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My favourite part about movies/TV are its general creation of new worlds filled with entertaining adventures and fantastic characters. I wish I could have earned a career in creating cinematic features, but the next best thing was coming to IMDb :p.
I'm not very critical about films, while I can recognize a high quality of work in an acclaimed feature I majorly prefer to be entertained by a film/show.
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The list is presented in chronological order, without any ranking.
These credits generally work with works of adventure, fantasy, comedy and mystery.
The list below presents the films in chronological order.
A great introduction to Laurel and Hardy
I watched this as a young boy, and it was my first introduction to the bygone but beautiful genre of silent comedy, particularly the talented duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. While silent movie star Charlie Chaplin earned himself a place in history as a film pioneer with both comedic and dramatic tales, Laurel and Hardy set themselves a solid reputation as one of the earliest and best comic couples in film history.
When you watch a silent film (particularly a comedy), you need to keep in mind that it's an early form of cinema from a less complicated and crowded era. There won't be any dialogue, and there won't be any deep theme or philosophical/political commentary, just a set of scenes performed with skill and passion (particularly gags). I myself learnt to appreciate the simplicity of actors performing a basic but entertaining feature. And Laurel and Hardy were one of the best at simple entertainment, as this feature shows.
The feature is a cross between a documentary and an archive collection, featuring clips from Laurel and Hardy's best 1920s silent films, with clips from a few unrelated silent films that pad out the feature (though maybe they should have used more Laurel/Hardy features instead). With this kind of feature you just have to sit back and watch and enjoy yourself.
The narration in the feature goes on for longer than needed with some unnecessary commentary, but otherwise does an adequate job. The original soundtrack that accompanies the feature is a wonderful ragtime symphony that does justice to the gags Laurel and Hardy perform.
It makes a great introduction to Laurel and Hardy and I recommend it to anyone who's a fan of their work.
An epic if slightly overblown spectacle
This film was touted as the final installment in the Yamato saga, a space opera franchise that began in 1974 and had completed ten years. At this point, the Yamato crew had gone through so many adventures in space on the edge of peril that this one comes out as a relatively above-average adventure for them. Bringing back a beloved but long- dead character through some contrived means, only for the said character to give it up for his crew, also sets the story and its drama back somewhat.
However, the film makes up for its problems by being one big space adventure, with the epic action and scale it deserves: glorious space vistas, fantastic planets and spacecraft, and fantastic action sequences, all backed up by incredible animation that still looks great today and grand orchestral music that captures the intense atmosphere of the scenes. Even if the plot is rather average, this film provides a wonderful spectacle to see.
In the end the film marks a grand finale to the original Yamato show; it would later undergo a remake in 2012. The film does the Yamato saga great credit and honor, and it's an enjoyable watch for any fan of Yamato or space operas.
Le huitième jour (1996)
A beautiful Belgian film that everyone should watch
I came across this film by chance on television many years ago. I'm glad I saw it; it's a beautiful Belgian film that has such warmth and tears of humanity in it.
The film is based on two men who meet and become friends: Georges, an autistic person who has spent most of his life in an institution, leaves to visit his family and encounters Harry, a successful businessman who has neglected his family. The performances by their actors (Daniel Auteuil and Pascal Duquenne) are wonderfully passionate and complement each other very well, they make such a perfect couple that both actors shared a Cannes award for their acting.
The film parallels the French literary classic "The Little Prince", where two different characters travel and bond together. One is steeped in the harshness of reality and learns to appreciate kindness and the wonders of life; the other is a childlike figure who follows fantasy and learns about maturity and sacrifice of adulthood. In both tales the two must part ways in a bittersweet ending (alas), as one is far too unreal to last long in the world, but at least his presence has changed the other's life for the better.
The two actors are so good that one nearly overlooks the director who gave them a great setup. The direction and story, both done by Jaco Van Dormael, provide a wonderful yet reasonable setting that blends magic and reality in a masterful and subtle manner.
I only saw this film once, but it has stayed with me throughout the years. It's one of those special films that everyone should watch.
Fascinating, but far too brief
When you are trapped in a virtual reality game, the natural thing to do is to find a way out. But when your VR persona is that of the most powerful demon sorcerer ever, that's when things get interesting.
The whole show is carried on the shoulders of the title character, the Overlord. Satoshi Hino gives a terrific dual performance as the mage demon master Ainz Ooal Gown and as the human player Momonga providing a monologue and narrative. Ainz serves as the anti-heroic character who strives to conquer the world for his own desire, and Momonga is the simple player who only wishes to locate other gamesters like himself in the new world. It's a fascinating character and Hino does him great credit with his voice.
Beyond the Overlord himself, the rest of the cast are not as developed, but they get enough time and character to stand out; Yumi Hara in particular makes a lasting impression as a passionate demon who gets emotionally carried away frequently. The animation and music is also above average and complements the story well.
The show, however, is far too brief to tell its story adequately, and so is confined to introducing its characters and the world and only a brief space to show them off, and then ends on a cliffhanger. This is an incredible story that deserves more than 13 episodes, and its being cut off so early makes the whole fantasy tragically disappointing. Thankfully, the story is carried on in the manga that runs in parallel to the show, so if you want more you should check out that comic.
As brief as it is, the show is still a fantastic saga that deserves a lot of love and makes for a great watch.
Bob Morane (1998)
A small but stellar adventure show
Bob Morane is a French pulp-fiction hero who made his debut in the 1950s. A former soldier turned freelance mercenary, he travels the world having fantastic adventures (from terrorism conspiracies to time-travel) and encountering all sorts of incredible characters (the Oriental triad leader Ming, the terrorist group S.M.O.G. and the Time Patrol, among others).
Morane was turned into an animated show in 1998, produced by French studios. The show drew major inspiration from the classic Bruce Timm-DC Comics cartoons on at the time (Batman, Superman) and thus was able to keep its dramatic tension and retro atmosphere, making it a stellar adventure show and a great ride from start to finish.
It was a great show, but it only lasted one season. This was partly because the French couldn't keep up the budget for another season; and partly because Morane's adventures were episodic and exciting, but didn't go into developing or evolving the characters and so they stayed fairly bland and unappealing.
Give it a chance whenever it airs on TV, which is once in a while. It's always good for a watch.
Lupin III (2015)
A successful modernizing of Lupin
Lupin III, the cops-and-robbers saga that began in the late 1960s, has gone through several iterations in its long history. This new series is the most contemporary one to date, with the ambition of using past iterations of the saga (notably combining anti-heroic and chivalrous Lupin) in a new format to provide a blend of new thrills and old favourites.
The show is fully set in the land of Italy, which has a unique culture (from the seedy Mafioso to the glorious Renaissance) that makes it a great setting for the Lupin cast to caper about. The show also presents two new characters: the thrill-seeking billionaire Rebecca Rosselini who marries Lupin for the challenge he presents to her, and the secret agent Nyx who frequently crosses paths with Lupin while he goes about his work. Both characters are well- developed and present a refreshing foil to Lupin's rivals Fujiko and Zenigata, making things more unexpected and exciting. There is also one character that sets in motion a grand plan involving all of Italy...
However, the show is still vintage Lupin, and there are a fair amount of episodes that are dedicated to individual adventures starring Lupin or his acquaintances. These episodes do not take away from the main plot and are pretty enjoyable, presenting a wide variety of escapades from an assassination plan to a pet dog running off. These stories do justice to the Lupin cast in the modern era; they were always slightly anachronistic due to their 60s-70s origin, and these stories enable them to adequately manage contemporary times with their unique attitude and style. Speaking for myself I find these stories to be the best part of the show, Lupin is best enjoyed in such tales. And special mention must be made to bringing back Lupin composer Yuji Ohno, who not only revives the iconic Lupin theme song but adds some beautiful atmospheric Italian tunes to the show.
The show has its problems, though. The aforementioned secret character and his plan are basically inspired by the mastermind of the 1977 film, which can reduce the appeal for those who know the Lupin history. As I said above, Lupin is best enjoyed in small-scale episodic adventures.
I also find the artwork to be slightly extravagant; the artwork is definitely beautiful, but the character design tries too hard to replicate the special work of Lupin artist Hayao Miyazaki. Lupin's artwork is primarily sketchy and cartoonish, which helps to enhance the fun and noir-esque element of Lupin. To be fair, the previous Lupin show THE WOMAN CALLED FUJIKO MINE had beautiful artwork that set a difficult standard to match; this show just barely manages to be as good.
And on a personal level, I dislike how serious Zenigata was in the show; it was a matter of improving him from a comical but tenacious inspector into a policeman who could be taken seriously, but I do miss the comical antics Lupin and Zenigata carried on with each other.
In the end, the show proves to be a successful modernizing of Lupin, and a worthy watch for both old and new fans of the unstoppable thief.
Suburban Bliss (1996)
A hearty and enjoyable comedy about life in a newborn South Africa
When South Africa became independent in the early 1990s, it began to try out all sorts of things, its own films/television studios among them. SUBURBAN BLISS is one of the early sitcoms the nation produced, and is a hearty and enjoyable show about life in a newborn South Africa.
The story is simple, if rather relevant to its era: two families, one black and one white-Afrikaans, become neighbors and co-partners and try to stay together and endure each other despite their cultural differences causing comical conflict, a major issue at the time the show was broadcast.
Particular mention goes to the affectionate rivalry that exists between the elders of each family, the elderly Boer and the African matriarch. Not only does their arguing banter make great comedy, but it never gets too serious and the two frequently stand beside each other in tight situations. And in a nation that suffered horribly under apartheid this means a lot, that two people formed of that generation could still get along.
The show is fairly well-written and well-acted, with some good gags and strong performances. However, things got a little boring around the latter half of the show, when an unnecessary romantic drama was introduced between the youngest members of each family.
It is admittedly not as strong as the American or British comedies from the Northern hemisphere, but it is a national comedy that has its own flavor and humor and gives fairly solid laughs.
A brief but magnificent James Earl Jones show
Any feature that stars the stellar actor James Earl Jones makes for a great watch, no matter how obscure or brief that feature is. This feature was Jones' first TV show, and it aired around the time he was skyrocketing with the success of Star Wars.
Jones plays police captain Woody Paris, an officer who must tread a razor's edge between pursuing criminals and being tied down by orders from less-than-moral superiors. Jones plays Paris magnificently, bringing out his passion and drive for upholding order, yet also showing his warmth and humanity. While Jones carries the whole show, he is given adequate support from a supporting cast who do well in their roles without getting overshadowed; special mention must be given to Lee Chamberlain, who plays Paris's wife with grace and charm.
The only real issue the show has is that it's too similar to other cop shows. But then, it only lasted one season and never really had a chance to develop its own identity. Still, what basic stories are told are done well with excellent drama and entertainment.
Give this show a view whenever you get the opportunity to do so. It's a great Jones show.
The Oldest Rookie (1987)
A brief and obscure but enjoyable show
The show is a brief but enjoyable buddy-cop show about two cops, middle-aged Ike Porter and his younger partner Tony Jonas, running around solving cases. It's nothing too extraordinary except for the idea of Porter, an over-the-hill bureaucrat who takes to life on the street and loves it; there is enough drama with him dealing with the new life to make it work, but in the end it's more a basic but fun cop adventure.
Porter and Jonas are excellently portrayed by Paul Sorvino and DW Moffett, who starred in this long before they received acclaim in the 1990s. They make a wonderful duo with sparkling chemistry, and it's worth watching them on screen dealing with the cases they are assigned.
Sadly this show is just too obscure and out of circuit for the general audience, which is a shame because it deserves to be seen and enjoyed by more people.
Space Battleship Yamato (2010)
A fairly good adaptation of a classic cartoon
In the 1970s Leiji Matsumoto created a sci-fi manga-anime called SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, which told the adventures of an Earth spacecraft sent on a quest through space to save its world. The saga became a great hit in Japan, ushered in the space opera genre of anime, and became one of the first animes to be seen in the West (under the title of STAR BLAZERS).
This film is a fairly good live-action adaptation of a classic cartoon, which is a genre known for misfires and disappointments. Its strength lies in that the story is presented faithfully enough to the source material (a trip to save the Earth, a young cadet matures into a soldier and hero), but enables some interesting upgrades made that effectively work out (the alcoholic Dr Sado portrayed by an actress, the robot Analyzer given a palmtop mode). It was also a nice touch to feature voice actors from the original cartoon in major roles in the film.
The story sadly also comes up short on a few changes, though. The original work dealt with the alien invaders the Gamilons as a parallel alien race to Earth, with their leader Desslar as an honorable villain who eventually becomes an ally to Earth. The film pushes this aside to make the Gamilons an unstoppable insect swarm; it was probably a necessary move to put the Yamato against incredible odds, but the story is reduced in scope by only focusing one race of warriors and their quest, in comparison to multiple races and their dynamics. Compared to the manga and cartoon adaptations this comes off a little disappointing, but to be fair an independent person who didn't see those works won't really care about that.
The cast perform their roles competently and loyally. The VFX are an interesting mix of practical sets (ship interiors, caverns) and computer-generated imagery (space vistas, starship fights). The music is a wonderful orchestral homage to the original show's stellar tunes.
All in all, it's a great adaptation that pays homage to the cartoon/comic it came from, and by itself is an above-average space adventure tale.
Always san-chôme no yûhi (2005)
A nice period piece filled with hope of things getting better
In 1974, manga writer Ryohei Saigan created a comic called "San Chome no Yuhi" ("Sunset on Third Street"). The comic revolved around the day-to-day adventures in a Tokyo neighborhood in the period of 1955-1964. The manga is now one of the longest-running comics in Japan, and created an animated series and a trilogy of live-action films, of which this is the first film.
The film works best as a period piece. No expense was spared to recreate the era of 1958 Japan. The people of Japan are most proud of that era: it was after World War 2, when they had been broken and defeated; like a slow-burning phoenix, with hard work, ambitious dreams and their own indomitable will, they rise up to stand tall and proud. The film is filled with this spirit: whatever tragedies they may suffer, they will never give up but keep pushing onwards, filled with the hope of things getting better.
The story and acting is good and solid. The great appeal of this film are its universal and optimistic cast; these are characters you feel you know your whole life: the man of the house who works to feed his family, the kindhearted housewife, the smart but innocent children, and so many others. This film gives a little more detail and background to the whole cast, while the next two films has two main families to focus on (which rather takes away from the ensemble story).
The only real flaw with this film is that it's too intimate and anthological for a motion picture: it works better in a serial format, like a comic or a TV show (which it already was). Also unless you have an interest/knowledge of Japanese culture, it's not really anything interesting (I myself came across this only because of the reputation of the manga it was based on).
The film ends with a sunset on the residents of Third Street, which both signifies the end of an experience and the promise of a new day and new experiences. That is, pretty much, the core of a slice of life work: it's all in a day's work, compiling of both the usual and unusual, the magical and the mundane, but always a day full of incident and adventure.
Arei no kagami (1985)
A brief but curious little relic
This sci-fi feature was screened at a science fair in 1985 Japan as a means to promote learning about space and the universe. Nowadays it's little more than a 1980s space fantasy feature, but it still makes for an interesting watch.
Anybody who knows sci-fi anime writer Leiji Matsumoto and his works can recognize the hallmarks in this piece: an elegant long-haired lady, a young boy companion, a world torn apart by conflict, a journey through space, a cosmic phenomenon, and a prayer for peace. However, it's done in an original and interesting manner and the story carries enough dramatic and philosophical weight to tie things together. It has the potential to be a better story if it could have lasted longer.
The animation is above average, given that it has some adequate computer graphics (in the 80s such VFX were still unrefined). The music is the main draw here, with two vintage 80s songs that are great to listen to.
All in all, it's a brief but curious little relic that represents the 1980s and its love for space fantasy.
A nice and enjoyable Christian anime
In the 1980s, the Christian Broadcasting Network produced two anime shows, SUPERBOOK and THE FLYING HOUSE, as part of a campaign to spread Christianity in Japan. The shows both centered on a group of children, who were taken through fantasy means straight into the midst of the Bible's fables, where they (and the viewer) would experience these tales in person and gain an understanding of their morals.
Both shows stand in the vein of "religious sci-fi" and are equally enjoyable, but personally I would say this show had the better format of the two: one show was getting sucked into an enchanted Bible in search of a missing friend, while this show was actual time- traveling to the times of the Bible; thus the travelers have a little more involvement and impact on the tale (carefully done so that it doesn't really change the original Bible tale). The animation and voice acting are fairly above average for a 1980s show, and is nice enough to support the stories and make them a worthwhile watch.
Speaking for myself, I grew up in a home that respected all religions, and so I was able to enjoy this show and found it neither offensive, nor over-preachy or self-glorifying (which admittedly a lot of religions tend to be). The stories in this series are presented as fairly simple tales of hope, faith, kindness and grace, qualities we could all do with in the world. On the negative side, a show like this may only be enjoyable if you're a Christian or a relatively religious person.
If you're prepared to give a chance for God and morals, then you can take a look at this show. I can promise that you won't be disappointed.
Toransufômâ: Kârobotto (2000)
A little-known but enjoyable chapter of the Transformers saga
The Transformers saga – thirty years of a war between shapeshifting alien robots, the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons – has had many iterations in its history. It's gone from a fun adventurous cartoon in the 1980s, to a live-action series of brutal war films. This particular show is perhaps the most little-known chapter of the whole saga, but is able to stand on its own as an enjoyable work in its own right.
This show was one of the first Japanese TF shows to be brought over to the US; it was part of the anime boom that occurred in the 1990s and 2000s. It features all the trademarks of the anime genre: power- ups, a rival to the hero, a ton of goofy comedy from both the heroes and villains, and gradual escalation into a climactic final battle. However, these trademarks are scripted fairly well and generally provide maximum entertainment, and the characters acquire enough screen time and development to stand out as basic but distinct. Two of the most memorable characters in the show are the evil clone Scourge and the bumbling henchman Sky-Byte; one is a legitimately menacing threat to all around him, and the other is a lovable oaf that endears himself with his comic antics.
However, because the show is basic anime it can come off as predictable and dull, and also Transformers (which is basically robots beating up each other) is an acquired taste that only a specific group of people (generally fans who grew up with the TF cartoons/toys) can enjoy. Still, if you are able to overlook these issues, you will be able to greatly enjoy yourself with this show.
All In all, this was a truly underrated part of Transformers, and one that deserves more love.
Quiet and caters to a specific audience, but a unique and refreshing experience.
Araki Joh's story BARTENDER tells the story of Ryu Sasakura, an exceptional bartender who uses his knowledge of people and cocktails to aid troubled customers. This simple premise provides an interesting and effective means to explore many aspects of (Japanese) life: the personal crises Japanese people face in their life, along with the history and culture of Japan, all linked together through Ryu providing the right beverage to help the customer gain a better perspective of life.
The series' stories are mainly down-to-earth and simple, an unusual but refreshing change for a genre noted for its larger-than-life adventures. The people are ordinary and realistic, with common problems that we can understand and relate. In addition (and in an unusual contrast), the show employs an unconventional theatrical style: monologues from people that describe their inner thoughts, documentary-style vignettes (usually on drinks) and moody atmospheric scenes; this gives the show a surreal look and appeal, comparable to an unusual cocktail mixed from differing drinks.
However, the show is admittedly a little uneven. The premise – that the right drink can sort out people's troubled lives – requires good writing for this to work, which this show doesn't always provide. At times a few stories aren't written well and thus the show's staged parts make those stories look artificial and contrived. Also, some episodes have a strong emphasis on Japanese culture, which can perhaps confuse and alienate non-Japanese viewers. But these are issues which can be overlooked, for the show generally deals in human beings and their lives and excels in understanding and explaining them.
The animation is rather basic and at best above average, but that's OK; this type of story wasn't meant to have overly stylish visuals. The voice acting is adequate, nothing that stands out but again this isn't a flamboyant show. The music is probably what stands out the most; it's a fairly jazzy and elegant track that sets the urbane and cultured atmosphere of a Japanese bar.
On the whole, it's a show that reflects its title character: rather quiet and catering to a specific audience, but a unique and refreshing experience.
My Last Five Girlfriends (2009)
A tragicomic view at dating
Love is not simple, as the film's protagonist Duncan discovers to his increasing despair over the course of five love affairs. It's something most people already know, however in this case the lesson comes in the manner of a satirical but dismal take on the classic British romance comedy.
The film presents a tragicomic view at the world of dating, with Duncan having relationships with five women, all of which go bad. The first two don't get very far, the third comes to an acrimonious end through a dispute, the fourth runs out of steam, and the fifth is where the most drama comes in. This would be a bitterly bleak tale if it wasn't for Duncan's comic commentary: he presents the sad situation in a sardonic, sly manner that makes the situation funny for us, but retains its sadness and dignity where he is concerned. The fact that it's so true to life for a lot of people is the main appeal of this tale: a lot of us have trouble finding and being with people, and can get disillusioned at how difficult it gets.
Brendan Patricks carries the film as Duncan, whose initially bright outlook on life slowly darkens and becomes more melancholy with each failed romance. The rest of the cast are more or less adequate, acting as subjects to explore a specific dilemma Duncan goes through; it may have been better for each of the girls to have given their own views so that they're less sketchy, but then the point is that Brendan doesn't understand their perspective, and so it works out in a painfully realistic and understandable manner.
The film ends on a bleak note, with Duncan deciding to just move on with life and away from love for the sake of his sanity... and then the adventure continues, as he meets someone new. He represents the eternal lover in quest, through hope and despair, of an ideal soulmate to be with. And that's what most of us romantics are.
Cleopatra D.C. (1989)
The enjoyable adventures of a corporate heiress
Manga writer Kaoru Shintani has had an interesting career, having worked on stories of varied genres: military drama (AREA 88), journeys of self-discovery (HIDARI NO CLOCK), and comedy (I DREAM OF MIMI). Renown seems to elude him though, I guess because his work is rather ordinary by anime standards. That doesn't mean it's not enjoyable, though.
This feature tells the adventures of Cleopatra Corns, a corporate heiress who prefers play to work and who has various adventures. The stories focus mostly on corporate thrills and the race against time to stop deadly plots, and in general are adequately written: there are the mandatory comedy and half-naked girls common to anime, balanced with Cleo's fast thinking and employment of resources as she outwits her enemies; however, there is one above-average story involving a dangerous but lonely girl whom Cleo befriends and tries to help, that is well worth watching.
The artwork is beautiful, featuring elegant character designs and stunning backgrounds of cities and vistas. The voice cast is also very good; Maria Kawamura leads an all-star cast as the bubbly beauty Cleopatra. And there is a distinct 1980s vintage atmosphere throughout the feature, which is very nice (in my opinion) or very dated, depending on your view.
All in all, it's a generally decent and fun watch.
The Addams Family (1992)
A wonderfully eccentric show
This was one of my favourite cartoons growing up. I loved this show so much I wanted to be like an Addams when I grew up; a few years of isolation showed me that Addams are only feasible and popular on the TV.
The show was one in a long line of features centering on Charles Addams's famous family of eccentrics. It was a mix of cartoonish unconventional fun and unusually adult humor, which contributes greatly to the creepy charisma surrounding the Addams. This cartoon series was created in the aftermath of the 1991 Addams Family film, so it incorporates some of its elements: family dances, an snarky Wednesday, and most significantly an antagonist to the family and especially Uncle Fester – in this case the underwear manufacturer Norman Meyer, who does his darndest to bring the family down but inevitably fails due to their twisted lifestyle and personalities.
John Astin is the life and soul of the show as the wonderfully upbeat Gomez; he had earlier played Gomez in the 1960s show, and his enthusiasm and zest for the role spreads through the show and makes it a joyful experience. The rest of the cast are good in their roles, with Rip Taylor being a standout as the gleefully explosion- happy Uncle Fester.
I can't call the show perfect though, even within its field of black/absurdist comedy. The show doesn't do well unless the focus is on Gomez or Fester; when it's on the rest of the cast it's a fairly basic premise on family togetherness and tolerance to resolve a crisis befitting the specific family member. Also, the show can be seen to run out of creative ideas around the half-way mark, which I guess was why it only lasted 21 episodes. Still, when the show is good it's a wonderfully eccentric show and an eternal treat to watch.
All in all, I can never get tired of enjoying this show. Long live the Addams!
Gera gera boos monogatari (1987)
Basic, but good solid fun
There isn't really anything too amazing or outstanding about this show. It's a basic "talking animal" cartoon, where an ox named Ollie keeps a farm going with the mixed help and interference from his fellow animal friends.
However, the show is good and solid fun: the jokes are easy to understand and laugh at. And it has a unique multicultural background: it was based on a Dutch comic, animated by a Japanese company (director Hiroshi Sasagawa is the genius behind SPEED RACER and VOLTRON) and is dubbed in English by a veteran voice cast from Saban Entertainment (the studio behind POWER RANGERS).
On the whole, it's a good watch for children, and for older viewers it's enjoyable once in a while.
Trinity Blood (2005)
Intricate and intriguing, but tragically incomplete
Two races form in the fallout of a world war – humans and vampires (humans who evolved from colonies on Mars) – and maintain a fragile truce. However, both sides have enemies who would break the truce and enable their respective race subjugate or annihilate the other. It takes the intervention of Abel Nightroad, a super-vampire far beyond either race, to ensure peace between both races.
This show stands out from the standard vampire anime for being a space opera. The story is a grand and epic tale, combining elements of sci-fi, horror, political intrigue, drama and even a touch of humour. The use of religious terms/themes makes this an intriguing and intricate story to explore. The characters are well-written and have interesting background and characterization to explore, and their voice actors are well-chosen (Troy Baker in particular is wonderful as the complex protagonist Abel). And the art is magnificently ornate and expressive, capturing the baroque world and its engaging characters in a stunning format.
The story lasted only one season, though. It was dealt a heavy blow by the untimely passing of writer Sunao Yoshida, and though the comic continued the story it didn't really feel right; the anime had to end where it did. It's a tragically underrated and incomplete anime. Also the show tends to draw influence from other shows (TRIGUN, TO TERRA, HELLSING, VAMPIRE HUNTER D); it's only a side- effect of the incredibly abundant anime industry, but these inevitable comparisons can take away from how unique and wonderful the show is.
On the whole, it's a very intricate and ornate anime that would have turned out to be one of the greatest vampire stories ever told, had fate been kinder to it.
Uneven but above average story about two lost souls who become a family
This show, airing around 2005, got me back into anime after a long time. For the most part it's a fairly predictable anime, but there are parts of it that make it stand out.
The story is fairly average but adequate, being mostly a homage to THE MATRIX: rebels fighting an oppressive authority (two characters are even named Larry and Andy) within a confined system, a villain whose ulterior motive is to break free of that system, and a heroine who develops her own identity and ultimately becomes a hero to save her family. The story also has an uneven pace at times, sliding between an epic battle for the fate of a world and an intimate look at the protagonists' day-to-day experiences. Still, for the most part it tells its story competently enough.
But the real heart of the tale is the bond between the bounty hunter Roy and the amnesiac Solty, and for me is the most satisfying part. All the other plot angles form a backdrop to this angle, about two lost souls who become a family. Gruff loner Roy Revant is a widower, while Solty is a lost waif who doesn't even have a memory. The way the two grow closer together across the series – defending each other, helping and relying on each other, and even hurting each other but making amends later (this one is fairly one-sided, on Roy's part naturally) – is maturely and carefully handled, and comes to a heartwarming payoff.
The English voice cast is very well done, in my opinion Christopher Sabat (Roy) and Carrie Savage (Solty) did some of their best performances in this anime. And the artwork, while the blend of hand-drawn and computer-generated animation is a little awkward, wonderfully shows off the steampunk setting. The soundtrack is atmospheric and jazzy, with some great tracks that fit the mood of whichever scene it's being used for (the closing track "Float Beyond the Sky" is a favourite of mine).
On the whole, it's a nice story, with a touching family angle. It's definitely worth a watch.
Basic, but gives an interesting insight into Japanese dating culture
This is the middle instalment of a trilogy of three features, all focusing around a group of five girl friends. The first, GRADUATION, was about the girls leaving school and balancing the end of their childhood with the beginning of their adulthood. The second, MARRIAGE, was about the girls searching for a soulmate to spend their lives with. The third, SAILOR VICTORY, was an outright adventure in the line of giant robots and magical girls.
This feature is divided into two tales, both of which deal with finding a good husband to marry and settle down with. The first is about an introverted office worker who is dragged into dating by her friends; the second is about an aloof executive who goes on an arranged date. The stories, to be honest, are painfully bland and standard; there's very little character/plot development and everything just works itself out at the end with no issues at all. The first story is better than the second, but only marginally and that's because it has more likable characters.
The artwork and music are pretty and above average, but they can't help with the stories; it's bizarre that the female characters look like grown women, while the male characters look like teenagers. What does help, interestingly, are a series of vignettes that explain Japanese dating protocols. They add an interesting documentary-like feel to the feature; the average Japanese viewer is somewhat prepared for future marriage, and average the non-Japanese viewer gets an interesting insight into Japanese dating culture.
Do not expect anything too amazing or revolutionary from this, and you will probably enjoy it for a once-in-a-while watch. I enjoyed the first tale, anyway.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Technically brilliant but sadly patchy adaptation of a classic spy tale
John le Carre's spy story TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY is one of the greatest spy tales ever told. It traces the search for a Russian spy within the British Secret Service, and exposes the cynicism and emptiness that forms a part of a spy's life. It was magnificently adapted into a TV series in the 1970s, and it was adapted into a feature film in 2011, with sadly a little less success.
Technically, the film is brilliant. It took six months to edit the film together into a stunning presentation; it's filled with flashbacks, long pan/zoom shots, and montages that present the impression of a puzzle seen through a scope, from which the viewers must look in and work out the truth at the heart of the events (and even then they won't get the full story). The production design and cinematography looks suitably bleak and cramped, recreating the wintry feel of Cold War London.
The cast play characters who betray and are betrayed, in various ways and levels. Gary Oldman is a standout as the restrained mild- mannered protagonist George Smiley, and he leads a cast of veteran actors – Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Mark Strong and David Dencik, among others – who do well in the roles they are assigned. If you've read le Carre's novel there isn't anything too special except for Oldman and Cumberbatch, whose roles are slightly different than expected (Smiley is more emotional, while Guillam is a homosexual), which lends depth to their performances.
Sadly, the film falls short where the story is concerned. The story simply needs more than two hours to be told in an appropriate manner; for a TV series this worked out fine, but for a feature film a lot of things had to be compressed, shifted and cut out for the sake of running time, and it overall leaves the story in a sadly patchy, watered-down version of what it used to be and should be. This adaptation has less suspense, is more complicated (at least for those who don't get the story) and feels more hopeless and futile than the book and TV series (which at least presented a ray of hope for things getting better).
The film is great as a period piece, and forms a technically superb work, successfully capturing the cynical and bleak times of the Cold War. But story-wise, the tale is sadly as bleak and disappointing as the film's setting. It's good for a watch once in a while, but viewers are better off watching the TV series.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979)
One of the best spy stories ever done
There are generally two types of spy fiction. One type is the larger-than-life adventure of a charming hero who battles nefarious and mysterious enemies bent on world control. The other type is a more realistic, bleaker tale of a spy battling in a world where his own allies would turn on him, for something that most people hold insignificant or irrelevant. This story falls under the second type, but while not so entertaining is one of the best spy stories ever done.
Based on the classic spy novel by John Le Carre, this series tells the story as follows: In the 1970s, a fiasco at the British Secret Service shakes things up, forcing the head of the Service out and all his subordinates, including protagonist George Smiley. In his place steps in Percy Allenine, a pompous and arrogant official who smugly claims access to a source of Soviet intelligence that will revive the Service's reputation. However, a maverick spy named Ricki Tarr appears with information about a Russian spy hidden within the Service; he is dismissed, but raises enough concern for George Smiley to be recruited to make an investigation.
The story is intelligently written, but the true power of the story lies in its emotional impact. Smiley was thrown out of work and then dragged back to clean up a mess he had nothing to do with; he has to deal with insufferable superiors who want to stay secure with no blame attached to them; his allies go through nightmares that cost them greatly; and finally, when the mole is revealed, the weary cynicism that led him to commit treason against (this character is one of the most ironic and tragic characters despite what he's done). And yet, Smiley and his allies doggedly strive for something pure and noble in the miry sordid world they live in, and their eventual victory and reward, while it may be small, is made sweeter and grants a touch of hope.
This miniseries moves at a slow but masterful pace, having Smiley trace out the mole's ruinous track and identity in the manner of a detective story; the adaptation is done wonderfully, with expert expansion and removal of the novel's passages into a solid unique work. The cast is wonderful, with Alec Guiness leading an all-star ensemble; Guiness who usually plays a lean, dignified Brit, delivers a masterful performance as the meek, frog-like Smiley. Ian Richardson does a wonderfully ironic role as Bill Haydon and Ian Bannen is haunting as the wounded agent Jim Prideaux. A particular standout is Patrick Stewart as Smiley's enemy the Soviet spy Karla, who commands intensity and menace without uttering a single word throughout his appearance.
On the whole, if you want to see how real spies do their work, this is the show for you to watch. It will not be exciting or easy, but it will be worth the watch.
Sayonara zetsubô sensei (2007)
The ultimate in Japanese satire anime
SAYONARA ZETSUBO SENSEI tells the story of a depressed teacher named Nozomu Itoshiki (whose name means "beyond hope" or "despair"), who leads a class of students who are just as mentally disordered as he is. There's a perfectionist schoolgirl who hacks at everything she deems imperfect, a mute girl who only spews abuse through her phone, a stalker fixated on her beloved teacher... and the most dangerous of them all, the cute but psychotic girl who sees everything in an optimistic but insane manner, which ultimately boomerangs on Itoshiki and almost always lands him in trouble.
This show has a simple enjoyable premise and some interesting characters, but beneath it lies the ultimate in Japanese satire. It hosts all the classic elements that make up a great satire: eccentric characters in absurd situations, which center on a commentary on some fault... and in this show, nearly everything gets held up for fault-finding. The show pokes fun of a vast variety of issues: the cast and the mental disorders they are named and based on (eg Nozomu Itoshiki), word puns (flipping switches in people), the social afflictions plaguing Japan (trolling), well-known films, and even itself on a few occasions.
The sparkling and biting wit is one of the best things about this show, and is wonderfully backed up by stellar animation, enchanting music and a wonderful voice cast. Hiroshi Kamiya is an instant hit as the titular Zetsubo-Sensei, who stumbles through situations with a wonderful range of despair and humor. He is expertly partnered with Ai Nonaka as Kafuka, the incredibly sweet but twisted schoolgirl who loves Mr Itoshiki and loves to make him miserable.
The show is not flawless, though. Much of the humor is based on Japanese culture (eg the name of Nozomu Itoshiki), and so it would be hard for anyone not familiar with Japanese culture to understand it, let alone laugh at it. Also at times, there is a sense that if this story took itself more seriously it would be better than how it has turned out. And around the show's third season, things start to feel worn and dull; it should be noted that at the time the studio was having production problems, but you could only do a fairly one- note satire comedy for so long (look at SOUTH PARK and the not- always- great changes it's had to go through in its long run).
If satire is your forte, then this show is for you. Even if it isn't, it's still got some great stories and characters to watch and enjoy... and it will leave you in despair at how good but unknown it is.