Ongoing Investigations: Case #056

A bunch of us finally caught (no pun intended) Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea over the weekend. It starts with the basic premise of Ponyo, a little goldfish, who escapes her father’s ship and rides to the surface out of curiosity but she is foiled by a bottle she gets stuck in. Once a young boy named Sousuke rescues and carries around the stranded Ponyo for a day, she is hooked and decides to become human. Sousuke and Ponyo’s relationship is very sweet and innocent as one could imagine. There are some very magical moments as Ponyo, along with her father who wishes to purify the oceans, and her mother all possess powerful abilities and when they are used they create some of the most beautiful parts of the film. An unsurprising fact is that this film has some very visually striking moments, but surprisingly the animation quality for many parts of the movie seemed less than Ghibli-esque. My biggest concern with the film was Miyazaki’s decision to essentially throw out some of the narrative and conflict on a whim and then to tie it up with a less than satisfactory climax to the story. In fact, I can’t really discern any climax at all. About two-thirds of the way through any amount of suspense starts to dissipate and the rest of the film is rather meandering and boring. Ponyo loses its momentum and refuses to deliver on the build-up it created for a good portion of the film. While I found some of the visuals quite appealing, the story was rather lack luster and in the end that matters much more.

As has been said many times, Miyazaki needed someone to stand up to him and keep him in check. This could have gone from an okay film to a Ghibli master work had someone had the bravery and power to make this film go through one or two more retoolings to tie everything together. The ending was extremely anticlimactic causing one to wonder if Miyazaki tired of the story and decided to just end it as soon as he could much like a Neal Stephenson novel. They made such a big deal that Ponyo’s parents wanted to test Sousuke and Ponyo’s love but in the end it comes down to a simple: Do you like Ponyo? Check yes, no, or maybe. The test did not need to be hard or dangerous, it just need to be one Sousuke could fail because that makes things not only dramatic but cathartic when they are overcome. Ponyo’s mother could have made duplicate Ponyo’s and see it Sousuke could tell the real one apart. Or maybe Sousuke could have to make some sort or moral judgment due to a test set up by Ponyo’s parents but was unaware he was being tested. Overall the movie looks great and is really fun at many points, like when the typhoon comes, but it does not work as a cohesive narrative film. The characters had a lot of potential that was partially realized but never truly developed. It’s worth a rent to take in the visuals but not worth buying.  Hopefully if Miyazaki makes another film he will let people help him cut out what is extraneous and focus on what is important.

I am very excited to present the latest piece of art we had commissioned at AnimeNEXT! It is by syun rii who does many different styles for her fanart. I really wanted something chibi so I think she was the perfect choice! You can check out her gallery, too.

I know that Detroit Metal City is one of those manga that I hear lots of people talking about but for one reason or another I have not personally got around to reading. When I found out that The ImaginAsian Theater was having a free showing of the live action movie I decide to check it out anyway. Detroit Metal City is the story of Soichi Negishi from the countryside who wants to be a pop star singing happy bubblegum songs about the great feelings you get when you find that perfect girl. The problem is he gets shanghaied into being, Johannes Krauser II, the front man of a satanic heavy metal band called Detriot Metal City where he sings about rape and murder. DMC is clearly based on KISS as well as being a general Metal parody. Negishi spends most of the movie trying to escape the fame of his alter ego while trying to woo his college sweetheart Yuri Aikawa. In the end Negishi must balance his life as Krauser and Negishi, his dreams and his reality, his light and his dark, and make them coexist and keep each side in check. Oh, and he has to defeat the Metal legend Jack ill Dark who is played by Gene Simmons in a battle of the bands. I could instantly tell they toned down some of the humor and added in more snappy scenes because that is how Japan adapts crazy manga to live action. I am sure that the funniest scenes were all from the manga but they were all quite amusing. The scene when Negishi convinces his brother that going to school and chores on the farm are actually training to make one the ultimate demonic metal anarchist overlord were quite hysterical. Also the battle at the end with Jack ill Dark was pretty crazy as well when it was not being sappy. Still the sappy never overwhelmed the movie and I came out of the theater smiling. I would have been happy paying full ticket price for the movie because it was rather enjoyable. If nothing else it distinctly made me want to go out and start reading the manga.

I finished up the 4 episode Dogs: Bullets and Carnage OVA which is almost a page by page animation of the manga. In fact, each episode is only 15 minutes long which is about the length of one chapter of manga in animated form proving they added basically nothing. Still, it was a lot of fun to see the characters and especially the shoot-outs and fights in animated form. My earlier review of the manga stands true for this as well.

Much like it took me forever to finally watch and enjoy Patlabor it took me a smaller forever to watch and enjoy Patlabor: The New Files. The OAVs are more of a last huzzah than a definitive conclusion to the series. One of the main reasons I watched was to see the ending to the Griffin storyline being one of the few ongoing stories in the Patlabor universe. While I enjoyed it I have to say it was nowhere near as intense as the events that led up to the ending of the TV series. After those 4 episodes on the first disc we get more character studies and a few comedy episodes in the last 12 episodes. Since comedy and character studies is where Patlabor excels it is a good choice for the final episodes. I found it interesting that they revisited two of what I assume were the more popular comedy episodes where they go exploring in the sewers of the Patlabor headquarters and the CLAT episode. My favorite was episode 9 because for some reason Kumagumi and Kanuka having a rivalry seems so right. Also episode 7 is worth a watch just for the obvious Golgo 13 parody character amid a bunch of other anime references and is called Black Trinity which makes another reference to the Black Tri Stars. The last episode is a good note to go out on as a lot happens yet nothing really happens. The main plot is the creation of a third Patlabor division which is mostly an excuse to see everyone one last time and then show that no matter what, life goes on. Over all although it is a bit dry, Patlabor proves it self to be the most real of almost any real robot show (even with a ghost episode). While not a show for everyone, anyone who cares about mecha anime should at least watch a few episodes to get a sense of how this is so different from all the others out there. My next step is go back and watch the original OAV series but I will save that for another time.

Even though I wasn’t crazy about Ponyo, I did like the some of the characters!

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