The Infallible Fish Reviews: Hilda and the Mountain King

Hilda and the Epic Conclusion!

What’s the Story?

Hilda’s always been wild-at-heart and thanks to that she’s gone on all manner of adventures, even after moving to Trolberg. Whether it’s dealing with Tide Mice, sorting out contracts with the organisation-obsessed elves or befriending the local Nisse, there’s always something new to explore and learn about. However, after a harrowing journey through the home of the trolls with her mum, Hilda was all set for a bit of peace and quiet for once. Unfortunately there’s no telling when an adventure will call and the next morning Hilda wakes up to find herself turned into a troll! Meanwhile Hilda’s mum has woken up to find her daughter replaced by a troll baby! Can Hilda use her wits and courage to find her way home and turn herself back into a human? Or perhaps there are even more pressing matters, why exactly are the trolls gathering outside Trolberg? And what does the Mountain King have planned for the humans behind the city’s walls?

The Review:

And here we are folks, the end of Hilda. At least, at the time of writing this, that’s what this looks to be. The Mountain King is the latest Hilda book to be published and as far as I know Netflix hasn’t announced a third season. I’ll admit this film leaves me feeling very bittersweet. On the one hand it’s great that we’ve got to the end of the story with such a wonderful adaptation that is both word for word what’s in the book, but also isn’t afraid to add new stuff. On the other hand though, this is the end and I’m not sure I’m ready for all this to be over. I fell in love with Hilda back in the first season (you can read my review of season 1 HERE and season 2 HERE). The show is so cozy and charming it’s been like a comfort blanket at times, just wrapping me up and letting me disappear into this pastel-coloured world where magic and adventure are around every corner.

If you haven’t seen the series but are thinking about watching this film then I’d really suggest you watch the series first. This film is a direct continuation, following on from the cliffhanger season 2 left us on. Also, that cozy atmosphere that I was talking about, don’t expect as much of that in this film. There are plenty of moments of levity and wonder, with some fun bits of exploration and additions to the lore, but this is the story of Hilda and her mum’s frantic attempts to get back to one another. I can’t really call that cozy and there are some hard moments, especially with Hilda’s mum where you can see her breaking down under the stress. It all adds to the epic feeling of the film and just a gentle reminder that this story is bigger than any the series has ever tried to tell. The whole town is literally on the line this time.

If I did have one criticism to make about this film, it’s that, as someone who’s read the books, it’s hard not to see all the additional scenes as filler. As I said in the opening paragraph a lot of this film is a word-for-word adaptation, they pretty much took the book and animated it. However there is a big difference between the books and the TV series, mostly in the fact that the series has a lot more characters that it’s introduced. As such the film needs to find something for those people to do so they get little subplots that thread through the story. They’re entertaining scenes certainly and it’s great to see what everyone is up to, but I also can’t escape the fact that they don’t really accomplish anything. Minor spoiler ahead, skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid it, there’s a moment where Frida and David turn up to help Hilda’s mum, only for her to drop them back home the literal next scene. It’s like the film going ‘I know you want to be apart of this but that’s not the plot, bye!’

Moving back to positives though, let’s talk about subtext. The plot, as I mentioned, is about Hilda and her mum finding one another again, but on a deeper level the story is about something else. The core message of the Mountain King is to not judge by appearances and to try to communicate and understand one another, even when we’re scared. Especially when we’re scared. Trolls have always been a menacing presence in the series, even if Hilda and her friends have learnt not all trolls are bad, it’s still their first instinct to run from one. This isn’t helped by the fact that so little is known about trolls and why they do what they do. Throw in the Safety Patrol driving everyone into a paranoid frenzy and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. It feels like a very appropriate topic for the times as you see the townsfolk giving into misinformation and their own worst instincts. It’s a subject handled with a great deal of care and the film isn’t naive about it either, even by the ending it admits that not everything has been magically resolved, but it’s a start.

The Verdict:

In the end, Hilda and the Mountain King is the finale the series deserved. Everything that I love about the series is still here, the beautiful animation, great music and all the characters I’ve come to know and love. Yes, things are a bit more tense and serious, but the film never loses that sense of fun and wonder that I enjoy so much in this series. Add on some smartly written subtext and you’ve got a nearly perfect package. In fact my only real criticism is that some of the supporting characters feel unable to contribute to the story. That’s a nitpick though and I couldn’t be happier that we got to bring things to their proper conclusion. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to binge the series from the beginning.

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.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Batman: The Long Halloween Part Two

I believe in Harvey Dent.

What’s the Story?

Gotham City is changing. Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone’s family and illegal business operations have been devastated by a bizarre string of holiday-themed murders. While both the police and the Batman search for the killer, Carmine has been forced to new extremes to keep his grip on the city. He’s entered into dealings with the so-called ‘freaks’ of Gotham. Poison Ivy, Scarecrow and Mad Hatter each bring their own brand of insanity to the streets, but they won’t be the only ones. DA Harvey Dent is feeling the pressure, under suspicion for the Holiday killings and fighting a losing battle in the courts, the cracks are finally starting to show. What little justice there is in Gotham may, in the end, come at the other side of a coin flip, even if it costs everything…

The Review:

It’s time for judgement, and ironically (or appropriately depending on which way you look at it) I may need to flip a coin to reach a verdict here. If you want my thoughts on the first part of this adaptation, and the comic it’s adapting, then you can check out my review HERE, but let’s not beat around the bush and just jump straight into things (much like the film does). How does The Long Halloween Part 2 stand as a film in it’s own right? Honestly, it’s not good and it hurts me to say that. The voice cast is superb, perfect for each and every character, I’m quickly falling in love with this animation style and some of the character moments just shine with pure brilliance. The problem is, as great as all those elements are by themselves, when you try and fit them all together the film just doesn’t work. It’s an unwieldy beast of disjointed scenes and terrible pacing. If you do plan on watching this film, which I will still probably recommend, then please watch Part 1 and 2 together. It won’t fix all of the problems, but it might help.

Okay, let’s break this down a little bit because there is actually a lot I want to praise in this film, even if none of it is quite enough to save the whole thing. We’ll start with the voice cast who, again, the only word I have for them is perfect. In my Part One review I singled out Jensen Ackles and Naya Rivera, and while they’re still just as fantastic as they were in Part 1, this time I want to take my hat off to Josh Duhamel. His performance as Harvey Dent/Two-Face is outstanding, you really feel like he’s a man on the edge and then when he starts using his Two-Face voice, chills went down my spine. I also really love that little speech he gives at the end to Carmine about why he’s using his famous coin to decide what ‘justice’ is. It’s the character moments that make this film for me, there are some really great action sequences (like the Poison Ivy/Catwoman fight that starts the film off), but it’s the little conversations between people where this cast are firing on all cylinders.

Unfortunately, as great as the majority of the scenes are by themselves, it’s once you start stringing them one after the other that things come apart. In my previous review I mentioned that I was worried they were going to rush through elements of this story and that’s exactly what happened. The beginning of this film either blitzs through or just plain skips over several issues of the comic and, as sacrilegious as it feels to say, I think they should have just left it all out entirely. As much as I adore any time Poison Ivy gets on screen, or the brief Scarecrow nightmare sequence which is the best animated sequence in this film, they add little overall. There’s some minor plot beats that you need from their appearances, but I really think the time would have been better spent on showing Batman investigate the Holiday killings. Once we reach the halfway point it feels like this film forgets there’s even a serial killer on the loose, abandoning the little title cards it established for each killing in the last film and at the start of this one. There’s just too much stuff that it’s trying to do and it detracts from the moments that really needed the focus.

That brings me to the ending, and I need to talk about the comic one more time. I said in my previous review that The Long Halloween comic isn’t perfect, and it’s the ending where I feel it really falters. Honestly when I first read the comic it was the resolution to the big mystery that was my only disappointment with the story. Not with who the Holiday killer turned out to be, that made sense (and was a lot less convoluted than Hush’s mess of an ending), but I had to mull it over for a long time. The ending leaves a lot open to your interpretation and you have to really go back over things and work out the logistics on your own, the comic gives you no help in that regard, which I can argue both for and against. No, what bugs me is the lack of a cathartic ending, which I guess this is meant to be a grand tragedy and so it should be bitter sweet, but Batman never confronts the true Holiday killer. In this film though, that’s changed. Batman does indeed have a final conversation with the killer and, honestly, I’m not sure which is better. On the one hand, it makes things clearer and allows the killer to dig into their motives a little more, but it creates a giant plothole in that Batman just walks away from the killer with no real explanation as to why. Just a line would have done, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them, he wanted to respect Harvey’s wishes, heck even a ‘I’ll be watching’ would have sufficed, but no.

The Verdict:

In the end, Batman: The Long Halloween Part 2 is a film that leaves me in two minds (again either ironically or appropriately depending on your point of view). It has some fantastic moments, a terrific voice cast that excels with every line delivered and a great look to it, but the parts are definitely stronger than the whole. All together this film feels disjointed, trying to give its attention to too many plot elements without putting its focus where it should be. It’s a shame as with the proper care and time I think this adaptation could have been one of the best in Batman’s history, but cutting it up as two movies probably wasn’t the way to go about it.

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: Justice Society: World War II

We live in a society…a justice society.

What’s the Story?

Barry Allen, aka the Flash, is just trying to have a nice, normal picnic with his girlfriend in Metropolis, of course he’s a superhero and that doesn’t last long. One minute he’s teaming up with Superman and fighting Brainiac, the next he’s in World War 2, punching Nazis alongside heroes he’s never heard of. Those heroes would be Wonder Woman, the Flash (Jay Garrick), Hawkman, Black Canary and Hourman, the Justice Society of America, a secret team of super-powered beings sent by the US to combat the Nazis menace in Europe. Their current mission is to find someone who can decode a secret message that will tell them Hitler’s next big plan, while Barry tries to work out how he’s going to get home. Not everything is as it seems though and the Justice Society are in for a lot more than they bargained for. This is war after all and not everyone is going to make it out alive.

The Review:

And we’re back to the DC Universe animated movies! It feels like it’s been an age since I reviewed one of these films, even though I looked at Wonder Woman Bloodlines just last year (you can check out the review HERE). Part of that is down to my general lack of enthusiasm for these films lately. While I’ve enjoyed the majority of the ones I’ve seen, I have to admit that barring a few stand outs (like Death of Superman and Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), none of them really hold a candle to DC’s early output of animated films. That might just be changing though. The DC Universe animated movies have undergone a bit of a revamp, there’s a new animation style, a reboot of the universe and, going by this one, a level of care and attention that’s been missing from these films for a while now. Justice Society: World War II isn’t a film that’s going to change the world, and clearly someone was watching the first live action Wonder Woman movie before penning the script, but it’s a great, fun romp that shows a lot of promise for the future.

Before we get to that though, first let’s talk about that new animation style. I have to admit that when I first saw the trailers for this film it took me a while to get used to the new look. I’ve never watched Archer, but that’s exactly what this style reminds me of, the strong outlines combined with the characters designs really give this film a unique look (not counting the previous Superman movie which also uses this style, but I haven’t watched that film, yet). The film looks good throughout, though when it comes to the action sequences that ramps up to spectacular. The action, of which there is a lot, is fast, fluid and full of impact, leading to one heart-pumping sequence after another, especially towards the end of the movie when all the stops get pulled out. Black Canary gets some particularly gorgeous sequences showing off her powers.

Speaking of the characters, let’s talk about them. Part of what surprised me most about this film being released is that there’s some obscure heroes in this roster. The Justice Society isn’t a superhero team that’s made it’s way into popular consciousness yet, despite getting a couple of appearances on TV (They had a two-parter in Smallville and are a big part of the current Stargirl show). I mean, yeah, there’s Wonder Woman, Flash and Superman to draw people in, but, be honest, how many of you have actually heard of Hourman before?

The film does a good job of introducing all of its characters and giving them a few moments in the spotlight, even if it never goes that in depth with any of them. You might not understand the whole of Hawkman’s deal, but through the writing and the terrific voice acting you’ll get a sense of his personality and what he’s like. Which is all you need for this one film. It’s the little quiet moments I love the most, whether it’s Jay and Hourman acknowledging the fact that it’s usually them that has something go wrong with their powers, or Black Canary worrying about how our Flash (Barry) has no idea who they are when he’s meant to be from the future. It humanises all the characters and that makes me care when they dive into the next action sequence.

As for the story, it’s a fun action romp as I said. Most of it is an excuse to get to the next action sequence and, as I mentioned before, there’s a lot of parallels to the first live action Wonder Woman movie. Maybe it’s just me, but seeing Wonder Woman in a World War, jumping around a village while fighting German soldiers, some plot specific things later on and the fact that Stana Katic is clearly doing a Gal Gadot impression, it just rings a lot of bells for me. Putting that to one side though, there’s a lot of fun elements to this film and a fair few surprise appearances by characters I was not expecting to see (Fair warning, if you buy the physical DVD or Blu ray, don’t look at the back cover as that will give one of the surprises away).

There’s also a twist I didn’t see coming and, while I don’t think it was strictly necessary, it’s a fun wrinkle in the adventure. The last thing I’ll say is that, while this is a standalone film and you can easily watch it independent of anything else, there’s also a real sense of laying the groundwork for something here. I mean outside of planting the idea in Barry’s head about some sort of Justice Club for Superheroes, there’s a few plot points that could, and I think will, come back in a later films. It’s got me excited about these films again and if they want to take the approach of standalone films that gradually build towards something than I am all for it!

The Verdict:

In the end, Justice Society: World War II, is a great deal of fun. It’s not going to the change the world or break any moulds, but it’s an exhilarating thrill ride, with a fair number of surprising twists and spotlighting a few characters that could really use it. Plus you get to see Wonder Woman and the Flash punching Nazis and who doesn’t love stuff like that? There is a lot of action in this film, all of it great, but the film also takes the time to give us quieter moments between the characters to humanise them and let us get to know them. This could really be the start of something wonderful and I am all for it. If you haven’t checked this out then make sure you do!

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 Movie Review

Police with mechs, do I really need to say anything else?

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 previously unheard of, such as the Babylon project which hopes to reclaim land from Tokyo Bay for the ever crowded city. Of course with every new technology there are those that would use it for ill and so the police set up the Special Vehicle Section 2 who, with their Patlabors (Patrol Labors), fight these new cases of crime.

The suicide of a leading Labor programmer leads the officers of SVU division 2 into a potentially devastating case. Something is driving Labors crazy, setting them loose to rampage across the city, but what is the cause? What’s more with a typhoon due to hit Japan the potential for disaster is at an all time high. Is this all the mad revenge of a twisted man, or a final warning before things go too far?

The Review:

Patlabor is one of those franchises where I wish I could get hold of more of the content. As it stands I’ve managed to get my hands on the first two movies and the early days OVA series. I know there’s a TV series out there somewhere, but I’ve yet to track down a copy in the UK and this is an older series to begin with so my hopes have been steadily dwindling on that front. It’s kinda infuriating because Patlabor has such an amazingly simple concept, what if we had a mecha series where said mechs weren’t just weapons of war, but used as they potentially could be in real life (you know, if we had that kind of technology). The Labors of Patlabor are primarily used for construction, obviously the ones we follow are the ones used by the police and there are some military ones hanging around, but that’s not what the bulk of Labors were made for. There’s a depth and a realism to the world that this franchise creates that I just adore, not that the series is always serious, sometimes its just plain goofy and I love that side of it too (seriously check out the early days OVA series, the Godzilla parody is worth it alone, but there are some really great episodes in that series, especially the last three).

Enough talk about the franchise as a whole though, let’s get on to the subject of today’s review, the first movie. Honestly out of what I have seen of the Patlabor franchise this film is my favourite. It’s got an interesting plot, some gorgeously animated sequences and on the whole it’s just a lot of fun. My only real gripe with it is that it’s probably not the best place to start with Patlabor. I mean this film was the first thing I saw of the franchise, but I appreciate it a lot better after having watched the early days OVA series (which I’ll just plug again, go see it!). You see the film doesn’t really spend a lot of time introducing you to its characters or delving too deeply into who they all are. The characters are just there, doing what they do. Noah fusses over her Labor, which she calls Alphonse. Asuma takes the lead on the investigation, while also blowing his lid at several points and being a jerk to Noah on occasion. Ota is as gun crazy as ever. Then there’s Captain Goto, the puppet master, always one step ahead and manipulating everyone to do what he wants. Goto’s my favourite character.

The focus for this film is more on it’s plot and themes. It’s quite a ponderous film, but then it was directed by Mamoru Oshii, yes that one, so that should give you some idea of what you’re in for. There are several long, almost silent shots of Tokyo as well as scenes of characters quietly philosophising and yet the film never once lost my attention. Between some of the more gorgeous shots and animation sequences, as well as some fun character interactions, it’s hard not to be engaged with this film, but I also enjoy the ideas it’s playing around with. The central question of which is how much progress is too much? And in our rush to get the next new, shiny thing, are we leaving something important behind? You could apply that to this film itself, this is ‘old-school’ 80s cell animation after all. No matter where you stand on the debate between older anime and more modern productions, you have to admit that cell animation has a certain quality to it that is missing from anything since the 2000s. Not to rag on digital animation techniques, for me the majority of what we get today is better looking, but it’s also nice to take a break from the clean, bright colours and appreciate something a bit more textured every once in a while. Plus there’s all those great old school mechanical designs to look at.

Back to the film though, it’s not entirely all talk and philosophy. There’s plenty of great mecha-on-mecha action, but all of that action is grouped at either the start or the climax of the film. The rest is about the mystery of rampaging labors and police work. Asuma gets the lions’ share of things to do, which makes sense since he has a personal connection involved in this case and his job is supposed to be about strategy and directing the others so it makes sense for him to puzzle things out. Goto gets some great moments manipulating Asuma into working on the case in the first place and Noah gets a couple of moments, including a pretty badass one towards the end. Everyone else is pretty much relegated to the background unfortunately, but again characters aren’t really the focus here. The mystery itself is well-paced and always engaging, with the threat escalating as Division 2 realise the full scope of the problem. As I said, out of the OVA series and the two films I’ve seen, this is my favourite and one I keep coming back to. It’s also my favourite Mamoru Oshii work, you know just to get all the Ghost in the Shell fans angry at me.

The Verdict:

In the end, while I don’t think Patlabor: The Movie is the best gateway into this franchise, it’s certainly the best of the franchise (out of what I’ve seen). A smart, atmospheric mystery paired with fun characters, gorgeously designed mecha and some top notch animation. If you feel like taking a step back in time to watch an older anime film, then I thoroughly recommend this. Also if you want to check out some of Mamoru Oshii’s work before Ghost in the Shell or watch a mecha story where the protagonists aren’t sullen teenagers forced to fight in a war (not that those aren’t great in their own right) then check this out!

Also if you want some more mecha action, make sure to check out Mechanical Anime Reviews this month for Mecha March!

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: Given the Movie Review

He said it! He FINALLY said it!

What’s the Story?

It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. That’s how the saying goes, but Akihiko isn’t so sure it’s true. He loved Ugetsu and then he lost him, but even after all this time he can’t seem to let go. Then there’s Haruki, so clearly in love with Akihiko and yet he can’t bring himself to say it, but there’s something there, right? Amidst all this tangle of feelings and unspoken truths, the guy’s band is starting to get some attention. They’ve made it through to the final stage of a competition and Mafuyu wants to write a new song. Can they get ready for the contest and have a new song ready in time, or will love be the spanner in the works? Mafuyu’s got something to say and just like before, he’s going to express it through music.

The Review

Given was one of my favourite anime of 2019, if not the whole decade (I really should have put together a list of my top 10 series from 2010-2020, ah well, maybe some other time). It’s a series that took me completely by surprise, normally I prefer my romance as a subplot to something else, but here it’s the main course and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was completely won over by the charming characters, gentle atmosphere and the odd subversion of typical romantic cliches (if you want more details you can check out my review of the first season HERE). So, all that being said, how does the movie stack up? It’s very good. It doesn’t quite make it to the unmissable stamp like the series did, but it’s still an incredibly solid film and if you’ve seen the series then you should definitely be checking this out. My complaints are minor at best and down to personal taste more than anything else.

Let’s start with probably my biggest complaint, there’s a shocking lack of Mafuyu and Uenoyama in this film. They are there, they have a couple of scenes together, Mafuyu gets some scenes interacting with others and then he gets to sing at the end, that’s about it. This is not their film, which upsets me because those two are just adorable together and I love every minute that they’re on screen together. Fair is fair though, there are other characters in this series and they deserve some of the spotlight, so why not hand over the movie to them. If you’ve skipped the story section of this review, for whatever reason, this film belongs to Akihiko, Haruki and Ugetsu, picking up on the plot threads that were left dangling at the end of the series and exploring their tangled mess of a love triangle.

That disappointment at the lack of Mafuyu and Uenoyama aside, this is an engaging love story. You feel the frustration, hurt and longing that makes up all three of the lead characters, each of them struggling to either move on from or towards a relationship. There are some wonderfully awkward moments and gentle bits of humour that I love this series for, but there are also some really intense, emotionally-charged scenes. Honestly this is a lot more what I was expecting from a romance series, with characters unable to bring themselves to talk about their feelings openly and occasionally getting lost in misunderstandings. That’s probably what docks this movie another point as one of the aspects I loved so much about the series was when it subverted common romance tropes. Still, that doesn’t make the tropes bad and they’re certainly well done, I felt everything this movie wanted me to feel. I mean I was tearing up by the time those last couple of scenes were playing and I practically jumped out of my seat when Akihiko stumbled his way into his confession.

One last thing to talk about, if you’ve looking for a big blockbuster of a film, it’s probably best to look elsewhere. The series was a very gentle, low key affair and, some of the more intense scenes aside, the movie follows suit. If anything it feels like three or four episodes of the series crammed into an hour’s slot. If you’re after something explosive and ‘big budget’, well that’s just not the kind of story this is. For every time the dial gets turned up to eleven, it’s often followed by a more calming, sweet and funny scene, which is how I prefer this series. On the visual front the movie looks just slightly better than the series, which adds to that feeling that this is a few extra episodes bolted together, not that that’s a bad thing. Honestly I prefer this film that way, I will always be down for more episodes of this series in whatever form they choose to arrive and now the stage has been set for the story to continue in whatever direction it wants. Give me a season 2 already!

The Verdict

All in all, Given the movie is a great continuation of the series I loved so much. By the end we’ve tied up a few plot threads that had been left dangling, gotten to know some of the characters a lot better and set the stage for stories to come. The romance may be a bit more tropey that it was in the series and there’s a shocking lack of Mafuyu and Uenoyama for my liking, but it’s fair that other people get the spotlight for a while. It’s a sweet, engaging and often funny love story, which is what the Given series always excels at. If you haven’t seen the series, check that out first, if you have then what are you waiting for? Check this out if you haven’t already!

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: Frozen 2

Cursed into the form of a talking cartoon fish by a half-mad deity known only as the Writer, the Infallible Fish has no idea who he is, or where he comes from. All he does know is that he has a burning urge to watch some animated stuff.

And he did! For 6 glorious years he gushed over the exquisite and bemoaned the dull and infuriating. He tried genres he’d previously shied away from, found new favourites, made friends, and celebrated classics and unsung greats alike. Yet there was a foe waiting for him on his 6th anniversary. The first foe. The Frozen Foe. It is time to close the circle. It is time to review…

Water has memory, apparently.

What’s the Story?

Everything is just perfect in Arendelle. Since the end of their last adventure, Queen Elsa and Anna have an unbreakable bond, Kristoff is so in love he has marriage on his mind and everyone is just so content and happy, what could possibly change that? How about the strange voices that have been calling to Elsa? Or the four nature spirits that have spent years locked away behind mists, only for Elsa to unleashed them on an unsuspecting Arendelle. To save their home, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven will have to travel beyond the mists and into an enchanted forest. There they will learn the truth of the sister’s heritage and face a potentially destructive choice for their kingdom. Nothing lasts forever and autumn is the season of change…

The Review

I’m 6 years old! Okay, I’m not, I’m five times that age now (physically at least, mentally I’m still in my late teens), but I’ve been writing this little blog o’mine for six whole years and that surprises me more than anyone else. I never really had a plan for this blog, a few stray ideas like the backstory for my character that you saw at the top of this post, but that was it really. I just needed some place to talk about what I wanted to talk about, plus it’s done wonders for my writing and my confidence in my own voice. Honestly I’ve had a blast writing this blog these past six years and I hope to have a blast writing it for the next six years and beyond. If you’ve read even one of my posts, then you have my heartfelt thanks, I hope you’ve enjoyed what I do here and will continue to enjoy it going into the future. Enough preamble though, let’s get down to business. October 31st 2014, I wrote my very first review for the, at the time, latest Disney animated film, Frozen (which you can check out HERE if you’re curious). I had mixed feelings about the film at best and really those feelings were the catalyst for this whole blog. It took me a long time to come to terms with my disappoint in the first film, most of which was really the fault of my own overhyping and expectations clashing with what the film actually was, plus a few minor complaints.

I was nervous coming into this sequel, I mean Disney does not have the best track record with sequels to begin with. Then the first trailer hit and my hype rose to the ceiling. It was so dark and moody, showed a perfectly executed scene and promised exactly what I wanted from the first film. Elsa using her powers in an action sequence for more than five seconds! Hints at where Elsa’s powers come from! Anna wielding a sword like the knight she truly is! Then the film released and the reviews were…middling, which brought my hype right back down and, honestly, that was probably for the best. So what did I think of the film? It’s…okay. It’s not terrible by any stretch, it’s also not going to break into my top 10 Disney films any time soon. It’s just…okay and that’s fine. I did enjoy watching the film, but I can also see its problems pretty clearly and why it didn’t resonate with people as much as the original did.

I think there’s a fair argument to be made that Frozen 2 does improve on its predecessor in some areas, just not all. As the trailer promised, Frozen 2 gave me several things that I’d been crying out for in the original. Elsa is the shining star of this film, she’s throwing her ice powers around like a total badass, taking on all comers, and honestly her fights with the different spirits are probably my favourite parts of the film. The animation is top notch, as I expect from Disney, I mean the whole reason I sold my soul to this company was on the understanding that they consistently produce work from animators and creators at the top of their craft. The textures and the colours are just superb in this film, I mean just watch that cascade of water at the end of the film it is just outstanding from a technical standpoint. Part of my disappointment in the original was from the animation, honestly I think Tangled looked better (yes I’m a Tangled fanboy). The autumnal landscapes of Frozen 2 add that little extra bit of colour that the original was lacking, plus six years of technological development.

Where the original Frozen beats Frozen 2 though, and this is by far the more important area, is in its story. Frozen had a very clear story. Elsa has ice powers, which she is afraid of. She loses control of her powers and runs away, Anna must then travel up the North Mountain to find her sister and help her gain control over herself and her powers. The story is a single straight line, with every element and character playing into that story. Frozen 2 is much more muddled. Everyone has their own separate storyline and they barely intersect at all. Kristoff keeps trying to propose to Anna, and keeps messing it up (also Anna is paying him no attention at all and I think that’s something they need to work on before the idea of marriage comes up). Honestly it’s a one-note joke that has been done better elsewhere, even by Disney cough Rescuers Down Under cough. Olaf has nothing to do whatsoever expect for make bad jokes and it quickly takes him from loveable doofus to the annoying comic relief we all feared he’d be in the first film. Anna’s story is good in concept. After fighting so hard to reconnect with her sister she’d desperate to keep a hold of her, so much so that it’s consuming her and that is a fascinating development for the character. Unfortunately the storyline just doesn’t get the time it needs to develop and the resolution is kinda lacking.

Elsa’s story is the primary focus of this film, delving into where her powers came from, her family history and, really, Elsa discovering who she truly is. That storyline is very well done, the whole ‘Show Yourself’ sequence is probably my highlight of the film, it’s one of the few times where the film actually got an emotional response out of me. That smile as Elsa sings with her mother, truly, finally, understanding who she is was just magnificent. Back to the problem though, because none of the other characters are actually really needed for this plot. Elsa is the only necessary character, potentially Anna as she tries to hold Elsa back, but all the other characters are just kind of there. Honestly it does make me wish that this film was just Anna and Elsa. If it was me I’d just have them encountering wild spirits and dealing with the dangers of the forest, all the while paralleling the first film. This time, instead of chasing after her sister, Anna has to learn to let Elsa go and discover things for herself, and that that doesn’t mean they’ll never see one another again, far from it. It would also mean that we wouldn’t have to include random tribe and random soldiers that are also just kind of there.

I mean, if you do want to introduce this tribe into the lore of the series, as well as these spirits and mythology, as well as giving everyone something to do you’re going to need more than a film’s run time to do it. We really need to get to know these people and this locale if you expect the audience to care and there’s just not enough time or focus to do that here. Maybe if you had like a series worth of episodes you could do it. Nah, that’s silly. I mean what Disney film would get a series expanding its mythology and developing it’s characters. Cough Tangled the Series cough Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure cough. Sorry, I swore I wouldn’t compare this film to Tangled, no, I’ve got a review specifically for that franchise later in the month!

The Verdict

In the end, Frozen 2 is a decent film. If you’re an Elsa fan you’ll probably love this as she is the shining star, leaping into the action and finding herself while also finally explaining exactly where her powers come from. If you’re a fan of anyone else however, I’d suggest going back to the first film. The animation is spectacular and more than up to Disney’s usual standard and the songs are all enjoyable. It’s a fun film, treat it as such and you should have a good time, but this is not the start of yet another Disney renaissance (that honour still belongs to Tangled and I will fight anyone who says otherwise).

Thank you again to my wonderful readers, I hope you enjoyed this and will continue to enjoy my work here. Next week we’re back to anime as I have my first impressions of the current season, but after that we’re getting back on the Disney train for the rest of the month as there’s a couple of series I just have to talk about!

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: Wonder Woman Bloodlines

Blog Wonder Woman Bloodlines Review Title

“If you seek to harm it or my friends, you should have a weapon.”

Well, we’re back to the DC Universe animated movies and, hold on, what’s this? A movie that stars neither Batman, Superman nor does it focus on some variety of Justice League? You mean we’re actually going to give another hero the spotlight all by themselves? Has the world gone mad! I joke, but yes, DC finally got off their backsides and animated another Wonder Woman movie (it only took ten years and the success of a live action film to get them to do it!). I’ll admit that this was a film I had been waiting a long time for, I mean the original animated Wonder Woman movie was a lot of fun and I still adore the live action version (and I’m very much looking forward to the sequel whenever that arrives). Having said that, there’s always been the question of what Wonder Woman story you adapt into a film.

I mean once her origins are out of the way then Wonder Woman really doesn’t have any seminal stories that jump to mind, by which I mean something along the lines of a Dark Knight Returns or Death of Superman level of story. There have been many great Wonder Woman stories told over the decades, but her stories have never quite seeped into popular consciousness like Batman and Superman’s have (admittedly those two have only seeped in because of constant exposure over the years, but the point still stands. Ask Joe Bloggs on the street to name a Wonder Woman story and they will struggle). Wonder Woman Bloodlines chooses to solve this problem by adapting several stories at once and fusing them into one, though I’d say the biggest contributors are the origins of Silver Swan and the ‘Eyes of the Gorgon’ story.

There’re so many little nods and bits of Woman Wonder history tucked away in this film, without it ever feeling like you’re missing out on the joke. If you know who Ferdinand is then that’s great, otherwise you can just sit back and smile at the fact that Diana now has a minotaur chef and who wouldn’t want one of those. There’s almost a whole host of Diana’s greatest enemies here to throw down with her throughout the film, we’ve got Silver Swan, obviously, but we also get Cheetah, Giganta, Dr. Cyber, Dr. Poison and a couple of others I won’t mention for spoilers sake, but if you’re a Wonder Woman fan you’ll know who they are the second certain names are mentioned.

What’s the actual story though? Well, unfortunately, we start off in a familiar place with Wonder Woman’s origin being repeated, yet again (note to DC, and of course I know the higher ups of a giant comic empire are going to read this, please stop rehashing the origins of your most popular heroes, especially when they’ve had a successful film out only recently. You can trust your audience to know who Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman are. If I see Batman’s origin one more time, I swear…). Anyway, the film does claw back some points by making Diana’s origin somewhat relevant to the ongoing plot, namely her feelings of guilt and regret for disobeying her mother, even if it was the right thing to do. With Diana now banished from Themyscira she needs a new place to stay and she finds that with Dr. Julia Kapatelis and her daughter Vanessa.

Julia is fascinated by ancient cultures, especially the Amazons and so lavishes attention on Diana, planting the seeds for a festering jealousy in Vanessa, which will be our central conflict for the film. We’ve also got Dr. Cyber and Dr. Poison working together alongside other noted villains for their own nefarious schemes, drawing Vanessa into their orbit and transforming her into the deadly Silver Swan. If Diana wants to save Vanessa she’ll need to find her way back to Themyscira, battling the likes of Cheetah and Giganta along the way, before a final clash against an enemy she long thought dead.

I enjoyed this film, a lot, but it does have its problems. Pacing has to be the biggest issue, but in an odd way because this film never felt rushed, but there are definitely scenes that went by too quickly while others dragged on for just a little too long. I think it comes down to the fact that this film just tries to pack in too much at once, there’s a lot of action and a great number of characters, so much that the plot is constantly having to keep moving in order to stay ahead of everyone. All those villains I mentioned, it’s great to see them in animated form, but the majority of them are just there. They get cool action scenes, but you never learn what makes them tick. Honestly if it wasn’t for the excellent voice cast I seriously doubt I would have cared as much about the internal struggles of both Diana and the rest as much as I did. There’s a really great, meaty story here, but the pacing just robs it of so much depth.

The film makes up for this though by being incredibly fun. From some great one-liners and witty banter, to the action, which as I mentioned there’s a lot of, but it is so glorious. I love the fights in this film, not only are they brilliantly choreographed, but they’re exactly what a superhero fight should be, witty and exhilarating and, well, fun. That being said, the climatic battle of this film is one of the most brutal fights I have ever seen. I mean I thought Superman vs. Doomsday was a bloody match, this is insane and I wish I could describe it to you, but that would spoil things. Just go see it, please.

All in all, while Wonder Woman Bloodlines is not the best Wonder Woman film, it is still a lot of fun. From the multitude of great action sequences, to witty banter and a chance to see so much lore and villains from Wonder Woman’s rogues gallery finally put up on screen, any fan of Wonder Woman needs to see this film. Heck, if you’re just curious about Wonder Woman and want to see more of her I’d recommend this film. The original animated Wonder Woman is probably just that bit better and the live action one certainly is, but if we get enough people to see this film then maybe, just maybe, we’ll convince DC to keep making more Wonder Woman films, and that is a cause worth fighting for.

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: Maquia – When the Promised Flower Blooms Review

Blog Maquia Review Title

Mums don’t cry! But I do! Pass me the tissues.

What’s the Story?

Secluded away from the eyes of the world, the Iorph live out their long lives in peace and tranquillity, weaving the history of the ages into magnificent tapestries that only they can read. All that changes though when humans arrive, hoping to take the Iorph’s longevity for themselves. For Maquia, a young Iorph, it means the end of one life and the beginning of another. She escapes the attack and finds herself in the outside world for the first time ever, and when she discovers a crying baby, clasped in the arms of his dead mother, she can’t help but feel a connection. Deciding to raise the child herself, Maquia is going to learn what it means to be a mother, and that there can be joy even amidst the sorrow of parting ways.

The Review

This film is the directional debut of scriptwriter Mari Okada, and it should tell you something that I’m actually paying attention to the creative team behind this film. Mari Okada has written a lot of series that I’ve heard very good things about, even if I haven’t gotten around to watching them myself. From Anohana to Anthem of the Heart and O Maiden in Your Savage Season, she has quite the portfolio of work (she also wrote scripts for Hanasaku Iroha, a series that I actually own, but haven’t watched yet and is it me or are those blu rays glaring at me from their place on the shelf? I’ll watch you I swear!). I knew all of this going into this film so I was ready to be impressed, but I also tempered that with the knowledge hype often kills films for me. So, does this film meet expectations? Well…YEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!

From a visual standpoint alone this film is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The colours are so crisp and clear, whether its rustling fields or the mirror-like shine of lakes and rivers, I just want to take each frame of this film and hang them up on my wall. Add on to that the gorgeous landscapes and intricate cities that we visit throughout the story and this film is a feast for the eyes. I want to shake the hands of the designers and background artists, everything from the creatures to the costumes and the characters are beautiful, that’s really the best word for this film, beautiful, in so many meanings of the word. Of course just being pretty doesn’t make a great film and since I brought up the director, let’s talk about direction.

Honestly it does astound me that this is Mari Okada’s first directorial role because she makes it look so effortless. For a film that has to cover several years, taking us from Maquia finding and naming Ariel, her raising him until their eventual separation and then reunion in his adult years. That is a lot of time to cover and in a film that’s under two hours it could easily feel like you’ve skipped over important chunks of the story. Fortunately that isn’t the case here and while there are time skips and things we don’t see, we see everything we need to and all the characters have a logical and natural progression throughout the film. You can tell how each character arrives at where they do and that is down to the skill of the writing and directing (both credits belonging to Mari Okada).

That brings me to the action, and for a film whose focus is on the quieter, more emotional moments, when the action does kick in it does it with gusto. The two scenes that stick in my mind are the dragon’s rampage at the start of the film and the big invasion at the end, both of which are put forward with confidence and style. It did have me question if this really is Mari Okada’s debut, maybe she did a few sly directing jobs under another name before, because these scenes are pretty much flawless. The action is fast and fluid, worthy of any big budget fantasy epic. It makes me want to see how Miss Okada would handle an action series, as well as wanting plenty more fantasy works from her. One of my favourite things about this film is its world, it feels so fully realised, every aspect of it has a reason behind it or some effect on the rest of the world that just makes the place feel whole. I want to spend more time in this world exploring it, and while a sequel probably isn’t on the cards I can’t help hoping for one, or at least for this to be made into a twenty-plus episode series.

That brings me to the story itself and, all told, its fairly simple story, which is for the best really. It’s hard to do a super complex story in a world that we have no prior experience with, introducing so many concepts and characters, and bringing everything to a satisfying conclusion all in under two hours. If you tried you’d be walking a fine line between it being complex and being complicated, which is best avoided. Plus this story is very much about the feels. You feel the bond between Maquia and Ariel from the moment they meet and through all their ups and downs and, yeah, I cried by the end I’m not ashamed to admit that. I think what I love most though is that all the major characters get their own little arcs, even what appears to be a throwaway character from the beginning returns later to pay off her story before the end credits role. We spend just enough time with each character to get to know them and care about where they end up, and that’s talent.

The Verdict

In the end, Maquia – When the Promised Flower Blooms is a wonderful film. It’s beautiful in so many meanings of the word, from the gorgeous visuals to some superb writing and directing. Every character feels like their own person, in a world that feels fully thought-through, I just want to spend more time here with these people, but if this film teaches anything it’s that nothing lasts forever and that’s not entirely sad. I wholeheartedly recommend this film, if you haven’t seen it already, heck, even if you have it’s worth more than one rewatch.

fish stamp great

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.