The Anthem of the Heart

anthem of the heart

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015

A self-imposed curse caused Naruse Jun to lose her ability to speak following a traumatic event in her childhood. Now in high school, Jun and 3 of her classmates are enlisted to head a community outreach committee and put together a class play.

The basic setup of putting on a musical, with the challenges that ensue, is pretty routine stuff which follows all the familiar plot points of a typical play-within-a-play storyline. That said, it is carried out fairly competently here, and the solutions that the kids arrive at are realistic.

All in all, I enjoyed the film. I was invested in Jun and her classmates and I liked how they inspired and learned from each other. There was a romantic subplot as well, but I think it was clear that that was secondary to the more general friendship theme, which is how it should be.

Also, I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of that musical that they were putting on; the parts which were shown looked pretty ambitious and impressive.

SING

SING

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

I didn’t actually know anything about SING until I read an article about the voice actors who were working on the Japanese dub for the film. So while on my recent overseas flight, I decided to watch this American film in Japanese, with English subtitles, just because I could.

Overall, it was pretty funny and entertaining; and the animation looked great. I probably empathized most with Ash, the little rocker porcupine. But it was the way that Johnny, the sweet-voiced gangster gorilla, juggled his new career with the family business that really made my jaw drop.

I didn’t care for Mike, the talented but arrogant mouse, much at all. And the main character, enterprising koala Buster Moon, was a good guy; but some of the stuff he did was in fact illegal, which left me feeling a little uneasy.

Bittersweet (Nigakute Amai)

nigakute amai

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016 in Japan

In this live-action adaptation of a manga by Kobayashi Yumiwo, a young woman begins to put her life together, nutritionally as well as emotionally, after moving in with a vegetarian guy who cooks good. They probably should have included recipes for all the food porn.

Your name.

your-name

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017 in North America

The hype surrounding this film has been phenomenal. Following its release in Japan and other regions last summer, it has racked up massive box office success and rave reviews. I read as little about it as possible all this time and tried not to expect too much, lest the movie should fail to live up to its reputation. It turns out there was no need to temper my expectations.

The story begins with 2 teenagers randomly waking up in each other’s bodies several times a week. Mitsuha and Taki cope by leaving notes for each other so they will know what happened while they were away. As they explore their counterpart’s life, the audience is treated to wonderful views of big-city Tokyo and a small town in the countryside. Seeing it in the theatre, it is almost like being there, and really makes you want to visit. That’s just the beginning.

Your name. is beautifully animated. It is in turn immensely funny and very sad; and in a departure from previous Makoto Shinkai works, it is also surprisingly hopeful. You don’t have to be an anime fan or a Shinkai fan to enjoy this film.

FUNimation is presenting your name. in subtitled and English-dubbed versions. We watched the sub. Go see it while you can during its limited cinematic run. It’s a fantastic movie and it deserves to be seen on the big screen!

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast 2017

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen the classic animated film from 1991, but this new live-action remake seems to be an extremely faithful adaptation. Some parts of it are scene-for-scene, word-for-word the same, if memory serves.

All the familiar songs are included (yes, it’s a musical), along with a few new pieces. Emma Watson and the rest of the cast turn in excellent vocal performances.

One thing this version absolutely does do right is expand on the Beast’s personality and give more insight into the mindset of his staff. I had an issue with his lack of chemistry with Belle in the original. The added content here definitely improves the believability of their relationship.

Lefou, Gaston’s sidekick, is also more developed and nuanced than in the animation, I believe.

I do wish they could have done one more thing, though, and that’s give the Beast an actual name. Oh well, can’t have everything.

Mid-Winter 2017 Anime Ranking

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu Sukeroku Futatabi-hen 05
01. Descending Stories: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (Sukeroku Futatabi-hen) (ep. 1-10) – It may have seemed like an unwanted burden to raise someone else’s child, and Yakumo may have wondered what he was thinking when he took Yotaro in on a whim, but without them, he would have nothing now, nothing but rakugo and his personal demons.

Other than Konatsu and Shinnosuke, none of the members of their family unit are blood-related. Konatsu and Yotaro’s marriage appears to be platonic even. Yet the affection, loyalty, and respect they all feel for each other is obvious. To Yakumo’s chagrin, it’s this family that keeps him tethered to this earth; and even if he thinks he’s ready, it won’t be easy to take rakugo to the grave with him in a lovers’ suicide. (At least that’s what I wrote last week. Some of that is brought to the forefront in the emotionally rewarding ep. 10.)

It’s a rare treat to see this kind of grown-up anime. The characters are realistic and have so much personality. I continue to be blown away by Ishida Akira’s performance in the lead role, too. He is voicing Bon/Kikuhiko/Yakumo as an aging master now, one whose body is failing, and who still performs rakugo. Just wow.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

GUNDAM IBO 40
02. Mobile Suit GUNDAM: IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS (Tekketsu no Orphans) (ep. 39-45) – After the unfair attack on Turbines, Tekkadan had ample reason to fight back in retaliation. No, there didn’t need to be an additional loss of life to spur them to action. However, I really liked that Orga intended to honour the wishes of his lost friend and take the high road. It took the secondary attack to prove that Jasley was not about to take no for an answer and that a battle was unavoidable after all.

Rarely have I ever had it in for a character as I do for Iok Kujan. This guy needs to die. I even blame Julieta for saving his life last cour. She should have allowed that stupidity to be nipped in the bud. Look how many good people have gone to their deaths because he lived!

So, Tekkadan basically have no choice now but to go all in with that snake McGillis. The death flags are all but smacking us in the face. It’s depressing, and I hope I’m wrong, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we have a huge Shakespearean tragedy in the works.
(streaming at DAISUKI and Crunchyroll)

ACCA 05
03. ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept (13-ku Kansatsu-ka) (ep. 1-9) – In this stylish, but rather simplistic-looking anime, major revelations are treated with the same gravitas as casual discussions about food.

Considerable intrigue is swirling around beneath the surface. A lot of higher-ups have the idea that someone is planning a coup against the kingdom, and that our main character Jean is involved. He doesn’t seem to think so, but whatever. After all, there are more pressing matters, such as how to find the best place to buy the local specialty dessert for his little sister. Truly a unique show.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Masamune-kun no Revenge 04
04. Masamune-kun’s Revenge (Masamune-kun no Revenge) (ep. 1-10) – Teenager changes his name, pretties himself up, and schemes to get revenge on the childhood crush who rejected him years ago.

This could have been pretty dark and ugly, since it’s based on such a mean-spirited premise. However, Makabe is actually a friendly and reasonable guy, apart from his vendetta. And, he’s worked hard to become the good-looking specimen he now is.

I really like the way the music is utitlized in this show. It is intentionally just a little bit more exaggerated than you would otherwise expect during certain scenes, effectively evoking ominousnous or drama – and humour, since the disconnect is noticeable.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

yowamushi pedal new generation 08
05. Yowamushi Pedal: NEW GENERATION (ep. 1-9) – It’s a new year, and the senior members of Sohoku Cycling Club are passing the torch. The next generation faces the pressure of defending the school’s standing as the current reigning champion after winning the last Inter-High.

So glad it’s looking like underdog Sugimoto is going to get some development. Yeah, he’s not as good as his teammates and he’s arrogant beyond his abilities (probably to hide his insecurities), but he seems to have good intentions, so it wasn’t nice to see him treated as the show’s running joke.

On the Hakone Gakuen side, I didn’t really pay any attention to Kuroda before. I like him; he’s a riot. I hope to see more of him messing with new guy Ashikiba, whose confidence combined with cluelessness is pretty funny too.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Fuuka 08
06. Fuuka (ep. 1-10) – I definitely had some reservations going into Fuuka, as romance stories aimed at male audiences frequently have elements that bother me, such as violently tsundere heroines, extreme milquetoast protagonists, and tacky fanservice.

The first episode seemed to feed into that stereotype; it had its panty flashes and the main guy got assaulted for no reason. Thereafter, though, the anime seemed to break out of the mold. Fuuka acknowledged that her behaviour was inappropriate, which in turn made her friendship with Yuu believable.

I like that they are taking the band practice stuff very seriously, even if their rate of progress would be considered miraculous. The earlier coincidences in the show were also pretty laughable – let’s just get that out of the way.

I totally don’t mind the direction they’ve taken with the romance; but I am concerned about where they might be going from here, as the show’s namesake is surprisingly not currently part of that equation.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

07. Marginal#4 Kiss kara Tsukuru Big Bang (ep. 1-9) – This season’s idol group / high school anime is pretty stupid. Thankfully, there is usually a touch of something twisted or unexpected, either in the boys’ personalities or their behaviour, or in the events themselves. It goes a long way toward keeping the show from feeling generic.

I probably laugh out loud at least once every episode, including every time the dense redhead brings up his lucky underpants.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

08. ONIHEI (ep. 1-9) – Episodic tales about Hasegawa Heizou, a legendary fictional law enforcement officer feared as a demon by criminals. Some of the stories are lighthearted, while others can be pretty dark and dramatic. Often, they follow a fairly predictable course.

More and more we are seeing that Heizou is not entirely the monster that is his reputation. He has a gentler side to his personality too, and a sense of humour.

Crime stories aside, it’s a treat to see the lovely historical scenery and costumes in this late Edo period-setting anime.

Gabriel DropOut
09. Gabriel DropOut (ep. 1-9) – Once an honour-student angel, Gabriel succumbed to earthly temptations during her placement in the world of humans. She’s now become an unmotivated slacker and online gaming addict. You know I find these types insufferable, so it’s a good thing there are 3 other girls to round out the main cast.

The one who frequently steals the show is Satania, a demon (obviously) who serves the Demon Lord. She’s so harmless, though, that everyone thinks she just has chuunibyou. Try as she might, she’ll never be Gabriel’s equal in depravity.

Gabriel DropOut is reasonably funny and enjoyable, but like most shows that are not part of my Top 3 this season, I think I might forget to watch it if it wasn’t on a viewing list.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

10. ALL OUT!! (ep. 13-21) – While I’m still not terribly invested in the characters, ALL OUT!! is shaping up to be a decent sports drama at least.

The soundtrack, by Naruto Shippuden composer Takanashi Yasuharu, continues to impress. At times I have hit rewind, not to re-watch the game play, but to hear the music again!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

11. KONOSUBA –God’s Blessing on this wonderful world! 2 (Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2) (ep. 1-9) – I got a few laughs out of the earlier episodes, when the group was facing off against the slimy toad-creatures and when Darkness made her return. In general, I don’t feel like I’m enjoying KONOSUBA! 2 as much as other viewers are. It just isn’t super funny to me. The current arc, which takes place in a town populated by aggressive proselytizers, is even kind of tedious.

The artwork continues to be hit on some episodes and miss on others. Apparently it’s not even a budget or timing thing. One of the directors really just doesn’t give a damn whether the characters appear on-model or not!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

12. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon) (ep. 1-9) – KyoAni’s latest series is an innocuous little comedy about an office lady who gets involved with fantastical (and yet rather mundane) creatures after inviting a dragon to live with her. The animation is good and the production is smooth and competent overall.

Personally, I find the slice-of-life stuff to be played a bit too straight for my liking. I wouldn’t say the show is unfunny, exactly, but both my sister and I can easily sit through entire episodes completely straight-faced. Even though they’re cute and sweet, the characters just don’t charm me the way it seems they’re supposed to.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

blue exorcist kyoto saga
13. Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga (Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen) (ep. 1-10) – I was looking forward to the return of Blue Exorcist since I remember enjoying the 2011 series quite a bit; but unfortunately, I haven’t been able to really engage with this sequel. Part of the problem is that it’s been so long since the first anime that I’ve forgotten a lot of the details. And also, the last chunk of that series was anime-original material that we have to pretend doesn’t exist now, so that doesn’t help either.

It’s taken until ep. 8 to get me a little interested in the show. Finally, we are seeing some humorous interactions between the crew, mostly thanks to Suguro and Rin talking to each other again. I still wish Rin and Yukio would have some better scenes together, though.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

14. Scum’s Wish (Kuzu no Honkai) (ep. 1-8) – An uncomfortable tale of two teenagers in the midst of unrequited love for someone unattainable who find solace in each other’s company. The anime attempts to explore the dark side of romantic and sexual relations, and obsessive love.

Honestly, it’s a bit of a challenging watch. It’s supposed to be edgy and deep, but virtually every character is selfish and unlikeable. I personally can’t relate to any of them. I especially can’t get over the openly promiscuous teacher; how does she carry on like that without fear of nasty rumours and job loss?

15. NANBAKA (ep. 14-23) – It seems like we’ve been stuck inside dreary Building No.5 for a long, long time. What happened to all the sparkles? It’s true that there’s an actual plot now, but I don’t really care about these side characters. I’d prefer to see more focus on our main quartet of prisoners. And Hajime. Needs more Hajime.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Also watching 3 seriously cute but twisted shorts:

Koro-sensei-Quest-02
KORO SENSEI QUEST (ep. 1-12) – Assassination Classroom re-imagined as a chibi fantasy game narrative featuring Koro-sensei as the Big Bad.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

nobunaga no shinobi 18
Ninja Girl & Samurai Master (Nobunaga no Shinobi) (ep. 14-23) – The history of Oda Nobunaga re-imagined as a chibi gag comedy continues from last season.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Chiruran nibun no ichi
Chiruran 1/2 (Chiruran: Nibun no Ichi) (ep. 1-9) – Shinsengumi-themed Chiruran re-imagined as a chibi slice-of-life comedy, except there hasn’t even been a Chiruran anime yet! I hope this means we’ll get a proper adaptation in the future. I’d like to see it happen.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

LOGAN

Logan2

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

The acting was good, the story was believable, the action was slick, and the violence was suitably graphic. The overall experience, though, was kind of a downer.

I suppose that was to be expected; the promotional material made it clear Logan’s abilities were fading and Charles was losing control over his body and mind. But it’s really depressing to see your heroes stuck in such a miserable existence and being so vulnerable. Logan actually took a bullet for his car in the opening scene, and it was completely without irony since he seriously needed that car to make a living.

It’s definitely a well-made and thoughtful film, but I guess I have a personal bias toward badassery in my superhero movies. LOGAN left me feeling sad.

THE WOLVERINE

The Wolverine 2013

2 stars (out of 4)

Released 2013

It’s Wolverine week in the Jacquie household!

So yes, I had purchased this second Wolverine DVD as well, and despite my good intentions, and the fact that it takes place in Japan, and the positive reviews, I didn’t watch this one either until now.

I’m really surprised that this was the better received film! It didn’t even seem like much of an X-Men story, there were so few mutants in it! Well, if you’re not really into superheroes and would prefer to see swordfights instead, this might be more widely accessible, maybe.

In the earlier Wolverine film, all of the action scenes were very relevant to the plot. Here, they played out more like an excuse to present a travelogue of uniquely (and rather stereotypically) Japanese imagery.

Almost as if the story had to have a reason to be set in Japan, it included scenes of samurai swordfights, black-clad ninja, love hotels, pachinko parlours, and more. I tried to be open-minded, but I couldn’t help thinking it was a bit much. Logan even fights a mobile suit, for Christ’s sake!

At least Godzilla was nowhere to be seen.

I suppose the train fight was impressively ambitious. I’ve seen many train-roof battles before; but granted, never one unfolding at 300km/hr atop a Shinkansen. Only problem was, I couldn’t buy that the bad guys were actually scheming anything in that situation. When you’re clinging to an object moving at that kind of speed, I would imagine your one and only priority would be to just stay alive.

All the attempts at humour fell pretty flat.

In order to care about the heroine, Mariko, I needed to see some development in the relationship with her adopted sister, or her father, or her boyfriend – pretty much anything but what we got. Her relationship with Logan was both unnecessary and uninteresting.

Ultimately, I could have forgiven some of that tropey stuff, especially if it pleased the intended audience, if it were not for the paper-thin, unconvincing plot. That, I could not overlook.

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE

X-Men Origins Wolverine

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2009

It was probably around the time when this film came out that I started to have less inclination to go to the movies. There might have been some superhero-movie fatigue too. Add to that the tepid reviews and the fact that I had already read various Wolverine origins stories before in comic book form, and the result was I never bothered to go out and see this.

Some years ago, I purchased the DVD because it was on sale; and even then I didn’t actually watch it. Until now. What the heck – it’s really good!

Perhaps it isn’t as metaphorical or philosophical as something on the level of First Class, but as a coherent, plot-driven action film and character study, it gets the job done in a riveting and entertaining way. While the events are mostly serious, there are segments of comic relief, and they work really well.

The only questionable aspect I can think of is a strange driving sequence which looks really fake, almost as if they were trying to emulate the way films used to look during the time period of that scene. Why they would do that, I don’t know. The rest of the film looks pretty great.

Well also, could hydrochlorothiazide do what they suggested? I kind of doubt it, but then again, the “patient” is not exactly a normal human being either.

Anyway, I enjoyed ORIGINS a lot. Hugh Jackman was excellent as Logan/Wolverine, as he always is. I love him in this role!

Jacquie’s 2016 Year in Review – Music

BEST FULL-LENGTH ALBUM:

lynch. AVANTGARDEA-PHOTO-RED-FIX
AVANTGARDE, by lynch. – When it comes to lynch. albums of the past few years, it seems like it’s every other release that meets with my approval. Sure enough, after my disappointment at 2015’s D.A.R.K. -In the name of evil-, AVANTGARDE continued the pattern and earned a wholehearted thumbs up from me.

Let me first go back to D.A.R.K. -In the name of evil- and try to explain what I thought was lacking about that album. Some of the songs were just not to my taste, which happens. But even the ones I tended to like didn’t go in the direction that I wanted them to. For example, several of them started off well and sounded good, but at some point I felt the music needed to evolve, and instead, the melodies just repeated.

Happily, I can report that I had no such issues with the tracks on AVANTGARDE. While it still might not be up to the standard set by GALLOWS (2014), I enjoy listening to AVANTGARDE all the way through without wanting to skip anything. PLEDGE and UNELMA are standout tracks.

My favourite, though, is PHANTOM, which is gorgeously melodic and comes complete with some beautiful guitar solos. Heavy metal ballad-style songs such as this are one of the reasons I’m so glad I have Japanese hard rock bands like lynch. to listen to.
(Available on iTunes internationally)

BEST MINI-ALBUM:

UROBOROS - ZODIAC
ZODIAC, by UROBOROS – This sophomore release from Kamiki Aya and Kurose Keisuke’s band further showcased their gothic-flavoured hard rock sound.

Favourite tracks: Infection and Lunar Eclipse
(Available on iTunes internationally)

BEST SINGLES (A-sides & B-sides) in order of release date:

GALAXY STANDARD - BE MY STEADY
Be My Steady, by GALAXY STANDARD (Be My Steady, RUSH, You’re My Courage)
GALAXY STANDARD is the idol-group incarnation of the Saisei Stride Club from the PRINCE OF STRIDE: ALTERNATIVE anime. The singing is performed by the members’ voice actors, namely: Miyano Mamoru, Toyonaga Toshiyuki, Hirakawa Daisuke, Eguchi Takuya, Suzuki Tatsuhisa, and Ono Yuuki.

All 3 of these tracks, composed by R・O・N, made my Top 20 Anime Songs list for 2016.

GazettE - UNDYING
UNDYING, by the GazettE (UNDYING, MALUM, VACANT)
The third and final audio release of the GazettE’s PROJECT: DARK AGE, which also included a world tour that brought them to 4 continents across the globe. As an avid concertgoer and a fan of Japanese music, I end up doing a lot of travelling in order to see my favourite artists perform live. Excitingly, the GazettE came right to my neck of the woods and I got to experience them live in Toronto on the day of this single’s release, definitely one of the highlights of my 2016.

The title track seems to make some lyrical references back to the first single, OMINOUS, from DOGMA, which makes sense. I really love the part where RUKI sings “God, entomb my hate.”

Favourite track: VACANT.
(Available on iTunes internationally)

coldrain VENA II
VENA CHAPTER : II, by coldrain (Born to Bleed, Undertow, Gone (Acoustic), The Story (Acoustic))
The new recording of Gone is now, to me, the definitive version of the song. The vocals, instrumentation, and slower tempo are absolutely perfect. Now when I hear the original version, it actually seems too fast.

Favourite tracks: Undertow and Gone (Acoustic).
(Available on iTunes internationally as part of VENA II, a re-release of VENA (2015) which includes these 4 new tracks.)

VAMPS - INSIDE-OF-ME
INSIDE OF ME, by VAMPS (INSIDE OF ME (feat. Chris Motionless), RISE OR DIE (feat. Richard Z. Kruspe))
I was really excited for this single after seeing the advance PV for INSIDE OF ME. The month-long delay between the Japanese release and the international release date felt like forever.

The tracks, which are both excellent, are the result of VAMPS’s collaboration with western talent, including American producer Howard Benson.
(Available on iTunes internationally)

scribble and beyond cover
Scribble, and Beyond, by OLDCODEX (Scribble, and Beyond, Calling, The Experience)
This single collects the main themes from the two Kuroko’s Basketball compilation movies, along with a coupling song, Calling.

Favourite track: Calling. This is another one of those OLDCODEX songs that I think might sound complete and amazing as just an instrumental. Ta_2’s sexy low range vocals are the icing on the cake. Yum.

Other Notable Tracks:


TAKING OFF, by ONE OK ROCK – One of my favourite recordings by ONE OK ROCK in recent memory. Some fans complained that it was too much of a departure from their usual sound. I would argue that ONE OK ROCK actually have a pretty wide range stylistically, to the point that I only consider myself a casual fan of their work. They have certainly made darker-sounding rock songs before.

Even though I don’t necessarily relate to the message of the song (addiction), I do appreciate that the lyrics are really well-written. But can you imagine us boarding our overseas flight last fall with this song playing in our heads? “We’re taking off together / even though we always crash and burn / tonight you and I will fall from the sky” is kind of inappropriate and unsettling, to say the least! I wonder how many other ONE OK ROCK fans have had this very same experience? Great song, though.
(Available on iTunes internationally)


Deal with, by OLDCODEX – It’s the second year in a row that I have chosen a super-heavy theme song created by OLDCODEX, one that was used in a relatively obscure anime that got no other mention in my review post, as my number one anime song of the year. (For 2015, it was physical from Q-Transformers.) Deal with, which served as the rather jaw-droppingly heavy OP of SERVAMP, features an excellent balance of screamy death vocals and a catchy melodic chorus; the accompanying music is dark and intense but it is also offset by a couple of quieter guitar interludes. I love complicated songs like this!

For the complete list of my Top 20 Anime Songs of 2016, please see the “Year in Review – Anime” post.