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Hoshi o Ou Kodomo (Children Who Chase Lost Voices) Review

Makoto Shinkai has been called the New Miyazaki for quite a while, and that’s some high praise. Shinkai has this knack for animating with such attention to detail that you can’t help but compare it to Studio Ghibli’s painstaking attention to detail when handcrafting their films and series. The penchant for evoking emotions is also there, but there are some major differences between the two. (Which I’ll get to later).

With Hoshi o Ou Kodomo, you’ll see that Shinkai is clearly paying tribute to Miyazaki. The film is rife with imagery that is clearly inspired by, if not outright stolen from, Miyazaki’s classic Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke. It also has shades of Shadow of the Colossus, a game which itself I consider to be derived from Miyazaki’s works.

So what is this movie about? Released in 2011, it’s garnered some rave reviews, but I just got around to watching it today, five years later. Why so late? Well I’ve never been a huge fan of Shinkai’s works. Two things really characterize Shinkai’s works for me: they are always about some kind of Separation, and they are always Boring.

Those are very loaded statements, so let’s just talk about the film and I may be able to explain them better.

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The Train. If Shinkai were a religious man, he’d probably be praying at the Altar of the God of Trains. Japanese literature in general overuses trains, for some reason it’s such an integral part of their culture. While it symbolizes the resurgence of Japan as an Industrial Super Power after World War II, trains as a literary device also mark the beginning of a journey, and more poignantly, Separation. And Shinkai loves Separation, doesn’t he?

Opening Act

It opens with a girl who likes going out into the woods, climbing mountains and being away from her absentee mother and her dead father.  As she stays on a mountain ledge listening to her weird radio contraption with a curious blue stone acting like some kind of futuristic vinyl record, you get the impression that she is not entirely of this world, that she doesn’t exactly belong.

As we spend the first ten minutes watching this girl, Asuna, we simply get this strange feeling that she’s simply out of sorts.

This is further re-affirmed when a classmate offers to walk home with her, and she refuses curtly but politely, saying she is in a hurry, although it’s clear she is in no such hurry shortly after the fact. All she does is do some quick chores then run back off into the woods, where she encounters the only bump of excitement for the full thirty minutes of the opening act.

And in those thirty minutes, you’ll see exactly those two themes that characterize Shinkai’s works. The Sense of Separation Asuna feels with the world, and the unfortunate fact that Shinkai is horrible at pacing, liking to focus a little too much on the mundane details of life to the point that it gets excruciatingly Boring.

I realize some people may like that kind of attention to detail and slow style, but while it might work (debatable, but maybe it would) in Shinkai’s other works that are just shorts about the ordinary lives of two people (like in 5cm per Second), it really has no place in an adventure genre film like Hoshi Kodomo. You can see that Shinkai can’t resist but indulge in his masturbation of visual finery, which he truly is a prodigy at, but he needs to better integrate it into the narrative and not just have it gratuitously like we do for the first thirty minutes of nothing. You know it’s bad when Shinkai shows you a scene of two dragonflies having sex, for really no reason at all (except maybe to symbolize Asuna’s growing lust for the new man in her life). He is just gratuitously pining along with his visual imagery and mood creation. What he doesn’t realize is that it’s just flat out Boring and completely unnecessary.

In those thirty minutes we see another theme of separation — that of Asuna losing her newfound lover Shun almost as soon as they meet. This is typical of Makoto Shinkai works, probably because Shinkai has no idea how to actually write a relationship where the two people are, you know, actually together. He’s really good at depicting loss and separation, but you’ll see later on in the film that he is absolutely terrible at developing a narrative where people are together.

Asuna and her new lover Shun share a moment of intimacy in the picturesque wilderness. Beautiful.
Asuna and her new lover Shun share a moment of intimacy in the picturesque wilderness. Beautiful.

The act ends when Asuna meets her substitute teacher Morisaki, who reads a passage on the Separation of Japanese deities Izanagi and Izanami. Again, another theme of Separation, and Morisaki himself is another character who shows us yet another theme of Separation in this movie — that of a man separated from his dead wife.

The Rising Action

Thankfully, the boring part of the movie is all over. While there was a lot of groundwork to be laid out in the first part to set the theme of the movie, I can’t say it was artfully done, and if anything it put me to sleep for the sheer effort it took me to get through it. But now that it’s over with, we can introduce some new characters, like Shin, who bring a lot of dynamic energy into the movie.

The movie now kicks into gear heading into the wonderful land of Agartha, which is apparently really advanced in technology, but when we get to it we see a people so backwards that they still live in crude stone huts, with nothing but horses for travel and no plumbing or even electric lights. It’s rather laughable that Shinkai actually expects us to believe that these people were once so advanced that the great empires of our world actually raided it for its riches and its technology.

Agartha Beckons. This is the gate into Agartha.
Agartha Beckons. This is the gate into Agartha.

But at least we are now thrust into the actual adventure part of the story, which will draw shades of comparison to Miyazaki’s aforementioned works. Still, you’ll find that there are some major problems.  The first is the inability of the film to write meaningful dialogue between the expanded cast of characters. It becomes painfully apparent that Shinkai’s style of keeping a small cast of two characters (along with long stretches with little dialogue between the two, relying way too much on imagery, tension and atmosphere) has severely atrophied his ability to write group dynamics.

When Asuna, Morisaki and Shin get into a situation where they actually need to talk to each other and make it clear what their objectives are and resolve conflicts between them, all Shinkai can come up with is a lazy, “Katte ni Shiro” (Do as you like.) We’ll see this repeated again later.  Asuna and Morisaki are trying to get some kind of father/daughter relationship going on, and Asuna and Shin are trying to get some kind of lover relationship going, but none of them really know how to make it work, it’s not unlike two children who have a crush on each other but have no idea how to make the first move. The relationships between the characters are so childishly and naively handled, with no delicacy, believability or even sense that it’s embarrassing for someone of Shinkai’s stature to have produced such a mess. Or perhaps not? Shinkai’s relationships in his past works have all been rather the childish, immature views of people who just look at the object of their desire from afar, unable to really take the first step. This feels a lot like what’s happening here as well.

We’ll also see Shinkai’s penchant for separation theatrics over and over, something that you really start to get sick of in the two hours you’ll be going through this movie. The middle act ends with another separation as Asuna separates from her pet Teto, er- Mimi forever.

Yet another separation. The amount of effort put into the separation scene, panning in 3D-style, really shows you where Shinkai's loyalties lie.
Yet another separation. The amount of effort put into the separation scene, panning in 3D-style, really shows you where Shinkai’s loyalties lie. The level of absurd dramatic music profusely abused in this film is as preposterous as the ridiculous number of emotionally-manipulative depressive separation scenes that really don’t work.

The Final Act

I’ll try to keep from spoiling the climax, as it could have been a really good one. But as the movie attempts to resolve the conflict of Separation between the characters in the final scene, we’re left with a resolution that really just makes us wonder, “What was the freaking point of it all?”  I felt like the story went nowhere, everything was for naught and the film didn’t really have any meaning.  Asuna remains a character whose various themes of Separation are completely unresolved — her separation from the surface world, her mother, her father, her school life, from Shun, and everything else.

None of the themes surrounding her are resolved, the movie doesn’t even bother to try to tie it up. Why was she even chosen as the main character? They resolved Morisaki’s separation in a rather ugly way, but at least it was resolved. Asuna’s was left completely untouched, other than a quick scene crying over Shun that I suppose was supposed to “show” that Asuna had grieved and gotten over him. Which, you know, is really just stretching it and me trying to pretend that the movie even attempted to resolve the conflict there. The scene was brushed over almost as soon as it began, anyway.

The movie closes with an ending that is played throughout the closing credits, in a way similar to how Nausicaa’s ending played out. It’s much longer here, though, and there’s a post-credits scene that serves to close everything. I’m just greatly disappointed that the post-credits ending was a lazy, “and everything goes back to how it was, life goes on” kind of deal that really just reeks of third-rate storytelling.

I guess it’s all just so disappointing, because the movie looks so gorgeous and breathtakingly beautiful, but in the end feels like a hollow hack of greater films like Laputa and Mononoke.  It’s perhaps fitting that the ending of a Shinkai film is nothing but yet another Separation.

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The ending scene of the film: A train track. Shinkai loves his trains.

Final Thoughts on Issues with the Movie

One of the biggest problems with the movie, other than the rather awkward story-telling and the sheer pointlessness of it all, is a huge glaring plot hole. Early on in the middle act Asuna is captured by a tribe of cursed monsters known as the Izoku. They drag her off in the night and when the next day comes it’s near sunset and Asuna wakes up trapped in a ruined building with a little girl.  As the sun sets, the Izoku once again show up and attack her, but the stupidity of this scene becomes apparent when we find out later on that the motives of the Izoku is to eat people like her (half breeds of topsiders — people from the surface world — and people from Agartha) and the little child.

This begs the question: why did the Izoku whisk her away only to leave her in the middle of the ruins for no reason, along with another girl who they were supposed to eat, whom they had also captured two days earlier? The Izoku spend the rest of the movie just trying to capture her again (and completely ignore the other little girl) and when they do they try to eat her on sight. So why did they leave the two of them out to dry in the ruins again and not just eat them when they were first kidnapped? It makes absolutely no sense by the laws dictated by the setting, and was just a stupid plot device used to get the already questionable plot to advance.

The movie even conveniently glosses over her heritage, that it was not so subtly hinting at right from the start — that Asuna’s father was from Agartha and that he had died because Agarthians don’t last long in the surface world. I was totally expecting the movie to make something of it, especially since a good chunk of the movie is about the Izoku hunting her because she’s a half breed.  But again, the movie fails to do anything meaningful with that thread and just leaves it to lay in the dust.

So what exactly was the point of this movie? It’s about children who listen to lost voices, right? If we look at who the children are — Asuna, Shin and Morisaki, you’ll see that they all were listening to the voices of dead people (lost voices) and were looking to probably bring them back or otherwise gain closure. In the movie Asuna and Shin got some closure — albeit a really lazily setup closure, and Shin’s listening wasn’t even developed at all. It wasn’t even part of his character throughout the film, and yet he got that scene near the end, which just reminds us how lazily that scene was put together. Asuna’s closure was totally lazy. I’ll just cry about it and it’s done! Let’s move on. There was no objective correlative that occurred to show us how her conflict was resolved. Morisaki was the only one who had his conflict given proper time and effort to resolve, but in the end, it didn’t even matter. It was pretty disappointing.

You know a movie’s story is bad when its main “antagonist,” Morisaki, ends up being the main protagonist, and is the only one whose character conflict is actually resolved.

Shinkai vs. Miyazaki

And herein are the differences between Shinkai and Miyazaki.  First, while Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli in general outright refuse to modernize and go completely old school hand drawing every single cel and frame of their works, Shinkai started off with CGI and continues to do so. However, this does not take away from either of them. I think it’s quite commendable that Miyazaki utterly refuses to go the path of CGI (although his son has no such compunctions, to disastrous effect), and I think that Shinkai has found a way to combine modern CGI with that hand-crafted warmth that makes his films and Studio Ghibli’s so special.

Second, Miyazaki understands the value of pacing. Had Miyazaki been the one directing this movie, he would have likely started it off thirty minutes in, and avoided that 30-minute mess at the start. He could have filled out the rest of the backstory somehow in a more compact package, and deftly handled the pacing and action as they went along to Agartha. Take for instance how Laputa kicked off, with a high-action chase scene in the air ending with a girl plummeting down thousands of feet to the ground. People may groan at the obvious hook, but hooks are important in storytelling for a reason, and this is something Shinkai does not understand. Miyazaki learned the value of this after working on movies that felt like they had plot deficiencies, but even a movie like Horus: Prince of the Sun started off with a hook. To make matters worse, Shinkai is unable to maintain a rising action throughout a long feature film as his characters keep dipping into stretches of morose lethargy.

This is the third major difference: Miyazaki uses playful interactions between characters that are meaningful even as they are often light-hearted and fluffy. This is because Miyazaki breathes life into his characters, not deflate them into emo caricatures who are nothing more than pity magnets. One of Shinkai’s greatest strengths is his ability to evoke sadness in a situation, but while this may work in certain genres that he has worked on previously, it just doesn’t work in a full-length adventure film. All throughout the movie, I never really felt a connection with any of these characters, other than to pity them for being sad, sorry human beings. I never admired them the way I admired Nausicaa for her nobility and bravery, or Pazu for his pure-hearted amibition, or Kiki for her hard-working attitude. They’re all just emo bumpkins I don’t really care about. Asuna, a female character, isn’t anything like the strong women who take the lead role in Miyazaki’s clearly feminist films. She’s nothing more than a token helpless princess who for some reason was slotted into the main role, despite being nothing but a whiny airhead who needs to be rescued time and time again. She had no idea why she even went to Agartha, and took nothing from the experience whatsoever.

Until Shinkai can conquer this penchant of his for drawing nothing but somber caricatures of people, he will never gain the versatility to really branch out into other genres.  He’ll also need to work on writing more than two characters; when he stars broadening the scope of his story, it just falls apart under its own weight.  He’ll get better for sure if he keeps it up, in fact I should check out his 2013 work, Garden of Words, just to be fair. But it looks like that film relapses back into Shinkai’s comfort zone of two characters, a short story and a theme of separation. This film, if anything just proves that Shinkai is nothing but a one-trick pony who can only do shorts about the sadness and separation between two people.

I don’t know if his 2016 work, Your Name, will be any different. Which is a shame really, because while Shinkai may have the talent to really produce visual tapestries of sheer awesomeness, he really can’t tell a story well enough to be the next Hayao Miyazaki.


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Attack on Titan Movie 2 – Utter Garbage

Following hot on the heels of the Epic Disaster that was the first Attack on Titan Movie, Attack on Titan: End of the World proves to us that there is no such thing as too much suck. I watched and reviewed this trainwreck last month, but I just couldn’t get enough so I came back for more self-flagellation. In the wise words of Boromir:

Yes, wise words indeed.
Yes, wise words indeed.

Where to begin?

Let’s start with the length. This movie. Is too short. Just like. This sentence.

It’s not even an hour and a half, and the first five minutes of it are a recap of the first movie, a recap that nobody needs to see. But that’s beside the point, when you consider that the movie just starts and ends way too fast, with hardly anything happening. There is too much padding and not enough story, plot or interactions going on to justify a full movie.

Why did director Shinji Iguchi even split this into two movies? Two words ring in my mind, and they start with “Cash” and end with “Grab.”  After seeing the second movie, I am fully convinced that the two movies should have just been one movie, make it a two hour movie or so, but just one movie, so I wouldn’t have had to waste money buying two tickets.

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Why buy one when you can waste your money and buy two?

All our bad friends from the first movie are still here, like “Bad Characterization” and “Bad Motivations” and “Bad Plotholes.

From here on, I will discuss some Spoilers, so be warned.

When Eren is being held by the Military Police as a traitorous scumbag titan thing, he is about to be shot and only Armin sticks up for him. Mikasa, Eren’s “ex-girlfriend” doesn’t so much as flinch. What is it with Mikasa and being horrible in this movie?  The real Mikasa would have slain every MP in that room without blinking, the moment one of them so much as looked bad at Eren.

This impostor Mikasa not only fails to give a damn for Eren, she is so weak and powerless, she can’t even protect what’s important to her. What happened to the Mikasa who slew titans like she were crushing ants? In this movie Mikasa is just a stupid damsel to get punched, kicked, beaten and otherwise thrown around like a wet sack of potatos. It’s painful to see Mikasa like this, it would have been better if she weren’t in the movie at all, if she were to be reduced to this garbage.

Then there’s funny motivations. The original characters in this movie do all sorts of weird things, but we don’t really understand it all too well. Humanity’s Strongest, Shikishima, is apparently a rebel without a cause. He just wants to kill everyone inside the wall, well, for no real reason. He says it’s because mankind’s petty rulers are the enemy, not the titans. But what we know of his character is that he is sad about people dying and being eaten by Titans, he is never portrayed prior to his big reveal to have hated the government (heck, he even works for them). The government isn’t even really depicted as some kind of bad government, at least they keep people alive! Which is more than I can say for Shikishima. Anyway he gets his marbles back “just because” at the end of the movie so no biggie.

Then there’s the nonsensical plot holes? When Eren is saved from the Military Police by the Armored Titan, General Kubal is crushed and killed. But wait!!! The good General actually doesn’t die from this … and has the power to fight the Armored Titan, who is his sworn enemy. Inexplicably, he doesn’t fight back, nor does he take the opportunity to kill Hanji later, he just… waits for some inopportune moment later to laugh at Eren and make his reveal… because the Director Said So.

I know it looks big, but this movie has holes that totally dwarf this one.
I know it looks big, but this movie has holes that totally dwarf this one.

Heck, this movie doesn’t even stop at plotholes, it even decides to break the laws of physics by instantaneously transforming Eren and Shikishima’s clothes and the room they are in without prior warning. In one of the weirder scenes of the movie, Eren and Shikishima are in a white stone room with a jukebox playing, “The End of the World.” It reminds me a bit of that scene in Lost where a radio in an underground shelter is blaring.

But the funny thing is, Shikishima plays a movie in this room revealing who created the Titans, and after the big reveal all of a sudden he is sitting on a sandy beach on a white beach recliner, the only thing missing is a pair of sunglasses and a glass of mojito. Eren has a similar chair and by all rights they should be lounging out checking out the chicks in two pieces while sipping mojitos.

Personally, I would never use a transporter because the original Sheldon would have to be dissintegrated in order to create a new Sheldon.
Personally, I would never use a transporter because the original Sheldon would have to be disintegrated in order to create a new Sheldon.

You want Lesbians? We got Lesbians.

Even weirder is Sasha, who in the first movie was paired up with Armin. Here, all of a sudden she asks Mikasa if she’s with Shikishima. After Mikasa denies there’s anything between them, Sasha smiles, and the next flurry of scenes includes all of the cliches we’ve seen in Rom Coms and Shoujo Manga.

That includes, but is not necessarily limited to, Sasha getting jostled by the bumpy car ride to fall into Mikasa’s arms, Sasha sitting beside Mikasa on a picturesque outlook to flirt, Sasha giving Mikasa flowers, Sasha looking in tears when Mikasa takes a beating, and perhaps the most telling: Sasha giving Mikasa her potato, and Mikasa smiling like a lovestruck schoolgirl as she hands it back.

I mean, what the hell.

And worse, they suddenly drop this development and go back to pairing Sasha with Armin without skipping a beat.

No, seriously. This movie had lesbians!
No, seriously. This movie had lesbians!

Wrong, wrong. Double wrong.

There is just so much wrong with this movie, from Jean just being disagreeable with everyone and everything for no real reason, to Hanji being a useless moron, to Mikasa being worse than a useless moron, to Levi not being in it, and the hilarious ending where Eren fails his promise to Mikasa to “bring her to the sea” when Mikasa finally does something right, saving Eren, bringing him up to the wall, and lo and behold right outside of it is the sea, and Mikasa ended up bringing Eren to it.

I mean, there has to be a limit to how much a movie can suck, but this movie must have broken a Guiness Record somewhere.

The worst thing is, the movie made me realize how stupid I was, because everyone else apparently learned their lesson from the first movie and didn’t go to see this one. I, the idiot that I am, did, and went to an empty movie theater. Thanks guys for making me feel like an idiot. You could have shown me some solidarity!

That lonely movie theater. This is on premiere day in SM Southmall.
That lonely movie theater. This is on premiere day in SM Southmall. Took it just right before the movie started. Apparently they didn’t expect too many people to watch the movie either, as they actually took out the seats up front and put traffic cones there. A grand total of six people, including myself, came to watch the premiere.

And finally, as if to add insult to injury, the movie actually has a post-credits scene, one that is so “WTF” that it reminds me of the ending of the first Mazerunner movie.  Apparently, Director Higuchi was so confident that his two masterpieces would do so well that he hints at a third movie to come with this final scene.

I mean, you gotta admire someone with his balls and confidence, right? If you sweet talk with enough confidence you could sell crap to a sweet tooth diabetic.

Attack on Titan

6 Reasons why the Attack on Titan movie Sucked

Attack on Titan (進撃の巨人, Shingeki no Kyojin) was one of the big surprises of 2013. I had not read the manga prior to watching the anime, but after a few episodes of the anime I could not contain myself and read the manga through and through. It was a compelling tale of death, destruction and humanity surviving against an unstoppable threat.

There were a lot of things compelling about the series, including the catchy yet epic opening sequence “Guren no Yumiya” complete with awesome mid-air soldier choreography that simply sends shivers down my spine when I see it. The dark tone that exudes despair with just a small glimmer of hope, the Spiderman-esque action of the 3DMG required in slaying the Titans, and the huge conspiracy hidden underneath it all.

It all makes for a very compelling package, but unfortunately somehow it didn’t translate well onto the silver screen. Now, this isn’t anything new. I’ve seen my fair share of live action movies based on anime and manga in my time. Almost all of them are lacklustre, or plain bad. In most cases, you simply can’t condense what makes dozens or hundreds of pages of manga and reams of weekly episodes into a 2-hour movie and expect it to be good. But Attack on Titan’s movie blows all my expectations of mediocrity away. It’s a new kind of awful and the funny thing is, neither the director Shinji Higuchi nor creator Hajime Isayama understand why.

Let me tell you why.  (Spoilers Ahead — read at your own risk)

There’s a Whole Slew of Changes that do not Add Anything to the Movie

This is a recurring theme throughout the entire movie, but the point is there are a lot of changes and most, if not all, of them don’t really do anything for it. I’m used to seeing changes to the original work when it is being adapted to a live action movie, but I trust in the writer and director to only make changes that make sense, and do not detract or screw the movie in some way.

Remember Fantastic Four? That movie that got critically panned from every direction in every possible way? The changes we see in Attack on Titan are stupid things like making the Human Torch black. Before you pull the racism card on me, let’s examine the reality. The Human Torch, aka Johnny Storm, is Susan Storm’s brother. So you’re telling me that Sue Storm being played by white-skinned Kate Mara is the brother of Michael B. Jordan, the black guy playing the Human Torch? Let’s not try to get into convoluted arguments of genetics and how maybe they had a different mother. Or Sue was adopted. Or whatever.

Human Torch
My sister is black! Yes, her skin is silky ebony, just like mine. I swear!

The point is, it’s a stupid change just done for the heck of it. It makes no sense, it makes the story more convoluted than it needs to be, and it’s not something that needs to be convoluted. The director hides behind the excuse that he wants to represent “the real world” with this casting change, because black people are all around America. But if the director really wanted to show black representation matching the real world, why not make Mr. Fantastic the black guy, and keep Sue and Johnny white? Or make both Sue and Johnny black. It would achieve his goal, and not be stupid. Surely there’s something at play here – can’t make Mr. Fantastic, the hero and lead guy, black, can’t make his leading lady black, can’t make The Thing black because that would have racism slurs painted all over it. By elimination, the only guy left to pick is the Human Torch. Never mind that it makes zero sense. Maybe because he burns his skin got burnt by his flames? Charred him black. Yes, makes sense.

This is the kind of stupidity we see with Levi, the most popular character in the entire series and one of the lynchpins of the story, being taken out of the film altogether and being replaced by some Shikishima guy “just because” the writer thought that the setting should be more Japanese, so there shouldn’t be any Caucasian guys like Levi, they should be Japanese like Shikishima! Nevermind that Eren and Armin are also Caucasian. But somehow they’re still in the movie. I guess for “minor” characters like Eren and Armin it’s okay, but we can’t have the star of the movie, Levi being Caucasian, right?

It’s the kind of dumb-ass move that stinks of ignorance, racism, and sheer stupidity the same way the Human Torch casting was. And the movie is full of them.

The Characters are All Different. Except for Hange

There are some huge changes in the characterization.

For instance, let’s take Eren. Instead of Eren’s mother dying to provide him with motivation to fight the Titans, Eren is an orphan “who just wants to be free.” Fair enough. He’s characterized to not suck as much as he did in the original work, where he was nothing but an eternal jobber. But this new Eren, with all his alpha male bravado, still fumbles as seen when he tries to scare Armin and Mikasa by fake-detonating the dud missile he is standing on. Then he literally falls on his butt like a tool.

Hi, my name is Eren. I'm no longer the loser jobber I was in the manga. I'm just... slightly an epic fail now.
Hi, my name is Eren. I’m no longer the loser jobber I was in the manga. I’m just… slightly an epic fail now.

 

But because his mom isn’t around, Eren instead gets his trauma and motivation from Mikasa allegedly getting eaten by Titans on the virgin raid into the city. Fine, instead of mom kicking the bucket, let’s let the girlfriend die. Would have been great, but it resulted in a lot of awkward scenes, including a Mikasa/Eren/Levi(Shikishima) love triangle, as stupid as that sounds, but what takes the cake is Mikasa’s infamous abs of steel, which somehow are strong enough that they can tank a Titan trying to bite her in half, because how else could she have survived that traumatic day two years ago when she and Eren were separated?

In the only real fan service of the film, we see Mikasa reveal her bare stomach, scarred by a Titan’s jaws, but everything is still there. Rock hard abs of steel – all you need to survive a Titan bite.

Mikasa herself was totally re-written. Instead of being a genius killer who has the almost omniscient ability to know exactly the best way to kill someone or something, Mikasa instead is a demure, helpless maiden who is traumatized by being unable to save a baby, and is picked up by Shikishima and turned into a killing machine by his “tough love.” It’s certainly nowhere as intriguing as her past of intuitively killing a would-be-rapist-and-human-trafficker at the tender age of four or five, but I guess that’s par for the course for this movie.

Armin becomes an inventor instead of a brilliant tactician, sort of stealing the thunder a little from Hange’s tinkering hysterics, and becoming an utterly useless tactician whose brightest idea is to make noise so that they can the draw the Titan’s (unwanted) attention to themselves. Brilliant Armin, certainly brilliant.

The rest of the cast turns into some weird spoof that is so comedic it begs to be seen to be ridiculed. Hans, the gentle soldier who was always there for Eren, is replaced by a Japanese man named Soda. It’s not lost on me that he becomes a drunkard after the Titan disaster, which makes him a Drinking Soda.

Jean and Sasha are there, but become so flat and stereotyped that it hurts to even see them. Sasha’s running gag of being endless hungry eating potatos is kept in the movie, but its flat comedy feels so out of place in the grim terror atmosphere of the movie that it becomes impossible not wince every time she stares at a potato. The best comedy of this movie anyway is all the unintentional seriousness that is so bad, it becomes hilarious.

It’s sad that the movie managed to be funny in ways the director never intended, and fails to amuse when they try to put stupid funny scenes. It’s a major hallmark of incompetence.

The Movie feels like a B-Movie Horror Movie, and lacks the Dramatic Spectacle of the Anime

The movie starts off ambling slowly enough with a narration of mankind’s history so far with the Titans. The problem, is this opening lacks a punch that a more dramatic entry would make. We got the same thing in the anime, but in the anime this happened in episode 2. In the first episode, we got a much more dramatic opening that has become meme-tastic.

That day, mankind remembered. The terror of being ruled by them. The humiliation of being kept in a cage.” Farmers, peasants, merchants alike, everyone stopped to stare. And we are treated to the horrifying, surreal visage of the Colossal Titan looking over the wall. You can’t really beat that scene, it’s so iconic. And is completely done away with in the movie.

It doesn’t stop there. Instead of focusing on the dramatic imagery that comes with humanity fighting legions of giant monsters, like the Scout Legion riding off in the rain swinging in the air to slay Titans, the movie downplays most of these kinds of scenes and instead focuses on a b-movie horror tone. We see this all throughout the movie, from the Titans attacking the city as the Colossal Titan kicks the wall down, a church being uprooted by hungry Titans, causing the floor to ooze with a river of blood, it’s cheap horror movie fare that I was not expecting in a dark shounen storyline like this.

But the most telling scenes come later, when the Scout Legion (at least, I think it’s the scout legion – they never really make this clear) is out in their APCs trying to transport explosives to the wall. In this scene, they are travelling across the wastelands of a ruined city. Lo and behold, we hear the cries of a baby. Oh! It’s a survivor! Let’s rescue the baby. Never mind that it’s been two years since this place was laid to waste, populated by unstoppable giant monsters eager to stamp out all human life. Surely there can’t be any survivors here, right? Much less a newly-born baby.

But no. It must be a baby! We have to save it! And so they do… and predictably die to the Titans they awaken with their stupidity. It’s this kind of illogical, irrational stupidity that is a staple of the horror movie genre, but it’s ridiculously out of place here in Attack on Titan where humanity’s elite is trying to save mankind from destruction.

I'm not doing anything dumb, like giving a lap dance to a reptillian rubber monster from the swamps. Hell no, that only appens in B-Movies!
I’m not doing anything stupid, like giving a lap dance to a reptilian rubber monster from the swamps. Hell no, that only happens in B-Movies!

 

The Political Intrigue Turned into a Commentary on the Evils of War

Here’s one of those changes that just hit me the wrong way. In the original work, while there is no doubt that mankind suffered greatly from losing the farmlands inside Wall Maria, the original focused on turning this event into a political conspiracy where the Powers that Be which ruled humankind sent out all the peasants they could not feed to die in a suicide mission to recapture the wall. This all works well with one of the basic themes of Attack on Titan, which is that the ruling class is a corrupt machine that hatches conspiracies and keeps power for the betterment of the ruling elite, and not the people. We see this theme developed further as we go along in the story, culminating in a revolutionary war orchestrated by the Scout Legion to topple a corrupt monarchy.

There is little evidence of this theme in the movie. Instead, we are patronizingly given scenes of “War is Evil” as we see children and family being separated from the “Scout Legion Volunteers” who must go off to war to fight the Titans. This kind of tired tripe is far, far beneath the political intrigue that we got in the original work, and it shows. These poor “scout volunteers” are even revealed to have volunteered to wage this inhuman war only for the purpose of getting subsidies from the government to support their families, in a kind of “war prostituting.” The point of prostitution is not lost when we discover that Hiana, one of the original characters, is a single mother who is “prostituting” herself to the war effort to support her child, and further prostituting herself to Eren in order to have him provide for her and her child.

It worked well in Les Miserables with Fantine and Cosette, but this ain’t no Les Miserables.

I shaved my head, got STDs, gave away my teeth and had sex with a dumb Frenchman. She things she can get away with just fail-raping Eren!?
I shaved my head, got STDs, gave away my teeth and had sex with a dumb Frenchman. She thinks she can get away with just fail-raping Eren!?

 

The Original Characters were Rubbish

File this one under the category of unnecessary changes that detract rather than build up the movie. The movie added quite a few original characters, which don’t really make sense to me given how out-of-character everyone is, they could have just used any existing character and retooled him for whatever purpose they needed.

Instead, they see it fit to add in new characters entirely – most of whom are Japanese like Fukushi and Soda, but some of whom aren’t exactly Japanese-named, like Lil.

The inclusion of Lil and Fukushi, the lovebirds whose very entry had me gawking at the two people making out in line for a soup kitchen. It was so out of place and hilarious that I couldn’t stop laughing. These two though are there to further a deranged plot whose point was to destroy mankind’s hope of sealing the wall, but having the two of them there was more of an eyesore than anything. They endlessly make out on screen, and even come to a sex scene that was so ridiculous and out of place. Lines like, “let’s do it here,” “but there’s someone over there!” “They’re not looking,” had me rolling my eyes, and they even manage to smugly put in a line of how the Evils of War prevents lovers from being together.

It’s still not as big a laugh as Hiana, the next original character. She is the single mother I alluded earlier who prostitutes herself to Eren, and the idea is so ludicrously out of place that it just manages to serve up the next laugh-out-loud scene, which is Eren’s huge at the hands of a Titan. As Eren is being seduced by the wily Hiana, Eren manages to look reluctant but his body is altogether willing to go along with Hiana’s lustiness. Unfortunately for him, he was a born jobber and a Titan promptly shows up, in the dead of the night, to cock block Eren by literally picking her lusty body off of Eren’s aroused form and popping her like a cherry. Yes, I mean that in the edible way. That has to be the Cock Block Scene of the Year right there.

But perhaps the biggest point of contention for me is Sannagi. This guy becomes the “big guy” character who supports Eren and helps out in the fights against the Titans. This in itself is not a big deal, except when the director decides to highlight this original character and you the directory/writer loves him a lot, because he does something nobody in the original work or in the movie does: he single-handedly destroys the Mythology of the Titans.

What do I mean? The Titans are supposed to be this unstoppable monstrous force that is immune to cannons, explosives, ballistas firing sharpened tree trunks and all other forms of harm. The only thing that can kill them is a strong blow to the nape of the neck, killing them instantly. Throughout the entire run of the original work, the Titans have been a dangerous enemy that cannot be stopped through any other means than the 3DMG-equipped soldiers slicing their necks, and the odd instance where Erwin Smith’s tactics temporarily (and I emphasize temporarily) restrain a Titan.

I'm the man. Admit it.
I’m the man. Admit it.

Yet here comes Sannagi, one man, who single-handedly incapacitates Titans using nothing but his arms. It’s not just that one scene where the director lovingly makes him catch a Titan’s descending foot and topple him with a burst of strength and bravado. That alone was already a critical, shattering blow to the Titan’s Mythology. A lone man catching a Titan and throwing him over? If Judo could work on Titans, then surely the Japanese would never have succumbed to the Titan menace.  (But then, perhaps that’s what we’re seeing here in this film? Subverting the original Caucasian cast and replacing them with Japanese who can judo toss a Titan with impunity, is director Higuchi trying to send out some thinly-veiled rotes of patriotism here, just as he did when he sacked Levi and replaced him with Shikishima?)

Sannagi follows up his antics by hamstringing Titans’ Achilles Tendon with a huge axe, quite a few times. Easily disabling deadly Titans who can’t seem to regenerate and get up from such tiny wounds. The amount of love this character was given in doing stunts that nobody in the original series could even hope to do is just so damning. And it laughs at the face of what a Titan is, the very concept of this series.

This is gutting a franchise at its finest, it is.

The Best Part of the Movie… is the Special FX

And it wasn’t even that good.  I mean, I’ll give it to the movie and Nishimura’s capabilities in special FX. The resulting Titans, the overall cinematography, it was actually not half bad.  The Titans were convincing as gigantic monsters eating people, even if the blood sometimes got hilariously exaggerated.

The scene where the Colossal Titan looms over the wall, spewing super-heated gas and roaring all over the place to smash Wall Maria (oh wait… they called it something else in the movie) in was pretty breath taking.

Unfortunately, it’s terrible when the best part of a movie like Attack on Titan, is the special FX and not the story, the characters, or the overarching themes behind it all.  It’s just a crying shame, but this is the kind of criticism we often level against American blockbuster movies which are all style and no substance.  It’s the same thing here, and it’s the same reason why the movie as a whole sucks.

Yes, while I won't be winning any awards, it's good to be the best part of the movie! I'll eat Mikasa's abs of steel now for my reward.
Yes, while I won’t be winning any awards, it’s good to be the best part of the movie!

 

I could really go on and on about how bad this movie is. But let’s save everyone the heartache. All you need to know is that this movie took a very nice property and proceeded to gut it in the most unbelievable ways. There has to be a rare level of talent to be able to destroy something so recklessly and yet so appropriately the way Higuchi and Isayama managed in this film. That Isayama is the original author just makes it more mind-boggling. It makes one wonder if he himself understands what made his own work such a great success. Apparently he doesn’t have a clue.

But I would still give it a nod to watch. The movie is so bad, it’s good. In an unflattering way. Just like any good trainwreck, this movie is so bad that you can’t stop yourself from looking, and when you do, you can’t help but smile and laugh at how stupid it is.   TLDR: Watch it for the LULZ.

 

4/10

 

Guilty Crown 01

I just watched the single most-hyped anime of 2011. From all the hype around this show, I’d swear more people felt it was the 2nd coming of sliced bread than Fate Zero, which itself already had a huge mountain of hype behind it.

I will say, though, that Guilty Crown 01 was extremely lame.

It felt like it was trying too hard. the dialogue especially between Shu and Inori was really awkward.
Shu himself is extremely dislikable.

And the entire thing was just too much of a Code Geass redux.

  • CC wannabe? Check
  • Shirly wannabe? Check
  • Rivalz wannabe? Check
  • Ougi wannabe? Check
  • Supernatural ability activated just before a cliffhanger ending? Check
  • Japan under military law of other nations? Check
  • Childhood friends broken up and brought back together by fate? Check
  • Numbered Areas where “purges” by the military are done? Check

The use of music in the scenes was awkward for me. (Inori’s throaty singing at the start and near the end, the metal during Gai’s ass whooping, not really good). Whoever they got to voice and sing for Inori, I wish they’d gotten someone else. She’s no May’n or Megumi Nakajima. Whoever is producing her needs to realize that, if you’re going to gratuitously use an uber-hyped anime to promote a budding new actress/idol’s singing career, you better make sure she can sing, have someone who can write good songs for her, and make sure the anime you’re doing it in isn’t just a lame ripoff of a truly great one.

Inori just seems completely out of place in the episode. Like she doesn’t even belong in the show, how she has no business doing covert ops in the Suiko 5 outift, how she has nothing better to do than mope around some abandoned university building singing while half naked and bleeding, she just feels like gratuitous fan service tossed in and sticking out like a sore thumb. I mean I’m all for fanservice and all but when we see kallen with her butt sticking out asking to be tapped in the Gurren MkII cockpit it doesn’t feel as uselessly out of place as Inori did this whole episode.

This show has a LONG way to go to even live up to half the standard set by Code Geass just looking at the first episodes of both series.  With Shu in the mix, and a really bad-at-singing CC wannabe, I felt like I was watching Geass all over again except it was trying to be Macross Frontier, and had a Shinji Ikari wannabe as the lead instead of Fabulous Lelouche.

But I like this:

And how it looks like this:

Naruto and 4th Ninja World war

I’m currently marathoning Naruto and I am finally current at chapter 500+ or so.

And wow. It’s funny, but while I like the direction Naruto is going and I can stay it’s finally gotten good enough to actually compete with One Piece (Unlike Bleach which is has just become plain crap) it’s still got some screws lose, but then I probably shouldn’t have expected so much from Kishi.

First… I like how Naruto has dropped much of the toilet humor which was always third rate, and is now focusing on a pretty heavy theme in the great Gundam tradition – war and homt end it and achieve peace. It’s. It super deep, but the development going into Naruto’s character through the Pain arc was actually quite impressive for this manga.

So the theme has shifted to war.. And this is where it suddenly falls apart.

The 4th Ninja War is good for some action but that’s as far as it goes. First off, it’s laughable. Fourth Ninja World War? It’s just the five clans fighting three friction people! Madara, Kabuto and Sasuke vs. The World is more like it. Ninja World War my Ass. When I think World War I’m thinking an alliance of countries vs another alliance. This is not a World War, he’ll it isnt even a war, it’s just a big battle. I mean, when’s then last time you saw a war last two days or so? Hahaha.

But this is where the rub is. The very shallow scope of this “war” greatly undermines the war theme that Naruto has been going for, and negates the character development Naruto has been going through.

Naruto is currently wrestling with the concept of war and ending the chain of hatred. Like his inner monologue with Kyubi, the concept he is wrestling with his carrying all that hate for killing his enemies. Can he bear it? It’s a good turmoil to tackle, but it’s hilarious! Maybe it would work if his opponents were other countries where he has to kill ninjas with friends and family from other countries.

But they’re fighting no such thing! All the good guys are on his side! All they are fighting is a bunch of zombies and white clone drones, and Madara, Kabuto and Sasuke…. All of whom are super criminals who no longer have any family or friends left to grieve for them!

In fact, the only person who will grieve for the “other faction” is Naruto, Sakura and Ino. Nobody else in the whole wide world gives a flying fuck about the opposing coalition. So the whole “end the chain of hatred” junk that was so well-done during the Pain arc falls flat on it’s face. Hilarious.

Kishimoto needs to watch more Gundam so he can figure out how to do this whole war thing. He clearly doesn’t have a clue how war works. It’s funny, but even Avatar The Last Airbender had a better grasp of what a “war” is at this rate.