Ani-Monday: Redline (Takeshi Koike, 2009)

Rarely ceasing to captivate on account of masterful aesthetic hyperbole, Redline takes its title from the titular twice-a-decade racing event reserved for the galaxy’s elite professionals. When the latest iteration of the Redline sets its sights on the monarchical Roboworld as its next venue, obdurate opposition threatens to upend the proceedings by decidedly (predictably) violent means. With fortunate alternate contestant and purveyor of tall hair “Sweet” JP eyeing the prize following a disappointing outing at the qualifying Yellowline, our man aims to simultaneously beat the odds and court childhood sweetheart Sonoshee – the defending Yellowline champion, no less – whilst dodging military efforts to quell the main event.

Redline epitomizes the age-old “style over substance” argument with its continued handwaving of weighty exposition helping to exploit its agreeably batshit gusto. The film’s style – purposefully bombastic as it is – is so singular in its meticulous attention to visceral integrity that perversity and a lack of thematic oomph suits its ostensible intentions with ease. With enigmatic if predictably viable plot components consisting of “hyper-disintegrator” cannons and a gargantuan (biologically engineered) neon fetus named “Funky Boy,” the film strives to constantly one-up itself because, frankly, it needs to. Something this particularly one-dimensional needs such gradation to survive its duration, and survive Redline certainly does to varying degrees of goofiness.

Putting aside the superficiality that serves as the sole impetus for each and every key player, the rote alluring glory in question pales in comparison to the event those involved (literally) live for. With a latter act that boasts a stunning helping of genre-bending insanity, Redline is a decidedly sparse endeavor made captivating by way of an obvious uniqueness of vision and corresponding technical expertise. Picture an adrenaline junkie’s fever dream laced with sci-fi trappings and stimuli to spare.

Ani-Monday: Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki, 1997)

3

Imbued with a fantastical cynicism only Miyazaki is capable of employing, Princess Mononoke follows valiant young Prince Ashitaka’s efforts to at-first pursue life in the face of certain death. Stricken with a fabled curse that’s essentially hatred incarnate, his preceding felling of a rampaging boar god segues into uncertainly retracing its steps. Rumors of similarly viral calamities hail from the woodlands west of Ashitaka’s homeland, prompting him to race against the clock in an effort play God(s) and live another day. Said objective soon yields many a complication, the mysterious wolf princess San entering the picture to combat a monopolistic iron monger’s desire to exterminate the deity of all deities – the Deer God.

Abridged synopsis aside, Princess Mononoke unashamedly wears its disdain for the human condition on its sleeve. Highlighting our inherently ignorant mindsets as the impetus for large-scale turmoil, a “People suck!” mantra remains effortlessly non-oppressive by way of standard Ghibli trappings. In fantastically holding a mirror up to society’s self-deprecating shortcomings, Miyazaki’s world-building panache accessibly illustrates the perils of intolerance set against the arresting backdrop of folkloric polytheism.

For all of the commentary the film thrusts at viewers, it’s as much an exquisitely-staged fable as anything else. Epic in both scale and scope, Miyazaki familiarly steeps Ashitaka and San’s turmoil in thicker-than-average exposition and historical context to precede the endlessly bleak proceedings. Dialogue and imagery are frequently laced with an affecting lyricism, of which instills but a semblance of hope amid setback after setback. Scenes showcasing the aforementioned Deer God’s soft-spoken but all-powerful capabilities are almost unnerving, an always-friendly expression belying its steadfast duties as the bringer of both life and death.

Thematically rudimentary as it may be, Princess Mononoke is undoubtedly a deservedly lauded triumph for Miyazaki. Transcending the likes of family-oriented fare for more mature commentary on the repercussions of humanity’s unfeigned ignorance, the film is a wondrously rendered collection of often touching narrative poignancy and arresting visual singularity. Exuding an artistic flair that evokes as much emotionality as a bittersweet narrative climax, some of Princess Mononoke‘s ideas and imagery will assuredly withstand the test of time. The Ashitakas of this world are certainly not a dime-a-dozen nowadays, and despite its atypical glumness, this film serves to instill hope – albeit tenuous by way of the animated medium – that unwavering moral compass still exists within the selfless few.

Ani-Monday: Castle in the Sky (Hayao Miyazaki, 1986)

As my first-ever experience with the renowned Studio Ghibli and its marvelous proprietor, Castle in the Sky is altogether fantastically compelling in its telling of the tale surrounding the titular fabled sky fortress. Opening with a focus on the at-first enigmatic young Sheeta, fate soon draws her and self-sufficient miner’s apprentice Pazu together as they work together to unveil the former’s past. Given the possession of an apparently magical crystal necklace, our protagonists must remain on the lam from the covetous pirates and government agents vying to obtain said artifact for different purposes. Ample world-building ensues as the fabled floating Laputa is called into question regarding Sheeta’s supposed bloodline and the futures of all involved.

Steeped firmly in frolicking engagement, Castle in the Sky earns ample credit for painting portraits of two likable children. They’re not whiny, cartoonishly impressionable and generally helpless, thus effectively opening the door for a genuinely well-rounded coming-of-age spectacle rife with imagination. Between their budding relationship and unfailing earnestness in pursuing Laputa, Pazu and Sheeta’s personalities do wonders for an already captivating if noticeably bloated narrative, their personalities seamlessly meshing with those part of a palpably eclectic cast of characters.

In terms of exposition, Miyazaki employs an all-encompassing angle if only to inject his brand of fantastical logic into the proceedings. Despite the run time issue the voluminous detail presents, it does wonders for branding the anime auteur as something of a creative genius, what with Castle in the Sky‘s world-building amiably surpassing typical animated fare. From Pazu’s vast chasm-side hometown to the various airships that pilot (and pirate) the skies above, both Castle‘s timeless style and inventiveness frequently astonish as the plot thickens. Even despite rote overarching conflict involving Agent Muska’s hidden motives, the film transcends this shortcoming as tensions remain high amid storm-addled airship dogfighting and dilapidated sky fortress happenings.

As remarkable all-ages fare, Castle in the Sky is a lovingly crafted fairy tale epic – one that withstands the test of time as it rivals Disney’s then-impending Golden Age. It’s rife with touching narrative simplicity and imagination, both of which mesh wonderfully to encapsulate Miyazaki’s trademark sensibilities as a filmmaker. Length aside, it’s easy to appreciate nearly everything this film has to offer as the beauty residing within its many details effortlessly captivates.

Ani-Monday: Blood: The Last Vampire (Hiroyuki Kitakubo, 2000)

Clocking in at a breezy 48 minutes, Blood: The Last Vampire concisely engages at its opening via a subway-set expositional bit involving main protagonist, Saya (Yûki Kudô) and a supposed member of the Chiropteran scourge. As feral and unfailingly murderous bat people, the latter are systematically weeded out by said female – also the world’s lone remaining “original” vampire – and her American military cohorts. Infiltrating a Japanese school for American transplant students, Saya’s latest task is to weed out the flesh-cloaked teenage imposters roaming its halls before they claim their next victims.

What’s most peculiar about Blood isn’t just its meager run time, as it’s instead the half-a-decade-later television iteration that arguably overshadowed the precursor in question. Playing like a familiarly double-stacked pilot in this regard, the film’s ability to tell a story in the manner that it does is admirable, even if the desired implementation of additional content is bothersome. The script deftly covers all its bases in laying the groundwork for its successor, from a comprehensible introduction of good and evil to the requisite artistic flair that radiates from its brooding artistic sensibilities.

While satisfactory fare in the realm of adult-oriented anime, Blood: The Last Vampire is ultimately too cookie-cutter to wholly recommend. It sports an appropriately enigmatic central character and serviceable foes, however the film’s overall structure fails to captivate outside of key action sequences and base level suspense. If you’re looking for something short, sweet and perfectly adequate to satisfy your taste in mature content however, you could do worse than this should you take it for what it is, especially so if the groundwork is enough to spawn an interest in Blood+.

Ani-Monday: Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988)

Another new feature! Before I do a cartwheel and flip a top hat onto my head for presentational purposes, let it be known that I’ve always been a fan of the animated medium. From Disney to Anime, animated films carry with them an alternately diverse and unified set of cinematic ideals – ones that vary in terms of all-ages engagement and singular artistic vision. They’re things meant to be timeless despite an age benchmarked by Pixar-elevated technical proficiency, and I mean to explore both the former and the latter in an ongoing effort to touch all of my bases here on this blog. Enjoy!

Once thought to be gratuitous in the presentation of its iconic imagery, Akira holds up in terms of narrative but assuredly won’t phase a mostly desensitized present-day audience. Set in the marginally dystopian Neo-Tokyo circa 2022, civil unrest following the Third World War is commonplace to the point of frequent police and military intervention. Concerned more with hooliganism than tending to their vocational studies, long-time pals Kaneda and Tetsuo maintain their roles as master and misfit respectively in a local biker gang amid this chaos, frequently challenging and combating others in true Mad Max fashion. Following a fateful run-in with a mysterious young boy on the lam from authorities, the overshadowed and temperamental Tetsuo undergoes a series of traumatic transformative changes that shed light on what he’s become, what will become of him and the truth behind Neo-Tokyo’s psychic-obsessed subclass.

Whew! As I reel from how convoluted that admittedly sounds, Akira still maintains a sense of artistic integrity that’s easy to appreciate on the basis of its source inspirations. For those not entirely familiar with Manga and the frequent translation of its ranks from print to screen, the sheer level of unprecedented creativity present throughout some of these titles is often mind-blowing. Based on writer/director Otomo’s own graphic novel, this particular film is as conceptually lofty and fleshed-out as it needs to be to tell the story at its core, even if it doesn’t quite tie up all of the loose ends presented by its high-concept aims.

This aside, Otomo covers all of his bases in presenting his agreeably innovative vision. From an excellently-realized futuristic aesthetic to just the right amount of humanism involving Kaneda and Tetsuo, all of the explanatory exposition involving the Japanese government and the title character pale in comparison to the film’s climax. Despite the convolution stemming from the origination and subsequent study of the close-knit psionic community, Akira provides us with a lot of general excitement that’s hard to ignore as it becomes all-encompassing throughout its latter two-thirds.

Although not perfect due to the obvious shortcomings I’ve touched upon, Akira‘s icon status is well-deserved on the basis of its creator’s lovingly crafted universe. It overcomes a mostly non-dynamic cast of characters and semi-convoluted exposition with a wholly unique art style, involving conflict and sheer unpredictability. All things considered, Akira is an arguably seminal piece of work that predated anything comparably mature in terms of content.