Moving away can be tough, but it doesn’t always have to be. For Satsuki and Mei, two rambunctious children living in Japan in the 1950’s, it’s an adventure, in spite of the sad circumstances that brought them to their new home. The Kusakabe family has just moved from the big city into a more rural, country-esque community, surrounded by farms and woods, but they aren’t there for the change of scenery. They’ve moved there to get closer to the hospital that their mother is staying at while she battles an unspecified long term illness. The community is warm and welcoming, their new neighbors are supportive to them, but most importantly, they have each other. While their father Tatsuo spends his day working in his room, Mei and Satsuki play with each other around their new property, searching the house for ghosts, running around the yard, and exploring all the weird and quaint wonders of their new home.

It isn’t long at all, however, before things start to get strange. Their first encounter with the supernatural was fairly innocuous, as they discover a horde of tiny black soot spirits living in the dark corners of their home, which flee into the shadows whenever the two of them enter a room. Things get even more bizarre the first time Mei is left to her own devices, and she begins to uncover creatures living near them in the woods, including the mighty Totoro, a hibernating beast nestled deep below the roots of a giant tree, who becomes fast friends with her. Described by her father as The King of the Forest, Totoro isn’t always around, but he shows up when they need him, keeping them company or helping them out, all without saying a word. They’ll need his help more than ever, however, as a vague telegram brings up the troubling news that their mother’s condition has gotten worse, and a fight between the two sisters creates a terrifying situation. Can they rely on their spirit friends once more to see them through, or have they been all alone from the beginning?

This is the third Studio Ghibli film that I’ve reviewed, and out of the three, this one is probably the closest to what I’d consider the standard Hayao Miyazaki style. Of course, almost all of Miyazaki’s movies are visually gorgeous… My Neighbor Totoro is a solid thirty years old now, after all… But Totoro is one of his more cartoony looking projects, and it’s probably one of the best looking out of them. One particular note I’d like to make is something I didn’t really notice until watching this movie again this week for the third time in my life… There are exceptions, notably Spirited Away, but for the most part, the characters in Hayao Miyazaki’s films look less realistic the younger they get, with the adults having more or less realistic proportions, children being a little more exaggerated with larger facial expressions, and the littlest of children being portrayed as adorable little goblins with heads too big for their bodies and mouths wide enough to make Totoro himself jealous. It works well because of the cartoony nature of the designs, though.

The same can’t really be said for the backgrounds, which are highly detailed and realistic throughout, although they did manage to create some incredibly diverse scenery. There are times when the background can feel a bit stiff and lifeless, but this is mainly during scenes where we’re supposed to be paying attention to the characters anyway, and the artwork itself is still beautiful to look at. I haven’t been this entranced by the clouds in the sky of an animation since I reviewed Diebuster, and a lot of the imagery from the forest seemed like it was taken right from the forest next to my own house, which I used to explore quite liberally when I was younger. Honestly, the tunnel under the shrubbery that Mei takes to get to the large clearing is a dead wringer for a similar path that I used to crawl through back in the day. Backgrounds that actually move, like scary swaying trees at night, tall grass being pushed through and fields of grass and other plants being rustled by gusts of wind, are very well captured and lushly drawn.

The character movement is perfectly fluid and graceful, well, as graceful as two clumsy, awkward kids and a cat bus with creepy, millipedey legs can be. There’s a lot of running, which I’ve heard can be particularly difficult to animate in 2D, but that’s what this movie entirely is… Traditional, hand-drawn 2D animation, which makes the aesthetic especially impressive. And that’s not anything against the CG that Miyazaki would use in later movies… I understand perfectly well why they needed to use it in Spirited Away, because the story took place in one giant set piece, with a terrifying number of working parts and crazy inhabitants, so it had to be a major boon for them, but I still vastly prefer the look of the hand drawn Kusakabe house, as it gives so much life to the crumbling old structure. The final thing I should mention is probably the design of Totoro himself, as they were so flawlessly able to walk the line between unique looking monster and fluffy, adorable gentle giant, and while I don’t know enough about Japanese mythology to place whether he’s based on anything, I can still understand any kid wanting to befriend him.

Just like Spirited Away, the music for Totoro was composed by Joe Hisaishi, but this time around, since there’s less going on in the story, I was able to soak it in a lot better, as his tracks aren’t just supporting the product, but acting as important elements all their own more often than not. Since there’s no real action to speak of in the film, the score is very childhood oriented, with tracks ranging from happy, fun and upbeat to calm and relaxing, with very few exceptions for the sake of it’s few serious scenes. The most memorable track is easily it’s theme, literally a song about having fun with your friend Totoro, and while it’s been parodied mercilessly(The South Park Cthulhu version is my favorite), it’s hard to listen to without feeling something. The instrumental portion has a curious motif going on, as quite a few of it’s tracks, which otherwise don’t sound that much alike, do manage to have a few bars in common, and they’re bars that also get hummed by the characters a few times, but I’m not sure what the significance is. They are pretty, though, which I think I can say for the rest of the score as well.

As for the English dub, I was surprised to find out the two main child characters, Satsuki and Mei, were actually played by the Fanning sisters… Respectively, Dakota and Elle. Remember in my review of Spirited Away, how I said the character was voiced in a more childlike way compared to the sub, and it didn’t feel like much acting was really being done? Well, the same thing happens here, but it works a lot better for three reasons. First of all, this is a different kind of story. I won’t get into too much about the focus of the plot just yet, but it’s not the kind of story that really requires the individual characters to be particularly interesting or memorable. The focus is primarily on the family, so of course the kids are going to be portrayed as kids. This inevitably leads into the second thing, the brilliant casting of two real life sisters as the main characters. The bond between Dakota and Elle translates completely into their characters, and you can feel the love and familiarity of their established bond, and it adds a level of caring to their dynamic onscreen.

The third reason is that even in her worst movies(Hide and Seek, anyone?), Dakota Fanning’s been a fantastic actor ever since she started out in her career. From her collection of TV cameos in the year 2000, she’s always had the kind of acting chops, timing and stage presence that some adults are never able to achieve, so even in a role where she’s not really expected to do anything more complex than hang out with her little sister, she still manages to shine whenever one of her scenes calls for more emotion… When Satsuki’s worried about her mother, or frustrated with her sister, or going through the big climax of the third act, she does manage to put on a compelling performance. Elle, to a lesser extent, does an okay job as well, I mean she couldn’t really bomb this part as long as she continued to read her lines, but like I said before, the most important thing was their bond, which does sell the characters to us. We do wind up caring about them.

As for the rest of the cast, there really aren’t any other major notes I can make. Satsuki and Mei’s parents are played by respectable character/voice actors Tim Daly and Lea Salonga, one of whom has a long resume stretching back to the eighties, and the latter being a mainstay of Disney movies, playing the singing voice for numerous Disney Princesses. They’re strong actors, but neither had a lot to do here. More noteworthy is Pat Carrol, who was born in the twenties and has been acting since the forties, and is actually still alive and performing today, with a recent role in the Tangled cartoon series. She plays a very kind and lovable old woman, the first person to welcome them to the village and the person who explains the spirits in the area to the two girls. Finally we have the legendary Frank Welker, voice of millions of animated animals, playing the titular character Totoro, among others. It’s a testament to his abilities that he’s able to convey emotion and personality from a role that’s basically just Chewbacca roaring. The adaptive writing does change things, but it does so with a bit more respect for the audience than some other films.

While most of Ghibli’s films are able to garner their own consistent reputations, My Neighbor Totoro seems to be one of the more divisive films in their collection. There are a lot of people who consider the film to be a great nostalgic classic, one of the main movie of their childhoods, but I’ve seen an equal number of people saying that they find the film to be boring, and it’s hard to not see both sides. As much as it manages to be a whimsical tale of childhood innocence, there really isn’t a lot going on in it… It has almost no plot to speak of, and viewers can get so disengaged that they wind up focusing more on the puzzle of whether or not Totoro even exists in the story, rather than anything actually going on in it. There’s also a third camp, people in the middle, who think it’s perfectly fine as a kids movie, but doesn’t have as much appeal to an older audience. These are all solid points, and I can understand where they’re all coming from, but I honestly do feel that it has more to offer, even to adults, than most viewers would realize.

As I stated before, Satsuki and Mei are not, on their own, interesting or compelling characters. You would never want to go to great lengths to see them in any other context, nor would you really want to catch up with them in the years following the movie’s conclusion. They work as a unit, and while they’re not entirely defined by each other… Satsuki is a bit more serious and responsible, Mei is a bit more careless and dependent… They are each other’s most important qualities. What I didn’t mention is that they both share equal space as main characters, something I rarely ever see in sibling-centric stories. Ed and Alphonse are both important in FMA, but Ed is still clearly the main character. Mirai is clearly the star of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, with her puppy Yuuki just being there to act cute, die, and make us cry. Gregory is a very interesting and quirky character in Over the Garden Wall, but he’s still clearly a sidekick in Wert’s story. Mabel and Dipper share equal billing in Gravity Falls, but Dipper is still the one moving the plot forward.

With My Neighbor Totoro, however, both children get equal time to shine, spending more or less the same amount of time both alone and together, both having interactions with Totoro himself, and the only real exception… A certain crisis in the third act… Is still entirely focused on their relationship, despite the relatively dramatic stakes. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d gone over ten years without watching it right up until the time of this writing, the two of them would have been a shoo-in for my top ten siblings list a few years ago, as the bond between them is so strongly written and developed that Miyazaki had no trouble making you care about them and get invested in their story, despite their lack of individual development. I’d even go as far as to say I like the two of them on a more personal note, as they remind me a lot of my brother and me as children… Granted, we were closer in age than these girls are, with only about a year and a half between us, but we still hung out a lot, explored together, and fed both off of and into each other’s imaginations.

And that’s ultimately the point of this movie… The importance of imagination in a healthy childhood. My Neighbor Totoro makes no bones about the fact that Satsuki and Mei are going through a rough time, with their mother in the hospital and their dad working, so the two of them are left with nothing but each other as a support system, coming up with fantasies and elaborate creatures that the adults in their lives are more than willing to humor and encourage. Yeah, that’s right, I think all the supernatural stuff that happens in this movie was imaginary, because I’ve been there… I’ve been a kid, entertaining myself with epic fantasies playing out around me, and even when the creatures in the movie DO tangibly interact with the girls, I could easily see these moments being recreated from stories they told each other or came up with to describe the events around them, much like Edward Bloom from the movie Big Fish. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Totoro and his little minions didn’t appear until Mei was all alone.

With her sister in school, Mei no longer had her playmate, and had to come up with a new one… A big, giant furry one who’s subtly hinted to be based on a frog, and maybe a little off of Mei’s initial impression of the old lady next door. Satsuki didn’t see him at first because it took her a little while to understand why he was important, and to come around to Mei’s way of thinking. Then again, maybe I’m wrong, and it was all real. Maybe Totoro really is the spirit of the forest, he really can fly and call upon help from a cat bus with weird centipede legs, and the two girls are seeing something that’s really there. If this were the case, it wouldn’t bother me at all, as it wouldn’t take away from the movie. It’s never made clear whether or not Totoro exists in the real world or just in the children’s heads, and that’s exactly how it should be. It’s that blur of fantasy and reality that expresses just how important and, well, real our imaginations are to us, both when we were children and even as adults.

All right, before I wrap this up, I should talk about the elephant in the room. Actually, there are two; The first one is that there’s a nude scene in this movie. It’s only a few seconds long, but it shows the girls and their father bathing together, and while that may seem weird and creepy to a western audience… I wouldn’t judge you for not wanting your kids to see it without parental guidance… It is, in and of itself, an innocent scene, as families bathe together in a completely non-sexual context all around the world, so it’s a perfectly innocent moment. I did, however, have a friend once who, when I mentioned the movie to him, immediately said “Ooh, the bath scene…” We’re not friends anymore. Don’t be friends with people like this. The other elephant is a weirdly popular fan theory that the movie is a metaphorical retelling of an old murder, with the girls both secretly dying in the third act, and while I don’t personally believe in this theory, I can kind of see how it came about, and I do get that there’s some evidence for it. I don’t think it holds up, myself, and I personally like to view the movie on it’s own merits, but hey, you do you.

My Neighbor Totoro is available from Gkids, with the original Disney release being out of print. A novelization by Tsugiko Kubo and illustrated by Miyazaki himself is also available stateside with an English translation. Interesting note, Totoro also showed up as a plush toy in Toy Story 3. If you can find it, there’s also an older DVD where, on the case’s artwork, it looks like Totoro’s top is sticking out of his butt. Your welcome.

My Neighbor Totoro is one of Studio Ghibli’s flagship titles, with the big fluffy Totoro himself serving as the Studio mascot, much like the Cat in the Hat is with the Dr. Seuss empire. It might not have accomplished as much as certain other titles in their filmography, with Spirited Away being their only major award-winner in the United States and some of the more dark titles garnering far better critical praise, but in my opinion, this is one of their biggest triumphs. This movie does everything it set out to do and so much more, becoming a timeless classic that even thirty years later, still manages to capture the hearts and minds of children and even some adults(like yours truly). It’s simplistic, but it still has an unmistakable dignity to it, and it stands as proof that you don’t need epic circumstances, intense action scenes or complex writing to make a movie good, and you don’t need randomness, quick editing or flashy CG to appeal to children. If you treat your audience with respect, they’ll come to you, and they’ll never forget you. I give My Neighbor Totoro a 9/10.

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There are two people with us at any given moment… There’s the person we currently are, who’s in charge of every decision we have to make as it comes to us, and there’s the person we remember being. This can be the person we were back in school, where we wistfully wish we’d applied ourselves harder; This can be the person we were last week, when we wish things had played out differently on that date or that big important meeting; This can be the person we were when we were much smaller, as we reflect on how that child could have ever become the adult we are now. For Taeko Okajima, that person is her fifth grade self, and it has been for a while. There was just something about that age, when she stood awkwardly on the cusp of womanhood, that she can’t help but relate to as she navigates the equally confusing path into her late twenties.

As a child growing up in Tokyo, Taeko had dreamed of visiting the countryside like most of her friends, but she didn’t have any family there, and her family didn’t really have the time or resources to uproot and vacation somewhere that they had no connection to. Now, fully grown, and with one of her older sisters married to a man from an extended farming family, Taeko has taken to using her vacations from work to visit her in-laws and work in their fields, which fills her with a satisfaction that she could never get before. This time, she’s going to be picking safflowers, a beautiful, thistle-like yellow crop that is used to make red dye and rouge. It’s not her first working trip, but with the charming Toshio picking her up, and with some of her strongest nostalgic recollections finally getting unexpected resolutions, will there be more to this vacation than she bargained for?

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Moving away can be a tough situation, especially when you’re still a child. Your parents probably have a good reason to relocate… Changes in the economy, lucrative opportunities at work, declining property values and rising crime rates… But how is that supposed to matter to you when you’re being uprooted from your routine, removed from the home you’ve grown attached to, and being forced to say goodbye to your friends? Anybody in that situation would be bummed out, and Chihiro is no exception, sulking in the back of her family car, hugging the one reminder she has of the life she’s leaving behind, a bouquet of flowers. There’s nothing she can do but pout as her family gets closer and closer to their new home, but when her well-meaning father takes a shortcut and winds up getting them lost, that sense of worry and disappointment gives way to something far more ominous.

At the end of a lonely, suspiciously unpaved path, past a wasteland of ancient shrines, Chihiro and her family are stopped in their tracks by an old statue outside of the mouth of a tunnel. Guided through said tunnel by sheer curiosity, Chihiro’s parents wander through it, with their reluctant daughter in tow, and what they find on the other end was more than they could have possibly imagined. Thinking the structures at the other end to be an abandoned theme park, her parents find a booth of fresh food, which they almost immediately begin to chow down on, even as the whole world seems to go to hell around them. As the park’s true inhabitants begin to make their ghostly selves known, Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs, and the terrified girl suddenly finds herself stranded alone at a bathhouse for wayward spirits, and if this unwitting stowaway wants to have any chance of rescuing her folks and escaping this supernatural spa of spooks and spirits, she’ll have to leave her spoiled, selfish upbringing behind and grow up fast under unforgiving circumstances.

This is only the second Studio Ghibli title that I’ve reviewed(Yes, this is the first one I’m posting…  remember, I do things weirdly), and it couldn’t be more different from the first one. To start, this film was actually directed by Hayao Miyazaki himself, and not by the recently departed Isao Takahata, and you can tell the difference from the visuals. It’s worth mentioning that in some of Ghibli’s films, the animation budget is, perhaps, much higher than it needs to be, as there isn’t always much going on in terms of action, and aside from the obligatory flying scenes, some of their work can skew heavily towards realism. In Spirited Away, however, the animation is just as fluid and lavish, but it’s being used for so much more. Studio Ghibli doesn’t really have any bad looking films, with even it’s lesser titles at least being nice to look at, but even among a filmography that’s full of beautiful artwork and vivid animation, Spirited Away still manages to be right up near the top as one of their best looking, if not THE best looking, titles ever released by the prolific studio.

In any Ghibli title, you’re going to be able to expect a very high visual standard, consisting of… At the very least… Fluid animation, graceful character movements, expressive faces, and highly detailed, immersive environments. Spirited Away has all of these, but it also adds so much more that helps it to stand out among it’s peers. The bathhouse, as well as the spirit town surrounding it, is a huge setting with no shortage of different locations to explore, and every single inch of it that we’re allowed to see is rich with detail and personality. The cast of characters, from the main ones all the way down to the hundreds of spirits inhabiting the area, are incredibly diverse, offering enough unique designs to fill out an entire here’s Waldo book, and while a ton of them were obviously pulled from Japanese mythology, they’re still drawn in such a way that the youngest of viewers probably won’t be afraid of them. They also all have their own individual mannerisms and styles of movement that must have taken an unbelievable amount of effort to nail down.

Purely in terms of aesthetic and style, Spirited Away is probably the most visually identifiable title of the Ghibli canon, which is probably why it’s lived on to become the Studio’s flagship title. It’s hard to say what it is, exactly, but once you get past the instantly recognizable creature designs of Haku, Yubaba and the Noface, Chihiro and her parents just have a certain quality that none of Miyazaki’s other human characters have. It’s like a slightly realistic look, not so much as to make them look realistic themselves, but just enough to distinguish them from more traditional-looking anime characters. Look at any other of Hayao Miyazaki’s human characters, and they most likely have the big eyes and simplistic facial structure that Chihiro and her parents were somehow able to avoid. If this was intentional, then it was an especially brilliant move, as it adds another layer of separation between Chihiro and the denizen of Yubaba’s business. I’ve seen this kind of design choice in Takahata’s work, but I can’t think of any other Miyazaki project like it.

Being that this is a Studio Ghibli production, the animation isn’t the only thing you can expect to be top notch. The music, composed by longtime Hayao Miyazaki collaborator Joe Hisaishi, is amazing, the kind of whimsical full-orchestra score that you’d expect to see in a Disney or Don Bluth production. If you think I’m pulling that comparison out of my ass, then please, listen to Reprise and try to get through it without thinking of An American Tail, or any heartfelt movie moment when characters are tearfully reunited. Of course, that’s also kind of my only real problem with this soundtrack… As tearfully wonderful as it can be, it also feels a bit generic, like a lot of it’s tracks just sound like they’d be from some other movie. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great, and they do their job with the story, it’s just that when all’s said and done, it’s just a little forgettable. Even the ending credits song, Always With Me, which is a charming song with a folksy indies feel to it, was just recycled from a scrapped movie that it was originally written for.

As for the English dub, well, my thoughts there are a bit more complicated, and that’s mostly due to the fact that the sub and dub for this film are radically different creatures. It’s a very Disney-sounding dub, especially when compared to the Disney output of the early 2000’s. The adaptive trade-off can be broadly boiled down to ‘personality vs. subtlety,’ as the new version adds a bit more life to the cast, but also skews the dialogue to be a lot more accessible to the average English speaking child. For most of the cast, the acting in the dub is really good, with a couple of obvious stand-outs being Jason Marsden in the role of Haku, which he knocks out of the park despite sounding nothing like the original(and noticeably female) Japanese seiyuu, and the legendary Suzanne Pleshette playing the dual roles of Zeniba and Yubaba in a performance that’s far superior to the original. Fun fact, this isn’t actually the late Pleshette’s only anime role… She also had a small role in Trigun, believe it or not!

Of course, there are other surprisingly big names in the cast… Michael Chilis and Lauren Holly play Chihiro’s parents(I don’t think their last name is mentioned in the movie, but I’ve found them credited as The Oginos), and I’m guessing they were instructed by the director to make them sound like ignorant yuppies, because that’s kind of how they come across, with a few minor dialogue changes and their over-all delivery. One particularly weird choice was Susan Egan as the character Lin, who sounds uncannily similar to Meg from Hercules… Which makes sense, because she also played that character. I don’t know if that’s just how she naturally talks or what, but it’s still such a strange connection. You look at Lin, you don’t think “Hey, she probably sounds like Megara!” And yet, you’ve got the same voice actress, doing the exact same performance. David Ogden Stiers, a certified Frasier and Disney legend who passed away this year, played the role of multi-armed boiler man Kamaji, and he did a much better job creating a new performance.

And that leaves us with Daveigh Chase, a somewhat forgotten child actor who had this as one of her three defining roles when she was still a child… Chihiro is one of her signature characters, along with Lilo from Lilo and Stitch and the little girl from The Ring, and I’m sad to say, any brilliance she might have shown in those other two roles is lost here. Well, okay, maybe that’s not entirely fair. She doesn’t do a terrible job, and I’m willing to give her the benefit on the doubt and chalk her performance up to bad direction, but DAMN is she hard to listen to at times. The original performance by Rumi Hiiragi, who was only slightly older than Daveigh at the time, sounds a bit too old for her role, bringing a deeper register to the character, but she also did a stellar acting job, with emotion and voice control beyond her years. Daveigh’s performance, on the other hand, is mostly full of screaming and lines that sound like they just used the first take each time, but she does sound more believably childlike, but for my money, I’ll take good acting over authenticity any day.

If you’ve only ever owned the original Disney DVD, then you won’t know anything about the adaptive script, which, ho boy, they made a ton of changes when they dubbed this title. I’ll be fair, none of the changes were so bad they had to be removed in later releases, like that disastrous mistake they made at the end of Kiki’s Delivery Service, but it still comes off a little condescending at times. It’s well intentioned enough, but it goes too far at several points. There were a lot of dialogue changes to put events in a more clear context and add more foreshadowing to the story, but adding pig noises to the scene where the Oginos have just started eating the spirit’s food was a bit ridiculous. There’s more explanation given to certain Japanese ideas, with the ‘break the seal’ bad luck curse scene being a smart and necessary example, but I don’t think kids need to be immediately told that Haku’s a dragon just because we don’t see him transforming before flying off, and the last words added to the ending come bafflingly out of nowhere. Also, it puts a lot more emphasis on a romance between Haku and Chihiro, which kind of misses the point of their relationship. It’s a fine dub, but I prefer the original Japanese.

A few years ago, I was reviewing a series called Petite Princess Yucie, where I pondered the merit of reviewing children’s media. On the one hand, yeah, kids will watch anything, but as adults, is it our job to judge the quality of the media we show them? I had a tentative answer for this question, but I’ve changed my tune a bit recently. As long as it’s subjectively safe, and doesn’t contain any harmful lessons, yeah, kids should be able to watch anything. The Magic Voyage is a piece of shit, but I still liked watching it as a kid, and I’d have bitten you if you tried to stop me. I hate Nightmare Before Christmas, but I’d still rather let a kid watch that then Coco, which advocates how noble a choice it is to give up on your hopes, dreams and personal fulfillment just because your toxic, unsupportive family arbitrarily says so. Yeah, I really hated Coco. But from that perspective, Spirited Away is a fantastic movie to show to children, as it’s full of imaginative visuals, bright colors, and it teaches a lot of important lessons, which I’ll get back to in a minute.

Having said that, even if children’s media is safe for it’s target audience, that doesn’t exempt it from criticism, as adult like to watch that kind of thing too, and I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of kids out there reading reviews. You read reviews to see that reviewer’s opinion, and in my opinion, Spirited Away is not one of Studio Ghibli’s best titles. That’s not to say it’s bad by any means, but in terms of writing, it comes up short in a lot of areas. To start, Spirited Away is severely lacking in characterizations. One of the reasons that I feel the actors for Haku, Zeniba and Yubaba did the best job is because they had the most to work with… Particularly with the old mutant biddies, both of whom sport deliciously fleshed out identities, personalities and an interesting dynamic between each other. The character of No-Face feels confusingly pointless and could have been written out with nothing really being lost(Insert Sin Cara joke here), and while Lin has a more important role in the story, I can’t say I know anything about her by the end.

The same could be said for Chihiro. She does manage to grow and develop through the story, but the change is vague, as she’s basically just tougher and slightly more wise by the ending. Aside from refusing to eat with her parents, it takes her all the way until the third act to start showing agency and making decisions, and none of those decisions are ever more complex than ‘do the right thing.’ She’s a likeable character and you do feel for her, you do want her to strive, survive and succeed, but out of all the things in this movie that might stick with you after seeing it, she’s just not one of them. Some of the dangers she gets into don’t even wind up coming back… She starts to fade away, which gets dealt with and resolved by Haku and never comes up again. She signs away her name, which she remembers again when Haku reminds her, but between those two points, I couldn’t recall her forgetting her name ever being a thing in the story. Like, okay, I guess that’s important, but where was it stated that she forgot her name at all?

Part of this weakness is probably due to Miyazaki’s writing style. I’ve heard several rumors about the conception of this story, like that it was written as a present for Miyazaki’s niece, or that Chihiro was based on someone’s daughter, and while I can’t find source information to prove these rumors, they do explain a lot, like how the story seems to be woven together from a bunch of mismatched morals and fables, and how it teaches a lot of small lessons to the viewer, and why Chihiro is such a lego brick. It feels like a story that somebody wrote so they could hide a bunch of these lessons underneath the story so a young viewer might subliminally pick up on them. As I said before, most of these lessons are good ones, and there’s really nothing wrong with teaching them, but there really doesn’t seem to be any sort of unifying theme between them, making the story feel like more of an anthology held together with a tenuous thread of a story than any sort of grand fable.

Of course, there’s one more problem with that approach, and it’s a much worse one. Out of the lessons that this film tries to teach, you’ve got all of these important gems like ‘don’t be greedy,’ ‘be respectful,’ ‘finish what you start,’ ‘be grateful to those who help you,’ ‘good deeds will come back to you,’ and ‘if you help one person, everyone else will expect it and take advantage of you…’ Okay, I said they were mostly good, give me a break. Anyway, the problem with these lessons is that you never actually get to see anyone learn them. I’m serious. These lessons are taught directly to us, and not to any of the characters. The only lesson Chihiro actually learns is that the working world is hard, but was that ever important? I know the pig scene comes to mind, but Chihiro already knew not to steal food, and her parents had their memories of the event wiped. Most of the lessons are things a character already knows, or something completely inconsequential that only the observer will pick up on, like the lesson revolving around Yubaba and her sheltered baby.

All of this feels indicative of one other major rumor I’ve heard about the film, although this one has a bit more backing… Miyazaki is the kind of story-teller who doesn’t like to put story first. From what I’ve heard, he was still writing this movie while it was being animated and story-boarded, which is a distinct departure from the norm, but I believe it. Out of every movie of his that I’ve seen, the only one I refuse to believe was written this way was Princess Mononoke, which had a superb story. But Spirited Away feels way too underwritten in contrast, and it shows in some very weird ways. I wouldn’t go as far as calling Chihiro a Mary-Sue, but her flaws are way too simple, she never has to struggle in making her decisions, and it feels like she was just created to be a role model. There’s also a ton of small contrivances I can’t get over, like the Boiler man having an extra train ticket, or the river spirit just happening to give her an object that would wind up helping her twice, or Yubaba just happening to have taken an oath to give a job to anyone who asks.

I don’t even feel like Haku’s relation to Chihiro, which I won’t spoil as it’s supposed to be this huge revelation, really mattered in the end. It’s foreshadowed in some strangely disconnected ways, with a brief line from Haku early on being the only really connection it gets to the story, and it just kind of winds up feeling random. But hey, if you look at it as a story of a girl trying to survive in a perilous situation where both her and her parents’ lives are on the line, it’s still a fine movie. The pacing is great, the story never drags or gets boring, and the larger writing issues can be ignored by anyone who just wants to sit back, enjoy the visuals, and root for Chihiro as she struggles against all odds to save the day and get back to normal society. Also, I like how there’s no clear villain, and there’s actual nuance to the conflict. As I said before, it’s not a bad movie, in fact it’s more than competent enough to be worth your time, but I don’t think it deserves to be held up among the greats… Not among the anime film medium at large, or even among it’s Studio Ghibli peers. Could be worse, though… It could be Earthsea.

Spirited Away is available from Gkids, on both DVD and bluray formats. The original Disney DVDs are out of print, but it’s still fairly easy to find. A manga adaptation that’s mostly just a compilation of still from the movie is available from Viz Media.

If I’m being brutally honest, I’m not the biggest fan of Studio Ghibli. It’s not that I hate them or anything, and it’s not like I have any specific issue with them, it’s just that it really doesn’t appeal to me personally. I’m not really into Miyazaki’s approach to story-telling, and while I strongly prefer Takahata’s approach, it also doesn’t always work. There are only about three or four titles of theirs that I’ve come to love, two of which I’ll be reviewing this month, but as for the rest, I’m just ambivalent to them. Unfortunately, Spirited Away falls into the latter category. I respect it as a children’s movie, but I don’t really understand what people get out of it when watching it as adults. Sure, there are movies in the Ghibli canon that have a lot less plot than this one, are plotless, but they use this shortcoming to their advantage, whereas Spirited Away is all plot with little sense of character or cohesion, and that’s worse in a lot of ways. I don’t regret seeing it, I’d be happy to watch it again, but I still expected more from it. I give Spirited Away a 7/10.

Hey guys, it’s Naru here, and since I’ve been having a blast since coming back from hiatus, I’ve decided to cap off my June content by doing something I’ve always kind of wanted to do in the back of my mind, but never felt that I was up to the task of doing, and that’s giving you a list of my favorite anime of all time.  Keep in mind, this list is entirely subjective, these are the anime I enjoy, based on the level at which I enjoy them.  That doesn’t necessarily make them good shows, and I honestly wouldn’t recommend all of them, so brace yourself for a couple of embarrassing picks.

Also, I won’t be including movies, any series that’s incomplete, or anything with less than ten episodes to it’s name.  I’ve reviewed at least half of them(I think, too lazy to do the math), so I’ll try  to keep my reasoning brief for each entry, and I think the appropriate length would be about a paragraph each.  If there’s any you’d like to hear more of my thoughts on, then you can go to my browse page to look up the review, or if there’s no review, you can just ask me directly in the comments.

BTW, I used a meme generator to make the images I’m using, so there’s going to be an IMGflip watermark on each one, which I hope won’t get me in trouble.

First, some honorable mentions:
A Certain Scientific Railgun
From the New World
Nichijou
The Devil is a Part-Timer
Ouran Highschool Host Club

And now, onto the countdown!

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Every so often, there comes an area where crime has run rampant, becoming a scourge on the innocent people who want nothing more than to live there peacefully. In places like Townsville, Gotham city, Metropolis, New York City, Tokyo and others seem to be under a curse that attracts the worst of the worst to their streets, where they build their empires, corrupt the political systems, or just rain general destruction down on the population. There are many of these locations, all of which are really better off being avoided, but one town stands out among all the others. There’s one town where the light of hope has all but flickered out, and the concentration of evil in the form of gangs, super villains and horrible monstrosities has almost become the majority. This is Jack Knife Edge Town, and yeah. with a name like that, it’s no wonder things have become so bleak. In a town like this one, the only entity that can stand in the way of the forces of evil to protect the innocent is one man… No. One cop.

That cop is none other than Inferno Cop, who is really more a mass of sentient muscles than a man in a police uniform. Oh, and did I mention that he has a flaming skull for a head? Yeah, despite looking every bit like a hellspawn himself, Inferno Cop is the one man the criminal population fears, and he’s dishing out the kind of hardcore, bloody justice that would make Sleepy Johnny Estes jealous. Having lost his family to the Southern Cross gang, Inferno Cop wants both justice and revenge, and will happily fire his inexplicably explosive bullets at any being that opposes him, even hostages on some occasions. Unfortunately for Inferno Cop, neither avenging his family nor cleaning up the streets of Jack Knife Edge Town will be as easy as shooting a bunch of gangbangers, because there’s a lot more going on here than just your average every day criminal behavior. He’s going to have to fight giant monsters, cyborgs, judges, robot dinosaurs and the forces of heaven and hell themselves to bring this story to a happy ending. It’s a mad world out there, but is he mad enough to survive it?

Well, guys, it’s Studio Trigger time again. I talked about this company a few years ago in what turned out to be one of my favorite reviews from my collection, Kill La Kill. That and Inferno Cop are their first two titles, and also regretfully the only works from them that I’ve actually seen. I’ll eventually see Darling in the Franxx when it’s finished airing, how could I resist with the amount of controversy surrounding it, but for now, all I really know about them is their origin. Studio Trigger was established by former Gainax employees, including director Hiroyuki Imaishi, and information about their first official title… Titled Inferno Cop, if you haven’t guessed by now… has been hard to come by. I read in an interview that they were hired by a youtube channel to create a short length anime series, and after a few concepts fell flat, they eventually settled on an idea they thought nobody has heard of before… A cop who’s on fire and slays evil. That explains the show’s low budget, but there was another detail mentioned that I’m a bit more curious about.

Further down in the interview, Hiromi Wakabayashi states that the basic idea behind Inferno Cop was to put in as little effort or time as possible, and that each episode had to be completed in under two hours. I’ve tried to find some explanation on who mandated this, what circumstances dictated it, or any kind of reason why this was the rule, but in lieu of an explanation, I’ll instead say that Trigger responded to these limitations in a surprisingly inspired way. The animation in this series is a strange combination of high-definition sprites and stock visual effects like fire, explosions and blood spurts. I know people like to say that shows like Robot Chicken are just guys playing with star wars toys, but stop motion animation of any kind is a lot of hard work compared to that image. Well, that same difference in effort exists in Inferno cop, with their on screen motions looking like someone cropped an image and is moving it with his cursor compared to actual frame-by-frame animation.

Does that mean it doesn’t look good? Hell no. As relatively easy as it probably was to animate, Inferno cop looks awesome. Kill La Kill would occasionally move a character like they did in this show, and it was usually pretty funny, but seeing it done non-stop throughout the series is kind of a unique experience. It’s especially ridiculous when you see just how gritty, detailed and edgy the designs are, from the run-down, crumbled aesthetic of Jack Knife Edge Town to the masculine, testosterone-laden character designs that look like they were taken out of a vintage western comic book, being used in such a rudimentary way, there’s something about it that just works. The time and budget restrictions also lead to a lot of the characters having repeated templates and poses, with simple artistic and fashion-related changes distinguishing between the characters. Yet, somehow, it never looks cheap. Yeah, the characters are just still images being moved around(which looks hilarious in the racing episode), but there’s so much happening on screen at any given time that the effect is lost.

Well, that works just fine for the animation, but I’d like to think the music got a little more TLC from the producers, because it’s pretty awesome. There are several episodes that include commercials for the Inferno Cop soundtrack right in their run-time, and I would really like to snag a copy of it, because this show’s music is fucking tight. The music is a hard, fast blend of rock and techno, and I don’t air-guitar very often(or ever, really), but these tracks make it pretty tempting, especially with background tunes like Hell Dillinger and Chaser. There are some cool gimmick tracks like the Egypt-inspired Desert City, the ominous Theme of Southern Cross, and the swanky, swinging OZOMBIEDESUKA, but the real gems of the soundtrack are the vocal tracks. The song Die Hollen Polizei serves as both the intro and closing of the show, and it’s also used constantly as an insert song, which would be annoying if it wasn’t so awesome. My personal favorite, though, is Grue Elise von mir, a bona fide rock ballad that gets used for any ‘sad’ or ‘touching moment in the series, even though they’re kind of hard to take seriously.

Inferno cop never got picked up for an American release, which is a huge shame because I know that Funimation would knock it right out of the park, but they did manage to cast an actor for Inferno himself when his character made a cameo in another anime, Space Patrol Luluco. Christopher Sabat wound up being perfect for the role, as anybody could have predicted, but he hasn’t been able to touch the main series, unfortunately. The original Japanese voice actor was Junichi Goto, a newbie at the time who brought a tough and grisly-voiced performance that makes it sound like he was trying to channel Segata Sanshiro. He’s pretty damn good, as far as my English-speaking ears can tell. The rest of the cast was basically just a handful of guys doing hastily improvised voices, and they’re cast so repetitively that… I swear to God this is true… In the credits in the final episode, they actually fast forward through the cast listing, even though they still list every single character, important or not, meticulously crediting each role.

When I was first exposed to Inferno Cop, I really didn’t have any interest in it. I honestly didn’t even know it was anime… I thought it was Russian, or something. I knew made a brief appearance as an okay joke in an AMV Hell movie, and it made another brief appearance in a terrible reanimated clip in a Ponies the Anthology installment, but aside from those glimpses, I spent five years never having any reason to check it out… That is, until April of this year, when I volunteered at my local anime convention. They had me doing a bunch of odd jobs, but my last one was acting as host and head-counter for a couple of showings, the first among them being Inferno Cop(which got a two hour slot despite being an hour long with Fact Files). Having to watch it in a crowded room full of adults whose IDs I had to check, and being part of a group viewing experience, I’ll admit, I got sucked in. I was able to embrace the ridiculousness of it, warts and all, and it wound up being one of the highlights of the con for me.

Having said that, Inferno Cop is stupid. Like, it’s really stupid, a show full of randomness, logical inconsistencies, problematic elements, and an almost impressive number of cliches and deus ex machinas. If you’ve read my reviews up until this point, this would seriously not seem like something I’d ever be into. I mean, how can I have the gall to gush about this series when I very recently called Excel Saga lazy? And no, I’m not going to backpedal on anything I’ve said in the past, nor am I going to make up some bullshit about this show having depth, or some underappreciated metaphors or social commentary. Inferno Cop is exactly what it looks like from a cursory glance: It’s stupid nonsense full of bad writing and juvenile sensibilities. I’m not gonna deny the fact that just about every element that went into this series is something I’ve shat on other shows for doing in the past, so why am I being so much nicer to this one?

Well, there are two things Inferno Cop does right, and they’re both pretty important. For the first thing, let’s take a look at Magical Play, a show I was distinctly disappointed with, despite it being every bit as weird as Inferno. It was appropriately weird and full of batshit crazy ideas, and it created an unpredictable environment where anything could happen in it’s world of fluffy nonsense. Despite having all of this going for it, it got boring real fast due to a lack of direction and a tone that was always shifting in confusing ways. Are we here to see the girls getting into weird dream-like situations, or are we here to see a backstory, plot and earnest attempts at feels? Unlike Magical Play, Inferno Cop is whole-heartedly committed, making for a sense of consistency in the execution. It knows you’re just there to see what crazy thing it’s going to do next, so it never tries to be serious, it never tries to make you feel(it kind of makes fun of you for it, honestly), and it never loses focus of what it’s doing, tying it’s most entertaining element directly into it’s vague and highly forgiving plot threads.

And for the second thing it does right… I’ll be honest, this one feel like the more important one of the two, even though Magical Play actually did kind of nail it. There are several shows based on random lunacy that I just wasn’t able to stay interested in… I’m talking titles like Excel Saga, Hayate the Combat Butler, and Hare + Guu. Yeah, they were great at first, full of wild and exciting comedy that felt brazenly and defiantly weird, but as time went on, they just sort of lost their momentum. Once you’ve seen a little girl eating everything in sight, transporting them to an alternate Kirby-style stomach dimension, there’s really nowhere to go from there. Comedy styles can be overused, at which point they become predictable, after which they became dull. The worst part of Excel Saga was the part where you realized all it was doing was lazily parodying a bunch of genres with by-the-book observations and padding them out with weirdness. And Hayate jumped the shark so often that it just made people miss the manga.

But this leads me to the biggest thing Inferno Cop does right… It’s short. The biggest weakness of random nonsense comedy is that it has a shockingly poor shelf-life. The longer it goes on, the more exposed it gets, and the clearer people are able to see the method behind the madness. It’s not impossible to keep this kind of comedy effective for lengthy stretches, but you have to be working extra hard to keep the comedy fresh by reinventing it and taking it in new directions, like Baka and Test was so good at doing. This is why I’m not really on board with the new FLCL reboot… 6 episode FLCL was perfect FLCL. Inferno cop is only an hour long, and that’s WITH the fact files segments, which I actually feel are a necessary part of the experience. It’s because Inferno cop is so short that it never lags, and it’s able to jump from plot point to plot point like an anime speed-run without ever feeling overwhelming, and all the things it does that WOULD be ran into the ground by a longer run-time, like all the cliches, deus ex machinas and on-point Evangelion references, are able to leave a fond impression on us by only happening once or twice each. And on top of that, it actually manages to have a pretty satisfying conclusion.


Inferno Cop is available on Crunchyroll. It hasn’t been released on any form of physical media that I know of, not even a freaking Malaysian bootleg, but it damn well should. There’s also a series of in-between segments that I mentioned earlier, called Fact Files, which gives deliberately pointless information about what you just saw, and it’s totally worth your time. A second season has recently been announced, but hasn’t aired yet.

As much fun as it is to watch Inferno Cop, and as highly as I do recommend checking it out, it’s obviously going to run into a glass ceiling with me. It’s a good show that’s a blast to see, especially with other people, but there’s still so many more enriching anime titles out there, titles that a lot more time, effort and thought put into them, that I’ll always recommend first. I think the best way to describe the experience of watching this show would be that it’s like seeing two really close friends with similar tastes and interests just try to create a narrative on the fly, making constant attempts to one-up each other and make each other laugh, and even if you don’t get the story they’re coming up with, you feel like pointing out all of it’s problems would just be mean. Like, “why does a world-wide cruise have to be dirt cheap for Inferno Cop to ride it when he just won a million yen?” And the answer is “Shut up, we’re playing with giant robot dinosaurs now!” It’s no masterpiece, not even close, really, but it’s an experience I highly recommend having at least once. I give Inferno Cop a 7/10.

That’s right, I’m back, with one of the long time staples of this blog… A full-volume review of the newest incarnation of Rooster Teeth’s attempt at making their own anime! As usual, I’m not going into this with any real sense of structure, just gonna make it all up as I go. Before I begin, however, there are a few points I want to address.

1: There have been two RWBY manga released in Japan, and while I’m not gonna review them, I thought I’d give my thoughts on them here. The first one is mostly a retelling of the trailers, and it’s okay. There’s nothing really new or interesting about it, but it does it’s job, and I guess it’s worth a read. The other one is the first in an anthology series, and it’s awesome. It’s a slice of life featuring the main cast in different situations, and while nearly all of the art styles are easier on the eyes than the previous manga’s, the stories are also a lot more entertaining. That one I’d definitely recommend.

2: This new DVD/Bluray release is vastly different from the previous releases. This time, you can’t watch the volume as a film, you have to watch it episodically, with every single op and ed sequence preserved. They’re also unskippable, unless you’re really diligent about fast-forwarding. This does work in some ways, as I was speculating before how certain scenes would fare without episode breaks, but it also makes it a lot more difficult to judge the pacing of the volume… Something I suspect they took advantage of.

3: Remember a year ago, when I posted an editorial about how Rooster Teeth likes to steal things from anime? Well, to add to that, I’ve got a new one for you. Think about the relationship between Ozpin and Oscar: An ancient being is reincarnated into the mind of a small child, who acts as his avatar, can communicate with him, and can sometimes switch consciousnesses? It’s like Yugioh! It’s almost exactly like the bond between Yugi and the Pharaoh! If they didn’t steal this idea, then it’s a mighty big coincidence.

Anyway, getting back to the volume itself, it stands out in another way; It really doesn’t have a beginning. There’s really no inciting incident, there’s no strong opening to define the events that will follow… It feels like a continuation of the previous volume, which it is, but it feels more like a second half than a part 2. Which is strange, because volume 4 definitely had a definitive ending.

Much like volume four, this story is told through several different plotlines, each one featuring a different set of characters who only really interact between said lines once in a while. These plotlines start off with Weiss on an airship, Yang looking for Raven, Salem’s Lot plotting, RNJR and Qrow at Haven, and finally, there’s the menagerie storyline, featuring Blake, her family, Sun, and Ilia. Adam also gets some scenes, and Raven basically just exists in other peoples’ storylines.

However, in volume four, things were a lot more organized and consistent. The four main characters got their own storylines, while the bad guys and Qrow just kinda meandered while waiting to jump into them. Those main storylines didn’t all have action, but they were all actively moving forward and accomplishing important points for the narrative. In this volume, however, things aren’t really that well planned out. While Yang and Weiss’s storylines are moving forward, the rest of them are just kinda meandering, waiting for a cue to start picking up. This results in a good portion of the first half of this volume just feeling like a complete drag, with tone that’s all over the place, cuts between storylines that don’t gel with each other, and a ton of material that was clearly written in to keep it’s respective storyline relevant, but ultimately just winds up feeling like the kind of material that could have been left on the cutting room floor.

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about this volume featuring a lot of ‘show don’t tell’ moments, and while I agree to an extent, I don’t think it’s quite as bad as they make it out to be. I mean, not quite as bad, but it’s still a problem. There are so many scenes where people explain things, and not all of them are badly written, but the sheer amount of them definitely over-shadows the ones that work. I thought the exposition scenes involving Oscar/Ozpin and Raven were handled really well, if perhaps a bit too wordy, and a little stuffed. The showdown between Adam and Sienna, on the other hand, could have been executed in half the time with a few small rewrites, and nothing would have been lost in translation.  Seriously, every other line, they were saying something that was just there to explain their relationship and history to the audience, and that all could have been skipped if they’d found a way to work Sienna into the story organically in volume 4. The same could be said for Ghira Belladonna’s entire speech early on, which accomplished nothing, and could have been held offscreen with only a few snippets of dialogue afterward about how it went and what he was trying to say.

Honestly, Blake’s whole spiel about her friends embodying certain words felt like a complete waste of time in retrospect, unless they were just trying to set something up in the future, or lay the clues for her being mildly autistic or something. We didn’t need to see Qrow looking for huntsmen, we didn’t need to see Blake and Sun looking for signatures, we could have easily just heard about those sequences in a few short snippets of dialogue while achieving the same effect. Hell, maybe then we could have had time to see something more interesting, like a stylized look at Raven and Qrow as youths, or some of Oz’s forms throughout the years, something to spice up the dialogue a bit.

And speaking of the dialogue, the other problem with this volume being so dialogue heavy is one that I found to be much more of a hindrance; The tone. From what I saw, there are very few scenes that contain more than one note. Most scenes are either light-hearted, action-heavy or dour, with little crossover inbetween. There are exceptions, mostly revolving around Raven and Vernal, but aside from that, there are some long conversations that needed some form of nuance to them. I mean, you can do small amounts of comic relief without pulling a Jar Jar, were you aware of that? When Blake and Ilia are angsting back and forth, could one of them maybe crack a joke or throw an insult?  Ilia’s only mode up until her redemption is “I have to do this,” even though when you take her backstory into account, she’d be perfectly justified in being a little more personally invested in the White Fang’s activities.

Or how about this; Does every single episode have to stop dead so somebody can make a speech? It’s annoying, and they rarely ever say anything we don’t already know. I don’t need to hear Ren gushing to know how important the main cast is to each other, or how much they’ve all grown. Ghira’s speech to the faunus just winds up cheapening the much more powerful and important speech his daughter gives later on. Ruby and Oscar’s heart-to-heart didn’t feel set up at all, and Oscar’s blow-up at her felt like it came right out of nowhere, and that’s WITH an understanding of his circumstances. Yang’s sudden meltdown over Blake is exactly that… It’s sudden, with her showing no signs that she’d even been thinking about Blake throughout all of volume four and five up until that moment, and it ends with the matter being resolved clearly and swept under the rug, when I really could have used some ambiguity leading up to their reunion.

The best moments in this stretch of the volume are the moments when storylines converge, making the over-all story feel less congested. Weiss converges with Yang, the two of them converge with RNJR, Raven converges the villains with RNJR, etcetera. When moments like this happen, the story gets tighter, and the focus of the writing gets a lot clearer. This eventually does streamline the story, and thank God, because things get a LOT better in the second half.

As the stories converge, and characters who were just kind of fucking around finally start to move into place, the importance of most of what we’ve seen so far becomes clear… And yes, I’m saying most because there was a lot of pulp this volume… But the final four episodes are glorious, full of action, high stakes, well deserved call backs and pay-offs, and a near-death tease that shook the world more than the ending of Infinity War(Don’t lie, you scoff now in hindsight, but when it first aired, you were worried and uncertain).

But I don’t feel like I can really talk about the ending without first talking about the message of this volume. Yes, there’s a message, and they lay it on pretty heavy throughout. It’s not a specific message, though, and I’ll admit upfront that it’s a bit on the generic side… It’s a message about doing the right thing, and holding the right values. It’s kind of all over the place in terms of what that means, but it’s still remarkably consistent. When you write a story with a moral message, it’s incredibly easy to fuck it up, either by coming off as too preachy, accidentally being hypocritical(How ya doin’, Deadpool 2?), or not backing up your point convincingly. Surprisingly, for all this volume does wrong, RWBY doesn’t fall into any of these traps.

Take, for example, the Faunus situation. We’ll ignore for now how little sense their oppression makes(although that’s been an issue since volume 1), and instead look at how the issue is being dealt with. Adam is working from a state of anger, and as Blake notes, spite. He wants to conquer the oppressors and oppress them right back, and he’s willing to go to any lengths to achieve this, even if means knowingly exaggerating the human threat by creating false-flag situations to drum up his peoples’ support. Blake wants to take the high road, to unite humans with faunus by saving them and protecting them, and purging the harmful individuals from their own ranks.

Realistically, either one of these approaches can work, but RWBY creates a scenario where Adam’s tactics backfire, people see him for what he is, and he winds up alone, with only his bull-headed anger left to rely on, and THAT gets him a thorough ass-kicking from Blake until he flees and tries and abandons the people whose loyalty he never saw as more than means to an end.

Raven is perhaps an even better example of this, as she’s shifty, dishonest, and fights for nothing other than her own survival, and her motives carrying a subtle echo of some of Roman Torchwik’s last words… If you can’t beat someone, don’t fight them. She doesn’t quite join the side she perceives to be stronger, but she does manipulate them to get the edge, sacrificing other people… People she was close to… Along the way, and hell, even Cinder makes a quip about her becoming a monster by killing the former Spring Maiden. Speaking of which, all of her scheming, all of her plotting and backstabbing, and all it leads her to is possibly the single greatest individual scene from the franchise thus far… A final confrontation with Yang, who gives her such a thorough verbal beatdown, calling her out on her bullshit in such a way that she actually convinces her to flee, and it all feels natural. None of it feels like part of a forced message, which is how messages are supposed to be delivered.

You don’t want to be a coward, or to act out of fear. History doesn’t look kindly on Benedict Arnolds, and neither does RWBY. You can run from your fears, or you can ally yourself with them, but they will catch up to you, and they will destroy you. It happened to Lionheart, it happened to Torchwik, and it could happen to you. You don’t want to act out of selfishness, because at the end, all you’ll have left is yourself, just like what happened to Raven.

The same thing could be said for acting out of anger or hate, though, and while there’s Adam to consider, Hazel is perhaps a more interesting case, as his hatred comes from a desire for revenge. He’s allied himself with Salem, not out of loyalty or a desire for power, but to get a chance to achieve satisfaction over the death of his sister. It doesn’t make logical sense to blame Ozpin for a decision that his sister made, but certain emotions know no logic… It’s not hard to assume that he felt powerless over losing her, and Ozpin is the only possible target for his frustrations. Of course, revenge is a self-destructive motivator, as shown by the harm he does to his body in pursuit of it, and the fact that he’s allied himself with killers to achieve it. There’s a reason that Blake’s storyline included a statement about forgiveness.

So what values does volume 5 promote? Well, once again, there’s forgiveness, as they showed with Ilia. Former enemies can become important allies if given the chance. It can also help you to find the sense of peace and purpose that eluded Hazel. Speaking of Hazel, there’s also selflessness, and the willingness to sacrifice yourself for the goodwill of others, which his sister fell to. But maybe the most strongly portrayed value is courage… This is kind of a basic idea, as I remember learning it from a freaking Mary Kate and Ashley movie when I was little, but true courage is when you’re afraid, and you don’t know if you’ll succeed, but you do the right thing anyway, as Yang said while verbally decimating her mother.

Of course, now it’s time for me to get on my soap box… This is all relevant to real life. Some of the worst experiences people can have are at the hand of other people acting in fear. We want to build a wall between nations because we’re afraid of losing our jobs. We separate children from their parents because we’re afraid of our laws looking weak. We ban travel from other countries because we’re afraid one or two of them might hurt us. We do any number of insane and horrible things, from discriminating against queer people to performing genital mutilation on children, because we’re afraid of what our respective Gods might do to us if we don’t. We refuse to stand up to dangerously unqualified leaders because it might weaken our political parties.

And that’s just fear.  Entire wars have been fought just for revenge, costing outrageous amounts of money and far moire lives than whatever incidents sparked those wars in the first place.  We hurt others for the sake of our own interests, and while never specifically calling any of it out, Rooster Teeth used this volume to make a statement about it. In doing so, it arguably accomplished more than any other volume has to date.

Anyway, getting back to the fun stuff, the animation is still great. There are a few shots and angles that I found questionable, and there are a few background shots where extras are just standing around blandly, but those are minor complaints compared to where RWBY came from. I’ve heard people complain about the fight scenes being awful, but I never really felt that either. They’re certainly different, with no flashy spectacle fights going on, but these things went away for something I consider much better; Story-telling. In this volume, and also in volume 4, the fight scenes are used to tell stories. There aren’t any of Monty’s trademarked ‘rule of cool’ fights, where everything just feels like extended animation demos, but there’s actual plot and story going on.

This allows them to focus on things that were missing from the action of the first two volumes, and which the third volume brilliantly transitioned into having… Suspense, stakes, and drama. As far as visual issues, I’ve heard people saying something about characters teleporting, but when you consider the most popular action sequence was a food fight where Nora launched Yang through the roof at an angle and she fell down straight in a location completely different from the direction she’d been launched in, I’m willing to accept a minor flub or two in a fight scene that feels ambitious and engaging. I’ve also heard complaints that Ruby doesn’t develop this volume, but she got a ton of development in volumes 3 and 4, and not every character has to develop in every volume.

Although the fact that she hasn’t asked Ozpin about her Silver eye powers is, I will agree, fucking stupid.

Once again, as much as I love about this volume, it doesn’t go down as easy with the poor way the first half was executed. Yeah, everything comes together more-or-less perfectly in the second half, but for a 3+ hour volume that’s made a fucking 4 hour volume by the inclusion of all the openings and closings, those first two hours can be tough to get through whenever it’s meandering or wasting time, which is far too often. The dialogue, again, needs a lot of work, as it’s not unsalvageable, but it can’t continue to be like this going into volume 6.

I know it may look like I’m being really hard on this volume, but the fact that I’m giving it these kinds of criticisms is a sign of how far along it’s come. In the first two volumes, I complained about the things that stopped RWBY from being good. In volume 5, I’m complaining about the things that are stopping it from being great. I believe it can achieve the greatness that it had in volume 3 again, even if this just wasn’t the right time for it. I give RWBY volume 5 a 7/10.

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The year is 2019. It’s been 31 years since a mysterious explosion happened in Japan, which somehow triggered World War 3. In the current society, a version of the city has been restored, and dubbed Neo-Tokyo, not to be confused with Tokyo-3. But as it turns out, what was supposed to be a new haven for humanity has already become dilapidated and worn down, with the new government at odds with the people, sparking violently destructive protests that are in no way helped by the scourge of anarchistic youths waging war with each other one the backs of their motorcycles. See, this is why we can’t have nice things. Two of these gangs are called the Capsules, a handful of middleschoolers with the image of a pill emblazoned on their jackets, and the clowns, a gang of… Other thugs… Who wear weird masks and stuff. Existing somewhere between The Sharks vs. The Jets and The Bloods vs. The Crips, their rivalry is a notoriously violent one, and their fights have terrorized an already restless population.

In any case, it’s during one of these particular skirmishes that the Capsule Corps, led by the main character-ish young man named Kaneda, stumble upon a strange little Benjamin Button boy who inflicts another member, Tetsuo, with some sort of abnormality. The local government snatches up Tetsuo and the little geezer, and they disappear them to a secret facility to perform experiments on them. In order to rescue Tetsuo, Kaneda must work his way into a rebel faction in order to infiltrate the facility… But strange things are happening to Tetsuo, within whom a dangerous entity has begun to awaken, granting him power beyond his control… Power that attracts the interest of Button and his friends, who antagonize him in order to bring about his full potential. When Kaneda finally does manage to reach Tetsuo, what kind of reunion will await the two of them? Can Tetsuo be saved from the destiny that’s begun to develop around him, or is it too late for anybody to be saved?

Akira was animated by TMS, also known as Tokyo Movie Shinsa, one of the oldest known Japanese animation studios. They’ve produced not only anime over the five decades that they’ve been in operation, but plenty of western animation from their subsidiary company Telecom. I’ve seen a bunch of Telecom’s titles, with a particular highlight being the fucking Ducktales(Ooo-Wooo-Ooo), but out of their anime work, I’m honestly not that familiar with them. They’ve produced some iconic titles that have been around for impossibly long periods of time, like Lupin(the only installment of which that I’ve seen was The woman Named Fujiko Mine) and Detective Conan, which I only saw the first season. Beyond that, any title they’ve released is either something I saw very little of, or something I haven’t seen in over a decade, so it’s kind of hard to get an accurate grasp on them in regard to their oeuvre of work.

Whatever they’re like, they clearly had a ton of money to burn when they were producing Akira, and boy does it show. The animation in this movie is insanely fluid, especially for a title that was released in the late eighties. The quality is consistent throughout, but it only takes a few minutes to see that this isn’t your average production. Just as we’re dumped into the interior of a seedy, suspicious bar, we’re shown that not even such an arguably unnecessary visual as channels being changed on a TV is still given the kind of lavish treatment that would suggest that they really spared no expense with this one. To be sure, the movie then quickly moves on to one of it’s biggest highlights, the motorcycle race war… Yes, a literal race war… Between the Capsules and the Clowns, which may be one of the single most well-animated sequences in anime history. It’s several solid minutes of gritty dudes racing through town on their various models of bikes as they try to kill one another,r to varying and somewhat vague levels of success. This sequence is so fast and fluid that even the residual trails of their taillights in the night sky is beautifully present.

It’s weird looking back and thinking that an anime from 1988 could look as good as this one does, but it was just as weird for the world back then, as Akira was considered groundbreaking with it’s visuals. The kind of facial animations and fluid movements it featured were unimaginable at the time, even though they’re more or less commonplace today. Most anime of the time was stiff, with limited articulation and frozen faces with moving mouths, which made this particular piece all the more breathtaking. Now, having said that, it’s kind of understandable, but I just can’t help but feel they might have gone a bit too far overboard with this achievement, as the characters’ facial expressions are so over-exaggerated that it’s kind of hard to take what they’re saying seriously at time, but that’s just a nit-pick on my part.

Akira’s visual prowess doesn’t just limit itself to the fluidity of it’s animation, either. It’s also pretty well directed, with the man in the director’s chair being Katsuhiro Otomo, whom, if you didn’t know, was also the creator of the manga, so in terms of the presentation, nothing was lost in translation. His sense of direction isn’t perfect, as some of his action scenes can stray into a feeling of sensory overload, but there are moments in the government facility and especially in Tetsuo’s room that feel downright chilling with the way they’re framed. The backgrounds of Neo-tokyo are so extensively detailed that it’s almost sad how much of it you’ll miss if you’re not constantly pausing to check out the environment, with it’s variety of different buildings and gorgeous lighting effects. It almost feels like a real city, and one that you could actually imagine living in, thanks to the level of immersion it manages to hit. I’d keep going on this topic alone, but I’m struggling to find the right words to do it justice, and you kind of have to see it for yourself in order to appreciate it.

Although, to be perfectly honest, my favorite thing about Akira is the music, which is uniformly unconventional in it’s orchestrations, and carries a level of depth to it that kind of evades the story itself, as composer Shoji Yamashiro, which is actually the pseudonym of Tsutomu Ohashi, and while further work of his is hard to find, Akira is his most renowned project, and with good reason. The music for Akira is stunningly powerful, full of hard percussions and haunting vocal effects, some of which tell us more about a character and their arc than the story itself does. For example, the most popular track in the movie is probably Tetsuo’s theme, which uses bells and flutes to signify the titular character’s younger-brother relationship to Kaneda, showing frustration in the beginning while slowly becoming more unhinged and unsettling as it builds up to one of the most famous vocal spike notes in anime, the infamous DAAAAAA DAAAAAAA DAAADAAA that heralds the arrival of his powers later in the film.

The rest of the ost is just as creative, however. Kaneda’s theme isn’t as long or involved as Tetsuo’s theme, but the instrumentation is still like nothing I’ve heard before from an anime, as it’s decked out with lightning sound effects and shifting percussive beats that sound like they were taken from a traditional Japanese festival, complete with chants of Rasse-Ra, a chant used to welcome the summer. Other noteworthy tracks include Battle Against Clown, the battle theme for the opening gang war that somehow managed to take the sound of a guy breathing too hard and make it sound epic; Winds Over Neo-Tokyo, a tune that starts out slow and dreamy only to sound more ominous and carnival-y as it goes on; And Dolls’ Polyphony, a damn creepy track that’s used appropriately in the film, as it’s use of a female voice uttering the nonsense word “Perom” over and over again sounds like it was taken right out of a slasher movie, and that’s before the deeper male chanting starts to drown it out. All in all, I highly recommend picking up this soundtrack, whether you’re a fan of the actual movie or not.

To my knowledge, there are two English dubs for this movie… An old one, which was really awkward sounding and badly acted, and a newer one that sounds a lot more natural and human. The drawback is that while the old one at least managed to fit the insane mouth movements from the characters, the newer one doesn’t even try, which in turn makes the over-animation look even more obvious and silly. I don’t really think either dub is that great, but i kind of prefer the older Streamline dub, just because it sounds more interesting, even as terrible as it was. Don’t get me wrong, the Animaze dub had a cast of much more talented and well-respected actors, and they did act out the roles a lot better than their Streamline counterparts did, but like I said, the natural sound and grounded delivery doesn’t really feel like the right fit for the movie’s style of facial animation, whereas the Streamline one just feels like a better fit for this world.

Not to mention, as talented as the newer acting pool is, it’s not made up of the most compelling actors in the industry. The perfect example of this is Kaneda, the apparent star, who’s played by Johnny Yong Bosch, a highly talented actor who can give stellar, engaging performances when given the right material, but he has way too wide of a comfort zone, and once he’s in it, he falls right into typecasting hell. It’s a shame that he can be so boring at times, but here, he just sounds like a less interesting version of Ichigo. On a similar note, there’s Wendee Lee in the role of Kei, whose performance output is almost fifty/fifty in terms of quality, with just as many awesome roles as terrible ones, and since Kei isn’t that meaty of a character, she falls somewhere in the middle here. Michelle ruff, a personal favorite of mine, is wasted in the role of Kaori. The exception to this trend is Tetsuo, who’s played powerfully by Joshua Seth, a Digimon veteran who plays up his character’s youth and frustration, wearing his torment and rise to power on his sleeve. Either way, I’d still recommend sticking to the sub.

All right, I’m going to try to keep this brief, because I don’t really have all that much to say about Akira. To give this review a little background, I’ve never read the manga this movie was based on. Honestly, I don’t read that much manga in general. My reading is reserved for books, mostly by Stephen King, while I’m passing time on my lunch break at work. Yeah, I’ve gotten into a few series, but I can probably count on one hand the amount of titles I’ve read to completion, or at least to the point of being caught up. I’m sorry, but I’d rather absorb a story visually, where it takes less time and money to do so. Having said that, it means that I was essentially going into Akira blind, and taking it completely at face value, with no source material or outside information to explain it’s story, universe or world view to me. I’m reviewing this movie in a vacuum, as any title SHOULD be reviewed, and I’m not going to do any research to augment or explain the material. A good adaptation should do that for you. So how does Akira hold up under these conditions?

Well, frankly, this movie doesn’t make any fucking sense. From beginning to end, it doesn’t do any more than the bare minimum in explaining anything. To start right at the beginning, we’re told that Japan accidentally bombs itself(I won’t tell you how, as it’s a spoiler), and that this event was the spark that caused World War 3, and that the story takes place several decades after. Okay, so, how did World War 3 start? And yeah, I hear you guys saying “With that explosion,” but that’s not what I mean. How did Japan accidentally bombing itself lead to the third World War? That’s not a small detail. You know what a World War is, right? It’s a war where a group of allied nations fight against the rest of the world. Did Japan blame the explosion on another country? Who were it’s allies? Who were it’s enemies? Did it win? Did it lose? How long did the war last? How did it end? Did it even end? What was the death toll? You can’t just throw World War 3 into your narrative because it sounds cool, damn it, you have to explain that shit!

Okay, here’s another one: What are people protesting about? What is the government doing that’s got the people so pissed off? What’s the conflict there? Or here, I’ll give you an easier one: Who’s the guy we see leading the Benjamin Button kid through the crowd? Did he help him escape the facility? How? Or instead, I’ll tell you what… How did Tetsuo get his powers? We see him crashing his bike right in front of Button’s face, only to have it blow up between them, hurting neither of them… i mean, sure, Button was probably able to protect himself with a force field, but the explosion happened right in front of Tetsuo, who wasn’t even scratched. Was it contact with Button that triggered his change? Is that a normal side effect of interacting with Button? Can he just do that, or was Tetsuo a special case who just happened to have dormant apocalypse inside him? Was it the experiments at the facility that changed him? Is there some piece of equipment they have that gives people apocalypse tumors? Would all of this crap have been avoided if Tetsuo were released with his friends? Or died when his bike blew up?

I could throw it a bone if it had a cast of memorable characters, but guess what? I have no idea who any of these bastards are! I want to start by bringing up Kaori, because while she may not be one of the main characters, her role in the film is memorable for all the wrong reasons. She’s Tetsuo’s… Sister? girlfriend? Stalker? I have no idea. She’s barely in the movie, gets maybe five minutes of screen time, and her only big scenes are where she gets her face punched in and her top ripped off by a Clown member, and when she’s gruesomely axed off towards the end of the movie. Her only contributions to the film are suffering, dying, and adding two seconds of nudity to the film’s content rating, and it’s all so undeserved that it’s honestly kind of uncomfortable to watch. She had no reason to be in this movie. She’s not the only female character, but Kei is so underwritten that I’ve heard hardcore fans of the movie just refer to her in passing as ‘the female.’ She’s a terrorist, but why? What’s her connection to the government? What are her motivations?

And it’s a sad state of affairs that I have to say this, but speaking of Kei, who the fuck is Kaneda? Why am I supposed to be rooting for this person? What’s supposed to be so interesting about him? I think he’s the leader of the Capsules, right? And he’s just… Main character material, or something? What does he want with Kei? Does he just happen to spot “ooh, female,” and decide right on the spot that he’s going to get her out of trouble and pork her? Like, half the movie he’s just trying to get laid, and when he’s not trying to guilt her into it, he’s going up against armed adults in her honor. This is coming from an asexual person, mind you, but is a random girl who doesn’t seem interested in you really worth taking a bullet for? I get the whole devotion thing, but when your life is on the line, dude, there are other fish in the sea. You shouldn’t ally yourself with literal violent terrorists over someone until you’ve at least established a relationship with them.

I mean, okay, I tried to assume that he was just sniffing her ass because he thought getting involved with terrorists could help him to get closer to Tetsuo, but he would have been enacting this plan way too early for there to be a believable amount of desperation, and besides, he hounds her about turning herself in, going straight and dating him afterwards. That sounds a little counterproductive, don’t you think? And moving onto his relationship to Tetsuo, I didn’t know what kind of connection they shared until that random exposition dump at the end. Apparently they were orphans together. Up until then, I had no idea if they were friends, brothers… Even lovers could have been possible… or if Kaneda was just super dedicated to his gang members. The most fleshed out character is Tetsuo, but the only thing we get from him is his frustration over his connection to Kaneda. The changes that happen to him over the course of the film are it’s only, yes, only, source of character development. I’m sorry, but you need more than faces and names to have characters.

The only real concession that I can make for Akira is that it has a really well pronounced cool factor. Seeing gang wars waged on the backs of motorcycles against a vaguely post apocalyptic setting is really cool to see, and the movie would probably be better if that were all there were to it, but it gets so involved with it’s muddled, convoluted plot that it’s impossible to know what’s going on without reading the source material or making a ton of assumptions. It’s like this huge, thousand piece puzzle where none of the pieces fit. I didn’t even bring up the other two Benjamin Button kids, as their plans involving Tetsuo are so confusing and inconsistent that I’m hesitant to even call them spoilers. But like I said, regardless of what it was they’re actually trying to accomplish, their efforts still play into the movie’s cool factor, as they manage to bring us some truly trippy and surreal visuals when they’re using their powers to attack him in his room. It’s not much, but I guess if you’re just watching Akira for spectacle and it’s gritty adult tone, I can understand the appeal.

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Akira is available stateside in a number of different home video releases, most recently from Funimation is a very cheap DVD/bluray combo pack. Other releases are available, such as the limited edition steel case that I’m currently borrowing from a friend. The original manga has also been available in numerous printings, with the most recent being from Kodansha comics back in 2009. Each volume is still relatively cheap, or you could splurge and spend a little more money on the box set. At the very least, I’d recommend grabbing a copy of the soundtrack Cd, which is available from Milan records, and is fairly inexpensive online.

I’m sorry, guys. i know this is one of the most popular anime movies in the medium, but I just can’t get into it. It’s not a terrible movie by any means… The pacing is really good, and it never gets boring. I’m the kind of guy who literally can’t stay awake through a single showing of Empire of Corpses, but I’ve never fallen asleep during Akira, which at least speaks to it having some kind of entertainment value. I understand that adapting a phonebook thick manga collection into a two hour movie isn’t an easy feat, but at the same time, I don’t want to have to look up footnotes and plot synopsis just to figure out what the bloody hell I’m watching. The version of the movie I watched had a sort of pop up feature that was designed to give you extra information at random points, but after like twenty minutes, all it had been showing me was a map and some Japanese text translations, and I was relying on THAT to try and be fair. I like movies that challenge me to figure them out, but not like this. For the animation and music alone, it deserves it’s place in anime history, but I guess I’m just not a fan. I give Akira a 5/10.

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