Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Top 10 Anime Feature Films

Let me start off by saying this list is heavily opinionated. Everything I write in this article is my own opinion based on the anime films that I have seen. I haven't seen every anime film but I have seen a good amount. Also, like most of my lists, I have conditions for what I qualify as an anime "feature film" as I stated in the title. That means it is a standalone film and not apart of a series of movies (Ghost in the Shell Arise, Evangelion, etc.) or movies that are from a popular anime series (DBZ movies, Fullmetal Alchemist Sacred Star if Milos, Trigun Badlands Rumble, Cowboy Bebop The Movie, etc.). So the movies that I am writing about are the ones that tell a story in their given time frame and end it within that time frame. With all that said, let us begin!


Coming in at number ten is Madhouse's visual masterpiece, Redline. Directed by Takeshi Koike, The film is set in the distant future, where a man known as JP takes on great risks for the chance of winning the titular underground race.The film is famous for being in production for 7 years and ultimately producing one of the best looking animated films I've ever seen. The visuals of this movie are absolutely stunning. The film consisted of 100,000 hand made drawings and it shows in how insanely stunning these visuals are. Redline tells a simple story that is entertaining and action packed, but other than that there isn't really a whole lot to the plot. This is the main reason I can't put Redline further on this list is that it had such minimal plot. Obviously, this was done because the main selling point to Redline was for it's artistic visual masterpiece but it doesn't help the film. It is an exciting story and enough to keep you interested, but if it weren't for the art this movie would not have been as memorable or successful as it was. The minimal plot does fit in nicely though as it does not draw the attention away from the visuals and at the same time doesn't create too much to digest from what's happening on screen. This film will always be remembered by fans as a cult classic because of how brilliant the animation is. Redline will be remembered as the most visually pleasing film of all time.


Coming in at number 9 is Madhouse's psychological masterpiece Perfect Blue. Directed by Satoshi Kon, this psychological thriller tells the tale of a member of a Japanese pop-idol group called "CHAM!", who decides to pursue her career as an actress. Some of her fans are displeased with her sudden career change, particularly a stalker named Me-Mania. As her new career proceeds, Mima's world becomes increasingly reminiscent of the works of Alfred Hitchcock: reality and fantasy spiral out of control, and Mima discovers that Me-Mania is the least of her troubles. I credit this film as being the best horror story to ever be animated. This film has the feel of a real horror movie. This film does an amazing job of building suspense and keeping you on your toes the full way through. The story builds a very well told mystery that has you trying to figure out who the killer is throughout the film. The film's climax reveals the shocking plot twist that makes this film memorable. As a good horror movie should do, it keeps the killer a mystery until the very end when you finally figure out the whole story, This film is a shocking and twisted psychological masterpiece that will have you caught in the suspense throughout and is an incredibly good watch for adult viewers.


Coming in at number eight is the sci-fi cult classic by Production I.G., Ghost in the Shell. Directed by Mamoru Oshii, host in the Shell follows the hunt of the public security agency Section 9 for a mysterious hacker known as the Puppet Master. With the assistance of her team, Motoko Kusanagi tracks and finds their suspect, only to be drawn into a complex sequence of political intrigue and a cover-up as to the identity and goals of the Puppet Master. This film is a philosophical master piece exploring self identity in a technology advanced world. I recognize that Ghost in the Shell is an absolute masterpiece and one of the landmark anime films in history, however my relationship with Ghost in the Shell is very complicated. I love the film but for some reason, in the 3 or so times I've seen it, it just seemed to fly by up until the ending. It just seemed like nothing happened for like an hour and then we reached the climax where you are just hit with everything at once. Maybe the philosophical undertones just went straight over my head, but I never really got much out of the dialogue between the Major and the Puppet Master. With that said, the self identity elements of the movie are clear and are enough to make the story of this film memorable. I also credit Ghost in the Shell to be the second best looking animated film of all time that was done completely by cel style animation. If Redline was a testament to how amazing modern animation is and what can be done with CGI animation and hand drawn scenes, then Ghost in the Shell is one of the films that is a testament to what can never be replicated by today's animation standards and the amazing backgrounds that you can create with cel animation. As being one of the most iconic and original animated films of all time, as well as being the inspiration for the Matrix, Ghost in the Shell earns a spot on any and all top 10 anime films lists.


Coming in at number seven is Studio Ghibli's Princess Mononoke. Directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, the film follows the story of the young warrior Ashitaka's involvement in the struggle between the supernatural guardians of a forest and the humans who consume its resources. Mononoke was one of Miyazaki's most successful films, which is saying a lot considering the man's resume. Miyazaki tells the wonderful story of a young prince who is caught in a struggle between nature and progressive imperialism. Ashitaka is stuck trying to make peace between the struggle of the people of Irontown and the creatures of the forest who are led by a young woman named San. It's the old story of environmentalism and the damages of imperialistic expansion into the wilderness. Miyazaki, being an avid environmentalist brilliantly portrays this struggle well in this film. Not only is this struggle given  in this film, but he also adds in the supernatural element in the forest spirits. The scene at the end where the Forest Spirit goes on a rampage after being decapitated was absolutely brilliant and made this movie memorable. This is still one of Miyazaki's best and with good reason.


Coming in at number six is another Studio Ghibli materpiece in Howl's Moving Castle. Once again, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the film is based on the novel of the same name by English writer Diana Wynne Jones. ynne Jones's novel allows Miyazaki to combine a plucky young woman and a mother figure into a single character in the heroine, Sophie. She starts out as an 18-year-old hat maker, but then a witch's curse transforms her into a 90-year-old grey-haired woman. Sophie is horrified by the change at first. Nevertheless, she learns to embrace it as a liberation from anxiety, fear and self-consciousness. The change might be a blessed chance for adventure. Putting this as number six was tough for me because I've always stood by the fact that I liked this film better than another Miyazaki film that will appear later on this list, but throwing my bias aside, I believe I was able to fairly place this film. The adventure elements of this film were outstanding and as all Miyazaki films do well, was chalk full of good moral themes for us to follow. The underlying love story between Howl and Sophie goes along exceptionally well with the background war elements going on at the same time in the film. The film was extremely unique and creative and handled the fantasy elements well along with the everything else going on in the film. This was one of Miyazaki's best films and one of my all time favorites.


Comin in at number five is another film coming to us from Studio Ghibli in Grave of the Fireflies. Being one of Ghibli's first official films after the studio's founding, it also stands as one of their best. Directed by Isao Takahata,  tells the story of Seita, a young boy who has to take care of his younger sister Setsuko when their mother dies. Grave of the Fireflies is one of the most gutwrenching realistic films you will ever watch. Not only is it one of the best animated films of all times, but I would go as far as to say it is one of the best war films of all time. This film offers us a different perspective than most war films. Instead of focusing on the war itself, what Grave of the Fireflies chooses to do instead is focus on the effects of war on the innocent civilians. Seita and Setsuko are orphaned at the beginning of the film after their mother is killed due to the air raids by US troops. Seita is left to take care of his sister and attempt to survive. It is hard to watch as these two struggle to stay alive and is probably one of the most depressing films you will ever watch. It is so grueling to see these children die slowly right before our eyes. Grave of the Fireflies will ultimately go down as one of the most beautiful and haunting works to ever be produced from Japan.


Coming in at number four is Madhouse's Summer Wars. Directed by up and comer Momoru Hosoda, this film tells the story of Kenji Koiso, a timid eleventh-grade math genius who is taken to Ueda by twelfth-grade student Natsuki Shinohara to celebrate her great-grandmother's 90th birthday. However, he is falsely implicated in the hacking of a virtual world by a sadistic artificial intelligence named Love Machine. Kenji must repair the damage done to it and find a way to stop the rogue computer program from causing any further damage. Sporting a very large cast of characters, Summer Wars is an excellent feel good film with a lot to teach us. For such a short time to work with, Summer Wars is able to introduce us to such a larch cast and give them all screen time and development. You leave this film feeling like you knew each and every single one of those characters and that is a testament to what a great director Hosoda is. A beautifully touching film, Summer Wars makes you take a step back and appreciate your family. The film is very family oriented and displays the strong unbreakable bonds that exist within family. As stated by Granny, "never turn your back on family. Especially when times are tough". Couldn't have summed up why this film is so remarkable any other way. It is simple and entertaining but does a good job of telling a mixed tail about how close Japan is to falling into chaos due to the virus Love Machine. Not only are their undertones of family, but there is also a strong message about relying too heavily on technologically advances. Summer Wars makes us appreciate the simplicity of life, love and family.


Coming in at number three is Studio Ghibli's highest grossing film, Spirited Away. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, this film tells the story of Chihiro, a sullen ten-year-old girl who, while moving to a new neighborhood, enters the spirit world. After her parents are transformed into pigs by the witch Yubaba, Chihiro takes a job working in Yubaba's bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world. This coming of age film is ultimately Miyazaki's best and his all time greatest achievement as a director. This was the film that cemented his legacy as the greatest animation director of all time. Spirited Away was the first Japanese animated film to win an Academy Award. Spirited Away is full of memorable scenes that cement it's place in history, but none more memorable than when Chihiro is swept up into the spirit world. That scene is unforgettable and so memorable that it even garnered a parody scene in a recent Simpsons episode. This film is an iconic coming of age tale that so wonderfully captured the fantasy elements we are accustomed to seeing in a Miyazaki film. The imagination of this man is astonishing. How Miyazaki is able to come up with this awe inspiring, dazzling fantasy worlds is beyond me. This is one of the best animated films you will ever see, everything in it is close to flawless from the outstanding soundtrack to the exceptional tale we spend with Chihiro. Definitely, one of the greatest animated films of all time without question.


Coming in at number two is Madhouse and Studio Chizu's Wolf Children. Directed by Momoru Hosoda, the film tells the story of  Hana, who falls in love with a Wolf Man. After the Wolf Man's death, Hana decides to move to a rural town to continue raising her two wolf children Ame and Yuki. This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite movies of all time, Despite being relatively new, this is without a doubt, one of the greatest films I've ever seen, period. It is an instant classic that should be seen by all. This film is probably the closest thing to flawless I've ever seen when it comes to animated films. From the story, to the music, to the animation, just everything is on top of it's game here. The story is very simple but told in such an exceptional way that it is just nothing short of remarkable. We follow Hana's struggle to raise her two children, Ame and Yuki, as a single mother after their father is killed. This alone is a great setup, let alone throw in the same identity issues as  a film like Ghost in the Shell and you have yourself one hell of an amazing movie.The film focuses a lot on the chose between the two children whether they want to live as humans or wolves. This portion of the story is excellently foreshadowed throughout and comes to a head at the very end of the film where the paths of the two children become clear. The scenes when Ame and Yuki have to go to school and they are leaving from their house where we are introduced to a right and left path are absolutely chilling. The left represents the way they take to school and the human life where as the right is the wilderness and represents the life of a human. Each time the paths are shown it sends chills down the spine because of how brilliantly this is executed. It is a very good watch that gets better each and every time you see it. Wolf Children is a special movie and nothing short of brilliant. With time, it may be the greatest anime film of there is. However, it is because of number one's iconic legacy that Wolf Children falls to number two.


If it wasn't obvious by now then you need to go see this film. Coming in at number one is Tokyo Movie Shinsha's cyberpunk classic Akira. Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, the film depicts a dystopian version of Tokyo in the year 2019, with cyberpunk tones. The plot focuses on teenage biker Tetsuo Shima and his psychic powers, and the leader of his biker gang, Shotaro Kaneda. Kaneda tries to prevent Tetsuo from releasing the imprisoned psychic Akira. This film packs in a lot of material stretching out to be a 2 hour long cinema masterpiece. This however, still doesn't feel like it was truly enough to fully dissect the entire plot that Akira had to offer. However, the story told within the movie, albeit differentiating from the source material, is still a very captivating story as it is altered well by Otomo. It is a very complex story and kind of a cautionary apocalyptic tale. With Tokyo being destroyed by the uncontrollable psychic power Akira. Now, in the year 2019, the military is once again trying to harness the "power of a god". Akira's power is both feared and praised throughout the film. Unfortunately for Tetsuo, he is the second coming of this uncontrollable psychic power and is doomed to his fate to ultimately loose control. This was the first feature anime film to really break out over in the United States and start a wave of anime popularity over in the states. It is held in high regard as the landmark anime film. Even though the film is 25 years old, it has aged exceptionally well. It's visuals still stand atop of the anime kingdom as the greatest feat ever accomplished by cel animation. the scenery and backgrounds are the greatest to ever be produced in anime. The amount of detail is unreal. This film is not only one of the most iconic animated films ever made, but it is one of the greatest films made in general. This film is considered a cult classic and is a landmark in what can be accomplished with animation. It is indeed, a truly unforgettable masterpiece in every sense of the word.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Shinobu Sensui - An Unconventional Idea of Brilliance

Following up my post analyzing the complicated situation of Naruto's main antagonist Obito Uchiha, I thought it would be a fun idea to continue on with the topic but change directions in the character. This time, I will be analyzing Shinobu Sensui, the main antagonist of Yoshiro Togashi's series Yu Yu Hakusho.

Sensui, much like Obito, is known to be a very diverse character with conflicting opinions from the anime/manga community. It seems as though a vast majority of the people who have seen/read Yu Yu Hakusho tend to under appreciate Sensui's character. Whether this is intentional or not, I think it is clear that Sensui is at least the most interesting antagonist of the series. I think Sensui's role in the series is heavily overshadowed by the villain and arc that succeeded his own. I believe a vast majority of people think of the Dark Tournament and Toguro to be the high points of the story. However, this was just the tip of the iceberg for Togashi's series. He followed up this arc with one of a much grander scale. Here, we are introduced to Shinobu Sensui, Yusuke's predecessor to the title of humanity's Spirit Detective. Sesnui's plan is to open a tunnel to Demon World which will in turn, bring destruction to the Human Realm. Simple enough right? Well, this is just the start to what Togashi had planned for Sensui.

Sensui provides one of the most bone chilling on screen introductions I have ever seen and has yet to be topped as far as making a statement with an introduction. While Yusuke's group is on a scouting mission trying to discover the source of the vastly growing epidemic of humans gaining psychic powers as well as a correlation with the growing number of demon entities being present in the human world, they happen to discover a human whom has the ability to read people's minds. Yusuke easily defeats the inferior human and forces him to help in their search to find who it is that is digging a tunnel to demon world. It is at this time he takes an eraser through the skull that Yusuke is able to lock eyes on Sensui who has one of the most twisted looks on his face before he disappears through the crowd of bystanders.

After this, Yusuke duels Sensui and his subordinates several times before they are finally able to come face to face in a one on one confrontation. During this fight, everything we have seen and learned throughout this arc about Sensui and his plans is completely tossed right out the window. Yoshihiro Togashi, being the masterful author that he is, completely hits the readers/viewers from left field with curve ball after curve ball after curve ball. Sensui, being scarred from his final case as a Spirit Detective before going rouge, has been left emotionally unstable and unable to cope with the harsh reality he has come to know. This has driven him to split off his personality across seven different beings, thus being revealed to have multiple personalities disorder. Yusuke only faces three of the seven personalities but ultimately ends up fighting the main personality.

Sensui's plan of trying to destroy human world is also flipped as the arc goes on. We come to find out that Sensui's ultimate goal with, in truth, to travel to Demon World to attempt to find the meaning to his life. Sensui wanted to see the world through the Demon's eyes to find peace within himself for all the Demons he had slain throughout his life. Sensui is ultimately defeated by Yusuke, who was being possessed by Raizen, and is able to come to terms with the life he had live. Sensui, after already having his character completely unraveled and twisted throughout the arc, is revealed by Itsuki to have been terminally ill and would've died in a few months had he not been killed by Yusuke. Sensui ultimately dies and his body is taken away by his lover, Itsuki, where they will spend eternity together in the dimensions between worlds.

I believe that people don't appreciate Sensui's complex character enough. Whether it be a dislike for his ideals, his changing character, his personality or because he was one of the only antagonists to be written as a homosexual, people just haven't seemed to be able to connect to Sensui the way they were able to Toguro. Maybe the fact that Sensui's motives and character changed so drastically as the arc went on made it difficult for people to identify with him. For me, Sensui is, and most likely always will be, my favorite villain of all time (yes Hisoka is an antagonist and my favorite all time character, but Sensui is a better villain in the truest context of the term). Sensui had it all, he was: interesting, charismatic, charming, eloquent, well spoken, badass, powerful, original, an idealist and overall, brilliant.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Complicated Case of Obito Uchiha

I was sitting in my literary analysis class today and we were doing an analysis of some short shorty about a store clerk coming face to face with a gangbanger whom he helped out when the gangbanger was 10 years old. My professor began to have us disect this story and I drew a parallel from the words he was saying to my feelings about Obito Uchiha.

By now, this portion of the story has been revealed to anime and manga fans alike. The man behind the mask and the Tobi alias was none other than Kakashi's childhood best friend Obito Uchiha. For those of us who have read the manga, we've know for awhile but with it just recently being revealed in the anime, it has become apparent to all fans of the series. It may come as a shock to some but I think there were enough clues leading up to the event that we all knew there was only one true possibility. The initial reaction to the unveiling was mixed. A good portion of the people were pleased by the reveal. However, there was probably an even greater number of people whom were dissatisfied with the direction the character headed. My reaction, now having gone through the material a different number of times and a varying opinion has led me to believe it was time to, in a sense, analyze the character and his importance to the series.

With the mysterious Tobi's identity now revealed, we are starting to get some backstory as to what happened to the charismatic troublemaker whom we were all left to believe was dead. However, this isn't our first introduction to the character. We are first physically introduced to Obito in the Kakashi Gaiden chapters/episodes of the series which tells the story of how Kakashi gained his Sharingan. Although this is the first time we physically see and hear Obito, this isn't the first actual introduction of his character. We learn about Obito right from the beginning stages of the story. Kakashi introduces Obito from the get go when he uses the line of his old friend that "a shinobi who breaks the rules is trash but a shinobi who abandons his friends is even greater trash." He also visits Obito's grave and says of him that he is a good friend he lost in the last Great Ninja War. So Kishimoto was making Obito's presence felt right from the get go. He was introduced as a huge plot point that would play a factor in this story. The foreshadowing here was imminent, but I believe was just missed by a great number of people, including myself at first. It wasn't until further re-examination that I noticed that Obito was being pressed hard in this story from the early stages and got more prominent the further the story progressed. So it isn't as if this wasn't set up from the get go.

I guess some people just found it hard to believe that this is what could've become of Obito. I personally have come to love the decision by Kishimoto to make Obito the main antagonist of the series and to mask him under the Tobi alias. It just works on so many levels. It was the missing story to how Kakashi was able to utilize his Sharingan. He had to come head to head against the man sporting the opposing one. Not only this, but it also completely tears down Kakashi's ideals as a Shinobi that he has instilled in his student, Naruto. Kakashi based a lot of his morals off of his heroic friend who died in battle saving Kakashi's life. For Obito to return, dawning the mask of a man who has committed multiple international crimes and also trying to bring an end to the world, completely breaks everything Kakashi had come to represent. It also works because Obito was an exact parallel to Naruto when he was his age. He was the talent less goofball ninja who could never get the girl he liked. Obito was the mirror image of Naruto, the only difference is he walked a different path than him and lost his way. Naruto would've repeated Obito's mistake and walked down the path of hopelessness and despair had it not been for Minato. In Naruto's fight with Pain, he almost gave in to his haterege and unleashed the Kyuubi but was saved by Minato.

So it's clear that Obito as the main antagonist makes sense. I think where my problem with the character lies was with the execution. Kishimoto has created a reasonable main villain who has a legitimate gripe with our main heroes. It's a great idea yet fans weren't able to appreciate it. The reason? It's because Kishimoto does a poor job of executing this story arc.

After Obito is unmasked, we begin to get more of his backstory post rock crushing. It was revealed to us that after Obito was crushed presumably to death by falling rocks in order to let his friends escape, he had somehow survived certain death by an elderly Madara Uchiha. As Madara put it, Obito was somehow able to just slip right through the boulders (indication that Obito was unconciously saved by his Kamui ability). Madara patched up Obito and gave him new limbs using Hashirama cells. He asks Obito in return that he return the favor and help him launch his Infinite Tsukoyomi plan. Obito refuses saying that he has to return to the village to help his friends. Madara convinces Obito to stay and rehab his new limbs. Obito, still having every intention on leaving, begins to wait out his limbs rehabilitation until he learns from Zetsu that his friends are in trouble. Obito uses Spiral Zetsu's body to break out and go to the scene where his friends are. Upon his arrival, he is shocked by the scene of his best friend Kakashi killing his long time love interest Rin. Enraged, Obito killed all the surrounding Mist Ninja and proceeded to cradle Rin's dead body in his arms. It is at this point that Obito believes in Madara's words and decides to help aid him in his plan. Obito abandons his identity and takes on the persona of Tobi in order to set the plan into action.

This sounds like a great motive for our main antagonist but it is somehow botched by Kishimoto's execution of this story line. He constantly gave Obito poor dialogue and explanations for why he would join the likes of Madara. His most famous and despised line being "It's because you let Rin die." Obito also when explaining his image of what he would envision during the Infinite Tsukoyomi would be with his friends when they were kids again. This also lead to the assumption that Obito was stuck at the age he was before he died. Obito was painted in a negative light where it looked like he was just a child trying to go back to the way things were instead of moving on. Besides this, Obito also often contradicted himself when he gave his reasoning for why he was doing what he was doing. For example, when he said he was trying to revive the Ten Tails and basically end the world was because Kakashi let Rin die yet later reveals to Kakashi that he knew the full story the whole time and told him that he doesn't blame him and it wasn't his fault yet still couldn't let it go. This helped cement the idea that Obito was stuck in the past and couldn't move on.

The plot for this story line was brilliant. Obito lost the love of his life and unfortunately his attatchment to the real world and instead tried to create a fantasy world where things could go back to the way he wants life to be. He, much like Nagato, was a direct parallel to Naruto's character in different aspects but the result was the same. They were both redeemable characters and were able to make a mends, or at least try to in Obito's case, at the end of their lives thanks to Naruto's polarizing charisma. His reasons were undeniably justified. He had a legitimate motive to lose faith in humanity after the love of his life is killed. Obito was captivated by Madara's whimsical speeches and unable to resist Madara's words in the face of the ultimate tragedy he could encounter.  So the motive was there, the story was there, it was just poor execution on Kishimoto's part that made it a hard connection for the audience to grasp. Had Obito's story been executed better and painted in more of a traumatic light then perhaps we'd be talking about one of the greatest and most compelling antagonists of all time.

It's a love/hate relationship with Obito Uchiha. I started off loving the character, then despising him, then appreciating his character while still disliking him, to ultimately fully accepting the character and being completely captivated by the complexities of Obito. I understand people who are going to dislike Obito regardless, but  I believe he is one of the most compelling characters in the series. Perhaps only being second to Itachi Uchiha. Obito is your classic literary tragic hero. He was the hero of Konoha who gave his life to save his friends in war, who fell from his pedestal due to the loss of his love Rin. It's just as Harvey Dent said, you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. In this case, those words have never rang so true, Obito's story is tragic, sad and overall brilliant. He is a very dynamic and complex character with many layers and a lot of depth. Obito is a complicated character, and that is one of the reasons he grown to be one of my favorites.