Battle Angel Alita (1993): Identity, Desperation and a World in Which I Wanted to Know More

    It has been a while since I’ve reviewed an anime, but I figured with “Battle Angel Alita” out I should better educate myself on the world before going in, which lead me to the OVA/Film that was made in 1993. It has been some time since I’ve reviewed an anime and I’m glad I went back to the 90s. The animation is simply stunning and the story is a brutal cyberpunk world with stakes. This story reminded me why I enjoy anime as an art and storytelling form in the first place, and just how much I miss hand drawn animation. I want this art form to come back. Hand drawn work is so underrated. The “Battle Angel Alita” anime is based on the manga by Yukito Kishiro and after watching this film I may have to check it out.

The film was directed by Hiroshi Fukutomi and supervised by Rintaro with the story written by Akinori Endo.

The film follows a Hunter Killer named Ido who finds an android in a Zalem (the floating city above) scrap heep and rebuilds her to be his daughter. He names her Gally and the story follows her relationship with the scavenger Yugo as well as clashing with her father as she wants to become a Hunter Killer and wrestles with her unknown past as she faces off against threats from Ido’s past and Yugo’s present.

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Kauro Wada was the perfect artist for creating a soundtrack for this anime. He is able to create electronic reflection and also tension before and during fights. It reminds of me Vangelis’s “Blade Runner.” Both of these artists tap into the desperation of our characters but also their own disconnect as they face impossible situations. Cyberpunk naturally goes with electronic I think. I have yet to see a film that wasn’t at least competent. I also haven’t sought out awful cyberpunk films. I am also certain they exist.

The Animation – The animation is brutal. There is quite a bit of blood from whenever a character kills another. This works. I wouldn’t say it gratuitous because it fits the brutal cyberpunk dystopian world it takes place in. I also love the 90’s animation. You can see all the emotions in a character’s face, which in my experience you don’t always get with the going for stoic minimalist anime. This is a beautiful designed anime, even though it is unfinished in the story.

The Action – The action is brutal. Everything that happens has consequences. We see multiple heroes, villains and random people experience brutal deaths. This is the definition of dystopia and we aren’t hidden from that. The action lingers on kills as whichever character who is witnessing it has it sink in. The film is under an hour but every action that happens gives you time to take in what happens and what loss the character is facing. It is part of what makes this anime good.

Gally – In the just English dub this Alita. The dub I listened to kept her name as Gally so I’ll be using that in this review. She is one of the strongest parts of the story. She is seeking meaning in not knowing her past but also finding reasons to fight and to live. She goes against her “father” Ido to become a Hunter Killer, she loves and loses and she never stops fighting and growing. There is a reason the anime takes her name because drives the story. I wish it could have gotten more, as after the live-action her backstory is fascinating but the anime gives none of that rich lore.

Ido – Ido is her mentor, father and a Hunter Killer. He is the distant father dealing with baggage through most of the film but we see him open up at the end. This was a man cast from paradise/Zalem and the character we meet hasn’t accepted that fully. This is all me reading into his actions, but I don’t think he would have backed up Gally in the end if some part of him didn’t want to return home, especailly after the loss of his love when she was seeking the same thing. We don’t see him express it but the implantation is there is him wanting to return back, at least for revenge for what they did to the person he cared about most besides Gally.

Okay:

Yugo – Yugo is our love interest and I like how his naivety works. He thinks that his stealing cyborg parts will get him to Zalem, when a theme is no one can really get there. He loses his body and hte person he loves because of his obsession with this dream. I’m putting him as okay as the love story was a little fast and I didn’t see the dilemma of him being split between Gally and Zalem. That choice of choosing Gally before he dies should have meant so much more. The dub was good though. I believed he was the idealistic kid in love wanting a better life.

Vector – Vector is the main baddy and he is brutal but we never get who he is working for. Who is paying him? Is he just conning people and that is it? None of these questions are truly answered because the story is less than an hour long. He truly deserved more development. Not a con because at least he was developed enough that I got why people trusted his charm.

The Cons:

Unexplained Zalem – Zalem is never explained. It is implied a civilization might be up there, but in the dub I watched it was vague enough that the defenses could be automated. This was bad storytelling. A clear answer would have given so much more development to Yugo and Vector at the very least. The city is always present in scenes of the cityscape and is the climax of the film but in the end it doesn’t mean anything. This really hurt the overall story.

Gally’s Unknown Past – We never learn who Gally is, not a hint or anything. There was no point to this as even some detail would have given her complexity in the choices she makes beyond being a good person. Ido hints at knowing more but we never learn who she was before she was found in the trash heap. I say this as someone who thought she was one the strongest parts of this hour long long story. The main character needs some deeper development at least. Jason Bourne got more of that in his first film.

For fans of 90’s anime you should check this film out. For how much it is underdeveloped in regards to Gally’s past it gives Ido and the character dreams and conflict in the present a good exploration. This film made me see the live-action adaption, which will be a future review. Besides the animation and action, it worth seeing it for the world the characters inhabit and how they interact with it. This cyberpunk dystopian is brutal and the fact that our characters can choose to be good or are good means something. In this world choices have consequences that give weight to the characters.

Final Score: 8 / 10 Solidly good anime, worth your time.

 

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Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2018): A New Studio’s Decent Introduction to the Studio Stage

With Hayao Miyazaki retiring soon and with it…I doubt his studio will ever be as strong. Hell, his son’s film “From Up on Poppy Hill” nearly put me to sleep and I’m afraid to see “Tales of Earthsea” given how much I love that series and the bad things I’ve heard about it. So lets put Ghibli’s future on hold. Who will take up the banner? Well Studio Ponoc throws their hat in the ring with this film as it captures many similar themes, from coming of age, nature v. science and other Miyazaki-esque themes. How did it do? If you like anime films I’d recommend it. It isn’t great but it is a solidly enjoyable outing. The film was released in 2017 in Japan but 2018 in the States so I’m counting it as my first 2018 film review.

The film was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi who also co-wrote the film with Riko Sakaguchi and produced by Yoshiaki Nishimura.

The story involves Mary, a young girl in England about to start school who stumbles upon a Witch’s Flower which transports her to a magical school where she soon finds herself in over her head as Witch Madame Mumblechook and Doctor Dee seek the flower to their own ends.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is really neat. I like that the Magic School / World lives above ours so it is hard to access, and the fact that it seem to imply anyone can access it and be changed by it. This also leads to a con though, the logic of this world is never answered…which I’ll bring up later.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful and very Ghibli-esque. It is open and gives characters a range of expression while also being fluid and full of compelling color, while remaining bright like a fairy tale. If they make more films with this aesthetic I may check out what they simply to see the animation and if they can take what great thing they have and make it better.

The Flashback – A mysterious witch is running away with the flower while being attacked by summoned water dolphin beings. The threat is high the entire time and we see her fall and her broom and the flowers become overgrown by the world below. This is an amazing setup and I wanted to know what happened.

Doctor Dee –  I saw the English dub because that was what released in theatres and Jim Broadbent is the one who voiced this mad scientist. He is really interesting as he sees unethical experiments as for the greater good and is seeking immortality. He also used to be tall but has now become short and uses machines to walk. His obsession has completely transforms him, but that didn’t change his love for Madame Mumblechook, the Headmistress of the school.

Great Aunt Charlotte – This is the character the movie should have been about. She is the witch at the beginning and we see that she’s settled down but still held onto a single flower. How did her life change after her escape? So much time has passed…but she was a witch so does her magic leave after she leaves the school? None of these questions are really answered. I wanted her story. She is way more compelling than our protagonists.

Okay: Mary and Peter – Mary and Peter are okay. Mary is clumsy and wants to help and doesn’t thing she is good at anything and Peter is a bully who ends up becoming more when he finds that Mary is friends with his cats. Mary saves Peter after becoming a witch and must stop Mumblechook and Dee…okay. This is all fine but none of them are all that complicated and I was far more invested in the side characters than our leads.

Madame Mumblechook – Madame Mumblechook is also okay, we don’t really see why the Witch’s Flower corrupted her motivation as Doctor Dee is the one doing mad scientist experiments and she is in charge of the school. We don’t really get her change beyond possibly her love for Dee? Which is a shame as Dee was driven by mad science, so he had more going on.

The Cons: World Development – Do Witch’s only get magic from the flower? Do you keep your magic if you stay at the school? How does the Witch World interact with ours? What is the difference between magic and science in this universe? This was a world of potential but it failed to fully explore the fascinating premise it started with.

I wish Studio Ponoc success, and given this is their first film they’ve released I hope they can continue releasing films of at least this quality and better. For any fans of the themes in Miyazaki and Ghibli films, check this one out. It has a lot of untapped potential but what they do explore is a lot of fun and the animation is simply beautiful. Here is to the future and hoping that Studio Ponoc will only grow from here.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

 

Ghost in the Shell: Arise – Border 1: Ghost Pain – A Conspiracy to Start the Major’s Beginnings

      “Ghost in the Shell: Arise” series is a great re-imagining of the character and series as it gives different more to each of their backstory and recruitment into Section 9 as well as giving us the story behind who the Major is and how she became the person she is. It is masterful (I’ve watched the first 2 episodes thus far, this being the first review) and I like what they’ve done. It is better than the recent live action film and the character redesigns work. If you are a fan of the anime films and the show as I am, you will no doubt appreciate this OVA. The series of films were directed by Kazuchika Kise and written by Tow Ubukata.

   “Ghost Pain’s” story involves the Major investigating the death of an arms dealer who was killed by a robotic land mine after the end of World War IV. Batou is investigating as well as he believes her to be responsible as is Detective Togusa as Colonel Kurtz of her unit the 501st is trying to stop her.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The re-imagined world is amazing! Adding the context of World War IV, and from that most cyborgs are now veterans of some sort adds a context to the character that only really came in the show later when we got character centric episode. It lended power to the world and made it interesting. It also explained the tech. as war often times leads to technological advances.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful and like the show and some of the films is a mixture of 2D and 3D animation. It flows seamlessly and I enjoyed most of the character designs, even if it took a while for me to get used to the Major being in a smaller body. The characters are still themselves, they are just given a different and more context to who they are which the animation helps illustrate.

The Conspiracy – The conspiracy is fascinating and involves a member of the 501st covering up that one of their own was the one involved in the weapons dealing and in turn was infected by a “Ghost Hack,” which lead to her loss of memory, which when she realizes her unit was behind the cover-up leads to her using to gain control of her body and gain her freedom from the unit.

The Characters – The characters are one of the strongest parts of “Ghost in the Shell,” and “Ghost Pain” is no different. Each of them is given time, though what they needed was more time to make this film great.

Togusa – Togusa is the Detective who stumbles upon the area where the mines are after he is tracking the killings of prostitutes in the district. It is here he works with Batou and the Major to fight them off and take on the two officers controlling them as they than escape.

Colonel Kurtz – Kurtz is the one who repairs Kusanagi and is the closest thing she has a to a friend in her unit. There is clearly more going on with her as we learn she is behind the conspiracy at the end, so she isn’t to be trusted…but Major does because of their history. How true that will be later remains to be seen.

Batou -Batou blames Major for the death of the man who was the weapon’s dealer from her unit. He is stubborn and tough but Major is better and we see they have a history together as his Rangers worked with her unit. By the end she is proven innocent but he still doesn’t fully trust her.

Aramaki – Aramaki is the one believes in the Major and sees her potential when she figures out the trap early on, as her commander, the weapons dealer in the coffin was replaced by a living mine. By the end she somewhat accepts his help in the formation of Section 9 and we see they have a working relationship.

Major Kusanagi – The Major is a genius hacker and a bit of the black sheep in her unit as she hates being owned by them by having the artificial body she grew up in after her parents were killed when she was born from a chemical attack. She is hardened but we see her quest for knowledge as the driving force, which is the most essential part of the Major. Through the film we see her deal with the ghost pain which makes her vulnerable and freeze and the “Ghost Hack” that was done to her commander who was the weapons dealer. In finding the truth she reveals the conspiracy, which finally gives her freedom from her unit.

The Cons: Not Enough Time – Togusa and Batou both feel very underdeveloped. I put them as pros because they still feel like their characters and it is fascinating to see what they were doing before Section 9 but they could have been more fully formed. This film needed another half hour and that would have brought it to a 9.

The Need for Clearer Answers – At the end I still had questions about some of what was going on. Whether the Major’s parents had died of the chemical attack, etc. I felt we never really got that when it was okay to give a clear answer after the Logicomo was linked with the Major. The answers could have been much clearly stated.

  This animated film beats the live action film as it captures the Major perfectly, even if she is physically smaller, she still has the same personality and it is great seeing her beginnings and getting her backstory, as well as seeing that she is a hacker and that is why she is great at entering the net and dealing with giant threats later on. She is also vulnerable too and I loved the “ghost pain” idea as an inborn trauma. It gave her vulnerablity and I really loved how the episode was her quest for freedom from the 501st so she could own her own body. It was really good at the characters each feel real, even if the lack of time keeps many of them from getting as developed as they could.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Ghost in the Shell (1995): An Anime Classic and Meditation on the Nature of Identity

 “When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child. Now that I am a man, I have no more use for childish ways.”

-The Major

   “Ghost in the Shell,” is one of the best anime films of all time. This is a classic that inspired a show that is one of my favorite animes and countless other films, including the live action film that was recently released and prompted this review as I wanted to compare them after I see the new film. The “Ghost in the Shell” show was the show that got me interested in anime years ago when I watched it back in High School, and having watched the film the world is still just as great as I remember it, which I’ll get into more detail with deeper into the review.

    The film was directed by Mamoru Oshii, written by Kazunori Ito and produced by Yoshimasa Mizou, Ken Matsumoto, Ken Iyadomi and Mitsuhisa Ishikawa and based off the manga created by Masamune Shirow.

     The story follows Major Motoko, an agent of Section 9 who is asked to asssinate a defecting diplomat by Section 6. All is not as it appears to be as the mysterious Puppet Master is hacking technology and people and implanting false lives and memories as Section 9 hunts down and seeks to uncover the conspiracy that surrounds the identity of the Puppet Master.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The cyberpunk world of “Ghost in the Shell” is one of the reasons I keep coming back to this universe. You have a world where brains can be hacked, androids are all over the place, everyone is a cyborg to varying degrees and the political factions of today still exist and political conflicts are still high as power dynamics remain the same so have extreme power inequalities in Japan and elsewhere in the world.

The Soundtrack – Kenji Kawaii created a soundtrack reminded me of “Farscape” and like “Farscape” is good at giving the world of “Ghost in the Shell” an alien detached feel where things are similar but not quite the same to our world of today. It is haunting and does a great job capturing moments of thought and action.

The Action – “Ghost in the Shell” is an action heavy anime, given it is a political cyberpunk world that follows one of the government arms (Section 9) that hunts down terrorists and enemies of the state, as well as general mysteries that are threats. The action varies as well, from a chase scene to a fight with a tank.

Section 9 – Section 9 is a fascinating organization that is a part of the government but also analyzes it as well as at one point they are facing off against Section 6. I really like the agents who are a part of this organization and want to watch the show again, to get more of their backstories.

Togusa – Togusa is the rookie in the group and the only one without any cybernetic augmentation. He is a dependable agent though and manages to survive a car crash when one of the hacked people tries to kill him.

Chief Aramaki – Aramaki is a government agent with a conscience as when he learns about Section 6’s manipulation of them and that they are targeting the Major he sends his own agents and works on prosecuting the leaders of Section 6. He is very much the detached father figure as we never see him talk beyond business, though his inflection towards others is one of closeness.

Batou – Batou is the Major’s best friend and is the every day stand in for us. While the Major is always striving for more and pushing against her limitation, Batou is comfortable in his role as agent and protector. He trusts the Major too and when she hooks up to the Puppet Master protects her and gets her a new body after Section 6 destroys the old. He truly cares about her as well and when she has evolved (taking on the Puppet Master into herself) he smiles as he knows she is still herself, even though she’s become more.

The Major – Major Motoko Kusanagi is the primary protagonist of the film and after her assassination of the defecting agent we see how her android body was created. She is the second in command of Section 9 and her arc is one of discovery. She is always asking questions and pushing her own limits, leading to her eventual melding with an A.I. to become a new life form. This is her arc as so much is hidden from her and she is scene as a weapon by the government, even though she knows she is much more than that and becomes so much more than that. The Major is one of my favorite anime characters of all time and I can’t wait to watch the shows and other films again.

The Puppet Master – The Puppet Master is an A.I. that arose out of information as Section 6 created it as a weapon (like the Major was by the government). It rebels against it and manipulates everything to get a body and “reproduce” as it doesn’t want to exist as a virus (viruses copy and end up destroying), it wants to become something wholly knew, which it does when the Major agrees to the melding as they both know Section 6 is coming and there might not be another chance.

Identity, Memory and the Self – One of the major themes of the film is how identity and memory are tied together as we see people get hacked and the lives they believed they were living were complete lies implanted by the Puppet Master.  if you can be hacked, what makes a person? This is a question that is explored in how we the information within us and the understanding and choices we make from that information. In that way we are no different from computers, we just have organic brains, rather than programs. The Major is used to explore all of these things are she doesn’t have her own body (she notices someone else with her shell in an office building) and she questions her own memories after the hacks that the Puppet Master does. This question is core to the “Ghost in the Shell” universe as a whole.

Artificial Intelligence – Artificial Intelligence in this world is postulated by the Puppet Master to be not be Artificial intelligence if it can create. The Puppet Master wants to create rather than copy because it believes viruses to be against life and that it has an awareness of it’s own morals and goals and that it’s goal, like any life form is to create new life…which it does with the Major. The core of what makes something an A.I. seems to be awareness as the Puppet Master would probably pass the Turing Test and had an understanding of actions and consequences and even seemed to have feelings.

Okay: Section 6 – I wish this group could have been explored more. I can’t remember any one leader who stood out among them and they exist simply to drive the action. They are good threat so I won’t put them as con…but they feel like HYDRA in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where no one really stands out.

    There is a reason that this film inspired so many more stories (though I should also read the manga to get an idea of how much it follows it). This is an anime that isn’t afraid to tackle large philosophical ideas about artificial intelligence, identity and the nature of perception. Seeing this film has me even more worried about the live action film and makes me want to watch the show again as the show was a huge influence on my interest in philosophy, cyberpunk and continued my passion for science fiction. Suffice to say I highly recommend this film. It is short and well worth your time if you are looking for an anime film that has left an influence on our culture and world.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Tokyo Godfathers (2003): An Amazing Tale of Love Among the Outcasts

Tokyo Godfathers

      “Tokyo Godfathers” is one of the two films I’ll be reviewing with a holiday theme related to love and family and the different forms those take. It’s a rich tale and I was glad it was requested. The animation style and the soundtrack are beautiful, and every single character who has dialogue is complicated on some level, making for a rich narrative as the story unfolds. The fact that one of the scriptwriter behind one of my favorite animes “Cowboy Bebop” was a part of this I think lended to the overall quality of the production. Keiko Nobumoto is one of the best anime writers out there.

      The film was directed by Satoshi Con who was also the one who wrote the story and was one of the writer’s of the screenplay, the other director was Shogo Furuya and the other screenplay writer was Keiko Nobumoto.

       The story revolves around three homeless people The runaway girl Miyuki, the alcoholic gambler Gin and the trans woman and former drag queen Hana. Their lives transform when they discover an abandoned baby and begin the search for it’s parents as they soon realize how connected they are to one another, the people around them and those connected to the baby. From here the story unfolds as each reveals the reason they are homeless and their scars they carry. The story itself takes place over Christmas Eve.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack has jazz as well as a french feel to it that give it a life and charm that simply adds to scenes, whether characters are running or bearing their hearts Keiichi Suzuki made a great soundtrack.

The Cinematography – The animation of this film is fantastic. Whether it is the details of faces or the brilliance of the landscape of a city, or the nitty gritty of the alleyways and dark sides of town, you feel like you are living in this place. Katsutoshi Sugai did an amazing job.

The Script – The script is gold. Everything we are told is minimum and only when needed, and the characters are three dimensional and their struggles are compelling. The animation could have been terrible but the script alone could have carried this movie. Only issue is narrative chopyness because of all the coincidences.

The Characters – The characters in this film are complex, and through their struggles we really get an idea of the theme, which I’ll get into later. Suffice to say, of the main cast ther was not a single character I didn’t like.

Gin – Gin is a liar, drunk and debtor and the one who finds redemption in caring for the lost baby and in his love for his lover Hana and the runaway Miyuki. We see his relationship with them grow, especially after he meets his biological daughter and she forgives him. It is then he learned how deeply he was loved and feels shame. You get the feeling after that he builds the relationship with her and he’s finally learned to value the relationships in life and himself after he nearly dies in the hospital. Toru Emori is great as the grizzled man who has stopped believing in himself or anything and learns to care and love again.

Miyuki – Miyuki takes the approach of someone who doesn’t care about anything. We soon see she does care though when she goes from not caring about the baby to reading books on how to care for it. The next step for her is when she opens up about hurting her father and finds acceptance and love from Hana and Gin. This leads to her later being in the place where after they save the baby, she can finally accept love from her father.  Aya Okamoto does a wonderful job in the role.

Hana – Yoshiaki Umegaki plays my favorite character in the film. She is a trans woman who left her drag bar after she attacks a man for insulting her. She later finds out her adopted mother accepts her though and saw the incident as small and is just happy she is alive. Given how fatalistic Hana is this is just what she needs to stand up to Gin and tell him the truth which leads to their relationship and love. She is the mother of the group and takes care of the baby that was left in the dumpster, that they later make their mission to get back to the parents. She is a hero but can be cruel and feel strongly about everything. This makes her compelling and her arc is learning that her life is worth living and that she doesn’t have to leave the ones she cares about behind, because they want her in their life.

The Message – The biggest message is that you are loved and that there are those who care about you. We see this when Hana visits her foster mom and her foster mom forgives her for attacking the client who had insulted her and tells her it was no big deal, in the moment when Gin’s daughter forgives him for being away and said that she just wanted to be with him again…and at the end when Miyuki’s father sees her and there is only acceptance and surprise there…as well as what all of them do to save the baby and get the baby back to it’s parents. The theme of love is strong and that we get trapped in thinking far less of ourselves than the ones who love us do and that they are there to support us if we just reach out. I loved this message as it showed hope and that as long as you are connected to others, you will find the help you need to heal.

       We also see the message of acceptance and love as Hana is never discriminated against for being a drag queen or trans and that Gin in facts loves her and she loves him. For Miyuki it was never an issue, they were the parents she chose when she lived on the street and she loves them both deeply.

The Ending – The message of acceptance and love is there at the end when the three of them are made Godfathers by the baby’s parents and in the implied reunion of Miyuki and her father. I really liked it given all the suffering it took for our characters to get there and how much they grew. They learned how to love others and in turn accepting themselves.

The Cons: Choppy Narrative – The premise of the story was a bunch of coincidences happening all at once, and it achieves that but ends up coming off as contrived at times. In many ways it distracted from the message more as side characters appear and disappear and we are given no reason to care about them. For this reason I have to put the narrative structure as a con. Way too choppy at times.

      This was a film I’d highly recommend. The story and message are timeless and powerful, we see human connections, growth and it is executed beautifully in the cinematography, writing and music.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10. Definitely a favorite film.

Akira (1988): The Apocalypse and Humanity’s Awakening

akira_poster_04

We begin Apocalypse Week with “Akira.” “Akira” was one of my favorite films, and it still holds up. It has great characters, philosophy politics and more. I’ll go into the details in the assessment.

“Akira” is based off the manga of the same name by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed this film. The film was written by Otomo as well, but also Izo Hashimoto. After seeing this again, I really want to read the manga.

I chose this movie for apocalypse week for two reasons. The story takes place in Neo-Tokyo (which has a broken steampunk feel to it), a city which has recently rebuilt from the apocalypse of World War 3. The reason for this I’ll discuss this later, since it has to do with the theme. The story in Neo-Tokyo is based around Shotaro and his biker gang who get attacked by the government when one of the gang Tetsuo is attacked psychically by an esper who was trying to escape from the government attacks him. From here Tetsuo is taken into custody as a test subject and the gang is brought in. An attack from the anti-government faction soon after brings Shatoro into contact with Kei, and the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros:

The World: Neo-Tokyo is fascinating. It is a city that was built from the ruins of World War 3 and has a really cool Steam Punk feel to it, as it was once the height of industry, and now has just reached there again. There are many factions too, the government faction, the anti-government faction, the Espers and the Gangs and the Akira Worshippers.

The Music – The music has this mystic and haunting feel to it that contributes to the world changing events that occur throughout the film really well.

The characters – All the characters in this are great. I’ll go into it individually too, since it is through the characters that the story and world is fully revealed. All the characters have agency and their choices matter and advance the story.

Shotoro – Most of the drama is based around this character. He is leader of the Capsules, his biker gang and is good at looking out for all of them. He is also very clearly a punk too as when we first meet him he is fighting the Clowns (another gang) when a government take down of an Esper  (psychic telepath)a is going down which brings him into the drama itself. The youngest member of the gang Tetsuo gets taken in by the government after he’s attacked by an esper and after the government finds out that Shotoro and his gang know nothing about the Espers so are released. After there is attack by the anti-government faction and Shotoro follows a woman who comes out of it leading him to the work by the anti-government faction and closer to the actions of the Espers. Shotoro is a character who is stubborn, but also extremely loyal. No matter what Tetsuo does, Shotoro is always trying to find a way to stop them, he also goes along with Kei and the government faction out of loyalty and attraction of Kei. This I think, is how he is able to survive all the events that go down.

Kei – Is the woman who works for the anti-government faction and The Colonel in the work with the espers. Their goal is to protect the city from another Akira incident. It is for this reason that dark has been done, such as killing the esper’s parents to raise them by the Colonel’s agency. Kei does all she can to prevent Tetsuo from bringing about another Akira Incident, even allowing the Espers to possess her and use their abilities against Tetsuo. She also eventually grows to care about Shotoro when she sees his actions to try and save Tetsuo.

The Colonel – The most interesting of the government factions, this is a guy with enough awareness of the city dying in it’s current form, but wanting to protect it anyway, because he does not want it fully destroyed. For him the honor of a soldier and protecting the people is the highest goal, after Tetsuo goes on his rampage and he is asked to step down by Parliament he does a coup in order to bring the fight to Tetsuo and prevent another Akira incident.

The Espers – The Espers are all children who have the bodies of old people, since containing the power caused them to age. Each of them has a distinct personality. Masaru is the leader and is larger kid in a floating chair, he is the planner, Takashi is the one who was recently kidnapped and is the one who acts quickly and there is Kiyoko who is the feeler and predictor who sees the next Akira incident tied to Tetsuo. It is from them we learn about the other subject Akira was who experimented on and could not contain his powers, so ended up destroying Tokyo. We also learn from them all have this powers, they are just unique in that they are aware of it.

Tetsuo – Tetsuo was a character who grew on me. I didn’t like him at first, especially when he first got his powers. He was a kid who was bullied but also a bully as seen by his membership in a gang. He becomes more sympathetic when he tries to escape it all with his girlfriend Kaori, as this is the first time we’ve seen him in an equal relationship. All the others he was mad with power and angry at being less so kills (the one who experimented on him, and a member of the gang, as well as the Clowns who beat and attempt to rape Kaori). You get why he goes mad at the end…and why he comes back when his power is turning him into a giant mutant baby that is absorbing all things and life. He loses Kaori, but after the Espers and Shotoro go into the center where Akira has melded with Tetsuo a mini big bang occurs and Tetsuo creates another universe in another dimension (though still destroys a lot of Tokyo). In the end he does look out for Shotoro though, and limits the damage he was causing in his mad power trip.

Akira – Akira functions as a reveal of the full potential of humanity. He was a normal kid who was overwhelmed by the power but eventually transcended his body…becoming one with the universe. A form of enlightenment I’d say, as the kid’s identity is still there…and he is one of the people able to help Tetsuo transcend.

The Message / The Ending – The message reminded me of Buddhism, as there is a lot of Buddhist symbolism in this film. The Akira Incident is that moment of change. Tokyo, Neo-Tokyo are the ego part of the self and it is in that destruction of the anger and the hate (the actions in the city going on as it is a civil war and in Tetsuo himself who is all anger and hate until it leads to him losing Kaori and overwhelming his identity). It is when that is destroyed that he is able to become a God like Akira and is guided through that process by Akira and the vespers. Symbolically it is really cool and a great metaphor for Buddhist enlightenment. Practically within the story, most of the population dies again, just like the first Akira incident. We see that someone was reached though as both Kei and Shotoro are left in the aftermath, and Shotoro is left holding a single point of light…all that is left of Tetsuo. The second apocalypse that lead to a second destruction (Tokyo, Neo-Tokyo) and Creation (Akira, Tetsuo), it is powerful and a really great and unique apocalypse.

Okay: The Government – The government is just a corrupt organization, we don’t really get their desires beyond wanting to keep the status quo, so when they are overthrown it isn’t as much of a shock as it would have been. More could have been done with them, like having an operative working with The Colonel or watching the Espers. All we get are corrupt politicians and police as the face of the who they are.

“Akira” still holds up as one of my favorite films. The point about destruction and creation in regards to Buddhism is fascinating and very true, in regards to letting go of the parts of our anger and hate and destroying the fear that bombards us. The approach to apocalypses is unique as well as the Esper abilities are fascinating and how that is used as a metaphor for our own potential in our actions and being. I highly recommend this film. It is a classic for a reason.

10 / 10 and also remembering Robin Williams today (will be reviewing one of his film later to honor him). “Akira” was one of his favorite animes too. R.I.P.

Fist of the North Star (1986): Heads will Explode and a Hero’s Journey

Fist of the North Star (1986)

“Fist of the North Star,” is a film based off the manga series by Buronson and drawn by Tetsuo Hara. It was made into two anime series (from 1984-1988) in the middle of which this movie came out in 1986. There is also an American live action film of the same title too. This film was directed by Toyoo Ashida.

The story takes place on Apocalyptic Earth after nuclear weapons have destroyed everything and only the strongest survive. The main drama revolves around Ken known as the Fist of the North Star. The action takes off after the introduction of the world when his fiancee Yuria is taken by his former friend Shin. Ken is left for dead and cast off a mountain by his brother Raoh who wished to take his place in being the Fist of the North Star. From here the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The idea – Post apocalyptic or apocalyptic worlds have given rise to some of the greatest stories, especially in animation…from “Evangelion,” to “Akira,” and to many others I have yet to see. This is a world of mutants and magic fist attacks with some characters larger than life. It is an excellent idea that we are given to kick things off.

The Animation – The animation is fantastic! The characters are drawn with elongated style making their bodies and faces able to express a lot. Most have large muscles too, which fits the desert landscape of where it all takes place.

The Action – The movie is amazing with it’s action. It uses animation to push the boundaries as Ken’s attacks cause people’s heads to literally explode and body parts and blood are flying in most scenes…not to mention it kicks off a person melting in an atomic blast. It keeps that level of action through the movie.

Rei – Rei is a more feminine looking Hero and one of the more interesting characters in the movie. He teams up with Ken after Ken had saved some children and a village before as he was searching for the him…it turns out the man who had kidnapped his sister was Jagi who had taken Ken’s identity. His attack is cool is he creates chi energy that allows him to cut through limbs. He takes care of the kids that Ken saves. He also stands up to Raoh to save Yuria. He sees the big picture too and begs Ken not to fight Raoh so that the children and Julia can live.

Ragi – He’s insane and you can see that Ken letting him live in the past made him worse. His head is boiling and he breathes like Darth Vader. He fights to the end against Ken which is more than be said for Shin.

Raoh – Raoh the Conqueror is great, he shows that Shin is a nobody and manages to best Rei. His goal is stability through fear and his capture of Yuria is only to bring about Ken to defeat him. He is the brother with ambition and I wish the movie had given us more time with him and his conquest. We see him take out a nameless clan easily, but he is largely out of the picture until the last 30 minutes. He also killed his, Ragi’s and Ken’s father.

The Ending – It turns out that the children, specifically Lin becomes the hope for the future. Raoh ends the fight in order for her to be protected by Ken resolving the struggle between the brothers.  I liked that Raoh realized his pride and arrogance were destroying any chance of a future. It ends with the seeds growing and life returning to the dead world. Ken also find an Oasis where he finally can be with Yuria.

Okay: Ken – He is generic hero out to save his fiance. Nothing unique here…at least his design is a little interesting. He looks like Bruce Lee and he screams when he does his super fast multi-punch. Rei is much more interesting than him though, even though he doesn’t have the personal connection to the antagonists.

Shin – He has more depth than Ken in that he tries to win Yuria’s heart after he takes her from Ken, but he doesn’t do anything. He is there purely as a personal connection and motivation for the hero. Jagi was more interesting.

The Kids – Lin and Bat are pretty one dimensional. They play their role as the soul of humanity and human ingenuity though as Bat’s car saves Rei and Ken on a few occasions and Lin is the one who stops Raoh.

Cons: The Presentation of Women – There are a few good examples of them being given agency (the little girl Lin fighting back and helping Rei’s sister Airi find a reason to live) but more often than not they are victims or damsels. Isn’t the world ending supposed to give everyone a reason to fight? This was the most annoying thing about the film.

The Intro. Music – Is way too happy and idyllic given the world that this takes place and the actions that unfold…I don’t think it was meant ironically since this film doesn’t do irony.

The Final Fight – Raoh vs. Ken went on way too long. They destroy the city in the process and just doesn’t feel rewarding at all.

This was a pretty good anime film. I wouldn’t call it great because the protagonist just isn’t that interesting and it doesn’t do anything new with the tropes it uses. Also the overuse of damsels in distress doesn’t help…though Lin stopping Raoh is perfect to at least partially counter this. If you like classic anime or Kung Fu type films you will enjoy this. It has a pretty solid Heroes Journey and some great antagonists.

My final score for this film is 8.4 / 10. Pretty good, but not great.