Category Archives: Review

Spring Anime 2015 Review (Part 1/3)

As the summer season is nearly upon us, it is time for our spring anime review of 2015! This season we have a ton of anime to review by our diverse writers, so do look forward to seeing most of the season’s anime getting reviewed (though we certainly missed some nonetheless!).

Kiniro-Mosaic

Hello!! Kiniro Mosaic
Hello!! Kiniro Mosaic

Japesland – 7/10

I actually didn’t start the season with this show. I had seen the first season, and though I liked it, it really wasn’t anything spectacular considering all of the other 4-koma schoolgirl comedies out there. But I changed my mind a few episode in and decided to catch up. If you know anything about my rating system, a 7/10 is nothing to sniff at, and with that in mind, I quite enjoyed this second season of Kiniro Mosaic. The hilarious use of the Japanese language, and many cultural nods (but accurate and not) give it a bit of a feeling similar to classics like Azumanga Daioh, and while I don’t think Hello!! Kiniro Mosaic will be making many “best of” lists, it’s definitely one to consider checking out if you enjoy the genre.

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Review: When Marnie Was There

marnie 2When Marnie Was There
directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Studio Ghibli/GKIDS
103 minutes

Studio Ghibli has built its success on telling stories of girls who find strength to overcome obstacles, and in the process undergo beautiful transformations.  For its final film, Studio Ghibli again presents that tale, but dives into newer territory by setting it against the backdrop of a supernatural mystery.  And the result is phenomenal.

When Marnie Was There features the sullen Anna, who stands out among Studio Ghibli’s flawed heroines as one undergoing an illness all too common to children these days – depression.  Her “aunt” sends Anna to the countryside for a change of scenery, where the girl begins to slowly open up, though interactions with other adolescents remains difficult.  Anna finds most of her solace in a beautiful, run-down mansion across a marsh that fills up during high tide.  It’s at this old home that Anna sees and later meets Marnie, a girl that seems to be everything that she’s not – cheery, kind, open, and extravagant.  Despite their differences, the two bond quickly and intimately.

But the story of Marnie’s identity and connection to Anna hangs like a mist over the film, and like a moving fog, soon envelopes the secret friendship between the girls.

The intrigue and mystery of When Marnie Was There adds a layer not seen in previous Ghibli films.  I marveled at how I could see clues being dropped, but didn’t make the connection until the director began to reveal the revelations.  Likewise, I found myself reflecting on how the movie made me forget the mystery and focus simply on the girls’ friendship when necessary, and back onto the mystery when needed.

The animation is what we’ve come to expect from every Studio Ghibli film – beautiful and vivid.  There are several pan-back shots that give us long views of the lush setting, which itself is a character in the film – particularly the water, which forces the plot forward by its ebb and flow.  Still, the animation wasn’t perfect – I noticed a faceless character or two that I surely wouldn’t have been seen in a film by the master and Ghibli co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki.

But even the animation takes a backseat to story itself.  The final reveals in the film are deeply emotional – sniffles were heard all around the theater I was in – not only because of the power of the revelations, but because of our connections to the characters.  Subtly, the film had led us to care about our heroines, even the oft-surly Anna.  Because of this, the conclusion to When Marnie Was There becomes one of Ghibli’s best, and an ending that we’ll be talking about for years.

One of the final shots of the film is of Marnie, standing at her window, waving.  It struck me as an image that could be iconic – gorgeous and emotional.  It also might be an allusion to Studio Ghibli saying goodbye to us, at least for now.  And if it’s that image their staff leaves us with, and this movie that serves as their finale, I’ll be satisfied.  The company that’s produced so many classics has given us one more to treasure.

Rating: A+

Winter Anime 2015 Review (Part 3/3): Death Parade

For the final part of our winter anime 2015 review, we’ll be changing the format to highlight a particular show: Death Parade!

death parade 2

Death Parade
Death Parade

Japesland – 7/10

I picked up Death Parade a little late, and only because of Sean’s (our podcast’s co-host) recommendation, and when I was starting it I found myself pleasantly surprised as I recognized the setting and character’s of the short film, Death Billiards. I had no idea the productions were related (and I think Kaze is the only other person I knew who had even seen Death Billiards, except for maybe Sean). After the series finally kicked off its first few episodes I was thoroughly enjoying it and reasonably engrossed. I’m an absolute sucker for something episodic that tickles your philosophical funny bone, hence why I love Mushishi, and Death Parade scratched that itch enough to earn an 8/10 (I score I rarely give, I might add!). I finally had to drop it down a point, though, because the end just did not manage to maintain the atmosphere I had learned to love throughout the show, operating on some rather strange character transformations and assuming some development that did not actually occur. Had it ended on a cliffhanger, much like Death Billiards, I think I might have liked it more. That said, it’s still a worthwhile watch.

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Winter Anime 2015 Review (Part 2/3)

Today we continue our review of the winter 2015 anime season with reviews of Aldnoah.zero 2, Junketsu no Maria, Drrrx2, Dog Days”, Parasyte, and The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella GirlsAnd tune in tomorrow for a finale that we’re approaching a little differently!

idol 2

The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls
The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls

stardf29 – 8/10

The original iDOLM@STER anime started off slow but ended up really good; Cinderella Girls keeps up the quality of the original while having a stronger start. The first seven episodes are especially strong, with a good plot line that explores a lot of both the excitement and disappointments of entering the entertainment industry (as well as providing me with plenty of blog material). The character focus episodes that followed were all very solid, too, if not as strong as the show’s first quarter. The development of the producer character is yet another strong point that this show has inherited from its predecessor. Overall, this show looks to be every bit as good as, if not better than, the original iM@S anime and I am definitely looking forward to the second half this summer.

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Winter Anime 2015 Review (Part 1/3)

It’s that time again, where the season’s anime comes to a close and the anticipation of the new one begins. With so many new writers here at Beneath the Tangles, this time we’ll be giving a far more diverse set of reviews than usual!  Up today are Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!, Koufuku Graffiti, Your Lie in April, Shirobako, Rolling Girls, and Ace of Diamond.

CuteHighPromotional

Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!
Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu Love!

Annalyn – 5/10

I like to have at least one ridiculous anime on my watching list at all times, one that guarantees laughter. I need something I don’t care about, don’t plan to blog about, and won’t procrastinate on. Cute High fulfilled that need. It’s a parody of magical girl anime, which means it takes a genre already filled with cheese and makes it cheesier. There are times when I considered giving it less than 2.5/5 stars, but I had too much fun laughing at the magical boys, their exaggerated conflict, the ridiculous enemies, and the cheesy English names for their “love”-powered moves. Oh, and the writer knew exactly how ridiculous the English was. They weren’t even trying to be grammatically correct with the “More Better Love Shower,” let alone Yumoto’s end-of-fight catchphrase, “Love is over!” They milked the tropes for all they were worth, but they managed to surprise me, too, including a plot twist in the last episode. There were a couple annoying instances of suggestive humor, but overall, this was a fun, brainless view.

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Review: Revolutionary Girl Utena DVD Vol. 1

utena 1

Revolutionary Girl Utena, Volume 1 (Episodes 1-12)
Episodes 1-12
Nozomi Entertainment

With the widespread availability of so many current series these days, older anime – even classic ones – seem to be ever drifting into obscurity. Thankfully, production companies like Nozomi Entertainment are still releasing many of these shows on DVD. And with Kunihiko Ikuhara now directing Yurikuma Arashi, it’s as good a time as any to revisit, or as in my case, watch for the first time his opening work as head director for a series, Revolutionary Girl Utena.

The first 13 episodes of Utena, entitled “The Student Council Saga,” introduce us to the incorrigible Utena; the himesama, Anthy; and the gaggle of not-quite-fully-antogonistic student council officers.  Symbolism and mysteries are built and some slowly unraveled as the season progresses, with Utena finding herself drawn into duels as she fights for Anthy, whom she regards with humanity, but whom others see merely as a means to some powerful end.

It is the themes, symbols, and and unknown elements that keep the viewers gripped as we wonder what all these elements mean (if anything).  Certainly, we get few answers in the first arc. Self-contained, it’s frustrating, because apart from the Ikuhara’s cleverness and unique approach to anime, we’re left with a season that’s mostly boring, with generally unremarkable characters and tedious fight scenes.

But even without knowing how the entire story pans out, this saga shows us some of what perhaps makes Utena a classic property – most of all, the revolutionary way it works with gender roles.  Utena is the “prince” of the series, dressing as and playing the role normally reserved for a male character. She’s also a kick-butt heroine, more common now, but much less so when these episodes originally aired in 1997.  The undetermined relationship between Utena and Anthy also places the series in the yuri genre, which Ikuhara fully embraces with Yurikuma Arashi.

Noizomi’s DVD release is excellent for fans of the series, containing lots of little nuggets in the form of TV spots and trailers as extras, plus the remastered visual and audio for the series, which perhaps those who watched the show long ago would appreciate more than I could.  The neat little booklet that’s included contains a lot of great insight from Ikuhara himself, and even for newcomers to the series, it’s a wonderful addition as an in-depth look at the creation of and remastering of the show.

It’s these “marginal” pieces, both in terms of the DVD extras and imaginative flourishes in the show, that must be embraced to enjoy these first thirteen episodes, because the story itself won’t do it.  But I’ll reserve the right to rethink my rating of this arc upon completion of the show, as it is apparent that the structure of the series demands it.

Rating: C+

DVD Review: Genshiken Second Generation (BD)

genshiken second 2b copyWhen it was announced that the manga for Genshiken Second Generation (Genshiken Nidaime) would receive an anime, my excitement was tempered by a feeling that the anime would ultimately be a letdown, as it would suffer from comparisons to the original classic.  NIS’s slick release of the Genshiken Second Generation DVD set, though, proves that while it’s no classic, this new series stands on its own merits.

For those unfamiliar, Genshiken traces the lives of members of the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, a college otaku club whose associates are often rejects even among otaku.  Though Second Generation has appearances by all the original cast, new members are featured in this season, including Hato, a cross-dressing fudanshi; Yajima, a surly fujoshi who disapproves of Hato’s cross-dressing; Yoshitake, a relentlessly and excitable fujoshi; and Sue, an American exchange student who speaks almost entirely in dialogue from various anime series.

This season centers on Hato, who is continuously dealing with his desire and need to cross-dress, and Madarame, one of the main characters of the original series, and both his adjustment into post-college life and undetermined and evolving relationship with Hato.  These two storylines are dynamic and sometimes complex, but unfortunately, they’re not always particularly interesting.  Hato and this Madarame are less compelling than the trio of Kasukabe, Sasahara, and Madarame in the earlier series.

Fundamentally, there’s a problem at the core of Second Generation: the two mains in this series are not as relatable as the three (four if you consider Ogiue) in the original show.  Part of the magic of Genshiken was in taking a wide variety of characters, ranging from anime-obsessed Madarame to stylish, non-otaku Kasukabe, and infusing them with real emotions and thoughts, and in that way, creating characters that the audience can empathize with and relate to.  In Second Generation, there’s such a heavy focus on fujoshi/fudanshi culture that a broader appeal is lost, while Hato’s struggles often felt unrealistic, and thus less relatable.

But while the series falls short of its predecessor, its by no means a failure. Read the rest of this entry

Review: Power Bible Book 1

power bible 1Power Bible 1
Art by Shin-joong Kim
Green Egg Media
208 pages

Let’s face it – the Bible is a difficult read for many people, even for faithful Christians.  Engaging with God’s word is even more of a challenge for children, too many of whom from a young age decide that the Bible is boring.  How to do you captivate young people with the Bible without straying from scripture?

The answer might be the Power Bible, a comic book series produced in book format.  Originally published in Korea, Green Egg Media has released the series, featuring chibi versions of Biblical characters, in the U.S.  And it’s a surprising triumph.

Volume one of ten-book series, which spans from creation to Revelation, focuses on the book of Genesis.  Developed with loving care, this first comic is wide-ranging in it’s content – Adam and Eve, Noah, and the patriarchs are all there.  Even lesser known individuals, like Methuselah and Lamech, make appearances.

The comic sticks closely to the Bible, which means that, especially in Genesis, there are plenty of passages that are very adult in nature, featuring violence, slavery, and other troubling subject matter.  But the strength of the Power Bible is that it chooses to remain scriptural, illustrating even difficult passages, albeit with children in mind (ex. deaths happen off the page).  There’s this dichotomy that occurs which is wondrous – the power of God’s word is continually emphasized in every page of the book, but humor and cute illustrations soften this version of the bible for grade school children.

Adults may enjoy it, too. I found certain passages particularly captivating, including the very beginning of the comic, which illustrates the creation story in a majestic and powerful way.  The quality of the illustrations, writing, and editing are all very high, and I especially liked the beautifully done chapter breaks.

Book One also reads well as one cohesive account.  Transitions between individual tales in this Genesis account are keenly done; it’s clear that you’re reading one large tale with many parts, rather than a disjointed story.  This cohesiveness, though, also points out my one key issue with the book.  Many recent children’s bibles and devotionals mention Jesus throughout Old Testament narratives, pointing out the significance of these stories in relation to God’s ultimate redemptive plan.  This more straight-forward telling of the Bible does not.

Still, what the Power Bible does do is extraordinary – it appeals to the visual senses without dumbing down scripture.  A comic book that does this has been sorely needed.  The Manga Bible has received excellent reviews, but it’s not for young children.  Another manga bible, simply titled The Bible, is not only aimed at older audiences, but was obviously created by those who don’t treasure the word.  It’s worth pointing out again that the staff that created and edited the Power Bible obviously has much love for the material, and for children, who will enjoy it.

But don’t take my word for it – here’s my six-year-old son’s review after reading Book One:

Dad's translation: I like the Power Bible 1. My favorite story is the meeting with the brothers. My second favorite story is "The Older Shall Serve the Younger."

Dad’s translation: I like the Power Bible 1. My favorite story is the meeting with the brothers [story of Joseph]. My second favorite story is “The Older Shall Serve the Younger.”

If you can teach kids to love the word of God – not a commentary, not a devotional, but scripture itself – you’ve done something mighty.  You’ve created an important work that going to change children’s lives – now and for eternity.

I have a critical eye for Christian work, especially that aimed at children, but as you can see in my review above, I highly recommend the Power BibleIf you’d like to purchase it, Green Egg Media has been kind of enough to offer a special promotion for Beneath the Tangles readers.  When checking out, type in the code TANGLES50 to receive 50% off volume one, or TANGLESSET for 30% off the complete set of OT and NT comics.

DVD Review: Attack on Titan, Part 1 (Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack)

attack on titan blu-ray reviewAttack on Titan: Part 1
Blu-ray/DVD Combo
FUNimation
13 episodes

When a highly anticipated property receives its translation, rescripting, and dubbing, consternation and grumbling are always sure to follow.  How closely do you (and can you) stick to the original writing and voicing?  Stay too close, and you run the risk of unintentionally dulling a property; move too far away, and you could alienate a fanbase.  With Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin), FUNimation mostly found a nice middle ground with one of the most engaging anime of recent years.

Attack on Titan traces mankind’s resistance against the titans – creepy, sketchily-drawn giants that devour humans – when they unexpectedly tear open walls that had held them at bay for a century.  Eren, Mikasa, and Armin, a trio of spunky youngsters, join other cadets and the larger army in the fight to defend civilization against a seemingly unstoppable threat.  This DVD combo set encompasses the first 13 episodes.  The first half mostly deals with demonstrating the deadly threat of the titans, as well as showcasing the training by Eren and the others, while the second half deals with a large-scale battle between the army and their gigantic foes.

Attack on Titan is one of anime’s most gripping series both because of its genuinely terrifying plot, in which everyone is in constant danger and no one is safe, and because of the look and feel of the series.  From the dark, but colorful shades used, to the most unique and fun anime weapon of recent years, 3D maneuver gear, the series bleeds a style that’s all its own.  But SnK is more than skin-deep.  During my first viewing of the series, when it originally aired, I was so taken by sudden plot developments and the horrific (though rarely gorey) imagery that I missed the well-constructed tale.  My viewing of the DVD helped me focus on the storyline, which functions by unfolding rapidly and then slowly unraveling both secrets of the world in which the characters live and the back stories and personalities of the characters themselves.  Series fans rewatching the show will also note plenty of little giveaways in character quotes and actions that foreshadow major events later on.

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Review: The Wind Rises

the wind rises 1The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Running time: 126 minutes

Though perhaps falling short of being a classic, Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film, perhaps his swan song, is a return to form for the old master as he weaves a complex tale of childhood dreams, engineering marvels, solemn loves, and killing machines.

A bespectacled boy wakes in his ordinary house and climbs onto the roof, to which is attached something most unordinary – a plane.  He climbs in and sails into the clouds as the townsfolk celebrate his flight, before organic, living bombs destroy his aircraft and he falls through the sky and back into himself, waking from the dream.

The opening scenes of Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film, The Wind Rises, reflect the structure of the film.  In most ways, it is his most realistic movie for Studio Ghibli, the company he co-founded.  A fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the lead designer of Japanese World War II fighter aircraft, the movie is reminiscent of the more grounded films from his Studio Ghibli contemporaries.  But Miyazaki beautifully weaves his noted fantastical elements into the film through dream sequences and other events that transpire in Horikoshi’s head.  Especially early in the film, the director did something to me he has never done in his previous films – he appealed to the boy in me, the one who dreamed big and wanted to be the hero.

But though the fantasy portions are a highlight of the film, bringing to mind soaring sequences from Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso, perhaps even more enthralling is the animation in the more earthy parts of The Wind Rises– shadows on a face, writing on a piece of paper, grass and parasols blowing in the wind, and in what is surprisingly the most breathtaking and heart-pounding scene of the movie, Horikoshi and his love interest, Naoko, passing paper airplanes to one another.  Though not the rich visual feast Ponyo was, The Wind Rises is nonetheless stunning in its subtlety.

But it’s also these quieter elements that sometimes drag on for far too long.  The movie clocks in at two hours, and half that time has the protagonist wandering – in Germany, in Japan – and not doing a whole lot, at least not in terms of anything dynamic.  I guess engineering can only be so interesting when animated.  The film does pick up after this soporific middle portion, however, as a lovely romance story unfolds, one which I didn’t expect to see in a Miyazaki film.  That was a pleasant surprise.

Less pleasant was the elephant in the room – the fact that the main character, celebrated in the movie, was responsible for designing airplanes which helped Japan in their wartime activities.  Miyazaki, a known pacifist, hammers home his themes that we must go on and follow our heart and that the common people of Japan, many of whom didn’t agree with the country’s actions, did their best without being responsible for the war effort.  Unfortunately, Miyazaki tries too hard with his dialogue, beautiful as it is, emphasizing points which are more morally difficult to grasp than he tries to make them.

What is Horikoshi’s complicity in the killing of so many in the war?  More importantly, what was the average Japanese person’s complicity in the war?  The answer to both is “far more” than Miyazaki implies, though he deserves a modicum of respect for bringing up such difficult issues in his home country.

Ultimately, while the movie suffers because of the slow plotting and the moral unease of the tale, it shines to an extent that hasn’t been seen in a Miyazaki film since Spirited Away.  As if to say that he has more to animate than Shinto spirits and magical stories, Miyazaki proves that he can tell most any story with graceful and sometimes astounding artistic strokes.  If not a masterpiece, The Wind Rises comes close, and if it is his last film, Miyazaki has left us with a marvel to remember.

Rating: A-

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