Tag Archives: anime

Ghost In The Shell (2017)

Ghost In The Shell posterSince it’s release in 1995 the anime of Ghost In The Shell has become one of the touchstones of not only Japanese animated films breaking through into western culture (along with the likes of Akira and the Miyazaki films) but has become a heavy influence on science fiction cinema of many sorts from The Matrix to Dredd and beyond.

So now, some 22 years later, the long developing ‘Hollywood remake’ has hit the multiplexes with Scarlett Johansson leading an international cast, also including Juliet Binoche and ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano.

The story here concerns Johansson’s Major Mira Killian, a cyborg member of a kind of top-secret law enforcement agency, and her teams mission to take out a mysterious new threat who is killing off high level scientists from the company who created the Major’s robotic body. From there things head into a fairly predictable conspiracy plot.

While there’s nothing wrong with the plot per se, and it does use the conspiracy to explore a similar notion to the earlier animated version, it is hampered hugely by a near total lack of definition in the characters all of whom are at best two-dimensional renderings of fairly well-worn stereotypes – even Major who of all the roles has the most scope for something more.

Scarlett Johansson as Major Mira Killian - Ghost in the Shell

Johansson as Major

While this same criticism could be levelled at many of today’s blockbusters everything around the central group of characters just feels somewhat bland with a script that relies too much on spoken exposition to both move the story on and labour its point with visuals that, while technically impressive, never wow like it feels they should and display no sense of flair or originality.

Given the fact at least some of the cast are known talents it’s hard not to conclude that a major part of the problem lies with director Rupert Sanders, the man previously responsible for Snow White And The Huntsman which had many similar problems.

On top of this came the fact that there is a sense that Ghost In The Shell was produced somewhat ‘by committee’, trying to simultaneously target both the mainstream American (western) movie audience, the increasingly important Chinese market, the Japanese market and fans of the original.

Ghost in the Shell - Batou and team

The rest of Major’s team

While the original anime version of the film helped establish new tropes of future urban dystopia this version does little to build on that, strangely giving it a feeling that it is copying the very things the original influenced both visually and in terms of its story and characters.

This all comes together to leave a film that, while not technically bad, just feels flat and uninspired which, given the legacy of its progenitor, makes it a massive disappointment and a missed opportunity that probably arrived two decades too late, if it ever even needed to arrive at all.

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Akira (Book One) by Katsuhiro Otomo

Akira book oneSince the western release of the anime film version of Katsuhiro Otomo’s early 1980s manga Akira it has entered the western pop culture lexicon like few other things from the Far East, arguably kick starting the ongoing fascination with Japanese culture in the western world that spans from the films of Studio Ghibli to the likes of Pokemon.

Despite having seen the film long ago and the many references to it in cinema since, I had yet to go back to the original manga until now. So, while I had some expectations, I didn’t have a total grasp of what it might be like.

This first book of the series kicks off by introducing us to a teenage bike gang (bōsōzoku) in Post-World War Three Neo-Tokyo, and we are dropped into a slightly familiar, exaggerated gang culture of Japanese youth (if this exists in real life or just in manga and anime I’m not able to say, but it certainly has a ring of truth) in a vaguely totalitarian society where we soon discover something is amiss with superpowered mutant humans being hidden, somewhat unsuccessfully, by mysterious government agencies.

Akira - Kaneda and Tetsuo

Kaneda and Tetsuo

The story itself is one that has become somewhat cliché, but this feels like where it started, so we follow gang member Kaneda as he becomes embroiled in this mystery following the apparent death and resurrection of fellow young biker Tetsuo.

While the story is undeniably engrossing what sets Akira apart, and at the time of its original publication must have been fairly astonishing, is the pace of the storytelling and action. While American comics traditionally were fairly verbose works, with long passages of expository dialogue, in Akira much of this is removed and Otomo allows the images to do the heavy lifting.

So we race through the society and city which is never explained explicitly but we explore it much as we might in a film, through the detailed visuals. Similarly the characters are revealed to us as much through action as anything else and, while they are mostly fairly typical, it isn’t long before we get behind Kaneda and get a genuine sense of mystery over the fate of Tetsuo that builds to this part’s climax.

Katsuhiro Otomo

Katsuhiro Otomo

While American comics have since caught up with this style it’s hard not to recognise the pioneering nature of Akira as it races along like its characters. While this first volume is clearly just getting the story up and running, it is as engaging and engrossing as any comics I’ve read and, as well as being a notable historical artefact of the medium, remains a compelling read with some excellent artwork.

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El Scar – Drowning In Information, Starved For Knowledge

Prolific solo instrumentalist El Scar broadens his horizons with acoustic ambient metal on new ‘double A side’.

Over the last couple of years Brighton based and Guernsey born musician Marc Le Cras has been putting out self-produced albums and EPs of his own music on a relatively regular basis under the name of El Scar.

Largely instrumental, save for a few guest vocal spots from Jack Fletcher on The Human Instrumentality Project album, his work falls into a strange place of instrumental, atmospheric metal.

All grown from and inspired by El Scar’s evident love of both ‘djent’ style progressive metal and anime (and specifically Neon Genesis Evangelion), the albums and EPs he has put out so far have been a surprisingly rich and varied batch of sound (though all still clearly rooted in their genre).

For his latest, the two track Drowning in Information, Starved for Knowledge, El Scar has put down the electric guitar and picked up the acoustic, along with the usual programmed drums and other backing instrumentation.

What this has done has expand El Scar’s palate of sounds in a way that I think was needed at this stage, while still keeping a similar style and sound to the production and composition.

Even more so than on his earlier work these two tracks have the feel of a soundtrack to a hyper-futuristic sci-fi or, appropriately, anime movie.

The one thing that really struck me, though, was how short the two tracks are, on both I was left wanting more.

Both tracks begin slow and quiet before building with additional instruments to add depth to the sound. However, just as they are really getting going, at around the three to four minute mark, they end, in both cases, it seemed to me, somewhat abruptly.

While three to four minutes is a fine length for a pop song or regular piece of music for casual listening, it felt like these two pieces both had further to go and more to do and really could have become deeply engrossing pieces if they had time to expand.

It’s not often I think songs need to be longer (as a Metallica fan, recent years have often had me wishing their songs would be shorter) but in the case of Drowning in Information, Starved for Knowledge, I wanted more!

You can get hold of all of El Scar’s singles, EPs and albums via his BandCamp page.

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