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Double Feature Review: Zeta Gundam (1985-86) and Char’s Counterattack (1988)

Posted in anime, future + scifi, japan, reviews/opinions, television on March 4, 2014 by reccaphoenix

**Note: I wrote this post some time ago and somehow neglected to publish it.  Finally got around to it, put in some minor updates.**

Continuing with my recent trend of Gundam-shows-by-Tomino/Universal Century Gundam shows, I immediately started watching Zeta (the direct, 5-years-later sequel to MS Gundam) and followed up with Char’s Counterattack.
*note for nerds: I realize that I’m not being totally chronological here: Double Zeta review possibly to come later, I’m in the middle of that one now*

If this review had to be one word: Wow.  If this review had to be one sentence: Zeta has everything that MS Gundam has…times 3.

First, and least importantly, there is at least 3 times the face slapping and punching.  There was enough to base a whole drinking game on.  Amuro got his fair share of the “Bright slap” back in MS Gundam and now Kamille gets his.  Kamille is initially even more of a whiny little bastard than Amuro was, so I can’t say that he didn’t deserve some of them, but I started feeling sorry for him when he gets the crap beat out of him by Wong-san, especially because that was partially motivated by Haro.  Haro gets too much abuse in this show.

3 times the drama. At least:  the Newtype emotional drama, which really only played into the final episodes of MS Gundam, takes center stage here.  There are more Newtypes…and many female Newtypes.  You can see what’s coming.

This brings me to another point.  Gundam series have become increasingly derivative of Zeta and MS Gundam since those shows aired, even if the new series are “alternate universe” affairs.  And sadly, even Zeta jumps on that train a little.  The first time we had newtype love + tragic death in a 3-person fight (via Lalah/Amuro/Char) it was sad.  This time, Amuro/Char (can’t remember which) even points out that “gee, it’s just like that OTHER SERIES.”  But they do it again.  And it’s still sad.  But it happens again in Char’s Counterattack…which I’ll get to.

The Song: I LOVE the first opening, Zeta: Toki o Koete.  I love that it is the Neil Sedaka song “Better Days Are Coming” with Tomino-penned spacey lyrics and funky ’80s electronic instruments.  I’ve learned to play it on my ukulele and I play and sing it bossa nova style all the friggin’ time now.  It has become my favorite anime opening of all time.  Interesting note: the ending theme and second opening are also both Japanese-lyrics versions of Neil Sedaka (which is why they are not on the US DVDs).

Character Development:  Seeing so many characters return from the last series was fantastic, and I loved most of the “new guys” just as much.  Here’s some impressions:

  • Kai Shiden is a total badass now, not just a snarky teen.  What they did with this character was great, even though he didn’t show up much.
  • What happened to Sayla?  She only appears for a second, and doesn’t even talk.  I love Sayla and I wish that she had played more of a role in the sequels.  Apparently she and Amuro had more of a romance in the novels of MS Gundam and they even had sexy time on the White Base.  Whhaaaaat.  Does Bright Noa allow sexy time on the White Base?  Or does he overlook it because he is too busy checking out Miss Mirai Yashima.  You KNOW that staring at her backside for months had to be one of the motivating factors behind that sudden “Hey girl, Mirai, I can be that guy for you” confession (so cute) in the latter part of MS Gundam.  But I digress.  (Keep it together!!!)
  • Amuro is a lot cooler now.  It is really interesting to see an emotional teenage boy grow up into someone struggling with his past and reluctant to go back to fighting.
  • Four Murasame: I can’t. I’ll start crying.  FOUUUURRRRR….you were so ’80s-tastic.
  • Rosamia Badam I could do without.  She’s another anime “Onii-chan”-ing clinger.  This has basically become a trope by now, and–big surprise–it happens again in other Gundam series.
  • I loved the return of all the MS Gundam characters.  It was fantastic.  Even though Mirai Yashima, er, Mirai Noa is a housewife now.
  • I’m going to stop now before I start ranting again.

This is all really disorganized, but I’ll sum it up: See this series, especially if you’ve seen the original MS Gundam.  It’s amazing.  I’d rather urge you to see it than fill in my likely-to-be-novel-length list of opinions on Zeta.

Char’s Counterattack

Don’t get me wrong, this is a really good movie.  But I have some issues with it.  Warning: serious spoiler alerts, because I want to discuss this one fully.

Another time-jump in Universal Century brings us into a situation where Char and Amuro are on opposite sides of the battlefield again.  And the old Lalah situation comes back to haunt them.  Ironically (of course), there’s a new love triangle….er….polygon brewing with our new characters, Hathaway Noa (obligatory kid-of-chara-from-original-series), resident Char fangirl Quess, Char’s lady friend Nanai, Char, Amuro, Chen Agi (substitute Beltorchika-san for the movie), and Char’s assistant Gyunei.  So maybe it’s not so derivative.  Char’s cooking up a plan to attack the earth and Amuro has to stop him.  That’s the plot, basically.

New characters.  Quite a few of them.  Here’s my take on a couple:

  • Quess Paraya: if you didn’t already notice from my assessment of Quess as the “resident Char fangirl,” I don’t particularly like this character.  I think she’s interesting, but her execution veers into Mary Sue territory.  As if somebody said “Oh boy, I’m gonna write a fanfic where I’m a super cute girl who’s the BEST PILOT EVAR and I fall in love with Char Aznable and Amuro and they fight over meeee.”  That being said, Tomino writes believable teenagers, and I’ve known a few girls like this.  Still, I would’ve liked to have seen her not blatantly state her motivations and feelings all the time.  Show don’t tell, geez.  But we’re working with a two hour movie, so I can forgive the filmmakers on this one.  Lalah is how a character like this should be written, Quess is not.  But we’re dealing with 20 years of separation, and cute plucky girl had become more of an anime trope by the early ’90s.  And I guess Gundam was missing a Lolita type character aside from Elpeo Puru in ZZ (who I would trade for Quess any day).
  • Hathaway: Basically, Hathaway is like the Katz Kobayashi of this movie.  Kid-from-older-series-returns-and-repeats-mistakes-of-older-generation.  But I don’t have any complaints.  He has a Haro, and you all know that I LOVE HARO.
  • Gyunei: I liked this one.  He was interesting, given that he is really loyal to Char but also intensely wants Quess for himself.  I also don’t think we’ve seen a volunteer artificial Newtype yet (i.e. not all messed up in the head), so that was interesting.
  • Haro (just kidding): Seriously, though, I love Haro and I wish he had more screen time in every single Gundam series, if only to say “HARO. HARO AMURO” and tell everybody when they are emotionally stressed.  Everybody should have a Haro.  I want a Haro.  The closest I have is the Haro alarm clock I got for Christmas, which keeps calling me “Amuro” for some reason.
  • Nanai: I love that Char has a love interest who is not Lalah.  Especially after Amuro got one/two (Beltorchika/Chen).  And the fact that (uh, spoiler) Char is really just manipulating all of these love interests and others makes it all so interesting.  That being said, it was kind of inevitable that the film ends the way it does, because I don’t think he could have kept up the double-crossing.

It’s that very double-crossing and manipulation that, along with his crazy plan, turned Char into a “bad guy” again (for me at least).  Char/Quattro is still sympathetic but he is not Quattro anymore.  He’s not the cool mentor that he was in Zeta.  This is a brilliant turn of events and really makes the film “work” for me, especially because Amuro and Char made so much headway towards forgiving each other (or at least tolerating each other) in Zeta.  The only one who was totally unforgiving of Char then seemed to be Kai Shiden, and we know how he rolls.  Snark snark.

Admittedly, Char’s whole drop-colony-on-Earth plan starts the fight, though.  And that’s another thing – Char wants to save the earth, and even though his colony drop would make everybody evacuate, a nuclear winter isn’t the most environmentally friendly of methods for doing that.  So the whole idea seems a little forced.  What made Char change so much between Zeta and here?  Was it the fact that the Argama replaced its emotionally laden teens and badass women with a plucky group of scavenger kiddies and that the show got all cartoony?  But I digress.

Anyhow, as I said before, Newtype love triangles are getting old at this point.  It’s hard to get emotionally invested in this one, because we only just met the new characters.  Well, OK, we “knew” Hathaway as a child, but he had no lines and didn’t do anything.  And literally, the original Newtype love triangle is at the root of this entire movie.  The one sentence summary for this one is “Two grown men are still fighting about the same thing and keep fighting about it till they die fighting about it.”  It’s kind of funny that they just keep going at it until the end.

However we got into this Amuro-Char standoff, though, it’s happening.  So what do I think of it?  Like I said, the movie itself is on par with Zeta in terms of quality in storytelling and characters.  But the movie format compresses everything, which can make characters’ actions make less sense.  It also gives us less time to learn about the new batch (Quess, Hathaway, Chen, Char’s love interest, etc.) – as a new series, this film could have been fantastic.  I probably would have liked it better.  But what we get is still great and a good “makeup” for the goofiness of Double Zeta, which I’m sure most fans appreciated.  (I myself have yet to form a solid opinion of ZZ because I’m still watching it).

Some additional notes of the humor variety:

  • I love that Gyunei straight up says that Char  has “lolicon” (Lolita complex).  I figure somebody might have noticed that over the years.  I guess he never got over Lalah and, like Humbert Humbert, is forever chasing the memory of preteen love.  How old is Quess again? 13? Er, uncomfortable.  Although at the end of the film it seems that they didn’t really have a “thing” after all.
  • I was shocked that Beltorchika-san was not around (wasn’t she Amuro’s “girlfriend” or whatever?), only to find out that Beltorchika literally replaces Chen’s role in Tomino’s novelization of the movie.  That makes sense.  Why not use Beltorchika, though?
  • It was nice to see Mirai Noa again.  Will she ever get into space to see her husband?  Has she been trying since Zeta?  That’s so sad….
  • Amuro has literally been wearing the same kind of underwear since the space ’70s.  No, I’m serious, it’s in the movie.  Ha ha ha.  Let’s hope it’s not the same set, although if Fraw Bow was the only thing that got Amuro into the shower back in MS Gundam, maybe he’s still that much of a slob.  Gross.
  • Speaking of which, Boyfriend and I had a running joke that Bright Noa only owns two outfits: (1) Earth Federation uniform; and (2) space suit.  Evidenced by the fact that even when he joined the AEUG in Zeta, he kept wearing the Earth Federation (the enemy’s!) uniform.  And I’m pretty sure that he’s been wearing THE SAME uniform the whole time because you can’t get new clothes in space.
  • Who the hell gave Bright Noa EYEBALLS?  He looks so weird.  I know the ’70s style characters didn’t necessarily mesh with all the others, but I liked them that way.  I lost faith in humanity when Bright Noa got whites in his eyes.  Now I should really get that tattoo back piece of Bright Noa bitch-slapping Amuro Ray with Japanese ukiyo-e waves in the background and a Haro flying through the sky….but I digress.

A Conclusion

After these two, I started up Double Zeta (the direct sequel to Zeta), which I’ll cover in another review when I finish it.  It’s a huge, sudden, and extremely awkward tone shift after Zeta’s depressing drama bomb ending, and I’ve got mixed feelings at the moment.

And I just felt like I wanted more.  There are still so many unanswered questions and untold stories about the White Base and Argama crews.  I couldn’t help but long for a “third” series – a series that could be to Zeta what Zeta was to MS Gundam.  But at the same time, I could see that Char’s Counterattack was starting to get derivative.  Even the alternate universe Gundam shows are mostly derivative now, so would we really want rehash after rehash of the same old stories and Newtype drama with Bright Noa’s children and all the others?  Perhaps it’s for the best.  Often, shows that people wanted to keep going but ended instead are the most fondly remembered.

I know that Gundam Unicorn tried to pick up the Universal Century story recently, but I haven’t watched it so I can’t speak to the quality of that show.  I figure that if it was a truly good sequel, I probably would have heard more about it, and Tomino wasn’t involved.  My next steps are to watch all of the Tomino Gundam series, Space Runaway Ideon, and perhaps Gundam Unicorn (despite its silly name).  I’ll be reporting back here, maybe, after I do that (if I do).

As always,

Recca

Gundam Drinking Games: MS Gundam and Zeta Gundam Edition

Posted in anime, fun stuff to do, future + scifi, television with tags , , , on March 17, 2013 by reccaphoenix

If you couldn’t tell by my last post, Boyfriend and I have been on a Gundam kick lately. Well, it’s more my fault. I wanted to watch Char’s Counterattack because it is so acclaimed, but Boyfriend said that I needed to finish MS Gundam and its sequel Zeta Gundam first or I wouldn’t understand it. So we’ve spent a lot of the past month marathonning Gundam at various points. And then I got into another one of my periodic anime-watching phases, it being Spring Break and whatnot, and started watching the fantastic steampunky-alternate-universe Turn A Gundam concurrently with Zeta. I’ll probably end up watching every series by Tomino (the creator of the original series) someday.

Image

Photo by Flickr user Bryoz

Anyhow, because I posted the Gundam Wing Drinking Game after my previous rewatching-a-Gundam-show experience, and because the other day a party fell through and I ended up inventing a Zeta Gundam drinking game with Boyfriend, I thought I’d share two more fabulous Gundam drinking games.
A “point” can be whatever you want it to be, based on the strength of your alcohol of choice. A sip, a shot, a whole glass….whatever. Feel free to inform me of the results of your fun times with these games. I designed them for watching around, oh, four or five episodes in a sitting. If you go for a longer marathon, proceed with caution.
Disclaimer for the niños: if you are not legally old enough to drink alcohol, don’t drink alcohol. Play this game with refreshing, delicious water instead.

Zeta Gundam Drinking Game

  • 2 points for every face slap or face punch (there are way more here than in MS Gundam, so proceed with caution).
  • 1 point every time somebody says that Kamille has a girl’s name
  • 1 point every time somebody implores Kamille to be a man or act like a man.
  • 2 point penalty drink if you so much as snicker when hearing a character say the name “Quattro Bajeena” (this one gets me every time).
  • 1 point for every mention of the events of the previous series (in however much detail you deem appropriate).
  • 1 point each time you see recycled animation
  • (optional: 1 point when Kamille whines that nobody understands him)

…..and now for the ’70s one:

Mobile Suit Gundam Drinking Game

  • 1 point for every use of a recycled Gundam transformation sequence (excluding the opening theme) [OR every moment that seems explicity designed to sell a toy].
  • 3 points for every face slap or face punch.
  • 2 points for every Mirai Yashima romance moment
  • 1 point for any character’s surprise at how the Gundam does not blow up with one hit
  • 1 point for every time anyone acts creepy or fanboyish around Matilda-san
  • 1 point for Kai Shiden snark. Extra point if he gets slapped or punched in retaliation for the snark.
  • 1 point for every time Fraw Bow brings Amuro food, tells him to take a shower, or mommies him in some other way.
  • 2 points for every awkward eating scene
  • 1 point for the pack-o’-orphans making a contribution to the outcome of battle.
  • 2 points for awkward shower/bath scene.
  • 1 point penalty drink for every time anyone says “huh?”/”what?”/wtf at any psychedelic trippiness.
  • (optional: 2 point penalty drink if you laugh at the Guntank or any other silly mech)

I hope you have a grand ol’ time with these games!


Remember, kids, Sleggar Law sez: “Drink responsibly and remember to slap a bitch if he/she gets outta line.”

–Recca 3/17/13

Review: Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)

Posted in anime, future + scifi, japan, reviews/opinions, television with tags , , on March 15, 2013 by reccaphoenix

Long absence, I know.  But I just wanted to share my thoughts on a remarkable little anime series from the ’70s.

When I was 13, and a big nerdy Gundam Wing fangirl, Cartoon Network started showing Mobile Suit Gundam after the conclusion of Wing.  I stopped watching the show after a few episodes because I didn’t like any of the characters and I thought it was lame and cliche.  But boy, did I misjudge it.

I just finished watching the entire series (in Japanese, if you must know) and I really enjoyed it.  If you compare it with everything that came before (cartoony giant robots), it was really groundbreaking.

A quick summary for the uninitiated (no spoilers): This is the first show in the long-running Gundam series, which involves vaguely samurai-like humanoid giant robots in some variety of warfare.  In MS Gundam, Amuro Ray and a group of military and civilians survive an attack on their space colony and are drawn into conflict with the evil Principality of Zeon.  World War II…IN SPACE, sort of.

My favorite point came towards the end of the series, where there are some truly avant-garde psychedelic (and most likely 2001: A Space Odyssey-inspired) moments as the series spirals quickly towards its epic conclusion.

Speaking of influences from other films, I definitely can feel some Star Trek influence in MS Gundam.  The multicultural cast (their names are a combination of German, Japanese, Spanish, English, and other influences), strong military women, and “space navy” theme are clearly present.  On that note, I think that MS Gundam most likely started the Gundam series’ tradition of strong female characters.  Sayla, Hamon, and Lalah are some tough and awesome ladies and were enjoyable to follow through the series.

I enjoy anime from the 1970s – the hand-drawn dusty cel look is charming to me, I guess.  The retro look and feel of MS Gundam is great, as is the disco-style funky battle music and J-folk ending theme.  While the opening theme song recalls other giant robot series in that it is mainly about the Gundam itself, it’s catchy, upbeat, and infectiously fun.

Let’s talk about the characters, which are really the best thing in the show, in my opinion.  These are some of the best-loved characters in Japan and I hope my descriptions and opinions here do them justice.

Let’s start with the White Base crew.  I grew to love this bunch of tough folks with funny names, along with the obligatory pack-o’-orphans (Kikka, Katz, and Letz) that add comic relief here and there.  MS Gundam gets in a lot of character development, which is one thing that Gundam Wing didn’t do so well (there were really too many characters).  Amuro has his issues and moments, but that’s probably realistically to be expected of a teenage boy.  My boyfriend and I both posited that we would probably be the Kai Shiden of the group if thrown into the same situation (laziness, snark, etc.).

…now for the bad guys.  While pretty much all the Zeons have something….kinda…wrong…with them in terms of appearance (they all have purple hair, weird body shapes, look sickly, etc), that just adds to their evil appearance.  Char Aznable, who Japanese people love “three times more” (qualifier used to describe Char’s mechas) than pretty much anything else, is a cool dude.  And the foundation for every masked baddie in anime (and every masked bad guy in Gundam, pretty much) since the ’70s.  Char was the only thing that kept me watching MS Gundam as a 13-year-old.

Did I mention that there is a lot of face slapping and punching?

Image

(c) Bandai/Sunrise/Sotsu Agency. Not my image.

 

….yeah.  Good to know that Kai gets slapped around almost as much as Amuro.  Slegger Law’s only purpose as a character is basically (1) to slap a bitch and (2) to hit on the ladies of White Base.

Okay, now for the bad points.  This show was made partially to sell toys.  So the Gundam does a lot of really goofy transforming stuff that is often used as episode filler.  Also, some of the designs weren’t quite up to the “realistic robot” standards that Tomino envisioned when he conceived of Gundam, and come off as…well, silly.  But I can’t really complain about this, since the Gundam and friends still look ten times more realistic than most of their contemporary giant robot brethren, who look like the mecha from Power Rangers or plastic toys.

Well, that’s it for my disorganized quick review blurb.  I hope you will check this series out, it’s a real gem.

(…and before you ask, yes, I am a colossal nerd and have already started watching the sequel, Zeta Gundam.  Will I review that?  Maybe.)

Empty Spaces and the Post-Something Worlds of Moebius

Posted in anime, cinema, music with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 23, 2011 by reccaphoenix

Famed French comics artist Moebius (Jean Giraud), who elevated comics to a high art, wrote Arzach in 1975.  It tells the story of a lone silent man flying around a post-something world of ancient technology atop a pterodactyl.  I have not read Arzach, but I saw many images from it at a Moebius exhibit in the Kyoto Manga Museum.  Ever since then, I have discovered multiple connections (intentional or not) to Moebius’ empty post-something landscape.

source: wikipedia

First of all, a real connection exists between Arzach and Hayao Miyazaki‘s manga (and later movie) Nausicäa of the Valley of Wind.  The manga version of Nausicäa highly resembles French comics far more than conventional Japanese manga.  It has similar motifs of post-disaster decay, a future world, emptiness, and flying, along with the “ancient technology” feel.  Miyazaki has even cited Moebius as an influence on this work.

squiggly tentacle grass in Arzach

Nausicäa walks on squiggly "grass" made of Ohm tentacles

And lastly, the arbitrary connection – Yes’s album Fragile. The cover and interior artwork by Roger Dean evokes a similar feeling, and even features an “ancient technology” flying machine.

Fragile by Yes (source: wikipedia)

Arzach flying

interior artwork of Fragile

Nausicäa in the desert

2nd interior artwork of Fragile

Nausicäa in the toxic forest (note background)

Nausicäa's greenhouse

The music itself as well contributes to the feeling of an empty landscape.  “Roundabout,” while its lyrics are hard to decipher, seems to tell of love in hardship, and “South Side of the Sky” features wind sound effects and mentions snowstorms and other natural hazards. The harmonies and vocals in many of the songs also hint at something ancient.  Furthermore, the electronic elements and beats resemble Nausicäa‘s soundtrack.

Nausicäa: Ohmu to Boso

Fragile: Heart of the Sunrise

Fragile: Cans and Brahms

Nausicäa: Kaze no Tani no Nausicaa

Fragile: Roundabout

I highly recommend listening to Fragile in its entirety; it’s a superb album by one of the founding bands of British progressive rock and features some killer bass work and Rick Wakeman’s fantastic synthesizer riffs.

The airships on the back cover of Fragile even bring to mind the airships in Nausicäa.

back cover of Fragile

Nausicäa flies to an airship

Unfortunately, this connection fails to indicate the direct influence of Moebius, as the album was completed 4 years before Arzach.  I suppose, though, that one can cite 1970s fantasy and sci-fi artwork (think Heavy Metal magazine, etc.) as the common influence on both works, though.  And as for the Nausicäa connection… who knows what Joe Hisaishi was listening to when he composed the film’s soundtrack?

-Recca 2/17/11

Why You Must Watch “Kino’s Journey” (even if you hate anime)

Posted in animation, anime, reviews/opinions, television with tags , , , , on August 30, 2009 by reccaphoenix

After a long state of disillusionment with most anime, I found a real gem in Kino’s Journey (キノの旅) And trust me, because being a film nerd, I’m very picky about my films and TV series.

Many people dislike anime because they find it “poorly/cheaply animated” and “too difficult for non-fans to understand,” or they don’t like the exaggerated facial expressions and stylistic devices found in many popular series.  Many also complain of overly lengthy stories with too much “filler” material, lack of depth, and how many series are similar to one another.  “Film people” especially tend to dismiss anything not directed by Hayao Miyazaki without a second thought.

Luckily,  Kino is here to provide a breath of fresh air for all the jaded film people (and non-film people) out there.  Here’s my breakdown.

Why you should watch Kino’s Journey:

  • Episode count and structure: Kino’s Journey is only 13 episodes and the structure is episodic.  No complex character histories and stories to keep track of, no filler, no extended battle sequences.
  • It’s really deep: This series makes you think.  And not in an over-the-top preachy way, either.  It’s almost a type of existential wandering story.
  • Simple but awesome: No over-the-top battles and magical powers here, folks.  The premise is almost neorealist in its simplicity: the two main characters, Kino and Kino’s motorrad (motorcycle) Hermes, travel around the world, stopping in each place for only 3 days.  That’s it.  But don’t let that simplicity fool you because as I said before, this series is full of psychological depth.
  • Good animation and design for a TV series: Don’t expect the animation quality of something theatrical like Ponyo, but you’ll be surprised by the quality here.  It’s simple like most anime, but I feel that the simplicity works for the story, which is “simple” in itself.  The style is also really neat – Kino travels through a fictional, almost steampunk kind of world, so the designs of clothing, machinery, etc. are all very “retro.”  Check this out:
Kino and Hermes

Kino and Hermes

girlfromkino

nice background...

….see what I mean?

  • Really good sound design: animation sound can be tricky because everything has to be created.  And oftentimes anime sound is just “there.”  However, in Kino, especially in episode 12, I noticed some very creative and effective sonic transitions and distortion.  By the way, the music for this series is quite good.  It’s got a sort of ambient-world feel to it.
  • No weird Japanese-culture things: You don’t have to know anything about Japan or anime to watch this series.  Anyone can watch it.  Except young children, because it can be a bit scary at times.

Watch this show!  Try it out!  It’s only 3 discs (13 episodes) and will only take about 5 hours to watch all the way through.  Recca highly recommends it!

Review – MW (2009)

Posted in anime, cinema, manga, osamu tezuka, rants, reviews/opinions with tags , , , , , , , on June 25, 2009 by reccaphoenix

News has been circulating around the internet for a while about the live-action adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s mature manga masterpiece MW (pronounced “moo,” like a cow), created to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Tezuka.  I was able to see this film in an advance screening last night and have been itching to share my thoughts.

Being a huge fan of both Osamu Tezuka and MW, I was anxious to see how this film would turn out.  Not surprisingly, I found myself with a graveyard of bones to pick after seeing it.  It’s hard for me to separate this film from the manga it’s based on and review it fairly.  Rather than a straight-up review like those I usually write, I do want to bring my Tezuka knowledge to the discussion, but I’ll try not to digress into fangirlish ranting.

MW (Japan, 2009) dir. Hitoshi Iwamoto. Color, 35mm.

Putting the manga it was based on aside, MW is overall a standard action film, about on par with most of Hollywood’s recent offerings, but nothing special.  A little lacking in the CG department, but a worthy effort nonetheless.  Hiroshi Tamaki, the actor who plays the main villain Michio Yuki, did a great job with the material he was given.  He lost quite a lot of weight for the role to give Yuki a skeletal and hollow appearance, and the effect is quite powerful.  The characters in the film are not all that well-developed or interesting, and as little as that matters in an action film, the action alone here doesn’t make up for everything else that is lacking.  I believe I might have enjoyed this film more were it not “based on” MW and given the same title.  But alas, it is, and comparisons are almost unavoidable.

That being said, I’d like to give my opinion on many of the changes in the movie.  *Cue disorganized rant*

The film character of Yuki comes nowhere near the complexities of manga Yuki.  Yes, he is “pure evil,” but he does not have the dualities and childlike moments of Yuki in the manga.  Part of what made Yuki so interesting was his total lack of remorse juxtaposed with his playful side.  Film Yuki comes off as more of a typical “evil” villain – cunning and remorseless, but also without emotion.
The same can be said of Garai and the other characters adapted from the manga.  A female reporter character added for the film comes off as uninteresting and completely useless.  Many characters are missing, which is not a bad thing on its own, but the characters which ARE there lack good characterization.

Characters’ actions and other things don’t make much sense.  The reporter and Garai help Yuki find MW on the island for no apparent reason.  Why were they helping him?
Garai’s inner struggle is almost nonexistent as well.
The backstory is drastically simplified.  In the film, Garai and Yuki are boys who grew up together on the island and escaped together when the military was killing off the survivors of the MW incident.  This makes Garai’s later “repentance” less dramatic and once again, downplays the relationship between the two.
The film basically turns into a straight action film.  Superficial suspense and chases make up the first half-hour.  It was exciting, I have to admit.  But MW the manga was already full of suspense that would have come across just fine in the film – were all these big-budget action scenes really necessary?
The sexual content is also completely absent.  This is not a bad thing, either, but extends to a ridiculous extent in the fact that the relationship between Garai and Yuki is barely even a subtext.

Sorry for the ranting.  I could go on forever about what’s different in the manga, but when it comes down to it, the film dilutes the manga’s plot and characters to fit an action-movie mold and adds its own ineffectual material.
It’s not that I’m against deviation from source material.  In fact, it can often be a good thing (why make a film if it’s the exact same story?  Use the medium!).  Take, for example, the Metropolis anime – though it went against Tezuka’s wishes and fundamentally altered much of the manga, it did so well and in the spirit of a Tezuka work (the extra characters mainly came from other Tezuka works).  Most importantly, it held up brilliantly on its own.  Though I still prefer the manga, I like the film.  It’s an original work.  With MW, however, I felt that the film was using a Tezuka name to sell a generic, uninspired action movie; it succeeds as neither a good action film nor a Tezuka film.

In one sentence: I’m disappointed.
In another sentence: They could have done so much better, even with half the budget.

Rating: 4/10

Trailer: http://mw.gyao.jp/ (official site)

P.S.: A tie-in MW TV drama (oneshot) is going to air on TV in 4 days.  I’ll try my best to watch it and post my thoughts if I find anything worth mentioning.

P.P.S.: I was so utterly disappointed with the film I had no interest in watching the tie-in drama.

“Human Metamorphoses” 「人間昆虫記」by Osamu Tezuka

Posted in anime, japan, manga, mod, movie posters, osamu tezuka, reviews/opinions with tags , , , , on May 26, 2009 by reccaphoenix

**UPDATE (12/29/10): Vertical has announced at Comic-con that they are translating Human Metamorphoses (they’re calling it “Book of Human Insects”….subtle….), so you can look forward to an English version soon-ish!**

Osamu Tezuka, my favourite comic artist of all time, the father of all Japanese comics and animation, branched out a lot in the late 1960s and 1970s.  At a time when many manga artists were moving towards more serious, sexually explicit, and violent subjects, Tezuka also wrote many of his most dark, mature, and psychologically profound works: Yakeppachi no Maria (a strange, sexual, pseudo-educational manga about which I will probably write another time), MW [Muu] (Tezuka’s darkest work in my opinion), Barbara, Ayako, I.L., and several others were all written by Tezuka between 1969 and 1978.  Though I love almost all of Tezuka’s work, this period is particularly interesting to me for many reasons.  Tezuka not only began to experiment with art style, layout, content, and presentation but also integrated some of the aesthetics of the times into his work.  As a fan of 1960s and modernist aesthetics, I find it fascinating to see ’60s and ’70s styles reflected in the medium of manga.  Furthermore, these works allow a glimpse into Tezuka’s true artistic talent; though he stuck to “cartoony,” Disney-like characters for much of his career, he was highly skilled at more realistic rendering and at adjusting his style to different genres and situations.

konchuki0Tezuka wrote Human Metamorphoses (「人間昆虫記」Ningen Konchuuki) in 1970-1, during this same fascinating period of experimentation.  It is unfortunately not available in English translation, but I recently finished reading it in Japanese and wanted to share my opinions.

I only wish I had a scanner at the moment, as the artwork and layout in many of the page spreads is fantastic; it’s hard to convey just how awesome this manga is without the images to back it up.  For now, you’ll have to settle with scans found on the internet.  Images that some may find objectionable due to mature content will be linked to off-site.

Human Metamorphoses, like another famous Tezuka work called Birdman Anthology, draws parallels between humans and animals – in this case, insects.  Many of the characters even have the kanji of the insect in question in their name.  The main character is the beautiful, fashionable Tomura Toshiko, likened to the haruzemi (the terpnosia vacua cicada), moves through life constantly reinventing herself amid a succession of lovers, shedding her previous identities like the cicada sheds its shell.  Toshiko is ruthless yet subtle, convinced that her actions are justified.  Most of her successes rely on plagiarism and blackmail, yet she is able to Continue reading