Anime Film Review: Metropolis

Metropolis is based off of the Metropolis manga created by Osamu Tezuka. The film was directed by long-time Mushi Productions staff member Rintaro, and the script was written by Katsuhiro Otomo (the creator of Akira). Metropolis was animated by Madhouse Studios, and was released to Japanese theaters on May 26, 2001. The film was released in the United States on January 25, 2002.

The film opens with the celebration of the completion of the Ziggurat, a towering governmental tower built by Duke Red, the most influential citizen of Metropolis; he overshadows the president, the mayor, the heads of state, and the government of Metropolis.

Metropolis is a very industrialized and futuristic world, and artificial intelligence has advanced tremendously. Robots are seen everywhere and are performing many tasks; they do not have any of the rights that are granted to human beings, and they are not allowed to have human names or travel between the four Zones that Metropolis is divided into without special permission. The Marduk is a political party that evolved into vigilantes who destroy robots as they please. It’s a public secret that Duke Red founded the Marduk, and that his adopted son Rock is a leading figure in the organization.

A Japanese private detective named Shunsaku Ban and his nephew Kenichi arrive in Metropolis, looking for a man named Dr. Laughton; the doctor is suspected of human rights violations and the trading of human organs. Shunsaku and Kenichi are assigned a police robot to assist them, and Shunsaku nicknames him “Pero.”

Unbeknownst to Shunsaku, Laughton has been hired by Duke Red to build an extremely intelligent robot in the shape of Duke Red’s deceased daughter, Tima. Tima is to sit on a specially designed throne at the top of the Ziggurat, where she will help him take over the Earth. Without consulting the military, Duke Red tested the Ziggurat’s weapon of mass destruction and compromised national security. President Boon and others in the government plan to arrest Duke Red for treason once enough resentment has built up against him.

Duke Red is already looking at the robot as Tima, and has started to reject Rock. Rock discovers Tima and what her purpose is, and he goes to Laughton’s lab. There, he mortally wounds Laughton and sets the lab on fire to destroy all traces of Tima and the project. Shunsaku, Pero, and Kenichi arrive at the fire, and Shunsaku finds Laughton; unfortunately, Laughton dies before being arrested.

Tima wakes up from her suspended animation, and Kenichi finds her. Tima and Kenichi fall down a sewage drain and become separated from Shunsaku. This starts a chain of events that lead to the climax of the film.

Tezuka seems to enjoy using the idea of robots being created to replace dead children; there’s Tima in Metropolis, and there’s Astro Boy in Astro Boy who was created to replace a scientist’s son. Some of the character designs in Metropolis also look rather similar to some of the characters in Astro Boy.

If you look past that little bit of recycling, though, there’s still a good film here with a story that kept me interested in what was going on. The friendship that develops between Kenichi and Tima is very touching, so it makes what happens at the end even worse because of how much Kenichi came to care for Tima.

Metropolis blends traditional animation with 3D animation, and the filmmakers did a fantastic job at melding the two animation styles. I believe this is a case where the combination of the two animation styles really helped to define the futuristic world that is portrayed in the film. Also, when I watched the film, I could tell that Fritz Lang’s classic science fiction film Metropolis had an influence on this film.

Metropolis is a very well-done film, and you can tell that the animators went to great lengths to preserve Osamu Tezuka’s original character designs. The soundtrack for the film, which sounds a lot like New Orleans jazz, really helps evoke a certain ambience to the film.  While the city itself may look futuristic, the score and the character design evoke the “Roaring 20s.” And I think this melding of the past with the future really adds a layer to this film.

When it comes to the DVD itself, there are several subtitle options available: two English options (original Japanese translation and U.S. theatrical), French, Spanish, Portugese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai. Audio selections include Japanese Dolby Digital, Japanese DTS, English Dolby Digital, and French Dolby Surround. Four trailers are also included on the main disc.

The DVD pressing I watched of Metropolis came with a second 3” DVD that contained all the special features. The first special feature on the 3” DVD is a photo gallery, which includes model sheets split into three sections: Tima & Kenichi, Supporting Cast, and Art Direction. Next, there is a 33-minute special about the making of Metropolis. Filmographies for Rintaro and Osamu Tezuka, as well as text-only history of Metropolis are included. The “Animation Comparisons” uses a multi-angle feature to select various stages of the animation proves for the Wheel Room and a City View. The final extra is an eight-minute interview with Rintaro and Katsuhiro Otomo. Overall, the bonus features were good for what they are.

I enjoyed Metropolis, and I think fans of Osamu Tezuka’s work will also enjoy it. Even if you aren’t familiar with Tezuka’s work, you should still check it out if you’re a fan of science fiction anime. This is a film that really should be in the DVD library of almost any anime fan.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of Metropolis that my husband bought for me as a gift.

Otakon Announces Shinichiro Kashiwada as Guest

Otakon has announced that anime producer Shinichiro Kashiwada will be a guest at their next convention. Kashiwada’s credits include Sword Art Online, Oreimo, Nanana’s Buried Treasure, and The Irregular at Magic High School.

Otakon will be taking place August 8-10, 2014 at the Baltimore Convention Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

English Dub Trailer for A Letter to Momo

An English dub trailer has been posted for the A Letter to Momo anime film. The film will be released to select U.S. theaters, and will be released on home video through Cinedigm.

I am embedding the trailer below, and I apologize in advance to any of my readers who are unable to view the video due to region blocking.

Tokyo ESP: Episode 1 – “White Girl”

Tokyo ESP is an anime based on a manga series by Hajime Segawa. The anime is produced by Xebec, and is directed by Shigehito Takayanagi. As of this writing, FUNimation Entertainment holds the North American license for Tokyo ESP.

Episode One sees a violent group of espers trying to take over Tokyo. It starts with the parliament house being overtaken by armed espers, and that the parliament house is floating in the air within the city. Those in the parliament house are told that they are hostages, and will continue to be hostages until mankind comes to recognize the espers as the new leaders of the world.

Then, espers start going around and causing explosions and mischief around Tokyo, and citizens are ordered to evacuate. People start wondering if groups like the “White Girl” will come to their aid; from what’s revealed, this group also has espers in it, but they try to protect humankind instead of attacking.

A little girl starts wondering when the White Big Sister will be coming. She encounters a young man named Ayumu who appears to have a connection with the White Girl. Another person named Murasaki, who knows Ayumu, comes up to him. Murasaki uses her power and discovers that the espers intend to drop the parliament house somewhere. Before they can do anything else, an esper appears, and she has taken some people hostage; among the hostages is the little girl’s mother. A confrontation ensues between the esper, Ayumu, and Murasaki. Right at the end of the episode, the White Girl appears and takes on the esper.

I have to be honest and say that there seems to be an interesting idea being presented so far, the pacing of the first episode felt a little on the sluggish side. And because the pacing felt so slow, I found it hard to get into the episode as much as I hoped I would. Also, it appears that the White Girl is supposed to be the main character, but she ended up not appearing for most of the episode. And when she finally did appear, there was really no explanation or development done for her. However, I do have to give the episode credit for establishing the espers, their goals, and the world that this series inhabits.

Probably the one thing that kept me from feeling totally bored while watching this episode of Tokyo ESP was the animation. The animation is rather well-done, and the feel and look of it effectively complements the story that was being told in the episode. Hopefully this strong animation quality can continue as the series progresses.

I’m really hoping that Episode Two will start providing more information on the White Girl, as well as on the group that she’s with. I think that if I can start getting to know the main character more, I can probably start gaining a better appreciation for Tokyo ESP. It seems to have a good concept, and I’m hoping that the execution of the series as a whole will be able to live up to the potential that I’m seeing.

Free! Eternal Summer: Episode 3 – “The Butterfly of Farewell!”

Free! Eternal Summer is the second season of the Free! Iwatobi Swim Club television anime series. This season begins in spring, when the new school year is getting underway. The focus of the series is still on the Iwatobi High swimmers (Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa, and Rei), their manager Gou, and Rin from Samezuka Academy.

In Episode Three, we see that Iwatobi High School is having its annual school festival, and as part of the festivities, there’s a Club-Versus-Club relay race. The Iwatobi Swim Club competes against several other of the school’s teams. For most of the race, it appears that the swim team has no chance of winning; however, Rei is the final member of the relay, and he’s able to use the skills he acquired back when he was on the track team to bring victory to the swim team. Unfortunately, this showing still doesn’t help them to recruit any new members.

When the swim club has their first practice in their own pool, Rei tries to do strokes other than the butterfly, but has no luck. When Rei goes to the school library he tries to find more books about swimming that he can study, and he runs into the captain of the track team. Rei is given an invitation to rejoin the track team, but Rei doesn’t give him any kind of answer.

Suddenly, Rei starts ducking out right after swim team practice is over, saying he has errands to run. Nagisa becomes concerned, and shares his concerns with the others. At first, it’s thought that Rei must have a girlfriend and is lovesick, but Gou learns from talking to Rei that that’s not the issue. Later, Gou sees Rei talking with the track team captain, and she and the others assume that Rei is thinking about leaving the swim team and going back to the track team.

Rei is forced to go to an emergency meeting of the swim team, and by the end of the episode, a couple of surprising things are revealed…

With the way this episode was written, the audience was led to believe that Rei was seriously thinking about leaving the swim team. I honestly hadn’t anticipated the surprise that appeared near the end of the episode that was connected to Rei. However, this surprise was a nice one.

There was also some focus put on Rin, and we see him moving out of the dorm room he shared with Nitori and moving into Sousuke’s dorm room. Mikoshiba becomes Nitori’s new roommate, and he starts pestering Rin about Gou much more than his older brother ever did. When it comes to lovesickness, the younger Mikoshiba is definitely more persistent about it; I suspect this will be a bigger element of the series than his older brother’s interest in Gou had ever been.

Overall, I thought this episode did a great job at giving Rei a bit more character development, and it effectively used Rei’s feelings of wanting to be able to be more useful to the team than simply being the one who does the butterfly stroke.

I’ve been enjoying Free! Eternal Summer, and so far, it’s a strong continuation for Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club. I’m looking forward to watching Episode Four in order to find out what’s going to happen next.

Haikyu!!: Episode 15 – “Revival”

Haikyu!! focuses on two first-year high school volleyball players named Shoyo Hinata and Kageyama Tobio. The previous year they had competed against each other in a junior high tournament, and Shoyo decides to become Kageyama’s rival. The two boys come from very different volleyball backgrounds: while Kageyama was part of Kitagawa Daiichi’s team and is a self-centered setter, while Shoyo spend most of junior high practicing being a spiker by himself because his school didn’t have a team until his last year. On the first day of high school, Shoyo and Kageyama are surprised to see that they’re both at Karasuno High School.

Episode 15 sees the various teams competing in the Inter-High preliminaries converging onto the Sendai City Gymansium, where the matches are taking place. When the Karasuno team arrives, they hear people talking about their team as a whole, rumors about Asahi, and comments about Kageyama.

Ikejiri from Tokonami, who knew Daichi back in junior high, has a reunion with his former classmate. It’s an awkward reunion, though, since they’ll be playing against each other in the first match.

We also see that Aoba Johsai is going to be watching the match to see how Karasuno plays. They’re shocked to see that not only are there two players they didn’t play against in the practice match (Asahi and Nishinoya), but there’s also a new coach for the team as well.

The majority of this episode focuses on the teams as they started getting psyched up for the Inter-High, as well as some interactions between members of the teams. Overall, I think these scenes helped to lighten the mood a little before moving on to the beginning of the first match.

The match between Karasuno and Tokonami is just getting underway as the episode is ending, but Karasuno catches Tokonami by surprise and manages to score three points…

Overall, this episode served the purpose of getting the characters to the Inter-High and setting the stage for the preliminaries. The interactions between the various teams tended to be light-hearted in nature, although there were one or two that could be seen as being more serious; the one that was the most serious was the reunion between Ikejiri and Daichi. While they were trying to be friendly with each other, you could also see that both of them were resolved that their respective team would win.

It was also interesting to see a couple of scenes of Karasuno’s girls’ volleyball team at their Inter-High, and how Daichi’s friend Yui channels him as she tries to give her team a pep talk. While we saw Yui talking to Daichi in Episode 14 about her team, I really didn’t expect to actually ever see her team appear in the series. And from the preview, it looks like the girls’ team may make an appearance in it as well.

So far, it looks like Karasuno is off to a good start against Tokonami. I’m interested in watching the next episode to see if Karasuno will continue to do as well as they did in Episode 15, or if Tokonami will recover from their initial shock and be able to turn this into a closer set than it currently is.

Anime DVD Review: K-ON! Anime Legends

K-ON! Anime Legends is a four-disc DVD box set that includes the 12 episodes of the main series, as well as two “extra episodes.” When Bandai Entertainment released this box set, all they did was take the four individually released DVDs and put them together into one box set. The first two discs contain four episodes and bonus features, while the third and fourth discs contain three episodes and bonus features. For the episodes, you can watch either the English dub, or you can watch with Japanese audio and English subtitles.

K-ON! begins with four girls at Sakuragaoka Girl’s High School joining the Light Music Club in order to save the group from being disbanded. Ritsu Tainaka is the self-proclaimed president of the club, and she plays the drums. She has an upbeat personality, but has a problem with remembering club activities. Mio is the bass player, and she’s Ritsu’s best friend; she is forced to join the club by Ritsu at the beginning of the series. Mio has a fear of being in the spotlight and is embarrassed easily. Tsumugi Kotobuki is a wealthy girl with a sweet personality, and she plays keyboards.

The last member to join the Light Music Club is Yui Hirasawa. She’s a clumsy girl, gets distracted easily, and doesn’t know how to play an instrument when she first joins the club. The other girls keep her, since the minimum number of members a school club needs to continue is four. At the beginning of the series, the others attempt to teach Yui how to play the guitar, but it’s a feat that seems to be easier said than done.

As the series progresses, it’s brought to their attention that an advisor is needed; luckily, they are able to find a teacher to fill this role in order to keep the club going. The next school year, a new underclassman named Azusa Nakano joins the club; she’s another guitarist, and she’s been playing the guitar since the fourth grade. Shortly after Azusa joins, the band finally gets a name.

Unfortunately, K-ON! isn’t a very realistic show. Things happen a little too easily for the characters, and it also requires the viewer to use a “willing suspension of disbelief.” One of the most unbelievable things for me was the fact that Yui seemed to learn how to play the guitar rather easily, but then just as easily forgets the things she’s learned. K-ON! isn’t bad for what it’s trying to accomplish, and it seems to have captured its primary demographic (which, in my opinion, is teenage girls). However, this isn’t a series that I’m personally going to rush out and add to my own home video collection.

When it comes to the DVD set itself, the bonus features seem to follow a pattern.  Over the course of the four discs, there are interviews with the four main voice actors: Stephanie Sheh, Cristina Vee, Cassandra Lee, and Shelby Lindley. These interviews run anywhere from six to 10 minutes in length, and they all are conducted the same way. The question is shown on the screen, and then it cuts to the voice actor sitting in the studio, responding to the question that appeared on the screen.

Three of the discs also had English language music videos for the songs “Fuwa Fuwa Time,” “My Love Is a Stapler,” and “Brush Pen, Ballpoint Pen.” Instead of simply using the performance of the song that appeared in the series, new music videos were edited together with existing footage from the series. All four discs also had trailers for properties that Bandai Entertainment was promoting at the time this DVD set was released. Each disc also had DVD Credits included in the “Extras” menu.

If you’re a K-ON! fan that didn’t purchase the individual DVDs when they were released, then this set would be worth purchasing in order to add the first season of the series to your home video collection. Unfortunately, when Bandai released the first season of K-ON! in a box set, they only released a DVD box set. If you want the first season on Blu-ray, you would still have to buy the four individual Blu-ray releases. And now that Bandai Entertainment has gone out of business, this DVD set is now out of print. Sentai Filmworks has acquired the North American distribution rights for K-ON!, so I suspect a new home video release will come out at some point.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of K-ON! Anime Legends that I checked out through the King County Library System.