Recent Reading: Tropic of the Sea

I was cruising through the local used book/music/movie shop in town and I discovered “Tropic of the Sea” by Satoshi Kon. I heard vaguely of the title a little while back, it was one of his earlier works and it was finally getting a release in the US. Check out the cover below…

Tropic-of-the-Sea-coverThe story is all wrapped up into one stand alone volume so there is no need to chase after subsequent volumes. If you are curious of the artwork, here is a page sample as well…

Tropic-of-the-Sea_0003

The story revolves around a family that overseas the Mermaid’s Egg at a shrine. The city the shrine is located in is undergoing some transformations and is under construction to become more of a tourist destination. Through the story there is a little bit of a struggle between natural beauty and economic development of the area, which made me wonder if this was more about a social commentary on the issue or if it is intended to be the backdrop for the story.

Yosuke is the main character of the story (he is feared in the above artwork in the bottom middle panel with dark hair), he is set to become the next keeper of the Mermaid’s Egg. The town has a festival to celebrate the occasion and the economic developers attend. The Mermaid’s Egg becomes an object of desire for the developer and Yosuke and friends must retrieve the egg so the seaside city can have great fortune in terms of fishing.

Originally the story was released in a weekly magazine, so there are a few little pacing hiccups. I am not sure if they were the breaks in between volumes or not. They can be a little distracting if you read multiple chapters at once.

In terms of artwork, I find the style very refreshing. Personally I enjoy less toned work that seems to be the norm in todays market, just a personal taste. I like pages that seem lighter and less heavy through dark tones and blacks.

The story isn’t quite what I expected. The title makes no reference to mermaids and the actual story doesn’t deal a lot with mermaids either. Despite not being what I expected (for better or worse), it was a fairly light read with no complex story lines and was a nice way to pass some nights. The story was enjoyable and could have easily been made into an OVA when the story was published.

I have heard some complaints about the story, artwork etc. I didn’t have a problem with the title. If you are interested in a one off, short read narrative give it a shot. The book is available from Vertical. Production Update Monday before the holiday!

Advertisements

Conference Recap: 2013 SGMS

As promised, I thought I would recap this year’s experience at the Schoolgirls and Mobilesuits (SGMS) conference that I attended, located in Minneapolis MN. This was my 4th year going and my 3rd year presenting. This year I presented on Studio Madhouse, how they got started and how they evolved over the years. Recently I have been intrigued by the collaboration aspect of animation and studios, so I wanted to trace the roots of my favorite studio, Madhouse. Some of their works include, Deathnote, RedLine, and Summer Wars.

SGMS is an very interesting conference, in the regards that it isn’t like a convention like you may think. Instead, presenters discuss a topic that they have researched and share them in panel discussions that are in similar areas. The presenters range from college professors, to fans that want to share their research with the audience. Personally I tend to share animation based content since I am an animator and enjoy researching it. It is nice to hear presentations about cultural and academic aspects of anime, because quite frankly, anime gets a pretty bad stereotype based of a select few titles of what people may have seen or heard.

Anyways, this year there were presentations ranging from the rise of Kpop music in Japan to the retirement of Miyazaki and even the changes of the word “otaku” through the films of Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue and Paprika). There were some panels on the evolution of fandom, the anime industry and government regulations. The keynote speaker talked about Fukushima and his work to help the area recover since it isn’t an easy solution. He gave a presentation and later he returned in the weekend for a Q/A panel that he graciously went over time with because we all had so many questions for him regarding Fukushima and other cultural aspects.

At night, we also had some film screenings. This year we saw the live action Kenshin film (review next week) and I also watched the screening of Wolf Children, again. The film gets better every time I see it, can’t wait for it to be released.

I am already thinking of topics for next year’s conference and look forward to seeing everyone again soon.

Recent Viewing: Tokyo Godfathers

This week I sat down and enjoyed another Satoshi Kon title I previously haven’t seen, Tokyo Godfathers. As I find true with other Kon titles, this movie doesn’t disappoint. In an interview in the extras, Satoshi Kon said that anime is more than just cute girls. He also said, and this is probably why I love his work so much, that more artists need to come forward with their unique stories. In an interview, he was questioned about the film starring homeless characters, which seems to have no target audience for marketing.

Synopsis- On Christmas Eve, 3 homeless friends with a rather love/hate relationship discover a baby abandoned in the garbage. The cast of characters includes; Gin, a middle-aged man, Miyuki, a high school run away and Hana, a drag queen. After a brief debate, the group decides they are going to keep the baby with them for the night and take it to the police the next morning. The next morning a series of events delays their trip to the police station. Over the course of the next several days each of the characters are confronted with the reality of their situation and get a chance to make up for previous mistakes to a certain extent while learning even more about their own inner being.

Review- Tokyo Godfathers had a great amount of fans when it first came out in 2003 and to this day it deserves every ounce of the praise. The film has a very unique perspective, as we are following homeless people during the holidays. This is very much a Christmas movie, Christmas decorations through the environments and music play throughout the film. The holiday and homeless characters really set up a scenario where you are almost instantly sympathetic for the characters, and as the story progresses you hear each characters scenario of how they ended up homeless.

*POTENTIAL SPOILER* Some of the stories the characters portray as events that lead to there homelessness are fabricated. As more events unfold, it starts to strip away the defensive facade of the characters and they open themselves up as to the true reason why they are on the streets. Their humanistic flaws that took them down a path they didn’t envision for themselves.

Tokyo Godfathers is officially added to the films I am going to watch every holiday season. It fits into that Christmas miracle film class with a nice side of comedy that doesn’t feel forced, it’s actually a really nice complement.

Overall the film comes together nicely and doesn’t have anything that seems out of place that takes the rest of the film down, like bad music or CGI for instance. This film is a true example of character development. Seeing the characters evolve over the films 90 minutes is truly a work of art.

Production Quality- Tokyo Godfathers was animated by the well-known Studio Mad House. In the opening of the film we see several night time shots of Tokyo and the environments are beautiful. The characters relationships with each other result in some very well exaggerated reaction shots from characters as they argue with each other. Overall a very well balanced approach to the Christmas miracle story with some great comedy.

Since Tokyo Godfathers was an early 2000’s film it does have it’s experimental CGI. There are sequences in the last half of the film that have CGI backgrounds, but they are mostly assigned to the shots of character chases. The CGI is much better than other examples of the period.

Having praised the CGI in the film, there are layer 2D shots that really feel wide and expansive. There is one shot in particular where the camera pans down from the sky to the street level in a park, and the depth of the surrounding trees and skyscrapers is amazing.

Music- A nice holiday sound track with some really festive tracks and some also quirky tracks to fit the film during the comedic scenes.

Dub Quality- I watched the subtitled version.

Extras- There are some trailers on as well as a “Making Of” chapter that lasts just under 25 minutes, most likely a special aired on TV in Japan to get viewers to the theater. It covers interviewing the voice actors, animation production, music composition and also an interview with Satoshi Kon. I enjoy specials like these, as it gives you an in depth look as to how it was made and you can also hear from the crew and their experiences. I wish more DVDs and series had these included, but know not all have them made.

Recent Reading: Stray Dog of Anime: Mamoru Oshii

The other week I mentioned that I have been studying up on some of my favorite directors in anime. Currently, Satoshi Kon has been my subject. However, before I started with Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Oshii was my subject matter. It all started with Amazon suggesting the title “The Stray Dog of Anime: Mamoru Oshii” by Brian Ruh.

I haven’t seen all of Oshii’s work yet, but I have seen some of his works; Ghost in the Shell, Avalon and Blood the Last Vampire. The book made me realize I need to push more of his work to the top of my viewing list, such as his work on the Patlabor films and also Jin Roh.

So with reading about Oshii’s work and seeing a couple of his films, what can I say that I learned or was inspired by thus far. Without talking about this, there really was no point in studying or learning about each.

Prior to starting my study on Oshii’s work, I didn’t know much about him or his work outside of Ghost in the Shell. Oshii’s work have many themes in them, but all can be boiled down to technology, politics and war. This point was probably the biggest surprise to me to a certain extent but also an inspiration. For the sole fact that I always felt that most directors continually work on various projects with a wider range of themes. So reading about his work and seeing that he was continually using these themes but telling different stories with different character archetypes was intriguing.

Without seeing some of the films it is hard to distinguish which films (if any) deviate farthest from the generalization of the themes Oshii uses. So I will need to see more to see if I agree with the broad statement above.

I have been a fan of films and series that have a feeling of a social commentary in them. One of such titles is Gantz (the anime). Oshii’s work has elements of social commentaries but at the same time, stories such as Ghost in the Shell, (in my opinion) seem to take the social commentary and push it and ask a question of “is this the direction we want to go?” or showing possibilities of continuing down a certain path whether it is political or technological.

I will be sure to post up more things in the future about Oshii as my study of his work goes further with the viewings of more of his films and more to come soon featuring Satoshi Kon’s work.

 

Recent Viewing: Millenium Actress

I have been reading some books on some of my favorite anime film makers lately. I just finished up a book of Mamoru Oshii of Ghost in the Shell fame (more on him to come). But I have just started a new book on one of my favorite storytellers, Satoshi Kon. You may know some of his films as; Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers and the film I will be reviewing today, Millennium Actress.

Millennium Actress was created by Studio Madhouse and released in 2002, the start of the experimental 3D/CGI period of animation. I was only able to spot one shot with very limited CGI. Check out the trailer.

The story is centered around an elderly actress who is visited by a film maker and his camera man. They show up to film because the studio the actress worked for was being tore down. As the film maker and cameraman learn more about her, we are shown the story through the filmography of the actress. We also get a glimpse into some Japanese history throughout the film as well, setting the stage for a love story that must survive through the war.

First off, if you haven’t seen any of Satoshi Kon’s work, you need to push at least one of his titles to the top of your watch list, if not all of them. His films always have very interesting cuts between shots, time and the actions of the character(s). Some of the cuts will be triggered by events or objects that are important to the character. Millennium Actress has some of the same great cuts as Perfect Blue. Some of the shots are even reminiscent of Perfect Blue, you will have to see for yourself if you can spot them.

As I stated above, there is almost no CGI in this film, but the animation is great. There are some really beautiful sequences in Millennium Actress. One of my favorites is towards the start of the film when the childhood actress is throwing snowballs at the side of a brick building. No one should be surprised of the quality of animation in the film since it was done by Madhouse after all.

Millennium Actress has plenty of replay value, I have actually been throw it a few times in the last couple weeks alone. Satoshi Kon is one of the directors, in my opinion, that tells amazing stories with superb visuals that really sets his work into a very special class of its own. The story of Millennium Actress is at its core a love story spanning across time, that is hard to not strike a chord in the viewer at the conclusion of the film. Be sure to check out Millennium Actress and more of Satoshi Kon’s work if you haven’t already.

The DVD has a 40 minute extra on the making of the film I have yet to check out but is going to be pretty close to the top of my viewing priorities.