Rolling Review – Made in Abyss (02)

MadeInAbyss_02_00.png

Episode Synopsis:

Riko and her friends manage to get Reg accepted into their orphanage, and for a time, life continues as normal. After three months, a cave-diving expedition returns to Orth with much fanfare, bearing a white whistle; the mark of the bravest and most accomplished adventurers. The whistle belonged to Riko’s mother, Lyza, and its sudden return causes mixed feelings in the young girl. It also appears that the whistle was not the only thing Lyza brought back from the Abyss…

Review:

To shamelessly piggyback off of Brendan; boy howdy, folks! Made in Abyss is flat-out, full-stop gorgeous. It’s visual design is immaculate, and its worldbuilding is phenomenal so far. This episode is largely dedicated to stepping back from adventuring and letting the audience take in the everyday life of Riko, Reg and their friends in Orth, as well as explaining many of the concepts that were introduced in episode 1. It’s heavily loaded with exposition, but it’s all handled so well that I don’t mind the show being front-loaded like this.

Part of what helps is that the majority of the cast are children, so we learn much of how the Abyss works from their perspective. Whether it’s the adorable pictures detailing the increasingly worrisome effects of the Abyss…

Or a children’s pantomime about the ranks of cave-divers…

MadeInAbyss_02_05.png

We learn essentially everything we need to know about how Orth’s adventuring hierarchy works and why the Abyss is so tantalizing and dangerous. The city treats it not as a terrifying chasm of death (though they certainly don’t ignore its dangers), but as a place of opportunity. Those who plumb its depths are lionized – the return of Lyza’s whistle is a cause for celebration, rather than mourning.

MadeInAbyss_02_06.png

This brings out a lot of uncertainty in Riko, who has long idolized her mother, but never knew her. Leader’s (real name still unknown) description of her is both admiring and admonishing, painting the picture of a fascinating person. It’s nice to see a deceased family member described with depth and complexity, rather than just a trigger to move the plot forward.

MadeInAbyss_02_07

MadeInAbyss_02_08

That’s not to say Lyza doesn’t accomplish that as well in absentia. Her findings look like they’re going to be driving much of the story in the near future, so I appreciate that the show took the time to get us settled in before tossing us in the deep end. Heck, a full three months passed since Reg was admitted to the orphanage, so it’s clear that Made in Abyss is willing to keep things paced out. It makes the world feel more believable without depriving us of its delicious story-meats.

If there is one thing that bugs me a little about the show, it’s some of the humor derived from examining Reg. We’ve already established that Riko’s tests on his body were pretty extreme, but from what she says in the first part of this episode, they also got… invasive. You can probably chalk it up to compulsive childish curiosity and cultural distance, but it made me a bit uncomfortable. So far, however, it’s nothing that’s going to drag down an otherwise brilliant show.

Summary:

There is so much more I’d love to say about this show, but I feel it really needs to speak for itself. It’s a visual delight to watch, its characters are fun, clever and engaging, and its world continues to fascinate me. It captures the feel of an old-school adventure RPG without blatantly copying the terminology like many game-inspired anime seem to these days, and that’s something I’m quickly growing fond of. I’m beyond excited to see where Made In Abyss takes us next as we dive deeper into its mysteries.


Previous                                         Next

Rolling Review – Made in Abyss (01)

Episode Synopsis:

Long ago, the city of Orth was built around a mysterious opening in the Earth. No explorer who has ever returned to the surface has seen the extent of its depths, but expeditions continue to yield valuable artifacts. Novice spelunker Riko seeks to follow in her lost mother’s footsteps, but must first rise through the ranks at her orphanage. On her first solo delve, she comes across an unconscious cybernetic boy, and proceeds to sneak him back to her home while attempting to keep him secret from the orphanage administrators.

Review:

Boy howdy, folks, I think we’ve caught ourselves another good one. This episode is a phenomenal introduction to a beautifully rendered fantasy world. Pretty much every aspect of this show struck a chord for me, so let me go down the line.

The setting is gorgeous. There’s a hint of melancholy in the air everywhere we go, from the petrified trees 100 meters down to the sleepy shots of Orth itself. One might expect a place like this to be a bustling haunt of RPG-style adventuring parties (MMO or otherwise) picking up legendary super-weapons with which to fight God or whatever, but so far there’s a much more intimate feel to the place. I was reminded of games like Terraria (where drilling through underground ecosystems and finding creepy relics is core gameplay), Risk of Rain (a game built around moving through surprisingly vertical alien landscapes, hunting for debris from your wrecked spacecraft, and shooting up the incredibly dangerous local fauna), and Cave Story (which, uhh… just play Cave Story).

The BGM is sparse so far but I’ve no complaints with it, nor with the ending theme. I’m especially intrigued by the opening theme, which seems to be in full English and has some cool sort of arrhythmic bits in it.

I’ve got something of a soft spot for puni plush character designs (pun intended), so I think the kids are adorable. The adults we meet are appropriately stylized without being excessively detailed.

Left: The man who coordinates the orphans’ excavations, referred to only as Leader
Right: The orphanage’s intimidating Director

In addition to being well-designed – and well-animated – everyone’s personalities are conveyed well and everyone is pretty likeable. The Director functions as the primary antagonist that doesn’t come from a bottomless pit, and this is due mostly to an extreme punishment once dealt to Riko and the subsequent fear of how exactly the rest of her idea of discipline is calibrated. Conversely, Riko’s childish enthusiasm is infectious, and one gets the sense that most of her associates put up with her reckless behavior because she, and they, are genuinely good people.

The show regularly tosses in bits of levity in the form of quick gags. These are especially welcome in the light of chatter that I’ve seen online suggesting that the show is fated to become a soul-crushing sob-fest, presumably to accurately adapt its source material (which I haven’t read). Unfortunate things happening to cute anime girls is not a new thing, though – nor is it something that I’m generally averse to (though it is certainly possible to overdo).

Summary:

It may be a long way down before we reach the bottom of Made in Abyss, but it looks from here like a trip I’d like to take.

Stay positive, kids, and hope for the best – but prepare for the worst.

Next

Night on the Galactic Railroad

Episode/Series/Film Synopsis:

Giovanni lives on the outskirts of a small town, in a world where society is just beginning to industrialize. He attends what appears to be the equivalent of middle school, where several of his classmates mock him for middle school kinds of things, like the fact that his father is late from returning from his latest job in a faraway sea. Wandering on the night of a town festival, Giovanni boards a mysterious train, and is shortly joined by his only friend, Campanella. As the train traces an arc through the milky way, the boys observe slices of a wide and fantastic world, and ponder the nature of happiness.

Review:

Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to one of the most beautifully surreal films that I’ve ever experienced. Before I start getting into it, though, a little background may be in order.

Giovanni’s town seems incredibly quaint by today’s standards – its denizens get around its winding, stone pathways entirely on foot, and the only visible presence of electricity is in the lights and a single telephone. Though the movie was produced in the 1985, the story is not intentionally a period piece – it was originally published as a novel in the 1930s, after being compiled from drafts written in rural Japan somewhere around 1927 by poet and idealist Kenji Miyazawa. Kenji was tragically unappreciated in his own time, but has become one of Japan’s most enduring authors, with this story and others still in publication today. The book itself is seen in the anime Looking Up at the Half-Moon, and the concept of interstellar locomotives seems to have been a basis for several of the works of Leiji Matsumoto.

As an aside, there was a biographical anime special produced about Miyazawa in 1996 (to coincide with his hundredth birthday), which somehow managed to get released on DVD here in the states – under the title Spring and Chaos. Notably, both that feature and a recent adaptation of one of Miyazawa’s other works, The Life of Gusko Budori, carry on a trend that started with Night on the Galactic Railroad: casting the characters as anthropomorphic cats. I’m not sure that the original staff have given a concrete reason for this stylistic choice, but they actually managed to make the movie even more weird by keeping some passengers that board the train in the second half as regular humans.

Well, regular 80s anime humans

And let me tell you, the movie was plenty weird before they showed up. Maybe not so much the first act, as it serves mainly to introduce us to Giovanni’s mundane life, but, once we’re on the train, all bets are off. The places that the boys see and the people that they meet are all half-remembered-dream levels of odd. The boys roll with every twist, though – and, honestly, if you find a featureless stairway descending into the void of space while looking around a deserted station while the train is making an extended stop,

and you decide to go down that stairway,

and it ends in a deserted version of your town, which has a sign saying “Pliocene Coast” pointing to a second featureless stairway that descends into the void of space,

shoot – roll those dice again. I mean, what are the odds that you’re going to hit the bottom and walk out of a giant bone?

Pretty good, actually

Let’s back up to the sign for a moment, which was helpfully translated by the characters from “La Pliocena Marbordo”. From even before the beginning of the movie, when the title card displays “Nokto de la Galaksia Fervojo”, all on-screen text save for the names in the opening credits appears to be some sort of mangled Romance language. It is, in fact, Esperanto – a language constructed by a Polish scholar in the late 1800s in the hopes of fostering a more easily accessible world-wide community. I think of it similarly to the common tongue in Dungeons and Dragons – it probably wouldn’t be your character’s first language, but the idea is for it to be everyone’s second (having humanity as a baseline in a fantasy world distorts the analogy, but one might argue that the Anglo-sphere today is becoming that analogue). Miyazawa was exactly the kind of person to see the merit in this idea, and the filmmakers chose to animate with Esperanto in homage to his work in the language. I think the choice was more than perfect, as it adds to the movie’s halfway-real atmosphere.

Another element of the movie that contributes to its dream-like aesthetic is the background design in general. Everything has a texture to it, but looks just a little too well-defined. Walls and walking paths often seem too smooth and too uniform; trees are too sparse, and too regimented or too bulbous.

The artificiality of it really solidified in me the impression that this universe exists solely for the presentation of this story.

Now, I’ve done some reading on the subject (though I haven’t actually read the entire original story), and some of the excerpts that I’ve seen suggest allegories that I’m not sure made it into the film. This may partially be due to translation – it’s a little unclear in the movie subtitles what the deal is with the paleontologists that the boys find on the aforementioned Pliocene coast, but another translation I’ve seen casts them as gathering evidence to convince doubters that the fossil record is indeed millions of years old, and not the merely the work of random erosion.

What?

Miyazawa didn’t let his belief in science and progress stop him from being a man of faith, though – a conversation that didn’t make it into the film involves Giovanni and a couple of the characters who weren’t adapted as cats discussing the nature of God. Those characters are on their way to the Southern Cross, also known as the constellation Crux, which is rendered as a Christian holy site, similar to how the Northern Cross, a subset of the constellation Cygnus, is rendered earlier in the movie. Christianity is curiously prominent in Night on the Galactic Railroad, considering that Miyazawa was a devout Buddhist, but this is likely due to his interest in the work of Dominican friar Tommaso Campanella, whose family name and Christened name, Giovanni, are bestowed upon the main characters. Notably, Tommaso was a defender of Galileo, which seems to inform the scene with the paleontologists well as the astronomical setting of the story in general.

The Northern Cross.
No – really.

Thinking back, there were only a handful of stellar phenomena rendered as locations in the movie, but I’ve still got to give mention to the depiction of Albiero. Without getting too technical, Albiero appears to be a binary star system with a larger gold star and a smaller blue star. When the train passes by what one character refers to as “the observatory at Albeiro”, the boys peer out into the darkness to behold an enormous cylindrical tower rising out a contiguous mass of adobe-like structure. At the peak of the tower’s slightly curved top rotates a pair of lights – one bright gold, the other a slightly dimmer blue. The boys look in hushed awe as the mighty pillar gradually recedes into the night, slowly blinking: gold, blue, gold, blue.

[This one you’re gonna have to take my word on, since the scene is too dark to put a frame here and have anything in it be visible. It’s so cool, though, you guys – you’ve gotta see it]

I am a huge sucker for long, quiet shots like that one, and Night on the Galactic Railroad is full of them. The atmosphere of wonder in this movie is so thick I can swim through it. It may actually be a little overboard, particularly in the first act, where a friend of mine was somewhat put off by a pair of scenes with slow rises in audio intensity that sort of fizzle out. On the subject of watching with other people: be careful who you go in with – nothing makes a movie feel like an eternity (and, at just under two hours, this one is actually pretty average – it’s just slow) more than when you start wondering what everybody else is thinking, especially if you’ve already seen it (but maybe that’s just me). Theoretically, this is a children’s movie, but you may be hard-pressed to find any kids with the attention span to appreciate it.

Summary:

I would personally recommend this movie to anyone, although I suppose I should qualify that by saying that if you’re the kind of person that wants their media to get to the point, you may be better off reading the novella. There’s a sort of “greater good” morality fable near the end, if, like me, you’re really bad at reading into symbolism and subtext, and it’s prompted me to dig deeper in a way that very few other works have. It’s an amazingly rich film, and I hope you enjoy it.

 

Night on the Galactic Railroad has been graciously re-released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Discotek Media.
There are a few copies of Spring and Chaos kicking around on the used market, and, if you feel like braving the dub, it’s somehow still available in six 10-12 minute chunks deep within Tokyopop’s Youtube channel.

Rolling Review – Little Witch Academia (25)

LWA_Ep25_01.jpg

Episode Synopsis:

This is the final moment for our heroines!  Croix’s evil cubey things have gone completely out of control due to being fueled by untamed anger energy.  They have taken over a nuclear missile, and now it’s up to the witches of Luna Nova to stop it before it causes all out war between two nations.

Episode Review:

It’s time for the finale!!!!

There’s quite a bit expound on in this episode, as it wraps a lot of concepts up and closes the book on LWA.

As I predicted in one of my previous episodes, it’s now time for every one of the witches we’ve been super exposed to (Amanda, Constance, etc) to come together to use the power of friendship to stop a nuclear missle with anger energy fueled by a soccer game that has now gained sentience and is threatening to cause war.

vlcsnap-2017-06-27-14h46m10s168.jpg
Science and math have failed me again!

Look people, I don’t pretend anime makes sense.  Don’t shoot me, I’m just the Rolling Review writer.

**Warning** Spoilers for the finale of the show.

I felt like this episode was (mostly) pure Trigger magic.  It brings out all of the wild and crazy artistic flair that is distinctively Trigger, and it is unappologetically crazy fun.  It of course borrows from the magical girl concept that, with the power of your friends and the power of belief, you can freaking do anything.  That concept is like….my peanut butter and jelly though, so I was happy as a cat on a warm windowsill.

Akko and Co. are tasked with somehow catching up to a freaking missile as it blazes through the sky and causes panic/suspicion amongst the people.  Using the newfound seven word magicpalooza Shiny Rod, the Witches 7 are able to blaze through the sky to catch up to the missile.

vlcsnap-2017-06-27-14h47m19s417.jpg
Croix…please…you are cramping my magic girl style here.  It’s all gonna work out.

I’m not going to lie, the contributions of Amanda, Constance, Jasminka, Suzy and Lotte are all…fairly weak considering that Akko basically proclaims them the new Witches 9 (add Croix and Chariot in to make 9).

LAW_Ep25_02.jpg

And they all get super rad outfits.

LWA_Ep25_03.jpg

As the girls blaze towards the missile on their awesome super broom, each girl adds a touch of personal flair to allow the broom to get close (Constance causes a giant rocket engine to come out the back, Amanda uses acrobatic flying skills, etc), followed by said girl ejecting off the end of the broom and spurning Akko and Diana along.

LWA_Ep25_04.jpg
Adding this to my Christmas list

Despite, the lack of true involvement of each girl in the Witches 9, the ride to the missile is beautifully animated and filled with action.  The missile retaliates with a swarm of miny missiles (yo dawg, I heard you liked missiles, so I put missiles in your missiles), so we are treated to all the wild angles and crazy bendy art that really makes your blood pump.  It’s pure fun with no preservatives, and I was smiling all the way.

The foreground of the episode is the battle against the missile, but the background events are equally interesting.  Croix, who now seems to have magically understood the error of her ways, transforms her evil laboratory into a mega video broadcast station and forces everyone with a screen to watch the quest of the Witches 7 as they battle the missile. Through the vocal prowess of Chariot, the world starts to believe in the girls and their pure belief energy turns to magic.  It is here that the show’s theme of magic returning to the world is finally realized.  We also get a montage callback to various other side-plot characters.

LWA_Ep25_06.jpg
Remember this guy?!
LWA_Ep25_07.jpg
Magic > Scientific Logic

In addition to this Andrew finally makes his stand.  He’s been coming into his own slowly as the series progressed.  His interactions with Akko drew out a side of himself he had deeply supressed and when he finally stands up to his father and his surly mustached friend, it feels rushed, but still worth the wait.  The arrival of the tiny Prime Minister who totally supports the witches was a nice touch as well, if a bit random.

LWA_Ep25_09.jpg

LWA_Ep25_10.jpg
Hello Prime Minister, were you able to reach the doorknob okay?

I had a grin on my face a freaking mile wide as we came to the end, when Diana and Akko finally make it to the missile and fight back.  This is where everything these two characters have been through finally comes to fruition.  The girls work together like a well oiled machine as Diana weaves in and out of missile barrages and Akko metamorphs as fast as the wind.  The breakneck pace of the fight is carefully choreographed so that you get a sense that Trigger really thought the battle out and had a great time animating it.  As the theme song blazes over Akko and Diana’s last stand, it’s hard not to feel really excited.

LWA_Ep25_05.jpg
This is everything I have wanted out of life…forever…

Episode Summary:

The finale was explosive and fun.  It also gave everyone a chance to shine and even showed some old faces from episodes past.  My only complaint is the fate of Croix herself.  This woman nearly causes a war between nations and is just…allowed to go scot-free to continue doing research??!?  Granted, it is research to help Chariot but still…shouldn’t we arrest her or something?  The teachers of Luna Nova even say she is welcome anytime.  Ladies…what the heck?!

As we came to the end, I did feel like some bits were rushed or not developed as well, but at the end of the day, that’s just the little bit of my cynical heart talking.  Little Witch Academia was every bit the magical show I wanted it to be and I truly loved it.  It’s also something you could watch and enjoy with your kids so be sure to check it out when it comes out on Netflix in its entirety.  For the first time since Concrete Revolutio S1, I am proud to say we Con Artists picked a good one.

To end…let’s close the gigantic loop Scott and myself have been complaining about since waaaaay back in the beginning.

LWA_Ep25_08.jpg
By God…she’s done it…

Previous