2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2013 (Toronto International Film Festival)

A young man enters the subconscious mind of his comatose lover through a procedure called “sensing”. His purpose is to discover why she tried to commit suicide and to find a way to wake her up. But things are not exactly what they seem; and when he starts to experience hallucinatory side effects, it becomes hard to differentiate the real from the not real.

The movie was a bit more frightening than I expected. Frequent imagery involving mirrors, glass and shadows created an eerie, unsettling atmosphere. And some of the visions were quite disturbing.

It was probably a bit longer than it needed to be, too, such that there was plenty of time to see one particular plot twist coming. Also, there were quite a few red herrings, such as characters who acted suspiciously for no reason. Other than that, the various little mysteries did get resolved; but ultimately, I felt those subplots failed to properly tie in with the overall coma storyline.

Mid-Summer 2013 Anime Ranking

I’ve been working on this post for the past few weeks, in preparation of going on vacation. Unfortunately, I expect to fall behind on my watch list while I’m away.

Anyway, here’s the current ranking, including a more extended look at BROTHERS CONFLICT. In retrospect, I should have maybe made it into a separate entry. Oh well.

01. Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) (ep. 14-21) – There are only a few episodes remaining, so it is a bit worrisome that Shingeki seems to be taking its time with the storytelling. Regardless though, every episode has been satisfying nonetheless. There’s always some reveal or intrigue or character development, and I’m left amazed at how good the show is, even while wondering when we’ll actually get some answers to the questions at the heart of the story.

Just to add a word about the latest episode: It was so intense, I was on edge and filled with dread throughout the whole thing. Seriously, it’s important not to get too attached to these characters! On the plus side, Mikasa’s back. And she and Levi are finally on the same page!
(streaming at Crunchyroll and Funimation)

02. Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club (ep. 1-9) – Obviously a fanservice show for girls, but it’s also a school-setting sports anime. The comedy is right on target and it is just really fun to watch. The characters all have well-developed personalities, making their interactions amusing and convincing. The animation is beautiful. The OP and ED themes are catchy. Sure, the guys are easy on the eyes, but that’s just the icing on the cake here.

As an aside, I hope Samezuka captain Mikoshiba gets a chance with Kou. Normally, he’s authoritative and rather intimidating, but it’s so cute how he totally softens up when he’s with her. It’ll probably never happen though, since Kou hasn’t shown any interest and this show isn’t about him! But at the very least, it’s a testament to the amount of love and detail that went into the writing when even a minor character like Mikoshiba has multiple facets to his personality.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

03. The Eccentric Family (uchouten-kazoku) (ep. 1-9) – The only series I’m watching this season that has animation more stunning than Free!. In lesser shows, they just flash some fanservice during dialogue-heavy scenes and call it a day. In this one, the characters are constantly moving – and fluidly; even if it’s a dialogue scene, they’ll be eating something or tidying up the room while talking.

The anime is strongest when it focuses on Yasaburou, his brothers, and their mother. They have complex personalities and the family dynamic is engaging. Yasaburou and his youngest brother are also incredibly cute. Eccentric Family is full of dark humour, delivered deadpan. Not entirely sure where they’re going with this story-wise, but right now the journey is entertaining enough that I’m not concerned about the destination.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

04. Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince (ep. 13-21) – Another show that shines because of its really well-defined characters. Majestic Prince continues to deliver ironic truths along with gentle humour. We’re in the home stretch now and the battle against the Walguru is heating up. Meanwhile, revelations about the team’s origins are coming to light.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

05. Servant x Service (ep. 1-9) – Some episodes are really funny and creative, while others are less inspired and sometimes annoying. Charming slacker Hasebe is really great and steals every scene he’s in. His sister too – she’s the only person who can one-up him and I’d like to see more of her. Ichimiya’s sister Toko, on the other hand, is responsible for all the “annoying” and the show would be better without her, in my opinion.

Recent episodes have put the spotlight on Hasebe and his relationship with Lucy, and that’s definitely a step in the right direction.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

06. Space Battleship Yamato 2199 (Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199) (ep. 13-22) – The Yamato crew continues on its quest to save the Earth. Meanwhile, we’re seeing more of the workings of the enemy Garmillians. It’s interesting that the Earthlings actually come off as a pretty homogenous bunch, while it’s the Garmillans who have more complex issues involving politics, race struggles, and discrimination.

07. BROTHERS CONFLICT (ep. 1-9) – A teenage girl moves in with 12 of her 13 new step-brothers after her father remarries. It’s a pseudo-incest/reverse-harem anime and just hearing the premise was enough to make me groan and roll my eyes. However, since I am such an open-minded person, and because reverse harem shows can be fun for whatever reason, I checked this out anyway.

The animation is minimal and low-budget, but the guys’ personalities and appearances are relatively fleshed out and distinguishable, and not quite as stereotypical as they could have been. The main girl, Ema, is the blandest character – though after AMNESIA, this heroine seems positively perky.

I think it’s certainly possible that these boys, getting to know their new “sister” and spending considerable time together, could start to feel affection for her, which could be confused for romantic attraction. Realistically though, even a teenager, never mind a 20-something, would know to tread carefully in such a situation, wouldn’t they? I mean, this is a girl who’s going to be part of the family. If things go wrong, there could be a lifetime of hard feelings and awkwardness in store.

Therefore, going in, I expected that the romance would mostly be a tease. Usually these shows tend to invite the audience to ship various characters together, often without overtly promoting a pairing or having characters seriously confess their love.

This show goes there! Several of the brothers have already made their intentions clear; one has (laughably) practically proposed marriage! There has started to be some nastiness between them. Ema has not shown any particular preference for the boys, but she has not clearly rebuffed them either. All I can think is that she’s going to tear this family apart. How can this possibly end well?
(streaming at Funimation)

08. Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East S2 (ep. 14-21) – This anime, about a bunch of guys named Inu-something, resumes after a 3-month break and it continues to be a consistent and nice looking show, but it’s still not clear to me what the point of it is. Regardless, when it tries to be funny, it is surprisingly effective, so it remains an entertaining watch most of the time.

I think the senseless mass murders in ep. 20 was a bit of a misstep, though. It did not fit with the usual lighter tone of the series. It’s true there have been dark turns in the past, but the violence here was particularly unnecessary and inconsequential.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

09. Blood Lad (ep. 1-9) – Blood Lad had a promising beginning, but quickly started to lose me in the following episodes. It’s been picking up again, and it certainly does have its funny moments, so I’m glad I didn’t give up on it.
The main girls are the weak point for me. Bell seems to be a popular character, but she doesn’t do anything for me at all. And Fuyumi is, by nature, nothing more than a fanservice blob.
The guys fare better: Otaku vampire lead Staz is frequently amusing, and I’m liking Wolf as well. I also hope to see more of Staz’s relationship with his brother.

Wait, there’s only one episode left? How are they going to wrap things up so quickly?

10. WATAMOTE-No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! (Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui!) (ep. 1-8) – I think Tomoko is cute and she is depicted in a realistic, if rather brutal, way. I feel sorry for her as a social outcast at school. However, I can’t sympathize with the terrible way she treats her brother. There is some humour in this uncommon anime, and also a lot of painful, ugly truth. WATAMOTE is very well written, but it can be pretty uncomfortable to watch.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

11. Genshiken Second Generation (ep. 1-9) – Not having seen more than a couple of episodes from the earlier seasons of Genshiken, I do feel a bit lost sometimes when past characters show up or they reference some previous event. For some reason, I never got into Genshiken, even though it’s a popular series for otaku.

This season has more emphasis on fujoshi characters and BL, and that part’s been pretty enjoyable so far. Hato, who is shaping up to be the main character of the bunch, is certainly about as unlikely and original a lead as I have ever seen!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

12. Space Brothers (Uchuu Kyoudai) (ep. 65-71) – I wish there was a condensed version of these episodes. The plot has been rather predictable lately and sooo slow-moving. I still believe Space Brothers is a decent show, but the pacing! At the end of that episode where Mutta met his flying instructor, I remember being torn between thinking “It’s already over? Nothing happened!” and “I’m so glad it’s finally over because nothing happened!”
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

13. Sunday Without God (Kami-sama no Inai Nichiyoubi) (ep. 1-9) – While the rules of this (literally) god-forsaken fantasy world are not well established, I think Sunday Without God might be trying to say something about the meaning of life, existentialism, or some such. The show was never exactly riveting to begin with, but at least it was throwing out some potentially thought-provoking ideas. Therefore, I found the sudden shift to a school setting in ep. 7 and 8 to be both jarring and disappointing. The tedious new characters and their uninteresting conversations just bored me.

There are still a few episodes remaining, so I shouldn’t write it off just yet. However, I don’t have much hope at this point that it will come through with any meaningful message by the end.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

14. GATCHAMAN CROWDS (ep. 1-8) – This anime is colourful and inventive. The main character is spunky and I admire how she encourages looking at things from other people’s point of view. So why can’t this show hold my attention?

I guess the wishy-washy world-building is kind of tiresome for me at this point. What I want to see is more development of the characters, and meaningful interactions between them.

Despite her outward airhead appearance, we’re supposed to believe that Hajime knows exactly what she’s doing. But we never get to see the method behind her madness. So while things “happen”, I don’t feel any weight from the possible consequences.

When it comes to stylish, quirky, brightly-coloured anime featuring super-chill protagonists who take everything in stride, I’ll take uchouten-kazoku over CROWDS any day.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

15. Senyuu. S2 (ep. 14-22) – The novelty is rubbing off. And random stuff is just random. For a show with such a short run-time, there are an awful lot of characters; and when you only see them for seconds at a time with a whole week in between, it gets hard to keep them straight. The main character is hardly even in it anymore, though that’s part of the joke too, of course.

Well, it’s still a small commitment time-wise, so I’ll continue watching. But recently, I’ve been putting it off until several episodes are available so I can watch them all at once.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2013

Teenager Clary Fray suddenly discovers she can see things that other people can’t. Subsequently, her mother disappears after their home is attacked. Clary herself is saved by a shadowhunter and falls in with them upon learning that she is also of the half-angel bloodline. The Shadowhunters help her to understand her new powers and, of course, working with them offers the best hope of finding her mother.

Alright, let’s get the film’s main flaw out of the way first: namely, the generally weak, unnatural dialogue. For example, some lines that sounded like they should have been thoughts were spoken aloud instead. My unbunny sister brutally described it as having the feel of a “Canadian film”. (Incidentally, she was not surprised to learn that the movie was partially shot in Toronto, but I digress.) I do give the actors credit, though, for managing to handle the sometimes-clumsy lines just well enough that I didn’t start laughing inappropriately at the wrong times.

The one-liners also weren’t terribly funny, but the attempted humour was light-hearted and inoffensive at least, so I don’t hold it against the movie too much.

In spite of the shortcomings, I still enjoyed the film. The characters were strong and likeable and the storytelling was good. I liked that elements that were introduced earlier came into play logically later on. Additionally, some of the demons were genuinely terrifying.

I confess I also have a certain fondness for dark gothic themes and dark gothic costumes. So if those sorts of things don’t appeal to you, then it’s possible your mileage may vary.


Elysium Poster.jpg

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2013

There are some really interesting ideas presented in this film about a dystopian future – writer/director Neill Blomkamp has again constructed a rich world with multiple facets for exploring – but he seems to have left many details unexplained, such that each character’s motivations/fears/expectations are confusingly vague. It’s impossible to feel any suspense when it is unclear what any given character thinks is likely to happen vs. what he hopes will happen.

A Separation

A Separation.jpg

3.25 stars (out of 4)

Released 2011

The interesting thing about this Oscar winner (for Best Foreign Language Film) is that it  draws the viewer into the lives of several interlinked people who end up at odds with each other, but manages to keep of all of the characters relatable and fundamentally decent.

The acting is so natural that it feels like a documentary.  I don’t usually like a lot of handheld camera, but in this case it helps with the realism and also, as the camera navigates the tight corridors of the apartment where most of the action takes place, gives a sense of the claustrophobia of these people trying to get along together in tight quarters and difficult circumstances.

There is also an interesting depiction of how family/civil court operates in Iran.  I’m not sure how realistic it is, but it inadvertently shows why, in the west, we have chosen a much stricter standard for admissible evidence even though it comes at considerably higher court costs.

The only thing keeping this film from a 3.5 star rating is that the early sections establishing the household’s routines go on too long.


3.25 stars (out of 4)

Released 2013

(Mild spoilers ahead)

This post-apocalyptic sci-fi entry, featuring Tom Cruise, has been criticized for its derivative themes.  It does have some striking similarities to other sci-fi films (esp. Moon, starring Sam Rockwell) but rearranges those borrowed themes into a new and well-told story, akin to The Matrix‘s debt to Dark City.  I think, in general, that science fiction is held to a higher (and unfair) standard for creativity than other genres.  Yes, it’s another film about clones, but you don’t hear other films being dismissed in the same way for being yet another drama about a dysfunctional family, or yet another suspense featuring a double-cross.

The big budget was put to good use in the design and execution of the vehicles and other machines.  It’s a good-looking movie.  The story was thoughtfully told, with plot points only being revealed at critical moments, and with loose ends satisfying tied up by the end.