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A backlog of movie reviews.

Also, I finally finished Gakuen Senki Muryou. Everyone should see Gakuen Senki Muryou. It is released here under the title Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars.

This is probably the best thing I've seen in -- eally, a long time, with the possible exception of Fafner. Muryou, however, is ultimately a very heartwarming show, giving the effect of "not much happens but it happens very entertainingly" while actually quite a lot is going on. Rather than have one or two or even three main characters, the story unfolds around one of the all-time great ensembles, drawing on Japanese religion, science fiction tropes, and the director's own nostalgia to create something gently entertaining and often hilarious, in which there are plenty of battles but no real villains and, in the end, no heartbreak. The show develops one romantic relationship over its course and sets up a true triangle that it leaves unresolved and content to be so -- the characters in question, after all, are in middle school -- but both of these quietly take a back seat to friendship and community loyalty. Also, there is an artificial giant beating the crap out of spaceships, galactic policy meetings held in the back of sushi shops, and people who can run fast enough to achieve escape velocity. ^_^


Having finally seen all of Soukyuu no Fafner, I stand by my statement that if Gundam and Princess Tutu had an affair and a kid (with or without RahXephon), it would be Soukyuu no Fafner. Not that many giant robot shows are actually science fiction, but SnF is. After being dropped into the middle of the action (as, to be sure, are most of the heroes), the questions and the plot never let up, even when they seem to. The unfolding is half the fun, the characters -- except for those meant to be villainous -- are likeable, and the worldbuilding involved is fascinating; the show is not afraid to kill off people it made you love (or hate), and the ending is fully satisfying after everything went into it. (And the two main boys, Makabe Kazuki and Minashiro Soushi, are totally in love with each other: their relationship, while possible to interpret as deep friendship for those who aren't into that kind of thing, drives a good half of the plot and the finale.)


Simoun:

konoha really adores this show, and I liked it -- quite a lot -- although I must confess that I thought Soukyuu no Fafner better plotted. While the very beginning of Simoun is somewhat confusing, much of the worldbuilding is treated in a Campbellian "it's there; now let's get on with the story" fashion, and the ending is so subtle that it took me a while to fully understand it, this show is nevertheless made of layered awesome. The translation is usually quite good, although some of the Latin is misspelt and towards the end all nonJapanese dialogue is represented in the subtitles by the word "Foreign" without punctuation. Simoun is set in a world where all humans are born with the default female body type and choose a physical gender when they come of age, and where one country has discovered ancient aircraft that can only be activated by undifferentiated nymphs. It manages to be epic in scale while chronicling one particular band of pilots ("sibyllae") as war comes to them, emotional bonds within and without the group are forged, tested, and reforged, and the sibyllae come of age. Here, too, I was reminded of many of the Gundam series, as the girls are used and used up in the war before they begin to question whether or not their cause is just (as opposed to whether they, personally, are doing the right thing) and the general worldview remains bleak even as the nymphs find their own rays of hope in among the requisite heapings of teenage pathos and angst: even the ending can perhaps be described as cheerful and hopeful rather than happy. My only real problem with the show was the male-dominated nature of the protagonists' nation (you'd think, given a level starting field, they'd have developed something better than the same old bad habits, even if the show is not about insights on gender); also, the use of women to voice even the characters that had been male for years took some getting used to. Those, however, are relatively small matters, compared to Simoun's excellence.


Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

The show weakened a little in the very last episode -- which, for a 26-episode series, is not a bad record, especially given the complexity of everything that went into it and the quality of the rest: it even made an half-hour of nothing but talking heads fascinating watching. The four main characters especially had a great deal of development while their pasts remained enigmatic. The section head, except for one time (and that involved personal matters) always upheld his sense of justice while thinking three steps ahead of everyone else. The Tachikoma robot tanks were adorable (odd as it is to say about something looking that much like a spider) and I wanted to take one home. Even when I disagreed with the Deep Philosophical Thought of the episode, it was fascinating viewing, and mere words are not enough to express my satisfaction that the final debate of the television show took place in a library full of codices, involving their librarian. The interviews on each disc were also great to watch, especially those talking about the creative process.


Someday's Dreamers, aka Mahoutsukai ni Taisetsu Koto (That Which Magicians Prize):

This is a gentle and heartwarming story in which, looked at one way, nothing much happens but it does so entertainingly, and looked at another, people learn to go on growing even at the cost of an unexpected lunar trip or Tokyo Tower being temporarily twisted into the Sideways Corkscrew of Akasaka. The only major irritation is the translation, which routinely translates both "mahoutsukai" and "mahoushi" as "mage" and always uses "Special Power" rather than the more familiar "magic" for "mahou," for unexplained reasons and often to clunky effect. Main character Yume's crisis of faith goes on for perhaps an episode and a half longer than it really needs to, but the rounded character designs help disguise that fact by making her look younger. If this were to be expanded into or followed up by a longer series, I would be delighted.


Loveless, vol. 2:

More and more I begin to suspect that I am just the wrong age group for this show; as Soubi and Ritsuka's relationship develops, I see it not as two wounded people finding someone to stand at their wounded sides but as codependent. Unhealthily codependent. And while I've been known to read/watch unhealthily codependent with fascination, this repels -- especially given that even Ritsuka's therapist seems to be, ah, dancing with the line of professional ethics. It's a shame, because the plot is kicking into high gear, and I really want both to find out what's going on with the mysterious designedly protosociopathic Zero and to see how Yuiko will grow and develop...
... but I really, really don't like Soubi so far. I hope that the third volume will redeem the second.


The Iron Giant:

It took me about half the movie's running time to really get invested in the characters and story of this nostalgia movie. Once I did, though, I was hooked, and found myself eagerly watching to the end (even though my father, who wandered in for the last third, reacted to the penultimate scene by audibly pointing out the high likelihood of nuclear fallout). Still, this was enjoyable and powerful in its simplicity, even when its obvious use of archetypes brought other movies irresistibly to mind. The selection of extras on the disc is wonderful, and I greatly enjoyed the introductions by the director.


Hero:

This is the Rashoumon of wirework martial arts; every time you think you've seen what happened, it turns out that actually, it must have been this other way. I really liked the characters and the choreography, and the story grabbed me and caught me up in it. I didn't like the resolution of the subplot with Flying Snow and Broken Sword; that's a personal issue, as it certainly was resolved, and in a way that left nothing hanging. The wirework made no bones about pretending not to be fantastic. It seems to me that the movie's chief message is that national unity trumps all, which is probably unsurprising. The movie was filmed on some of the grandest locations in China and features stunning music and a use of color to tell the story that reminds me of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It also includes two extras containing interviews with the cast, crew, and (for some reason) Quentin Tarantino, which are fun; many of these people are very likeable in interviews.

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