Review: Leafie, a Hen into the Wild

Leafie A Hen Into the Wild poster Korean.jpgLeafie the hen is not happy with her way of life, a life of eating corn and laying eggs, when all she wants is to be out in the yard. One evening she escapes, but after discovering that the animals that run free on the yard aren’t as nice as she thought, Leafie ventures out into the open land. After befriending a strong yet caring duck, whom she calls Wanderer, and finding a home with the help of an otter, whom she calls Mayor, she starts to settle in, only for disaster to strike when a one-eyed weasel kills Wanderer’s love, leaving an egg without a mother. Leafie willingly volunteers, but disaster strikes yet again when Wanderer is killed trying to defend the Leafie and the egg from the weasel. Now a lonely mother hen of a baby duck, she decides to fulfil Wanderer’s last wish, to bring his son to live on the everglades, and raise him up, naming him Greenie and one day, teaching him how to fly, all the while protecting him from the weasel that would love to hunt both of them down.

It’s not a surprise to say I’ve never really looked at Korean animation as much as I have done for British, American, Japanese and even French animation. Historically, animated films from South Korea normally struggle to do well in the box office, even in its own country, so it’s rare for one to get international recog-nition. The art style is probably one of the main reasons Leafie ended up exceeding expectations and gaining an international following. The colours are bright and vivid, the detail and shading is fairly smooth and blends together nicely, especially with the deep water coloured backgrounds. The character designs also have a slightly more international feel, with the animals fitting close to their real life counterparts and rarely having overly exaggerated expressions. While the animation itself is a little jerky, it never feels like it’s doing it to be cheap, more to focus on the characters themselves, the animation itself is much more effective in scenes where there is a lot of tension and speed. There is also a surprising amount of interaction between 2D and 3D animation, something I noticed in a lot of Korean animated films.

The music consists of a decent amount of orchestrated background fair, although not entirely memorable. Every now and then you’ll get a light amount of jazz or a piano and some rather quiet and sombre moments, but aside from the song in the credits there’s isn’t much that is very catching about the soundtrack. It’s probably very easy to compare voice acting in the South Korean dub to Japanese voice acting, as they both share similar traits and voice styles. Wanderer has the mature and stern tone, Greenie has the young adventurous male tone and the otter has the fast-talking and direct tone of voice you generally fined from game show hosts of Japanese Game Shows. Although the South Korean cast does have a more unique female members, such as Chirpie being loud and optimistic and Leafie being spacey and sharp, but also loud herself. The worst of the voice acting in the Korean dub would have to be the barn yard animals, which seemed to have been directed to be the most obnoxious and annoying set of voices purely so they could be antagonistic, and yet the weasel is already the antagonist with a dark and subtle tone.

The English dub is done by the Toronto based 108 media group, and interestingly it is available in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but not in the states as of writing. Also the name is changed slightly so Leafie is now Daisy: A Hen Into the Wild, probably because Leafie isn’t an American enough name, same can be said for Greenie who’s now named Willy and Wanderer who’s now called Wilson. Speaking of American, for a Toronto based studio the voice cast is very Americanized, which might put some people off the voice work but aside from the name changes and one or two small edits, there isn’t much change to the dialogue thankfully.

The story is interestingly separated in its act structure, as the story as a whole is on Leafie living in the wild, but each act has its own plot thread. First act is Leafie actually leaving the farm and finding a place to stay in the wild, second act has Leafie raising Greenie from duckling to a fully grown duck who can fly, where the main conflict is the idea of a hen raising a duck, and the final act has Greenie trying to fit into his own kind. While it does help with developing the main characters, it leaves the supporting cast falling flat, especially the ones that only have much focus. This is especially noticeable in the final act, where there are “rival ducks” that have very little characterisation so it feels mostly cliché and predictable until you reach the ending. Unfortunately, I try my best to avoid spoiling films to encourage readers to see the films for themselves, however this is one of those cases where you cannot really discuss the story of the film much without spoiling parts of the story and giving away the ending, so for those people I’m leaving the next set of paragraphs for a second page, so you can read it if you’ve seen the film already.

Leafie: A Hen into the Wild is definitely a heart-warming movie for kids and adults alike, with a likeable and well defined lead and an emotional story. It definitely is a classic and I hope to see more films from this country.

Review: Earnest & Celestine

Ernest & Celestine poster.jpgCelestine is an orphaned mouse, living underground with all the other mice and working for the dentistry as a tooth collector, taking teeth from bears so they can be used by mice for replacements. However she feels quite alone underground as she only has interests in drawing. Earnest is a bear, living above ground just outside of town as a failing entertainer. While he loves his music, he doesn’t get much respect or money from the other bears he interacts with, getting into trouble. One day, after both of them fail miserably at their jobs, their paths meet and they agree to help each other. However, their help only leads them into more trouble, and they end up hiding together. Through their talents, they develop a strong friendship, a friendship which neither society approves, and believe they should hate each other. What will become of their friendship, as well as their future, is up to their strength and how these two societies will judge each other. Continue reading

Old Review: Brave Little Toaster

Brave Little Toaster poster.jpgWhen humans aren’t watching, the inanimate objects come to life, this is the case in a little holiday cabin in the countryside, where five kitchen appliances live to clean and tidy up the cabin in the hopes that they would be able to meet their master, a young boy who they’ve never seen in almost six years. These appliances include a Radio, a lamp, an electric blanket, a vacuum cleaner named Kirby, and a Toaster. When they discover that the cabin is being sold, most lose hope and think the master is abandoning them. All except Toaster, who decides that they shall travel through the countryside and into the city where they’ll meet the master themselves. Their journey won’t be easy, but it’s up to the brave little Toaster and his four friends to find the master before all hopes are lost.

In 1982, Disney acquired the rights to the original novel, which went into print two years earlier, and went to animators John Lasseter and Thomas L. Wilhite to make an animated feature based on it. After experimenting with the concept in a test film earlier, Lasseter wanted to make it with 2D characters in a 3D environment, however a dispute over the film’s budget caused the idea to be rejected by Disney’s Executives and Lasseter to be fired from the company. The project was moved to Hyperion Pictures, with Jerry Rees set to direct the picture as well as write the screenplay along with Joe Ranft. Interestingly, two scenes were animated were intended to be cut due to their scary nature and references towards suicide, but were left in the final film.

The animation is simplistic and effective, particularly on the main characters. The character designers clearly put some thought into how each of the appliances’ facial expressions work. All the human characters on the other hand don’t look as good, most look really cartoony and are designed either really round or scrawny. There are some creative moments, especially with the lighting and the atmosphere, such as scenes with lightning and water, but most of it feels very dated. There are some odd design choices, like some of the facial designs on the “cutting edge” appliances, one of the set of antagonists in this film, but they aren’t in the film for long. Since the main characters are the best animated in the film, it’s a good sign that they are the best to look at, and their designs makes it easy to see what emotions they’re going through.

The soundtrack is smooth and well-orchestrated, but unlike most Disney style musical scores during the time, this one has more of a dark tone, which was an intentional choice made by composer David Newman and done very effectively. Having a hint of serious, dark or dramatic tones definitely emphasize the emotions going on through the scenes, and really makes you take the scenes seriously when danger occurs, and it’s really good to listen to. The songs however aren’t as impressive, although I wouldn’t say they are all bad. In fact, out of the four songs, all written by Van Dyke Parks, three of them are good for the film, and two of those I would say are worth listening on their own merit, but all of them have this one problem; the music is cool and for some is quite catchy, and the lyrics are well written and fit with the setting and points of the film, but they don’t really fit together, either because they don’t match entirely or the singers have bad rhythm and range. The best song would be Worthless, sung by cars in a disposal yard about to be crushed, each one recalling their problems or their moments which lead to their demise, the message it brings is really well placed and the song itself is really catchy. The worst song has to be Cutting Edge, sung by high end appliances, jealous of the master’s love of main characters and sing about how brilliant they are and how advanced they are. This song has cool moments in the backing, but not even a rewrite would save this song, as the lyrics are dated and sound like a long appliance commercial for nothing, and it has no redeeming value.

The voice acting is good for the most part, the actors of the five main characters work really well off each other and have a good amount of personality to make them likable and impressionable, especially Jon Lovitz as the Radio and Tim Stack as Lampy, both comedians who have really funny moments and are really entertaining. They even got a decent child voice actor for Blanky, the mostly unknown Timothy Day, who plays the innocence and charm of a young child without sounding or acting irritating. I wouldn’t say it’s a perfect cast since most of the supporting casts don’t really give much of a performance out of single tone characters, and the main cast is a bit weak when it comes to emotions, they try but barely do they succeed.

If there is one really interesting, yet not really surprising point about the story, and I ended up watching the film more than once to make sure I didn’t mistake myself, the plot is essentially the Toy Story trilogy, mainly the latter two but there are elements of the first story, the messages and ideas they produce are similar, even the concept of the Brave Little Toaster’s climax is similar to Toy Story 3’s climax. Since some of the staff went onto Pixar, and in particular Joe Ranft wrote both films, you can say Brave Little Toaster is a predecessor to Toy Story, and that the latter was an improvement, being lengthened to three films so the characters can be better developed and the story can be better paced to improve the suspense and drama.

Does that make Brave Little Toaster worse in comparison? Not really, since the Brave Little Toaster did take some more risks with more dark moments and a more serious attitude, the characters are just as likeable as those in Toy Story in their own way, and since there’s less, there are easier to follow as a whole. The antagonists are probably the only problem in this film, in the amount of time there are three sets of antagonists, and they don’t have much time to be developed to an understanding level before being ousted for the next set, by the end I didn’t really care about who, what or why the antagonists are the way they are, even if they do show legitimate signs of threats.

It’s amazing why this Disney release is so overlooked, it has the light-hearted nature and passion of the children’s animated feature but it has the message and the tone of a mature work, but keeps it controlled so the film avoids becoming uncomfortable or silly. I would recommend it to any fan of Disney animations, and fans of Toy Story for look at what an early style of the story would be like, but what I can certainly say is that you won’t look away from this one.

The Brave Little Toaster is available from Walt Disney Pictures, since the film’s main popularity was through video release, it’s pretty easy to find, particularly in America. The original novel by Thomas Disch was originally published by Doubleday but it’s out of print, and some people treat it as a collector’s item. Its sequel, The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars (no, really) was also published by Doubleday, and was later adapted into a direct-to-DVD sequel by Walt Disney. A second direct-to-DVD sequel titled Brave Little Toaster Goes to the Rescue, which takes place in between the first two films, is also available from Disney.

Old Review: Fox and the Hound

The Fox and the Hound.jpgIn the 1960s rural side of America, a fox has just become victim to another hunting incident. Witnessing the horrifying moment, an owl known as Big Mama finds that the fox had left her cub behind. Not being able to take care of the cub herself, she uses the help of her other bird friends Dinky and Boomer to allow local Dairy Farmer Widow Tweed to take care of it, giving it the name Tod. Meanwhile on the farm next door, a hunter named Almos Slade has brought home a puppy Bloodhound which he names Copper to be brought up as his new hunting dog alongside his current hunting dog, Chief. Both Tod and Copper meet and immediately become good friends, and promise that they would stay friends forever. However, with Almos’ short temper and his reckless behaviour, as well as his hunting interests, makes people worried about Tod’s safety, especially when Copper goes away to be trained as a hunting dog. Now it’s just hope to see if both the Fox and the Hound can keep their promise, even if one of them is supposed to be the hunter and the other hunted.

In 1967, the same year that Daniel Mannix won the Dutton Animal Book award for his novel “The Fox and the Hound”; Walt Disney Animation obtained the film rights for the novel, but didn’t start production until ten years later. The initial story was considered way too dark for children, so a team of eight writers changed the story almost entirely to centre around the friendship between Tod and Copper, instead of Tod’s life as he’s constantly on the run from Copper. While Disney’s Nine Old Men, Disney’s first nine feature film animators starting on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, did the initial development and designs of the film, Disney’s new younger squad did most of the later work, including Glen Keane and Don Bluth, with NOM members Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston becoming animation supervisors and Wolfgang Reitherman being the producer. Unfortunately, conflicts between the old and new generation of animators over the film’s handling, and Don Bluth’s decision to leave with 11 other animators to form his own studio delayed the film’s release, missing the planned 1980 Christmas Season. However, with new animators hired and trained, the film was eventually released July 10th 1981, with a final success eventually granting a theatrical rerelease in 1988.

The animation of Fox and the Hound might be the best from Disney in its pre-Renaissance, but that’s mainly when talking about the animals in the film. What I like about the designs of the animals is that it’s incredibly well balanced, they look realistic and well-proportioned to look and act like real animals, yet they have a simplistic and slightly cartoonish feel. This would take the designs a little out of realism, but the animators did it to a level just about right, they don’t make them too realistic to avoid them looking uncomfortable to look at but didn’t go too basic or out of context to avoid them looking like a childish cartoon animals. If you want to watch this film, I’d like you to spend some time looking at the animal characters without focusing on their faces; you can tell that the animators took the effort of using animal body language and movements to show emotions and reactions, probably too much since there is a scene where Tod and Copper are having a stand-off and both of their expressions look really freaky, but you could tell that they could do that. However there are parts of the animation which look really cheap, the design of Amos Slade looks disproportionate, especially in comparison to the only other human character, Widow Tweed, and whoever animated Chief made him stand out too much with his grey and blurry outline. I still think it’s one of Disney’s best attempts at animal character animations, better than Bambi, but that doesn’t hide how weak the other areas are.

The musical soundtrack is your usual orchestrated scores and because this is Disney, a few songs to boot. While I like orchestrations in animated films like this, it only feels really effective at creating an atmosphere in more dark and tense moments, since the more light hearted stuff seems really shallow. There are three songs in this Disney film, ‘Best of Friends’, ‘Goodbye may seem Forever’ and ‘Appreciate a Lady’, the first and latter are sung by African-American actress and singer Pearl Bailey, and while they are beautifully sung the backing music and the lyrics are weak and the songs barely have any memorability to them, but I have to be fair and say the ‘Goodbye may seem Forever’ sung by Jeanette Nolan, despite it being the most simple song out of the three, the scene that plays with it really emphasises the emotion of this scene and saying goodbye to someone.

What I typically find about Disney animated films is that most of the best part of the cast isn’t the main protagonists, but the supporting cast and the villains, since they mainly drive the entertainment of the film. With the Fox and the Hound it seems to be the other way round, the main protagonists are actually better than the supporting cast. I agree that Pearl Dailey as Big Mama is very likable and memorable as a supporting member, being kind hearted, supportive, and looking out for Tod but the other two birds in this film, a stammering woodpecker named Boomer and a tiny but bossy finch named Dinky, don’t contribute much entertainment outside of being a generic comedy duo performing a single running gag of trying to catch a single caterpillar, and both the voices of Chief by Pat Buttram and the hunter Almos Slade by Jack Albertson is very stereotypical and the latter especially is done way over the top to be taken seriously. However the main protagonists Tod and Copper, played by Mickey Rooney and Kurt Russell, are likeable, Russell does have some good range, I like Mickey Rooney and how he made Tod shy and slightly awkward without being annoying, and even though their younger counterparts lack in range you can’t help but liking them since they were portrayed by young boys that acted like young boys, and even they try and be serious.

If you’ve read my review of Arrietty you should know that the one thing I care the least about when it comes to film adaptations is how faithful a film is to its original story because both are usually very different mediums with different styles of storytelling, film adaptation or not, it should be viewed on its own merit before being judged purely on how much it follows or strays away from the original. That being said I find it a little frustrating when feel like I have to make this point when the most detailed points to make about a film’s story relates to the fact that it was a loose adaptation to an existing story, like with Arrietty, The Black Cauldron, Howl’s Moving Castle, Tales from Earthsea and even this film. This film especially has this problem because even if you read the original novel once before looking at the film, you would hate it, because the closest the film gets to the original plot is entirely in the third act, and yet it’s still incredibly toned down. In fact the only time I would agree with the kind of people who follow the book, is when one of the main characters was clearly meant to die, only to be revealed later as having non-lethal injury, which really bothered me for the rest of the film because it felt like Disney was too afraid of children being upset over a main character death, despite an incredibly minor character being killed off very early in the same film. The only other problem I have is once again, a problem I see in many other animated films, and that’s the love interest, as fifty minutes into the film, Big Mama tries and succeeds in hooking up Tod with a vixen, and it’s played up so much it bothers me since the Vixen, cleverly named Vixie, only contributes some tension and drama in the film’s climax. I like romantic relationships as a side plot or subplot, and if the characters are written well with a good amount of time to build up the relationship, then it’s easier for the viewer to understand and enjoy the moments between the two characters, but when the main focus of your film is establishing a relationship and you throw in a romantic interest very late into the film like it was an afterthought, then you should’ve either established it earlier or made a longer film.

Nevertheless, The Fox and the Hound still has its charm of lovable characters, colourful moments and it’s control and transitions of atmosphere throughout the film, it knows when to take itself seriously and it definitely builds itself up to a tense and action filled third act and climax. It’s story and premise actually reminds me of a more recent film a reviewed some time before, Arashi no Yoru Ni, an anime film about the unlikely friendship between a wolf and a goat. Both films involve a friendship between member’s two sides which despise each other, and that their friendship could mean danger to each other, but Fox and the Hound actually has slightly more complexity because unlike Arashi, the conflict in the Fox and the Hound isn’t because of natural instinct. To explain, the conflict between wolves and goats is mainly due to their natural instincts, since wolves eat animals like goats to survive and therefore goats wouldn’t trust them, in fact if the main protagonists immediately knew who each other were, they wouldn’t have found that they had stuff in common to become friends in the first place. However in the Fox and the Hound, both Tod and Copper aren’t that much different at all, so they both know exactly who each other were and could get along, even Big Mama has a positive attitude of their friendship despite what she knows about them, the only reason that a conflict exists between these two is that Copper is brought up by a hunter and his dog,  who themselves were brought up to believe that hunting certain animals like foxes is fine, a cause which isn’t nature but influenced by peers, which is almost similar to conflicts between difference social groups and races.

I’ve always found it hard to sum up my views to reach an overall judgement for this film, especially considering the time this was shown and what Disney’s aftermath was after it. On one hand, the animation is only strong in one area and not as a whole, the soundtrack overall is half-baked and the film has some flaws along with a weak set of supporting characters. On the other hand, when the animation is good, it’s really good; the film has its heart-warming charms as well as serious and dark moments, and if you really think hard about the overall story, you’ll go really deep.

The Fox and the Hound is available from Walt Disney. The original novel by Daniel Mannix was available from E.P Dutton but I think it’s either out of print or only available in North America because I can’t find any books available other than Disney’s film book adaptations, written by Heather Simon and also available by Walt Disney. A direct to video midquel simply titled Fox and the Hound 2 is also available from Walt Disney and can also be found in combo packs with the original film.

Old Review: Arrietty

A young woman is hiding under a group of leaves with an image of a house behind her. Text below reveals the film's title and credits.Young Sho, a boy with a heart problem, is moving in with his Great-Aunt Sadako after his divorced mother had to go on a business trip. He knows that he would be kept after by Sadako and her maid Haru, but it doesn’t take long to notice they aren’t the only people living at the house. A small family of little people, Pod, Homily and Arrietty, live under the house referring to themselves as Borrowers, as they take stuff from the house that the humans won’t notice is gone in order to survive. However, during her first Borrowing, Arrietty discovers that Sho spotted her from her trip in the garden, causing their existence to be known to the humans. Even though Arrietty believes the humans won’t do any harm, past experiences has meant any human knowledge of the little people’s whereabouts causes danger, and it doesn’t help that Haru plans on catching them as soon as she finds their home. Now Arrietty needs to undo her mistakes, and despite his condition, Sho is willing to help Arrietty make sure none of her family goes into harm’s way.

While both Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata have considered creating an adaptation of the Borrowers for up to 40 years, Miyazaki began work on the film on July 2008 under the title “Little Arrietty”. Because Studio Ghibli has had a desperate struggle to find new directors to work on their films, Miyazaki decide to let the Studio’s long-time artist and animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi take on the role of directing, becoming the Studio’s youngest director at the age of 36. In 2009, Bretonne singer and performer Cecile Corbel sent a CD of her work to Studio Ghibli, as a fan of their work. Impressed with her music, she was hired to compose the music for the film, including the song “Arrietty’s Song” which was released as a sing less than a year prior to the film’s release. In June 2010, production was complete and the film was released on July 17th 2010. The film was premiered in France on November 30th 2010, and was released in the UK theatrically on July 29th 2011, with a US theatrical release planned in February 2012.

What’s difficult about reviewing Studio Ghibli films nowadays is that when you’ve seen one Studio Ghibli film, you’ve pretty much seen all of them, since the animation and character design has almost remained the same. However it’s difficult to treat it as a criticism since it’s still good animation, with characters moving detailed and smoothly, with even minor movements such as Sho pausing to take breaths and changes in expressions are done to a good detail so it’s clear what the actions are, but not overblown to the point of distraction, beautifully painted backgrounds and all that redundant opinionated views that are normally given to most of their films. However it is much interesting to talk about what’s new or changed in comparison to the Studio’s past titles. In some cases, the film has a great use of both background and foreground objects, particularly in the close up scenes of the garden, which really makes the environment really delightful to look at. One little detail I also like is that animals which are viewed by the Borrowers as dangerous have red eyes, which on one hand seems out of place and unrealistic but to me it a little touch that I think really adds to the creatures themselves. The only real issue I have which I vaguely remember being noticeable in Studio Ghibli’s previous film Ponyo is that the character designs appear to reduce in detail the further they appear to be, especially when they are quite far back to the point where their eyes become little dots. It’s a minor detail to get on the nerves of perfectionists so for the average viewer the animation is as good as every other Ghibli film.

The film soundtrack is mostly very calm and beautifully played. The use of mostly Celtic folk instruments is rarely seen in anime films and from someone who occasionally enjoys Celtic music it is really fun to listen to. The actual songs the play throughout the film also fit well with the scenes they play in and are worth listening to on their own, all of which were sung by Cecile Corbel and include the film’s main theme “Arrietty’s Song”, which is actually my favourite main theme in a Studio Ghibli film. Sadly there aren’t many songs which actually fit with the atmosphere and emotional impact of scenes, such as moments of suspense or signs of any tension, which means that most of those are done through the visual sense. This isn’t a really bad problem if the animation and design is good at doing that job, which it is for the most part, so if you like listening to original music for being music then you’ll love the soundtrack.

Since as of writing this, the film is currently on its UK theatrical run, so at the moment my opinion of the Japanese voice cast is based on the film trailers and clips I find. Most of the characters sound good, particularly Mirai Shida’s calm but curious personality for Arrietty and Ryunosuke Kamiki’s polite and mature young male tone for Sho, sadly I can’t find many clips of the other characters to give a good opinion but I assume that because the Japanese cast features actors which are suitable for their character’s age, appearance and attitude, along with the fact that Studio Ghibli has a good track record of a well-chosen and well rewarded voice casting that the Japanese voice cast will be really good and may be superior to any other dub by default.

What’s really unusual and intriguing about the English cast is that there is actually two, since from what I guess; Disney created both a US voice dub and a UK voice dub to gain recognisability in both countries. The US cast features Bridget Medler, David Henrie, Carol Burnett and Amy Poehler, mostly actors of US TV Dramas with the younger cast having a history with the Disney Channel, not a cast that would be known to the common UK audiences, and since the US version will not be released until February 2012 I won’t be reviewing it. The UK cast is a mixed bag, although it’s rather listenable. Arrietty, voiced by Saorise Ronan, is probably the most tolerable, since she has a nice, young and uplifting voice, and having a light British accent is effective, but while she tries to convey emotions, she doesn’t have a very noticeable range. Tom Holland and Phylida Law as Sho and his Great Aunt Sadako respectively are examples of the middle ground performances in this film, they sound like their characters but don’t really give much emotion or realism to make them memorable performances. One thing that bothered me about the voice of Sho, and I’ve noticed this in other Ghibli films is that he either sounds too old or in this case too young in comparison to the English dub. Pod and Spiller, voiced by Mark Strong and Luke Allen-Gale, on the other hand are actually quite interesting. Pod is normally sound calm and collected, but his tone stills conveys a form of authority over his wife Homily and Arrietty. Spiller, a native type of borrower, has a very minimal use of words for dialogue, but his hostile sounds and tone of voice really shows the native and wilderness personality. Either way, it’s tolerable and worth a listen.

To be honest, there isn’t much to talk about the story as a film, it’s simple and easy to follow, the amount of suspense and exploration is kept to a minimum, there is a small message about the human’s impact on the world that’s neither subtle nor forced and most of the actions and reactions of both the humans discovering the little people and the little people seeing the large world around them through their eyes is pretty much the same as other films and stories which uses that similar story element. There’s nothing terrible about it outside that it’s rather dull, but it still has a charm to it that makes it enjoyable. As an adaptation the story is viewed differently, but I don’t regard faithfulness to the original source material as form or praise or criticism because in my mind, a film is a film and a book is a book, and the word “adaptation” means the story that is written to be told through one medium is retooled so it can be told through a different medium. Anything that is lost or altered in the translation is through the choice of the writers, and they should be judged on whether it makes the telling of the story through that medium works, not whether the change makes the adaptation better or worse. So as a story for an anime film, it’s good to watch but nothing that would win the awards for storytelling because it doesn’t pull off any risks or contain any special moments. The films only problem, especially when I saw it, was Haru, Sadako’s maid and the film’s closest form of an antagonist and the problem mainly lies with the way she is portrayed. Throughout the film, she switches from quiet and shifty-eyed suspicious character to goofy and over the top villainous character constantly as she wants to catch the little people, just like Ms Driver from the novel, so most of the time I knew she was supposed to be the antagonist, but not really sure if she was meant to be the diabolically comedic or the cartoony villain, whether she is the same or different as Ms Driver in the books does not change my opinion in any way.

Overall, what we have as one of the latest from Studio Ghibli is a film to enjoy for its visual and musical appeal more than a story telling epic like Laputa or Only Yesterday. The film is worth a watch for its great design and music, although its story is nothing too special. What is special about this film is the amount of stuff done differently for a Ghibli film, and some for anime films in general, such as having a foreign musician brought on as the composer or the film internationally supported by two dubs for one language for recognisability. The film did amazingly well in Japan, especially for a debuting director, so let’s make sure this film does as well in the rest of the world.

Arrietty is available from Walt Disney and Optimum Releasing. The original novel series written by Mary Norton has been reprinted countless times and are currently available from Puffin Books. A film comic version is available from Viz Comics, but unless you haven’t read some of my past Studio Ghibli film reviews, Film comics are not worth your money unless you like seeing film screenshots pasted into pages with speech bubbles attached. Unrelated to the Ghibli film, the Borrowers has had quite a few other adaptations, some of which may be worth your time. These include a 1974 made-for-TV movie starring Eddie Albert from NBC, a 1992 miniseries and a 1993 follow up titled “Return of the Borrowers” from the BBC and Turner Home Entertainment, and a 1997 theatrical film starring John Goodman from PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.

Old Review: Arashi no Yoru Ni

Arashi no Yoru Ni.jpgIn nature, every creature knows their enemies and their means of survival. In the case of this tale, there are wolves, carnivores and predators that live on the Bakubaku Valley, and goats, herbivores and prey that live on the Sawasawa Mountains, both enemies of each other. However, when a goat named Mei and a wolf named Gabu both take shelter from a storm in an abandoned barn, they realise that the animals they are, and they share a lot in common and slowly build a good friendship. The only problem is that both sides strictly oppose each other for their own reasons, and once word goes around about this mutual friendship, neither side takes it well. Both Mei and Gabu are encouraged to act as spies, but the two decide to leave together and go to a place where they can remain friends without the confrontations. However, Gabu’s pack is on the hunt for them both. Can both a goat and a wolf live peacefully as friends, or will they have to accept their roles in nature as enemies?

Originally intended to be a single children’s book, the popularity of the children’s book Arashi No Yoru Ni in Japan encouraged author Yuichi Kimura to turn it into a whole series and wrote five more books. It ended up becoming popular enough to be published in Japanese textbooks. Japanese Television Broadcaster Tokyo Broadcasting Systems Network (TBS) obtained the film rights to the books and worked alongside animation studio Group TAC to create an anime film based on all six books, with Gisaburo Sugii as director. The film was released on December 10th 2005 to national acclaim, and later became one of the nominees of the Japanese Academy Award’s first Animation of the Year Award in 2007.

When I first saw this film I had a really hard time describing my views on the film’s looks and animation, because for an anime film it’s nothing I’ve really seen before. The animation itself has a broad range depending on the situation of the scene, going really cartoonish on comedic and goofy moments to a fast and edgy style in more action areas, and yet it quality remains consistent and controlled. There are some moments when the animation looks a little too cartoonish, which was probably due to the target audience being children, however they only really work in effect when the scenes are intended to make people laugh. What makes this film stands out is it’s amount of detail, and in a world of Japanese animation where most of the detail is in the painted backgrounds, with character designs typically being flat colours with small amounts of shading, this goes way beyond that detail as every single frame has evident use of brushes to show fur, grass, leaves, wood, rocks, to the point where the only signs of flat colours in the entire film is the sky. It’s actually really good to look at, and ignoring some of the weird animation, the detail as well as the use of lighting and CG backgrounds gives the film a balanced level of realism that’s rarely found in anime films.

The music soundtrack is a bit hit and miss, there is a good amount of effort in it, being well orchestrated and great to listen to on its own for the most part, including the ending theme Star by Aiko. The only point where the soundtrack doesn’t really work it atmosphere is when there are really action heavy moments. However in the scenes which are calm, light hearted in humour or dramatic the music really sets the emotional value of the scenes, even the music in the film’s dark opening builds up a tense atmosphere. The film’s more sombre moments don’t have music which is always good to allow the audience to take in the atmosphere.

The Japanese voice acting is really good, most of it due to the really good cast that was chosen. One notable role includes Gabu, who is voiced by Nakamura Shido, an actor most known for dark antagonising roles such as Ryuk from Death Note, but in this film his gives Gabu a friendly personality while giving him a rough and threatening tone, really conveying two sides to Gabu’s character. Other wolves are also given this rough tone of voice, including Pack-Leader Giro, voiced by Yakuza film regular Rika Takeuchi, and his right-hand man Barry, voiced by my favourite Japanese voice-actor Koichi Yamadera. The Goats and most other animals in the film have a more calm tone of voice, to reflect their peaceful nature in contrast with wolves, although if I have to give some criticism, it’s that most of the Goat roles don’t leave as much impact and aren’t as memorable, and it doesn’t help that every goat except Mei leave the story 2/3 into the film.

While there isn’t an official English dub, there is an unofficial dub that’s worth talking about. In 2008, a small group of voice actors lead by Tustin Gilmer Macafee were given permission by TBS to produce an English dub under the title “Stormy Night”, which was created and uploaded to Youtube between December 2008 and November 2009. For what essentially is a fan-dub put together by one guy with a voice cast of five people including himself, it is really impressive seeing how great the quality of the dub itself is, especially considering that the backing soundtrack and sound effects had to be edited by hand and matched up to the original film, with professional sounding vocal tracks matching up to the dialogue. However, the voice acting really inferior to the Japanese dub. On a positive side, it’s much better than other fan dubs and online based film dub projects I’ve seen, thanks to the professional quality of the audio itself and the range of distinct voices helps tell each character apart as well as portray who they are, such as the goat roles who sound much more like their animal counterparts than the Japanese version. I also have to give a huge credit to Tustin for voicing the majority of the roles including Gabu, Mei, every wolf and some of the goats, and yet give the different voices, showing a really good vocal range. However there are two sides to voice acting and it’s the acting part that falls over. Most of the time there isn’t any difference between emotions and most of the voices stay at one level of volume, and even if the range of voices is impressive, some of the voices don’t entirely match up to the character very well, such as Giro and Barry.

If there is one thing I like, it’s when someone takes a long existing storyline concept, and both change and add to it to the point that it becomes an entirely new story. This is the case with Arashi no Yoru Ni, which is practically a Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story style of a story, except instead of a romance between two people from opposing sides, it’s an unlikely friendship between two beings of opposing sides. What’s also different about it is that both groups views of each other isn’t the only conflict that tests both Mei and Gabu’s friendship, since Gabu is a carnivore whose only means of survival is eating other animals, which Mei naturally doesn’t approve of, and Gabu has trouble trying to stop his animal instincts to avoid any harm towards Mei. Its issues like this that creates both light hearted humour and really dramatic moments and while watching it I really found myself caring for the two and hoping that they would make it all the way to the end, and the film is written so that the ending could be more than one possibility.

Overall, Arashi is a very heart-warming film that definitely is worth watching for its main characters and it’s artistry as a whole. Yes it has some goofy moments which could make the little ones happy, but that doesn’t stop it from having serious and engaging moments as well. It’s a story about good friends against the odds, and it’s worth checking out.

Arashi no Yoru Ni is available from TBS. There isn’t an official English release, but the unofficial English dub is available from the Stormy Night Redub Team, where their concept dub is both available on Youtube and as a downloadable audio track for the official DVD. The original seven children’s book series (the seventh and final book in the series was released after the film) by Yuichi Kimura with illustrations by Hiroshi Abe don’t have any official English release. The books also spawned both an Audio Drama CD (which had a different cast including Akira Ishida from Gundam SEED fame as Mei) and three stage performances, including one by Aoni Productions in 2004, an annual one from Engekishūdan En and a musical in 2007 from Engekishūdan Studio Life.

Old Review: Solatorobo: Red the Hunter

File:Solatorobo.jpgOn the floating islands of Shepherd Republic are two races of people, one resembling cats and one resembling dogs. The floating islands are above a sea of Plasma and French is the native language. The inhabitants on the world mainly rely on technology and mechas, and hire skilled mecha riders to do certain tasks called Hunters. Red Savarin, a hunter and one of the dog people, is requested to obtain an important file that was stolen, and while boarding the large air ship Hindenburg, he finds a mysterious medallion-shaped item. Curious to see what it is, he accidentally activated it, causing a giant colossus called Lares to appear suddenly beside the ship and sends it into flames. As Red makes his escape, he runs into Elh Melizee, a mysterious cat person. Soon, he and Elh travels all across the Shepherd Republic along with his younger sister Chocolat Gelato, uncovering the mysteries under the medal he suddenly obtained and discover the secret behind Elh’s hidden past.

A spiritual sequel to the underrated PS1 game, Tail Concerto, the game was first hinted back in 2007. It was first announced as a 15th Anniversary of CyberConnect2 called Solarobo, and then changed to Solatorobo later. Some of the original team from Tail Concerto returned, and the opening cinematic was produced by Studio MadHouse, and 100 short commercials were broadcasted back-to-back on Tokyo MX as a World Record Attempt. Rumours of a western release began when the game was shown at the French “Japan Expo 2010” as Project Coda, with a French translated demo. In April 2011 Nintendo announced that they would distribute the game in Europe and Australia for release on July 1st. An American release was confirmed when Xseed announced they will publish the game for September 2011.

The graphics are good to look at, especially with the design of the mechas and he characters. The 3D models however are weak, and the amount of texture on them has the same quality as Sonic Chronicles. The Full Motion Video Opening as well as the in-game cut scenes are really well animated, the earlier kind would be expected from Studio Madhouse, and while the models appearances look blocky, the fact that they appear on the DS, fully moving in real time is quite impressive. In the actual game, the entire environment is set in 3D rooms, with 2D sprites for NPCs, with enemies and the player being 3D models. It feels out of place but most of them blend really well, and most of the environments being really creative, one of my favourites is the Basset Island, which is an island consisting of scrap metal, so the entire place looks like an abandoned scrapheap.

The soundtrack has a lot of variety for all the different places to go and the scenes you’ll see, although with the exception of the opening and closing themes performed by Tomoyo Mitani and composed by the duo called LeiN, most of the tracks really don’t have a lasting impact like other JRPG soundtracks. For a DS game, it probably has some of the easiest to listen and enjoy tracks outside of a Nintendo or Square Enix title, although the authentic soundings of actual instruments can only be found on the official soundtrack, not the actual game itself. The voice acting only consist of a set of characters either giving vocal remarks or very short lines of French, not much to go on although the voices are suitable to their following characters. One neat thing I did like about the sound in the game is that sound effects like walking change in its loudness depending on how far away the player is, definitely gives a feel that the player is moving away and towards a fixed camera.

There is a lot of things to do in this game outside of the main story, mostly revolving around quests. At every place you go to there is at least one Quest Broker where you can look for jobs, which basically consists of you either picking up stuff, flying around, fighting, talking and or travelling around the world. Completing these jobs will earn you money and increase your Hunter rank which would allow you to do more jobs. You can also play mini-games such as fighting tournaments in the Duel Ship, Metal Crushing and Fishing to name a few, so you don’t have to follow a linear path to play through the game, not to mention that doing the quests and exploring the world can help balance out the difficulty curve. While there is a levelling system, it only noticeably increases the amount of health you have; most of the stats go into the Customization of your robot, Dahak. You buy blocks that represent one of four attributes, Attack, Defence, Hydraulics and Mobility, the blocks come in a variety of shapes and have varying stat increases, and you arrange them into a large grid, which you can create spaces, it allows for you to be creative to try and get the a good set of stat improvements. The main battle system is both free to move and in real time, but you only get one really effective attack, and that’s grabbing and throwing either projectiles or the enemy itself. While you can be creative by throwing enemies at other enemies and much later it’s possible to learn other attacks, juggling every enemy you see can get tiring pretty fast.

Let me first be honest and say that I’m not a really big fan of Role Playing Games, especially Western RPGs but that’s not relevant. I have played quite a few, but since most of the time I end up stuck or bored, I’ve only played a few until either something else caught my eye or I complete it because I found it both engaging and fun, and this is one of those few games. I’ve already mentioned about the many things you can do in the game, so why do I find it engaging? Well the story is good, it’s well paced, there’s both good humour and drama, Red, Elh and Chocolat are really likable protagonists, and there’s interesting range of antagonists like the Team Rocket comedy trio villains Opera, Calua and Gren to the power mad Kurvaz leader Bruno. It’s also really well laid out, set out in a chapter structure and separated by two parts, each chapter either consisting of a mini-plot or character development or progression in the overall story, it feels like it was written as a whole anime series set out into several episodes. It has silly moments, and has some of the RPG clichés like Elh being mistaken for a boy as a small running gag, and it references and cameos characters from Cyberconnect’s Mamoru-kun and Tail Concerto, which would really only interest the few people who played those games on the Western side of the world, but for those who like those in JRPGs then it’s good for them and it’s made in good fun.

In a time when the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii are struggling to keep hardcore gamers with major titles, especially since the forming of the group Operation Rainfall, it’s good to see some decent titles such as this one getting attention from Nintendo themselves. If you have any form of Nintendo DS and you’ve been wanting to play a fun and lengthy game that’s colourful and made for hardcore gamers, then clearly you either haven’t looked in the gaming magazines or websites hard enough you have serious memory problems because you have to play this game, you’ll thank me at the end of it.

Solatorobo: Red the Hunter is available from Nintendo of Europe and Xseed Games. A light novel titled Red Data Children which acts as a prequel to the game is available in Dragon Magazine, but doesn’t have any sign of an English translation so it’s either wait patiently or wait for a fan translation. The video game Tail Concerto, which is made by the same team and is spiritually the predecessor to this game, was available from Namco Bandai and Atlus, but it was a PS1 title so it’s out of print and very hard to find, especially in Europe where it only had a French release.

Old Review: Legend of the Titanic

The Legend of Titanic Movie PosterThis is a story of Titanic that has never been heard of before, as a former sailor mouse named Top Conners recounts his experience of the ship on her maiden voyage. While Top Conners and his friend Ronnie are working as crew for the mice passengers on the ship, a young lady named Elizabeth and her father arrive as two of the passengers. Elizabeth is engaged to a high class business man named Maltravers, much to her dislike of the man, and rightfully so as he wants to take advantage of the engagement so he can get his father’s ocean rights for whale hunting. However this plan might not go as planned as Elizabeth and a lower classed Spanish musician named Don Juan fall in love. There’s a giant octopus, several talking mice, magic dolphins and gangster sharks, this is the Legend of the Titanic. Continue reading

Old Review: Once Upon a Forest

OUAF poster.jpgDapplewood is a common forest where animals such as badgers, moles, squirrels and mice live. The young animals, known as Furlings, go to their teacher named Cornelius, an old and wise badger who also likes to build new inventions. Four furlings, the mouse Abigail, the Hedgehog Russell, the mole Edgar and the badger Michelle, go with Cornelius for their current lesson. While Cornelius normally has trouble tutoring these four, it is the least of his concern after the five come across a road and almost get killed by a reckless driver. Their problems with the humans worsen when a hazardous gas leaks from an overturned tanker, damaging their homes and even killing some of the animals, and when Michelle runs to her home to find her parents, she falls gravely ill from the gas. Now Abigail, Russell and Edgar have to venture to another meadow in order to find the herbs needed to cure Michelle, facing the dangers that lie ahead, hoping that it’s not too late to save their friend. Continue reading