Leeds Film Festival 2010: Day 18

Tucked away at the end of the festival, was the anime segment. In an encouraging change, LIFF will be getting it's own 'Anime Day' filled with as many as they can fit in. This was what we got this year:

One Piece Film: Strong World (Jpn) (wiki/site)

I haven't seen any episodes from the (very) long-running anime series on which this is based, but from what I can tell, it's a highly-stylised adventure variant along the lines of Bleach and Inuyasha, but with a pirate theme. It's certainly being marketed to death all over Okinawa at the moment, that's for sure. Luffy (the main character) is made of rubber, and can cause his body to stretch or inflate at will. He has a bounty on his head, as do the rest of his clan, a mixture of human beings (presumably in this world by a portal from earth, that's usually how these things go) and strange beings, including a shape shifting doctor bear, and a panty-obsessed musical skeleton. Each have various special abilities along the lines of Bleach, and it's all played with over-the-top slapstick in the way that certain breeds of anime do.

In this film, a powerful pirate Shiki, missing for 20 years, turns up on a flying island and causes havok, taking control of the animals on it and engineering them to become massive and dangerous. The only thing he fears are the cyclones, and so when Nami, one of the crew, shows him her ability to predict them in time to get out of the way, he kidnaps her, forcing Luffy and co to the rescue.

Even though this sort of anime isn't really my realm, it was difficult not to laugh at the mad storyline and madder characters, and the casual joking around in the middle of chaos. There were even some quieter moments where there was enough investment in the characters to care about some of the problems they were going through. It's with these things it's a case of don't think, just go with it. It took a couple of minutes for the initial confusion and madness to settle down, and it would have helped if I'd known the backstories of some of the characters, but I did enjoy it and would not be against seeing a few of the series episodes. 7/10

Mardock Scramble: The First Barrage (Jpn) (site)

To contrast with the zany humour of One Piece, Mardock Scramble is a dark, adult film noir, the first of several episodes based on the novels of Tow Ubukata. Mardock City is a grim, Bladerunner/Ghost In The Shell-style metropolis; neon signs and fancy, chic restaurants in it's upper, affluent levels, and gangsters, prostitutes and criminals survive below. Rune Balot, a young prostitute is locked in a car by Shell, a wealthy and corrupted young man, sought by the authorities but always able to use his contacts to stay out of jail. When the car is blown up, Balot is saved by an ex-military scientist who treats her wounds in the hope she will testify against Shell in court, but Balot is pretty messed up, and the injustices of her wretched childhood cloud her judgement as she turns from scared and confused to angry and vengeful.

There is a lot to like about this film, and I am interested in catching the next one (not least because it ends on a hell of a cliffhanger). The art style was on the realistic end of the scale, and the animation was much smoother, although they did cheat with the car scenes by using computer models. It did get a just little silly in places, just taking things slightly beyond the wiggle room it had earned for itself which spoiled it a little. That said, I have high hopes for the next in the series. 8/10

Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance (Jpn) (wiki)

If you were to only watch a single 'big robot' anime, then Evangelion is the one to go for, as it is The Daddy. Nausicaa artist Hideaki Anno has decided to 're-imagine' [resell] his 90's ground-breaking series by remaking them as three films, this being the second. It was a great shame that last year they didn't think of putting the first one on but the Leeds Anime Society has hold of the Hyde Park Picture House and it's one of the choices in the 'pick a flick' segment, so all is not lost.

Evangelion is the story of the EVA units; huge robots the size of skyscrapers built to serve an urgent need; earth is under repeated attack by 'angels', beings of unknown origin that attempt to destroy life on earth with disturbingly calm looks on their faces. The situation has matured to the point of cities being designed for the ever present threat of being levelled by a huge fight; whole swathes of tower blocks can retreat into the earth and infrastructure exists to make emergency evacuations at a moments notice on confirmation of a new angel being spotted. Even worldwide treaties were signed to limit the number of EVA units to have in operation at any time.

As tends to be the case with series like this, the units are manned by children barely into their teens, whose quick reactions and supple brains are most suited to the immersion technology to meld man with machine. The films concentrate on Shinji, a shy but talented pilot of the experimental EVA 01 unit, and son of the director of Nerv, the organisation tasked with repairing and deploying them in combat. Joining Shinji are Asuka, a foreign student with fiery red hair and an obnoxious personality, and Rei, a mysterious and quiet girl piloting the prototype EVA 00 unit, mysteriously hand-picked by the Nerv director for inclusion in the project.

Evangelion is particularly good at not 'just' being a big robots anime; much of the episodes and scenes detail their unnatural lives as they try to live as normal outside the stresses of war and conflict, particularly Shinji's all but destroyed relationship with his father. Even the fights themselves don't 'feel' like typical anime, often with some backstory going on as the battles progress. 2.0 has a particularly good example of this, but I will say no more as it's the most powerful scene, and one of the most affecting I have seen in film. There are sections where I don't think I took a breath for several minutes.

In short, if you have any curiosity over anime and want to get a cross section of what the best out there is, you might well want to put the Evangelion films (of which there will eventually be four) in the big robot space. 8.5/10

Redline (Jpn) (site)

Redline is utterly relentless. Only the Japanese can manage this level of high-energy eye-hammering to such a consistent degree. Best described as a desperate, chaotic and destructive imagining of F-Zero on the big screen with a bit of romance thrown in, Redline has a very distinctive art style, similar to American comic books, again reminiscent of the artwork of the F-Zero characters from the later games in the series. It's about all-out racing in a distant future, where the earth is dry of resources and inhabited planets have long since made contact. Though skycars are the norm, some 'fools' still race using wheeled vehicles.

JP and Sonahime are racers in the Yellow Line cup, trying to qualify for the all-out Redline race later on. While Sonahime makes the cut, JP's rigged car explodes and crashes, and it's only due to others dropping out that he just qualifies for the big race. Someone decided that it should take place in 'Roboworld' - a group of planets ruled by a stuck up set of metal gits who don't like the idea of thousands of cameras poking around their planets, possibly taking pictures of military secrets and the like. When trying to stop the race doesn't help, they launch an all out attack as it happens, which seeing as the contestants can use whatever weapons they choose, makes an already insane situation that bit madder.

I haven't seen something so utterly unrelenting on screen before. You can barely tell what is going on sometimes, only that a lot of metal is getting dented and some people are going to hurt in the morning. It's absolutely mad, but also fresh and inventive, with distinctive visuals and a lot of action. You might get a headache watching it though. 8/10

Another festival gone already, and that's it for another year. Thanks for reading my reviews and I hope my tired brain made sense as I emptied it onto the page. The next fest will be Bradford in February, with maybe a couple at the trusty Hyde Park Picture House. Lets see if I can get some time free for it.

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