animé

Shortstember: The Final Flight of the Osiris

Studio: Square Pictures

Director: Andy Jones

Writer: The Wachowskis

Wha’ happen?

In a sparring programme, Captain Thadeus of the Zion hovercraft Osiris and his first mate (in more ways than one) Juen swordfight while blindfolded. This doesn’t, as you might expect, result in horrific injuries but instead with them just getting progressively more naked.

This ass is important to the story, shut up.

They’re interrupted when the Osiris comes across an army of half a million machine sentinels and a big fuck-off drill, burrowing into the Earth’s crust right over Zion, the last human city. Rushing to warn Zion, the Osiris flees the pursuing sentinels. Juen volunteers to enter the Matrix leave a message in a dropbox. The sentinels overpower the Osiris but Juen manages to relay the message before the ship is destroyed and she drops dead.

How was it?

Probaby the least “animé” of all the shorts, this one feels most of a piece with the original trilogy. Everything from the score to the colour scheme to the dialogue feels like it could just slot very neatly into the films. One thing I really admired about the Wachowskis was their commitment that everything mattered. There was no “expanded universe”, every part (whether film, short film or computer game) was equally canon. Sure, you don’t have to see Osiris to make sense of Matrix Reloaded but if you have seen it you’re never in any doubt that it happened in this universe. The events here are referenced and are always consistent with the rest of the franchise. I like that. The animation was some of the most jaw dropping CGI I had ever seen in 2003 and in 2022 it holds up amazingly well. Sure, the sword striptease might seem like shameless pandering (and it is) but it’s also a demonstration of technical power. The flesh of these characters moves realistically and organically, these bodies tense and flex and sweat organically. It’s mighty impressive today. Twenty years ago it was bloody witchcraft.

It’s light on story, lighter on dialogue and pretty insubstantial. But as a visually stunning, slick little thriller it gets the job done.

Shortstember: The Animatrix

What is The Matrix?

The Matrix is everywhere, it is all around us.

Well, okay, it’s not. But it used to be. In those weird few years surrounding the turn of the millennium the Matrix was an absolute phenomenon, genuinely one of the most influential movie franchises of all time. In fact, I’d argue that it was a victim of its own success. Its aesthetic was so instantly iconic and easily replicable that it quickly became cliché. Movies don’t look like the Matrix anymore because so many movies released around that time aped its look and suddenly it wasn’t cool anymore. And make no mistake, the Matrix was all about being cool. Less a story than a vibe.

No, that’s not fair. The Matrix’s intellectual depth may have been exaggerated but if you’d never heard of Descartes it could and did give an entry point into various philosophical ideas. Its language and concepts have filtered into our discourse (red pills, bread pills) and has gone on to inspire many a modern science fiction writer (DID I MENTION RECENTLY I WROTE A BOOK?). It’s a damn impressive legacy for a series that, if we’re brutally honest, consisted of one good (if by no means flawless) film, two mediocre sequels and a filmed cry for help.

This movie has a scene where Lana Wachowski’s self-insert cries in the bath because Warner Brothers (WHO ARE MENTIONED BY NAME) are forcing him to create a fourth Matrix. I am not making a word of that up.

Oh, and it also gave us the subject of this years Shortstember, the Animatrix. This is an anthology series that came about when the Wachowskis visited Japan to promote the first Matrix and visited some of the animé studios that had been such a huge influence on their work. They then commissioned those studios to create nine short films set in the world they had created, which were then released on DVD and on online to promote the second film, Matrix Reloaded. For something basically created as an advertisement for another movie, The Animatrix went on to become the most critically acclaimed part of this entire franchise with the exception of the original film.

So join me this Shortstember as we review the Animatrix. Which ones are good, which ones are bad, and which ones are like wiping your arse with silk.

Metropolis (2001)

My oh my. A year goes by so fast, doesn’t it?

Why, it was only last January that I was telling you all how there was a new Covid Variant which was causing our local school and créche to close, meaning I had to mind the kids all day, which meant I was getting absolutely no writing done. And now, look how far we’ve come!

The FUCKING variant has a FUCKING different NAME.

OH BRAVE NEW WORLD.

“Eh Mouse? Your eye is doing that twitch again.”
“Yeah. I twitch now. Deal with it.”

Anyway. Yeah. Shorter review than usual. Not my fault. I wish this virus was a person so I could punch it in the dick, yadda yadda yadda.

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The End of Evangelion (1997)

Okay, so back when…

No wait, y’know what, we need to go back in time if I’m going to tell this story right.

Victorian era - Wikipedia

Further than that.

Packing Food for the Hereafter in Ancient Egypt

Further…

Climate Change Killed The Dinosaurs. 'Drastic Global Winter' After Asteroid Strike, Say Scientists

Little more…

Hadean - Wikipedia

Perfect. Okay so.

It’s my third year in college and I’ve started going out with this dynamite gal who will, unbeknownst to her, one day be known as “Spouse of Mouse” to a bunch of randos on the internet. Now we’re at that awkward early stage of the relationship where we’re starting to realise that we can’t just keep kissing constantly and we should probably figure out if we have any actual…y’know…common interests.

So I pull my calloused lips off her and says to her, I says “what are you into?”

And she says “Oh…y’know. Comics. Movies. Animé. That kinda stuff.”

Now, believe it or not, but at this early point in the Earth’s history where the molten surface was still hardening, I had not yet seen that much animé. I mean, Pokémon and Speed Racer, sure, but none of the really big name shows or movies. So I go into a video rental shop, avoiding debris from the recently formed Moon that rained down on the hellish surface of the Earth like so much fiery marble, and I go into the animé section and I see a DVD for a movie called Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth. I had heard the name before, but I knew nothing about it and figured “hey, if it’s so famous that even a total noob like me has heard of it, it must be a great entry point to this exciting world of animé! This will be a great way to bond with my new girlfriend who I hope to one day marry and make a supporting character in a weirdly detailed animation review blog/ongoing comedy series!”

So we sit down to watch this movie together, and around ten minutes in she turns around, takes my arm in a vicelike grip and stares straight into my eyes with a gimlet gaze.

“I’m sorry” she said. “I don’t like animé. I just wanted you to think I was cool. Can we please watch something else?!

And we turned off the movie and watched Family Guy instead. Because, Christ help us, we were young and in love and knew no better.

So that was my first introduction to Evangelion and honestly, I could scarcely have picked a worse one. I know now that Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth is one half clip show with the first 26 episodes of the TV series edited into a single 70 minute cut almost perfect in its incomprehensibility for a newcomer, and the other half the first twenty minutes of what would become The End of Evangelion that was due to be released several months later.

And they did this because…because…

Honestly, maybe spite? Like, just another thing to fuck with people trying to make sense of what often seems like a deliberately opaque franchise? Pity anybody trying to make sense of Evangelion, and that’s before they even have to tackle the plot.

There’s the original 26 episode animé series which ended with a finalé so despised that Gainax received death threats.

There’s Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth which is basically the world’s most inscrutable “previously on Buffy” and which also has two alternate versions: Evangelion: Death(True) and Evangelion: Death(True)2 (and Tigger too!)

And then you have The End of Evangelion, which I will be tackling in this very post, which aims to be the true ending of the TV series.

Then there’s the Rebuild series, an entirely new ongoing four movie cycle re-telling the events of the original show and The End of Evangelion which aims to give ANOTHER ending to this rigmarole (sure, why not?).

Oh and there’s the manga (different continuity), the ANIMA light novel series (ditto) the PS2 game, the parody series, the audio dramas, the commemorative plates and on and on it goes. This thing is a beast.

But okay, here goes, I will now attempt to describe what the hell Neon Genesis Evangelion actually is.

Despair GIF - Find on GIFER

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Perfect Blue (1997)

Half a decade ago I reviewed a charming little animé named Tokyo Godfathers from legendary director Satoshi Kon and about as representative of his oeuvre as Interdimensional Cable 2 is of the career of Werner Herzog.  True, Kon only directed four films in his tragically short life, but Tokyo Godfathers is definitely the outlier of those four. Perfect Blue, conversely, was Kon’s breakthrough first feature and is probably the film that he is best known for.
In the wake of Akira  in 1988, the nineties saw a tsunami of animé arriving in the West. There had been Japanese animation on Western screens long before that of course, but those had been shows that either fit into the Western preconception of animation as being for children (Astro Boy, Speed Racer) or could be made to fit with judicious editing and a wacky robot sidekick (Voltron).
By contrast, in the nineties, animé was out and proud in all its violent, cool, mothers-lock-up-your-daughters-Mr. Octopus-is-single-and-ready-to-mingle weirdness and was starting to bump hard against the deeply ingrained preconceptions of animation in the West. There were a lot of concerned thinkpieces being published, a lot of ominous local news segments beginning with the words “They call it “AH-NEE-MAY”. My first exposure to Perfect Blue was in my local video rental place where they used to publish a weekly magazine advertising the upcoming releases.

“Then, I’d ride the trolley for tuppence.”

In this magazine they had a whole dedicated section for the new animé releases, and I remember Perfect Blue being advertised with the usual breathless ad copy but also a disclaimer at the end saying “please note this movie is not for children”. Back then “animation=harmless fun for my innocent little angels” was still a pretty hard-wired instinct in your typical Western parent and Xtra-vision were obviously trying to head off any complaints from people who’d inadvertantly subjected their kids to the kind of childhood trauma that usually results in a Batman villain.  Point is, Perfect Blue was kind of the poster child for why animé was an entirely different beast than Western animation, not simply for its content but also for its sophistication, gritty adult storytelling and reputation as the “scariest animé ever made”.

Only if you’ve never seen “Cardcaptor Sakura”.

Now, as any comics fan will tell you, anything from the nineties that claimed to be “gritty and mature” at the time should be sealed in an airlock until all the scans have been completed because there is a damn good chance that it’s held up about as well as the general public’s trust in the polling industry. Plus, “shocking” films tend to look increasingly tame as time goes by. So let’s take a look at Perfect Blue and see if it still deserves either of those descriptions.

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Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

There are movies that I am just aching to review. Where I have jokes and observations and asides all ready and planned literally years in advance. Where I am just absolutely raring to go.

And then there’s movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service, a movie that almost feels engineered by some nefarious super villain to be absolutely impossible for me to review. Every tool in my critical toolbox is rendered useless by this thing. Can I rave about it? Honestly, no. It’s one of the slightest of the Studio Ghibli films, I didn’t grow up with it and I don’t have any particular affection for it.  Can I slam it? Hell no, it’s still Studio Ghibli after all and an absolute technical triumph. I can’t really do story analysis, because there’s not really much story. Is it even interestingly weird? It is quite possibly the most grounded and least weird piece of Japanese animation I’ve ever seen (low bar, I know, but still). Interesting or troubled production? Nope. Apparently it was just…like…a movie…that…got…made. No one went crazy during production. None of the animators were involved in a murder suicide pact. Nothing. Damn selfish, I call it.

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A Silent Voice (2016)

I was gonna do a whole bit. Japan showing up at my door in defiance of the restraining order I slapped on it in the last animé review I did and slowly winning me over today’s movie…

Not gonna do that. Not least because, I feel like kind of an asshole. Even if it’s just for comic effect (And it was. Mostly.), the idea of just writing off a nation’s artistic output in an entire genre because of one bad experience…or two, or three…okay look, animé hasn’t had a great batting average on this blog I’m getting off track. That was an awful thing to suggest, even if I was joking. Which I was. Mostly.


Mysterious Girlfriend X is still garbage, that will never change.

This movie is one that I’ve had on the backburner for years (I think it’s one of the Mauricio reviews? Fuck is it one of the Joanna reviews?!). And even though I had seriously intended to take a good long break from animé after the MGX review I couldn’t in good conscience put this off any more so I sat down to watch it, as they say, with a bit of a hump.

And around an hour in I’m trying to remember the last time a movie affected me this deeply on an emotional level and I’m coming up blank.

Guys, this one hollowed me out and didn’t even break a sweat. This is the real deal. Fair warning, this review deals with bullying, suicide and depression and I’m not going to be making a lot of jokes. It’ll be a bit of a gear-shift from Deadpool, put it that way. This is just going to be talking about a movie that really got to me.

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Mysterious Girlfriend X (2012)

“All rise for the Honorable Judge Claude Frollo.”

“Please be seated.”

“Good morning, your honour, my client the Unshaved Mouse is here to file a restraining order.”

“I see, and the target of this restraining order is…the state of Japan?”

“Mouse, please! This is all a big misunderstanding!”

“Don’t talk to me, criminal!”

“C’mon Mouse, we had good times! What about Miyazaki?”

“Oh, you mean your BAIT?”

“Order in the court! Plaintiff, what is the basis for your suit?”

“Well, it all began a few weeks ago…”

***

 “If you sat an alien down and screened for him all the movies made in America in any given year, their first question would be “why do most of these have close up shots of dicks going into various orifices?”  See, a huge percentage of films made in North America are hardcore porn because it’s cheap as chips to make and very lucrative. But when we think of “American cinema”, My Ass is Haunted is not usually part of the conversation. We compartmentalise porn and regular cinema, while filing Japanese hentai simply under “animé”. Japan’s porn tends to be animated, but other that there’s no real difference. The Japanese are no more “weird” or “sick” than we are.

I wrote that back in my review of Akira, the first animé I ever reviewed for this blog. It was a plea for mutual respect and understanding between nations, a plea I must now formally retract because oh my God Japan’s weird guys.

Japan is so, so, so weird.

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The Garden of Words (2013)

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Not so long ago, in the pages of this here very blog what are you reading like, I reviewed Makoto Shinkai’s 5cm per Second and my good Lord, it bored me so. It bored me like Sarah, plain and tall.

Well, Shinkai apparently took my criticisms onboard and went away and created Garden of Words, a movie that has all of 5cm per Second’s stunningly gorgeous visuals and sumptuous sound design but which actually marries them to interesting characters and some class of plot. I mean, I don’t want to take credit for this critically acclaimed film but honesty compels me.

Anyway yes. Okay. I am now on board. I am on the Makoto Shinkai train (and the dude does love his trains).   Like 5cm per SecondGarden is slow and relies heavily on atmosphere but there is a definite sense that it’s telling a story patiently and methodically and not faffing about and wasting your time. The characters are also far more distinctive and memorable, compared to the 5cm per Second’s leads who were so bland and grey you could use them to wallpaper the walls of a dentist’s office.  For instance, one of the main characters, Yukari, spends her days in the local park drinking beer and eating chocolate because her depression has dulled her sense of taste and those are the only flavours she can experience. That’s good writing, because it informs us of an important character trait (her depression) but does it in a way that’s unique and memorable and makes her stand out from all the other sadsacks (I’ve had depression, I get to use that word).

The movie begins with the two things that get Makoto Shinkai out of bed each morning; weather and trains.

“Shit’s my jam, yo.”

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5 Centimetres per Second (2007)

“Mouse-san!”

“Oh, hello Otaku Oceania.”

“I am so, so glad to hear you’ve decided to review Makoto Shinkai’s instant classic Five Centimetres per Second!”

“Oh?”

“You bet! I mean, in your last few animé reviews you’ve been beating up pretty hard on my favourite genre! In fact, I was this close to running you through with my limited edition Masashi Kishimoto autographed samurai sword! Ha ha ha!”

“Ha ha.”

“But a glowing review of 5 Centimetres per Second should smooth everything over and where are you going!?”

 

“It sucks! Soz!”

Ohhhh I’m gonna catch a beating for this one. I’ve given bad reviews to popular movies before but, holy moly, 5cmPS is a full on critical darling. It was released in 2007and received rapturous responses, with the film press instantly hailing director Makoto Shinkai as “the next Miyazaki”, an accolade I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that Hiyao Miyazaki was the only animé director any of those mouth breathers knew by name harrumph harrumph harrumph harrumph harrumph!

“I didn’t get a harrumph out of that guy!”

“Give Mouse an harrumph!”

“Harrumph!”

“You watch yer ass!”

I’d never heard of the movie before I was requested to review it but I went in expecting to love it. I mean, there is a halo around this thing and all the screenshots I could see looked absolutely smurges. I mean, look at this.

  

But…it…just…movie…good…is…not…

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