Friday, February 25, 2011


"Nothing amazing happens here. Everything is ordinary"

This is one of the first lines in the series FLCL, spoken by the protagonist Naota. This is despite the fact that he lives in a town which is home to a giant robotics factory which resembles an iron. Later, he nearly gets run over by a maniac girl on a Vespa named Haruko Haruhara, who also hits him on the head with a Rickenbacker bass guitar. From the bump on his head from where he got hit with the bass guitar, a giant robot eventually pops out. And this is all in the first episode. And the series only gets weirder from there.

 While there is sort of a space opera-type plot in the background of FLCL, it's very hard to make out. And honestly, it's unimportant. The main appeal of FLCL is just how goddamn wacky it is. As the show gets weirder and more insane it constantly leaves you laughing with its cartoonish antics and the fourth wall being consistently broken.  In fact, Adult Swim said that this is their favorite anime to air and described it in a commercial thus: "Don't worry, it'll start making sense soon... Well, that's not really true, but it keeps getting better and better and better".

A popular rumor is that the series was created by the animation studio, Gainax, to test out new animation techniques. And it shows. The animation style is very erratic and resembles Loony Tunes in a lot of ways. It's constantly shifting between art styles, at one point turning into manga panels and at another point turning into the art style of South Park.

If anything clear can be said about the plot of FLCL, it's that it's mainly a coming of a age story. Although a very weird one. The main character, Naota, is a middle schooler who is entering high school next year, and is  constantly serious and trying to act like an adult. Eventually, after all of the crazy events of the series, he comes to realize that he should enjoy being a kid while it lasts. The strong characterization in the show has helps lend to its appeal.

Another notable thing about FLCL is that it has a very nice original soundtrack by the Japanese alternative rock group, The Pillows. The ending theme in particular is very catchy and the music tends to fit the animation very well. I liked it so much that I have the entire soundtrack on my iPod.

The only real disappointment about FLCL is that it's only six episodes. Although, even that's not too bad because it allows you to watch the whole series in around three hours. And they manage to pack a lot of crazy into those six episodes. All in all, if you're looking for a fun, wacky series to watch, you can't go wrong with FLCL. It recently came out on Blu-Ray and DVD, and is also available as an HD download on iTunes.

Oh, and here's the trailer:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Kino's Journey

So, I watched this series about a year or two year ago. It's not very well know but it's without a doubt one of my favorite series. My only regret is that it's only 13 episodes long, and that it never got a second season.

The main premise is that a traveler named Kino journeys from country to country with her talking motorcycle Hermes, learning about the culture of each country she visits. She makes a point of only staying in a country for three days, to avoid settling down. What's nice about the show is that its premise means that each episode tends to be its own self-contained story rather than part of an overarching plot. Like I said, I only wish there were more episodes. While this means that there isn't much character development of Kino, it tends to be a very relaxing series to watch. I remember feeling stressed out and depressed during the time I watched this, and I was always eager to watch this show as a way to de-stress after school.

Now, while the show is for the most part very relaxing to watch, there tends to be a huge mood shift between episodes. One episode for instance, has Kino having to fight to the death in a coliseum, while in the next episode, Kino helps a girl build an airplane. Some episodes are light-hearted but most tend to be somewhat violent or disturbing. The countries Kino visits tend to have a dark side to them but at the same time, Kino also encounters people who remind her that the world isn't such a bad place. A phrase frequently repeated throughout the series is, "The world is not beautiful, therefore it is".

Don't be put off when I say it tends to be disturbing, it doesn't really lessen its mood, and tends to make you think. The setting has a great fairy-tale like feel to it, and each of the countries Kino visits tends to be really interesting, with some bordering on science fiction, and others feeling like the 19th century. The soundtrack for this series is also very beautiful and helps to enhance the relaxed feel of the show. So all in all, if you're in the mood to watch something relaxing, I would definitely recommend this show.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Place Promised in Our Early Days

Okay, as a guy, I don't normally like romance films. They usually seem cliched to me and tend to bore me. However, The Place Promised in Our Early Days is one of the rare exceptions.

The Place Promised in Our Early Days takes place in alternate timeline where Japan has been divided into two nations, with the main island of Honshu occupied by the United States and the northern island of Hokkaido occupied the Soviet Union. On the southern tip of Hokkaido, the government has built a mysterious tower that is so tall that it is visible from Tokyo. By the time of the story's beginning, the two nations are gearing up for war.

 The story begins with two boys, Hiroki and Takuya, in their last year of middle school. They live on the northern tip of Honshu, where the tower is right across the Tsugara Strait to the north. Fascinated by the tower, they begin building a plane to one day visit it. As they build the plane, they become close friends with a girl named Sayuri, whom they promise to bring with them when they visit the tower. That is, until Sayuri disappears over the summer.

I can't reveal much more of the plot without spoiling the whole movie, but let me assure you, this is one of the most heart-breaking films I've ever watched. I'm not afraid to say that I was crying by the end of this film.

The director of the film, Makoto Shinkai, is an absolute genius who has frequently been referred to as "The Next Miyazaki". All of his films deal with the themes of childhood love and separation from the ones you love, so all are heartbreaking to watch. So, I would also recommend his other two films, 5cm Per Second and Voices of a Distant Star, although this is without a doubt my favorite film by him.

The film is also notable in that the animation is absolutely beautiful and suits the mood of the film perfectly. Especially the backgrounds, which are so beautiful that they deserve to hang in an art museum. The background for this blog is actually from one of Makoto Shinkai's other films, 5cm Per Second. And for your viewing pleasure, here's some of the backgrounds from The Place Promised in Our Early Days.

So overall, I would recommend this film as being one of the few romance movies I've enjoyed, that is both heartbreaking and beautiful to watch. Not to mention it has an amazing soundtrack, with a beautiful violin solo getting special mention. For those of you with Netflix, it is available on instant play.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Secret of Kells

So, I watched this film about a year ago and it is without a doubt one of my favorite films. I also think it is one of the most spectacular animated films produced in animated years. It's an Irish film called The Secret of Kells, which unfortunately never saw wide release in the US.

The Secret of Kells is a fictionalized account of the creation of the Book of Kells, one of the most beautiful illuminated manuscripts ever created. Set in the time of the viking raids, an abbot named Cellach is obsessed with building a wall to protect a monastery from viking raiders. Cellach expects his nephew Brendan to continue his work when he's gone, but Brendan is mainly interested in illuminating manuscripts. He is told the story of Aidan of Iona, a master illuminator who fled a viking raid with what is supposed to be a beautiful illuminated manuscript. Aidan later comes to the monastery, takes Brendan under his wing, and asks Brendan to venture into the forest to look for gall nuts to make ink. Despite being forbidden to do so by the Abbot, Brendan ventures into the forest where he meets a forest spirit named Aisling.

The film is notable in two ways. First, the animation is some of the most beautiful I've ever seen. In today's world, it is one of the few 2D animation films in a sea of 3D animation, which is wonderful to see again. The drawings are remarkably detailed, as the above image shows, and simply needs to be seen to understand just how great it is.

The plot of the film is great, in that it draws from Irish history and mythology. Aisling is supposed to be a type of Irish fairy called the Tuatha De Danann, and at one point Brendan battles a pre-Christian Irish deity called the Crom Cruach. All of this gives the film an enchanting feel.

The Secret of Kells was actually nominated for the 2010 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, but lost to Pixar's Up. I've always felt it should have won, not only because it's an enchanting film, but because in an age when the animation industry is utterly dominated by 3D animation, it's important that awesome 2D animation is awarded, so that the art does not die out. After all, most of the greatest films in animated history, and nearly all the films of our childhood, were hand drawn.