Tag Archives: anime review

Review: Banner of the Stars

Banner of the Stars continues three years after the beginning of a galactic war that started in Crest of the Stars. Lafiel, an Abh from the royal Abriel family, is made captain of an assault ship called the Basroil. Among her crew are two other Abh, and two humans, one a commoner and the other a noble.

The bulk of the show follows Lafiel and the crew of the Basroil, with the core of the focus being Lafiel and the human noble, Jinto, her companion from the prequel series. While these two do remain the main characters, I would say that in contrast to Crest of the Stars the new series focuses more time on Lafiel while Jinto takes a more supportive role. The story is told from Jinto’s perspective, but Lafiel is given a much larger role. This is all well and good, because I think Lafiel is a much more interesting character than Jinto.

There is no real villain in this season, as there was in the first season; however, interestingly, Lafiel is put under the command of Baroness Loy Atosuryua, sister of the antagonist from season one, Baron Klowal Atosuryua. The uncertainty between Lafiel and her commander—due to the circumstances surrounding the death of the Baroness’s brother—provides a very interesting section of the series. Lafiel is not sure what to think of her commander and her motives. Perhaps my favorite episode is a birthday celebration for her late brother being thrown by the Baroness, in which she meticulously reproduces the dinner that Lafiel and her brother the Baron had. Lafiel is unsure how to interpret this and what results is one of the best episodes in the series.

Miho Yamada plays Loy Atosuryua, Lafiel's commander and perhaps the best looking character in the show.

Miho Yamada plays Loy Atosuryua, Lafiel’s commander and perhaps the best looking character in the show.

Beyond that, the major event driving the series is the galactic war. It begins with an explanation that both sides (the Abh Empire and a coalition of human nations) first exhausted almost all of their military capabilities in the opening stages of the war, and both sides spent the next three years rebuilding their forces. Lafiel is given command of an assault ship, much to her dismay. This position causes much distress to Lafiel, because as a member of royalty she is not accustomed to being subordinate to others. This, by the way, is another point that adds much to the richness and development of the characters. Lafiel being put in these challenging situations—despite her expectation and desire to command a fleet—is one of the best parts of the show, because it allows the series to play around with the lore that was developed. Families and class ranking are an important part of the series, but instead of being pointless details the series plays with it.

Well, finally to war itself. The way the war is handled would be best described as similar to Legend of the Galactic Heroes. In that sense, characters will discuss the enemy attack entire episodes before it actually happens. The series is minute in detail; everything is looked at. Lafiel’s position as a commander of an assault ship makes this possible, because part of her duties is reconnaissance. That aspect of warfare is probably given its greatest look in this series than any other, because I do not remember any other series that would devote so much time towards scouting and skirmishing. It is similar to Legend of the Galactic Heroes in that the warfare is depicted after they show you the lengthy preparation that went into it, but differs in that it focuses on the smaller units. Large capital ships act more as a cavalry reinforcement that saves the scouting ships from doom.

Strategy and tactics is also discussed extensively, and this is one portion where the show fails. Strategic location domination seems to be the most important aspect in galactic warfare strategy, but Lord help me if I know anything about it. The characters will debate which fleet should defend where, but I find it hard to follow along if I have no idea where these places are and why they are important. This is one of those shows where I had to look up a map and read explanations online just to understand what these people were saying. Also present in this show is a pet peeve: maps are displayed as 2-dimensional planes, which makes no sense in space!

Strategy and tactics play a bigger role in this season. Some of it is easy to follow; some of it is not.

Strategy and tactics play a bigger role in this season. Some of it is easy to follow; some of it is not.

Banner of the Stars is a huge improvement from season one. Space battles are much more plentiful, and I find the show’s approach to them to be a breath of fresh air. However, many aspects still remain: the dialogue is still dry and very wordy. Characters will have conversations that could easily take up half of the episode, as they discuss seemingly whatever comes to their mind. I do not think I have ever seen characters so thorough in their self-reflection. The original creator, Hiroyuki Morioka (who also writes the novels this series is based upon), seemed more interested in making a fictional world than a story. Regardless, the characters are much more interesting this time around, particularly Lafiel. She is one the best parts of the show, perhaps one of my favorites in anime.

Would I recommend Banner of the Stars? I would, but with one precaution: you will either find it engrossing or extremely boring.

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Neon Genesis Evangelion is a fun experience, but nowhere near a great anime

I have been watching Neon Genesis Evangelion again recently. I just finished watching episode 16, the infamous one in which Eva-01 violently rips its way out of an Angel. At this point, I think my thoughts are set in stone somewhat.

eva16_0125

Neon Genesis Evangelion is a franchise that I adore very much; I am one of those types that just eats up the merchandising like Homer Simpson eats, well, anything. I am not exactly wealthy, so I do not own nearly much as I would like, but I can guarantee that if I had the means I would buy anything related to the series. Even that infamous NERV bucket. Which, at around 4,980 yen (roughly $40.00 in 2015), is a giant rip-off compared to the Home Depot Bucket at about $4.00. Yeah, well, it’s a NERV bucket! Limited edition! (It’s also a steel bucket, FYI, whereas the Homer Bucket is plastic).

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I own the Perfect Edition of the original TV series, plus the Director’s Cut versions of the last few volumes (so, if memory serves, around the last six episodes). I also own The End of Evangelion, two versions of Rebuild of Evangelion 1.11 (one DVD and one Blu-Ray), two versions of Rebuild of Evangelion 2.22 (the official FUNimation DVD release and an imported copy from… I don’t know where).

As for reading material, I own some volumes of Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s official manga, the first volume of Angelic Days (which I actually like), the “Der Mund” artbook by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. I am tempted to get Ayanami Raising Project, but I do not want Campus Apocalypse and Shinji Ikari Detective Diary, thank you very much.

I, of course, own those figures. Those two small ones were actually by lottery; they come in these little pink capsules. In Japan, they are dispensed at vending machines, and they are supposed to be random (if you have seen A Certain Scientific Railgun, Mikoto would go to a Gekota machine whenever she saw one; kinda the same idea, but I don’t think those come in capsules). Not pictured are two Revoltechs, one of Eva-01 and the other Eva-00, still in the boxes (you can kinda see the boxes at the bottom).

Of all the merchandise I own, Evangelion merchandise beats the rest by far.

There’s more, but I think you get the point.

Considering all of that, would it be strange for me to say that Neon Genesis Evangelion is not my favorite anime? (for those curious: it’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time). In fact, would it be strange for me to say that I think Neon Genesis Evangelion is not even great?

Perhaps I could get away with saying something like that, if I were more specific: Neon Genesis Evangelion the franchise is great, while the Neon Genesis Evangelion the show is not.

What is it about this show that I do not like? Well, most of it can be summed up as: it is just too inconsistent.

Let us forget about the animation (which is more famous for being inconsistent), and let us focus instead on one important element that the show cannot decide upon: tone.

In the beginning, the show manages to nail down a pretty bleak tone. I have the feeling that Hideaki Anno was trying to capture a world on the brink of extinction; the use of Christian symbolism, the world shadow government, huge amounts of resources being devoted towards fighting off the Angels. Chairman Keel tells Gendo that the Human Instrumentality Project is humanity’s last hope, and carrying out that project is NERV; NERV is a global effort, operating in at least a dozen countries, completely devoted towards defeating the Angels and carrying out that Project. It all has a very “End of Times” feeling to it. Heck, you might even say that the Second Impact is the Great Tribulation (both events marked by mass suffering, war, catastrophe, famine, etc.) and that Third Impact is the Second Coming (Eva-01 becomes God and all humanity transcends into heaven)*. It seems that humanity is preparing for one last (catastrophic) event, and that event is so important that the entire human race is contributing towards it.

Not only did the tone start out dreary, but the show also made it clear that its characters are suffering. Episode 4, “Hedgehog’s Dilemma,” (one of my favorite episodes by the way) in particular focuses on the stress that Shinji is feeling. One thing that many people seem to have missed is that Shinji is a child soldier; at fourteen years old, he was conscripted into the paramilitary organization NERV. Shinji is a child expected to engage in armed combat. Episode 4 conveys this stress by creating an “other worldly feeling,” in that Shinji wanders around Tokyo-3 but always ends up in situations in which he feels like he does not belong. He begins to feel lost. Hideaki Anno creates one of my favorite scenes in the entire series in this episode. Shinji is standing in the middle of the park. He can hear nothing but the things from faraway, and instead of painting the scene with predominantly orange colors (as it is the afternoon) the scene is painted with purple. Purple is not necessarily symbolic for anything, but the point is that the world feels alien to Shinji; afternoons in anime are generally orange, and rarely are they purple anywhere (I, at least, do not remember any). Shinji hearing things from far away, rather than what is next to him, further adds to the “other worldly” feeling. Shinji’s stress manifests itself as detachment and lack of direction.

This is the sort of thing I like about Evangelion. I think perhaps the best thing about the series is that it satisfies the sadistic aspect of people. I like to watch these people suffer. Not because I hate them, but because watching them suffer is just so entertaining.

The big weakness of the series, then, is that its characters are not suffering all the time. The tone of the series is not always dreary and bleak; sometimes I forgot that this world just came out of the greatest catastrophe in human history (and it preparing for an even bigger one). Sometimes, everything is just happy, normal, typical. In other words, I feel that the show loses its focus. It took what made it strong, shifted itself away from that, and then returned to it about halfway through. I do not watch this series for the teenage comedy antics of Shinji, Rei, and Asuka crawling through an air duct; nor do I watch this show so I can see Shinji and Asuka play twister. The happy humor episodes are, well, boring. While those were fine episodes, I feel that they were placed in the wrong series. I watch this show to be entertained, and the most entertaining parts are when the characters go through trauma.

When the series finally snaps out of it and puts the suffering at the forefront, it becomes great again. All of this culminates in The End of Evangelion, which I consider better than the TV series because it knows exactly what it wants to accomplish (a lot of suffering).

The End of Evangelion is, then, supposed to be the best part of the story. It should be the part that made its influence last for so long, right? I do not think that it was the talent of Hideaki Anno and Studio Gainax that made the show memorable. There are definitely many other anime that I enjoy more than Evangelion, but none of them have taken as much money from me as Evangelion. More impressively, none of those can claim that they were so dominant in the anime industry for almost 20 years and counting. If I were to pinpoint a reason, I would say that the franchise’s greatest strength lies not in the show but in its marketability; in other words, Neon Genesis Evangelion may not be the best anime, but it is the best at selling.

*In which case, Chairman Keel is the Antichrist that united the world under one government.

Should You Watch Patema Inverted?

I absolutely love Patema Inverted. It is another fantastic entry to Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s line of directorial works with an interesting plot and an amazing ending.

The film follows two character, Patema and Age, who come from completely different societies. Patema is a princess living in an underground society. She is in line to be the next leader of this tribe-like group. Age lives on the surface world, in an Orwellian society calling itself Aiga. Led by a religious fanatic and kept in power by his Kerberos lookalike secret police, Age is expected to fall directly into the image dictated by his Glorious Leader. The big difference between the two, however, is that Patema (and her people) are upside down. As in, literally, When Patema comes to the surface world, she is floating to the sky and is only saved by Age. In order for her to live on the surface world, Age takes her to a cottage where she stands on the ceiling.

The story oddly reminds me of the novel series Left Behind. In Patema Inverted, the government of Aiga basically claims that Patema is part of a groups of sinners, and as punishment they were cursed to float to the sky. They call this event The Great Change. The people of Aiga are basically what’s left of humanity. The Aiga and their apparent rule of the rest of humanity, the whole concept of people flying to the heavens for their supposed religious sins, and the religious function of the Aiga’s leader really reminds me of certain stories; that is, a world government setup by an anti-Christ, an apocalyptic event, and a select few sent into the sky (“heaven”) for a religious reason; further, Yoshiura even meshes it with science fiction. I always love works that manage to explain the same narrative from a (albeit fictional) scientific perspective and a religious perspective. It adds believability while simultaneously being mythological or even epic. It does not perfectly mesh into the Left Behind series, obviously, but I think the religious elements, meshed well with science fiction, result in such an interesting take on an already interesting premise.

patema inverted movie poster

I will say that the premise alone is a big determining factor in one’s enjoyment of the film. The film does not make a joke of its premise, but instead presents it as something that everyone in the setting believes. The film never pokes fun at the ridiculousness of itself, as in “haha, yeah, this is kinda stupid, but just watch and it will get better!” Obviously, to me, this whole concept is a little funny – and I will admit, despite how much I love this film, there were some instances that I laughed at the absurdity of what was presented. However, never does the film stray away from its commitment to its premise. In fact, it uses it to very useful affect.

The ending is perhaps one of the most satisfying endings I have ever seen in anime. Not to spoil it too much, but the ending is basically ironic. It reminds me so much of a certain Kate Chopin short story, that I nearly jumped out of my seat. Not only because of that, but because it managed to genuinely surprise me. It comes off as a plot twist, but Yoshiura had already thrown a couple of those at the audience that by the time I got to the ending I was baffled. Those earlier plot twists are barely even talked about by the characters, and are almost ignored, so the final revelation at the end brings together so many seemingly insignificant details so that the final revelation is that much more surprising.

While I do love the ending, there are some bumpy roads. Patema herself is not that significant; in fact, I think she is almost useless. I am frustrated that her impact on events was so minimal, and that she acted very much as a supporting character to Age. Patema is the first major role of the voice actress Yukiyo Fujii. To be honest, she is not a bad voice actress, but her character is the high-pitched voice, which I despise.

Another frustrating character was Lagos, who was very important but is barely in the film at all. Patema is obsessed with him, especially after his disappearance. However, the film does a poor job of explaining why she likes him so much. And, in fact, once we do find Lagos, not much attention is paid to him, and is almost kinda forgotten. Lagos is a MacGuffin – a plot device that serves only as a motivation. However, my frustration lies in the film’s simultaneous attempts at trying to make me care about this elusive disappear-o-tron. In a flashback , Yoshiura attempts to create a heartbreaking farewell scene between Patema and Lagos. The films refuses to explain why Patema is so upset about this; she is just upset about it and that is as far as that goes. Lagos is a MacGuffin, but the film tries to make him sympathetic; he is a character that is given very little development or explanation, but whom we are told is an emotionally important person to Patema. The result is their relationship comes off as very forced.

Yoshiura’s cinematic style does take a bit of a departure here. He plays with the depth-of-field quite a bit, and honestly I think he went overboard with it. Another thing I noticed, a few scenes looked like they were heavily inspired by the work of Mamoru Oshii. Mamoru Oshii loves to have segments of his movies devoted towards setting a certain mood. I cannot really explain it well in words, so here are some examples: as it was in Patlabor 2 and in Ghost in the Shell. Heck, even Hideaki Anno used it in Evangelion 2.22. There are a couple scenes like those in Patema Inverted. I just love watching those.

The music was done by Michiru Oshima, one of my absolute favorites. She also did the music for Sound of the Sky, which perhaps my favorite soundtrack of all time (at least in anime). Her music is golden. Most of the music is memorable, but I think “Father Floating in the Sky” is the most memorable.

All in all, Patema Inverted is a wonderful film. It has an interesting story, great music, and a fantastic ending. It suffers from poor character development and the animation is not fantastic for a film, but it has its good parts and even so Yoshiura can make it look appealing. In terms of eye-candy, actually, I would say that this one is the most boring of his works, as it lacks the interesting character designs of Aquatic Language or the atmosphere of Pale Cocoon. Still, I would say that this is a must-watch, particularly for fans of his previous works.