Monday, May 19, 2014

Young Animator Training Project 2010

The Young Animator Training Project is a yearly event where 4 short films, about a half-hour each, are screened in theatres. To give a little background here, in 2010 the Japanese Animation Creators Association (JAniCA) teamed up with the Agency of Cultural Affairs to make the Young Animator Training Project in an effort to both train new animators and to give various studios a chance to show off their newbies' stuff. Each time, studios bid for the chance to be part of the project, but only 4 studios are selected each year.

Don't we all wish we could have a cat this badass?

First up on the chopping block is Kizuna Ichigeki ("Bond Strike"), by the folks over at Ascension. It follows a freelance news reporter as she chases down the winner of an international martial arts competition, a young 7th-grade girl. Though she finds the girl, she gets a lot more than she bargained for rather than the interview she was seeking. The girl, Kizuna, teaches everyone at the end about having something to fight for.

BEWARE THE FACE THAT SMILES AT YOU

What initially struck me about this show was the style. It looks as if a middle schooler sketched the characters in his math notebook during a geometry lecture. Were it not for more-fluid-than-water animation that accompanied it, one might get the impression that they were being lazy (or that this was intended as a net animation). However, if one pays attention to the background, they show as much effort as one would expect from a final product. Then, as if to prove that they know what they're doing, it changes style for two brief vignettes towards the middle with a stark contrast to the bulk of the episode, showing that this was indeed a style choice.

The style contrast is pretty obvious in scenes like this one.

Not only was the style impeccable, but so was the plot, humour, voice acting, everything. I would love to see this continue on as a show on a major network (Cartoon Network should pick this up), since it really echoes of some of the cartoons of my youth, such as Jackie Chan Adventures and American Dragon: Jake Long. The theme is easily accessable by kids (especially boys, I'd think), which makes me even sadder at the missed opportunity to turn this into something more.

Yes, yes I am.

Next up is Telecom Animation Film (TMS Entertainment)'s The Old Man's Lamp (Oji-san no Ranpu; alternatively, Grandpa's Lamp). When a boy finds an old oil lamp in the attic and uses it as a toy, his grandpa, initially irate, decides to tell him the story behind it.

I detect a hint of Sokka in this picture.

The look was something between Ghibli and AIC's Humanity Has Declined. It is the most serious of all the shorts from 2010, dealing with the initial prosperity and dreams of a young boy bringing light to his village, then his struggle to keep a hold on it as a young man. The ending was stark, beautiful, and extremely sad, but well-rounded.

It's both heartwarming and humbling to learn the origins of the things we take for granted.

Oji-san was a heartwarming story that was well-planned and well-animated. While I don't think it has the steam to survive outside of a short, it was still a great watch. You really feel for Minosuke both in good times and bad, and that's what any good piece of entertainment is supposed to make you do: feel.

While progress is necessary to move the world forward, all too often we forget what we're leaving behind.

Third up is Super Veggie Torracman (Banno Yasai Ninninman; alternatively, Versatile Vegatable Ninninman) courtesy of P.A. Works. It was delightfully strange, from start to finish. A 5th grader named Mari hates eating vegetables and milk, but one day, in an attempt not to get yelled at by her teacher, she scarfs all three down at once, and subsequently faints. When she wakes up in the nurse's office, she is accompanied by three spirits: Torracman (Ninninman), Peppuruman (Piman), and Miruku. Though she initially dislikes them, she comes to rely on them when in dire straights.

I want to make a dollfie of her.

This anime was pretty typical in its look, outside of the two slits for everyone's nose. It didn't look bad by any means, it was just very far from what I'm used to seeing. Combine this with the over-the-top characters, bright colours and flashy style, and it made for one helluva weird short. However, it was enjoyable enough that I'd gladly watch it again and again.

SUPER flashy.

This DEFINITELY couldn't survive outside a short. Maybe as a series of shorts.....MAYBE. Probably not. But even as a short, I was still sad when it was over, since I really did want to see more....even if there wasn't anything more it could say. I guess the cute, zany antics of the characters really endeared it to me...

And trust me, it has zany antics up the wazoo.

 Lastly, is Wardrobe Dwellers (Tansuwarashi) by Production I.G. Having another typically safe story style, it followed a Office Lady named Hiiragi Noel. Noel's life is that of any typical office lady: drinking with friends after work, eating nothing but convenience store food and not thinking of much but her day-to-day life. That is, until she receives the wardrobe. Sort of like Narnia in reverse, she comes back from work to find that her wardrobe has 6 tiny people living in it, each one specializing in a different feature that a grown-up lady should have. Having served the Hiiragi family for generations, they inform her they are there to make her into a proper "Mistress" of the Hiiragi household.

Surprise! Suddenly you have 6 children.

Sweet and light, this series looked familiar, but i can't put my finger on what it resembles. The main character looks a little like Olive Oyl, at first, but changes over time. They all have pretty small eyes for an anime, especially with the cartoony feel. The plot was somewhat standard anime fare, but was a little Ghibli-esque.

A subtle importance in this short is placed on family.

With that, I doubt Wardrobe Dwellers could survive as a full-length series....but I'd love to see it as a movie. Considering it came out 4 years ago, I doubt it'll go anywhere, but it definitely has the potential to be longer if someone would let it.

Though they can be viewed more as latent constructs of Noel's personality, they really do develop a bond like family.

Overall, 2010's YATP offering more than impressed me. Maybe it's because it was the first year and everyone wanted to make a good impression, but it was all spectacular. All of them are great for all-ages, too, as an added bonus. 

Fun Fact: In the old days, many people in Japan were quite superstitious. Striking a Flint on one's back as they leave was supposed to bring good luck.

It's very hard to find a consistent sub group for these shorts, as they tend to be fairly unknown (I only found out about them by accident, actually). However, [gg] has put out most of them in the past few years, and I filled in any gaps with eraser, Kamigami Subs and Deadfish Encodes. [gg] has subbed all 4 of the 2010 offerings, and though they might not be the best seeded, I got them all from there.

My question is, if only she can see them, what does this look like to passerby on the street?

Kizuna Ichigeki - 4.5/5
Grandpa's Lamp - 4/5
Super Veggie Torracman - 4.5/5
Wardrobe Dwellers - 4/5

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Ocean Waves

Coming out late and overbudget, The Ocean Waves was an attempt in 1993 on Studio Ghibli's part to allow their more junior staff to make a film on the cheap. It was released on TV and not widely distributed for the home market, so it (along with Only Yesterday) remains as one of Ghibli's two "Lost Films" in the regard that it is basically unknown. Despite all these shortcomings, it was a rather interesting tale.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT!!

The film concerns two high school friends who eventually become rivals over the attention of a new transfer girl. It follows their lives for about 2 years over the course of high school and a short time beyond. Though there are fights, misunderstandings and hurt feelings, at the end of the day they grow up, realize how petty they were being, and the friendships heal.

When you age out of the social pressures of it, suddenly all the things that were so important in high school aren't all that important anymore.

Ocean Waves stands out from the Ghibli herd in that it is about the most regular film they have ever produced. Along with Only Yesterday, My Neighbors the Yamadas, and From Up on Poppy Hill, Ocean Waves features relatable characters in everyday situations, experiencing universal emotions and struggles, such as the pain of rejection and the somber yet nostalgic feeling one gets when they look back on their former life. One could argue that it's even more normal than those films, since the most extraordinary things that occur in the film are 2 trips, one to Hawaii, and the other to Tokyo.

Truly, he is a gentleman.

Though this may make the film sound boring, when it's compared to other Ghiblis, it holds its own solely in its contrast. It's less like a film and more like an OVA for a longer series, perhaps because it was made for TV. To its benefit, it has another defining trait from others of the Ghibli lot: it is the most violent Ghibli film I have seen to date. Sure, we've seen sword fights and shootouts in Ghibli films in the past, and there have been magic duels and the like, but up until this point I had never seen anyone in a Ghibli film get punched square in the face, just like that. No lead up, no anticipation, just suddenly a guy's fist next to another's jaw. There were a couple startling moments like this in the film, which was great for keeping me engaged.

Stuff like this happens a couple times.

Though it will likely never receive widespread release or recognition, and frankly, it feels a bit like Ghibli themselves want to just forget it exists, I will regard it with a quiet sense of satisfaction and nostalgia for having seen it. It's the type of movie you wouldn't have in a big, popcorn-filled movie night with all your friends, but more on a sleepy summer evening when there's nothing on. With that in mind, I'd reccomend this for middle schoolers and older, as the younger crowd might miss some of the nuances of the plot.

Like the obligatory Ghibli cameo.

The Ocean Waves is available from various torrent sites, such as Kickass Torrents, BakaBt and Nyaa Torrents. According to the Wikipedia page, Disney holds the rights for international distribution, but i have never seen or heard of it being put on DVD. It goes on to say that it is available on DVD from Aurum in Spain (with a Spanish audio track, how cool!), Madman Entertainment in Australia, and various other distribution companies in Europe.

Green is not a Creative Colour~

3.5-4/5

Monday, May 5, 2014

Namiuchigiwa no Muromi-san


Namiuchigiwa no Muromi-san (Muromi-san on the Shore or just Muromi-san in english) is a 13-episode (+1 OVA) series that aired in the spring of 2013. It follows Mukojima Takuro, a high school student who likes to fish, as he gets dragged into all sorts of crazy adventures by Muromi, a mermaid he caught on his line.

DRAMA~

Takkun (as Muromi calls him) is an average boy and rather unmotivated by all of Muromi's attention and antics, but manages to get involved anyway (mostly against his will) due to the influence of Muromi and her various friends. This ranges from friendly chats to going halfway around the world. Though initially annoyed by this, Muromi eventually grows on Takkun and the two become good friends.

Lots of friends. ^^

This show was crazy. It was short (consisting of half episodes, around 12-14 minutes each), but it managed to pack all the insanity it could into that small span of time. Not helping matters is that, while initially fine, it got pervier and pervier as the series went on. It was alright, but I felt it would have done fine without as many dirty jokes (not removed completely, but reduced). There were also some uniquely Japanese jokes in there, things that you will only really get if you are Japanese or study culture as much as I do (which might be too much). Though hit or miss, the show was still quite funny.

Referencing Black Jack makes this a very Japanese joke.

The art style and animation was very fast, colourful and fluid. It leaves a feeling of being happy and refreshed, much like the ocean it's set in. There is a lot of attention to detail with the characters as well, such as each mermaid having a different shape for the tip of her tail. It made for some exciting visuals to go along with the slapstick, which was nice.

Holy crap, it's a gender-flipped Panty!

I loved the opening of the series, with it being bouncy, fast, and fun. The voice acting was wonderful, each character being expressive and distinct. In another Japan-exclusive joke, however, most of the mermaids speak different dialects of Japanese, such as Muromi and Hii-chan speaking Hakata dialect and Levia speaking Kokura dialect (which, amusingly, is the dialect spoken by Lum in Urusei Yatsura). You can pick up on it if you pay attention, but it's not something easily noticed, unless you actually speak it.

A Japanese joke you don't have to be Japanese to get! : D

Overall, Muromi-san was an enjoyable watch, even if things did get....weird at the end. Because of this, however, I would recommend this only to the 16+ crowd, and to some of the more liberal-minded adults out there. If you're willing to only show about 1/2 to 2/3 of the series, though, you might be able to go younger.

Yeah, it makes THESE sort of jokes...

Namiuchigiwa no Muromi-san is available from Vivid Subs, HorribleSubs, FFFansubs, Deadfish Encodes, Rorikon Fansub League (German), Unlimited Fantasy Works (Italian) and Best Fansub Ever (Italian). It was "licensed" by Crunchyroll for streaming.

This was my reaction, too.

3/5