Wildstar's Anime Review

Monday, May 09, 2005

2001 Big Apple Anime Festival


Metropolis is one of those movies where words cannot justly praise its merits, nor precisely explain its faults. You just have to see it for yourself. The latest in computer graphics and what appears to be traditional cell animation are both presented at the highest level: the character movement is as smooth as Disney; the backgrounds are as detailed as The Wings of Honneamise; the impact is as strong as Grave of the Fireflies; and the charm is all Tezuka (original creator of Metropolis, Astroboy and Kimba). Written by Akira’s Katsuhiro Otomo and directed by X’s Rintaro, this movie is the culmination of many years of work. Metropolis is as much an homage to the grandfather of anime, Osamu Tezuka, as it is an artistic exploit of its own. Watching this movie, whether you are sold on its merits or not, you get the feeling that its producers were attempting a grand endeavor to showcase what anime has always been about, while bravely taking the genre into its future. Metropolis is a marvelous melding of its classic roots and its advanced presentation. It’s an unexpected treat to see Tezuka’s 1950’s style animated so fully and expensively. The early American jazz soundtrack with English vocals also adds a very classy touch.

As anime is wont to be, the plot starts a bit confusedly and is quite challenging until the audience finally catches up. Knowledge of the underlying manga may be helpful in understanding the story; but ,it is not a prerequisite to fully experience the impact of its conclusion. The movie is set in modern complex, thriving, hectic metropolis, with a dark underbelly. The budding romantic relationship between the two protagonists is developed very effectively amid all this colorful “Tezuka”-styled chaos. The main themes of this movie are reminiscent of classic sci-fi such as Isaac Asimov’s I Robot and even older works. There are also quite significant political messages, as the underprivileged classes in this “metropolis” are the main catalysts for the story’s heart-wrenching conclusion. Rintaro pointed out that the movie ends on a note of hope for the future, but that’s little comfort as the closing credits roll.

Anime has evolved over the past two decades into a new medium. The most daring of anime directors have more in common with David Lynch (Twin Peaks) than with Disney. Anime’s best works demand attention and a proactive audience. Movies like Akira, Utena, Ghost in the Shell, Grave of the Fireflies, Wings of Honneamise, Jinroh, X and Metropolis are among the first foray into the future of popular world cinema. These works are both entertaining and thought provoking. Audiences who demand more intelligence with their entertainment should flock to see these works.

X The Movie

X (Japanese: X 1999) is a fantastic animated feature film from CLAMP and Rintaro (the director of other gothic and/or apocalypse features such as Harmageddon, Doomed Megalopolis, and Darkside Blues.) The movie begins midstream, as the forces of good and evil battle for the fate of the world. The combatants are, for lack of better words, extremely cool, dark and gothic; they don’t wear colorful hero suits; they don’t utter clichéd lines; and they don’t fear any amount death and destruction. This is not Hollywood. Your favorite cute character is more likely to be dead than show up in a sequel. And anyway, Rintaro doesn’t make too many sequels.

What’s great about X is not its plot. For that, you can read the manga. The movie is really only the climax of the entire story. Its strength lies in its eerie mood, which is set from the opening and is never relinquished. The entire story takes place at night. Lights and shadows and reflections play as strong a character as anyone else. The darkness serves to increase the impact of CLAMP’s artwork and Rintaro’s captivating images and direction. The delicate fall of pink rose blossoms is particularly stunning amid all the violence.

The fun part of X is that it features huge, cinematic action set pieces, and virtuoso camera work and direction. I was very impressed with its slick appearance and brilliant use of CG. This is a big budget movie. The explosions of magic, the destruction of cities and the battle of cosmic forces are nothing short of anime’s version of a fireworks show. If this is what you go to anime to see, you won’t be disappointed.

Over his career, Rintaro has jumped from one genre to another, often directing other’s works instead of his own creations. His works have been so diverse that even his most ardent fans know little about him. He’s been in the anime industry since beginning his career with Osamu Tezuka on Astro Boy. In his early twenties, he was already a director. In the 1970s, he directed Leiji Matsumoto’s masterpieces Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express. Lately, he’s been involved in disparate works from Final Fantasy to Alexander.

All of which begs the question: What is a “typical” Rintaro movie? What is his “style”? What are his main themes?

Looking over his work, there seems to be no single answer. But the hectic, cinematic, apocalyptic and artistic energy behind X and Metropolis proves one thing: even so long into his career, Rintaro is not ashamed to be an entertainer, on the cutting edge of a constantly evolving genre.

Detective Conan: The Last Wizard of the Century

Detective Conan: The Last Wizard of the Century was the cute crowd pleaser during the festival. While the organizers preferred to replay dubbed versions of last year’s X, Spriggan and Escaflowne, it was the subtitled Detective Conan and Metropolis that stole fan’s hearts. (Unfortunately, the atrocious X dub got laughed out of the theater.)

Detective Conan is a long running anime based on a manga for the young “kiddies” in Japan. Two other Conan movies, but only a dozen television episodes, have made their way through the fan community in the United States. So it has somewhat of a following already, but has not yet been acquired for distribution.

The Last Wizard of the Century captures all the cute elements of the TV show, while unexpectedly raising the emotional stakes in a couple scenes, which really makes this movie a winner.

Conan is the alias of a super-genius high school student who gets shrunk into a kid, after drinking something made by the bad guys, during an investigation. So he names himself Conan (after Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes), while keeping his real identity secret. The laughs come as he solves cases while handing the credit to the incompetent detectives. He also gets assistance from a scientist who creates little gadgets for him to use, such as super powered tennis shoes and a motorized skateboard. There is also lots of romance, since he keeps his true identity secret from his girlfriend, who is always around on the investigations. It seems that in each episode she nearly unveils him, or he nearly tells her the truth; but so far, she still doesn’t know what has happened to him.

It’s a fun show, and turned out to be a very enjoyable movie. Gambare Conan!


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