Sunday, 30 June 2013

Attack on Titan

I like Attack on Titan.  A lot.  It’s messy, violent and is right up in your face.

What with the animated series recently appearing and gaining a huge audience, fans have been steadily noticing that the Attack on Titan manga has already been coming out quite a while.  For those yet to sample either version of the story the concept is simple:  Humanity has dwindled and the remaining survivors are forced to live inside a walled city.  The walls of the city are a final defence against giant humanoid monsters known as Titans who for reasons unknown continuously try to invade and eat as many people as possible.  The only way to kill a Titan is to carve a chunk out of the back of its neck, and by using a 3D Manoeuvre Gear users can catapult themselves up to heights sufficient enough to take the fight to the Titans.  Thus the battle for humanity’s survival is on.

Attack on Titan goes all out with its fantasy premise.  The Titans munch their ways through humans while themselves being carved into meaty chunks.  Needless to say there is a fair amount of blood flow in this one.  Our heroes are young and desperate to survive.  They’re inclined to act on impulse or forced into panic, and sudden life-depending decisions set the way for a manga that is tense as well as exciting.

The scrawled artwork has become a point of contention for several as Attack on Titan’s art often appears rushed and suffers occasional lapses in accurate proportions, proving to be a turnoff for many.  I personally do not mind it much as the story and characters are strong and the artwork conveys energy and movement in a raw and aggressive manner.  The presence of pristine or glossy artwork is not a prerequisite demand in my personal reading habits, although your mileage may vary.

With the likes of Naruto and Bleach being far too established and long in the tooth to recruit fresh audiences, it was about time a new title appeared to fill the gap.  I’m sure Shueisha desperately want it to be Toriko, but instead Kodansha have landed a massive hit with Attack on Titan which outsells the majority of the Shonen Jump library.  I’m not sure if this title will indicate a shift in power between Japanese publishing houses, but the competition can only be good for the readers.

Ninja Scroll

Ninja Scroll turned 20 years old this month, so thought it’d be nice to indulge and celebrate in its existence a little.  It’s a bit of an anime classic in certain areas of fandom, particularly long-term fans, and I like to think that anyone who’s so far missed out on it can still find much to enjoy.

Jubei is a wandering swordsman dragged unwillingly into an adventure of conspiracies, ninjas and the obligatory old enemies.  It doesn’t display the strongest plot you’ll ever see in a film, but is good enough to excuse a near-constant stream of fantasy sword fights while sustaining an interest in the strained relationship between Jubei and fellow ninja Kagerou.  The animators flex their muscles for the battle scenes and apply interesting palette choices to help give each fight its own unique atmosphere.  Night times, blazing sunny days and sunset scenes are effectively portrayed to help maintain this interesting variety, and the rapid pace is drummed into you with an effective soundtrack.  It’s good stuff.

Be warned that it is hyper violent and boobs abound (spoilers: Kagerou gets a particularly raw deal out of the film), so this is strictly for more mature fans who like their blood spurts to hit the ceiling and don’t freak out when they see a bit of skin.  Overall Ninja Scroll is just extremely well made and doesn’t waste time on deep thought or needless sentimentality.  The recent Blu-Ray release is well worth your time.

So why is there no sequel?  Ninja Scroll is very well regarded amongst western fans, but is something that is curiously disproportionate compared to its more moderate regard in Japan.  There was a semi-related TV series which came out in 2003, which is a serviceable addition, but no true successor has appeared as yet.  Director Kawajiri is up for it though and even produced a teaser trailer in hopes of gaining studio/financial support, but so far this is as far as the franchise goes.

Don’t touch Ninja Resurrection by the way, it’s as unrelated as it is awful. ;-)

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Ernest & Celestine

Celestine is a young mouse who lives in an underground city.  Taught from birth to fear the town of bears above them, she is instead a dreamer who draws pictures of a life where both species could peacefully co-exist.  Similarly Ernest is a bear who sits outside of the norm.  Failing to build a successful business like every good bear should, he lives secluded as an unappreciated musician outside of town.  The two have a chance encounter, and eventually learn to see into worlds other than their own.
This is a lovely little film.  Gentle both in nature and in execution.  Ernest & Celestine sports a style that gives the appearance of a painting - those familiar with Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbours the Yamadas are in the right area.  Watercolour backgrounds are overlaid with accomplished animation that is loosely lined, and completely charming.  Much like Japan, France hasn’t forgotten the charms of a two-dimensional aesthetic.  Maybe one day not all the big-name animation companies with stick solely to 3D work, but it’s sadly not going to happen any time soon.

I totally recommend anyone interested in animation check out this film, and it is great to see such titles making it to our shores.  What is less encouraging is the lack of Blu-Ray release and the DVD sporting subtitles that cannot be removed.  Also the lack of an English language track for a film obviously aimed to include younger viewers is bound to miss out on the bulk of its target audience.  Please don’t be discouraged, this is a hidden gem.

Saturday, 8 June 2013


Kei Kurono is a bit of a brat who is accidentally killed by an underground train.  As his decapitated head rolls around the station platform, he suddenly finds himself transported into a game where he and other recently deceased people have to fight for their continued survival.  Gantz offers no further explanations, and so the next round begins.

It’s violent, sex-obsessed and batshit crazy - this is Gantz in a nutshell.  It really goes all out with a live-fast-die-young attitude with entire volumes flying as the plot is sacrificed in favour of pure action.  Some people may be familiar with the anime series which covered only the first few volumes before ending on an entirely different note to the manga, which instead continues into new areas.  The gore was certainly there in animated form, particularly in the second half, but for my money the pacing too was slow for a series so entrenched in action.  To be honest I also found the manga a little difficult to get on with, partly because I already knew what would happen, but also because Kei is such a scumbag I struggled to care about whether or not he got destroyed.  His sexist pervy ways are pretty repulsive along with his shitty attitude, but from the second stage (starting at volume 11 where the book covers turn blue) even worse characters are introduced which propels Kei into becoming more of a hero role and more appealing as a main character.

At this point in the story more layers are gradually added as Hunters are introduced as well as other Gantz teams.  Only now are the answers starting to show themselves (Dark Horse’s release has currently reach the late 20s).  I’ve got no idea where things will head further down the line, and Gantz offers no guarantees.  Frankly, I am hooked.

As a side note the artwork of Gantz is very detailed with CG used extensively for the backgrounds and other little fixes.  It makes you wonder just how much or little of this manga is actually drawn by hand, and while early volumes produce slightly wonky art, later volumes are pretty spectacular.  I do find Dark Horse’s sound effects a little distracting at times however.  The original Japanese ones are big and bold, yet translucent.  The English ones on the other hand are filled in with pure white so you lose a little of the impact, sometimes to the point where it’s more difficult to keep track of proceedings.  It’s still a great manga though.  It’s a nasty, sadistic thrill ride, but with enough of a sense of fun about itself to throw a random panda into the middle of the carnage.  Volumes are quite expensive and are read quickly due to the low word count, but is worth the expense.

English/Japanese sample comparison