The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 71 – Humanity Has Declined

September 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Humanity Has Declined 1

The last series covered, Clamp’s X, was a rather gloomy apocalyptic series. This time we look at something post-apocalyptic, but also a lot more cheerful and funny.

Humanity Has Declined originally became as a series of novels in 2007 written by Romeo Tanaka, with a 12 part anime being adapted from a selection of them in 2012. This is a rare example of satirical anime, although it features surreal elements too. Also, despite the satirical edge, it is also light hearted, colourful and jolly.

The series is set in a period in the future in which the human civilization has collapsed: there are no big cities, electricity is limited; and what remains of the falling human population now lives in small rural communities. The only life-form that seems to be flourishing is a race of constantly smiling, easily influenced, sweet-loving fairies.

Despite the downfall of civilization, the United Nations has survived. The central heroine is a UN mediator, whose job it is to both help the residents of the small settlement of Camphorwood Village, and to both work alongside and learn about the fairies. This is an easy job for her as she is one of the few people who still makes sweets; thus the fairies flock to her. The one thing we don’t know about her is her name. She is often referred to simply as “I” (“Watashi” in Japanese), but her true name is never revealed. The narrator lives with her Grandfather, who has a passion for guns; and her Hawaii-shirt wearing, mute Assistant.

Most of the stories are told over two episodes, with the narrator having to investigate certain strange goings-on, which normally are discovered to be caused by the fairies. The problem is that once the fairies get hold of an idea they become uncontrollably keen on it. For example, their desire to get more sweets results in them trying to clone the narrator multiple times; another time the narrator and some fairies are stranded on an island in the middle of a lake. The fairies make the narrator queen of the island, which results in the fairies founding, expanding, and destroying their own island-wide empire in around a week.

Humanity Has Declined is a very funny show. The topics covered range from consumerism, science, and even manga. One of my personal favourite stories in the series sees a friend of the narrator called Y who uncovers a printing press, a photocopier and some computer discs which contains some yaoi (male homoerotica aimed at women). This results in Y publishing her own yaoi, and it becoming a gigantic craze. Thinks take a dramatic turn however when the narrator, Y and Assistant find themselves in a white, featureless world. It turns out they are trapped in a blank manga comic and need to find a way to escape.

Not only is it funny, but it is surprisingly cheerful given the situation. This is a post-apocalyptic comedy. Now, this is a subject that has been covered before in this column, as the mecha series Gurren Lagann (No. 50) is also post-apocalyptic, but both are funny for different reasons. Gurren Lagann is funny because it is over-the-top, big and brash; Humanity Has Declined is funny because it is satirical, absurd and cultural, as the series references other anime and cultural phenomenon (references are explained in the subtitles).

Aside from this, the animation looks wonderful. I like the soft, pastel-like art which adds to the gayety of the show. The soundtrack is also good, especially the opening theme song, “Real World” by Nano Ripe.

If you need cheering up, this series is a great way to do it. Even if the world as you know it was to end, it would make you laugh. Although if the world really did end, finding an electricity supply might be tricky.

Humanity Has Declined can be streamed via Crunchyroll, and is on Region 1 DVD from Sentai Filmworks.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, Extra III – Reading Manga

September 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

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While this column covers Japanese animation, you have to remember that Japan also has a big comic book industry alongside it. Most TV, film or straight-to-DVD anime are either adaptations of comics known as “manga”, were later adapted into manga themselves, or both the anime and manga were an adaptation of something else entirely, like a novel or game.

Manga arguably both dates back to the mid-19th century has a British origin. While there were some comics in Japan before this period, manga first started to flourish after the country slowly started opening up its borders after a long period of international isolation. One of the first imported comics was a Japanese version of Punch Magazine in 1862 aimed at foreigners living in Yokohama. From these comics, manga as we now know it began to evolve. The major leap came in 1963 with the first TV adaptation of a manga, in the form of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy (No. 1).

This special column deals with the subject of reading manga in English. If you are new to manga you will automatically experience at least one major issue: namely that in English you read left-to-right and then up-and-down, but in Japanese you read up-and-down and then right-to-left. Thus in the eyes of English readers it looks like you are reading a book backwards and the speech bubbles are often column-like in shape. All publishers that release manga in English tend to have a page at the “start” of the book telling you stop reading because you are actually looking at the end first. Some manga also provide more information on how to read the pages and on some Japanese terms and cultural aspects.

If you are hesitant about reading manga because of this, it may be advisable to read something that is drawn in the manga style but in a different language. Korea and China have their own comics, known as “manhwa” and “manhua” respectively, and although they are not held in the same high regard as Japan’s comics there are some neglected gems. Plus there are things like Original English Language manga (OEL manga), which are comics written in English, but drawn in the manga style.

Concerning these, I would recommend the following:

  • Aron’s Absurd Armada – a Korean manhwa about a band of pirates lead by the idiotic captain Lord Aron Cornwall. His crew consists of a woman called Ronnie who the crew mistake for a gay man; a transvestite hair stylist and assassin; and a cook whose food is so bad it is used as a weapon. Very funny and entirely in colour unlike most manga, but some have criticised it for being homophobic.
  • Planetary Moe – an OEL manga from Mexico, the series is akin to Hetalia: Axis Powers (No. 26) and features anthropomorphic personifications of the planets and stars. The art is brilliant and it often deals with recent astrological discoveries.
  • Demon Candy: Parallel – a Canadian OEL manga, this series is best described as Fifty Shades of Grey if it was funnier, cleaner, less sexist, truly reflected what BDSM is about and just better in every single way imaginable. The story is about an 18-year-old guy who is tricked into selling his soul to a succubus. He can only get his soul back by spending a year in Hell, resisting the fetishist advances of those around him.

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Moving into actual Japanese manga, there are plenty of choices to make. You can start by picking an anime you are into and reading the manga version of it. Often anime only partially adapt a manga because the original is still being written at the time of production. Therefore if you really want to get the full story, the manga version is often best place to go to.

When it comes to the manga industry, you can learn much from the series Bakuman (No. 9), which is the manga about two guys who create their own manga. The manga version in my opinion is better than the anime adaptation.

Of course there are plenty of manga that have never been adapted into anime, either because an animation studio has not picked them up, they have been subject to live-action adaptations instead, or the creator of the manga has chosen not for their work to be adapted. Here are some personal favourite of never animated manga.

  • Yostuba&! – A children’s manga, the story follows an excitable 4-year-old girl (the title character) and her merry take on the world. A heart-warming and amusing story that is entertaining for all, young and old.
  • The Drops of God – A manga about wine. Central character Kanzaki Shizuku is the son of a wine critic who has shunned his father’s love of the drink. When his father dies Kanzaki discovers the will is a contest between himself and a professional wine critic, trying to identify 13 different wines. This manga has had an actual impact on real-world wine sales.
  • With the Light – A manga aimed at women, the story follows mother Sachiko Azuma who struggles to raise her autistic son Hikaru. Speaking as someone who has an autistic spectrum disorder, the story rings true and deals with many of the issues surrounding the condition.
  • The Heart of Thomas – One of the earliest shonen-ai (gay romantic manga). Set in all-boys boarding school in Germany, the story starts with pupil Thomas’s suicide. Juli, a male pupil who loved Thomas, is then shocked by a new arrival who looks just Thomas.
  • Lone Wolf and Cub – From the 1970s, this violent samurai based manga is considered a classic. No anime versions were made, but there have been six live action films amongst other adaptations. The lead characters have appeared in other anime however, and even appeared in American cartoon Samurai Jack.

Ian Wolf works as manga critic for MyM Magazine, available in WHSmith, all good newsagents, and digitally.

TV Films of the Week

September 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

TV Films of the Week 38

FILM OF THE WEEK: The Raid
Friday September 12,  Channel 4, 11:55pm

Despite Hollywood’s best efforts at appropriation, there was a time when Hong Kong remained unbeatable when it came to making martial arts movie classics. It had stars such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li; it had directors like Lo Wei, Lau Kar-leung and Yuen Woo-ping; and with studio titans like the Shaw Brothers, no one else could lay a hand on the then British territory, let alone a fist, foot or bo staff. This dominance came to an abrupt end in 2003, when Thailand’s Ong Bak introduced the world to the diminutive yet deadly Tony Jaa and offered up a new level of thrills through its brutal yet electrifying realism.

11 years later and just a few hundred miles south east, Indonesian actioner The Raid exploded onto screens with a similar in-your-face, up-your-nostrils and out-the-back-of-your-head-style kineticism. Where Ong Bak brought us the bone-breaking martial art of muay thai, The Raid provides a showcase for the equally mind-blowing fighting style of pencak silat. Stupendously violent, yet so creative you’ll laugh and applaud as much as you’ll wince and shudder, once again it raised the bar so high that the English-speaking world couldn’t help but watch goggle-eyed in wonder.

The plot is pleasingly minimal. A crack SWAT team is sent out to secure a Jakarta high rise full of Indonesia’s most heinous hoodlums, at the summit of which lies the fortress of a notorious crime lord. To describe their journey to the top as treacherous would be one of the understatements of the millennium. Inevitably, a US remake is in the works, and a sequel broadened the scope considerably, but as The Raid’s final fight scene proves, the simplicity of locking three killers in a room and letting them duke it out to the death is pretty much unbeatable.

 

SET THE RECORDER FOR:

The Darjeeling Limited
Sunday September 14, Channel 4, 1:05am

Inexplicably one of Wes Anderson’s least heralded films, The Darjeeling Limited is actually one of the auteur’s most lyrically satisfying works. Meandering through the adventures of yet another dysfunctional family, three brothers (played by the perfectly odd trio of Adrien Brody, Jason Shwartzman and Owen Wilson) set out to rediscover themselves and each other by journeying through India on the luxury Darjeeling Limited train service. It might play best to committed Anderson fans, but if you’re not one to write his films off as ‘too whimsical’, you’ll take delight in the usual mix of harboured grudges, passive aggression and sibling rivalries, all with a deliciously exotic twist.

 

Blade Runner: The Final Cut
Sunday September 14, BBC Two, 10:45pm

No matter how many times you’ve seen Blade Runner, you haven’t properly seen it properly until you’ve watched The Final Cut, given that it is the only release of the film over which director Ridley Scott had complete artistic control. Thus – however geeky this may sound – it’s the only one to give audiences the true vision of his seminal adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s science fiction treatise on existence and mortality. Dangerous Days, a comprehensive documentary charting the making of the film, follows immediately after for all Blade Runner completists.

 

Wadjda
Thursday September 18, Film4, 9pm

Given the circumstances it had to contend with, it’s remarkable that Wadjda was made at all. First of all writer and director Haifaa al-Mansour spent five years securing funding for a film about the struggle of being female in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia. Then there was the fact that, whilst shooting on location in Riyadh, al-Mansour could not mix with the male film crew, and had to direct via walkie-talkies and a monitor. Her efforts were more than worthwhile, however, with the bittersweet tale of a girl and her dreams of owning a bicycle shining a light on a culture rarely represented in cinema.

 

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

 

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 70 – X

September 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

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We conclude our quick glimpse at our look at the early work of the all-female Clamp group of manga artists by look at what is considered by many to be their greatest work. It is also possibly the best treatment of any of their work, and also certainly the anime with the shortest title – with the exceptions of the series known as F and K.

X, also known as X/1999 because it is set in the year 1999, began as a manga in 1992 and has published 18 volumes to date. It has been given two anime treatments. The first was as a feature film in 1996, and the second as a TV series with a straight-to-DVD pilot that ran from 2001-2002. The series is a mixture of action, tragedy, romance and the supernatural, which all combines together to create one apocalyptically great work.

The story begins with teenager Kamui Shiro returning to Tokyo after a long absence. His mother has died and his main desire is to protect the people closest to him: his old school friend Fuma Monou, and Fuma’s sister Kotori. During his visit however Kamui learns that Tokyo is to be the site of the battle which will determine the fate of the world, which is to be fought between two forces of supernatural abilities.

On one side are the seven “Dragons of Heaven”, who believe that humanity can live alongside the Earth and guide it safely into the new millennium. On the other are the seven “Dragons of Earth”, who believe that humanity is a plague on Earth and should be wiped out to insure the planet’s survival.

Kamui is contacted by various people and is asked to join one of the two sides, but all he wants to do is protect Fuma and Kotori. However, when they are dragged into the battle, Kamui is forced to make his choice. His choice results in him not just trying to rescue his friends from a terrible fate, but will also decide the entire future of humankind itself.

There are several reasons for watching X, the first of which is that this is one of the best adaptations of any of Clamp’s work. Both the film and the TV series have merit. The film may have while released while the manga was only just beginning, and thus is not the most faithful of adaptations. But it looks stunning visually, the action is thrilling, and some scenes are pleasantly dreamlike. It is a powerful watch.

The TV series meanwhile is the more faithful adaptation, although like the film it was made while the manga was still being written. The plot makes use of themes such as religion and the environment, as well as combining a story aimed at women that featured elements of more violent male-orientated manga.

The other major draw is the characters. Kamui, the lead character, seems to be one that divides people. Many people find him off-putting because he’s so gloomy, brooding and dark. However, others claim that due to his tragic background and the life around him, he’s one of Clamp’s more interesting characters.

Again, Clamp’s cross-referencing comes into play, with some of the characters in X appearing in later works. But also characters from earlier projects reappear in this series. The most notable characters to crop up in X are Subaru Sumeragi and Seishiro Sakurazuka from Tokyo Babylon. I will not reveal their exact roles in X however, as it would spoil it for people who have not read the Tokyo Babylon manga.

If X has one big problem it is the ending. As stated, both the film and the TV series were released at a time when the series was still being written. Indeed the series is still being written… and yet it’s not being written. In 2003 the magazine publishing X was worried it was becoming too violent, and as a result it has since been in hiatus, so no-one knows how the series will end, if at all. Let’s hope that one day it will have the finale it deserves.

The film version of X is released by Manga Entertainment. The TV version of X is released by MVM Films.

TV Films of the Week

September 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

TV Films of the Week 37

FILM OF THE WEEK: Paths of Glory
Saturday September 6, ITV4, 4:10pm

Last month marked 100 years since Britain entered the First World War, to this day still oxymoronically dubbed the Great War. Of course, there was nothing great about it at all. Not only did 10 million soldiers and seven million civilians lose their lives, but the aftermath laid the foundations for the rise of National Socialism in Germany and even more unimaginable horror to come. So while it is right to commemorate the many who lost their lives on the battlefields of Europe, it is inexplicable that the utter folly of the leaders who sent them there has been all but ignored.

Those in charge of the centenary events would be well advised to watch Paths of Glory, the first of three anti-war films that Stanley Kubrick would make during his career. Doing so would take them not just to the heart of the trenches and over the top with several of Kubrick’s masterly visual techniques, but also to the opulent palaces well behind the frontline, where military commanders practiced a murderous blend of hypocrisy and deceit.

It is this that Kirk Douglas’s French colonel has to contend with, as well as German guns and artillery, in defending three low-ranking soldiers from charges of cowardice, after all were sent on what was tantamount to a suicide mission by a promotion-chasing general. Amazingly for a major studio picture of the 1950s, nobody comes away with any glory, and Douglas sums up the affair (and, indeed, the entire war) when he proclaims: “There are times that I’m ashamed to be a member of the human race, and this is one such occasion.” The final scene, featuring the film’s one moment of compassion, only underscores the dreadful lack of humanity that precedes it.

 

SET THE RECORDER FOR:

The Ides of March
Saturday September 6, BBC Two, 9:15pm

News emerged this week that George Clooney is to adapt Hack Attack, Guardian journalist Nick Davies’ account of the phone hacking scandal that rocked the British media and political establishment, for the big screen. It will be the third time Clooney tackles the corruption of democracy, having already done so in the excellent Good Night, And Good Luck and The Ides of March. The latter sees an idealistic young campaign manager (Ryan Gosling) discover that the Obama-esque presidential candidate he works for (Clooney) isn’t quite the paragon of virtue his supporters believe him to be. A fantastic ensemble cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti ratchets up the tension to the very final scene.

 

No
Monday (night) September 8, Channel 4, 12am

In less than two weeks, Scots take to the polls to decide the outcome of a historic referendum on independence. It’ll be far from the first time voters have been asked to put their cross next to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ box, however. In 1988, the Chilean public did exactly the same to answer the question of whether dictator Augusto Pinochet should stay in power for another eight years. No is set in the weeks leading up to the vote, following the story of an advertising creative (Gael García Bernal) drafted in to spice up what had become a dour campaign against Pinochet. Director Pablo Larraín adds authenticity to proceedings by shooting in low definition video, blending actual news coverage from the time seamlessly with his own footage.

 

The Thing
Thursday September 11, ITV4, 11:40pm

John Carpenter’s masterpiece of paranoia, with a blood-curling twist of body horror, The Thing remains the finest terrestrial-based work of science fiction ever made. Kurt Russell leads an all-male science research team (the film doesn’t even qualify for the Bechdel test) that stumbles across an other-worldly life form in the desolate environs of the Antarctic. Set mostly in the claustrophobic rooms and corridors of the research station, Carpenter subverts the standard creature feature by having the alien hide (in plain sight) in the men’s living, breathing bodies. Underwhelming at the box office on its release in 1982, The Thing has rightly gone on to gain status as a cult classic.

 

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 69 – Tokyo Babylon

September 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Tokyo Babylon 1

Continuing on from last week’s piece, we shall look more at the early works of the all-women group of manga artists known as Clamp. This series, like RG Veda, is a short adaptation of a much larger work, and is noted for its art. However, this series is also noted for featuring one of, and my opinion the top, coolest-looking anime character ever.

Tokyo Babylon started as a manga and ran from 1990 to 1993, but like with its predecessor the anime version was only two episodes long, the episodes released in 1992 and 1994 respectively. There is also a live action film released in 1993. The series mixes detective fiction with the supernatural. But it also features another genre that we have not covered before: “shonen-ai”, a form of gay fiction. To put it into context, yaoi, which we have covered before in this column, tends to be erotic, while shonen-ai is more romantic.

Set in modern-day Tokyo, the central character is 16-year-old Subaru Sumeragi, who is a skilled magician and exorcist. He is often called upon to solve mysterious cases of non-human origin, or just solves a case that he stumbles upon himself. Subaru lives with his twin sister Hokuto, whose main passion is designing unusual ranges clothing for both herself and her brother; and with Subaru’s love interest Seishiro Sakurazuka, a 25-year-old vet.

As the series progresses, we release that there is more to Seishiro than first appears. He too appears to have his own supernatural powers, and often helps Subaru in times of crisis. However, Seishiro’s purpose is discovered to be much darker and deadlier.

If you just see the anime, Seishiro’s true purpose is never revealed. In fact, the stories that appear in the anime are totally original stories that do not occur in Clamp’s original manga. However, as stand-alone stories they are pretty decent. Obviously however, the manga is the superior creation as it contains the entire original plot and displays Clamp’s great art.

Indeed, I would argue that Subaru Sumeragi is the coolest-looking character in all anime. Because of Hokuto’s taste in fashion, Subaru is always dressed in a range of strange clothes. In the anime, the one that stands out for me features Subaru in a red jacket, a red porkpie hat, a trousers/sleeveless shirt one-piece, and black gloves. I just love that look.

He is also often seen wearing large cross necklaces. In the manga his outfits are sometimes military themed and his outfits can be even more extreme-looking at times. I like the fact he stands out of the crowd, but at the same it does not overpower you. If you were to see him in the street he would catch your eye, but not in a garish way.

As stated before, like with most of Clamp’s work, there is a lot of cross-referencing between their series. Both Subaru and Seishiro appear Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, like Ashura and Yasha in RG Veda. Subaru and Seishiro would also have major roles in the article I am covering next time, which is arguably Clamp’s magnum opus, as well as being the anime with one of the shortest titles: X.

Tokyo Babylon is available, second hand only, on Region 0 DVD from Central Park Media.

TV Films Of The Week

August 29, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

TV Films of the Week 36

FILM OF THE WEEK: The Wild Bunch
Saturday August 30, ITV4, 10:55pm

If you fancy an uncompromising action movie this weekend, two immediate options include schlepping to the cinema to see the latest outing of Sylvester Stallone’s ever-diminishing Expendables franchise, or staying home on the sofa to catch director Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 masterpiece. Both feature a band of increasingly grizzled mercenaries, closing in on retirement but still handy with a firearm and a fist. In a classic shootout, though, Sly and his muscled meatheads would likely stand little chance against the wily old veterans of The Wild Bunch.

Of course, Peckinpah’s film is far from the exercise in empty gunplay that every one of The Expendables represents. Certainly, it’s about violence – and brutal, bloody violence at that. But it’s also a requiem for the myth of masculinity in America’s Old West where, to quote Pike, leader of The Wild Bunch’s outlaws: “You side with a man, you stay with him, and if you can’t do that you’re like some animal.”

Operating in the early twentieth century, Pike and his gang are effectively men out of time, clinging to an (im)moral code in a world where technology has made everything – killing included – more impersonal. Nowhere is this symbolised more than the machine gun the group steals for a corrupt Mexican general, precipitating what remains the most shocking slaughter ever seen on screen. The Wild Bunch would go on to influence generations of new directors, from Scorsese to Tarantino. Stallone, unfortunately, cannot count himself among them.

 

SET THE RECORDER FOR:

The Science of Sleep
Sunday (night) September 1, BBC Two, 12am

If Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was director Michel Gondry’s critical triumph, then The Science of Sleep was his difficult second album (let’s conveniently forget it’s actually his third film). Both are unconventional love stories, but while the former was far from orthodox, the latter, with a narrative that blends the reality of consciousness with the fantasy of dreams, might be too whimsical for some. A sprinkle of Spotless Mind screenwriter Charlie Kaufmann’s could have helped, but Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg make for utterly charming leads and the film still offers more imagination and delight than most.

 

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Tuesday September 2, Film4, 1:35am

A word of warning: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a film for which the category of ‘avant-garde’ may seem a little too conservative. In fact, even labelling it a ‘film’ seems wrong – it’s much more an ambient experience. If you can overcome any prejudice against a work that incorporates themes of memory, reincarnation, transformation and death, and explores them all at languid pace alien to most modern cinema, this could be the most enlightening, transcendental encounter you ever have whilst sat in front of the television.

 

Rust and Bone
Tuesday September 2, Film4, 11:10pm

Another alternative love story, in the wrong hands Rust and Bone could have drowned in its own melodrama. As it is, its tale of the fragile affection/lust between a killer whale trainer whose life is turned upside down by a workplace accident and an itinerant worker with dreams of becoming a mixed martial arts fighter overcomes any implausibility to offer something much more profound. This is undoubtedly helped by the presence of Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts (who combines red-blooded force and placid sensitivity to a tee) under the taught yet tender direction of A Prophet’s Jacques Audiard.

 

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

TV Films Of The Week

August 22, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

TV Films of the Week 35

FILM OF THE WEEK: Insomnia
Saturday August 23, BBC Two, 11pm

Last week the world mourned the premature death of Robin Williams, an artist with an almost preternatural gift for the type of stream of conscious comedy that could transfix audiences large and small. Williams was a gifted actor too, leaving us unforgettable performances in films like Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society and his Oscar-winning turn in Good Will Hunting. Less well known, but no less memorable, were the two films that saw him explore the darkest side of the human psyche: Mark Romanek’s One Hour Photo and Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia.

Insomnia, Nolan’s follow-up to Memento, is actually a remake of a Norwegian thriller of the same name – a move that many young directors of promise (as Nolan was back in 2002) might have shied away from. But in setting Al Pacino and Williams against one another in a game of psychological cat and mouse, alongside side excellent support from Hillary Swank and all framed by Wally Pfister’s superlative cinematography, Nolan achieved that rarest of feats: an English language remake that is equal to, if not better than, its source material.

Just like Memento, Insomnia features a flawed hero trying to regain a sense of order in his life, whilst simultaneously struggling with the malevolent force trying to pull him further into chaos. Pacino’s detective, sent to investigate the brutal murder of a teenage girl in an Alaskan town where the sun never sets, is that hero; Williams, the prime suspect, is the malevolence incarnate. As a double-bill with One Hour Photo, Insomnia will forever serve as an outstanding reminder of the latter’s extraordinarily multifaceted talent.

SET THE RECORDER FOR:

The Wizard of Oz
Saturday August 23, Channel 5, 3pm

Regularly acclaimed as one of the greatest films ever made, The Wizard of Oz was not a big box office hit when it was released in 1939, overshadowed by the far more successful Gone With The Wind. But while the latter is now seen as a relic of its time, The Wizard of Oz continues to capture the imagination of every generation that proceeds it. A marvel of song and set piece, it succeeds by asking children (and adults) to confront their fear of the unknown, then offering the comfort that they can always find the strength to overcome and embrace it.

Re-Animator
Monday August 25, Film4, 1:20am

To celebrate the ongoing FrightFest film festival, this weekend Film4 is running a slew of horror films once bracketed in the mythical ‘video nasty’ section by our still mostly heinous red-top newspapers. Amongst the best of the bunch is Re-Animator, an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s tale of Herbert West, a sort of latterday Dr. Frankenstein, who invents a serum that can bring the dead back to life. Although outrageously gory, it maintains a deliciously camp sense of humour throughout, elevating it far above the status of mere exploitation movie.

Zombieland
Thursday August 28, Film4, 9pm

Yes, it’s another zombie movie. And no, Zombieland doesn’t do anything that we haven’t already seen in other films of the genre. What it does have, though, is the perfect mix of creative destruction and dark comedy, making Zombieland just about the most fun you can have whilst spending time in the presence of the undead. It also features possibly the best cameo appearance in a film ever that, if you’ve seen it, you absolutely must not spoil for those who haven’t.

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 68 – RG Veda

August 20, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

RG Veda 1

For the next few columns I shall be covering the early works of a group of manga and anime artists known as the “Clamp” group. This is a group of all-women artists and writers, who first began working in the mid-1980s and have continued to produce some of the biggest, the most popular, and the best looking manga and anime. However, while their manga is often considered great, some of the early anime adaptations do not quite to their work justice.

Clamp’s debut work was RG Veda, a fantasy series that spanned 10 volumes between 1989-1996. However, the anime consists of just two Original Video Anime (OVA) released in 1991-1992. The series is based on Vedic Mythology, which is related to Hinduism. As a result, the title is pronounced “Rigveda”, not “R. G. Veda”. There are some notable differences, such as the characters having Japanese names.

In this world setting, 300 years ago the “God-King” was murdered in a rebellion by the cruel thunder god Taishakuten, who is now the current God-King and will do anything to maintain his power. In the present day, the mighty warrior Yasha, who comes from a clan destroyed by Taishakuten, learns of a prophecy that a band of six people, known as the “six stars” shall overthrow the current God-King. Yasha is one of the stars. The second is Ashura, a genderless child whose mother and Taishakuten magically sealed to prevent him from causing trouble. Yasha frees Ashura, and together they go searching for the other four stars and start their rebellion.

They soon find another three stars: Ryu, young king of the Dragon Tribe who wields a gigantic sword; Soma, a woman who fights with two boomerang-like blades; and Karura, who has fights with her own bird and controls flight magic. They continue searching for the sixth star, while also being attack by Taishakuten and followed by the mysterious Kujaku, a traveller who many of the six stars do not trust, but Ashura finds friendly.

The original manga of RG Veda is very good for the reason why most of Clamp’s work is very good: the way it looks. Clamp has always been praised when it comes to the quality of their art, and it is in this work where we see it first materialise. It is not just the characters, but the landscapes that look wonderful too, especially in this epic fantasy setting.

However, the anime version has several problems. The main one is the obvious brevity of the series, as it is only two episodes long. Plus, it does not start at the beginning. It starts in the middle of the story, so if you have not read the manga understanding it is problematic. The first episode is an adaptation of one of the stories in the manga, whilst the second is an original story that they seemingly needed to write in order to reveal the identity of the sixth star to the other main characters. Also, due to the fact that the characters have Japanese names, it is hard at times to understand the relationship between this story and the original myths that they are based on.

You might be wondering why there is any point in watching this. I would argue that it is worth a watch on the grounds that this was the debut work from Clamp. Therefore if you want to know the origins of Clamp, this is the starting point. Of course, you should read the manga in tandem, but this is hard as the company that published it in English, Tokyopop, is no longer publishing English-language works, thus only second-hand copies are currently available.

The other reason to start with this is that Clamp has the habit of cross-referencing their works. Characters from one series will appear in another later work. The six stars in RG Veda later appear another of their works called Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle. Therefore seeing and reading Clamp’s works in chronological order makes more sense.

RG Veda’s anime is therefore looking into if you are interested in Clamp’s origins, but the manga is the better work.

RG Veda is available on Region 1 DVD from Central Park Media. It was released also released in the UK on video cassette by Manga Entertainment.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 67 – Magi

August 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Magi 1

There are plenty of anime which are adaptations of stories from outside of Japan. For example Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy (No. 1) made a version of Metropolis, inspired by Fritz Lang’s movie; and one of Oscar-winning Hayao Miyazaki’s earliest projects was a children’s version of Sherlock Holmes featuring cartoon dogs named Sherlock Hound. This week we look at a series inspired by the 1,001 Arabian Nights – although if you look at the characters it is hard to tell they are Arabian.

Magi began as a manga in 2009 by Shinobu Ohtaka. So far two series, both 25 episodes long, have been made adapting it, known as The Labyrinth of Magic and The Kingdom of Magic respectively. There is also an Original Video Anime (OVA) that began earlier this year and is still being made. The series features many characters whose names will be familiar if you have either read the Arabian Nights, or if you have seen the Disney version of Aladdin. Aladdin is one of the lead characters, and the series also features Alibaba, Jafar, Sinbad and so on. However, Magi’s version of Aladdin is very different.

Here Aladdin is a small boy who is a “Magi”, a powerful user of magic, able to control the essence in people’s bodies known as “Rukh”, which take the form of bright white butterflies that are invisible to most people. After living a mostly secluded life, he travels around the ancient world with nothing on him except the clothes he stands up in, a magic flying turban, and a metal flute which contains his friend Ugo, who is a magical spirit known as a “Djinn”.

Aladdin then meets and becomes friends with Alibaba, a young man who plans to capture one of the world’s many “Dungeons”, magic lairs protected by Djinn. They enter and successfully capture such a dungeon, with Alibaba also controlling its fiery Djinn Amom, who possesses Alibaba’s dagger and thus allows Alibaba to turn it into a blazing sword. During their journey the duo also become friends with a girl called Morgiana, a slave they free who has great strength and wants to find out more about her mysterious native tribe.

The story follows the trio, sometimes together, sometimes on their own separate journeys, as they learn more about the world and about themselves. Along their journey they meet Sinbad, the wise and powerful king of the island nation of Sindria who acts as a friendly guide for the group. They also learn of an evil organisation called Al Thamen, who seems to want to bring despair and chaos across the world, and have a stronghold in the Far-Eastern nation of the Kou Empire.

Anyone familiar with the Disney film Aladdin will notice some big differences. For example, Jafar is a good guy, working for Sinbad. This series is also a lot more action-packed, and has a lot more blood in it than the Disney movie. The plot is good. The longer stories are pretty dramatic, especially when the sinister Al Thamen gets involved in the plot and Aladdin learns more about his purpose in life. In fact, just about all the characters are entertaining, from the leads to the side-characters.

There are some issues with Magi however. Firstly in the UK it is released by the company Kaze, which amongst UK anime distributors has a pretty bad reputation. Out of the five major companies selling anime in the UK, you have Manga Entertainment and MVM who are the old guard, with Manga releasing the big popular titles and MVM sometimes releasing stuff a bit more cultish. Then there is Studio Canal, the company who release Studio Ghibli’s films and thus they have the most anime producers to their name. Then there is All the Anime, the new kid on the block which has already established trust amongst customers with the quality of their releases.

Kaze however are not known for their quality, which is shame given its history. It is probably the biggest anime company in France, which was the first country outside Japan to embrace anime. However, since the company’s founder left it all seems to have gone downhill. People have complained about the quality of their DVD and Blu-Ray releases, as well as their anime streaming service Animax. They haven’t really been able to restore their reputation with most anime fans.

The other issue with Magi, which was a problem expressed by those who have seen the Disney Aladdin movie as well, is that despite this series being set in Arabia, almost everyone appearing in it is white. This has led to complaints that the series is politically correct or even racist. Now, while you could argue that the reason for this “whitewashing” is because Japan is such a monoculture and that they are not really aware of the impact that such depictions have on overseas readers, you do also get the feeling that surely they should represented the region more.

Plus there is the issue of the countries in this world setting. There are Arabic-like places, Roman-like places, magical empires (think Hogwarts but a bit more fascist), and so on. But the Kou Empire, who can be considered at times to be the major antagonist in the series, appears to be Chinese-like. Given the trouble between Japan and China in the past and the present, I do worry that there might be issues here.

It’s troublesome for me because I find Magi rather entertaining. I’d say it’s a bit like watching a rather blue comedian. You laugh at the rude jokes, but want to show your disapproval at the same time. I feel slightly guilty watching Magi, but that makes it a guilty pleasure that I really do enjoy.

The first series, Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, is split over two collections on DVD and Blu-Ray from Kaze. Both series are viewable on Animax. The OVA, Adventure of Sinbad, has yet to be released.

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