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Fantasia 2019: ‘Kingdom’ Unites Chinese Lore and Japanese Talent for a Good Time

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There exists a plethora of wuxia films depicting either relatively accurate or highly fictionalized eras of China’s storied past, tales of kingdom unifications, uprisings, and many other ups and downs painted with the blood of famous warriors. Action movie fair highlighting more recent eras in Chinese history have had no trouble reminding audiences again and again and again that they and the Japanese have not been the best of friends for some time. As far as casual wuxia film fans are concerned, Kingdom comes out of the proverbial woodwork. As the movie opens and the Chinese characters begin to converse in what sounds a lot like Japanese, one would be forgiven if the projectionist erroneously chose to play the dubbed version.

Not so! Kingdom, despite being steeped in Chinese lore, is in fact inspired by a manga — essentially what people name comics from Japan (though the author is admittedly a comic book/graphic novel/manga layman, so please reserve hate mail for a more worthy topic if the nomenclature causes feathers to bristle). As such, director Shinsuke Sato embraces the opportunity to bring said manga to life with all the buoyance one can expect from a comic that takes a look at a period war piece from a swashbuckling angle. 

Kingdom transpires during the Warrior States period (about 221 BC) at a time when China was as divided as can be, with chieftains and state leaders willingly engaged in battle either to protect what they owned or get their mittens on more land. Li Xin and Piao are young boy slaves toiling away on a farm, each with dreams of one day becoming the greatest generals China has ever seen. They practice with wooden swords for years into early adulthood until Piao (Ryo Yoshizawa) is suddenly purchased by the Qin Emperor for undisclosed reasons, whilst Xin (Kento Yamazaki) is left behind to continue farming away. Xin’s chance to play a role in the great battles comes knocking one night when Piao unexpectedly returns, bloodied and exhaling his dying breaths. Piao reveals that his highness Ying Zhen’s dastardly brother set in motion a mutiny, overthrowing the rightful leader and now ruling with an iron fist. Just before joining his ancestors, Piao hands Xin his swords and demands that he make the trek to a nearby village to meet someone of special importance. A distraught, tearful Xin agrees to honour his friend’s wishes, and thus begins an unforgettable journey of self-discovery, action, and new friends.

And so with Kingdom we have the sort of picture traditionally handled by the Chinese being adopted to the silver screen by the Japanese. Perhaps it is unfamiliarity with the deep ins and outs of each country’s film industries, but the effect is a little bizarre during the first few minutes. Nevertheless, it ultimately makes for an interesting cinematic experience, both because the movie as a whole possesses some very Chinese qualities, as well as the injection of some typically Japanese qualities. Regarding the latter point, the acting is arguably what stands out the most, especially with regards to star Kento Yamazaki as Xin. It isn’t a question of the actor delivering a poor performance per se, although it’s safe to say that that Yamazaki is taking a page out of the Toshiro Mifune book of thespianism. Not the High and Low variety of performance, but more like his Seven Samurai work — enjoyable for sure, if a little histrionic, with some moments that might have been served with a modicum of subtlety that are instead blown up with emotions worn loudly on the character’s shoulders. 

A second quality of Kingdom that stems from yet another great Japanese master makes its presence known in the form of the wipe transition from one scene to another. Although made recognizable in western cinema by George Lucas’ Star Wars, the American was inspired by the legendary Akira Kurosawa, who regularly made use of the technique. Whether wiping up, down, left to right or vice versa, it’s a nice, clean, visually pleasing aesthetic that allows the viewer to keep the final shot of one scene in mind as the transition to the next occurs. This happens frequently in Kingdom, which itself feels very à propos, since Kurosawa dabbled in great war epics often during his career.  

As far as wuxia epics go, Kingdom is a winner for multiple reasons — most notably, its reliance on simple (but no less effective) character relationships. At the risk of spoiling part of the film, albeit for something that’s revealed very early on, the individual Xin encounters at the local village to begin his quest is in fact the destitute Ying Zhen (also Ryo Yoshizawa)…who looks exactly like Piao. Having put the pieces of the puzzle together, Xin understands that Piao had been purchased by Ying Zhen to act as his double, ultimately paying the price such a risky role entails. Xin must therefore come to the aid of the one person that made use of his non-blood brother for an ultimate sacrifice, that person resembling his deceased brother to a tee. It makes for an amusing dynamic, one which sees the former slave and emperor become friends through trial and error — the irony being that Xin is gaining a friend that looks exactly like the friend he just lost. 

Another colourful character is He Liao Diao (Kanna Hashimoto), a young bounty hunter of sorts who treks the land wearing a large bird costume. She stumbles on Xin and Ying as they flee danger, offering to help them if Ying, once back on the throne, pays her handsomely. How she became a bounty hunter is never explained given her youth and relative lack of efficiency when the going gets tough, but her charm and comedic timing serve the film well, resulting in a trio of personalities that form a somewhat wobbly party of heroes. 

Lastly, the picture’s action is engaging largely because it presents itself as a hybrid between old-fashioned sword fighting with realistic physics, and heightened, fantasy-style acrobatics. There is certainly some wire work at play to aid the actors, and stunt performers commit death defying feats, with a dash of computer generated magic to bring certain non-human characters to life for more outlandish fisticuffs. It’s a mishmash of styles that in the hands of a less capable filmmaker would crumble under the weight of self-created expectations. Luckily, Shinsuke Sato has a firm handle on the proceedings.

Funny, never lacking in ideas in amusing action set pieces, and brilliantly costumed, Kingdom is at a times wildly entertaining. The baddies are very bad, the goodies are kind and noble, and there is the crazed Xin smack in the middle of it all. It’s loud (sometimes too loud), and it’s also crazy (sometimes too crazy), but as the end credits begin to role, it’s nearly impossible to leave the theatre disappointed. A lot of love and energy have gone into the picture, and said qualities shine off the screen, infecting the audience in the process. 

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

A native of Montréal, Québec, Edgar has been writing about film since 2008. At first relegated to a personal blog back when those things were all the rage, he eventually became a Sound on Sight staff member in late 2011, a site managed by non-other than Ricky D himself. Theatrical reviews, festival coverage, film noir and martial arts flicks columns, he even co-hosted a podcast for a couple of years from 2012 to 2014 with Ricky and Simon Howell. His true cinematic love however, his unshakable obsession, is the 007 franchise. In late 2017, together with another 00 agent stationed in Montreal, he helped create The James Bond Complex podcast (alas, not part of the Goombastomp network) in which they discuss the James Bond phenomenon, from Fleming to the films and everything in between. After all, nobody does it better.

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Revoked Revenge: Analyzing One of ‘Hunter x Hunter’s’ Most Emotional Scenes

Though Hunter x Hunter is full of striking moments, “Revenge x Recovery” flexes the full strength of the show’s stellar scenario writing.

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(Spoiler Warning: The following text contains spoilers for the 2011 Hunter x Hunter Remake. Read at your own risk.)

It’s all too often that the shounen genre gets dismissed for being entirely comprised of childish power fantasies and series you should eventually grow out of. While a youthful sense of adventure and optimism is indeed a core part of the genre’s appeal, it’s also much more than that. The best of shounen tells tales that stick with viewers forever, introduces characters that they can relate to and aspire to be like, and presents dilemmas that can’t just be laughed or punched away.

The 116th episode of Hunter x Hunter 2011, “Revenge x Recovery,” exemplifies this perfectly. The scene (particularly in the second half of the episode) is one of incredible character development and viewer confliction.

Our lovable hero, Gon, has waited months to exact revenge on Pitou for Kite’s death and torturous reconfiguration into a fighting puppet. Usually cheerful and peppy, Gon hasn’t expressed a hint of happiness since beginning the raid of the Chimera Ant king’s palace. All that’s present is a cold, steely determination and unyielding anger. Pitou has to pay…no matter what it takes.

The Fall and Rebirth of Pitou

Gon’s anger isn’t unfounded. For the entire Chimera Ant arc we’ve been conditioned to fear and absolutely despise Pitou. Aside from viciously killing Kite, Pitou has played an instrumental role in planning the mass genocide of the people of East Gorteau. Seemingly only second in power to the king himself, the sheer maliciousness of its Nen made Knov (an elite Hunter on the level of Morel) have a mental breakdown, and made Netero himself doubt his capabilities.

That’s what makes Pitou’s transformation so shocking.

Instead of being greeted by Pitou’s usual coldhearted, bloodthirsty, murderous self, something has changed in it since they last met. It’s completely focused on healing Komugi, the one person who has become incredibly dear to the king. After finding her wounded at the start of the raid, he personally entrusted Pitou with restoring Komugi’s life. Not only did this bring Pitou to tears, but it set Pitou’s priorities firmly in place: put Komugi first and protect her at all costs.

Pitou knew as soon as Gon walked in the room that it was facing an immense danger, but it was already in the process of healing Komugi. Because it couldn’t fight with any hope of winning during the operation (healing requires all of its Nen), Pitou had to make a choice: leave the girl to die, or leave itself helpless. In that moment, bearing the task of healing the very person that the king cared for above all else, Pitou chose to prostrate itself and beg the boys to wait.

The imagery of seeing Pitou laying its hands outstretched in honest concession — this character that was revered since the start of the arc as the most dangerous, bloodthirsty Chimera Ant next to the king himself — is as jarring for the viewer as it is for Gon, who walked in ready to fight for his life. Arguably the most feared character in Hunter x Hunter up to that point is, for once, showing fear itself. Not fear for its own life, but fear for failing in its mission to protect the girl.

It’d be frustrating if this sudden dismantlement of a major villain served no purpose, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. We get a distinct sense that this willingness to throw away its life isn’t just on the biological level of it being faithful to the king, but more so because it wants to see the king be happy. Compared to when Pitou nonchalantly shrugged off the queen’s death dozens of episodes earlier, the fact that it’s literally willing to have every non-essential bone in its body broken to secure the king’s happiness feels like a clear emotional evolution.

Somewhere along the way of seeing how much the king cared for this fragile little human, Pitou began to gain some slivers of humanity as well. What’s more, the act of breaking its own arm as a way to prove its sincerity is a direct parallel to when the king tore off his arm to apologize for trying to cheat Komugi out of a win at gungi. Lessons learned by the king clearly haven’t gone unnoticed.

Gon’s Justified Fury

At this point, the viewer has seen Gon grow over the course of Hunter x Hunter from a naive kid with exceptional physical ability to a bonafide threat. Through it all, though, he’s always been a somewhat tropey “justice above all” main character with a heart of gold. He refuses to let the weak be attacked and won’t allow anyone to suffer — even if they deserve it. His refusal to kill the Bombers at the end of the Greed Island arc is an acute reminder of this.

Suddenly, however, we’re presented with a Gon that feels equal parts familiar and terrifying. This Gon is absolutely consumed by rage and without pity. The fact that Pitou is showing mercy to another human when it attacked Kite without hesitation only fuels the hatred that he’s been harboring for months. This thing doesn’t deserve his sympathy. So what if a third party got injured during our attack? What makes her life more valuable than Kite’s?

As the viewer, we’re keenly aware of Gon’s ear-splitting frustration. It’s ultimately a battle of ideals. What happens when a murderous monster begs for mercy? What happens when your object of so much hatred is caught acting completely selflessly to help someone they love? How can you push the thirst for avenging a loved one’s life aside in respect for the killer’s righteous wishes?

hunter x hunter

We learn that Gon isn’t yet strong enough to deal with this impossible dilemma on his own. His usually unwavering sense of right and wrong that we’ve seen throughout Hunter x Hunter has been warped, and he’s clearly lost sight of the mission’s goal. Right when he’s about to snap, it’s only by way of Killua that Gon is able to hold himself back.

It’s then that Gon hones in on what we’ve been observing the whole episode: how drastically different their reactions to this situation are from one another. Gon is (as always) wearing his emotions on his sleeve, and instantly became engulfed in his rage towards Kite’s killer. Meanwhile, Killua stood back and calmly evaluated the scene before their eyes.

Killua’s approach reflects his desensitization to killing and death in general, rather than Kite’s death meaning nothing to him as Gon alludes to. He’s shaken up, but he’s more so worried about Gon getting out of control than avenging anyone. Death is something Killua has witnessed (often by his own hand) for years, and as a reformed assassin, it follows that he wouldn’t get worked up over someone doing what he’s done to countless others.

hunter x hunter

As much as Gon (and, by extension, the viewer) wants Pitou to pay for all it’s done, the more logical course of action is to bring it with them in an attempt to heal Kite. This might be the best chance the boys will ever have of taking out Pitou once and for all, but that was never their real end goal.

It’s heartbreaking to see Gon’s once warm heart turn to ice as he realizes the validity of Killua’s protests. Killua stopped him from acting on his emotions, but he feels the repercussions of that decision in that instant. The pain on Killua’s face as he looks away from his best friend is palpable in a way that only those who’ve been afflicted by similar emotional harm from a loved one can understand. Gon is the one he’s chosen to follow to the ends of the earth, but it’s now unclear how much longer that’ll last.

Hunter x Hunter is a testament to the emotional depth a shounen series can have if enough care is put into cultivating its cast. Not only does “Revenge x Recovery” stand out as a hallmark scene in what’s arguably the show’s best arc, but it also serves as a reminder of how vital meticulous character and scenario writing are. Few have done it as well as Yoshihiro Togashi.

You can watch Hunter x Hunter on Crunchyroll and Netflix.

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Is Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba: “Hinokami” The Pinnacle of its Genre?

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is of the strongest series airing in 2019, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice to ignore it.

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(Spoilers ahead for Episode 19 of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba.)

With anime aplenty available to be pumped into our eye holes, it’s tough to sift through the masses and unearth a gem. Well I’ll make it easier: watch Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba! Once in a blue moon something special raises the bar, and Episode 19 “Hinokami” does just that. For those new to the show, however, all aboard the context train.

Kimesu no Yaiba

Tanjiro Kamado resides in a cold but cosy mountain home with his family. One day he nips off to a nearby town, only to discover on return his family’s been massacred by a demon. Tanjiro’s world is turned upside down (not in a literal sense, that tsuzumi dude doesn’t appear for another ten episodes), and adding insult to injury, his sister Nezuko’s been turned into a demon. Whilst retaining her human form, she now craves flesh and evaporates in sunlight. Safe to say, T-dog’s having one of those days. Fortunately, Nezuko’s a one in a million demon that sees the benefits of abstinence from bloodthirsty murder. With her love for Tanjiro intact, they set off to cure Nezuko’s ‘demon-itis’.

One training arc later, and Tanjiro’s nifty at felling demons with a sword. And jumping to Episode 19 “Hinokami”, he’s battling his toughest opponent yet: Rui of the Twelve Moons. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba has crescendoed towards an inevitable encounter with said upper echelon of demons, from ex-Twelve Moon Kyogai, to Twelve Moon red herring Father, to real actual Twelve Moon Rui. He’s the big boss you don’t see coming, and the threat he poses is evident when he shatters Tanjiro’s sword to smitheries with his slice-y dice-y hecka hard webs. He’s a sadistic bastard, forming ‘family bonds’ on fear by torturing his next of kin. Can Tanjiro best someone so strong?

Kimetsu no Yaiba

Given Rui’s fixation on family bonds, seeing Nezuko hurl herself into harm’s way to protect Tanjiro from a slew of razor sharp webs captivates him. Witnessing Tanjiro and Nezuko’s legitimate family bond, Rui requests for her to be his sister instead, but spells out his intention to indoctrinate her into said kinship through torturous terror, highlighting his reluctance to renounce his forgery of fake bonds. The dynamic shifts, and Tanjiro has another reason to fight: for Nezuko!

Kimetsu no Yaiba Nezuko

The theme of family bonds is a cornerstone of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, but never has it felt more meaningful than here. From Tanjiro and Nezuko recollecting their childhood and parents’ wisdom, to them collaborating to best Rui; the spectacle sees music, narrative, and animation meld in impeccable harmony. It elicits tears for those invested, and that’s a lofty feat for what’s fundamentally an action sequence. It’s poetry in motion, and sheer art of the highest order, bolstered by eye popping visuals courtesy of Ufotable (turns out when they’re not potentially evading tax they’re driving animation quality through the roof).

If you’ve yet to see Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, do yourself a favour and watch from the start, as isolating this scene in a 360p YouTube video will nullify the narrative context (the weight of which contributes tremendously to the emotional impact). And if you have seen it, I only hope your neck isn’t sore from nodding in agreement whilst reading.

Kimetsu no Yaiba

To say it’s exciting to ponder where Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is heading is an understatement and a half. It’s one of the strongest series airing in 2019, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice, anime fan or not, to ignore it.

Watch Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba on Crunchyroll here.

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Anime Ichiban: Brent’s Favorite Ending Themes

Why let opening themes get all the love? Kick back and check out some of the EDs that stand head and shoulders above the rest.

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With so many iconic opening themes out there, it can be easy to forget that there’s a wealth of fantastic EDs that are well-worth watching. It might be more tempting than ever to skip endings in the age of binge watching your favorite shows, but there are still a select few that are worth sitting through the credits for. As a follow-up to my list of favorite opening themes from last year, here are my Top 10 all-time favorite ending themes ranked in descending order. Let’s get into it!


10. “Sentimental Crisis”–halca (Kaguya-sama: Love is War, Opening)

Mind games are a core part of Kaguya’s arsenal on the cutthroat romantic battlefield upon which Kaguya-sama: Love is War takes place. In the ED, however, we get a welcome look at what her consciousness is like when she isn’t constantly on guard. What ensues is a surprisingly whimsical wartime adventure that enforces how happy she is to have her close friends by her side.




9. “Waiting in the Rain”–Maaya Sakamoto (The Asterisk War, Opening 1)

Regardless of feelings towards The Asterisk War itself, “Waiting in the Rain” has to be one of the most beautiful ED’s I’ve ever heard. Everything from the soaring strings at the beginning to Maaya Sakamoto’s angelic vocal performance is just stunningly on-point. It’s clear that the visuals didn’t get nearly as much love, however, and the end result is a gorgeous song over decidedly generic (albeit decently pretty) animation. But, you know what? The song is good enough to bring this ED to number nine all by itself.




8. “Spice”–Tokyo Karan Koron (Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma, Ending 1)

Sometimes the simplest EDs end up being the most enjoyable. The first ending of Food Wars! perfectly encapsulates the lighthearted nature of the show with bright colors, a meal between friends, and a smile-inducing theme from Tokyo Karan Koron. While the ED stays true to the anime’s signature marriage of food and fanservice, it’s the last shot of Soma smiling that always warms my heart.




7. “Hoshi wo Todoreba”–Yuiko Ōhara (Little Witch Academia, Ending 1)

Though less extravagant than some of the other EDs on this list, there’s something about the unassuming charm of “Hoshi wo Todoreba” that makes it feel special. The depictions of daily school life, highlights for each of the first season’s main characters, and even the love shown to some of the anime’s more minor personalities are beautifully done here. It manages to flesh out the bits and bobs of Little Witch Academia that we never get to see, making each scene feel like an absolute treat.




6. “Refrain Boy”–ALL OFF (Mob Psycho 100, Ending 1)

ed

For as much praise as Mob Psycho 100’s OP got upon release (and for good reason), its paint-on-glass animated ED is no slouch either. While Reigen was first depicted as a sketchy con man of sorts, the ending theme works to humanize him and make him out to be an everyman whose world suddenly took a positive turn when he met Mob. Reigen’s affection for Mob is real, and this is a genuine (if gentle) reminder of that.




5. “Colorful”–Miku Sawai (Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend, Ending 1)

Like “Waiting in the Rain,” “Colorful” is an ED almost entirely carried by the song itself. In fact, it’s surprising that the ED is so typical for an anime as self-aware as Saekano. That said, the art feels warm and welcoming, and the sequence when the song’s chorus comes in is one of the more fun character highlight reels I’ve seen. If you’re as in love with this song as I am, this remix is also definitely worth checking out.




4. “Cinderella Step”–DAOKO (Rage of Bahamut: Virgin Soul, Ending 2)

Rage of Bahamut: Virgin Soul is one wild ride of an anime. The emotional rollercoaster the viewer rides in alongside Nina is full of twists, backstabbings, friends-turned-foes, and vice-versa. That’s what makes “Cinderella Step” such a lovely ED; it’s a dreamy take on the old Cinderella tale where everyone forgets their worries, affiliations, and motives, and simply has fun dancing the night away. Seeing your favorite characters eschewing their rough circumstances and dancing like goofballs is a joy, and the bittersweet end to the season makes it that much more impactful.




3. “Dou Kangaete mo Watashi wa Warukunai”–Yuu-chan (WataMote: No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!, Ending 1)

ed

The visceral relatability of WataMote has touched the hearts of millions of once-high-schoolers over the years. While the anime’s OP is a sonic culmination of Tomoko’s feelings of rebellion and frustration, the ED is much more pleasant of a listen. Both struggle with themes of acceptance and self-doubt, however, with the conversation between her and her mirror (version with english lyrics here) being especially heartbreaking when you sit back and think over where those feelings are coming from. The idea to set all of this to a sequence of Tomoko walking herself through her daily routine via smartphones is rather unique, and was executed perfectly.




2. “Veil”–Keina Suda (Fire Force, Ending)

ed

“Veil” is likely the best (and saddest) ED of the Summer 2019 season. The carefree depictions of Iris’ fellow sisters-in-training are reminiscent of the Little Witch Academia ED mentioned earlier, and makes their fates that much more tragic. It’s nonetheless impressive just how well this ED is able to tell an entire backstory, truncated as it may be. And while there’s no brushing off just how horrible the events illustrated here are, the last scene of Iris readying herself while surrounded by her team does a satisfying job of providing a sense of closure for the viewer.




1. “Hunting for Your Dream”–Galneryus (Hunter x Hunter 2011, Ending 2)

ed

Have you ever come across an opening or ending to an anime and instantly knew that it was one of the best you’d ever seen in your life? That was my reaction when I first saw “Hunting for Your Dream.” It’s the exact type of ED that every shonen anime needs; it reminds you of everyone’s goals, portrays all the antagonists in a boss-like, revered fashion, and just plain gets you pumped for the next episode with kick-ass tunes and exceptional sequencing. The way every episode in the season leads into it creates a supreme feeling of anticipation and excitement, as well. Click here to treat yourself to a typical ending to an episode with this theme.

Videos were uploaded courtesy of the /r/AnimeThemes community 

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Fantasia 2019: ‘Promare’ Feels Like the Younger Brother of ‘Gurren Lagann’

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Gurren Lagann is a cult classic directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, and written by Kazuki Nakashima. It has over-the-top action, constant bravado, quotable lines, and non-stop escalation into madness. Subtly is not a common word used in Imaishi and Nakashima’s vocabulary, and luckily, fans of their work will not be disappointed with their newest animated movie, Promare. Hot-headedness (literal and metaphorical) and grandiose speeches are rampant when Promare kicks logic to the curb and goes beyond the impossible in its own unique way. What it lacks in a cohesive story, it makes up for in elaborate visuals, eye-popping action, and charismatic characters.


No matter how many times Spider-Man or Superman saves someone from a burning building, the real heroes are the firefighters; they are the ones on the ground, first on the scene. In the world of Promare, firefighters are not just stopping regular old fires; they are tasked with extinguishing supernatural infernos caused by the Burnish — humans mutated to become pyrokinetics. Called the Burning Rescue, they heroically save any and every civilian threatened by these eternal flames, doing so with advanced gear, amped-up water cannons, and hand to hand combat. In addition, they have high-tech equipment that includes drones, an armory of ice and water-powered firearms, and numerous models of mech suits.

These heroes are tasked to stop the flaming terrorists and the havoc they wreak, and in the first act of Promare, a Burning Rescue team led by a young man named Galo take on one of the most feared Burnish terrorists. They use their pyrokinesis to give themselves black, spiky armour and motorcycles that would make Ghost Rider jealous, and after a rousing success with eleventh-hour powers, Galo floats in his victory. Soon, the more militaristic, anti-Burnish organization called Freeze Force barges in and detains the Burnish, taking some of the credit and diminishing Burning Rescue’s efforts. This testosterone-driven act kindles a small spark in the back of Galo’s head, later pushing him to discover a conspiracy that suggests not all is as it appears to be.

Galo is essentially a carbon copy of Kamina from Gurren Lagann. He’s a shirtless, blue-haired, brash young man who jumps in head first to save everyone, and makes sure he looks cool doing it every time. His peers and rivals mock his intelligence and audacity, but in a rare twist, Galo immediately proves that his not simply all bark; he is also a talented rescuer, and is able to stop multiple Burnish solo. Eventually, he develops a rival with Lio, a blonde-haired, light-eyed, somewhat effeminate villain with his own code of honour. He also runs across Kray Foresight, the governor, who is appreciative of Burning Rescue and all their work. However, though Burning Rescue is comprised of many equally talented members, they are mostly pushed to the background outside of being given a few moments to shine.  

Promare takes advantage of new animation styles, and combines both hand-drawn and computer-animated designs. The vapourwave art style is bombastic and chaotic, while the angular designs of the Burnish’s powers add a little edge to the action scenes, guaranteeing that there is no wasted space on screen. The movie runs from inferno-hot to sub-zero cold with no in-between; one would expect nothing less from Imaishi and Nakashima.

Walking into this film and expecting some kind of subtly, even when it comes to the most mundane of actions, is expecting far too much. In classic fashion, the filmmakers keep making every scene more grandiose and epic. Fight scenes aren’t simply adding an extra bad guy or giving the hero a handicap; everything grows to an exponential scale. The moment you expect that Promare has reached its limit, suddenly everything goes to the extreme. But this does has its disadvantages, as subtly and clear explanations of events go by the wayside. The plot moves fast and glosses over the details of the world, history, and lore. Instead of questioning “why is this weird thing happening,” it’s better to accept that it’s happening simply “just because” — far better to just watch the bonker visuals and series of events. This pacing also makes it difficult for character growth, where relationships are created and destroyed on a whim, yet could have benefited more with extra content. It’s like the difference between the Gurren Lagann series and the movies. Sure, the movies cover a lot of ground, but they are very much more loud, operatic spectacles rather than the growing confidence of a young shy boy into a full-fledged legend.

Promare is certainly a movie that stimulates the lizard-brain neurons. It’s flashy, over the top, and outright ridiculous. The heroes and villains are operatic, and there is no nuance stored anywhere in the character’s development. But that’s why the movie is wonderful; the creators are able to depict these extreme levels of silliness, then lampoon and expand on it. There are even moments where the characters themselves have to acknowledge that this level of weirdness is actually happening. But that’s why this movie is spectacular — it’s loud, it’s big, but it’s 100% unfiltered fun.

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

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Fantasia 2019 Dispatch: ‘White Snake’ and ‘The Relative Worlds’

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White Snake

While relatively unknown in the west, the “Legend of the White Snake” is one of the oldest and most venerated folks tales in China, and as such has been brought to the screen and stage numerous times. After all, fables and folktales have proved themselves to be enduring and adaptable enough that the real classics will probably never truly fade from the cultural landscape. Light Chaser Animation’s new telling of the story certainly jazzes it up for modern audiences, with dazzling animation and some modern sensibilities added to the tried-and-true romantic melodrama and high fantasy. While definitively rooted in Chinese myth and legends, the film also seems to be aiming for an international audience, and will most likely succeed in this ambition.

In ancient China, a cruel general versed in the dark arts has begun stealing the life force of snakes in order to aid in the Emperor’s bid for immortality. An assassin is sent in the form of the white snake, Blanca, who like many of her more powerful clan is able to take human form. Blanca’s assassination attempt fails, and she loses her memory in the process. Found by the inhabitants of a village of snake catchers, she soon falls in love with the dashing young Xuan, only to have her former life come back to haunt her.

White Snake

The main draw for White Snake is the visuals, which are beautifully rendered and absolutely dazzling from start to finish. While the art direction and character designs occasionally evoke North American animation, the vast majority of the film’s aesthetic feels refreshingly unique. While not overly stylized, there’s a painterly quality to the backdrops and locales, with a deliberate use of color and an emphasis on stunning vistas. Creative visual gags abound, like the face-switching demon blacksmith or the spectacular magical battles, which eventually escalate into dizzying fights between giant serpents and legions of warriors made of living, folded paper. 

Some of the film’s attempts at humor fall a tad flat, however, particularly when Xuan’s loyal canine sidekick is given the gift of speech for no discernible reason. Parents looking for a fun alternative to the latest Dreamworks or Pixar movie might also get nervous at some of the more risque suggestions, like a near-sex scene or the demon weapon smith’s perilously plunging neckline. But overall, the film is a fun and visually captivating ride which proves that CG animation isn’t just for the West.

The Relative Worlds

Our protagonists sit in a comfortably but blandly decorated living room discussing mass murder. Among them are two alternate-universe doppelgangers and a pair of advanced combat robots that (naturally) look like 13-year-old girls. It’s been determined that an alternate Earth can be saved from despotic rule, and all it will take is a few murders here in our world. “Maybe we should get some food” suggests one character. “Yes, we do not require food, but are capable of expelling waste” responds one of the robots. An upbeat pop tune creeps into the soundtrack, and a montage of our heroes out on the town begins — now that we’re safe in the knowledge that the robots can indeed poop. This scene really encapsulates everything weird and disjointed about The Relative Worlds, an ungainly wreck of a movie with tonal and pacing problems to spare, and little to offer anime fans or filmgoers on the whole.

The action begins (as these things often do) with a pair of ordinary high-schoolers. A rash of unexplained deaths has begun to plague Japan, and the two discover the truth after doppelgangers and robots invade their burgeoning romance: an alternate version of Earth came into existence after World War I, they learn, and on that Earth the shy Kotori is a cruel despot. Jin, the alternate version of her classmate and love interest, Shin, has hopped from one reality to the other to kill Kotori, which will cause her opposite in his own universe to die as well. To counter Jin’s powerful and imposing combat robot, Kotori’s other-universe counterpart has sent her a protector: the diminutive android, Miko.

Relative Worlds

The Relative Worlds suffers from the odd problem of having too much story, but at the same time being almost maddeningly simplistic. Before the audience can get too confused, a helpful narrator makes his one and only appearance to meticulously outline the premise in exacting detail. Not long after, new information drastically changes the stakes and goals of the movie, in just one of many sudden gear shifts sure to leave audiences with mild whiplash. The film never settles on one set of objectives long enough for audiences to get comfortable, and it feels like a much longer, multi-arc story has been brutally condensed into a cramped 90-odd minutes. The tone veers about wildly, and seemingly important plot elements drop in and out like unwanted guests. In its few moments of clarity, it also mostly walks in the footsteps of films and series that came before, never offering any characters or story beats that won’t feel familiar to anime fans.

While some of the art direction is at least mildly interesting, The Relative Worlds is nonetheless an absolute mess of storytelling missteps that casual audiences will find too weird, and anime fans will mostly likely find derivative and awkward.

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

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Freelance Film Writers

Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Film, TV, Anime and Comic writers.

Contact us: Editor@GoombaStomp.com

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