Occult Academy, you’ve made a fan out of me.
After tackling time travel in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Mamoru Hosoda returns in Summer Wars to the more provincial and realistic world of the Internet. Luckily the Internet here is not the boring, text heavy internet of our time, but a more garish and interesting Internet of a not-too-distant future. Pastel colored avatars, corporate headquarters and shopping centers dominate the internet world of OZ.
If a good movie is hard to come by, surely a good anime movie is like one in a million; what a relief then, because for now, my long search is over – The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is that one in a million. Dubbed in some quarters as the anti-Ghibli, it offers a refreshing emphasis on characters over expensive-looking visuals, and as a result, we are left with a film that may look decidedly uncinematic, yet engages us on core emotional level above and beyond likes of Advent Children; basically, a rare triumph of good old fashioned story telling.
It’s brilliant to be in this position. The last thing I expected to be writing about is Digimon, but that’s just typical of life; ever twisting, ever unpredictable. So this morning I was reading about Mamoru Hosoda – a rising star of anime who is just now making an international impact with “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” (having previously quit Howl’s Moving Castle). Anyone who has seen that or the frankly disturbing “One Piece Movie 6: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island” will know that Hosoda is the real deal; a genuine and unique talent.
The excellent (repeat: excellent) AniPages Daily has an informative article on him and raves at length about his name-making directorial debut on the first two Digimon movies. All I thought I knew about Digimon was that it was another of those annoying Pokemon “gotta buy ’em all!” clones, but in truth, I really knew nothing about the franchise at all, and so I sat down to watch Digimon Adventure (Movie 1) with a clean slate. Besides, the movie is only 20 minutes long, so basically, I had nothing to lose.
Put simply, it’s wonderful. The plot goes something like this; one evening, Taichi’s baby sister Hikari discovers an odd looking egg (it magically drops out of the computer monitor). Taichi’s just a young boy himself, but still, he’s spending the whole day at home looking after his little sister. Suddenly the egg hatches and an odd black shape emerges; it’s a monster! They try to catch it but it hides under Hikari’s bed – she blows her favourite whistle and the monster blows back bubbles, they feed it cat food and it poops on the floor. Over the day, the monster completely changes shape; eventually becoming a small tyrannosaurus rex-like animal called “Koromon”. Not before long, it’s storming through a Japanese city, launching fireballs at passing buses and impressing on-looking kids!
The beauty of Digimon Adventure lies in the way the children interact with Koromon. It feels a lot like a Studio Ghibli production because it captures that rare essence of childhood, where almost everything feels like an enchanting dream; so overwhelmingly full of fluffy fun and adventure. The kids almost immediately befriend the monster, despite the fact that it’s gradually transforming into a fearsome looking fanged beast! A particularly brilliant scene comes when Koromon lumbers outside for the first time; he walks through the street with the baby Hikari stuck to his back, ripping up vending machines and nearly getting smashed by oncoming cars. Hikari tries to clean up the damage but it’s an impossible task.
The message is friendship, but it’s not without a sense of sacrifice and loss too. All in all, this is a magical kids movie that inspires and feels like trip into a colourful imagination. Yes, it’s Digimon, but look past that and I promise you will be impressed.
Shonen Jump movies aren’t exactly known for their quality; they usually amount to little more than 1.5 hours worth of fan-servicey filler, but when I discovered none other than Norio Matsumoto animated "One Piece Movie 6: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island", I just had to check it out. For those who aren’t aware, Matsumoto is an amazing action animator capable of capturing some stunning movement — he was the guy behind those episodes (30, 133) of Naruto.
So I sat down to this movie expecting great animation and hoping for a fun story, what I got far exceeded my expectations. This was a great movie, the last 30 minutes of which were an explosion of post-apocalyptic scenery and nakama-love, Luffy style. The Straw Hats come within whisker of dying, and in an outstandingly cool scene Luffy is almost crucified when impaled by dozens upon dozens of arrows. It looks breathlessly stylish, is undeniably darker than the TV series and like the best of One Piece, shows real heart.
For all its action-packed gusto, One Piece’s greatest strength has always been the steely bond of comradery between the Straw Hats. I could sit through hours of One Piece fillers just to see the characters interact and mess about. Movie 6 understands this, and what this results in is an almost heart-breaking tribute to Luffy’s loyalty to his nakama. Some of it borders on outright horror — during one especially grotesque moment, the Straw Hat pirates (excluding Luffy) are squished together and mutate into a kind of slimy, fleshy plant stalk that grows out of the deranged villain’s shoulder; it looks disgusting. In another shocking scene, Luffy has arrows shot through his hands and feet, blood pours from the wounds. He is in pain. You know it’s bad when Luffy is writhing in agony. This will scare kids.
Given my love of Matsumoto’s art, it should go without saying that Movie 6 is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The finale is an absolute tour-de-force of high budget Shonen Jump action — hand to hand combat, big open spaces, lightning quick movement, crazy special moves; arrows cloud the sky, Luffy’s gomu-gomu attacks have never looked as good.
Running in at a mere 90 minutes, this is essential viewing for One Piece fans. You just have to see the last half.