Posted in Anime, Discussion, Film

What I learnt about film from Pokémon: The First Movie (Yes, Seriously)

As a child of the 90s, there are several things I can’t deny. I watched SM:TV Live on Saturday mornings. Frequently forgot to feed a Tamagachi. Begged to stay up a little longer just to watch shows like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, and the latest episode of Stargate: SG1. And the subject of today, I loved Pokémon. Granted, I was a bigger fan of Digimon, but I still loved Pokémon, alongside many of my classmates, and almost every other 90s kid. I remember being more than a little jealous of my Game Boy wielding classmates, rushing home to catch the new episodes, and occasionally being gifted a pack of the cards. The often celebrated and sought after, Basic Set 1 card deck.

Cue early 2000. The announcement of Pokémon hitting theatres. My 6-year-old mind went insane. Cinema trips were rare due to the expense, but this was something I so desperately wanted to see. No internet to hunt for plot points and images, no money to buy, or knowledge of, film magazines to get the latest scoop. All I had were the trailers on tv, and the rumours and mutters on the playground. I remember begging my mother to take me. Promising to be good. And then, May 2nd, 2000, my mother told me to get my coat. We were going to the movies. 6:30 in the evening, screen 2, of my local, now none existent, Warner Village Cinema.

That joy and excitement of seeing a much-anticipated film, is one that’s stuck with me. And my childish excitement for, what even I’ll admit is, a cheesy film, is something I still foolishly look back on and smile. I was getting to see one of my favourite series on the big screen. And given how long it did take for films to come to VHS, and the price of them. This was the only time I would be able to see it, for maybe over a year.

When it did finally hit VHS, I was graciously brought a copy of my very own. Along with just a few other tapes, such as The Fox and the Hound, Independence Day, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and The Matrix. This yellow brick, that mesmerised me so, was watched, and loved. Repeatedly.

(Yes, the first run of Pokemon: The First Movie VHS tapes were yellow.)

Looking back at that film now, almost 17 years after that first viewing. I can see the beginning of my film education. I can see the little strands of curiosity that the film sparked. The childhood questions I had, and the journey it took me on.

Stereo, Mono and Audio Mixing:

Something about the film constantly bothered me as a kid. The sound. The films main villain, Mewtwo, was a genetically created Pokémon, able to use psychic abilities, and was able to speak English directly to the main characters. In the cinema, it’s amazing. His voice reverberates around you. To a 6-year-old, it’s intimidating. Yet, re-watching this, on a child’s mono TV, at a low volume, I had to try and remember what Mewtwo was saying. The only line I could ever clearly hear from him was, “Fool. Trying to stop our battle”. For years, I thought this was a fault with my copy of the film, or maybe even my TV.

With the passage of time, and how technology advances, I learnt my tape and TV was fine, and that it had everything to do with film production, audio mixing, and mono vs stereo sound. With the audio mixed as stereo, this allowed for tracks to be played as if coming from multiple directions. Mewtwo’s audio is set to play through the back speakers of a full set up, as if surrounding the viewing. Impressive in surround sound, but hard to hear on a mono set. The DVD commentary by the producers, spoke briefly about the effect they wanted to create, and how they used the audio mixing to impose Mewtwo’s immense power to the viewer.

Cell Painted Animation:

There’s a moment when multiple trainers are attempting to get through a storm, using their various skills and Pokémon to get to New Island as quickly as they can. One trainer, one that does make it through the storm, is seen riding a Gyarados, a large blue water dragon, through the storm easily. The problem being is that the lower lip of Gyarados is miss-coloured the entire time, but the next time we see it, it’s completely normal. This is something that really bothered me, as it was incredibly obvious, and I didn’t get why it wasn’t fixed. I know this bothered others, as it was one of the few things I did talk about with others when the film came up.

Answer. Cell painted animation. Classic animation is painted on cells, one frame at a time, and done in layers. While this mistake is obvious, the number of frames it took up, and the fact that it would probably be on one of the first colour layer. Meaning the entire frame, for all those effected would need to be repainted. Something that is not cheap. It was easier and cheaper to leave a few seconds of miss-coloured Pokémon, than to redo the entire section of the film.

CGI and Traditional Animation:

There was something very strange about the castle, doors and stadium lights. As a kid, I could never figure out why they seemed so different to the rest of the film. Even when the characters were stood right in front of them, they looked off. Turns out, it’s because they ARE different. While the rest of the film is traditional cell painted animation, little touches like the castle (in certain shots), the doors when moving, and the stadium lights, are all CGI models imposed over the film. Interestingly, during the film’s original run in Japan, these were all done with cell animation like the rest of the film. But when the film got the go ahead to be released in America, and the rest of the world, they were able to go back and improve parts of the animation, for a little more polish.

And yet that Gyarados still has a miss-coloured jaw….

Framing:

During the three on three battle in the middle of the film. Ash’s Charzard goes up against a clone Charzard (trying to explain scenes sometimes gets surreal when you realise how crazy some of this sounds to people unfamiliar with the film). As the two dragons are crashing back to the ground, the camera holds on a shot of Ash, Misty, Brock, and the other ‘good’ characters. On the VHS tape, there is an odd editing jump, where the camera cuts from one side of Ash while Brock speaks, only to jump to the other side of him when Misty speaks. As a kid, this was a little jarring. I used to wonder why they weren’t both on screen at the same time. Why did they have to jump from either side, when they could have just had all three characters on screen? Why do I remember seeing this cut a different way?

Well, I had. The original cinema cut of the film had all three characters on screen, taking full advantage of the widescreen format. Emphasis on widescreen format. While not talking about this film, Bordwell and Thompson’s book, Film Art: An Introduction talks at length about framing, and screen resolution. To put it simply. VHS and televisions at the time, had a different frame size, closer to a square than the rectangle we are more familiar with now. Had the VHS release kept the scene the same, then both Brock and Misty would have been out of frame, and the voices would have seemed like they were coming out of nowhere. Thankfully, newer releases, such as the current Blu-Ray, return it to the original aspect ratio.

VHS Tapes can wear:

Film can wear. The more film is used, the more the image can fade, and become crackled and fuzzy. As a kid, it’s hard to understand why is it that your film looks different the hundred and fiftieth time, then on first viewing. Sadly, despite my love of my childhood VHS tapes, watching them so often taught me why the then upcoming DVD format was a good move. DVDs can scratch. They can break. But they are also fairly easy to copy. Later Blu-Ray’s are even harder to scratch. But the footage on those discs will never fade.

 

There are plenty of moral lessons the film taught me, and ones I can still recite from memory. Take Meowth’s realisation that “we do have a lot in common, huh? The same Earth, the same air, the same sky. Maybe if we focus on the same, instead of always on what’s different, well, who knows”. But it’s those curiosities it sparked in me then, that still bring me back to it every few years.

The first three Pokemon films are available on Blu-ray here: Pokemon Movie 1-3 Collection [Blu-ray]

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Posted in Anime, Uncategorized

First Impressions: New Game! Ep 1: “It Actually Feels Like I Started My Job”

‘Slice of life’ anime can be very hit or miss for me. Some just don’t resonate with me at all, where the characters feel so boring that I don’t care what problems they are having. So, when I do choose something ‘Slice of Life’ to watch, I tend to pick it more on premise. With Bakuman being one of my all-time favourite manga series, it felt like a show based on people working to create something, may well be a good fit for me to try. Hearing about New Game! my interest was piqued, and I decided to load up the first episode. Seeing that the show had a dub, this is ultimately the version I am watching.

Episode 1 usually only works for me as an excuse to set up the situation and a few of the main characters. It’s rare I decided whether to drop a show from here. That usually happens by episode 2. While this first episode hasn’t fully convinced me whether or not the show is good, I am curious.

The plot follows Aoba Suzukaze, a recent high school graduate, as she joins a video game company known as Eagle Jump. A seemingly small company based on this first episode, that has at least put out a few well received games in their life time, including ‘Fairies Story’, a game that inspired Aoba to become a games artist.

Having studied alongside games art students, and maintained long conversations on the subject with them. Seeing a slice of life that focuses on the game industry is certainly appealing. Based on the work we see being done in the office, it’s easy to recognise many of the animator and modelers habits. Especially striking poses themselves, just to get a feel of what they should be animating. The excessive use of sweets and caffeine, while a little stereotypical, is certainly something I can relate with. Watching Aoba learn and come to grips with the shows version of Autodesk Maya was incredibly relatable, though I did joyfully wait for her to suddenly exclaim frustration at the program. The groups lead character designer spending nights sleeping under her desk at work, is a very real reality. Though the show also uses it for what feels like an unnecessary use of fan service, with the obligatory panty shot. But the characters habits and work mannerisms do feel genuine. However, the characters as a whole, are a little hard to tell apart or name, aside from identifying them by habits.

While well animated, I do take fault with the character design the show chose. Aoba is frequently made fun of for looking like a kid, being mistaken as one several times. The problem with this being is that all the characters look the same age. The only noticeable difference is clothing changes, and height. A scene in which our lead is being questioned for how old she thinks a few of the women are, is honestly hard to watch without groaning.

Episode 1 certainly just focuses on establishing the company and the series goal, creating ‘Fairies Story 3’. This is done relatively well, if a little slow paced, but sets up for what could very well be, an interesting if passive watch.

 

(Above is the opinion of the writer solely. Everyone is entitle to their own opinion, this is just mine.)

Posted in Anime, Film, Review

Death Note (2017)

Director: Adam Wingard

Starring: Nat Wolff (Light Turner), Lakeith Stanfield (L), Margaret Qualley (Mia Sutton), Willem Dafoe (Ryuk)

Release Date: August 25th, 2017

American adaptations of manga and anime, have been far more miss than hit. This year saw the atrocious Ghost in the Shell. 2009 gave us the frustrating Dragonball Evolution, and it feels like every year, we are threatened with an Americanised Akira. It’s frustrating to understand why an adaptation just hasn’t worked yet. Sure, it’s easy to blame it on a cultural difference, but at their core, the anime being adapted have still managed to make a cultural jump in the first place.

While arguably in development since 2007, in April of 2016, it was announced that Netflix would be releasing a live action adaptation of Death Note. Written by Tsugumi Ohba, and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, Death Note was a psychological thriller, with a touch of dark fantasy, originally published by Weekly Shonen Jump, between December 2003, and May of 2006. Death Note tells the story of Light Yagami, an over achieving high school student, from a loving family. The son of a police detective. During class one day, he spots a mysterious book fall from the sky. The Death Note. Upon retrieving the book, Light discovers a list of rules written inside, stating that “The Human whose name is written in this note shall die”. Finding it a sick joke at first, especially when reading through the rest of the rules. Light finds himself compelled to try it at least once. Flipping to the news, Light finds a school being taken hostage. Upon writing the criminal’s name, Light learns that the book is indeed real. Discovering the books origin, as a tool of the Death God, Ryuk. Light vows to use the book to bring justice to the world, with the Ryuk by his side, anxious to see what a human would do with that power. When his killings start to become recognised, the series becomes a cat and mouse game between Light, now known as the serial killer ‘Kira’, and the world’s greatest detective, L.

From its original manga run, the series has been adapted to a beloved anime series, four Japanese live action films, and a tie-in miniseries. So, when Netflix announced that the American film was finished, and being released in 2017, it seemed reasonable to ask why. However, come August 25th, 2017. It was released upon us, to mostly negative reviews.

Going into this new film, it’s worth saying that, I have no experience with the anime. My introduction to the series was the original manga, before diving into the first three live action films from Japan. Death Note (2006), Death Note 2: The Last Name (2006), and L: Change the World (2008). Then reading the two novels, Death Note L: Change the World, and Death Note Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases. When it came to an American version of the series, I wasn’t expecting something completely faithful. In fact, I would be disappointed to get the same exact story again. What mattered to me was that it was able to live in the world the source material created. It didn’t need to stay faithful to every beat of the original story, but it had to be faithful to the tone and heart.

So, after finally watching the Netflix Death Note film, what did I find. Exactly what I expected. A bad version of the original story. Granted, I found several changes I genuinely liked, but at the end, it was still an imitation of a story we’ve already seen at its heart.

The original character of Light, is very Japanese at his core. He is a product of a Japanese culture. The need to work hard and succeed engrained in him from a young age, and it explains so much of his character. Outside of that, Light also lives in a justice heavy society. In Japan, there justice system is pretty strict. If you find yourself in a Japanese court of law, if you are accused of a crime, you have a roughly 95% chance, of being found guilty. When you take a character like Light, and place him as an American teen, you will not have the same character. However, this could have been compensated for. Instead, we got a character that better resembled Misa. In an interesting twist, the films version of Misa, renamed Mia, is a better Light, than the one we got. This does give us a twist on the original story, that would have been fascinating to see developed. However, the film suffered by not taking its own direction.

A note of praise I can give to the film, is its horror elements, and the portrayal of Ryuk. In the latter half of the film, we get this sequence set in an abandoned mansion. The director’s background in horror films, pays off completely, with the ambient and creepy tone that works extremely well. With Ryuk, he is kept perfectly in the shadows, giving off the truly creepy and other worldly tone he needs. While he was shown in full view in the Japanese live action films to a decent effect, he works wonderfully here. Especially when voiced by the equally creepy William Defo.

Overall, the film is just ok. Works as a background film, but not something to be revisited, or held to the same standard as the manga. Worth a watch, if you are curious, but don’t expect to be pleased. Die-hard fans especially, will find plenty to hate with this film.

(Above is the opinion of the writer solely. Everyone is entitle to their own opinion, this is just mine.)

Posted in Anime, Book, Film, Review

Ghost in the Shell by Andrew Osmond (2017)

  • 91BSdFVo4jL120 pages
  • Release date: 11th September 2017
  • Price: £19.99
  • Published by: Arrow Books

The cult classic Ghost in the Shell, has often found itself the centre of discussion among fans. Its impact and themes. The films significance in the modern landscape. However, it’s hard to find a single work that highlights its importance, as Andrew Osmond’s Ghost in the Shell. An incredibly engaging, and well researched look at not only the cult classic film, but the franchise, and impact it has had through the culture.

Osmond approaches this book with a passion and the intention of allowing even the most novice of Ghost in the Shell viewers the opportunity to enjoy and engage with the books subject. Opening with essentially a first-time viewers perspective of the opening few minutes of the film. Noting the praise and acclaim the film achieved, even early in its life. Osmond expounds on the films infancy, by describing the culture and time to which it is born into. Citing the state of otaku culture and the Aum Shinrikyo terror attacks in Japan, and how the West viewed Anime at the time. Referring to them as ‘Manga movies’, or ‘Japanimation’. This provides a much-needed context for the reader as to why and how Ghost in the Shell gained such significance.

The film is broken down in a digestible manor, so that no reader will feel lost along the way. Osmond comments on the characters and plot points with an attention to detail, significantly towards the film’s central protagonist, Major Motoko Kusanagi.

“For example, after the ‘assassination’ prologue, Ghost’s titles show the creation of Kusanagi’s cyber-body. We see it as an anatomist’s dummy of fake skin and bone, flushed through vats of liquid, clothed in fast-setting flesh. All this suggests a Frankenstein creature, a horror film Other. But as the sequence ends, and Kusanagi is lifted up fully formed, we don’t see some lab-coated Pygmalion admiring his sculpture – ‘She lives!’. Instead, we cut to a close-up of Kusanagi awakening in darkness. We were in her head all along, as she dreamed her body’s creation. She moves the fingers of one hand slightly, as if asking, is this my hand? Is this my body?”

Osmond explores how her femininity and sexuality are put aside. Blurring gender lines, in moments of intense strengths and sacrifice. These discussions extend to comparisons of her counterparts. Such as Trinity in The Matrix franchise, and Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This also encompasses the franchises lore, such as the impact and importance or cyber-bodies in the cyberpunk genre.

The book does not limit itself to just the films themes, characters, and impact. But extends to the creative minds that birthed the film and franchise. Discussion of the film’s director, Mamoru Oshii, ranges beyond simply his filmography. Extending to popular consensus, his frequently used themes through his work, and the man himself. His diversity in mediums, interests and personal history. The chapter dedicated to Oshii, reads like a love letter to the forgotten works of a master. Overshadowed by the books subject. With a wonderful look at Oshii’s work on the Patlabor series. The only major subject that feels skipped over, is Oshii’s 1999 film, Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade. A subject that is likely to merit its own book in a similar vain to this one.

Given how private Masanori Ota presents himself, going as far as to use the pseudonym Masamune Shirow. It’s surprising how well Osmond dives into the franchises original author. Discussing his secluded nature, themes and works. Drawing particular attention to Shirow’s playful and wacky sense of humour, something largely ignored in adaptations. Focus and time is payed to Shirow’s other praised franchise, Appleseed. Highlighting, especially, the difference in publication. Osmond breaks down Shirow’s 350-page manga, in a similar manner to his discussion of the films plot. This is a necessity, given how well and thoroughly he examines the adaptation process. Taking the world and characters Shirow crafted, but injecting Oshii’s own brand of philosophy and themes, and examining how this effects the original material.

Time and attention is given to many important, but largely unsung figures in the films creation. Figures such as character designer, Hiroyuki Okiura. Animation director, Toshihiko Nishibubo, and art director, Hiromasa Ogura. Osmond takes great care in communication the amount of work that went into the films construction. Outlining fine details from Mechanical design, scripting and music. To even the process of dubbing and localisation. Something we rarely see approached and discussed when it comes to Ghost in the Shell.

With absolutely stunning cover art by Chris Malbon, and the loving research of Andrew Osmond. Ghost in the Shell from Arrow Books, is a fantastic look at the cult classic film, and a must read for avid fans, and the curious mind willing to traverse the vast net that is Ghost in the Shell.

Available from Arrow Films here.
Also Available from Amazon: Ghost In The Shell by Andrew Osmond

Posted in Anime, Discussion, History, TV

Serial Experiments Lain and McLuhan’s Global Village

Serial Experiments Lain is a series that begs to be interpreted. Premiering in 1998, Lain is a slow paced, and surreal series that many describe as ‘ahead of its time’. Written by Chiaki J. Konaka, the series acts as a look at our relationship with the internet, and Konaka’s prediction of what the 21st century will look like. Many celebrate the series for how forward thinking it is. Incorporating themes of reality, identity, and communication, while exploring computer history, conspiracy theories, and computer history. While it’s plot comes off as complex, given it’s slow pacing, unusual imagery, cyberpunk styling, and synth/electro-pop soundtrack, the series has gathered itself a cult following. With many dedicating their time, to unravelling the meaning of Lain.

coalgirls_serial_experiments_lain_04_1008x720_blu-ray_flac_260d7cf9-mkv_snapshot_03-14_2011-08-17_06-45-39The series follows Lain, a shy young girl with an inability to communicate with her peers. When a classmate commits suicide, she learns of a mysterious email going around the class from the deceased girl. Having no knowledge of computers, barley checking her emails, she finds herself driven by curiosity. She goes home and finds the email waiting on her barely used PC. Reading it, she finds herself having a conversation with the deceased girl. She tells Lain that while her body maybe dead, she still lives online in the Wired. Asking Lain why doesn’t she join her. Be free in the net. From here, the series becomes Lain’s journey exploring the net, watching the lines between reality and the Wired blur, and finding her place in both.

It’s clear, even from a cursory look at the series, Konaka had his eyes firmly set on the evolution of computers and technology. The series features multiple references to Apple. It’s slogan being “Close the world, Open the nExt”, referencing the NeXT company. It’s ‘to be continued’ slates at the end of episodes, featured a blue and red Be, reminiscent of the logo for Be Inc. The robotic voice heard throughout the series, uses Apple’s Synth Speech synthesiser, specifically the ‘Whisper’ setting. As well as the appearance of Lain’s first computer in the series, resembling a red version of Apple’s Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Episode 9, “Protocol”, explores throughout the episode the history of computers. Detailing figures, projects and devices such as Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, Project Xanadu, and the Memex. Serial Experiments Lain is certainly a well-researched, and thought-provoking series.

What’s interesting, is how well the series can be used to explain and explore Marshall McLuhan’s theory of the Global Village. Spoken about in both the books, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) and Understanding Media (1964), the Global Village comes out of McLuhan’s teachings about media always extending one part of ourselves. For example, a car extends our legs, and television extends our eyes, ears and sense of touch. With the Internet, or at least McLuhan’s prediction of the internet, he describes a system that extends our central nervous system. Creating a Global Village, populated by everyone. A way for us to stretch our consciousness across the planet to communicate with others. This can be seen not only with the deceased classmate, but also with how Lain and others appear while online. The random appearances of online entities in the real world, further blur the line. Questioning how far consciousness can be spread, as well as the boundaries of the physical and digital worlds.

Lain-002-20160202Throughout the series, the humming of electricity from telephone wires, reverberates through the screen. Reminding us of the Internet’s consistent presence. Essentially buzzing all around us every moment of the day. If our consciousness is extended through this Global Village, and its existence is all around us. Then the story and strange occurrences within Serial Experiments Lain, could very well be possibilities at some point. If we could truly expand our consciousness, as McLuhan says, to the point that we could leave our physical bodies. Then, wouldn’t the opposite also be a possibility? Expanding something from the internet, to affect the real world.

This is certainly not the first time McLuhan’s work has been touched on in popular culture. A notable, and highly relevant example in this situation, is David Cronenberg’s Videodrome in 1983. The digital prophet within the films plot, Brian O’Blivion, parallels McLuhan not only in appearance, but in his teaching.

While Serial Experiments Lain spends a large amount of time explaining the history of computers and the internet. Predicting the likes of Anonymous with ‘The Knights’, and even touching on conspiracy theories. Konaka seems to have hidden far more academic influences within his work than it initially seemed. Turning what could have been a largely forgotten, and somewhat uncomfortable series. Into a highly relevant, and teachable show, that is still being spoken about and examined almost 20 years later.