Worrying about Valerian

Is it just me, or does this trailer sound too Hollywood?

To be fair, Luc Besson has already created a perfect save for the absence of the heroes themselves Valerian et Laureline movie in the form of The Fifth Element, but I’m still worried about how well the actual Valerian et Laureline movie will do. There are so many danger signs here. Most worrying is that the actors playing Valerian and Laureline look and sound dreadful here, but equally worrying is the plot as shown in the trailer, which looks dreadfully generic.

Which might be a fakeout, as the movie seems to be loosely based on Ambassador of the Shadows, from which it borrows its setting. The original had an ambassador kidnapped there and Valerian but especially Laureline coming to the rescue, chasing the kidnappers across all sorts of exotic, alien settings. In fact, Laureline did most of the heavy lifting there, with Valerian absent for long stretches. I have a feeling that won’t be the case in the movie.

In all, I’m somewhat skeptical that one of my abso;ute favourite nerd things will be translated correctly into film, but hopefully it will at least be a decent summer blockbuster to go see with the cow-orkers.

Why you should watch Youjo Senki in one scene

Japanese salaryman turned ten year old warrior mage in an alternate, 1920ties Germany uses his/her little girl voice to obey the letter, if not the spirit of international war crime law, then bombards the undefended capital of the enemy. So edgy you can cut yourself, but the series so far manage to balance Tanya’s coolness and bad-ass attitude with how sick (s)he is not to mention how fucked over by the god that landed him/her in this predicament. This could’ve been fodder for the anime reichwing, but the occassional Trump meme video notwithstanding, it seems to have managed to escape that fate, even though blonde, murderous under age girls are like catnip to that crowd normally.

Why you should watch PreCure

‘Nuff said.

Futari wa Pretty Cure is the first series in the PreCure franchise, which so far has had one 48 to 50 episode series coming out each year since 2004. Each series stands on its own (with the exception of the occasional sequel) but follows the same formula: two or more young teenage girls encounter cute (but usually annoying) mascot animals who give them special powers to fight evil. They use their powers to fight increasingly powerful monsters while encountering various more mundane troubles in their daily lives, but through the power of friendship and the occassional flying kick overcome them, to ultimately triumph over the Big Bad pulling the strings in the background. A typical magical girl/mahou shoujo franchise, one which is incredibly popular in Japan but almost unavailable in its original form outside of it (at least in English speaking countries). You may however have heard of Glitter Force, which adapted one of the series into something supposedly more palatable to American tastes.

True, the PreCure series are aimed at kids and are rather formulaic plotwise: Pretty Cure has to overcome some everyday challenge or adversity, the monster of the week shows up halfway through, they fight and defeat them, cut back to their ordinary lives and the resolution of the problem they faced; rinse, repeat. Personally I don’t mind this, as the execution of this formula is done decently, the characters are likeable and there’s enough “candy” in the form of well executed fight scenes to keep me interested. Not something perhaps to sit down to watch for, but more than good enough to have on while still being able to do something else. And, as you can see, when the animators are on point, they’re on point, like Tatsuo Yamada here in these excerpts.

The original Futari wa Pretty Cure series is available on Crunchyroll (but not in the Netherlands!) while Glitter Force can be found on Netflix. Videos via Sakugabooru.

Sangatsu no Lion — The Hurting

Sangatsu no Lion: a stormy march morning

After fifteen seconds of abstract swirls moving against a black background, SanGatsu No Lion opens with the silhouette of the protagonist, Kiriyama Rei, hair blowing wildly in the wind, against a cloudy blue sky. The wind is obviously a metaphor for being restless, uneasy, on edge and we’ll see Rei’s hair blowing around in the wind a couple of times more in the episode.

Kiriyama Rei drowning

The opening theme starts and it’s one long sequence of Rei drowning, slowly sinking, getting out of the river to struggle through thorn bushes, sinking back into the mud again. There’s a stillness to the drowning sequences that’s in stark contrast to the wind of the pre-opening sequence. The water/drowning metaphor also re-occurs several times in the rest of the episode; air bubbling up in a bottle of ice tea signalling stress.

Sangatsu no Lion: a smile like a wound

Coming out of the opening, the first thing we see is a close up of a face, a mouth, smiling, but not in a good way. That’s a smile that hurts, in more ways than one. The woman the smile belongs too may be saying hurtful things, but she looks like she’s hurting too. At this point we have no context for this dream or memory of Rei’s. We don’t know who she is or what she is to him, so we have no real idea of why she is saying this to him. Well, I do, but I cheated and read the manga.

As the dream ends and Rei wakes up, the story finally gets underway. Slowly. Almost five minutes are spent on him waking up, getting dressed and traveling to the shogi hall for a match. No dialogue, no narration, just Rei slowly making his way across town. This is rare in anime; normally you’d be right inside the protagonist’s head, but here you actually have to pay attention to Rei’s expressions and body language. And what I see is what I’ve seen with family members struggling with psychological issues or were recuperating from an operation. There’s a deliberateness to how Rei dresses himself in that excerpt above (courtesy of Wave motion Cannon), a way he pulls in his core that speaks to me of being hurt, of remembering pain. You also see how empty his apartment is, the only furniture being a wardrobe and his shogi board. It’s a gorgeous apartment but it feels blindingly cold.

Sangatsu no Lion: Rei, isolated

The other thing that struck is how monochrome Rei is compared with his environment, visually setting him apart from everybody else, with his ink dark hair, white shirt and greenish-brown trousers. The camera angles seem to reinforce his isolation, with closeups being mainly showing his back, while longer range shots show him alone in the middle of the screen, or only half in frame, face cut off. It all works pretty well in establishing something is wrong with Rei, if not what.

Sangatsu no Lion: some hints of trauma

There’s a lot of back story to Rei that’s only hinted at rather than explained in this first episode, as was also the case with the original manga. We get some clue from the dream that opened the episode, some quick flashbacks during his shogi match, but nothing yet ouright explained. Which makes a refreshing change from most of anime, which likes to front load its exposition. So we get the impression that this particular match is a big deal because of who Rei is playing and it is clear they know each other, but just how and why they know each other is only explained much later in the episode. Unexplained remains why the seventeen year old Rei is living on his own, what happened in his past to separate him from his family, or who the woman is he’s having nightmares about.

Sangatsu no Lion: Momo makes everything better

It’s a long and slow introduction to a character and it’s incredibly oppressive, as was the manga when I first read it. Even with just the visuals, with nothing explained, it’s depressive. And then it all changes a third of the way through the episode — but that’s for another post.