Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thoughts on Bakemono no Ko

(Image from Studio Chizu Facebook page. Used for review purposes only.)

Bakemono no Ko (Studio Chizu, 2015) (AKA: The Boy and the Beast)
Director Mamoru Hosoda used to work at Toei as an animator, then spent a few years at Madhouse before starting up his own studio. He directed Wolf Children (2012), Summer Wars (2009) and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006). I haven't seen any of these films, but they were all heavily hyped at the times of their releases. I think Hosoda has a certain level of popularity in part because Japan as a whole is desperate to find the "Next Hayao Miyazaki", and Hosoda does big, grand set pieces similar to those of Studio Ghibli.

I kind of wanted to see Bakemono when it was in the theaters, but I didn't feel like paying 2,000 yen or so for a ticket. Then, I ended up getting a membership at Tsutaya Books (which I might write up as a Small Adventure by itself) which allows me to rent DVDs fairly cheaply. I was in Tsutaya one day and was kind of being forced to pick up something by someone I know, and I happened to be standing right next to a row of Bakemono no Ko DVD cases, so that's what I settled on.

It doesn't look like this movie has been marketed outside of Japan, but I expect that most fans here either have already seen it, or are familiar with the story. Anyway, the full storyline has been posted in the wiki article (wikipedia complains that the plot section contains WAY too much detail). I'll content myself with a short description here. Ren is a 9-year-old kid living in Tokyo. His parents are divorced and he's been living with his mother. When she dies in an accident, Ren refuses to move in with his legal guardians, and instead runs away to live on the streets. The first thing he does is befriend a mouse-like creature that ends up channeling his mother's spirit. Ren then attracts the attention of one of the Bakemono (which translates to "monster", but is treated to mean "beast), a bear-like guy named Kumatetsu. Kuma (for short) is a loud-mouthed, ill-tempered drunkard. He's also one of the best swordsmen in the Beast World, and has been picked by the Lord of the beast kingdom as one of two possible successors to lead the country when the Lord retires. The other potential successor is the more-refined Iozen. The Lord's replacement will be decided by a major bull ring-style battle, but one of the prerequisites is that both guys need to have students. Iozen has his two sons, but Kuma is unmarried and childless. He picks Ren kind of as a joke, and is surprised when the boy follows him through the path between both worlds and ends up in the Beast world. Ren is angry, headstrong, and full of hate towards the world, and refuses to join Kuma. Initially. The movie is largely about Ren's transition from a rebellious child into a strong, trained teenager. Eventually, he returns to the human world, tracks down his real father, and makes friends with a high school girl that is picked on by bullies. The girl becomes Ren's tutor, and he turns out to be a fast learner as a Japanese school student (but, without the school).

--------- Spoilers --------

Unfortunately, Ren is still prone to nasty mood swings, and this seems to be related to his ability to travel between the two worlds. Turns out that Iozen's older son, Ichirohiko, is also a human that was brought to the Beast world as a baby, and he suffers from the same mood swings, and a bad tendency to succumb to hate. When Kuma defeats Iozen in the bull ring, Ichirohiko attempts to assassinate him by stabbing him in the back. Ren is almost overcome with the same hate, but is saved by his friends. The final battle between Ren and the almost god-like Ichirohiko takes place in Tokyo in the real world. Kuma turns into a sword and ends up filling the hole in Ren's psyche, making him the better fighter. I'll leave the ending hanging here.

--------- End of Spoilers --------

On the whole, Bakemono no Ko (literally, Monster Child) is an impressive movie. It definitely needs to be seen on the big screen, as with any Miyazaki movie. The artwork is great, the character designs are great, the music is great, the voice acting is great, and the animation for the fight scenes is great. The problem is that this is a very talky film, with characters just frozen in place and yapping for several minutes on end each, and Ren's superhuman learning skills are pretty unbelievable. The final battle against Ichirohiko is spectacular, but the finish is just way too neat. All the loose ends are wrapped up and everyone gets happy endings. When all was said and done, I was kind of left scratching my head, asking what the point was. In a way, this movie would have worked well back in the 1950's or 60's, as something that Akira Kurosawa could have made. And I guess that's what Bakemono no Ko is, a throwback to an older-style of movie storytelling, with updated character designs and "pretty-boy" angst.

In summary, I'd say that Bakemono no Ko is a decent popcorn flick, but Hosoda lacks an understanding of Miyazaki's ability to hook the audience. Maybe that will change with future anime. But, in the meantime, I'm not seeing a clear successor to the Miyazaki throne. It's certainly not Kumatetsu. Bakemono no Ko is recommended to anyone that likes anime actions films.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Conan Movie Boards

New Meitantei Shonen Conan movie out. Nothing I care about, but the puzzle stuff for children seems kind of rudimentary this time.

Word search for the code names of the bad guys. Follow the rules to get the secret keyword and get a chance to win a free t-shirt.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cat Massage

On the heels of the cat bus, we have Zentai Hogushi for 3,500 yen, from Hogushi Neko. From the advertising, it seems to be a massage parlor that uses cats to give the massage. If this blog was for-profit, I'd spend the money to find out more about cat massagers.

The card with the arrow says "Please talk to us about anything."

Monday, May 23, 2016

Cat Van

There's a Catholic church and school dedicated to Saint Francis Xavier, the first missionary to visit Japan, arriving first in Kagoshima. They have a cat van for shuttling children from their apartments to the church.

It's a pretty convincing design. I'm surprised I haven't seen it before.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Jump Ryuu - Akira Toriyama

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Jump Ryu vol. 1 - Akira Toriyama.
I mentioned some months ago that I'd taken a photo of this DVD magazine, and that it's the first volume of a bi-weekly series focusing on different Jump manga artists, past and present. As is traditional with these types of series, the first issue is always the cheapest, generally half the cover price of the rest of the volumes. This one was 650 yen (approx. $6 USD), and for what you get, I think that's a very good price.

So, what DO you get? First, there are 3 sheets of A4 paper, each with one of the illustrations above. You get the Goku action pose, the Toriyama autograph reproduction, and a practice drawing sheet. They are all copies, but they look good enough to almost be mistaken for originals.

Then there's the DVD. It's 41 minutes long, and has 4 chapters. The first shows Toriyama creating the Goku pose, from initial pencils to inking, and then the final water colors. The second chapter is an interview with Toriyama (no video of him, though, just audio, and a few old stock personal photos) about how he got started as an artist, up to the start of Dragonball. The third chapter shows him drawing the autograph card, and the final chapter is part of Jump magazine's lessons on how to become a manga artist. In this volume, the lesson is on which pen to use, and a demonstration of how to ink in a pencil sketch.

The magazine itself is 22 pages long, with a short biographical timeline for Toriyama, information pulled from the DVD interview, example artwork from Toriyama's various manga, and a few more old photos. There are 4 pages of instructions on how to ink in the blue A4 Dragonball manga sheet mentioned above, and then 3 pages echoing the DVD for the Jump lesson on pens and inking. The magazine finishes with the letter from Toriyama to his readers (below) and then 3 pages advertising the upcoming volumes. If you send in the postcard, you may get a shelf rack to hold the the DVDs in. The rack can contain all 25 planned DVD cases.

(Toriyama's letter to his fans.)

The scheduled artist list is:
1) Toriyama
2) Masashi Kishimoto (Naruto)
3) Eiichiro Oda (One Piece)
4) Tite Kubo (Bleach)
5) Tadatoshi Fujimaki (Kuroko's Basketball)
6) Yusei Matsui (Neuro and Assassination Classroom)
7) Kohei Horikoshi (various)
8) Kazuki Takahashi (Yu-gi-oh!)
(There are other artists given, but they aren't assigned volume numbers and their names aren't in romaji. I'm lazy and don't feel like translating them here right now. But, from the website, we also have the artists from Rokudenashi Blues and Rookies (vol. 14), Rurouni Kenshin (vol. 12), Video Girl Ai (vol. 17), Kochi Kame (vol. 18), Hunter x Hunter (vol. 21), Gintama (vol. 23), Blue Exorcist (vol. 24) and Jo Jo (vol. 25).)

(Instructions on inking the blue pencil sheet.)

(Example of some of the write-up of Toriyama's other manga.)

Summary: For the price, volume 1 is worth getting just for the A4 sheets and the DVD interview. If you want to become a manga artist, then yeah, I highly recommend the entire series. You get to watch Toriyama draw 2 different versions of Gokuu, plus there's the entire Jump lessons series. For myself, I'm torn. I don't want to pay full price for the other magazines, but I'd consider buying the ones for Oda and Matsui just for the interviews and to see how they work. I do want Osamu Akimoto (Kochi Kame), but I'm not sure about anyone else (there are a few manga listed above that I do like, so I have to think about this. Video Girl Ai, maybe Rookies, maybe Jo Jo...) If the series starts showing up at Book Off, I'll cherry-pick the ones I want. Just for amusement value, volume 10 hit the streets on May 19th.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Attack on Titan, vol. 15 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Attack on Titan, vol. 15, Hajime Isayama. Grade: B
A pair of newspaper reporters interview Nile Dok, the commander of the military police brigade (the guy that had wanted to take Eren at the trial and dissect him, and who is a friend of Erwin's), and the newer reporter, Pyur, wants to write an investigative article that puts the police in a bad light. The older guy, Roy, is afraid of the King's power (and of Kenny Ackerman) and assures Nile that they'll regurgitate the official police findings. Later, though, Nile is unhappy with the thought that Ackerman's group is working under the "police" banner. At a cabin, Armin throws up at the memory of having to kill the woman that threatened Jean. He demands that Jean take care of himself from now on. Of the group, only Mikasa and Levi have little compunction against shooting fellow humans. Levi commands all of them to pull the trigger without hesitating in the future. A little later, a pair of newbie Survey squad recruits are in the woods hunting for the "murderers." Levi and team capture them easily, but the guy, Marlowe Freudenberg, says that he wants to join them, declaring that someone like Levi wouldn't resort to murder. His partner, Hitch Feulner, had been Annie's roommate, and she's upset that none of the other Survey team will tell her what happened to Annie. Levi tells them that Annie was the female-form rogue, and goes on to order Sasha to "deal" with them.

(Armin deals with killing humans rather badly.)

Jean volunteers to take Sasha's place, and tells the two captives to march into the woods, waving his knife around and threatening them. He trips, flinging the knife in Marlowe's direction, and things get a bit silly as Hitch runs to safety and Marlowe tries to argue that he really does want to join them. Hitch comes back and hits Jean in the head with a branch, and she and Marlowe are thus allowed to join the group (becoming full members up to volume 19, at least). Later, at night, the squad slips into a mansion, hamstringing all the guards rather than killing them, to kidnap their leader. Levi tries to get the guy to reveal where Eren and Historia are being held, but he just says that Erwin Smith has been arrested and is going to be tried and hung to death for treason against the crown. Levi roughs him up some more, and the guy claims to not know anything, and to talk to Kenny Ackerman. This name causes Mikasa Ackerman to shiver, although she apparently doesn't realize that Levi has the same last name. Then Sasha yells that someone is approaching, and it looks like the group is about to come under attack.

(Jean is a really bad actor.)

In town, Pyur wants to know why Roy is acting like a lapdog for the King, and the older reporter just says that this is the way their world works. Then Hange and an assistant show up in the newsroom and pressure the two reporters into giving him some help. The next day, three of Ackerman's policemen catch up with Flegel in an abandoned part of his family's town. The leader has been desperate to kill him, and is now happy to finally be able to do so. Flegel gets him to admit that the police killed his father and the rest of his staff, then Hange and his assistant fly in to disarm the three assailants. Flegel directs their attention upward, where the townspeople are standing at the balconies, having heard every word that had been said. In the shadows behind the railings, Pyur and Roy hide and take notes. Flegel sits on the police leader's head, vowing to take his father's place for running the Reeves family company and protecting the rest of this town. Roy still refuses to run the story, claiming that his family is in danger from the King, and Hange gets angry.

(Flegel promises to protect "his" town from the police.)

In the palace, Erwin is bound and chained, facing the current King and his cabinet, and surrounded by the military police and backed by Pixis. Erwin is asked if he wants to give any last words before being sentenced. He suggests that the Survey team is the only thing standing between the nobility and the giants, should the rogue giants breach Wall Rose and head for the central city. One of the key elements here is that when Nile Dok had been roughing Erwin up in the jail cell to try to get him to apologize for the attempted treason, he'd revealed that his family lives in the area next to Rose. Suddenly, one of the Survey members bursts into the room and announces that the Gatekicker rogue had kicked a hole in Wall Rose, and the Armored rogue and a bunch of wild giants are killing everyone in the area.

(The King sleeps through the giant invasion crisis, as Commander Zackly arrives to take control of the situation.)

Pixis orders the guards to go out and fend off the giants, while all the refugees are to be brought in to the inner city. One of the nobles yells, "No, seal the gates! No one comes in or goes out." The nobles are afraid of what will happen if there's a crush of people from the outer city, and what might happen if the giants get to the palace. Nile suddenly has to pick sides - either support the King and let his family die, or try to protect his family and be accused of treason. Then, Commander Darius Zackly enters the room (he's the one that presided over Eren's trial), and says that this was just a drill. But, based on the behavior of the nobles, it's pretty clear that they don't have the citizens' best interests in mind. He orders their arrests, which Nile is much more willing to effect now. One of the nobles kicks the King's throne and calls him worthless trash. The guy had been sleeping through all this, and blearily asks if it's time for dinner yet.

(Rod and Historia touch Eren's back, triggering a flood of memories that aren't his.)

Pyur writes up the story of the coup d'etat, which Levi's team happily reads in the newspaper later. Zackly pardons Erwin and the rest of the Survey squad, and Zackly talks a bit with Erwin in a horse-drawn carriage about the costs of power and the ultimate goals of revenge (Zackly hated the nobles, and Erwin wanted to avenge his father's death). Hange reunites with Levi's group, saying that it looks like Historia Reiss is going to be installed as the next true ruler. Erwin had gotten info on the Reiss family, which Hange relays to Levi. Rod Reiss had a wife and five kids, plus Historia with the maid. The oldest daughter, Freida, would occasionally take trips out to the farm, where she apparently would spend time with Historia. About 5 years earlier, close to the fall of Wall Maria, a robber supposedly broke into the church that the Reiss family lived in, and set a fire that killed everyone but Rod, who escaped to safety. And Historia's mother was killed by the military police at about the same time.

Hange speculates that Rod had spared Historia because she would be the last of the Reiss bloodline. Levi comments on that, implying that there may be something at work between him and Kenny Ackerman. Hange thinks that Rod's being the only survivor of a fire is suspicious, and that they may find answers by going to the Reiss family church in the woods. The scene changes to a large cavern. Eren is gagged and chained at the top of a pillar, while Historia tells him that her father has told her everything about why she was abandoned and the events leading up to their kidnapping. In the background, Kenny Ackerman, her mother's killer, talks to Rod before walking away. She says that Rod had ordered Dimo's death, but it was required to save everyone else. She asks the boy to be patient a bit longer. Rod takes Historia to the top of the pillar, and tells her to place her hand on Eren's back, which is all that's needed to give the explanation. The two touch Eren, and his mind is suddenly flooded with other people's memories. He sees the church, a trapdoor in the floor leading to the cave, Frieda and the rest of the Reiss family, an ugly white-haired female rogue, someone eating Rod's kids, the church burning, a hand with a key wrapped in it, himself screaming in front of a huge syringe, himself turning into a baby version of Toothy, and himself again next to the half-eaten remains of his father. Rod asks, "Well, have you remembered your father's crimes?"

Summary: The overthrow of the false king is a success, and the Survey group can continue with their plans to rescue Eren and Historia from Kenny Ackerman, although now it seems as if there's no reason for a rescue any more, since Historia is happily reunited with her father and Kenny isn't a threat. On the other hand, it's looking like Eren's father, Grisha, killed the other Reiss family members, somehow got Coordinate from them, and then had Eren eat him to have Coordinate passed on to the boy. No explanation yet for what the serum in the syringe is for (it's probably not a memory-erasing drug after all), or why Rod Reiss as the true King wasn't eaten with the rest of his family. We're still left with questions in with the Carnage.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Attack on Titan, vol. 14 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Attack on Titan, vol. 14, Hajime Isayama. Grade: B
Erwin and Pixis are discussing Erwin's plans for overthrowing the king. The current king is a weak old man, and his cabinet of advisers are fat, greedy men that are only concerned about maintaining the status quo and protecting themselves. Pixis is afraid that anything Erwin has in mind will throw the city into civil war with the civilians taking the brunt of the damage. Erwin states that he wants to relate a story from when he was a kid. His father was a teacher, and one day the old man had to cover the history of mankind for the last 100 years that they'd been behind the walls. Erwin had questions that weren't answered by the text (sound familiar?) and he asked about them in the class. His father ignored them, then waited until they got home to say that, yes, the government-sponsored books were lying to them. Erwin then started asking the military police in the city for answers, but got no replies. That evening, his father didn't come home. The next day, Erwin was told his father was killed in an accident, and he blamed himself for what had happened. The government had punished a teacher that questioned their supremacy, and now Erwin wants to do a house cleaning. His assistant enters the room with a note.

(Erwin asks about gaps in the textbooks, then attends his father's funeral.)

A few hours earlier, Hange and Levi had dealt out the same damage to Djel Sanes as he and his partner had given to the Wall Priest, Nick. Hange apologizes that he's not as good at this as Sanes is, and asks for his forgiveness. They begin questioning Sanes in earnest, but the guy won't betray his king. Meanwhile, Eren recalls the instructions Erwin had given them earlier, and which had been burned afterward, saying that the group was going to commit a coup d'etat, and in the best case, they'll all be treated as traitors to mankind. Sanes tells Hange that he was just doing his job putting out fires that threatened the city's peace - eliminating careless teachers, craftsmen that make unauthorized weapons, lovers trying to escape the city in a hot air balloon, and mistresses of the city's elite (proving that Histeria's mother was executed by the king's men with the permission of her father, Rod Reiss). Levi wants to know who the Reiss family is, if they're related to the Wall Priests and the presence of giants within the wall, and why the king would let Reiss do that. Sanes is slow with the answers, so Hange yanks out one of his teeth with a pliers. He and Levi decide to take a break, then they force Sanes' partner, Raluf to read from a prepared script, saying that he is going to tell them everything they want to know. When Hange returns to the room, Sanes cracks and answers all their questions. When he's returned to his cell, he tries to kill Raluf as a traitor, and is shattered at learning how he'd been tricked. He wishes Hange good luck in building this new, better world he claims to want to make. The truth is that Rod Reiss was the true king, but he abdicated when the current advisers threatened to kill him. This means that Historia Reiss (AKA: Christa) has a claim to the throne.

(After giving to Sanes the same beating Sanes had given to Nick, Hange and Levi ask him who the Reiss family is.)

Eren has a recurring dream, but this time he finally remembers to write down what he'd seen, and gives the notes to Hange. It's the conversation Bertolt and Ymir had when Reiner had knocked him unconscious. Hange rushes to see Erwin, and Levi continues with his part of the plan, which is to give Eren and Histeria to the merchant, Dimo Reeves, and his son, Flegel. Flegel's not interested in any of this, but his father drags him along anyway. Levi adds that from what they know now, Histeria is the daughter of the true king, and she panics under the pressure. Levi asks if she'd be willing to take up the crown if necessary, and she can't answer. He picks her up by the collar and says that she's going to have to make the choice, and it might as well be now. She answers "yes, I can do that". The rest of the team is unhappy with his strong arm tactics, though.

Time passes, and Dimo prepares to hand Eren and Histeria to the king's military police. The merchant, Flegel and a couple other assistants are in an old mine, and Dimo has the "captives" tied up and smeared with mud in preparation (he also gives them little knife blades for cutting their ropes and/or turning giant). Flegel says he has to take a piss, and while he's gone, the guy that had killed Histeria's mother shows up as the king's representative. The guy and Dimo go outside, and he asks if Dimo knows of Levi Ackerman. Dimo is surprised to hear Levi's full name, but otherwise just says that everyone knows the leader of the Special Forces team. The guy says that Levi is his "pride", but this is his work. He kills Dimo by slitting his throat, and his henchmen kill Dimo's assistants. Flegel is left alive, cowering behind a tree. (One of the knife man's followers calls him "Captain Ackerman".) Histeria and Eren are bound and gagged, all the little blades are discovered and confiscated, and the two hostages are taken away.

(Ackerman kills Dimo as Flegel cowers.)

Hange reaches Erwin's lodgings and says that the King's plan is for someone to eat Eren. The boy had written in his note that he'd heard Ymir say that in becoming a rogue giant she'd eaten a human, and then spent 60 years outside the walls in what seemed like a bad dream. Based on what he's learned, Hange guesses that the ability to control giants is gained by eating whoever currently has that ability (there can be only one.) That may be why Reiner and Bertolt had kidnapped Eren the first time, and why the King wants him now. Erwin pulls out his own report, and says that based on what he's learned from the Wall Priests, and what Nick knew, it looks like Hange is right, but adds that Historia is involved with all this as well, as the true descendant of the Reiss bloodline. A guard comes in and reports that the King's police have declared the merchant Dimo Reeves dead, and that Levi's Special Forces team are the murderers. There's a bounty out for them, and the city folk accept the news without question. Erwin steps down as the leader of the Survey team, which now makes Hange the new leader. Erwin is arrested and carted off.

(Captain Ackerman's squad attempts to kill Levi, who escapes into a tavern.)

Hange spots Flegel lurking in the shadows, following his father's body as it is returned to his home town, and snatches him up to the roof of one building. Flegel says that he didn't sell out his father, he just was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hange tries to get Flegel to help him, and the boy is too terrified to be useful. But, their shouting attracts the attentions of the police in the street below. Fliers circulate around town, identifying Levi as a murderer, and the rest of his team skulk around as outlaws. Levi and an assistant watch a cart being loaded with two coffins, and speculate that they contain the bodies of Histeria and Eren. Levi says he thinks he knows who is behind all this - a serial killer named "Kenny the Knife". At this point, Captain Ackerman gets up on the roof and starts shooting. The assistant dies, and Levi escapes, only to be chased by a handful of the King's police force, who also have their own grappling hook systems, and big guns. Captain Ackerman turns out to be "Kenny the Knife", who is very familiar with Levi's fighting style (expected since Levi's last name apparently is "Ackerman," too). There's a lot of shooting and racing over the streets of the town before Levi takes refuge in a tavern, with the intent of grabbing the shotgun inevitably stored by the bartender under the bar. Levi shoots Kenny in the chest, which doesn't kill him, then eliminates some of the police on his way to the meeting point with Connie, Sasha, Jean and Mikasa. They try to escape in a horse-drawn wagon, but their pursuers catch up to them. One woman gets the drop on Jean, and he's unwilling to shoot a fellow human. The woman doesn't have such a constraint and it looks like she's shot Jean in the head. Elsewhere, Kenny opens the two coffins, revealing Eren and Histeria. They see Rod Reiss, who embraces Histeria and says that he's sorry for everything she's gone through.

(The death of Jean?)

Summary: Lots of information now about giants, the Reiss family line, and Erwin's plans to overthrow the current King to replace him with Histeria. The existence of Rod Reiss complicates things, and the fact that Kenny Ackerman is working for him is just confusing. Especially since Kenny claims that Levi shares his family name. There's also the issue of Coordinate, which gives Eren his powers over other giants. If you have to eat the previous possessor of Coordinate to get its powers, how did Eren get it? Carnage must have been involved.

As a side note, the character guide at the beginning of the volumes is now listing Reiner as the Armor Titan, Bertolt as the Extremely Big Titan, and Annie as the "female-type". There's no such tag for either Eren, or Ymir all the way up to volume 19. I assume that in the one chapter the Survey team talks about the "fighting type rogue", they mean Ymir.