Anime Corner: Penguin Highway Review

One by One the Penguins Steal my Sanity

What’s the Story?

Aoyama is a boy in the 4th grade. He’s a bit of a precocious sort, very logical in his thinking and with a passion for scientific study. He’s friends with ‘The Lady’, a young woman who works at the local dentist’s office who is rather mysterious. One day, a group of penguins appear in a field with no one having any clue where they came from, or where they went. Aoyama decides to investigate this and soon comes across other strange occurrences, such as a giant floating ball of water and strange creatures in the forest. What is the link between them? Could it be ‘The Lady’? Aoyama will have to travel along the Penguin Highway to find the answer, and maybe even save his town!

The Review

Okay, I’m pulling out the ‘Only in Anime’ label again. Because, really, only in anime could you find a film that is so equal parts casual slice-of-life and bizarre fantasy all at once. One minute you’re watching the ordinary school days of a bunch of middle schoolers enjoying their youth and investigating the world around them, the next the whole town’s turned inside out and characters are flying around on the back of a stream of penguins. I have to give the film credit for the brazen way it just throws you into its particular brand of insanity without any real warning. One minute a kid is being tormented by stereotypical school bullies, the next a woman is throwing a can into the air and it turns into a penguin. Does this cause shrieks of alarm? Disbelief? Maybe a rationalisation that they’re hallucinating? Nope. The characters just stare for a brief moment, then nod and jump straight to figuring out how they’re going to investigate this strange phenomenon the world has thrown at them. I kinda love it.

There’s a real sense of child-like wonder to this story, even if our main character is constantly trying to act like a grown up and thinking about how great he’ll be when he’s an adult, also boobs. He thinks about boobs a lot (about thirty minutes a day, which considering the male average is actually a fairly small amount. Sorry, I think I’ve gotten off track here). The world of Penguin Highway is full of mysteries and wonders, but there’s a real sense that if you apply the scientific method hard enough you’ll figure it all out in the end. Even if I don’t quite buy the explanation that this film comes up with for all its mysterious goings on, I do like that idea and it fits the characters of the film. Plus I’m always down for having science and fantasy sitting side by side.

Let’s talk about our characters for a moment, starting with our lead Aoyama. Honestly he had a very fine line to walk, boy genius characters are really hard to get right (most of the time they end up annoying the audience to the point where they’re inflicting even more gruesome deaths on them than the ones they already got in the show. Sorry Adric. If you want some homework do some research into the Doctor Who episode ‘Earthshock’ and see if you can find the claymation additional ending to the story). I mean Aoyama isn’t exactly a genius, but he does start the film telling you how smart he is, which is a very bad sign and then he spends the rest of the film with a very Mr. Spock personality, approaching everything in a very logical fashion. What saves him though is that he has a lot of personality and charm. I think the moment that won me over was when he decided to get back at the aforementioned school bully by telling him he was about to get all his teeth pulled out at the dentist. It showed that he’s not emotionless and a little childish, if in his own unique way. Plus it was kinda funny.

The other characters also share in this sense of fun and charm, honestly I wouldn’t have minded if the whole film was just following Aoyama around in his day-to day life. That montage where Aoyama and his friends just try out different experiments with ‘The Ocean’ and he dreams about winning the Noble Prize where just really heart-warming. Speaking of the ‘The Ocean’, that brings me to ‘The Lady’. Honestly I’m not sure if she veers a little too much into the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ trope for my liking. She’s a lot fun to be around, don’t get me wrong, and it’s not as if she’s there to get Aoyama out of some sort of funk or anything. He starts the film as a perfectly ordinary, happy kid, and ends the film in the same way. She’s really just a mystery for Aoyama to solve and I guess I’m just not sure how I feel about that.

From a visual standpoint the film is really, really pretty. I like the character designs and everything is really bright and colourful without getting too outrageous. There isn’t all that much action, a good portion of the film’s time is spent just letting the characters be and enjoying the ordinary world. When it has to pull out all the stops for a bit of weirdness or a flashy transformation it can and will, but it’s the small moments that matter most, the character reactions and the striking visuals and the film puts all of its effort and attention into them. Plus you get to see hundreds of penguins waddling about the place and who doesn’t want to see that? Penguins are great.

The Verdict

In the end, Penguin Highway, is a film that is really confident in itself. It presents both the fantastical and the ordinary with an equal sense of wonder and approaches everything in a very matter-of-fact way, much like its main character. It’s a lot of fun, with charming characters and striking visuals, but if you’re after a story that moves at a mile a minute then you’ll have to look elsewhere. This film very much moves at its own pace. But hey, it’s got penguins and those are worth the price of admission alone so check this film out.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: The Case Study of Vanitas Review

Just Kiss Already!

What’s the Story?

It’s the 19th century and, for the most part, vampires and humans have found an uneasy peace between themselves. Of course there are those who would break that peace, like whoever’s stealing vampires’ true names, turning them into mindless beasts with an insatiable hunger. There is no cure for those who find themselves the bearer of such a curse, or at least that’s how the story goes. There is in fact one human doctor who claims he can cure any curse-bearer and he goes by the name Vanitas, a name that holds much fear for the vampires. When Noe, a vampire, travels to Paris in search of the Book of Vanitas, he has no idea the mad genius he is about to meet, or how his life will change because of it. Facing political intrigue, hidden sects of the church and their own tortured pasts, how long can Noe and Vanitas get along before one of them ends up killing the other?

The Review:

Some series literally have everything in their favour from the offset. When I’m looking for anime to watch it’s always the synopsis that I go to first so see if it piques my interest, but I’ll admit there are a few production names that immediately get my attention. Studio Bones is one such name, they’ve animated what feels like several hundred fantastic shows in their time (and I’ll just point out that Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) is still my personal favourite anime and that was made by Bones. You can check out the full list of my favourite anime HERE). Then there’s THE Yuki Kajiura, and I can’t think of a single song she’s produced that I don’t enjoy listening to (also going back to my favourite anime, she was behind the music for both Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero, my second and third favourite anime respectively). So, yes, I was extremely interested in this show when I first came across it and, if nothing else, I knew it was going to look and sound fantastic. That only left the story and characters, and if the show could nail them then, well, there’s really nothing this show could do wrong. So, how were they?

Utterly fantastic. If you haven’t guessed by now, this is going to be one of my gushing reviews, so ponchos at the ready everyone! I had an absolute blast with this series, from beginning to end. Everything from the setting to the characters to the sheer melodrama of some of the interactions, I want to give it all a chef’s kiss. And while I don’t think this series will have the same impact with everyone, it appealed to me in so many different ways that, like being caught in the hypnotic gaze of a vampire, I was just entranced from the very first episode. I just want to get lost in this world, 1800s Paris looks so sumptuous from the fashion to the architecture, with some dashes of gothic horror and a steampunk aesthetic thrown in to really hook me. There’s all the different factions, political scheming and rich lore that makes up this world and I just…I’m just trying not to squee too much as I think about it all. Some series you just want to move right into and live there forever, that’s me and this series, even if I’m pretty sure I’d be dead within the week it would still be worth it.

That brings me to the characters, who I love as much as I do the setting if that’s even possible. Watching Noe and Vanitas bicker like an old married couple never failed to bring a smile to my face. Noe is such a himbo, but he’s so pure-hearted that you can’t help but just want to hug him. Vanitas on the other hand is a lot more abrasive and unpredictable, which is fun in it’s own way, but it’s when he’s flustered and trying to hide his feelings that he’s at his funniest. The chemistry between the two is top notch and I never want to stop watching them interact. Then there’s other goofballs like Jeanne and Roland, who when we first meet them are presented as these dangerous badasses, only to learn later on that they’re these sweet cinnamon rolls and, again, the interactions with the rest of the cast is just fantastic. Not that everything is all smiles and giggles, a lot of the characters come with their own trauma and tragic back stories and the series makes sure to wring as much emotion out of each reveal as possible. I’ll also mention that this series comes with a lot of different ships, obviously Noe and Vanitas are the main ship, but after the second half of this first season I was really shipping Jeanne and Vanitas, they’re just…they’re just perfect for one another. Watch the series to find out why!

The Verdict:

In the end, The Case Study of Vanitas is perfect for me. Animation provided by Bones, music by Yuki Kajiura, a sumptuous and detailed world with a cast of loveable goofballs. There isn’t a foot this show puts wrong, for me at least I will admit this show probably isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. This show had me laughing, crying and gripping the edge of my seat with anticipation and, really, I can’t ask for anything more from a series. I’ve fallen in love not just with Noe and Vantias, but this version of Paris and the world beyond. What are you waiting for? Check this out!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: Sabikui Bisco Review

Well, Somebody Certainly Has a Taste for Mushrooms.

What’s the Story?

After an apocalyptic event, Japan has become a wasteland. The majority of it’s populace are infected with a strange disease that makes it appear as if rust is covering their skin. One doctor, Milo, is desperately searching for a cure for his infected sister. He’ll use any and every ingredient he can get his hands on, including illegal substances like mushrooms. That’s when wanted criminal, Akaboshi Bisco, enters the town, causing giant mushrooms to sprout wherever he fires his arrows. The last thing Milo is expecting is for said criminal to turn up at his clinic with someone who needs saving. Even less expected, is that once the chaos of their initial meeting is over, Milo finds himself travelling with Bisco, learning the ropes of what it means to be a Mushroom Keeper and on the hunt for the legendary Rust Eater mushroom.

The Review:

I’ve talked about this quite a few times before, but for anyone new here one of the reasons I love anime as much as I do is just how bizarre it can be. I adore the wealth of different ideas that I’ve never come across anywhere else. Every time I think, ‘that’s it, nothing can surprise me now’, here comes anime to blow my mind. Take this series as a case in point. You’ve got a main character who fires arrows and wherever they hit a giant mushroom grows. There’s also a disease that makes it look like people are slowly rusting themselves to death. Animals like hippos, giant geckos and huge snails take the place of everyday vehicles, though how a snail gets inside a plane and makes it fly I have no idea. Clearly somebody, somewhere, was smoking something and, while I want to stay well away from whatever it was, I’m grateful for all those brain cells they sacrificed to make this (Remember kids, don’t do drugs. Unless they make you creative in which case go right ahead! Wait…that feels like a bad message to give out).

I don’t even know where to start with this series. I will admit the first couple of episodes are a little hard to get through. Apart from the bizarre aspects that make up this world, the first episode is told mostly out of order. Subsequent episodes are told in a progressively more linear fashion and, after the initial arc, the series is almost entirely straight-forward storytelling. I don’t really understand the logic behind this choice, as it really just makes it harder to get a handle on what’s going on at the start, which is something you really want to avoid in story-telling. If, however, you can get through that initial arc then you’re in for a wild, and enjoyable, ride. Sabikui Bisco is a series that likes to put the pedal to the metal and never let up, unless it really has to. It’s a bombastic roller coaster filled with big action, crazy set pieces and a moustache-twirling villain that you just love to see smacked in the face.

A lot the characters are fairly stock, the titular Bisco is the gruff, shouty type with a heart of gold. Milo is a lot more gentler and innocent, and a good counter-balance to Bisco in a lot of ways. Neither of them is the deepest characterisation, but they make up for that by being endlessly badass. Bisco is just a force of nature and, once Milo gets over his learning curve he too has some truly epic moments. The build up to the final episode sees Milo, bloodied and battered, facing down a giant death machine and he doesn’t flinch for a second. I was punching the air so hard I nearly pulled a muscle, It’s just that kind of show. The animation isn’t all that special, it’s good and does everything it needs to, but it’s hardly knocking the doors down. Yet, when the animation is mixed with the dialogue, characters and that rocking soundtrack it just all hits another level. Pumped I believe is the appropriate word for what this series makes me feel.

Lastly, on a world-building front, I was surprised by how much this series managed to cover in just twelve episodes. We go on a long journey, have some epic twists and build up a lot of lore all in a short span of time and, amazingly, none of it feels rushed. Every moment feels like the natural next point from where we’ve just been, while at the same being a completely different place to where I imagined this series going. There is a lot of very good story-telling going on here and I take my hat off to the writers, even if I still want to question them over those first couple of episodes.

The Verdict:

In the end, Sabikui Bisco is a wild ride. The series gets off to a bit of a rocky start with some strange story-telling choices, but if you can get past that there’s a lot of gold waiting for you. This is a colourful and bombastic series, filled with badass characters, crazy ideas and plot twists aplenty. There’s a lot of story and world-building packed into this series without it every feeling like things are being rushed. Everything just gets the right amount of time it needs to make the impression it needs and then we move on. Throw in a rocking soundtrack and this series is a lot of fun. So, if you’re in the mood for something a bit out there, grab your bow and come join in the adventure! Mushrooms are optional of course.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: Slow Loop Review

Hooked on a feeling!

What’s the Story?

Hiyori has always been the quiet type, even more so since her father passed away. Now her mother is about to remarry and Hiyori can’t think of what to do except go out and fish, just like her and her dad used to do all the time. That’s when she meets Koharu, an energetic girl with boundless optimism and very little common sense. By a strange coincidence Koharu’s father is also just about to remarry, except that’s not a coincidence at all. Yep, Hiyori and Koharu are about to become sisters! Can Koharu work her magic and help bring Hiyori out of her shell? Only if Hiyori can get Koharu hooked on the joys of fishing and show her all the ropes (or should that be lines?)! Together they might just be exactly what one another was needing, filling in the gaps of each other’s grief with happy memories and new bonds.

The Review:

I feel like ‘Cute Girls Do Cute Things’ shows get a bad rap. I have no concrete proof for that, there’s always at least a couple of them each season so there’s definitely a fanbase (of which I count myself as a member). But, it doesn’t take much for my brain to come up with all the arguments against CGDCT shows. There’s no stakes or drama. There’s hardly any story to speak of and character development is minimal at best. Even the characters can be pretty archetypal, usually with an energetic optimist, a shy quiet one and a smart one mixed into the main cast somewhere. All of this holds true for a lot of the CGDCT shows I’ve seen, but that’s also kind of the point of them. I don’t know about other fans, but for me these series are my twenty plus minutes of chill out each week. It’s a little breather where I don’t have to worry about world-ending threats, heart-breaking drama or what the cliffhanger is going to be, it’s just a bit of sugary fun. And, in my opinion, Slow Loop might just be one of my favourite CGDCT shows I’ve seen so far.

What makes Slow Loop special for me, is that while it holds to a lot of the staples of the genre, it also has this emotional edge that wormed its way into my heart and really got me invested in these girls. I talked in the ‘What’s the Story?’ section about how Hiyori has recently lost her father, and I’ll add to that that Koharu’s mother has passed away as well. Now there’s certainly a really good drama there, two girls both mourning a lost parent and working out how to be a family, but this is a CGDCT show so that means no drama. As such Hiyori and Koharu get along pretty much from the start and everyone is very understanding and comforting to one another. I’d half expected the dead parents never to be mentioned again past the first episode, but Slow Loop is better than that. It saves those mentions for the moments when it can really hit you in the feels.

Throughout the show there’s these quiet moments where the series just takes a breath and Hiyori will wistfully talk about her father, or Koharu will think of her mother. It’s also pretty clear that these girls are still dealing with the emotional scars of what they’ve been through. Koharu in particular has some self-worth issues about not being a burden to others that come to light later on. It’s not just the girls either, at one point there’s a conversation about how Hiyori’s mother was struggling and we have a whole cast of side characters, some of whom have their own little emotional breakthrough across the series. Again, I don’t want to oversell this, there is no drama and no stakes whatsoever in this series, but these moments feel so honest and heartfelt that I can’t help but root for all of these girls.

Throw in the fact that this series is just really good at being a CGDCT show and you’re on to a winner here. Our cast may be made up of a set of familiar archetypes, but they all have terrific chemistry and they all sell their roles flawlessly. The animation is pretty standard and simple, but there are some really lovely bits of scenery put on display, I could almost feel the chill of some of those early mornings. That brings me to the fishing aspects of the show and it finds a good balance between showing, what I’m presuming are, the joys of fishing and handing out informative facts. Honestly, depending on your thoughts about whether fishing counts as a sporting activity or not, this count qualify for the Sports! Genre (though there’s no real competition, just certain characters’ drive to catch fish).

The Verdict:

In the end, Slow Loop is a great example of the ‘Cute Girls Do Cute Things’ genre done right. It ticks all the boxes of the genre, no drama and stakes, archetypal characters and just generally being a warm ball of fuzz to sink into (which, again, if that’s what you’re looking for, like me, this is perfect). Yet, at the same time, it manages to dig a little deeper into its characters than you expect. While there’s no drama to really speak of, that doesn’t mean its characters can’t have open and frank conversations and its those moments that really got me invested in this series. There’s also plenty of fishing and fishing facts for those that care that, but for me it’s the characters that made this show. Now if you’ll excuse me there’s a couple of fictional characters I want to go hug right now.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: The Vampire Dies in No Time Review

All Hail John the Armadillo!

What’s the Story?

Vampires, a scourge that plagues humanity with their many different forms and ludicrous powers. From being able to hypnotise people into saying only lewd things to making people strip when they lose at Rock, Paper, Scissors, they are a danger that must be fought! That’s why hunters like Ronaldo exist. When Ronaldo is called to a remote caste he has no idea that he’s about to face one of his most challenging opponents to date, a vampire lord named Draluc who… dies at the slightest attack? Wait… what?! Can a vain and fame-hungry hunter learn to get along with his new roommate, literally the world’s weakest vampire? Will Ronaldo finish his next manuscript in time or will his editor have to put him in the Iron Maiden again? Will John the Armadillo get his own show as he so rightly deserve? Come join the adventure and find out!

The Review:

This show is ridiculous and I love every insane second of it. There we go, review done, make sure to watch the show and don’t forget to sign up to the John the Armadillo fan club when you do, I’ll be here all week. What? You want more?! Well tough because I have no explanation whatsoever for this show, it was just supposed to be a silly little show to pass the time on Mondays, but instead it turned into one of the bright spots of my week. You want proof? For a while now I’ve tried to make a habit out of posting my reactions to anime episodes up on Twitter as I watch them. Yet the same thing happens again and again, I keep running out of things to say and stop tweeting after the first few weeks. When it comes to this show though? I’ve been putting up screencaps each and every week consistently, almost exclusively of John in all his adorableness. Seriously I have an obscene amount of John screencaps on my hard drive, it’s actually starting to worry me.

Let’s talk about John for a minute, so that I might count the ways in which I love him. Normally I feel like I’m immune to the cute animal sidekick, nothing against them I’m just not a pet person, yet when it comes to John I melted almost immediately. Maybe it’s just the idea of having an armadillo as a familiar that appeals to me because, seriously, who would even think of that as an option? Or maybe it’s just how expressive he is despite the fact that he can’t talk and has such a simple design. You can always tell exactly what’s going through his little orange head just by the way he tilts it. Maybe, and this is my surest bet, it’s all the random little costumes he puts on at the drop of a hat. Grass skirts, sunglasses, football shirts and any tiny hat he can get his paws on, he’ll wear them all! My god, I’m legitimately thinking about buying an armadillo and taking pictures of it in a host of tiny costumes, what has this show done to me?!

Of course John, in all his greatness, is not the only reason to watch this show. This is such a cavalcade of one ridiculous set up after another it’s hard not to lose my grip on reality just thinking about it. The shows starts off relatively normal (of course when I say ‘normal’ I mean by anime standards), with its central premise of a vampire that dies at the slightest thing moving in with a vampire hunter. There’s some decent gags around that premise, but the level of outlandishness and bizarreness increases with each episode until you’re stood at the mirror questioning if you really just saw a vampire turn a bunch of people into mindless zombies through the power of micro-bikinis. Or the vampire cat that hypnotises people into becoming cat-lovers and worshipping it. Or the super-threatening serial killer who ,through one misfortune after another, everyone is just convinced is some kind of exhibitionist. Or the vampire vegetables, one of which kept Ronaldo trapped in the shower forever because it happened to be a stick of celery. I could go on but I think you get the idea.

Needless to say this show hit me square in the funny bone. Surprise is a big part of comedy, some might even say the biggest part, and I was glued to my screen week after week waiting to see what they were going to throw at me this time. The show never disappointed and I even found myself laughing along with the more crude jokes because they too have their own brand of ridiculousness. Now sometimes I can be a bit of a prude, but I’m British, innuendo and blue jokes form the foundation of a lot of humour I grew up with so all the dirty jokes got to me in the end.

The Verdict:

In the end, The Vampire Dies in No Time is an absolute delight. I came into this show looking for an amusingly little diversion, but instead I found a genuinely entertaining and hilarious comedy. The jokes, characters and set ups just get weirder and weirder as the show goes on and that only makes it all the more funny. From killer party games to the harrowing origin of our saviour John the Armadillo, this show never fails to surprise and my Monday nights aren’t going to be the same without it. If you haven’t checked this show out then you really have done yourself a disservice. In fact, as punishment, I challenge you to a dance battle right now!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: Patlabor: The New Files Review

Reporting in for duty one more time!

What’s the Story?

In the near future of 1999 a new technology has revolutionised construction, the Labor. These mechanical giants allow for building on a scale that was previously unheard of, but as with any new technology there are those who would misuse it. For cases such as these the police has a certain division, the Special Vehicle Section, who with their Patlabors (Patrol Labors) to fight to bring peace to Tokyo. Of course that’s when they’re not dealing with TV mascots taking hostages, albino alligators and searching bath houses for terrorists. The life of a police office is hardly ever quiet, but when you’re in the Special Vehicle Section it’s also far from normal!

The Review:

Last year I took a look at Patlabor: The Movie (you can read my review HERE). That film was really what got me into the Patlabor franchise in the first place, and the more I rewatch it the more it becomes one of my favourite anime films. I love this franchise and I want to get my hands on as much of it as I possibly can, no matter the dark corners of the Internet I have to transverse (well, excluding the illegal ones I’m not that desperate yet but I feel like I’m getting close). That brings me to today’s subject for review, Patlabor: The New Files. This is the second OVA series of the franchise, and while I feel like the first OVA, Early Days, is essential to appreciating the films, this second set is much more connected to the TV series. At least that’s what I’ve been able to piece together, I’ve not actually seen any of the TV series at the time of writing this review. Not for lack of trying mind, but I just haven’t found any legal way to see it in the UK, much to my eternal frustration. Still, while there are a couple of new faces and some plot threads I’m assuming are carried over from the series you can mostly just dive straight into this like I did.

Let’s start by talking about those carried over plots, since that’s exactly where the first disc of the OVA begins. The first four episodes wrap up the ‘Griffon’ arc, who I’m assuming was a major antagonist in the series. Overall it’s a pretty solid little arc and certainly the most back to back action you’ll find in this OVA. The plot centres around a corporation that has illicitly developed a Labor for combat and they want to show it off to potential buyers by putting it up against the SVU’s Patlabors. Several confrontations are staged across Tokyo before it comes down to Noa and Alphonse taking on the Griffon. The action is good and there’s some nice police procedural work as the SVU track the buyers and try to work out where Griffon will strike next. There are references to previous encounters with the Griffon and a few new faces that I’m sure appear in the series, but once I wrapped my head around those the story was easy enough to get into.

My only real complaint with the ‘Griffon’ arc is the design of the titular mech. There’s something about the designs of all the other Labors we see that feels realistic to me, well, as realistic as a giant robot can be. They’re functional if not entirely practical, I can see them existing in the real world (whether they’d actually work in the real world is another matter). The Griffon though, that looks like it came straight out of an anime, which admittedly it has, but nothing else in this franchise looks like it and that bugs me. The only other episode to make reference to the TV series is the alligator one and honestly that’s pretty funny and you don’t need to know that much going into it.

The rest of the OVA is made up of standalone episodes that you can go into with the bare minimum knowledge of the franchise. There’s not that much action outside of a couple of quick encounters and some episodes hardly even feature the titular Patlabors. There’s a much more light-hearted and comedic vibe to this series, so much so I’d be tempted to put this more in the slice-of-life category than the typical action tags that go along with mecha series. We see the offices of the SVU going about their daily lives, getting up to hijinks and occasionally getting involved in some bizarre case or another. One entire episode is just us following around the two Captains as they try to get back to Tokyo in a storm and end up sleeping in a love hotel. We see Noa struggle to do her job when she’s suffering from a tooth ache, tensions rising at a little office getaway and the Maintenance crew going crazy when their pornography stash is confiscated. Now I know none of that sounds like the most riveting viewing, but with this cast it is. The whole OVA creates this very relaxed, almost introspective atmosphere that I’ve come to associate with the Patlabor franchise and honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Verdict:

In the end, Patlabor: The New Files is a solid entry into the franchise. I’m sure people who’ve seen the TV series will appreciate the nice epilogue this gives, while newbies like me can just jump straight in and appreciate it. If you’re looking for lots of mecha action this probably isn’t the right place for you, there is some in the ‘Griffon’ arc, but most of this series is made up of more sedate, slice-of-life style episodes. I wouldn’t have it any other way though, I love these quirky characters and it’s great just to spend time relaxing in their company. Until the next call out comes in I’m just going to be chilling out here, see you then.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: Lupin the 3rd: The First Review

First! Wait, can you do that when ‘First’ is literally in the title?!

What’s the Story?

Lupin the 3rd, gentleman thief extraordinaire, has put his mind to correcting a part of history, namely the Bresson Diary. It’s the one item that his grandfather failed to steal so many years ago and that simply can’t stand. They say that whoever manages to unlock the mechanical case that holds the diary will be led to a treasure beyond their wildest dreams and because of that Lupin isn’t the only one with plans to steal it. For starters there’s rookie thief Laetitia and for seconds we’ve got a group of Nazis. This caper will take Lupin across continents, from Paris to Mexico, have him facing off against gravity-defying traps and struggling to survive aerial combat. When all is said and done though, who will the first to reach the treasure?

The Review:

3D animation has come an awfully long way from the days of jerky movements and plastic textures, and there are times I have to remind myself of that. I’ll admit I’m a stan for 2D animation and I always will be, I grew up on Disney films and 90s anime, it’s just a part of who I am. The technology behind CG animation is continually evolving though, with each film I see the textures get a little more realistic, the lighting more natural and the motions more fluid, so much so that they put early CG films to shame. That brings me to this film, Lupin the 3rd: The First, which I can say, hand on heart, is one of the most gorgeous-looking films I have ever seen. I still remember seeing the teaser trailer and being impressed, then the clip of the car chase landed on Youtube and my jaw hit the floor. The perfectly timed speed of the action, the expressive characters, the lighting and texture of everything was just…I don’t like using the word perfect, but that’s exactly what it is. So, how does the rest of the movie stack up?

Well, it’s pretty much perfect too, at least in the animation department. Every action sequence, and there are a fair number of them, is fluid and perfectly paced with some gorgeous sweeping shots and the kind of madcap hijinks you expect from the Lupin franchise. It’s a thrill ride and when the film does slow down to give us a few character moments or just some time to breath, it perfectly captures the expressions of the characters. It’s the little things that impress me, the way Fujiko sticks out her tongue when she’s caught and trying to be cute. The way Laetitia sidles up to Lupin after she’s clearly started to fall for the roguish thief, right before being interrupted. The way Goemon protectively clutches his sword or how Jigen calmly puts out a cigarette before pulling some of the most badass marksmanship you’ll ever see on screen (seriously go watch that car chase clip on Youtube).

Okay, enough gushing about how this film looks, let’s talk about the actual story. I still consider myself kinda new to the franchise, having only seen Castle of Cagliostro, Part 4 and part 5 at the time of writing this review, but this feels like a fairly standard entry. Lupin is after some item that he tries to steal, only to have it stolen out from under him and the quest to get it back leads him on to a bigger adventure that ends with a doomsday machine and fighting Nazis. There’s various hijinks and capers along the way, all pulled off with the style and exuberant energy I’ve come to expect from this franchise, but there’s nothing really new here. I called all the ‘twists’ well before the film got to them and there’s no real character growth or exploration. I would have thought a bit more would have been made of Lupin trying to complete his Grandfather’s legacy, but outside of a few bits of dialogue and one sequence where he dons his hat and cane, it never really gets talked about.

Then again, I don’t think this film was ever truly trying to be deep or meaningful, it just wanted to be a fun ride and in that it succeeds with aplomb. Honestly this film reminds me a bit of the Indiana Jones franchise (maybe it’s the fact that Lupin is fighting Nazis this time, or it could be the sequence where he has to work out a series of traps to reach the treasure). It’s a well-made adventurous romp with plenty of action and comedy and no need to delve too deeply into the characters. You know who Indy is. You know who Lupin is. Sure we could have a deep character analysis on either one, or we could just watch them run around being themselves and punching Nazis. Either option is perfectly acceptable.

The Verdict:

In the end, Lupin the 3rd: The First is an adventure romp, full of action, comedy and a little bit of heart. The story is pretty straightforward and easy to guess where it’s going, but the downright gorgeous animation more than makes up for that. This film is a joy to watch from beginning to end and if you’re worried about being a newbie to the franchise, don’t. You can jump straight into this without any real context and you should have a blast. As much as I love 2D animation, if Lupin wants to make the jump to 3D then I more than support it with this level of quality. Here’s to many more Lupin adventures to come!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Encanto

Welcome to the Family Madrigal!

What’s the Story?

Deep in the mountains of Colombia there lives a magical family, the Madrigals! Chased from their home generations ago this family was blessed with a magic candle that never goes out. Now, when they come of age, each generation of Madrigal children is granted their own special gift by that candle. One can make flowers bloom out of thin air, one is super strong, one can control the weather and another can hear a pin drop from a mile away. Everyone has a gift, well, except for Mirabel. She never got a gift and while she loves her family, it can be hard being the only one who isn’t special. When Mirabel sees cracks spreading through the walls she might have just found her chance to show everyone what she’s really capable of. Can she work out what’s threatening her family’s magic before it tears them all apart?

The Review:

I feel like I haven’t talked about a Disney film on this blog in a long while, the last film I reviewed was Frozen 2 all the way back in 2020. I have nothing against ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ or any of the recent Pixar films, but I just didn’t have anything to say about them. They’re all just the usual standard I expect from Disney, great animation, good voice cast and a heartfelt story. Raya had some issues but nothing that would have taken up a 1,000 word review. I wasn’t planning on reviewing this film either, but having finished watching it a couple of hours ago its still sat in my head. It could be the songs, I am a sucker for a good musical and this is a damn good musical.

Let’s start there. All the songs are catchy and had me bopping along, plus they all advance the plot/explore the characters as musical songs should. Then there’s the added bonus that the songs are all perfectly spread out throughout the film so it doesn’t feel like the film forgot it was a musical halfway through (I’m looking at you Frozen). I guess this is what happens when you have someone like Lin-Manuel Miranda writing your music. The guy’s so talented it is legitimately frustrating.

Also, I just want to take a moment to talk about the staging in this film because a lot of this feels like a Broadway production. Time freezing around Mirabel as she wanders off and sings her ‘I Want’ song. The dynamic visuals of Luisa’s song showing off all her fears in their full hallucinatory glory. In fact dynamic is the key word for this film, there’s so much energy and movement that you feel like the characters are just a second away from grabbing you and pulling you right up alongside them in the scene. Each song feels like an event and I love the way we transition into, through and out of them.  I take my hat off to the animators and directors.

Enough about the music though, what about the actual characters? I have to say Mirabel has to be one of my favourite Disney leads in a few years. She’s completely adorable, full of energy and so easy to sympathise with. It’s not easy being the only ‘ordinary’ one in a family of super-talented people, not that I have any experience of that, I’m an only child, but the film makes you emphasise with Mirabel. I also like the fact that this doesn’t make Mirabel bitter, she loves her family, truly and deeply, she just wants to help out and know that she’s a part of things. I also give the film credit for showing that things aren’t exactly easy for her siblings either. Yes they have superpowers, but the pressure and expectations that puts on them isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

That’s what this film is about in the end, family and coming to understand one another. Across the film, Mirabel’s quest to find whatever it is that’s threatening the magic candle leads to her getting to know her family better and they get to know her. There’s no villain in this film, surprise or otherwise. There’s some antagonism sure and a few arguments, but what family doesn’t have those, and in the end everyone works through their issues and comes together. This film is also a good study of generational trauma and how the fears of one generation can get passed on down through the family. It’s not as good as say, Coco, but it’s a little extra seasoning to an already enjoyable story. There isn’t really much else to say other than if you haven’t already checked this film out then you need to. I’m happy to report that the Disney magic is alive and well.

The Verdict:

In the end, Encanto, is a tremendous amount of fun. Full of colour and energy it’s got some great songs and striking visuals matched with a really likeable cast. Mirabel might just be one of the most sympathetic Disney leads I’ve seen in a while and her journey to save her family and getting to know them along the way is full of laughs and tears. Throw in Disney’s top notch animation and there really is no other word for this film than magic, so if you’re in the mood to get your foot tapping then just find your door and walk on it. Welcome to Encanto!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission Review

A real hero never gives up! Even when they’re bleeding out to the point of actually dying.

What’s the Story?

When a cult of quirk-hating terrorists release a gas that causes people’s abilities to spiral dangerously out of control, the world’s heroes mobilise. The head of the cult is nowhere to be found though, and there’s bombs set to release more gas all around the world. If there’s any hope of saving this day they’re going to need every hero they can, including the students of U.A.. Unfortunately Deku’s been accused of mass murder and is on the run from the police. Can he, Todoroki and Bakugo figure what’s going on, track down the cult’s leader and save the whole hero society? It’s a tough ask, but if anyone can they can. Mission start!

The Review:

My Hero Academia’s third film! Okay, maybe having a third film released isn’t all that ground-breaking for a shonen series (especially when you compare it other series like One Piece and Dragon Ball and their vast catalogue of films). Still, having three films for a series that are all consistently good (spoiler warning for my thoughts on this film) is something that’s worth praising. You can read my reviews of the previous two movies HERE and HERE, but let’s focus on this film for now. I really had a good time with this movie, it’s funny, it’s endearing and incredibly dramatic when it wants to be, much like the show at it’s best. It’s also fairly kind to newcomers as well, obviously it helps if you’ve seen some the show or have read the manga, but the film’s central plot is fairly independent. I saw this film with a friend of mine who has never watched/read a single second of MHA and he followed what was happening perfectly fine, he just questioned who a lot of the characters were.

Let’s talk about that story for a second, because while this film captures the spirit of MHA, it also presents us with something entirely different from the series. Gone are the familiar settings of U.A. and most of Class 1-A are reduced to cameo appearances at best. In their place we have a more global event with a couple of new heroes (though there’s a lot less international heroes in this film that I thought there were going to be) and the stakes are some of the highest we’ve seen. Deku has to spend most of the film on the run from the police and when we hit the climax its down to Deku, Todoroki and Bakugo alone to save all of hero society. Also, I’ll just say this now, this film gets bloody in the final battles. The amount of times people get stabbed or shot, it’s a wonder they don’t all bleed out by the time the end credits roll. It’s a little ridiculous, but it certainly adds to how dire things feel in this film.

Not that this is all doom and gloom, there’s plenty of breath-taking action sequences peppered throughout to keep things lively. I have to take my hat off to whichever animators worked on the swooping camera work of the mid-air fights, of which there are several, there’s a real sense of frenzy and chaos without ever making things hard to follow for the audience, which is a true skill. Throw in some good humour at the start and a middle that slows down to properly develop the emotional beats and this film really has pitch perfect pacing.

Speaking of the emotional beats, let’s talk about Rody. When I think about it all the MHA films have really good film-only protagonists for Deku and co to hang out with, but I think Rody might just be my favourite. He’s a fully fleshed out character with a compelling back story and a clear character arc, he’s also effortlessly charming and quick-witted enough to give Deku a run for his money. Yes his arc is fairly obvious, of course the cynical character will have his heart melted by the pure ball of sunshine that is Deku, but seeing him struggle on despite the worst of things towards the end of the film is a real hero moment. Also he has a really…let’s say unique power and that damn bird of his had me tearing up by the end of the film.

That brings me to the villains of this film and, honestly, I’m kinda split on them. On the one hand they’re a really great concept for a group of villains, people who see quirks as a problem to be gotten rid of and willing to go to murderous lengths to achieve that. I’m honestly surprised a group like them hasn’t turned up in the series at any point, though of course I know the Quirk Doomsday Theory has been brought up by the series several times in the manga, and that idea in itself is a really meaty one. The basic idea is that as quirks combine down the generations and grow stronger they’re going to reach a point where they can no longer be controlled and the world will end. It’s a startling idea, one that the series hasn’t provided an answer to, outside of the fact that it’s just a theory and hasn’t been outright proven it will happen yet.

The problem with the villains is that, cool ideas aside, we never really get to know any of them. We only get the full details on what’s driving the main villain as he monologues about his past while he fights Deku…at the end of the film. That’s a bit too little, too late for my taste. There’s a wide variety of hench people working for said main villain and some of them have really fun and creative powers, but there’s no real depth to any of them. The only one I truly care about and wanted to get to know more was the archer lady and she doesn’t make it to the end of the film. Oh, did I mention this film has a hell of a body count? Well, it does start off with the villains gassing an entire city. I probably should have mentioned that earlier.

The Verdict:

In the end, My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission is another solid entry in this series’ film catalogue. It maintains the spirit of the series while expanding the franchise out into new horizons, giving us new locations and characters and raising the stakes to a truly dire situation. The villains are the only real let down, having a great concept but none of them being fleshed out enough to make an impact. The action and the characters more than make up for this though and I thoroughly recommend seeing this if you can. Plus ultra!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Hellboy Animated: Blood & Iron

Son of a….!

What’s the Story?

In 1939, a young Professor Broom (Bruttenholm) confronted and defeated Erzesbet Ondrushko, a vampire rumoured to bathe in the blood of young women to retain her beauty. Now, all signs point towards someone trying to bring her back. When the agents of the B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence) are invited to inspect a haunted house, Professor Broom brings along Hellboy, Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien just to be sure. The resurrection of a vengeful vampire is the least of their worries though, as dark forces have been watching the titular Hellboy and they are very disappointed by what they see. Having to contend with ghosts, werewolves, harpies and an ancient Goddess inhabiting an iron maiden, the agents are in for one rough night, and not everyone will live to see the dawn.

The Review

You know, each and every year I’m surprised to reach another anniversary post and yet I keep coming up with things I want to talk about, much like the subject of today’s review. It’s the 7th anniversary of this little blog of mine and, as is tradition around here, I’m going to spend it talking about a franchise/film that I have strong feelings for. Honestly I’ve been meaning to talk about this particular franchise for a while now, ever since I started this blog in fact, and since I spent the first half of this year rereading my collection of the graphic novels, now feels like the right time. I don’t know why I’m trying to treat this like a big reveal, you’ve all read the title and seen the artwork, today we’re talking about the world-renowned paranormal investigator, Hellboy.

I have vague recollections of seeing Hellboy comics and merchandise in different places when I was a kid, but it wasn’t until the first Guillermo Del Toro film that I properly took notice. I’ve been buying said comics on and off ever since and, if you have even the slightest interest in this franchise, I thoroughly recommend them. Not only is Mike Mignola’s art a masterclass in colour, shadows and composition, but the titular hero is just such a likeable and compelling character. Throw in all the legends, myths and folklore that Hellboy often finds himself combating and its almost as if this series was made for me. There is such a deep lore to the series and a starkly different feel than you get from the Del Toro films (though I do enjoy both of those films quite a lot).

On to the subject though, what is Hellboy Animated? The idea for an animated Hellboy series has been floating around for a long time, and really if Invinicible can get its own cartoon, why not Hellboy? Sadly such a series has yet to materialise, but with the relative success of the first Hellboy film there was enough interest to green light two animated features (A third film was in development, but much like the Del Toro films this franchise doesn’t seem to be able to reach that far). As such we got Sword of Storms and Blood and Iron, both with Ron Perlman, Selma Blair and Doug Jones returning to voice their respective characters. Blood and Iron even has the late great John Hurt returning to play Professor Broom. Sword of Storms is a decent film, it’s really just a collection of things that happen with Hellboy interacting with various yokai and creatures of Japanese mythology. Check it out if the mood takes you.

That brings me, finally, to today’s review. Blood and Iron is my favourite of the animated films and, in some respects, it’s my favourite Hellboy film. It is a direct-to-DVD film so it’s resources are limited, but you can feel there’s a great deal of passion behind this project. Not only from the voice talent, because, come on, Ron Perlman was born to play Hellboy, but the direction, even the use of colour, they’re pulling out all the stops they can. Add on to that the fact that, to me, this is the film that feels the most like the comics and is it any wonder I love it so much? This film is loosely based on the second Hellboy mini-series, ‘Wake the Devil’, it even climaxes with Hellboy squaring off against Hecate, Greek Goddess of Magic and Queen of the Witches. Some of Hecate’s dialogue is even pulled directly from the comic. The only things really missing are the revived Nazis, Rasputin’s ghost floating about the place and we’re facing off against a different vampire, but this is meant to be a stand alone film and that stuff would require some context so I can see why they cut it.

Direct pulls from the comics aside, what makes this film feel so much like the series is the way the characters interact. Hellboy is a much more subdued and mature character, he’s a working class joe who does his job with a sarcastic, dry wit. He has a lot of care and respect for his father, Professor Broom and Liz is back in the little sister role as opposed to being the love interest. One of my favourite scenes has to be the first briefing, where they’re all just sat around in armchairs bantering. Liz is trying to remember where they found this pastry place while on a mission, Hellboy is complaining about the quality of the donuts and the boss is wondering whether they should spring for a conference table. None of this Men-in-Black super secret organisation stuff, they’re government employees, working with hardly any budget and just trying to do the best they can.

If you’re looking for Gothic Horror, then look no further than this film. Erzsebet is a great antagonist, and while we don’t get to see much of her in the present day, outside of her horrific resurrected appearance, she more than makes up for it in the flashbacks. Peppered throughout this film are flashbacks to the first time that Professor Broom encountered Erzsebet and it really plays up that Hammer Horror vibe. Interestingly enough the flashbacks are played in reverse order, we start with Broom confronting and defeating Erzsebet and then back track to get to know the players in this tragedy a little better. Each one is perfectly placed to give us a new kernel of information and I do have to admire the writing and direction of them. It’s not a gory film, but there is plenty of death, blood and even a little torture so maybe keep the little kids away from this one.

Lastly, I want to talk about the use of colour in this film. Most of this film is saturated in different shades of blue, since the story plays out mostly at night and it adds to the mood of the film. It also helps our big red hero stand out even more. Green, however, is mostly used for anything that the film depicts as evil, Erzsebet wears a green dress, magic, Hecate and her servants are all coloured or surrounded by green. It helps to keep the film visually interesting. There’s even a scene where, as Hellboy’s fight with a werewolf is reaching its peak, the whole room suddenly becomes coloured red to show that intensity, before dying back down to blue once the fight is over. As I said before, the people working on this film really pulled out all the stops they could and they weren’t afraid to experiment or try things out, for which I can only commend this film. I do wish there were more Hellboy animated films, I have no doubt that I would have loved Shadow of the Claw as much as I did this one, but that will just have to be relegated to whatever dimension is lucky enough to hold all of the unmade Hellboy films. Maybe someday we’ll get that Hellboy animated series.

The Verdict

In the end, Hellboy Animated: Blood & Iron is exactly the kind of Hellboy film I want. It’s dark, gothic and has a clear understanding of the world and characters. You can feel the passion that all involved put into this film and it’s a crime that they weren’t allowed to make more. It is only a Direct-to-DVD film, so it’s budget does show in places, but the skill in the writing, direction and inventive use of colour more than make up for any weaknesses. If you like Hellboy, or even think you might like Hellboy, then check this out. There was a Blu ray release a little while ago. Oh, and read the comics too!

On a final note, I just want to thank everyone who’s managed to make it this far and for putting up with my long-winded, rambling reviews. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did putting it together. And thank you to everyone who’s viewed, liked and commented on one of my posts in these past seven years, here’s to the next few!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.