LIFF 2012 Day 11

Got a day almost completely full of anime today.  One disturbing, one crazy and two action-packed.

Asura (Jpn) (site)

In feudal Japan, many lost their lives in the chaos as lords vied for power, and the villages were the ones on the receiving end.  An unnamed mother staggers out of the fireball that used to be her village.  She is heavily pregnant, and her waters have broken.

Bringing up a child in the aftermath is hard.  Food and water are scarce, so when the desperate mother chances upon the rotting flesh of a corpse, she feeds herself, and her child on it.  So little Asura learns the taste of human flesh.

Somehow surviving past his mothers' death, Asura lives feral like a beast, attacking what is left of the village, killing indiscriminately for human food.  His humanity lost, and never knowing a mothers love he knows not how to handle young Wakasa, a girl who finds him and shows kindness where all others would fear or attack him,

Based on the 40-year old manga by George Akayama, this big screen adaptation attempts to capture some of the raw emotion dealing with love, humanity and savagery.  Some considerable time has been spent with the animation and background work, which are exceptional, even though the character design, a sort of standard 2D anime style wrapped around 3D models to create a Corpse Bride style, takes a little getting used to.  Story-wise, the film's seemingly hopeless world continues it's tale slowly but surely, with a half-half mix of heartstrings-pulling and fighty action scenes to keep both sides happy.  I don't think it will stand up so well against a good read of the original (I haven't) but in it's own right, it's a pretty powerful example of an emotional anime. 7.5/10

Vanishing Waves (Lit) (wiki)

Today would have been completely anime'd up were it not for a repeat screening of Wolf Children next weekend, so in it's place I took the opportunity to see Vanishing Waves.  Winning the Golden Melee at Sitges this year, Vanishing Waves takes place mostly in the world of the subconscious.  Lukus is a doctor and volunteer in a pioneering experiment to link two minds together.  His double-blind partner is a woman in a comatose state after a car crash, and taking advantage of the reduced neural traffic she is volunteered in the hope they might be able to bring her out of it.

But once inside her mind and over a series of 'connections', Lukus falls completely and passionately in love with her.  Unaware of how his mental revelations will affect the continuation of the experiment, he plays down the results to keep the experiment going, but the doctors are suspicious, and each time he dives, the fantasies turn darker and hint at the reasons for the crash, and why she doesn't want to wake up.

Vanishing Waves' provocative and darkly erotic episodes sit starkly against the tightly controlled conditions of the laboratory.  Cleverly using the idea of a motiveless, consequence-free dream world for Lukus and Aurora to indulge in a number of sexually explicit fantasies, this film won't be one you would want to watch with your parents.  It may even be necessary for the men in the audience to bring a book with them and not to read, if you know what I mean (seriously, actress Jurga Jutaite spends most of her time naked and even when she isn't, is extremely pleasant on the eye).  Apart from a little bit of cardboard English-spoken-by-foreigners though, the film creates and imaginative fantasy world, is very well acted, and even if it doesn't always make sense (as dreams tend not to do) it does deliver a powerful and life-affirming story, with some scenes staying in the mind long after the credits. 7.5/10

Tiger and Bunny: The Beginning (Jpn) (wiki)

In a Japanese vision of a future America, superheroism has become a commercial sport.  X-Men style mutants, the NEXTs of the world are few and far between, but when they are discovered, they typically find good money to be had in the crimefighting/saving people business.  Around this has grown an industry, a JRPG-type scoring system based on perps dispatched or people saved, with bonuses for things such as being first on the scene means that the heroes are constantly competing with each other, for a large cash prize at the end of each season.  A dedicated Hero TV station broadcasts the ensuing crimefighting (and directs most of it for good ratings) and beams it straight into people's homes.  Unsurprisingly, the big companies have got on board, and their costumes are splattered with logos for soft drinks and fast food chains.

Wild Tiger is one such hero, but with a downmarket sponsor and a rubbish costume, his points tally is near the bottom.  His insistence on saving people and fighting for justice also gets in the way of the big bonuses, but he's also stubborn.  A merger with a large faceless corporation gives him a new boss, and a mysterious new partner, Barnaby for the new season.  But even though the new guy wows the audiences, he won't play ball and the forced partners end up predictably at loggerheads.

Tiger and Bunny is a playful anime, taking the mick out of itself and also anime in general, from the loud and colourful opening, feeling just like any standard big robot anime series, to the little girl heroes and the improbable hero suits.  Playing with the formula, you get akira-style bikes with humiliating sidecars, unreliable special powers and a swipe at the use of gratuitous crotch shots, with the use of, er, gratuitous crotch shots.

It's a few years since I had a good anime binge, and the technology has moved noticeably forward.  The computer graphics route is now standard but (as with Asura before it) is much more naturally integrated with the traditional cell-drawn animation as to feel much more satisfying than, say Sword of the Stranger a couple of years ago.  Tiger and Bunny is a colourful, action-packed laugh, a blast of fresh air after the raw emotion drain of Asura. 7.5/10

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc 1 - The Egg of the King (Jpn) (wiki)

The Berserk saga has been told in both manga and anime form, I remember the original series as one of the old Manga Video titles from back in the 90's.  This, the first in a double-bill of Berserk films at the festival marks the latest retelling of the mercenary Guts and his blood-soaked journey through medievel european lands.

Showing up alone at a castle siege with nothing but his bloodied, oversized sword, Guts dispatches Bazuso, an armoured mental case and proves his worth, so capturing the eye of Griffith, the leader of the Band of the Hawks, a mercenary group.  After a good deal of pointy-stabby persuasion, Guts reluctantly suppresses his lone wolf nature and joins the group, to the disgust of just about everyone in it, including Corcus, a spunky young woman more than able to hold her own in a swordfight, who becomes jealous of the time Guts' gets to spend with her beloved leader.

Mercenaries for hire, the effective combination of Guts' strength and Griffiths agility mean gainful employment in the Midland-Chuder wars some years later.  The Midland king has dissenting voices among his ranks, however, and General Julius, the second in line to the throne doesn't want any ignoble blood rising through the ranks to kingship.

I was blown away by the quality of Berserk; the animation was flawless, and you can't see the joins where computer meets traditional cell painting (if that is still happening at all).  The style is on the realistic side of the anime scale, ensuring the viewer isn't given any reason to be distanced from the meaty plot, and aside from the main characters all looking eastern while the grunts are more western in appearance, they do an excellent job of recreating an olde worlde England of sorts. 

It's an adult anime; so there is plenty of blood, severed flesh, naughty words, and the odd naked body (not to mention the homoerotic overtones), but it never feels gratuitous, rather surprisingly visceral and human, given the amount of spit and polish applied to it.  I can't wait to catch the next episode. 8/10 

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc 2 - The Battle for Doldrey (Jpn)

Straight after the first, came the second film (theres a third arc due at the end of the year).  Though Griffin is making progress through the ranks, he still hasn't attained nobility, or a kingdom.  The hundred years war between factions looms on and presents him with an opportunity for both - the castle of Doldrey, thought impregnable remains a last stranglehold of the Chuder side, and the king promises much if it can fall.  But a 5000 strong army is surely no match for one six times the size, even with Guts near the front.  But Guts has his own issues.  A lone mercenary, his closeness to nobility is reminding him of it's stench and questions begin to form in his mind - why is he following Griffin in pursuit of his dreams?

The quality of te animation doesn't dip, in fact you could argue it improves.  The story rushes on apace, and the action never lets up and by the end I wanted to see the final instalment but unfortunately I'm going to have to wait.  Fingers crossed for Bradford. 8/10

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