Impression of Madoka Magica
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is an anime series that I’ve heard many good things about, so I added it to my queue on Netflix. Earlier today the housesitter went to work and I was left alone with the dogs again. Thus I streamed all twelve episodes in a marathon.
A girl named Madoka has a dream of a magical girl (think Sailor Moon) being beaten in an epic battle. Later she actually sees that same girl at school. A fanciful cat-like creature runs to Madoka for help, but soon she caught in the middle of a battle involving another magical girl. After she survives, the creature offers her and her friend wishes in exchange for becoming magical girls themselves to battle evil spirits.
The artwork for the characters has a somewhat generically cutesy style that is typical of contemporary anime. The exact meaning of the slang “moe” is a bit too complicated to get into here, but it fits the vast majority of characters here to a tee. However, the scenery is great, and the artwork is beautifully colored all around. The animation is well above average to begin with and becomes spectacular during the magical battles. Speaking of which, the dreamworlds where the magical battles take place, with their really unconventional painting and animations, take on a nightmarish psychedelic and surreal quality.
My, what do I say about the story? If you stick around long enough, it doesn’t take long before you realize that this isn’t a simple Sailor Moon wannabe. Though the characters are somewhat archetypical, they aren’t completely generic, much less cliched or flat. Discussions between characters and internal monologues bring out real emotion and depth. The plot takes some increasingly dark and bizarre turns. As it went on towards the grand finale, I could only say to myself, “What the h—-?” and “Whoa.” It seriously compelled me to stream the entire series; it was just as well that I was left alone for so long.
Impressions of Assorted Animated Movies
Just as I said I would do in my last post, I streamed an assortment of animated movies while babysitting the dogs. I streamed quite a few movies this time, so let me cut the chit-chat and get all my impressions down in typing.
The Rabbi’s Cat is about, well, a rabbi and a cat in North Africa. One day, when the cat eats a parrot, he suddenly starts talking. The scenery shows particularly extensive detailing and hatching in the linework. The artwork for the characters shows a somewhat rough cartooning style. The animation is decent. The story, though, is downright haphazard and focused—apparently it was taken from assorted story arcs from the original comic. The movie aims at a more genteel kind of comedy, but it’s actually kind of dull—even the parody of Tintin is a major missed opportunity. The good news is that there is a real theme of human unity and difference, well as the search for life under God, and a commentary on flawed relations among different people, as seen in the friendships and relations among the characters here.
I already watched Alice once while briefly studying film early in my collegiate days and later saw a very amusing video review from Oancitizen, so now I decided that I’d sit down with this again. Though Alice is largely live-action, I am including it here because it is directed by respected animator Jan Švankmajer and features extensive stop-motion animation. You might have guessed that it is based on the novel Alice in Wonderland—but this is an even less straightforward adaptation than the Hobbit movies!
There are plenty of freakish-looking puppets, many of which are made from dead animals. Alice—or more specifically Alice’s mouth in extreme close-up—provides extensive narration, including the dialog for the other characters. The sets and props, as well as some random or violent actions, give a much grungier tone than is normally associated with Lewis Carroll’s story. Speaking of which, this motion picture is less a story than a surreal painting that moves, so it’s best to go in with that mindset and let the movie wash over you.
Some of you anime fans might recall the name Captain Harlock. Some time ago I read that there was a new computer-animated movie in the works and I was really interested in seeing it. I didn’t get around to reading any reviews, though, and I didn’t even know until now that it had a proper American release. I figured I might as well include Harlock: Space Pirate in our marathon.
There is an elaborate backstory that is already laid out in opening texts. Humans went out into space but ended up ruining planets. They tried to return home but a war erupted, after which a governing body was formed to prevent anyone from returning. An immortal space pirate has been a thorn in this regime’s side for decades. Within the actual movie this space pirate takes a new member into his crew.
This movie has quality graphics. It also has solid animation which unfortunately becomes rougher in the larger-scale battle scenes, though all of the action setpieces remain spectacular. There are plenty of impressive special effects and intricate settings too. This is reportedly Toei’s most expensive production to date and it shows. As far as the “uncanny valley” factor, I honestly have difficulty seeing that, possibly due to my Asperger’s Syndrome, so I’d have to leave it to others to decide how bad that issue is here.
The story in Harlock, though, is half-baked. There are all sorts of pulpy sci-fi elements and mumbo-jumbo seemingly thrown into a blender and the plot is not entirely coherent. It doesn’t do much to make me interested in the characters until much later in the movie. I will say that there is an honest effort at conveying the theme of death and rebirth.
Next up we have ParaNorman. The studio Laika has made a name for itself with stop-motion movies with a creepy edge. In this one, a young boy in a small town sees ghosts and regularly talks with them. He is rejected by most of his peers and estranged from his own family. Soon his uncle comes along and warns him of a witch’s centuries-old curse.
The animation is as smooth as possible for stop-motion puppets. It is downright lively, in fact. Everything is beautifully constructed and detailed. There is a number of fairly typical but still entertaining characters. The story actually takes a seriously emotional turn in the third section—here I should only say that it’s far from a typical zombie apocalypse. Early on even a very intelligent child can see that this is a story about the need to overcome fear and the need to for acceptance of those with different gifts—it does nearly become preachy, but it’s still affecting.
In The Triplets of Belleville, an old lady sees her grandson becoming deeply sad and lonely. She does her best to cheer him, giving him a dog and a bicycle. Over the years she trains him and eventually enters him into the Tour de France. Some gangsters kidnap him along with other cyclists and take them to a distant city, which is like a caricature of New York. The old lady and the dog follow him and eventually come across a long-retired trio of singers. Eventually they work together to rescue her grandson.
If that sounded like a spoiler, the story really is essentially that simple. It’s effective, though. The movie features a very goofy and exaggerated style of drawing and animation. Much of the humor, in fact, might come from just how goofy things look and move. I recall Genndy Tartakovsky saying recently that he went into animation because he liked to laugh at movement—one might see that the director of this movie had the same idea. There is very smooth and fluid animation throughout.
The last item for this post is The Emperor’s New Groove. Apparently this was originally planned as part of a string of dramatic epic musicals, but it ended up being changed into a silly little comedy. A bratty Incan emperor is the target of an assassination attempt gone wrong; instead of dying he turns into a llama. He ends up with a peasant whom he doesn’t like but is forced to go along with so that they can resolve this situation. There is some fantastic comedic animation and great voice-acting, particularly from David Spade, Eartha Kitt, and Patrick Warburton. There is lush scenery too. This should be a decent diversion for your family.
Impressions of The Big Boss, The Crow, and Skyfall
My parents are in Europe again and I’ve been put in charge of caring for the pets, so I will stream movies from Netflix while babysitting the dogs. Here are a few action movies that I streamed over the past couple of days.
The Big Boss comes first. Bruce Lee is in it. His character moves into a town that turns out to be run by mobsters and thugs.
The dub is spotty; sometimes it’s decent, sometimes it’s week, and in one spot the voices are completely mismatched. The cinematography and direction are utilitarian. The story is thin and it can become dull. For a movie like this we expect to see martial-arts fights. There are a fair number of them, and they are fast-pasted and viscerally exciting while sometimes being bloody. Bruce Lee shows the legitimate screen presence that helped establish his fame.
The Crow comes next. Bruce’s son Brandon is in it. His character is a guitarist who is assaulted and murdered along with his fiancé. He bursts out of the grave, accompanied by a crow (possibly actually a raven) and soon takes brutal revenge on his killers.
This movie features much slicker, even artful cinematography. The musical scoring is very moody and stirring. The villains come off as more hammy than menacing. Brandon Lee, much like his father, also has a real screen presence. The Crow’s superhuman abilities, though, reduce the tension in his confrontations with criminals. This fact, along with the downright viciously vengeful behavior towards the human antagonists, takes this down to the level of hollow revenge fantasy. In all fairness, a few scenes do try and humanize the Crow as well as young girl with whom he comes in contact. Many of you, though, would definitely not appreciate how the rape and murder of the guitarist’s fiance is treated as just another motivator—many people online have commented on how problematic that trope is.
Daniel Craig is completely unrelated, but nonetheless he’s the lead in Skyfall, the last movie that I’ll talk about in this post. This might actually be the only James Bond movie which I’ve really sat down to watch. James Bond is seemingly killed in a failed mission and the agency MI6 is in trouble. Bond discretely returns but he is troubled after many years of service.
It’s a James Bond movie. You should expect chases and gunfights. The opening chase in particular is creatively staged and intense. As for the story, the fact that it really shows the veteran Bond’s vulnerability what apparently sets this apart from other entries in the series. That does help lead this movie away from the goofy spy-movie stereotypes that the Austin Powers series parodied.
I already have several things queued up on my profile on Netflix. Next I’ll stream an assortment of animated movies. You can look forward to some little commentaries on those too.