3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2011 (in Japan)

This newest offering from Studio Ghibli is currently playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.  I went to see it with a group of friends, one of whom had originally watched the film when it aired at the TIFFestival last September and was now seeing it for the third time!  We had the choice of watching the film with the English dub, but we elected to go with a Japanese-with-subtitles screening.

The story itself, which takes place in the 1960s, is actually quite simple and consists of two plots.  In the one, the students at a Yokohama high school are working to save their clubhouse from demolition; and the other is about the budding romance between the main girl and boy, Umi and Shun.  Unlike previous Ghibli films, which have tended toward fantasy and whimsy, FROM UP ON POPPY HILL is refreshingly more grounded in reality.

The clubhouse is a grand old building which has fallen into disrepair over the years.  Never have I thought that removing dirt and clutter and fixing up a place could look so fun.  The movie certainly succeeds at showing the wonder and rewards of teamwork.

Umi’s relationship with Shun, developing over the course of their shared activities in helping with the clubhouse, is presented in an unhurried and very believable manner.

At one point, the narrative ventures into somewhat risqué territory.  The consensus among my friends (all adults) was that it didn’t go far enough in that direction.  However, keeping in mind that this is intended to be a family film, I thought the relatively safe conclusion was both appropriate and sufficiently satisfying.  And you know?  I wouldn’t mind seeing the movie again sometime.

Edit (April 12):  Please also read Bini’s comment!
Edit 2: Sadly, all comments have been lost as collateral damage during the great spam purge of Feb 2015.

The Impossible

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2012

The harrowing true tale of the survival of one family caught in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, this film goes beyond the typical disaster movie by posing interesting questions about the meaning of courage.  There were some really inspired moments in this film, just not enough of them to vault beyond 3 stars.

Mid-Winter 2013 Anime Ranking

It’s late enough in the season that I considered doing a season-end post instead.  I decided against it, since unfortunately, endings are frequently disappointing and don’t necessarily reflect my feelings about the show during its run.  Also, a number of shows will be continuing and it’s a bit easier to compare impressions of ongoing programs.

01.  PSYCHO-PASS (ep. 12-20) – I’ve written about PSYCHO-PASS before, so obviously I’ve been enjoying it from the start.  However, even through the often shocking, disturbing events in the first half, I felt a certain disconnect with the show.  It wasn’t until the horrifying development in episode 11 that it really grabbed me in the gut.

I don’t think PSYCHO-PASS has budged from the top of my list since its return this season.  Although the ideas it presents may not be entirely original, the execution has been very effective.  Now, the true nature of the Sibyl System has been revealed; and Kougami is walking a path apart from the MWPSB, as foretold in the current OP.  Only 2 more episodes remain!

I have mixed feelings when it comes to Makishima.  On the one hand, I love how complex he is; on the other, it often happens in anime that when the villain becomes a sympathetic character, his previous crimes get swept under the rug, and I hope that doesn’t happen here.  A couple of recent examples of bad-guy-turns-good that come to mind are Aki in “Kamisama Dolls” and Hitomi in “CODE:BREAKER”.  I remember being bothered by those shows’ failure to address the issue; albeit both series were pretty shallow compared to PSYCHO-PASS.

I’ll admit I have been rooting for Makishima – in the fight against the chief, and also when his associates turned on him at the end of episode 14, but it always felt wrong.  I have not forgotten about the heinous crimes he’s committed, even if he’s now playing the hero against a corrupt system.  I do have reasonable hopes, though, that a show of this calibre might just be able to handle the situation with appropriate delicacy.
(streaming at Funimation)

02.  Chihayafuru 2 (ep. 1-9) – After the introduction of the new members, it’s mostly been about gameplay.  Otherwise, we’ve seen plenty of character development for the new kids, but less for the core cast so far.  Probably because of that, I don’t feel as hooked on the show now as I did the first series.  Regardless, Chihayafuru continues to be solid: funny, exciting, and endearing.  And now at long last, Arata is back!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

03.  Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) (ep. 14-22) – Although the actual settings and characters are very different, both Shin Sekai Yori and PSYCHO-PASS involve a future society that ostensibly achieves peace through the restriction or removal of individual freedom.  At this point in both series, the dystopian societies are coming under attack from outside.  That is, our protagonists are mostly on the side of status quo, while the villains are the challengers.  Increasingly, it’s hard to tell who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong.  Shin Sekai Yori has lost some of its lustre for me due to the current focus on the Monster Rat attacks.  I enjoyed it a bit more when the spotlight was on Saki and her group.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

04.  Space Brothers (ep.39-48) – This was trending higher in my ranking in January during the Hibito-on-the-moon arc.  While those episodes didn’t have the usual amount of humour, the storytelling was gripping and it gave the feeling of watching a NASA-themed Hollywood movie.  Now that we’re back down to earth with Mutta and his training, Space Brothers continues to be entertaining, but at a less lofty level.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

05.  MAGI (ep. 12-21) – I was impressed with Alibaba’s display of political wisdom during the Balbadd arc at the start of the season.  The fights that followed didn’t really hold my attention, though.  Recent episodes involving Sinbad have upped the humour content, and I am actually surprised at how funny the current Zagan-dungeon-capturing arc is proving to be, thanks in no small part to Hakuryuu, of all people!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

06.  THE UNLIMITED (ep. 1-9) – I’m enjoying THE UNLIMITED, and I like the characters well enough, but somehow I don’t feel invested in it the way I do the returning programs.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

07.  Blast of Tempest (ep. 13-21) – Now that the identity of Aika’s boyfriend has been revealed, and the mystery of her murder is seemingly solved, the main outstanding issues have been addressed.  All that’s left is to figure out how to save the world.  Theatre of the absurd at its finest!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

08.  Tamako Market (ep, 1-9) – Cute and sweet and appropriately inoffensive, but there’s not much substance here.

09.  IXION SAGA DT (ep. 13-22) – This show.  Just when I think it’s getting tedious, it reveals that the feeling is completely intentional.  Anyway, I’m glad the marriage rituals are over, and that Kon didn’t really have to stand in for the princess on her wedding night!  Looking forward to Erec-sama playing a bigger role in the current arc.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

10.  JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (ep. 9-21) – It took a while for me to get caught up on JoJo, since I didn’t enjoy the first season all that much.  But then they went and killed off the main characters in episode 9, and it’s been so much better ever since!  Episode 20 featured some of the best fight sequences in the series so far.  The death scene was fairly moving too, although I don’t think it affected me as much as it did most viewers (yes, I’m really that cold.)

11.  Hakkenden (ep. 1-8) – I think I’m glad I made it past the first episode, since that was the lowest point so far.  Still, I’m not really sure what to make of the show as a whole.  Hakkenden does manage to be amusing in unexpected ways sometimes.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

12.  AMNESIA (ep. 1-9) – Wow.  This heroine gives new meaning to “personality-less”.  Even if she appears blank to the other characters because of her memory loss, at least we, the audience, should see some wheels turning in her head as she tries to figure out what’s going on; but sadly, no.  This girl has so little energy, I wondered if the writers had confused “anemia” with “amnesia”.  (I laughed when the doctor actually suggested anemia as a diagnosis in episode 8!)  That said, the anime continues to provide entertainment value from the colourful outfits and vague mysteriousness.  Plus, we can make constant disparaging remarks while watching, which is fun.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

13.  Senyu. (ep. 1-9) – Unfortunately, each episode is only about 3 minutes long.  If there were more content, this might have rated higher, because, of the 2 demonXhuman-relations anime that I’m following (see MAOYU at the bottom of the list), I’m liking this one a lot better!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

14.  Love Live! School idol project (ep. 1-9) – Initially, Honoka’s sheer enthusiasm in forming an idol group to represent/save her school was fun to watch.  Now, the anime is just kind of boring.  It is neither as sweet nor as charming as Tamako Market, and I can’t even say it’s completely inoffensive.  What’s with that student council vice prez?  She seems like a wise and thoughtful person most of the time, but her boob-grabbing antics are certainly not being appreciated by her victim.  That looks like assault; and it’s not even remotely funny, so why…?
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

15.  MAOYU (ep. 1-9) – First of all, economics-themed anime and me are a bad combination.  I already knew this from my experience with “Spice and Wolf”.  Anyway, I think MAOYU dwells on economics and agriculture too much.  I would prefer to see more quality action scenes and more detailed explanations of their war strategies.  Also, the romance between demon-queen Mao and human-hero Yuusha is too cutesy and forced.  The way I see it, their relationship is more like a marriage of convenience than a whirlwind love affair, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  I could have appreciated seeing their efforts at making the relationship work, at finding common ground despite different upbringings.  Instead, when they’re together, Mao behaves like an insecure schoolgirl and Yuusha is like a clueless milquetoast harem lead.  Disappointing.

Alright, I have to make an exception for the latest episode.  In episode 9, our main characters were relegated to the sidelines while the elder sister maid took center stage, and it was by far the best MAOYU offering to date.  No eyeroll-inducing romance, no fanservice.  If Meido Ane had followed the plan and waited for Yuusha to rescue her, she might have been beaten to death first, so she saved herself!  With words.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2013

I had heard that this film was about man-eating giants and I wondered how it could be rated PG.  Well, it turns out it is pretty light and not very frightening at all.

I think I wanted it to be a little darker.  Because the giants had a penchant for capturing their prey and then properly preparing them before consuming, they just weren’t that scary.  I’m not complaining about the lack of gore, mind you – only one unfortunate expendable character was eaten, off-screen, and that’s fine.

As far as the romance goes, it was passable, but not terribly convincing.  It was apparent that Jack and Isabelle had some things in common, but they didn’t seem to have much personality individually and they definitely didn’t have a chance to develop any chemistry together.  Also, the contrivance of their first meetings relied on unnecessary coincidence, which seemed lazy.

The human villains were pretty stereotypical.  There was some subtlety in the relationship between the two-headed giant General Fallon and his subordinate Fumm, though, which I appreciated.

Most of the one-liners were groan-worthy or fell flat completely.  That sounds really bad, but it could have been worse.  At least the attempts at humour were not actively unfunny or offensive.  High praise, I know!

I complain a lot, but the movie wasn’t actually bad.  As a fantasy-action-adventure, it was generally entertaining and fun.  I smiled the most at the early scenes, presented in animation, recounting the ancient war between humans and giants, and at the breathtaking scenery images in the human and giant realms.