“Sailor Moon Crystal”

Sailor Moon was the very first anime I watched. It’s not the very best nor even especially a favorite of mine, but I’m a fan nonetheless. Actually, when I was taking Japanese for school, I read the original manga for practice which was a mostly pleasant experience.1 Suffice it to say I’m pretty well-versed in the series. Anyway, Sailor Moon is currently going through a reboot and there’s a brand new anime series currently airing. Here’s the snazzy trailer:

My initial thoughts were surprisingly brief. It’s pretty, which is part and parcel with SM and the overarching “magical girl” genre. But I found myself really distracted by the art style. I just finished watching Persona 4 The Animation, so you’d think I wouldn’t find the long-and-lean look so alarming, but I do. Not that the original anime is exactly short and chubby or even the source art from the manga. I just find this particular design alarmingly lanky and disturbingly awkward like these Sailor Senshi have stepped out of A Nightmare Before Christmas.2

And, unfortunately, I am no less off-put after watching the first episode, which is entirely due to the jerky animation. Not to say that the animation itself is bad, as it has some really nice touches here and there. It’s just not as fluid and crisp as I tend to expect from Japanese animation. And I’ll throw my hat into the ring of Internet uproar about the “dead eyes” and lack of expression. I suspect that’s at least partially intended since this version has a distinctly less whimsical vibe, but Usagi seems very one-note and, frankly, not as likable. Then again, I’ll be the last person to complain about the absence of whining because I find that grating in any situation even if we’re talking about a self-described crybaby. The CGI is pretty underwhelming and I found the slow-motion style of the transformation sequence made it seem overly drawn out.3

The plot is straight from the first act of the manga and since this is the umpteenth version I’ve seen of this I can’t help but stifle a yawn. This particular version is such a faithful recreation that it borders on unoriginal. Honestly, its such a carbon copy in some respects that even though I wasn’t specifically trying to compare the two anime, I kept finding myself doing exactly that. This is really a disservice to the reboot because it left me pining for the more dynamic characterizations from the original. Mamoru, for instance, is just a blank slate in this version rather than the mildly irritating and somewhat mysterious figure he is in the original. Maybe this works for someone who is completely unfamiliar with SM, but even so it’s still pretty flat. And given that the odango covers warning system and the supersonic crying powers are only ever seen in Act 1, I really don’t understand why these things keep getting translated into every adaptation. It just seems sloppy to me.

I’m still on the fence about the music. I don’t exactly dislike it, but neither am I especially fond of any particular piece save for the ending theme “Moon Rainbow.” Not much of a surprise about that since it’s composed by Akiko Kosaka, who also composed two of my favorite songs from the original anime: “Tuxedo Mirage” and “Moon Revenge.” At the very least, none of it is nearly as memorable as past music, which seems especially true for me having just come off Persona 4‘s amazing soundtrack.

Surprisingly, the one thing I expected to have issue with didn’t really bother me at all and that’s the voice-acting. Kotono Mitsuishi is the only original seiyuu to return, which I feared might only emphasize the differences in the rest of the cast. But for the most part I hardly noticed the changes, though, sadly I suspect that’s because of the low-key nature this version seems to have. And to be honest I was somewhat placated by Kotono’s familiar portrayal of Usagi that even though she’s far less dramatic than her counterpart from the original anime, I wasn’t bothered so much as I was just aware there was a difference.

At present, I’m underwhelmed, but I’m not disappointed and for now I think that’s good enough. Certainly this reboot isn’t groundbreaking, but at least it’s not tarnishing anything that came before it. For that I am deeply relieved.

  1. My tastes in manga are pretty much inline with my tastes in comics in general and so I found Inuyasha far more interesting to read than Sailor Moon.
  2. I can make references to this now since I finally watched it!
  3. A fact, I might add, that also bothered me with the live-action show and, while not the main factor, it was one reason I only managed to stomach a few episodes before giving up entirely.

“Veronica Mars”

Veronica Mars was one of those television shows that I adored and so, of course, was canceled far too soon. Though, it did get three seasons of wavering quality and increasingly diminished ratings before the axe fell, so it doesn’t top my personal list of tragic cancellations. But it is one of the very few to be revived via a feature film, which would have been a news story even without the record-breaking Kickstarter campaign that helped make it a reality.

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I won’t mince words: this movie is pure fan service. That’s not a bad thing, since I’m a fan, but I really don’t think it would be nearly as enjoyable a film if I weren’t. Basically, it plays like an episode of the show that is a bit longer and peppered with inside references. All of which is awesome for the Marshmallows and will go completely over the heads of anyone note familiar with the show. In fact, I’m pretty sure I missed a lot since in the interest of instant gratification I didn’t bother waiting to rewatch the entire series before delving into the film.

The story picks up nine years after the show ended. Veronica has moved about as far as she can from her life as a private detective in Neptune and is interviewing for a corporate law firm in Manhattan. But conveniently her ten-year class reunion is coming up and it takes the span of about two weeks for her to toss that New York life down the drain and be, well, Veronica. Oh, and Logan being (wrongly) accused of murder. Because that’s never happened before. It’s actually the speed with which things happen and the convenient nature of the events that I find to be the only real negative for this movie. It’s a negative that I can easily forgive as a fan, though, because it all is a means to get on screen the things that fans of the show want to see.

Anyway, the story itself centers around Veronica trying to sleuth out the facts in a murder that Logan is accused of. It’s a pretty good mystery and one that easily could have been stretched through a season of the show. Condensed down to a feature film running time means that it does seem a bit rushed, though, I didn’t find it sacrificed any legitimacy. Of course, I admit I was more interested in just seeing all the cast embodying their old characters to be too focused on tight storytelling or plausible suspense. I was impressed, to the point of distraction, with how much of the cast was crammed into the film and with only one character having to be recast, too. I stayed away from most of the news announcements to stay as spoiler-free as possible, but had I paid attention back then I would have been truly baffled how and if all the pieces would mesh.

It would have been needless, though, because in the end it’s not so much Neptune High’s class reunion as it is one for the viewer. And rather than awkwardly mingling with so-called friends trying to piece together the hierarchy everyone’s lives have fallen into, you just get to sit back and see a remixed version of all the old favorites. There’s far too many things to list out here because they really are spread throughout the entire film. But if there’s some aspect you truly enjoy about the show, there’s almost positively an homage to it somewhere in there. I could gush on about it endlessly.

A must-see for any fan of the show, but then you’ve probably already seen it. If you aren’t a fan, I definitely suggest watching the show first because (a.) it’s a good one1 and (b.) you’ll enjoy this film so much more. Otherwise, it’s probably not going to feel worth the price of admission or a rental.

  1. At the time of this writing, DVDs and digital copies are on sale, too.

“Oz the Great and Powerful”

I’m really out of the loop with what’s coming out in theaters, I suppose, because this was one I didn’t know anything about until recently. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

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Oz the Great and Powerful isn’t a terrible movie. It’s a fun enough distraction, if that’s what you’re looking for. And I think kids will enjoy it, though, I can’t quite endorse it given the central character of the film is a womanizing con man. A fact which is stated roughly every fifteen minutes throughout the course of the film.

It’s also quite a visual spectacle. Unfortunately, since we don’t have the luxury of introducing some newfangled technology like color this is mostly for show.

I would say it was breathtaking, but it’s this spectacle for spectacle sake that really lost me. It’s just so, well, fake looking that while it’s a very pretty and all it’s almost distracting. It’s such an obvious thing that it’s even the subject of some not-quite-fourth-wall-breaking jokes, which seem to me to be mocking the 1939 film. (“Bubbles are just for show.”) And when it wasn’t riding the coattails of The Wizard of Oz, it was almost too campy to be entertaining.

Mostly what bugs me is that there really is no plot. And I don’t just mean there was no story, I mean, that nothing really happens AT ALL. I’m still kind of baffled by the whole thing. So, of course, there’s already talk of a sequel. But even without any story, things didn’t quite make sense. Chiefly, I really don’t understand why Weisz and Kunis speak with different accents when they’re sisters — and Weisz can fake an American accent quite well, I think.

Personally, I was glad I had a free pass. If I’d paid full admission, I’d probably have a more heated rant.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

I find The Lord of the Rings problematic. Obviously, I’m a fan and I enjoy it greatly . . . insomuch as I can ignore that it’s not my interpretation of the book. Mostly my issues lie with The Return of the King and it’s not really surprising since that’s my favorite “part” of the book. Anyway, I didn’t soak up every tidbit of news on The Hobbit that I could find as I did when LOTR was in production, but that was just as much because I’m not a college student procrastinating on homework as it was the fact that the news itself wasn’t instilling me with much confidence and, well, honestly I just didn’t have a great amount of enthusiasm to see this. Shocking, I know.

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I’ll put your fears to rest: I enjoyed it. Mostly. At the very least I wasn’t disappointed and I definitely felt that way after walking out of The Return of the King. And I didn’t fall asleep, which I can’t say the same for my first viewing of The Two Towers. (What? It was the midnight showing and it was finals week!)

In a lot of ways the movie feels like a continuation of LOTR. You know, in case you’ve never read the books or seen those multimillion dollar films from ten years ago. Anyway, this starts off with what is basically an extended scene from the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s nice melding, but it’s also just the beginning of lots and lots and lots of padding. And because of this, the movie almost has two beginnings and they’re both kind of slow, which is pretty much how most of the movie plays out.

For what it’s worth, I will say that I really enjoy Martin Freeman as Bilbo. I don’t entirely enjoy this version of Bilbo, but I also haven’t read The Hobbit in about ten years so maybe I just remember him a bit less bumbly and rude. As far as casting goes, though, I have no complaints. Same for the score, which I’ve been listening to for about a month already. Likewise for basically anything that Weta was responsible for because really it’s a breathtaking film with a ludicrous attention to detail.

Well, except maybe all the CGI. I’m generally not bothered when it’s done well, and this was for the most part, but there was a lot. The most obnoxious were the obvious 3-D gimmicks or the obligatory video game pandering. Really that entire bit towards the end running through the orcs was cool, but it gave me the same irritated feeling as Legolas taking down the mumakil in ROTJ that part of me could have walked out right then. I get it the technology has advanced in the last ten years and it’s awesome, but at some point it just gets cheesy and this was, for me at least, over that line. I also found some of the creatures were a bit too cartoonish; Azog especially was obnoxiously CGI.

What I was even less pleased with were the supposedly funny bits that really were just not. I’m not a total Tolkien snob, but I’m enough of one to find groin shots completely inappropriate. And I couldn’t help but feel what was intended to be funny was so intentional that it was more laughable because it was pathetic than actually hilarious. It was kind of randomly smattered throughout the film, too, so just when I’d think things were actually serious there would be some stupid joke thing.

I knew going in that the film was long. Almost three hours. What I don’t understand is how there’s another 20-25 minutes (or more?) that PJ is packing into the extended edition because by golly does this film just go on and on and on. I really could have used an intermission during this. Better yet, about an hour less padding. I hated the padding. I didn’t like all the walking shots. (We all got the memo, New Zealand is gorgeous.) I really could have had far less talking. (We also got the memo that there’s another trilogy that comes after this one.) And the entire Azog subplot was really bizarre. I wouldn’t have cared if his creation and insertion into the film had some resolution as a stopping point, but that’s not what happened. In fact, there were at least three times I thought the movie was ending — even though things were largely unresolved — and then there was like an hour more movie. And when it finally did end it was just as random of a stopping point as any of the other places I thought of. Maybe more so.

So, yeah, I’m certainly not even slightly obsessed. I didn’t love it, but I liked it well enough, I suppose. I’m glad I didn’t jump right into seeing it opening weekend, though, because the theater was packed yesterday so much so that Uschi didn’t have even an inch of extra space. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll check out the extended edition on Blu-ray, but I doubt I’ll see this again in the theater. I’d rather lounge on my comfy sofa, have snacks that don’t cost more than the price of admission, and be able to pause to use the bathroom. Honestly, that said I’m not sure I want to see The Desolation of Smaug in the theater either. We’ll see.

“The Last Airbender”

I spent a good portion of Monday in a heated discussion about joining a group of friends to watch The Last Airbender. Having already sat through the film one time too many I was doing a good job of refusing . . . and then I must have had a temporary break with reality because somehow I spent that evening in what we all affectionately refer to as a Theater!1 Since I’m a giver, I figure I’ll share my pain via a review.

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Let’s set the record straight: this is a terrible movie. If you’re a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender you are likely to be reduced to tears at some point during the two hour run. And if you aren’t a fan of ATLA, I suggest you do everything in your power to erase any knowledge you have gained of this film. Instead devote that brainpower to familiarizing yourself with the cartoon series because it’s several kinds of awesome.

So what makes this such a terrible film exactly? Well, the most prominent issues seem to stem from Shyamalan’s desire to make the film more realistic than the animated source material. The most obnoxious of these changes is that the pronunciation of most character names are different. This is first noticed during the narrated scroll not thirty seconds into the movie and is ever present throughout the entire run. Whether or not this change is actually a more correct form of Asian language translation is moot — and in at least one instance the change is incorrect — because as far as I’m concerned the source material is what set the standard and those are the names I associate with the characters. This new pronunciation just seems odd and wrong and every time I would hear someone’s name it was a jarring experience that took me completely out of the story.

Other elements that I associate with the cartoon are missing or changed with about the same success. The nations lack their defining differences in style of dress, though the costumes were nicely made. Also the visual cue of the distinct colors was neglected, but probably it would have just been done badly anyway so I might be splitting hairs. And really any of these alterations could be forgiven if the actors were capable of bringing the characters to life.

I admit it, this was not a well written script. I honestly think Shyamalan should have let his daughter write the screenplay. Or he should be blaming her for the atrocity it was. I don’t know. But it’s undeniably some pretty lackluster writing. So, the actors didn’t really have a lot to work with. Of course, one of the major debates about this film was the casting. Rather than look for ethnic actors to fill the roles of the racially diverse world of ATLA the filmmakers defended their predominately white casting choices by stating they were the best ones to fill those roles. Based on the high caliber of acting that was displayed in this film, I can only assume that every other actor in the whole of the world got lost on their way the casting calls. Really, it’s that bad.

Ignoring the acting and the writing, I still found the characterization to be very odd. No one relates to their cartoon counterpart in any significant way. If the names had actually been changed — and not just pronounced weirdly — I could have spent time playing a guessing game with some debatable accuracy and that would have been five minutes of entertainment otherwise absent!

The film completely breaks down for me when it comes to the action scenes. The animated series is very noteworthy for its unique style and choreography — and as good as those are I think they’ve only gotten better with the sequel The Legend of Korra, by the way. So, Shyamalan decided to not hire the martial artist who designed the movements for the elemental bending. Instead, everyone just kind of flails around . . . and then randomly some special effect happens like a boulder slowly floating by or a ball of water forms in the air. There’s no connection between the movements and the elemental effect and so it quite literally plays on screen as if the two are basically independent of one another and just coincidentally happen around the same time. Which is even more baffling because apparently just being in close proximity to an element you have affinity for will cause some reaction. (A bit of mythology that is unique to this film and not at all present in the cartoon.) Moreover, the action scenes are completely the opposite of dynamic. There’s no peril or excitement and most of the time the characters seemed to be fighting in the most random and illogical way possible.

Of course, that almost makes sense from a characterization standpoint because pretty much everything else they are doing seems random and illogical. For example, Aang is being hunted by the Fire Nation and yet a montage sequence shows Team Avatar hanging posters throughout their travels announcing his return. There’s some vague exposition given over this, but it’s shoehorned in, as is most all of the exposition that is info-dumped throughout the two hours. There’s an obscene amount of talking about nothing in this film. None of which is clarifying information if you aren’t already familiar with the source material — and if you are it’s still incredibly boring and confusing. And this is only compounded by how the movie itself is edited together; scenes don’t flow together and often it feels like there’s huge chunks that were taken out that really needed to be there.

The fact is this movie has so much wrong with it and is truly so bad that writing about it is actively depressing me to the point I’ve literally run out of drive to keep typing. Coming from me, that really is saying something.

  1. “Theater!” refers to watching a movie or TV show or whatever simultaneously with others across the Internet. It started in 2002 with me and Ian and a shared love for several of the same animated shows. By the time we’d worked our way through Batman: The Animated Series and the other related DCAU shows that had aired to that point we had coined the phrase. I think it was Ian who first used the word, but I was the one who specified the exclamation point’s necessity lest we confuse it with an actual building or something.