In terms of anime being broadcast and streamed this season, most of the offerings have not struck an interest with most viewers. However, there has been one series which has attracted plenty of praise.
ERASED (the English title is normally written in block capitals), known in Japanese as Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (The Town Where Only I am Missing), began as a manga comic in 2012 by Kei Sanbe, and is due to end in March. The anime series on 8 January, will be 12 episodes long, and will also conclude with the same month with some chapters that have yet to be published. A live-action film will also be released next month. It is a mixture of sci-fi, murder mystery and thriller, noted for its gripping storylines.
The story begins in the year 2006. 29-year-old Satoru Fujinuma is a struggling manga artist who works part-time as a pizza delivery boy to make ends meet. Satoru has a strange ability which he calls “Revival”. Whenever a life-threatening incident is about to occur near him, he can jump back in time a few seconds and prevent that incident from happening. He has experienced plenty of tragedy before, but he has trouble remembering it as his mother Sachiko tried to make him forget about parts of his past. However, Satoru slowly comes to remember that when he was aged 10 three children were kidnapped, including classmate Kayo Hinazuki. Satoru partly blames himself for Hinazuki’s death because he could have interfered and possibly prevented her death, but he didn’t.
While out shopping together, Satoru and Sachiko witness a failed kidnapping. Later that same day when Satoru returns from work, he walks past a stranger, and in his flat he finds a dead body. When a next-door neighbour spots Satoru and the body, she automatically assumes that Satoru is a murderer. The police come to arrest him, but Satoru instead flees, and as he does so undergoes his Revival.
When he has travelled back in time, he discovers something very unusual. He is in the company of children that he knew from his childhood, walking on his way to school. Satoru learns that rather than jumping back a few seconds in time like he normally does, he has travelled back 18 years into the past, to winter 1988, and is now in the body of his 10-year-old self. Satoru decides to use this opportunity to prevent the kidnappings that occurred and prevent the deaths that happened in 1988 and 2006.
At the time of writing this article ERASED has broadcast five episodes, and so far people have praised the dramatic plot. The time travel aspect of the story is not the major element here. Instead it is Satoru trying to prevent a terrible act from happening. The story features plenty of things that are disturbing, including murder, kidnapping and child abuse. It would be easy to make the story to have over-the-top violence and to be sensationalist, but it doesn’t. Although this is a time travel story, there is still an element of realism in it.
Whether it continue this pace remains to be seen as the series continues, but the popularity of the show is so great that a British anime distributor has already picked the series up for a Blu-Ray release, which is something of a rarity.
ERASED is currently streamed on Crunchyroll. It will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray by All the Anime at an unspecified date.
Peter Kay’s Car Share has been named the Comedy.co.uk “Comedy of the Year 2015”.
In an online public vote the sitcom, which also co-stars and is co-written by Sian Gibson, who also co-write with Tim Reid and Paul Coleman, also won the award “Best New British TV Sitcom”.
Other TV shows that won awards included the final series of Peep Show, which won “Best Returning British TV Sitcom”, children’s show Horrible Histories for “Best British TV Sketch Show”, Would I Lie to You? for “Best British TV Panel Show”, The Graham Norton Show for “Best British TV Entertainment Show”, and Inside No. 9 for “Best British TV Comedy Drama”. The special “Editors’ Award”, given to the show that did was not vote for any of the major categories but felt deserve recognition by the websites editors (for whom the editor of On The Box happens to be one) went to political sitcom Ballot Monkeys.
An online vote was also held for the worst comedies of the year. Most of the worst comedies where those hosted by Keith Lemon. The Keith Lemon Sketch Show was the worst sketch show, Celebrity Juice the worst panel show, and Keith Lemon’s Back T’Future Tribute the worst entertainment show. However, the worst sitcom, the show voted the worst comedy of the year, was Mrs. Brown’s Boys.
The awards, which are decided by a public vote via readers of the British Comedy Guide and which nominate all comedy shows across the year to be name the best and worst in their category, are now in their 10th year. The awards cover both TV and radio comedy.
Below is a full list of winners of the best awards:
- Best New British TV Sitcom: Peter Kay’s Car Share
- Best Returning British TV Sticom: Peep Show
- Best British Radio Sitcom: John Finnemore’s Double Acts
- Best British TV Sketch Show: Horrible Histories
- Best British Radio Sketch Show: Dead Ringers
- Best British TV Panel Show: Would I Lie to You?
- Best British Radio Panel Show: I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue
- Best British TV Entertainment Show: The Graham Norton Show
- Best British Radio Entertainment Show: Mark Steel’s in Town
- Best British TV Comedy Drama: Inside No. 9
- Comedy of the Year: Peter Kay’s Car Share
- British Comedy Guide Editors’ Award: Ballot Monkeys
This week a look at a series which comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray today. It is an anime which in some ways offers much, but in other respects takes it away.
World Conquest Zvezda Plot (“zvezda” means “star” in some Slavic languages) was an anime that was broadcast early in 2014. 12 episodes were broadcast, and there was a 13th episode released on its own – something which at the time of writing is omitted by Wikipedia as it happens. The series is a comedy, dealing with a group of people with a simple mission: trying to take over the world.
Set in the fictional city of West Udogawa, which is under a state of martial law. Schoolboy Asuta Jimon has run away from home, and while on the streets he finds a little girl who has been knocked off her tricycle, who Asuta helps. The girl, named Kate Hoshimiya, claims that she is actually the head of a secret society called Zvezda, actually named Lady Venera, whose goal is world conquest. As Asuta has found out her identity (due to Kate telling him), he finds himself having to join Zvezda.
Asuta ends up living in Zvezda’s not-so-secret headquarters (their name is on a sign outside the front door), and primarily finds himself taking up the role of the cook in the HQ. There he interacts with the rest of Zvezda: eye-patch wearing swordswoman Itsuka Shikabane (code name Lady Plamya); Ukrainian scientist Natasha Vasylchenko (Prof. Um); cake-loving former gangster and Itsuka’s father Goro (General Pepel); cowardly smoker and self-proclaimed “chief solider” Yasu Morozumi; and udo-eating female robot Roboko. Each episode sees them carrying out mad schemes in order to conquer the world, and fighting against the enemies, normally a government organisation called White Light, whose members secretly include Asuta’ classmate Renge Komadori.
On the plus side, World Conquest Zvezda Plot is a rather funny series, and will appeal to those who like their comedy on the surreal side. Probably the best episode is one in which Yasu’s smoking becomes such an annoyance for everyone else that Zvezda motivate all of West Udogawa to declare a violent purge of all smokers in the town. Smoking becomes a recurring element to the story when the true villain in the show is revealed to be someone who smokes cigars as a weapon. Another nice aspect of the series is the fact that you end up liking a group of people which seemingly has a diabolical motive.
The main downside to this collection, in particular this new UK release, is that it contains no extras at all. You only get the 13 episodes. You also only get the Japanese translation with English subtitles, so there is no English-language dub. Some people are reporting issues with the Blu-Ray subtitles as well. The other problem is that this collection is released under the Kaze label, which does put off a lot of anime fans because they are seen as being rather unprofessional.
But concerning the content of the actual show, it is a fine, entertaining series. The series is itself has a somewhat open ending, so whether there will be more episodes is unknown.
World Conquest Zvezda Plot is released on Blu-Ray and DVD by Kaze.
It seems comedy shows are to be the main feature of BBC Three’s launch online on Tuesday 16th February.
Among the programmes launched on the night of the switchover will include the third series of Greg Davies’s sitcom Cuckoo. The series originally focused on father Ken (Davies), whose daughter married an America hippie named Cuckoo while on her gap year. The character of Cuckoo, played by Andy Samberg, was killed off after the end of the first series and was replaced with his long-lost son Dale (Taylor Lautner).
Also featuring on the launch night is a new stand-up series, Live From the BBC, showcasing stand-up performances from comics including James Acaster, Dane Baptiste, and Danish comedian Sofie Hagen, the most recent winner of the Edinburgh Newcomer Comedy Award.
So far the only other programme confirmed for the launch day is a new film in BBC Three’s documentary series Life and Death Row. One of the station’s new online shows is a selection of short stand-alone films from Life and Death Row entitled Love Triangle.
BBC Three is using comedy to promote the switchover, with a trailer featuring People Just Do Nothing’s Chabuddy G (Asim Chaudhry) currently online. People Just Do Nothing, a sitcom about a pirate radio station, began as an online pilot before moving to TV on BBC Three, and now moving back online with a new series shifting with the channel as part of the switchover.
This week we have a series that at first might seem dull, but when you watch it you see that it has the odd surreal edge and comic touch, plus some unusual artistic touches.
Hidamari Sketch (Sunshine Sketch in English) began as a manga in 2004 by Ume Aoki, and has had four anime TV series since 2007. This is a comedy series focusing on the day-to-day lives of students living together. This is not at some implausible world, or school with some odd policy towards its students like so many anime, but a perfectly normal school which happens to specialise in the arts. At first it may seem boring, but things change when you watch it.
The central characters live at Hidamari Apartments, where four female students live together outside Yamabuki Art High School. The story is told from the viewpoint of Yuno, a kindly if rather weak-willed girl. We follow her at the apartment and at the school, as well as her three friends: Miyako, her lively classmate and next-door neighbour; older student Hiro, who is always worrying about her weight; and Hiro’s neighbour Sae, who also works as a novelist.
Each episode follows a day-in-the-life of the students, sometimes at school and sometimes on their days off. They have their own fun, and they have their own things to worry about as well. They also have to put up with the eccentric behaviour of their teacher Ms. Yoshinoya, who has a habit of dressing up and annoying the school’s principle. Each episode ends with Yuno musing in the bath about what has happened that day, which bizarrely makes think of Open All Hours. It reminds me of when Arkwright (or more recently Granville) mused as he closed up his corner shop.
Hidamari Sketch is a series which does surprise. There is the comedy in it, which come from the relationships between the main characters and Yoshinoya’s strange habits. However, the best thing about the series is the artwork, which is appropriate for a series following art students. It features things such as mixing the anime with photographic images. Sequences in which a character walks a short distance are shown simplistically by just having a blank screen, showing footprints walking from one side of the screen to the other. One of the best episodes is one in which Yuno has a fever and has delusions due to her illness.
The first series has just been released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK this week, but it has some problems. The biggest is that it only comes with a Japanese dub with English subtitles, and no English-language dub. This is not a major problem, but what makes it worse is that the subtitles are frequently misspelt. For example, one character says “of cause” rather than “of course”, whereas another time “can’t” is spelt without a “t”, and don’t think they were just trying to spelt “can”, because it still came with an apostrophe.
Hidamari Sketch is a gentle, warm series. If you are willing to put up with the typos, you can still enjoy the look and feel of the show.
Hidamari Sketch is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by MVM Films.
This week’s anime is interesting for two main reasons: firstly it has a British connection, as it is loosely based on the Arthurian legend. Secondly is the company that released it English – Netflix.
The Seven Deadly Sins started as a manga by Nakaba Suzuki in 2012 and was adapted as a 24-part TV anime series starting in 2014. A second series will begin later this year, but if the release of the first series is anything to go by you might have to wait a bit longer to see it. While most streaming services dedicated to anime normally release each series an episode at a time, Netflix waited until the entire series had been released, not releasing the series until 1st November 2015.
The series is set in the kingdom of Britannia, a map of which seems to depict the country in Scotland and Northern England, at a time when the world was still connected to one which had magic and strange creatures. 10 years prior to the story the main military might of the country was the Seven Deadly Sins, a band of seven warriors of various clans each baring an animal tattoo representing a particular sin. However, the group where framed for planning a rebellion and so they fled, leading to the military now being ruled by the magical Holy Knights.
Moving to the present day, the Holy Knights have staged a coup, taking over control of Britannia from the king and his three daughters. The youngest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, manages to flee and decides to find the Seven Deadly Sins in order to help restore her father to the throne. One of the places she finds a pub called the Boar Hat (great beer, terrible food), run by a perverted young boy who keeps a talking pet boar named Hawk (eater of all the leftover scraps of terrible food). The boy takes Elizabeth in but soon the Holy Knights track her down. However, when they take on the boy they discover to their horror and Elizabeth’s delight that he is in fact the captain of the Seven Deadly Sins – Meliodas, the Dragon Sin the Wrath. He manages to defeat the Holy Knights and decides to help Elizabeth track down his comrades, taking his pub with him. This is possible as the Boar Hat really is a boar’s hat: Hawk’s gigantic boar mother lives under the pub, wearing it as a hat, and so the pub moves from town-to-town.
The series then sees Elizabeth and Meliodas tracking down the other Seven Deadly Sins. These include the giant Diane (the Serpent Sin of Envy), the immortal Ban (the Fox Sin of Greed), the fairy King (the Grizzly Sin of Sloth), and the dream-manipulating Gowther (the Goat Sin of Lust). Together they try to find old magical weapons they previously lost, battle wrongs caused by the Holy Knights, and attempt to restore their reputation.
The Seven Deadly Sins is typical of what are referred to as “shonen” series; anime aimed at boys that intend to run for a long period of time. It features the typical lead heroes, the long fights and the cartoonish humour that you expect to see in such series, with other famous examples including One Piece (No. 6) and Naruto (No. 95). It makes for excitable viewing, although some critics have also criticised for being too similar to such shows and thus being predictable. Others criticised Meliodas for his perversion, as he is often seen groping Elizabeth.
Tackling the points mentioned in the beginning, the first point of interest is that The Seven Deadly Sins is connected with the legend of King Arthur. Indeed, the character of Arthur Pendragon, ruler of the neighbouring kingdom of Camelot, appears in the series. However, there are plenty of differences in relation to the original legend. For starters, another one of the other Seven Deadly Sins is Merlin (the Boar Sin of Gluttony), but in this series Merlin is a woman.
The other point of interest is that this series was released by Netflix in English-speaking territories. This leads to one point of annoyance for me personally, which is that when people talk about services like Netflix they often talk about how brilliant it is in offering a wide range of shows and making its own shows like Orange is the New Black or House of Cards, but no-one really focuses on the stuff they release that is not in English. Netflix stream lots of anime, much of which has been covered in this column previously. Anime on Netflix currently include Death Note (No. 8), Black Butler (No. 10), Attack on Titan (No. 11), Bleach (No. 15), Pokémon (No. 25), Fairy Tail (No. 52), Magi (No. 67), Vampire Knight (No. 75), Blue Exorcist (No. 77), Ghost in the Shell (No. 83), Yu-Gi-Oh! (No. 88), Blood Lad (No. 92), Space Pirate Captain Harlock (No. 107) and Tokyo Ghoul (No. 108). However, as mentioned, Netflix’s main problem with anime is that unlike their competitors they do not release each episode as it comes out. A series might take a year to be released when a service like Crunchyroll will release each episode as it comes out, with English subtitles.
One other problem that The Seven Deadly Sins also has specifically is that so far they have only shown six of the seven sins. The character of Escanor, the Lion Sin of Pride, has yet to appear in the anime, but presumably will make his debut in the second series.
The Seven Deadly Sins is released exclusively on Netflix.
Last week’s column covered the series Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne (No. 140), in which the lead character is immortal. This week we look at a more series with another immortal lead character, although this series is more pleasant in tone.
Beyond the Boundary began as a series of light novels in 2012 by Nagomu Torii, and then became a 12-part TV series in 2013. There have also been a collection of online short animations, a prequel episode, and two films. It is a series where the visual aspect is seemingly better than the written story. The central heroine is particular appealing.
The story begins with a male schoolboy named Akihito Kanbara spotting a female student attempting to commit suicide by jumping off the school’s roof. Akihito runs to the roof to stop her, although the main reason he does this is because the girl in question wears glasses, which he has a fetish for. The girl in question, Mirai Kuriyama, jumps backwards and saves herself, but then unwraps a bandage around her hand, and removes a ring from her finger. A wound that was covered by the bandage bleeds, and the blood forms a sword which she uses to stab Akihito through the chest. However, he lives.
Akihito lives because he is not entirely human. He is half-human, half-yomu, a form of monster, unseen by most people, that is formed by human resentment. The monsters can take on various guises, including animals and people. Mirai is a Spirit World Warrior, a person who hunts and kills yomu. She is the one remaining member of a clan of warriors who are able to control their blood.
At first she keeps trying to kill Akihito, but later Akihito manages to make her change her mind, and instead tries to build up Mirai’s confidence as a fighter. The story then follows them as they continue to make more friends, Mirai becomes a stronger fighter, while Akihito tries to control the yomu part of himself. Most of all, they must prepare themselves for the arrival of a yomu that could destroy the entire world, in an event known as, “Beyond the Boundary”.
The best bit about Beyond the Boundary is the quality of the animation. The character designs are especially good, with Mirai being a particular draw. The Japanese have a word, “kawaii”, to describe things that are especially cute. With her big red glasses, pink hair and cardigan, Mirai fits the word “kawaii” especially. There are also plenty of moments in the show to make you laugh and the soundtrack is good too.
There are some issues however. The plot is at times sometimes seems confusing, at other times poorly written, and occasionally you find yourself drifting off. Also, you can only get the OVA preview in the American release, not the British one sadly.
Beyond the Boundary is a series which is best in terms of its visual aspect. It makes for a pleasant watch, even if some other aspects might be, to reference Mirai’s catchphrase, “unpleasant”.
Beyond the Boundary is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Animatsu.
The past few columns have been looking at children’s films, so this week we are looking at something at the opposite end of the scale: an 18-rated series, full of sex and violence.
Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne was released in 2008 and made between two anime studios: Xebec and Genco. One aspect of this series that makes it different from most anime is the way the series is structured. Most anime tend to be 12-13 episodes long, with episodes broadcast weekly at around 22 minutes in length (without adverts). This series features six episodes, each 45 minute long, broadcast monthly. Also, while at first it seems to be a detective show, you soon see that it also features fantasy.
The story begins in 1990. The central character, Rin Asougi, is female, bespectacled, suit-wearing private detective, who works in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo with her computer expert partner Mimi. While working on a case involving a missing cat, Rin finds a man named Koki Maeno who has trouble remembering his past. Looking into Koki’s background, she finds that Rin is connected to a pharmaceutical company and together Koki and Rin investigate. During this, Koki discovers that he is a clone, but soon the duo is captured and Rin is tortured to death by the boss of the company. However, for Rin this is not a problem, because she and Mimi have a secret: they are both immortal.
Rin escapes and rescues Koki, who after learning of his past decides to work for Rin. With regard to Rin’s immortality, she and Mimi reveal that it is to do with a strange tree called Yggdrasil which releases orbs called “Time Fruits”. If a Time Fruit enters a woman it makes them immortal, but if it enters a man it turns him into a monstrous “Angel”, a winged violent beast with a short-life span, and one of the few beings that can actually kill immortal women. When an Angel is nearby, an immortal woman enters a state of sexual arousal and offers themselves up to the Angel.
Over the series, Rin takes on more cases, with assistance from Mimi, Koki, and Koki’s family as the show extends itself over a long timeline, having started in the past of 1990 and concluding in the near-future of 2055. During the 65 years the story takes place, Rin comes into conflict with several recurring villains, the worst being Apos, a sadist who is after the Time Fruit inside Rin and constantly hires people to try and capture her, especially an assassin called Laura who keeps trying to kill Rin over and over again.
Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne is not the greatest of anime series. The plot itself is rather thin. Certain aspects are rather confusing, such as the title of the show being a reference to Greek mythology (Mnemosyne is the mother of the Muses), while the tree Yggdrasil comes from Norse mythology. The one reason why anyone would want to watch this show is because of the gory aspect of it. For example, as stated earlier there is a scene where Rin is tortured to death at a pharmaceutical company. The way the torture is carried out is be being pierced to death, in the sense of having her entire body being covered head to foot in piercings. After this scene is over, Rin just takes off and carries on as normal.
It is not just piercings that Rin is the victim of. During the series Rin is shot, stabbed, crushed, blown up, falls from great heights, has acid poured onto her, and is sucked up into a jet engine. It is not just Rin who ends up being on the receiving end of violence. There are several scenes with Apos torturing numerous immortal women by dressing them in wedding dresses and bondage gear (restrains, ball gags, blindfolds etc.), and then stabbing them repeatedly so their bodies are covered in swords. On top of all this Rin and Mimi are frequently naked. There are straight and lesbian sex scenes involving the characters, which at first is slightly worrying when you see Mimi involved because she looks rather young, until you remember that because she is immortal and thus is presumably hundreds of years old. Besides, in the opening scenes of most of the episodes she and Rin are seen drinking vodka, which is another indication of their real age. What is more disturbing is whether or not the scenes in which the immortal women’s uncontrollable sexual arousal involving with the Angels are rape scenes or not.
However, in comparison I feel that Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne is not as offensive as a series such as Mad Bull 34 (No. 119), which is also a crime anime featuring huge amounts of sex and violence. Because the main characters in Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne are immortal, you know that they are going to be OK physically, and the characters seem not to be harmed mentally either, presumably because they are used to what has happened to them for such a long time. Mad Bull 34 however, is set in the real world. The women in that show often end up dead after they are beaten up or sexually attacked.
Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne is a series to watch if all you are interested is action. If it is gore you want, this has plenty of it, but there is little to merit it otherwise.
Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne is released on DVD by Manga Entertainment.
Once more we look at Studio Ghibli’s movies which are being screened on Film4, and a very special one for this column, as this is the last of Hayao Miyazaki’s feature films to be mentioned here.
Children’s fantasy Ponyo, originally released in English as Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, was released in 2008, and is arguably the most child friendly of all the movies made by the studio often considered to be Japan’s Disney. This is mainly because this movie has one of the youngest leads, with a boy aged five. The main character however is a member of an entirely different species.
The film follows a magical female goldfish named Brunhilde, who lives with Fujimoto, her father who was a human, but then he turned back on humanity and now lives underwater. One day Brunhilde sneaks away and travels to the surface of the ocean, but she gets trapped in a bottle during the journey. She is found by a boy named Sosuke, who lives in a house on the edge of a cliff. Sosuke smashes the bottle with a rock but cuts himself doing so. However, Brunhilde likes his bleeding wound better. Sosuke gives Brunhilde the name “Ponyo”, puts her in a bucket of water and takes her to school, but while playing near the coast with her Fujimoto manages to get her back as he is worried about what a human would do to her.
Back underwater, Fujimoto is horrified by the fact that Ponyo has tasted human blood, because it allows her to slowly transform into a human. When Fujimoto is not looking, Ponyo escapes once again, transforms herself fully into a human, and rushes back to the surface to find Sosuke. She does so, but she releases so much magic that Ponyo creates a tsunami and caused a flood. Fujimoto notices that the moon appears to be much closer to Earth, and worries that the magic Ponyo has released might end up destroying the world. The following day, Ponyo and Sosuke see that the water has risen to such a level that the cliff is now an island. How Ponyo and Sosuke can cope is unknown.
Ponyo is one of the most charming Studio Ghibli films, primarily due to the youth of the characters. It is the film that most wants to take you back to your childhood. Ponyo herself is one of the warmest and friendly characters in the Ghibli canon, with her magical innocence. Perhaps it is for this reason that Hayao Miyazaki wanted to make a sequel, but he was later convinced by the film’s producer Toshio Suzuki not to do so, and instead they made The Wind Rises (No. 73).
One odd thing about the film however is the credits. Miyazaki decided to post all the names, around 400 people, in a period of just 110 seconds, which was the length of the first verse of the movie’s theme song. The film just listed the names, not the jobs of each person, and hoped this would be a statement of equality, showing that everyone who made the film was equal, from the actors and investors, right down to the cats in the studio. However, according to The Anime Encyclopedia, what it actually did was associated nobody with the film rather than anybody, so the only name anyone considers with it is Miyazaki himself.
Ponyo is a film that is best watched with all the family, as it is a film that everyone can enjoy and be swept up with the magic. Also, it is grand for me personally that I have finally been able to cover all the feature movies directed by one of anime’s most famous names, although there were other films which he also wrote rather than directed, some short films and other projects he did too. However, it is his own films that he directed himself for which he will be remembered. From his debut with The Castle of Cagliostro starring one of anime’s most famous creations Lupin III (No. 90), and moving on to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (No. 38), Laputa: Castle in the Sky (No. 121), My Neighbour Totoro (No. 39), Kiki’s Delivery Service (No. 122), Porco Rosso (No. 137), Princess Mononoke (No. 58), Spirited Away (No. 42), Howl’s Moving Castle (No. 138), Ponyo and The Wind Rises, Miyazaki has been able to move anime into the mainstream, giving us in Britain evidence that anime can be a truly glorious medium that can connect with anyone.
Ponyo is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Studio Canal. The film is to be screened on Film4 at 11.00am on Wednesday 30th December.
Once again we look at another Studio Ghibli film to be shown on Film4 over the festive period. This is actually one of the most famous Ghibli films, directed by Hayao Miyazaki and nominated for an Oscar.
Howl’s Moving Castle, released in 2004, is a loose adaptation of the Welsh fantasy novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. Originally the film was not going to be directed by Miyazaki, as he had announced one of his many retirements around this point, but the original director Mamoru Hosoda had left the project suddenly, so Miyazaki was brought into complete it.
The film begins with a young hat-maker named Sophie, who lives in a country which is currently at war. Walking around town one day she encounters the wizard Howl, a man who is rumoured to steal the hearts of girls. When Sophie returns home she encounters an enemy of Howl, the Witch of the Waste, who places a curse on Sophie that she cannot mention to anyone else: Sophie is magically transformed into an old woman.
Looking for a cure Sophie leaves home and enters “The Wastes” to find a cure. While on her trip she encounters a magical scarecrow she names Turnip Head who guides Sophie to a place where she can find a cure: Howl’s castle, which is a gigantic machine on legs that roams around the country side. She enters and encounters the other occupants such as Calcifer, a fire demon forced to provide the heat and fuel for the castle; and Markl, a boy who works as Howl’s apprentice.
Sophie learns that the castle’s front door can magically connect to other buildings and discovers that Howl works as a wizard under numerous aliases for both countries who are currently at war. However, Howl is not interested in fighting. When Howl learns of Sophie’s arrival, Sophie claims that Calcifer has hired her as a cleaner, so she lives in the castle. As the story progresses, Howl plans to use Sophie to help him escape from the fate of having to serve in the war, while Sophie herself keeps trying to find a cure for her curse.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of Howl’s Moving Castle is the artwork. The image of the moving castle itself is perhaps one of the most famous images in all of anime, alongside the Totoro from My Neighbour Totoro (No. 39) and images from the Oscar-winning Spirted Away (No. 42). Spirited Away itself also has in important part to play in this film, because Howl’s Moving Castle was the next film Miyazaki directed after his Oscar-winning success. As stated, Howl’s Moving Castle was also nominated for the award, but it lost to Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Also, Howl’s Moving Castle had an impressive English dub cast, featuring performances from Jean Simmons as Sophie, Billy Crystal as Calcifer, Lauren Bacall as the Witch of the Waste, and Christian Bale as Howl.
It should also be pointed out for those who have only read the original novel by Diana Wynne Jones that Howl’s Moving Castle is not a faithful adaptation of the book. While the novel is set in a traditional fantasy kingdom, the film’s setting is more akin to a steampunk world. Also, many of Miyazaki’s recurring themes appear here that don’t appear in the book. The movie was made near the time of the Iraq War, so the pacifist Miyazaki included a war in the film with Howl not wanting to fight in it. No such war appears in the novel.
Howl’s Moving Castle is certainly one of Studio Ghibli’s more impressive works in terms of visual impact. The differences in the plot between it the novel may put some people off, but other than this it is still a great film.
Howl’s Moving Castle is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Studio Ghibli. It will be televised on Film4 on Christmas Day at 13.20.