Blossom Detective Holmes Launches Kickstarter Campaign!

Welcome, all, again.  Back on the first day of this past December, I reviewed the pilot episode of Blossom Detective Holmes, an action/mystery set in Victorian Stockholm and featuring two female leads, Skylar Holmes and her friend Jamie.  This project is the latest undertaking by Steve Ahn, known for his work on Voltron: Legendary Defender and The Legend of Korra, amongst others.  Well, beginning today–31 January–you can help Skylar and Jamie bring their adventure to life!  Please follow this link to Blossom Detective Holmes‘ Kickstarter page, and let’s make this happen(!): [https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/325175510/blossom-detective-holmes-the-animated-mini-series?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=Blossom%20Detect]

Update: This project was fully funded within its first week!  Now, let’s continue our support and see how many bonus features we can unlock and have added. . .

Katana Maidens ~ Toji No Miko: Burdens of Duty and Honor

Welcome, all, again.  Today’s review focuses upon Katana Maidens ~ Toji No Miko (hereafter called Katana Maidens), a series that took a sudden plunge into intrigue and the intriguing.  Just so you know, I begin each new viewing season full of excitement and hope–but with very little knowledge of source material for upcoming anime.  (I do greatly enjoy reading, but very seldom read manga or comics.)  And so I tend to encounter anime series as independent works of artistry, ignorant of most relevant franchise associations until I research them.  (No loss this time, as this turns out to be an original series.)  I thus begin each season with a full plate of target shows, uninhibited by personal prejudices related to themes, genres, characters, etc.  All that I ask is to be entertained; this show does that and more!

Katana Maidens starts out as another combat tournament show, with girls representing different schools battling in the arena for supremacy.  Why?  Monsters called aradama are a recognized threat to public safety, so in response the Japanese government established five academies to train shrine maidens (Toji) to combat these creatures.  To that end, they train with special katana called okatana, which term actually refers to blade length.  Okatana, one variety of Japanese great swords, must exceed 3 shaku (or roughly 91 centimeters); blades between 2-3 shaku are considered regular katana or tachi, with tachi traditionally being slightly longer than katana for use from horseback.  It is said that okatana are too long to wear from the obi, and the students in our show wear them in special belted sheaths that extend straight up their backs.  The okatana wielded by these girls, however, are furthermore swords possessed of immense spiritual power which their users channel during combat.  That power combines with the fighting technique practiced by the individual Toji to transform her into a warrior capable of facing aradama; these Toji comprise a special militarized police organization dedicated to that combat.  It is their duty.

Our story begins with the arrival of the annual combat tournament held amongst the five schools, in which each school is represented by a team of its most talented students.  As head of the National Police Agency Special Sword Adminstration Bureau, Yukari Origami–scion of the most ancient and powerful of the Toji families–oversees the final match, which pits Kanami Eto of Minoseki Academy against Hiyori Jujo of Heijou Institute in a battle of champions.  The problem is that Jujo has no interest in Eto, instead attempting the assassination of Yukari Origami.  And suddenly we have a reason to actually care about the story!  Initially vaguely reminiscent of The Asterisk War in that both shows feature special schools that train students for combat who then fight each other in tournaments, Katana Maidens from the start offers a salient purpose for the exercise, allowing it to more quickly explore its story’s real internal conflict.  And that conflict is at its most basic a vendetta: Yukari Origami led the Toji in battle against the Great Aradama, a battle from which Hiyori Jujo’s mother never recovered her health.  And when her mother dies, Jujo goes looking for vengeance.  Honor demands it because Jujo believes her mother and other Toji involved were sacrificed in vain.  But what girl likes to be ignored?  Eto figures that if she can’t fight against Jujo, she can at least fight alongside her, and the tournament ends abruptly with its two top competitors as fugitives.  But Eto has her own reason to oppose Origami, and it turns out that Jujo has more than one.  Still, what chance do two students have against government forces?  Particularly their own organization, privy to all their information?

Katana Maidens is a great bit of action and intrigue for your Friday mornings, and I anticipate even better things as more characters become more deeply involved in the story’s progression.  Because while two students might not stand much chance under the described circumstances, a little help can go a long way!  This show has a strong story as well as excellent character development–the character exposition is pretty good, too.  The pacing has so far been especially good in that this is a combat series that doesn’t overplay the attribute.  And I guess I must be mellowing towards CGI animation because, while I can’t see this series winning any awards for artwork, it’s still got enough nice visual cohesion and continuity to give it a pretty decent look.  So, my overall opinion?  I like this show, and I’m happy and excited to recommend it!  Now go see what you think.

Short Review of Mary and The Witch’s Flower

Welcome, all, again.  I last night (Thursday, 18 January) watched Mary and The Witch’s Flower, and I encourage you to see it.  Studio Ponoc’s first feature film shows a lot of promise, as well as Ponoc’s Studio Ghibli roots.  Mind you, there were problems, with limited character development and one arresting moment of lazy, sloppy artwork being chief amongst them.  But overall, this was a well-scripted and well-executed film.  Lots of color, lots of movement, lots of beautiful English countryside.

This story is a busy one, working on several different levels.  Mary has moved into the home of her Great Aunt Charlotte, where she awaits the arrival of her parents.  She is adventurous and overly energetic, tending to break delicate things through inadvertently rough handling.  With a week to pass before school begins, Mary meets and instantly dislikes a boy named Peter, who is about her own age.  But she is much more friendly with Peter’s cats Tib and Gib, who lead her into the woods and to a strange flower which her aunt’s gardener identifies as a fly-by-night, or the witch’s flower.  Mary is accidentally imbued with the flower’s magical powers, and finds herself whisked away into a world of witchcraft and sorcery (things complementary yet quite different).  It turns out that some very powerful magic-wielders, Headmistress Mumblechook and Dr. Dee of Endor College for witches, have been seeking the selfsame flower found by Mary, putting her at eventual odds with them.  Then things really go south right as Mary discovers that her newfound powers last only one night.  And that’s the basic gist of the story, without giving too much away.

Except that there’s much more to consider.  As I mentioned in the post about acquiring tickets for last night’s premiere opening, Mary and The Witch’s Flower is based upon Mary Stewart’s book The Little Broomstick.  This book was published in 1971, during a time when the back-to-earth and self-sufficiency movements were really taking hold.  (Consider that Mother Earth News began publication in 1970.)  There is a strong theme running through our story about the need for mankind to respect nature and natural order.  Both magic and science, which are blended in Dee’s research and Endor’s curricula, alter the natural order, and we the audience are forced to gaze upon resultant abominations.  (Let it be noted that witchcraft–and shamanism–traditionally work through and in conjunction with nature.  But changes are still effected.)  Mary is disgusted by the corruption she witnesses, both of nature and the human heart, and fights desperately to purge it.  And yet, her opponents–while perfectly willing to employ unscrupulous tactics–have the ultimately noble intention of seeking to create a world wherein everyone can use and benefit from magic.  Does the end justify the means?  Of course not!  But how much do the means tarnish or possibly invalidate the end?  This story accused and condemned us based upon our willingness to de-sanctify nature for the sake of our own convenience and comfort.  But Mary represents the hope of mankind’s return to a more harmonious coexistence with our environment.  Her triumph would be our own.

Now, then, what else?  Well, about the “lazy, sloppy artwork” comment from earlier.  I am referring to one scene in particular late in the movie, when Mumblechook has set her minions upon Mary and is rushing away with her purloined spoils.  As Mary and her pursuers fade into the distance, they of course lose detail.  That is only natural and is to be expected.  But rather than a gradual loss of detail, the viewer suddenly only sees moving, swirling blurs without any detail whatsoever.  And I remember a momentary pang of disappointment, thinking to myself that with all these refugees from Studio Ghibli working on this project, how did this happen?  That would never have passed muster at Ghibli!  And mind you, Studio Ponoc was founded by Ghibli refugees as a response to Ghibli’s cessation of production in 2014 after Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement.  These folks were so passionate about continuing to make movies that they first made their own replacement studio.  Still, maybe it’s unfair to hold them to Ghibli standards.  That single brief moment was really the one complaint I had about the artwork, and it was only a few brief seconds out of an entire movie.  Personally, I would also have liked to have seen a little more in the way of character development, but I realize that the theme of nature under attack took precedence on that front; those were the times in which the original story was written.  Hopefully, viewers of the general release will see the same interviews and commentary at the movie’s end as did we at the premiere showing.  It was a fascinating bit of insight into the thought processes and goals of the folks who made this film.

So, was it worth seeing?  Yes!  This is a marvelous film overall, especially considering that it’s the first feature film from a fledgling studio.  The story is very direct and easy to follow; the characters are charming despite their slightness of depth; and the English countryside is portrayed in loving vision, if somewhat Impressionistic style.  I look forward to even greater things from this collective of talent, but for right now, I’m very grateful for and appreciative of their first offering.  Kudos, Ponoc!  And, thank you.

Mitsuboshi Colors

Welcome, all, again.  I’m currently counting the hours until I watch Mary and the Witch’s Flower, but have also been enjoying this season’s bounty of great new shows.  Among my early favorites is Mitsuboshi Colors, set in the Ueno district of Tokyo.  Three young girls–Yui, Sat-chan, and Kotoha–comprise the group Colors, dedicated to keeping peace in their town.  In their own minds, they act as basically a cross between superheroes and private detectives.  In the minds of those whom they protect, they appear as anything from adorable, carefree children to outright public nuisances.  But they will not be deterred, and continue their crusade against injustice from their hidden lair within Ueno Park.

So, what makes this show so good?  Well, seeing as it’s set in a real place with lots of tourist traffic, the background artwork is especially well-drawn and detailed.  Meanwhile, the humor overwhelms and overflows its own subtlety.  But what really sets this show apart is its accurate portrayal of childhood: the wonder and games; the difficulty with boundaries; the ability to both focus intensely and lose interest at speeds of 90-to-nothing.  Appropriately, neither these kids nor their antics get much in the way of sugar-coating.  Even the girls’ interactions with local adults seem largely realistic–they interact closely with only a very few adults, people whom viewers can tell they’ve known for a while and trust (albeit they are themselves too naive to recognize that trust).  And those interactions can be as playful or respectful as any you might experience with a real child.  Equally realistic and endearing is the way those adults respond to the Colors, watching over them while generally playing along with their activities.  Being a police officer myself, I am especially sympathetic to Saito, who tries to find minor tasks for these self-appointed public guardians even while protecting them from their own occasional overenthusiasm.  Heck, he even buys their cat food for them.  And all this despite being consistently targeted by their games.

But who are these girls?  Yui is the leader of Colors, a shy and timid child who tries to live by the rules.  She is easily upset, and tends to cry a bit overmuch.  Still, even Saito alludes to her as the only decent one out of the bunch.  Kotoha is constantly distracted by her hand-held games, but is also the brains of the operation.  She has a quick mind and is good at deductive reasoning.  Sat-chan, however, is the real problem child.  She acts without thinking (without even thinking about thinking), and has something of an anti-authoritarian personality.  It’s usually Sat-chan teasing poor Saito, despite his patience, and it will definitely be her yelling “poop!” at the top of her lungs.  So, yeah.  And there’s a cat, too, but that’s a story for episode 1.

We’re two episodes in already, and I’m having a ball watching these chibi sleuths!  It’s relaxed, lighthearted fun.  Slice-of-life is a genre with many flavors, and this is a heapin’ helping of Neapolitan.   So get comfortable, then get yourself entertained!

Explore A Place Further Than the Universe!

Welcome, all, again.  I’d like to use my first post of 2018 to recommend a brilliant new show, A Place Further Than the Universe.  This was exactly what I needed to combat the cold, miserable conditions of real life right now.  This original series by studio Madhouse follows the growing friendships amongst a group of girls as they share one’s dream to journey to Antarctica.  And although I’m writing this with just one episode extant, that one episode showed me plenty!  This is a quiet, polished slice-of-life offering that firmly believes in the warm fuzzies, and wants you to believe, too.  In fact, if you remember Amanchu! (reviewed in September of 2016), then you already have a reference point for the general feel of this series.

Mari is a second year high school student living a life of quiet desperation, wanting to experience adventure but scared to venture from the norm, despite the support and efforts of her stalwart friend Megumi.  All of this changes, however, after a passing encounter at the train station with fellow student Shirase Kobuchizawa, who in her haste drops a small but valuable item.  Mari sets out to return the found item to its mysterious and as-yet unidentified owner, finally tracking Shirase down just as she is realizing the full extent of her loss.  Mari’s generosity then prompts Shirase to open up to her a little, explaining that it is her life’s purpose to visit Antarctica, where her mother was lost.  And this goal doesn’t just motivate her, but rather drives her.  Shirase sees herself as devoted and focused; Mari sees her as terribly, terrifyingly alone.  But Mari is simultaneously awed by Shirase’s unapologetic pursuit of her very personal dream.  Nor is she the only one.

Years ago, while working at FedEx, I actually knew a college-student coworker who submitted a research proposal that was accepted for study at a research station in Antarctica.  She was gone for months and returned a more confident and self-reliant person.  The experience proved transformative.  So as we watch a group of students initially inspired by Shirase’s dream organize and gel into a club devoted to an eventual trip to Antarctica, I expect to learn a lot about conditions there, especially pertaining to resident researchers and the conditions in which they live and work.  That is an expectation.  What is already established fact is that this show is a finely crafted exploration of the true nature of friendship, its selfless valuation of the individual over comfort, custom, or convenience.  The characters are likable; the story’s pace is comfortable and unhurried; and the artwork is frequently breathtaking, especially in certain nuanced details.  This is a real feel-good show, so be sure to watch!