Anime Update: August 2019

In this month’s Anime Update, I am very sad to say that I have been able to find no interesting or classic manga being released into North America through any of my go-to publishers. Seven Seas Entertainment, as well as Viz Media, are both resting on their laurels with the usual serial releases of comics they’ve been distributing for some time now. While Dark Horse and Kodansha Comics’ respective manga divisions are releasing little in the way of noteworthy or new content.

Last month, I picked up an interesting manga title: Osamu Tezuka’s (the God of Manga) classic Dororo in a one-volume, 800-page plus tome from Vertical Comics. The release was handled well and the book served to fill some hours of my week with intense joy. I thought I might be on the verge of discovering a promising new manga distributor in Vertical who I might then be able to recommend here. But alas! Vertical has a very limited back catalog of titles that’s hit or miss (more of the latter tbh) and they have been inactive since April of this year with no real time frame for new releases forthcoming. Bummer…

On the anime home video release front, fortunately, prospects are much better this month. Discotek Media has hitherto been having problems with their warehouse and production situation, but has seemed to clear things up in the months since. As such, August comes with a whole slate of new release included DVD releases of Lupin III: Blood Seal of the Eternal Mermaid and New Cutey Honey Complete Collection, both on the 27th.

Sentai Filmworks is celebrating 2019 by releasing a 20th Anniversary Steelbook Edition of the great Chiaki Konaka mecha anime Big O on Blu-Ray on August 20th.

And if that’s not enough GKIDS has two new releases coming soon. The first is the only TV anime series produced and created by Studio Ghibli: Goro Miyazaki’s 2014 CGI Astrid Lindgren adaptation Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter (August 20th). For Ghibli fans like myself this release is instrumental to getting that complete Ghibli home video collection, so pick it up before they get cannibalized by uber-fans. The second is a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack of Studio 4C’s compilation films Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond. Although the release date for this pack has not been decided upon as of yet, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye open for as it contains great work by directors like Masaaki Yuasa and Shinichiro Watanabe amongst others.

As for theatrically-released anime in North America, Funimation is finally back in the game with a new Pop Idol anime coming to theaters August 5th-8th for the kiddies. However, their stronger fare like the new Eureka Seven film and a new animated Osamu Dazai adaptation entitled Human Lost are still announced, but without tentative dates.

Fathom Events and GKIDS are working together to continue Studio Ghibli Fest 2019 with My Neighbor Totoro on the 25th, 26th, and 28th, as well as Satoshi Kon’s masterwork Millennium Actress on the 13th and 19th of this month.

Finally, there are only a few local anime cons of note this month for my particular region of the US, but they include the following:

Queen City Anime Con in my home city of Charlotte, NC from the 9th-11th. I will be there, so if you will too, please reach out and let me know!

Superstar Anime Con in Virginia Beach from the 17th-18th.

And the massive nerd and anime con Dragon Con in Atlanta, GA from the 29th of August till the 2nd of September.

 

Ciao for now,

Cody

 

P.S. Last night I saw Kiki’s Delivery Service in theaters for the second time. The film can be compared somewhat unfavorably to Yoshifumi Kondo’s masterpiece Whisper of the Heart . Both films broach the connection between magic/imagination and the artistic process. In Whisper, the narrative seems to say that each of us has an innate worth already there within us that we only have to mine through effort. This effort takes the form of working toward our artistic ambitions on a daily basis no matter how paltry the results at first, as it takes time to develop and hone our skills into their purest shape.

However, Kiki seems to conclude that occasionally our artistic impulse fails us insofar as inspiration goes. During these times it is difficult to work on any project and we find ourselves lethargic. Kiki concludes that in these moments, it is best to take a break, sometimes for weeks, and to wait around for inspiration to come once again. Though inspiration and the magic of creative work really does function in this manner, it is too easy to lose focus in these moments, which can and often do drag on into weeks, months, or even years of lethargy.

Know this, in my creative pursuits, the only thing that can reign in my own lethargy has been discipline, even when I find myself uninspired. Take the advice of Whisper over against that of Kiki and worm a bit each day toward your goals, whether artistic or otherwise. Or else, you may never achieve them at all.

Anime Update: July 2019

Hello again! Its time for another edition of Anime Update, this time detailing the cool anime-related stuff coming to North American shores for the month of July. I hope you’ll check out some of the sites discussed herein and consider buying in the otakudom through the unique merchandise and/or experiences on offer this month.

My usual go-to manga distributors for the North American market are Viz Media and Seven Seas Entertainment as they release large numbers of manga each week. Unfortunately, there is little of note coming through their stores this month. Regardless, I recommend you put their names on a list somewhere and keep them in mind for the future.

On June 1st, Kodansha Comics is releasing a new 4-volume omnibus edition of the original Sailor Moon manga entitled Sailor Moon Eternal Edition. These four volumes are each around 300 pages and of a larger size than your typical manga. So pick ’em up if you ever felt the desire to read the source manga in its entirety. On the 16th of July, Kodansha is releasing a new Ghost in the Shell graphic novel entitled Global Neural Network. Although not a new work by GITS originator Masamune Shirow, it contains four new stories by younger manga-ka inspired by Shirow’s cerebral subtexts and kitschy iconography.

Dark Horse Comics’ manga division is releasing many interesting omnibus editions of some of the most gritty manga on the market. But their coolest new release, set to hit shelves on the 31st, is Start Blazers 2199 Omnibus Vol. 1. Again, this new story is not the work of Star Blazers’ (Space Battleship Yamato) creator Leiji Matsumoto, but instead it is comprised of new stories by younger manga writers and artists inspired by Matsumoto’s monumental influence.

The boutique anime home video release company, Discotek Media, has been experiencing some major technical difficulties as of late regarding their releases. They moved warehouses earlier this year and have been having trouble getting back into the swing of things. This is very apparent during this month when a new Cutey Honey release and a new Lupin III acquisition have both been scheduled for release and subsequently shelved until late August. Bummer…

Luckily, there’s always Sentai Filmworks as an alternative for the best in home video anime releases of classic and cult anime. On the 23rd, they are releasing the Cutie Honey Universe: Complete Collection on Blu-Ray. And exactly one week later, they are releasing a definitive steelbook edition of Elfen Lied: The Complete Series on Blu-Ray complete with tons of extra features and an artbook.

Where theatrical anime is concerned, Funimation Films is really slacking off. They typically show a film in the U.S. once every two months. However, they currently have a number of films slated for release with no tentative date attached. Since February, Funimation has been touting the release of Eureka Seven: Anemone , and is no closer to releasing it now than all those months ago. In April, they announced the acquisition of a Cyberpunk anime adaptation of an Osamu Dazai story called Human Lost that seems currently lost in the fray of planned releases. And now, they’ve released information regarding the premiere of a pop idol film called Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow. The former two of these prospects are at least vaguely interesting to the common otaku, but the latter seems so asinine as to turn away any but the youngest, greenest audiences from the theater. If they ever get around to releasing any of the films theatrically that is…

But thank Ohirume-no-muchi-no-kami that we have GKIDS! Together with Fathom Events, GKIDS is screening Studio Ghibli classics’ Whisper of the Heart on July 2nd and Kiki’s Delivery Service on July 28th and 29th nationwide. Also on July 2nd, GKIDS is releasing Ghibli alum Kitaro Kosaka’s new film Okko’s Inn on a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack. On the 16th, they will be releasing a new French animation (from the studio that brought us Ernest and Celestine) called The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales. Finally, as of July 1st, GKIDS has announced its acquisition of Masaki Yuasa and Studio Science Saru’s new film Ride Your Wave set for theatrical and home video release in 2020.

Although I’ve already mentioned Fathom Event’s work with GKIDS on the Studio Ghibli Fest showings above, there are two other notable anime films being release through their cinema circuit this month. The first, playing on the 11th and 15th, is Sound! Euphonium: The Movie. The film is a sequel to a popular series by Kyoto Animation and is helmed by some of the same artists in the studio who produced great films like A Silent Voice and Liz and the Blue Bird. The second film, set for release on the 23rd only, is Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?: Arrow of the Orion. Unlike Sound!, this second film is more kid-fare than anything else and probably not up the alley of anyone who has made it thus far into this review.

Finally, in the last section of my monthly anime update, I like to take a few sentences to introduce the anime conventions coming up this month in my region: the South-Eastern United States.

Cosplay America, July 5-7th, Cary, NC

Anime Blues Con, July 12-14th, Memphis, TN

Blerdcon (a classic), 12-14th, Arlington, VA

Banzaicon, 19th-21st, Columbia, SC. I’m a regular at this one.

GalaxyCon, 25-28th, Raleigh, NC

& Otakon, 26-28th, Washington D.C. One of the largest anime conventions in the country.

 

Ciao for now

Anime Update: June 2019

As always, this is my update for all the notable and important goings on with manga releases, anime home video releases, and theatrical anime coming to North America this month, as well as a short rejoinder about the anime conventions happening in my own region of the USA. So without further ado…

Manga Releases:

Seven Seas Entertainment, usually a goldmine for classic collection releases by manga-ka auteurs like Go Nagai and Leiji Matsumoto, is not releasing any new manga of note this month, but are always an interesting indie to keep an eye on in the ever-increasingly-burgeoning field that is North American manga distribution. So keep them on your radar.

Kodansha Comics is releasing a very interesting compendium on June 25th: the Princess Jellyfish Complete Manga Box Set. For anyone (like myself) who watched the short-running cult classic anime series of the same name, loved it, and wanted to learn more about the story, this box set is your answer. And if I had more money, know for certain that I’d be getting this box set myself.

Viz Media is releasing, amongst a large sleight of titles, three extremely interesting items in the month of June. The first two of these are to be released on June 4th (the day of this posting): the Dragon Ball Complete Box Set and the Dragon Ball Z Complete Box Set. These are obviously classic series and the list prices ($140 and $220, respectively) are very reasonable for the sheer number of volumes in each work. The third notable release from Viz comes to us on June 11th: Evangelion Illustrations 2007-2017. Unlike many art books, which seem to be little more than cash grabs from dated franchises looking to cash in on nostalgia instead of producing new content, this book attempts to cash in by selling readers a book of pictures of past merchandise and merchandising campaigns. And because I’m a mark for anything Evangelion, I might bite this time around (don’t be like me if you can help it).

Finally, Dark Horse Comics- a name more typically associated with Western comics than manga- is releasing the first of a two-part omnibus by Gou Tanabe entitled H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. Gou Tanabe is a masterful artist whose work bridges the gap between the Japanese manga style and the Western graphic novel and his adaptations of Western literary classics are known for their sumptuous artistry and attention to detail. This first half of the story will come in a 320-page book for only $20 and is set for release on June 12th. If you were to pick up only one of the manga recommendations listed here thus far, this would be the one.

Anime Home Video Releases:

Discotek Media is, as they do each month, releasing a small number of highly curated material. And in June, two of their releases deserve mention here. The first is the 1986 anime series The Wonderful Wizard of Oz set for release for the first time in North America on Standard Definition Blu-Ray Disc. The second is Cyborg 009: The Cyborg Soldier also set for an Sd Blu-Ray Disc release. Both of these home video releases will be available through the Discotek Media website or from one of their booths at an anime convention near you on June 25th.

Sentai Filmworks is releasing a number of interesting titles in June 2019, the most important and critically-acclaimed of which is their Blu-Ray release of Studio Gainax’s classic Space Opera Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise. Hitherto, I’ve only been able to find this film on a decade-old DVD release from Sentai, so this new release (June 4th) comes as a breath of fresh air, especially since Gainax (or more correctly, their subsidiary Gaina) is currently working on the film’s sequel Uru in Blue set for a 2022 release (if we’re lucky.

The third and final company to mention here is GKID’s who are known for releasing most of Studio Ghibli’s film library to the West (minus many early Isao Takahata classics). On June 18th, they will be releasing a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack of the Studio Ponoc anthology film Modest Heroes. But that’s not all. GKID’s has also recently acquired the North American distribution rights to four anime films: 2 Studio 4°C anthology films entitled Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond; the coming of age story The Case of Hana and Alice; and the 2007 minor classic Summer Days with Coo by acclaimed anime director Keiichi Hara (Miss Hokusai). That said, keep an eye out in the coming weeks and months for more news about how GKID’s plans to handle these films and whether and which ones will receive home video release and theatrical releases through Fathom Events.

Theatrical Anime:

Funimation Films is one of the few distributors of theatrical anime in North America that shows its films in more than a few select cinemas. As such, it is always an interesting and promising prospect for those like myself who like to see their animated features on the largest screen possible. Unfortunately, they have no features set for theatrical release in June of 2019. Fortunately, they will have a number of interesting features set for release later this year including the Osamu Dazai adaptation Human Lost and the new Eureka Seven film Anemone. 

Fathom Events is typically the theatrical anime distributor you can trust to have at least one release in theaters in any given month. And unfortunately, they too have no films sleighted for release this month! Luckily, next month there a number of great Ghibli films and otherwise set to reach their theater distribution chain including Yoshifumi Kondo’s mesmerizingly  beautiful coming of age story Whisper of the Heart in theaters July 1st and 2nd.

Conventions:

Last but not least, there are three notable conventions in my region (the South-Eastern USA):

Gamga Con in Greensboro, NC on June 8th.

Anime Ink in Richmond, VA from the 14th-16th.

& Rangerstop and Pop Con in Atlanta, GA from the 21st-23rd.

 

Ciao for now,

Cody Ward

Anime Update: May 2019

Normally, in this monthly anime update I discuss all notable or classic manga and home video anime releases coming to the North American market for the month. However, after an extensive search of about a dozen manga distributors and half a dozen home video anime distributors, I have come up short with suggestions for this month.

At this point I’ve seemingly become jaded and bored with much of the light novel adaptations, slice of life, kitsch, and low-brow productions offered up. My critical apparatus is somewhat dull by virtue of spending so much time away from the cinema as of late, and yet my taste remains true and my standards remarkably high. If you don’t believe me, go check out my go-tos for suggestions in this regard: Seven Seas Entertainment, Viz Media, Kodansha Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Discotek Media, Sentai Filmworks, and GKID’s. None of these companies is coming out with a new manga series of note in this particular month or releasing any classic anime either.

But I digress… for the time being. Theatrical anime is still a good prospect for the month of May. To begin, Funimation Films is releasing Code Geass: Lelouch of the Re;urrection (not a typo btw) to select theaters on May 5th, 7th, and 8th. So if you’re a fan of that somewhat kiddy fair ten years after it was popular with a whole host of, shall we say, less than effete minds, then by all means go check it out.

GKID’s and Fathom Events are still partnering to present North American audiences with Studio Ghibli Fest 2019. And for the month of May, they are delivering the goods with what is quite possibly the greatest animated feature ever made: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. This film (released in 1984) was famously the impetus for the creation of Studio Ghibli (founded 1985) as Miyazaki and Takahata worked together to fund and create it along with Studio Topcraft (who they would later acquire after the bankruptcy of Topcraft’s No.1 commisioner Rankin/Bass), which established the core of Ghibli. The film will show nationwide on May 20th and 21st, and as this is the film’s 35th anniversary, expect some extra features.

GKID’s is also releasing an interesting new Ghibli home video product on May 14th: a Princess Mononoke Collector’s Edition Set with a ton of extra features that more than make up for the $50 price tag. This release will be the definitive home video release of the film, potentially for decades, so I advise you to check that out here.

Fathom Events, like the champs they are, are also delivering more theatrical anime to your veritable doorstop this month. In 2017, a light novel about a Japanese Salaryman who dies and is reincarnated into an alternate reality world where World War I meets II with magic was adapted into a 12-episode anime. In 2019, the direct sequel of this beloved series was adapted into an animated feature. And now, it comes to American theatrical audiences through Fathom Events for one day only: May 16th. The series is called The Saga of Tanya the Evil, and is looks pretty phenomenal.

Finally, the convention schedule, like everything else this month, is pretty slim for the South-Eastern United States. As far as I can tell, there are only four cons going down within 12 hours of Charlotte, NC (my city). They are as follows: Carolina Anime Day in Charlotte on the 4th; Animazement (NC’s biggest anime convention) in Raleigh from the 23rd till the 26th. MomoCon (one of GA’s largest cons) in Atlanta from the 24th-26th. And GalaxyCon in Richmond, VA from the 31st until the 2nd of June.

With that, I’ll be signing off for the time being. So…

 

Ciao for now,

Cody Ward

Anime Update: April 2019

Though I’ve been largely absent from the reader for the past month, I wouldn’t miss this day if I can help it: the first day of the month. That means it’s about time I send out an update here regarding all of the cool new things going on with theatrical anime, home video releases and manga coming to a North American audience, plus a review of my region’s best upcoming Anime and Otaku Conventions. So, without further ado, here I go.

For starters, Seven Seas Entertainment is releasing a very important Classic Collection title that all true manga nerds will want to get their hands on immediately: the Space Battleship Yamato complete collection in one volume, set for release on April 9th. This tome contains Leiji Matsumoto’s legendary space opera series in its entirety for what I believe is the first time in the West. Author of series like Galaxy Express 999 and Space Captain Harlock, Matsumoto is one amongst a godhead of classic manga-ka including names like Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy), Go Nagai (Devilman), Shirow Masamune (Ghost in the Shell), and Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2) who have helped to influence and shape the current form and content of manga like none other. So I hope you check out this manga when it becomes available.

Viz Media is also releasing some pretty exciting books this month such as The Art of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind on the 16th and a hardcover Nausicaa Picture Book on the 30th. Most interesting, however, is the publication of a new series of everyone’s favorite horror comics artist Junji Ito. Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection is set for release on April 16th and will assuredly be filled with spine-tingling macabre art and head-trippy surreal concepts in spades.

As for home video releases, Discotek Media is back in the game this month after a short hiatus brought on by their distributor moving house. On April 30th, they have quite a few releases slated. The ones that most piqued my interest include a DVD of the 1988 Cyberpunk OVA Appleseed (based on Shirow Masamune’s classic manga) and an HD Blu-Ray of Episodes 1-26 of Lupin III Part IV The Italian Adventure. 

Sentai Filmworks has a ton of releases set for this month, but the most important of these, historically-speaking, is their Gatchaman Collector’s Edition slated for release on the 30th. This includes the entirety of the over-100 episode series, the OVAs, the film, and a large artbook. This is THE definitive version of this classic series, and thereby deserving of its $99.99 price tag.

Then we have theatrical anime to consider for April. Funimation recently released some interesting material in February and March, but is currently not announcing any films for April. However, keep them in mind for the summer as they have two interesting films already set for release during that time period: Anemone: Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution (The newest Eureka Seven project) and POLYGON Pictures Human Lost based on an original story by famed Japanese author Osamu Dazai and directed by Fuminori Kizaki (Afro Samurai, Psycho-Pass). The latter of these two films looks to be an intense and arresting cyberpunk-tinged tale of future dystopian society, and thereby a film this anime reviewer will not be missing out on (if he can help it).

GKIDs is releasing two films they hold the North American distribution rights to through Fathom Events. The first is the long-anticipated 1st feature-length film by Studio Ghibli-veteran Kitaro Kosaka entitled Okko’s Inn. The film is produced by Studio Madhouse and thereby retains a high level of executive quality control in the process of choosing scripts and in releasing a film with their name on it. As Kosaka’s previous short film efforts Nasu and Nasu II were fantastic and even milestones in the history of anime (the former was the first anime filmed premiered at Cannes Film Festival), Okko’s Inn ought to be a great film. Catch it in theaters on the 22nd or 23rd of this month.

The second film being released by GKIDs through Fathom Events is the first film in this year’s Studio Ghibli Fest: Howl’s Moving CastleAs this is the 15th Anniversary of the film, expect to see some interesting bonus content about the film before or after its airing. Plan to catch this film on the 7th, 8th, or 10th at a theater near you.

And finally, GKIDs is releasing Mamoru Hosoda’s new film Mirai of the Future on Blu-Ray, DVD, and digital on April 9th. So pick that up when you get a chance to continue rounding out your collection with great films by anime’s auteurs.

I’ll conclude this update with a quick run through of my region’s upcoming anime cons of consequence. The first is Nashicon in Columbia, SC from the 5th-7th. Nashicon was the first convention at which I ever presented a panel and it means a great deal to me. I would be there myself this upcoming weekend if not for the fact that my band is releasing our debut EP in Charlotte, NC on Saturday night. If you live in the area and are interested in attending that, here’s a link to The Boron Heist EP Release Show.

From the 13-14th, TigerCon is going down in Valdosta, GA. From the 19th-21st, Middle Tennessee Anime Con is happening in Nashville. And on the 20th, a one day convention entitled KiraKira Con is being held in my home city of Charlotte, NC at UNC Charlotte!

This concludes this month’s anime update. If I left out any pertinent media companies, events, or types of information you wished I had covered here, please let me know and I will do my best to incorporate said information in future Anime Updates!

 

Ciao for now,

Cody Ward

Anime Update: March 2019

It’s about that time, in fact a few days past that time, when I review all the cool things going on in the world of anime, manga, theatrical anime, and the monthly convention schedule for the Southeast U.S.

For starters, I searched through the monthly manga releases by Viz and Seven Seas Entertainment and found no new series being released that really piqued my interest in any way this month. However, I am open to suggestions for other North American manga re-publishing houses to cover in the future (this also holds true for home video anime release companies I may not mention and groups who release theatrical anime on a nationwide scale).

That said, there are a few anime home video releases to keep an eye out for this month. The first is the classic sci-fi stop motion series Star Fleet, which is being released in full along with the complete X-Bomber series by Discotek Media on March 26th on SDBD, or Standard Definition Blu-Ray disc.

Sentai Filmworks is also releasing an important series in complete collection form this month. That series is the Armored Trooper VOTOMS TV Collection on SD DVD. So check that out and the rest of Sentai’s upcoming release schedule HERE.

This past month, the GKID’s licensed Studio Chizu film Mirai of the Future  was honored at the Academy Awards by becoming the first non-Ghibli anime film to ever compete for the Best Animated Feature Film category. To celebrate, GKID’s decided to re-run the film a second time in theaters. So if you haven’t seen Mamoru Hosoda’s fifth film on the big screen yet and thought you had missed your chance, use the opportunity asap while its still a possibility. And also keep updated on fellow Ghibli alum Kitaro Kosaka’s new film Okko’s Inn, set for release in April, at the GKID’s site.

As always, Funimation is an important name to keep in mind regarding monthly theatrical anime. And this month, they came through in a minor way. Funimation will be releasing the first two episodes of the new Fruits Basket anime theatrically on March 26th and 27th in select theaters nationwide. So keep that feather in your cap and stay updated on their projected release of the new Eureka Seven film later this year HERE.

Finally, I would be extremely remiss if I didn’t mention the best distributor of theatrical anime in the nation, Fathom Events. These cats were the ones who got me into watching anime in theaters in the first place and on every given month, they will have multiple titles coming to major theater chains near you like the AMC in my hometown, for example. This month you can catch Fate/Stay Night [Heaven’s Feel] II. Lost Butterfly in theaters on the 14th; as well as an edited theatrical version of the Made in Abyss series on the 20th and 25th in support of the projected second season set for release later this year.

Moreover, Fathom finally announced its 2019 Studio Ghibli Fest on Valentine’s Day last month and we’ll start off in a big way with Howl’s Moving Castle in early April. And as always, don’t fret if (like myself) you have already seen every Miyazaki film on the big screen. There will a variety of great Ghibli classics playing throughout the year like Yoshifumi Kondo’s classic Whisper of the HeartHiromasa Yonebayashi’s The Secret of Arriettyand Isao Takahata’s final film The Tale of Princess KaguyaCheck all of that out and more (like boxing events, classic film series, and operas) HERE.

Finally the con schedule for my region this month is as follows:

Agama Con from 2nd-3rd in Aiken, South Carolina.

Murfreesboro Anime and Comic Kon from 2nd-3rd in Murfreesboro, Georgia; Savannah Animazing Con from the 30th-31st in Savannah, Georgia.

Madicon from the 8th-10th in Harrisburg, Virginia; KigaCon from the 15-17th in Newport News, Virginia.

MidSouthCon from the 15th-17th in Memphis, Tennessee.

And finally, Triad Anime Con from the 15th-17th in Winston-Salem, of my home state North Carolina. At this convention I will hosting a panel on the ‘Other Studio Directors’ beyond the Studio’s founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. So, if you know anyone in the area, alert them to that and if you yourself are planning to attend, hit me up!

 

Ciao for now,

Cody Ward

The Man Who Planted Trees (L’Homme qui Plantait des Arbres)

(Check out my previous Frederic Back film review here: Crac!)

Frederic Back’s eighth, and penultimate, short film was his longest to date at 30 minutes in length (nearly tripling his longest previous short film). The production took a little over five years to complete alongside his other duties at Radio-Canada and comprises over 20,000 separate drawings, with 3,000 in-between frames completed by Back’s assistant Lina Gagnon. The process improves upon earlier Back productions by using notable early techniques like Prismacolor colour pencils on frosted cels, but adds new pastel artwork for the backgrounds with fixative chemicals to stay the artworks.

Aesthetically, the film moves through multiple styles and movements in the history of art throughout its runtime from harsher Nietzschian landscapes and abysses animated ala Goya to pastoral landscapes permeated by an intense undercurrent of fear and malaise ala Bruegel. As we come to land of the man who planted trees, we find them animated more impressionistically and thereby conventionally beautifully to the modern art-goers sensibility. During this period, pastels predominate in the fields and forests of one man’s making. Finally, the wiry old man becomes less of a real figure and slowly ascends within his domain to something closer to a hermit-prophet of nature whose image becomes more serene and less distinct from his surroundings until the final close-up shot of his wizened old facade animated like a Da Vinci portrait with soft lines and intense detail.

Frederic Back was an avid environmentalist and ecologist whose work often betrayed his love for nature and of a life lived close to it. And for years, he had worked in his free time to plant trees of his own accord: more than 30,000 single-handedly at that. As a member of the Society to Overcome Pollution, he did all he could to leave his world a little better off than when he came into it. So when he came across French author Jean Giono’s 1953 allegorical tale L’Homme Qui Plantait des Arbres, the story of a man who leaves the world behind after tragedy befalls him and comes to a barrent land wherein he spends his life cultivating a forest, Back was absolutely in love. He wanted to immediately animate the story and managed to gain the rights to do so through Radio-Canada. The resultant effect was his most popular and enduring work of his career. A work that competed for and won awards in dozens of film festivals from 1987 till 1993 (including an Oscar, an Emmy, and most prestigious of all, an award at Cannes), that inspired a reprinting of Giono’s classic complete with Back illustrations, and more importantly one that inspired others to plant over one million verifiable trees throughout the world.

The story is of a young man in 1913 who is traveling across the French countryside, specifically through a barren wasteland in Provencal. The bleak landscape is populated by little more than serpents and wild lavender. Ancient villages dot the landscape, all in disrepair and total abandon with old receptacles where once water flowed from beneath ground in vast reservoirs. Now, the traveler moves from village to village and tries to prime these pumps, but finds all water absent. He runs low on his rations and begins to become dehydrated and starved, on the brink of life and death. That is, until he sees a figure above a hill. The man approaches and finds an aged shepherd with his small flock and dog.

The old man gives him some water and leads him back home after fulfilling his duties in the fields. There they sup together and the man is led to believe he will be able to spend the night before moving along the next day toward the populated villages two days aft. He watches the old man sort through a bag of hundreds of acorns, mixing them into two piles for the good acorns and the bad acorns. The old man then puts the good acorns into piles of ten and discerns the smallest or least robust amongst each pile until he has 100 perfect acorns. The young man reflects on his future trip to the cities surrounding this pleasant grotto. Those cities have people who struggle for sustenance and live lives of quiet desperation, which often reach the breaking point and erupt into violence, fear, anxiety, hatred, envy, madness, suicide, and murder. Compared to those places, where he is now is much preferred.

The next day, the young man decides to stay on for a little longer before making his trip back to civilization and its discontents. He watches the old man as he leaves in the morning to place his sheep in a dell for grazing and leaves them behind for his dog to watch while he himself climbs a nearby hill and proceeds to dig holes with his iron staff. In these holes, he plants a single acorn each. Later, the young man will ask the older man many questions about himself and learn that he is 55 years old and is called Elzear Bouffier. He lost his son and then his wife three years previously and decided to leave the world to reflect in his solitude. He found this barren patch of land and knows not who owns it, whether it is parish or common land, or whatever. But he decided to begin planting trees there. Of the 100,000 trees he has planted in those three years, only 20,000 grew and half of those were dealt the hand of providence, were killed by rodents or blight. that leaves him with a grove of 10,000 trees, but he hopes to last another 30 years so that this grove of 11 by 3 kilometers will one day become a mere drop in that veritable ocean of green.

Through two world wars, the young man continues to visit the older man on an almost yearly basis. The forest grows, springs and little rivers appear in the landscape which give birth to willows, reeds, flowers, and gardens. Wildlife returns and over the years, this place, once a wasteland, becomes a thriving world of beauty and natural peace and serenity. The inhabitants of the surrounding region become engrossed in this landscape and part of it over time. They become happier and more peaceful and less resource dependent on the big cities and on hard labor to earn their livings. The place enchants even the parliament who decide to make it a protected land, and eventually the old man dies. And in the process, the young man becomes an old man, almost the same age as when he first met Elzear in these hills. And he realizes that ‘a man’s destiny can be truly wonderful.’ But more importantly, that Elzear, one man, was able to ‘complete this task worthy of God’ and to craft a paradise for which over 10,000 people rely upon for their happiness and peace of mind.

The film was simultaneously released in English and French with two different narrators, both classically-trained highly revered Canadian actors: Philippe Noiret and Christopher Plummer. And it probably thereby had the widest commercial run of any of Back’s films in his career. The work is a beloved classic of Quebec, Canadian, and North American animation that is generally considered to be one of the finest animated works ever created, and in my books, one of the finest short films ever made in any medium whether animation or live-action. I’ve managed to leave much out of the plot of this film, and very many details in the hope that upon reading this you will go out and seek the film yourself: either on the Frederic Back complete short films DVD release through his website or online at some streaming site. You will not be disappointed, and more importantly, you may come away feeling happier, more alive in this moment, and enriched in the prospect that though small and of little weight in the calculus of world actions, you can make a difference for the better in this life. With one step at a time.

 

With love,

Cody Ward

O Brother, Who Art Thou? (Digimon Frontier: Episode 30)

(Check out my previous review HERE. To go back to the beginning of this review series click HERE)

Again with the titles. We all know the reference of this one to a wildly popular Coen Production with all its attendant black humor and southern gothic references. And we know that Koji and Koichi share some relationship as near-identical persons, which means they are almost definitely brothers. So the name is a fun pun on the situation in the anime, but has little to do with the film it references thematically or narratively, and therefore, I’d have to certify this title rotten just like so many other lame puns I’ve commented on in this series in particular hitherto.

As BeoWolfmon continues to search for Duskmon in the shadows of the Dark Continent, his Digidestined friends track him down to help him defeat Duskmon if need be: a prospect that is highly likely now that both Koji and Takuya can Fusion Evolve. But Cherubimon is fed up with his minions being defeated so handily and he intervenes to prevent the Digidestined’s forward progress by caging them in a circle of black javelins with a large covering of darkness above. Patamon is an intuitive little Digimon luckily and uses his brains to suggest they dig their way out of the place when the rest find the black javelins impenetrable to all attacks. When they escape, Patamon- as the Rookie-level form of the Digimon protector Seraphimon- can sense the light emanating from Koji/BeoWolfmon and is able to get the crew back on track toward finding him.

The rest of the episode is pretty paint by numbers stuff that had previously already happened. Duskmon and BeoWolfmon duke it out. As the animation quality of Digimon has rarely been on the level of a Gainax or a Studio Trigger, the action sequences aren’t really fulfilling enough to warrant half an episode of jumping around and breaking stuff just to result in another draw, but that’s what they do anyway. They both see their human forms during the battle again and again they react in a confused manner to these images. They question each other in the hopes of getting to the bottom of the mystery between them, but instead of discussing the matter like two individuals who both stand to gain from a rational encounter, they continue to battle on and eventually one becomes the victor: BeoWolfmon.

Because Cherubimon is a god-like Digimon in terms of power, his apparition appears from out of the blue, out of the veritable machine to bestow upon Duskmon a new power. But first he alerts him to some of his past and allows Duskmon to realize that he is really a human boy named Koichi who searched after Koji and ended up in the Digital world because they are brothers. Koichi remembers his grandmother on her deathbed confessing to him that his father and brother are still alive and well (though we do not learn anything about why he was abandoned to live with her instead of with them). He sought out Koji and managed to find himself alone within the Digital World instead where his fear and self-loathing got the better of him.

There, darkness overwhelmed his spirit, which called toward Cherubimon like a magnet. Cherubimon offered to be his friend and to bestow upon him the power of the Legendary Warrior of Darkness, which would help him to survive in this hostile, new world. But the power came at a cost as Koichi became less and less human and forgot his identity and his past. He even forgot his main objective for coming to this world in the first place: to find his twin brother Koji. And now, after remembering all of this information and falling into a deeper state of depression, Cherubimon unlocks Koichi’s Beast Spirit of Darkness, which allows him to become Velgemon. From the vantage point of this stronger form, Koichi is able to overcome BeoWolfmon once again, though he is still emotionally grappling with his current knowledge and therefore, manages to fly off before the darkness consumes him totally and he destroys his brother Koji.

During this entire encounter, Koji knows only that whoever Koichi is, he looks awfully like himself. He seemingly has no knowledge of having a twin brother or a sibling whatsoever in the real world, and therefore probably thinks that Duskmon’s inner human image is something like a head game meant to throw Koji off while they battle. And that makes sense from his perspective as it would also be hard to believe that a human child who came to the Digital World from the real world would even be able to be corrupted by someone like Cherubimon. We know, because of Ken in Digimon Adventure 02, that human children can become corrupted when they enter the Digital World. However, Koji is a relative newcomer and the rules of the game might not be so apparent to him here.

Nevertheless, the battle is over for now as the Digidestined reunite and continue their long sojourn through the Dark Continent toward the ever elusive Rose Morning Star.

 

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined Cody

Phantasmagoric Sakkakumon (Digimon Frontier: episode 29)

(Check out my previous review HERE. Or to go back to the beginning click HERE)

If you’ve watched this series before, you’ll know how weird this episode is in context. If not, in the previous episode of Digimon Frontier, one of the main protagonists, Takuya, went into the domain of one of their biggest enemies: Mercurymon. He was almost defeated by Mercurymon before getting some sort of deux ex machina power from a legendary DigiEgg the Digidestined team is holding onto. The power manifests as a light that gives Takuya the ability to fuse his Legendary Warrior Spirits and thereby Fusion Evolve into his strongest form yet: Aldamon. Through this new Digivolution he is able to defeat Mercurymon, destroy the final two areas within Sakkakumon’s interior matrix, and seemingly finally destroy this enemy for good.

However, we did not actually see Aldamon absorb the Beast Spirit of Steel, which is Mercurymon’s strongest form. Furthermore, Sakkakumon’s deadened husk remained floating in the sky above the party after their ‘defeat’ of this enemy. None of this really bodes well for the team, but one can be forgiven for thinking the battle is over at this point as the entire episode leads one to believe this outcome really happened. So when episode 29 begins and we find out that Sakkakumon is not dead and defeated, but very much alive, just without a Mercurymon form any longer, it’s quite an annoying prospect. We’ve just seen the Digidestined dispense with this guy for five episodes (or 10% of the entire series’ runtime) and now have to watch an entirely new episode where they battle with his residual energy once more. The senses reel and just when the series was getting good, it begins to drag once more, to pull the veritable rug out beneath us just as the Digidestined were closing in on the Duskmon mystery and finally moving toward the Rose Morning Star to find out what that whole place is really about. Bleh.

But as it were, Sakkakumon descends once more from the lofty heavens of the Dark Continent to rain down destruction, terror and mayhem on our Digidestined pals. But he has learned something from all of the Legendary Warriors of Light’s travails within his interior: namely, he has learned how to harness and use all of their attacks. Furthermore, he can reflect back their attacks when doled out toward him. As Takuya Fusion Evolves into Aldamon and tries pointlessly to break through Sakkakumon’s defenses, J.P. asks Patamon if he still has the power to give the rest of them Fusion Evolutions like Koji and Takuya. However, the little dude, once hatched, now has no such powers and therefore, as in my prediction hitherto, no one else will ever be able to gain this rare ability. Instead, J.P., Tommy, and Zoe all Spirit Evolve into their H Spirit forms as Beetlemon, Kumamon, and Kazemon, respectively. And again, the question of why they would not just rocket up to their highest levels as Beast Spirits first is beyond me, and beyond all rational calculation. Maybe they just really dig their H Spirit digs, you dig?

Whenever anyone launches an attack, Sakkakumon just reflects it back at twice its original power and douses his foes in a taste of their own medicine. Even when the lesser Digidestined get mad and Slide Evolve into their Beast Spirit forms, they are match. Hell, even when they attack all at once, Sakkakumon is so quick that he just oscillates and absorbs each attack patters before reflecting it back at his enemies. The guy is such a tank that J.P., typically high-spirited and strong-willed, advises the team to run away, to retreat from battle just this once so they can regroup and formulate a new plan. Even Takuya agrees and so the group runs away into a nearby chasm wherein they find a tunnel that leads them straight into a large cavern with only one way in or out. A pitch black cavern at that. Dumb dumb dumb.

Sakkakumon gives chase and traps the Digidestined in this cavern before turning off his bio-luminescence to take advantage of the darkness. And then the mind games begin as Sakkakumon uses what he learned of each Digidestined kid’s emotional traumas, failings, and fears while they labored away battling his minions within his internal matrix of elemental arenas. All the kids, except for Takuya who has truly learned to master his emotions and inner demons, start freaking out about how scared they are of the darkness. Fear and doubt enters their fragile pre-teen psyches and they even begin to distrust one another for a few moments as J.P. and Tommy take umbrage with Takuya always being so level-headed and telling them what to do as if he were their leader (and as the Digidestined of Fire, he kinda is their leader by default). Sakkakumon has sown the seeds of discord for a short time, but Takuya truly is a natural leader, and as such he tells his friends to close their eyes and to realize they are now part-Digimon living within their own Digital World.

Their senses are heightened as Digimon and through this power of focus, they can hear Sakkakumon’s breathing and movements. So they refocus their energies and head back into the fray against their opponent. Further, Takuya finds Sakkakumon’s weakness in his central orb/node that never emits an attack nor tries to defend against one. This is his power core. Also, by fusing attacks with each other, they can confuse Sakkakumon’s sensors into taking the full brunt of attacks, which are unlike pure elemental waves of energy. By distracting him with such potent new attacks, they are able to momentarily expose Sakkakumon’s core orb to attack, which Aldamon doles out in abrupt fashion to finally defeat the Legendary Warrior of Steel, absorb all of his Fractal Code, and his Beast Spirit.

At the end of this encounter, Cherubimon’s spirit appears momentarily (but only visibly to the viewers) to express his distaste at losing his final Legendary Warrior (he must already sense that Duskmon is a lost cause) and to alert us that he is releasing some sort of seal. The Digidestined endeavor to search for BeoWolfmon and Koji qua BeoWolfmon continues to search for Duskmon in the interminable darkness at the edges of the Dark Continent.

 

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

Darkness Before the Dawn (Digimon Frontier: Episode 28)

(Catch my previous Digimon Frontier episode review out HERE)

As Koji runs off chasing Duskmon who knows where, Takuya continues to search through Sakkakumon to find the final chamber and escape. He almost immediately lucks into an area of the internal matrix littered with highly polished metal mirrors wherein Mercurymon has been waiting for the final confrontation between himself and the Digidestined. However, Mercurymon has a few tricks up his sleeve in this domain. He can use any mirror or polished surface as a transfer area with which to teleport around the room. The large number of mirrors also allows him to manipulate the visuals of this domain and to throw projections of himself about the room, which Takuya qua Agunimon tries in vain to destroy.

If all of this weren’t enough, Mercurymon talks some mad shit and slays with his Elizabethan oratory at every turn making Agunimon more enraged and less in control of his rational functions. He forces the Legendary Warrior to fight on the offensive like a raging bull with a blindfold and a dead leg. And when Agunimon does land a fire attack on the correct Mercurymon apparition, he just lifts his mirror shield, absorbs the energy, and reflects it back through his Dark Reflection powers. Hitherto the Digidestined have mostly made their way about brute forcing encounters with enemies, but Mercurymon is one who suffers no fools. One with a tactical game far outpacing that of the pre-teen Digidestined team.

A portal opens in the sky, which leads to the final Area within Sakkakumon: the Light Area. The entire place is a large chapel with stained glass windows looking heavenward and a massive organ at the back of the room. Here, Mercurymon verbally prods Agunimon once again before revealing the apparition of Seraphimon bound by thorny vines: the entire sequence is littered with Christian iconography that one might think worth interpreting further, but the parallels are pretty apparent. Seraphimon is a savior/protector figure of the Digital World who has defeated and bound in ‘death’ by his own people: the Legendary Warrior of Steel and the Legendary Warriors of Darkness generally who have decided to follow the evil Dark Lord Cherubimon instead. The crown of thorns and the thorny vines. The fact that it takes place within a chapel. But here I’ll digress as it could all merely be a ploy to use interesting imagery in a vague manner like director Hideaki Anno did in his acclaimed show Neon Genesis Evangelion, which he has later stated he only used because it looked cool.

Takuya is taken aback by the image, as are his friends outside in the Dark Continent, and demands that Mercurymon free Seraphimon immediately. The request is, of course, absurd as Takuya-Agunimon cannot currently defeat Mercurymon and thereby has no way to force him to free Seraphimon. And anyway Mercurymon explains that this is merely the spectre of Seraphimon, something of a shadow, ghost, or Fractal Code copy from the data Mercurymon received when he defeated him. Mercurymon then absorbs this data and transforms into ShadowSeraphimon whose power level is beyond that of a mere Mega-level Digimon. Agunimon attacks, but finds his strength wanting, so he transitions through a Slide Evolution into BurningGreymon to hopefully match power level with a Mega-level Digimon form.

Unfortunately, he miscalculates and realizes only too late that he is no match for ShadowSeraphimon given his current Digivolution options. He is defeated and reverts back to Takuya as Mercurymon cradles his head in his hand and threatens to snuff out the kid’s life at any moment. J.P., Tommy, and Zoe Spirit Evolve and once again try to enter Sakkakumon by force, but find his defenses to be much too strong. Bokomon calls out to the DigiEgg of Seraphimon to help out his friend Takuya and the egg rises once more into the air above, releasing a stream of light energy that makes its way through Sakkakumon’s barrier without a pause. The light enters Takuya’s D-Tector and allows him to Fusion Evolve using both his H spirit and his B Spirit into the more powerful hybrid Digimon Aldamon.

Somehow this new form surpasses even a ShadowSeraphimon (a Super-Mega-level if you will) and merely shrugs off the best his enemy can throw at him before going in for the kill, taking Mercurymon’s Beast Spirit of Steel and trouncing the Light Area in the process. Mercurymon recovers just long enough to realize that his entire plan and the all work he has done in developing his strengths has failed. Aldamon crushes him totally and takes the remainder of his Fractal Code, his H Spirit of Steel, and returns him to a DigiEgg. Another result is the release of Seraphimon’s Fractal Code, which immediately exits Sakkakumon and enters the Seraphimon DigiEgg, which hatches into a Patamon with a waste-band like its ‘mother’ Bokomon who kept it warm and safe until this moment.

What’s weird is that even after Mercurymon has been defeated and all ten areas of Sakkakumon have been dealt with likewise, the giant darkened Sakkakumon edifice remains in the sky above as if some giant memorial to the battle that just took place. Also, a little theory here, but it was the power of Seraphimon’s DigiEgg that allowed Takuya and Koji to both Fusion Evolve and now that the DigiEgg has hatched, this power may no longer be attainable by any of the other Digidestined. Bummer. But hey, the series is almost 2/3 over by this episode, so it’s best they don’t spend a ton of that time grinding to gain their new abilities from episode to episode.

Finally, we learn nothing new of Koji’s situation in this episode focused solely on Takuya’s fight with Mercurymon. But we do know that there is only one more Legendary Warrior of Darkness left in THE Legendary Warrior of Darkness Duskmon. We also know that the darkness feeding on his emotions has allowed him to become as powerful as a Super-Mega in just his H Spirit form. So even if Koji catches up to him in his new Fusion Form as BeoWolfmon, Duskmon might still Slide Evolve into his more powerful, unrestrained Beast Spirit form and dominate. It will take both Koji and Takuya’s newfound powers, and maybe some teamwork with the other three Digidestined, to finally defeat this foe and figure out his deal. Namely, what exactly his relationship is to Koji.

 

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

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