did I first learn the origin story of Batman, who he is, and how he came to be? It certainly wouldn’t have been from reruns of the old Adam West show, which I watched enthusiastically when I was growing up, which all but ignored the dark foundations that writer Bill Finger laid down for the character created by artist Bob Kane in the pages of Detective Comics in favor of bright, primary colored fights and stale, flat one-liners that would give a bad reputation to the term “comic book story” for years to come. I can more or less place where I first discovered the stories that outlined the beginnings of other superheroes from my childhood. As a young tyke I watched Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie almost as religiously as I viewed the Star Wars films, and even had a tape of the old Fleischer cartoon shorts that would probably be unwatchable if you put it in a VCR today, thanks to how often I played it– either way, I’d have been well exposed to the doomed planet Krypton and the infant Kal-El’s arrival in Kansas like baby Moses in the reeds. When I was in grade school I was lucky enough for Marvel to reprint the first appearance of Spider-Man from Amazing Fantasy, allowing me to discover my favorite hero’s humble roots as Peter Parker, and the tragic way that he grapples with power and responsibility.

But for Batman, I have no concrete memory of where I first heard about his beginnings. Yet like a prime Jungian archetype, he was always there in some corner of my mind, such that when I first saw Tim Burton’s 1989 film, opening on a back-alley mugging in Gotham City, I was bewildered to see the Caped Crusader show up to foil it, at first assuming we were watching young Bruce Wayne being orphaned.  Somehow I’d just always known that his wealthy parents had been gunned down when he was just a boy, and that he then channeled his rage and riches into becoming the Dark Knight savior of Gotham City and it’s rogue’s gallery of gangsters and psychopaths. Obviously somebody must’ve told me the story when I was too small to remember, but there’s something appealing in the idea that one could simply uncconsciously intuit where this shadowy avenger in the night came from. There’ve been countless retellings of Batman and his origins in all manner of media in the past few decades, some of which I’ve absorbed gregariously– definitive work from Frank Miller, Dave Mazzuchelli and the team of Loeb & Sale in graphic novels; further films following the Burton years from the likes of Joel Shumacher and especially Christopher Nolan; even the video games of the Arkham Asylum series, pitting the Dark Knight against whole open-world sandboxes of crime. But none have been quite so celebrated or as influential as Batman: The Animated Series as spearheaded by artist Bruce Timm and writer Paul Dini, this week marking the 20th anniversary of its debut on television.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

By Bob Clark

Japanese manga amounts to a sub-genre of comics in the west, albeit one of increasing popularity and devotion among younger and younger readers, enough to the point that it’s more and more common to see western artists and writers imitate the form as little more than a commercial trick to lure new readers in. But within manga itself there are at least a dozen or so genres for the form to be subdivided into, ranging into all kinds of different creative directions based on the content, style and intended audience. Most visible and popular in the United States tend to be the shonen series, aimed chiefly for young boys and filled with action-packed stories ranging from the martial-arts fantasy of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, the magical adventure of Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist and any number of works from groundbreaking creator Osamu Tezuka. Skewing towards an older, college-male audience are seinen series, typically filled with far more mature content in terms of sex and violence, and at the best of times created with a more mature artistic sensibility as well– it’s here that we get the root of classics like Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and the whole creative output of Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed creator Masamune Shirow.

At the same time, there are josei works aimed at college-age and adult women, mostly focusing on day-to-day realism and emotional stories ranging from romance to simply finding a place in a busy world, a fine example being Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone’s Only Yesterday, later made into a film by Isao Takahata. As the co-founder of the storied Studio Ghibli, Takahata’s creative output has helped make him one of the defining voices of anime, and even a defining voice within the studio itself, even as it is defined by the influence of his colleague, Hayao Miyazaki. Takahata’s stories tend to center more on realism and emotional drama, as opposed to the adventure and fantasy prevalent in Miyazaki’s work, and as such his decision to adapt a josei makes a kind of sense. More surprising, however, may be his colleague’s decision to adapt a piece of pure shojo— one of the most popular manga forms, aimed traditionally at young girls, mostly concerned with school-crushes and romance– the resulting work being the modest classic Whisper of the Heart.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

By Bob Clark

When looking over the entirety of an artist’s oeuvre in any medium, it’s natural to see recurring themes and archetypes from work to work, and in the case of narrative artists similar kinds of characters, settings and conflicts repeating themselves over and over. For storytellers who have worked in multiple mediums and by all accounts can said to have mastered either, the question of recurring motifs becomes an even more pressing concern, because you can no longer look at the repeating creative patterns and say they owe much of anything to the mere constraints and demands of the form of expression the artist chooses. What does one say about the way a writer’s use of language changes from form to form– Shakespeare the playwright, and the poet? Beckett’s theater and literature of the absurd? DeLillo the novelist for page, stage and sometimes screen?

In the case of Hayao Miyazaki, responsible for some of the most celebrated works of animation since the halcyon days of Disney, and recognized as a master mangaka for his epic comic-book version of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the only real way to distinguish him as one thing or the other is the sheer volume of his output in either form. As a director and writer he has his mark on so many feature films, shorts and television series that it can often be hard to track down all of them. As a cartoonist, however, his body of work is relatively slimmer– yes, there’s the massive length of Nausicaa, but other than that only a handful of works compared to the better part of the Studio Ghibli efforts, and more. But among those few works of comics from the master’s hand is one that shows definite signs of precedence for anyone who values higher profile efforts like the anime or manga versions of Nausicaa or his later feature film Princess Mononoke. Standing as an ancestor to both of them, and to others in and out of the Ghibli canon, is The Journey of Shuna.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

By Bob Clark

While reading Masamune Shirow’s work in manga after being exposed to their animated adaptations, it’s easy to take for granted the growth and development of ideas and sensibilities apparent throughout much of his early work in the 8o’s. Throughout Dominion Tank Police and Appleseed it’s perhaps even more enlightening to witness the evolution on a step by step basis, as the mangaka’s concerns mature beyond the mere sci-fi mecha action set-pieces that his characters were written around and into a set of stakes, circumstances and scale that’s far more in touch with the real world, to a point. At the same time, as the more adolescent elements of pimped up robot action and even more pimped up sexuality remains in play, it’s apparent that we’re reaching the point where Shirow begins to truly outgrow one narrative branch, necessitating a move onto the next. By the end of his run on the fourth and final book of the series, Appleseed less and less resembles the high-concept utopian action-adventure manga it began as and feels more and more like Ghost in the Shell, for good and ill, and by the time that Shinji Aramaki made his CGI animated adaptations in the past decade, Appleseed had almost completely transformed into something else entire.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

By Bob Clark

In the West, the thirty-year vet manga artist Masamune Shirow is known mainly for spawning the Ghost in the Shell series, adapted for animation in critically acclaimed films and television shows by Mamoru Oshii and Kenji Kamiyama, respectively. Besides that work, he’s gained a solid, if somewhat suspicious reputation as one of the defining and most influential artists in his field over the past several decades, with a breadth of work in comics and illustration that’s hard to match. Granted, much of his most recent work has tended towards the pornographic, and even in his less openly erotic works there’s usually little to inhibit the self-gratification impulse prevalent in his stories and characters– nearly all of his high-concept sci-fi escapades revolve around dishy badass chicks who discharge explosive military weaponry first and disrobe for some kinky R&R later. In his best works, this is paired with a genuinely thoughtful introspection on philosophical and political themes, making fine use of police and military genres as well as high-tech cyberpunk, at times rising to become some of the most visionary and impressive critiques of 1980’s culture from almost every conceivable angle. At his best, Shirow makes sure to cover all the bases (sexual and otherwise), and in its first two books, Appleseed stands as some of his most impressive work, perhaps even more so than his classic Ghost in the Shell. But then, in the case of this manga, it helps that there’s nothing to outshine the original in quite the same way as Oshii and Kamiyama’s animation.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

By Bob Clark

In one of those now perennial summer seasons during which the theaters suffer a surplus of big-budgeted movies derived from superhero stories and other narratives originating in the sequential arts, it seems an apt time to reevaluate and consider what most people really mean when they talk, usually with some matter of condescension, of the so-called “comic book movie”. Whenever one’s talking about something that’s literally based on a comic book, like any of the myriad of Marvel or DC properties that have found themselves transformed into blockbuster entertainment in the past few months (to say nothing of the film franchises that have spawned them over the past twenty or thirty years), the term feels correct, but mostly superficial. Yes, characters like Batman or the Avengers first made their debut in the pages of comics, but we don’t ordinarily define stories or characters from other sources by the medium they originated from– we don’t label Branagh’s or Olivier’s Shakespeare adaptations “theater movies” or Coppola’s Godfather trilogy “novels on film” (though he himself did label a chronological recut of them a “novel for television”). And there’s plenty more films that find themselves slapped with the “comic book movie” label despite being based on something from another source (the perfectly cast but horribly directed The Shadow, jumping to movie screens from the radio) or even being an original work altogether that merely shares the same genre elements (one could call the Flash Gordon film a “comic book” movie and almost be correct, but not so with other, more successful space operas).

For the most part, “comic book movie” is really nothing more than a term of shallow genre disparagement, looking only for the most base similarities between the stories and visual deliveries and sufficing to end the comparison there before deeper looks can even be attempted. And though that line of thinking very often results in the unjust writing off of great, unlikely seeming works both derived from comics (most could watch Road to Perdition and History of Violence and be none the wiser of their origins) and within the medium itself, I can’t help but wonder if the critics who rely upon treading water with that term may occasionally stumble on a more interesting truth that goes beyond the base genre similarities and further into the ways that the two mediums are linked, and more importantly separated. For as many have observed as the two art forms have developed over the course of the past century, both cinema and comics share a great deal in common as embodiments of visual storytelling. More than any other expressive forms, one is able to express the emotions and communicate the substance of a narrative above and beyond the boundaries of language to a larger audience in these mediums– it helps to be able to understand the language any given work is created in, or at the very least have a reliable translation provided, but even without that there’s something about the sheer visual language of comics and cinema that can allow one to follow any given sequence of moving or still imagery and keep up with it, somewhat. It’s that difference between moving and still imagery, however, that makes the creative opportunities offered by the two mediums so distinct, yet also what can create frustration when those opportunities aren’t taken full advantage of. In that regard, though it’s based on Junji Ito’s jaw-dropping manga, Takayuki Hirao’s animated film of Gyo is one of those comic-book inspired works that deserves better than to be called a mere “comic book movie”.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

By Bob Clark

If there is one basic rule of humanity that stretches across generations and cultural borders of every ilk, a good candidate might be that people will generally be as inhumane to one another as they see fit in order to stay alive. As such, telling stories about those who are trapped in and grow up around all kinds of suffering is an easy way to transcend national and other differences and elicit sympathy from filmgoers when aiming for as large an audience as possible. It’s an especially canny decision when you decide to engage in hybrid animation that mixes traditional hand-drawn 2D practices with newer CGI models for a blend that has every chance of alienating crowds as much as winning them. Granted, we’ve seen plenty of film and television animation that mix the two, usually just as a cost-cutting measure or to allow for more spectacularly explosive scenes than the time and labor intensive demands of purely hand-drawn craft allow (the Rebuild of Evangelion revamps of athletic Eva units and mind-bending Angels being an obvious example), but in some cases all of these considerations can come together into something that’s either affecting or at least tries hard enough for the attempt to stand out on its own. Might as well try to aim for the heart with experimental weapons if you’re going to fire them at all.

Two of the three animated releases from the New York Asian Film Festival this year highlight the creative challenges and virtues of joining new flavors of animation with visceral violence and affecting, almost downright sentimental content. Last year’s The King of Pigs from South Korean animator Yuen Sang-ho has been busy capturing attention in festivals like Cannes, while this year’s Asura (showcased as a part of the joint-participating Japan Cuts festival along with an adaptation of the Junji Ito manga Gyo) from The Big O designer and Tiger & Bunny director Keiichi Sato builds off the storied reputation of one of Japan’s most notoriously controversial mangakas, George Akiyama. Both are studies of abject brutality and inhumanity throughout all levels of class and society in contemporary South Korea and medieval Japan, but with a particular emphasis on how they affect children growing up amidst such hardship. Both are also horrifically, sometimes spectacularly violent, in ways that both disguise the limitations of and showcase the highlights of the cross-disciplinary digital melting pot they both practice, and help illustrate the creative potential for a new brand of animation when most practitioners and audiences alike are stuck thinking about 2D and CGI as competing strands of differing artistic value.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

By Bob Clark

Sometimes the cutting edge comes at the end of a blunt instrument. In a career that has included live action, animation and special-effects supervising, Fumihiko Sori has assembled a diverse creative output in the past fifteen or so years. That mix in his work from live action films, like 2002’s Ping Pong and 2008’s chambra Ichi and his three CGI animated efforts put him in a somewhat different register than other directors who freely jump from one discipline to the other. Plenty of anime creators have put live action time under their belt as well– some, like Mamoru Oshii, have almost as many traditional features to their credit as they do animation, and others like Hideaki Anno have pushed their craft in new experimental ways that even their animated fare has trouble keeping up with at times. But for the most part, these cross-disciplinary filmmakers have based their talents in hand-drawn animation, constituting a much sharper contrast between the qualities of their work in that medium to how they handle live sets, actors and cameras in the other. For directors working in CGI, however, the line is a bit more blurred, as even in animation they’re forced to work with physical sets, characters and action, albeit of a synthesized nature. This makes Sori’s work an interesting case study in the creative evolution of computer animation as a maturing art form in and of itself, and of the trajectories in general for digital tools in 21st century filmmaking.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

By Bob Clark

The recent attention paid in the press to the behind-the-scenes conflicts that manifested during the making of Pixar’s latest feature-length effort do a good job of illustrating the studio’s holistic approach to cultivating and executing storytelling through animation. Originally the pet project of industry veteran Brenda Chapman, whose tenure includes stints during the Disney Renaissance and the modern classic Dreamworks feature Prince of Egypt, and inspired by her own trials and tribulations as a mother with a growing daughter, it began life as The Bow and the Bear, a modernist blend of the typical Disney Princess-narrative and Celtic mythology that saw fit to pit a fiery red-haired tomboy lass against a domineering mother against the backdrop of Scottish bravado and magic alike. In its finished form, Brave shares much in common with the film that Chapman set out to make from the outset, and stands as an impressive technical feat from the studio that as of yet remains unrivaled when it comes to the visual wizardry of computer animation. And yet, there’s something hollow and unsatisfying about the overall results that speaks much about the weaknesses inherent in Pixar’s collaborative approach to filmmaking in a way that even some of the more middling efforts they’ve offered in past years never approached.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

by Jaime Grijalba.

(USA/Japan, 90 min)

There are a certain group of films that have the pleasure, or maybe the displeasure to most, to be called ‘adapted from videogames’, and they are different in their types and what you really want to call an adaptation of a videogame, because you have all the Pokémon films, which are continuations on the Tv series that is based on the series of videogames that keep on expanding year after year, but nope, I don’t think that they can really be called videogame movies. Then you have a bunch of Hollywood produced videogame based films, that are most of the part, dreadful, but for which I have a soft spot, and I can watch any dreadful piece of crap that comes out with the name of a videogame I’ve played and I can still take something out of it like ‘it wasn’t at all like the game’, which is turning to be a stock answer and a really boring one, because everyone else thinks the same. Well, in this area is where you have stuff like ‘Super Mario Bros’ (1993) which is awful and is as far from the videogame it can be, ‘Street Fighter’ (1994) a ridiculous piece of junk with Jean-Claude Van Damme doing zero interesting stunts, ‘Mortal Kombat’ (1995) which many like but I don’t, ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’ and its sequel that I can enjoy most of the time thanks to Angelina Jolie’s body and not because of the sloppy direction that it takes every five minutes trying to be exciting and nothing like the game, and then you have the ‘Resident Evil’ series of films produced/directed by the bad Paul Anderson (W.S.) those are mixed in my opinion, because sometimes I can really get into them and sometimes I can’t, and most of the time my opinion is completely opposite from the rest of the world (I think that the first is really really bad and not scary at all, I think the second one is the best of the bunch, with great entertainment, great classic characters from the games, great visuals and kick-ass action scenes; the third one is ok, and it tries to do something different, while the fourth was mediocre, with some good scenes and some other that are really bad, supposedly there’s a fifth one coming out which I won’t see in theaters, as I’ve been doing with the last two of them, I only saw the second one on theaters and I guess that enhanced the experience?). (more…)

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »