Tag Archives: anime

Adultimation – The Guyver: Bio Booster Armour (1989)

In the next instalment of the Adultimation Series, Matt Lambourne explores the world of global conspiracy, the human genesis story and a deadly alien weapon. Dust off your VHS collection, as we delve into the brutal world of one of Matt’s all-time favourite Anime series’.

By Matt Lambourne (@LamboMat)

guyver 1What would you do if you were a normal teenage boy, who stumbled upon powers that made you the deadliest weapon on the planet? That’s a pretty far out question for most of us to wrap our heads around. It’s a theme that was recently explored to great effect in 2012’s Chronicle whereby several youngsters accidentally gained superpowers and struggled to contain their ego’s given their new found ability.

In 1989’s ‘The Guyver’, Sho Fukamachi is posed the same question. He is taking an afters school stroll in the woods with his best pal Tetsuro, when upon investigating a distant explosion; they stumble onto a strange mechanical unit. Sho attempts to touch the unit and is immediately engulfed by the unit, which extends tentacles that consume Sho and eventually bind to his body.

It appears Sho is being killed by the machine as he screams in pain as he falls into a river and briefly disappears, however the worst is yet to come. Quickly in pursuit of the unit are agents of the Chronos Corporation, who threaten to kill Tetsuro if he doesn’t hand over the unit whom are concealing a dark secret.

In order to have Tetsuro cooperate, they morph into hugely powerful monsters known as Zoanoids, a higher form of being that is significantly more evolved from humanity. As they are about to kill Tetsuro, a dark figure emerges from the water, covered in armoured plates and loaded with weaponry.

The figure dispatches the Zoanoids in brutally violent fashion, before eventually coming to a halt and Sho’s consciousness regains control. He is now the Guyver, a hugely destructive and powerful weapon system brought to Earth by an Alien race many thousands of years ago.

Now, for those unfamiliar with the Guyver, the armour is akin to how you might imagine the Japanese would make RoboCop. Its steel armour, with Samuari Sword-esque blades attached to the elbows, a small laser from the head and a chest cavity that be opened up to unleash a near-nuclear strength blast that annihilates anything in its path.

There is a catch though; Sho is not entirely in control of the Guyver, and in Peter Parker style reluctance, he struggles to accept his fate, the power and the responsibility of being the bearer of this armour. And with good causes, as the Chronos Corporation which is bent on world domination through the first of their genetically enhanced Zoanoids will not rest until the Guyver unit has been reclaimed from Sho.

Guyver 3

My body…. I have become a monster!

The Guyver is difficult to review as it’s pretty flawed in many ways. Again for a pre-90’s anime it’s not the best animated and the dubbing to English is quite cheesey, however it does become quite memorable for that reason as lot of early Manga crossovers were.

The series takes place over 12 x 30min episodes and for the first half of those, the series is exciting, suspenseful and to a degree, quite frightening. One of its greatest achievements is that you always feel a sense of peril for Sho, you’re never quite sure he’ll survive any episode and is thrust into harm’s way repeatedly throughout the series, and it’s his gradual understanding of his powers that help him to overcome the foes he faces in each episode against the odds.

However, the sad thing is that the series was based on an Anime comic that was still running far after the release of this video series and the plot falls off enormously towards the end. In fact it’s almost reduced to an X-Files style ‘Monster of the Week’ dirge which at times becomes slightly tiresome.

But let’s focus on the positives. The Guyver is IMMENSE in its action. Sho and his fellow Guyver, the mysterious Agito Makashima, come up with imaginative ways to use their powers to dispatch of the Zoanoids in each episode and it is exciting watching them become more powerful in every episode.

The design of the Guyver armour itself is very cool, a sleek Robo-Samuari armour that whilst incredible powerful is also highly vulnerable, particularly as it shares a Symbiotic relationship with teenagers that struggle to contain its power.

The series also explores a fascinating human-genesis story, whereby it is revealed that Humans are of alien origin and were brought to Earth by the same race that built the Guyver, deployed to new worlds as weapons to exterminate their inhabitants. It’s quite a shocking revelation and a theme that is repeated in the Alien Vs Predator movies, and something that the protagonists struggle to comprehend in their journey.

guyver 01

“You probably don’t even know the meaning of the word, Guyver. It means OUT OF CONTROL. It doesn’t fit into any category, nobody knows what the Guyver truly is, but we know one thing for certain. The Guyver is a bio-weapon”

It is a huge shame that the series wasn’t given its own direction and a diversion from the plot from the comic so it could have tied up the series after 12 episodes. Unfortunately it is left wide-open and is ultimately an unfinished and abandoned work, which ran out of steam towards the end.

But it does leave quite the legacy. There were 2 western movies made on the back of the popularity of the anime series. One being 1991’s ‘The Guyver’ (or Mutronics) for which Mark Hammil receives top-billing for despite not being the lead character. It’s very poor and a little too ‘Power Rangers for adults’ for my liking. Whereas the sequel ‘Guyver: Dark Hero’ is a respectable B-Movie sci-fi romp with decent action and is worth a watch.

The animated series was also rebooted in the 2000’s as Guyver: The Bioboosted Armour which can be found on Netflix, bringing the franchise to a new audience. Overall, the Guyver is a spoiled master-piece, that starts off strong but leaves you needing more than it provides at the end. That said, it is a piece that fans of classic Anime simply must check out!

Adultimation – Fist of The North Star (1986)

Here at Failed Critics, we’re all attempting to regain our collective composure after seeing Mad Max: Fury Road over the last couple of weeks. But just when you thought it was safe to leave the wastelands behind, Matt Lambourne takes us back into the post-apocalyptic future with one of the most famous and entertaining Anime’s ever created.

By Matt Lambourne (@LamboMat)

fist of the north star 001If you enjoy Anime films, comics or video-games you are already probably familiar with Fist of the North Star (or Hakuto No Ken in Japan), but if you haven’t then strap yourself in for an epic assault on the senses!

I’ve wanted to discuss Fist of the North Star for a long time with my colleagues on the Failed Critics team, but we’ve lacked a relevance to feature it. However with the release of Mad Max: Fury Road, I think we have a mutual ground of interest to dip into the ultra-violent and harsh world of this film.

The world of Fist of the North Star is set amongst the post-nuclear global war, scorched Earth. Much of the world is wasteland and few survivors remain. Those that have survived, struggle to rebuild a fragile way of life and continue to fight over the limited food and water supplies that remain.

The hero of the film is Kenshiro, who is to succeed his adopted father Ryuken as the new First of the North Star, a deadly assassination style that is passed from from one Master to a chosen successor.

However Ryuken’s other adopted sons grow jealous of the rise of their youngest sibling and plot against him to remove him from the line of succession. Early in the movie, Kenshiro is confronted by his long-time friend, Shin, who has a deep love for Kenshiro’s fiancée, Julia.

This is used as bait by Kenshiro’s older brother, Jagi, who convinces Shin that only the strongest can protect the ones they love and that he should forcibly take Julia away from Kenshiro.

This results in a grizzly scene in which Kenshiro is repeatedly maimed by Shin (Fist of the South Star) and he inflicts 7 severe wounds into Kenshiro’s chest before leaving him for dead and taking Julia with him.

The story reconvenes a year after Kenshiro’s death at the hands of Shin and we are introduced to 2 children, a thief named Bat and a mute girl named Lin, who are being pursued by a biker gang (ala Mad Max). Just as the 2 are cornered by the murderous bandits a strange and dark figure is seen wondering in the barren landscape, heading towards them.

fotns“Infact, you’re already dead…”

The figure begins smashing down the crumbling skyscrapers with his fists as he casually walks towards the group. As it draws closer the bikers engage the figure who is eventually revealed as a rejuvenated Kenshiro, who easily annihilates them and rescues the 2 children.

The group eventually meet another deadly martial artist named Rei who is searching for his lost sister. She is being held captive by Jagi, who is impersonating as Fist of the North Star and reigning in terror of the local towns-people.

The group engage Jagi and he is eventually defeated, but not before he makes Kenshiro aware of his betrayal and that he encouraged Shin to take Julia. Learning that Julia is still alive, Kenshiro makes his way to Shin’s stronghold. However he is unaware that his eldest brother Roah: The Conqueror is moving there also with a huge and deadly army, which sets up a climactic battle between the 2 deadly brothers at the end of the film.

There is much to critique about Fist of the North Star, the character development is very much an after-thought to the spectacular violence and compared to the great Anime movies that come at the end of the decade (Akira for example), the animation is very ordinary.

However I think this misses the point of Fist of the North Star. It’s a movie that concentrates on how men’s sole desires influence their entire existence when the world around them falls apart. A theme that was explored to great effect in Mad Max: Fury Road, whereby Max is reduced to a single human instinct, survival. In this movie, Kenshiro’s undying love for Julia keeps him alive and is his sole reason for existence, whilst everyone else around him is power hungry and bent on domination.

Whilst these movies are explicitly different, Fist of the North Star and Mad Max share many themes, particularly the protagonists. It’s what made me instinctively think of FotNS when watching Fury Road and going back to the original Mad Max.

The film’s action is what it is most remembered for, with it’s over the top martial arts and splatterhouse death sequences being some of the most infamous in all of anime. But at the heart of the movie, is an overwhelming sense of the triumph of human-spirit, as Kenshiro wanders the wilderness in search of his true love, the only motivation he has to keep on living.

It may not rank amongst the greatest Anime movies for the purists and perhaps detracts away from the source material in the comics of the same name. But for me, Fist of the North Star is blissfully nostalgic, stylishly violent and conveys a great message behind all of the madness it shrouds itself in.

Just stay clear of the mid-90’s live action movie… we’ll just conveniently pretend that never happened!

Adultimation – Ghost in the Shell (1995)

For one day only on Saturday 27 September 2014 (almost 20 years after its initial release in the UK, the iconic, influential and often imitated but never bettered Ghost In The Shell gets the big screen re-release treatment courtesy of Picturehouse cinemas across the country. As if that wasn’t enough, on Monday you can pick up the limited edition Steelbook blu-ray! Once described as the film “James Cameron would make if Disney let him”, resident anime fanboy Matt explains why this is one of the most influential films of the last 20 years in the second instalment of our Adultimation series.

by Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)

ghost in the shell 2If you purchased any Manga Entertainment VHS between 1993/94 it would have been impossible for you to not have seen or heard of Ghost in the Shell. It had been many years since the impact of Akira as the genre-defining movie had crossed-over graphic Anime into the mainstream. The world was ready for the next adult hit and by 1995 it had arrived.

“Can you offer me proof of your existence? How can you, when neither modern science nor philosophy can explain what life is?”

Ghost in the Shell is the story of a Special Police Unit (Public Security: Section 9) based in a not so distant future Japan, comprising of semi-cybernetic agents whose physical bodies have been fine-tuned and mechanically enhanced, known as Shells. In this post-cyberpunk future however, the Shell (or body) is somewhat dispensable and persona and memory can be transferred between bodies, this is the Ghost element of the movie, referring the transference of soul into differing physical entities.

Section 9 are in pursuit of an expert hacker known only as the Puppet Master who is responsible for implanting fake memories and realities into its victims minds to use their bodies to hack via proxy (known as Ghost hacking). As the movie progresses it becomes clear to the cybernetic contingent of Section 9 that the Puppet Master may not indeed be a person at all, but a Ghost that has evolved from the modern equivalent of the Internet, initially weaponised but has now become sentient and acting upon its own will.

This causes the members of the team to question their own origins and purpose in life, particularly the central figure of the movie, Motoko Kusanagi, who begins to consider if it is even important whether she was born human, or simply artificially constructed. As her investigations draw her closer to the Puppet Master, Kusanagi becomes paranoid or perhaps even indifferent to value of her own humanity.

The film progresses with Section 9 tracking down the Puppet Master’s temporary Shell. However, another government agency is seeking to obtain it for themselves, resulting in the climatic engagement of the movie with Kusanagi confronting a Spider-Tank in a battle sequence that may seem somewhat familiar to film fans for reasons which we’ll cover later in the article.

Without spoiling the end of the movie too much, Section 9 come out on top, although the Shell of Kusanagi is destroyed in the tank battle, her Ghost is merged with that of the Puppet Master. The new lifeform whilst resembling Kusanagi is neither her or the Puppet Master, which ends the film on a delicious outcome that leaves the future for this character open to interpretation.

Hype

Few films have ever been as hyped prior to release in the adult-Anime world as Ghost in the Shell was during the early 90’s. It featured in trailers for just about every anime film released for the 2-3 year period prior to it reaching a cinematic and eventual home release. For me it holds a tremendous fondness and was one of the first films I can recall ever being truly excited about for an extended period before its release.

The trailer itself is still one of my personal favourite examples of how to ramp up expectation and excitement with good marketing and extraordinary iconography without spoiling all the movie’s key plot-points. I implore you to take a look for yourselves:

Cel and CG animation

Ghost in the Shell is easy on the eye, that goes without saying. Even 20 years later it still looks fresh and edgy. Whilst the film is set in a near-future Japan, the densely populated City scenes are based upon modern day Hong Kong. Long narrow alley-ways, with a plethora of signs and that all-too realistic weaving of heavy concrete and rain causing a claustrophobic, damp and grey Urban-Jungle

The art work is especially stunning. Beautifully detailed digital Cel backgrounds combined with then state of the art CG animation made Ghost in the Shell not only feel light years ahead in terms of the sophisticated sci-fi plot but also in how it looked.

The music is also a key component, more so than in any Anime I’ve seen before or since. Gorgeous Japanese symphonic cords, blended together with traditional wedding vocals create a haunting tone during the film’s opening sequence with the shell of Kusangi being created, you know the movie is taking you into deep into the imagination of the director Mamoru Oshii from the get-go.

Influence

It can’t be stressed strongly enough how much impact Ghost in the Shell has had on movie makers, particularly in Western Science Fiction (namely the Wachowski Siblings). Its influence on 1999’s The Matrix for example becomes immediately noticeable from Ghost in the Shell‘s title sequence, which bears the hallmarks of the now iconic binary green rain as well as the cybernetic implants on the back of the characters necks.

There are many more touches shared between both films, both in the plot mechanics and the use of the Internet as a form of alternative reality. The action sequences also compliment each other greatly, as touched upon earlier in the article the climatic battle sequence is very similar to the lobby action-scene in The Matrix whereby pillars are used as means of cover but massively destroyed from gunfights to demonstrate fire-power.

Whilst it would be fair to say that The Matrix inserted more martial-arts at the expense of the the political plot lines, Ghost in the Shell features a limited amount of hand to hand combat whilst also borrowing from other Sci-Fi properties such as Predator with Thermo-Optic Camouflage being a key plot-trigger of the film

Its not a stretch to say though that The Matrix wouldn’t exist without Ghost in the Shell (and Akira before it).. that’s how important this film is in grand sphere of influence it wields amongst its industry fanbase. If you’re fortunate enough to have it showing near you this weekend, we highly recommended taking the opportunity to see it on a big screen. It’s a perfectly paced and easily digestible 90-mins of Sci-Fi Action that will live long in the memory.

Adultimation – Venus Wars (1989)

In the first of a new running series, resident Anime fanboy Matt takes a nostalgic look back at the golden era of Anime – circa late 1980’s to mid 1990’s – beginning this week with the first Anime he ever purchased.

by Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Labourne)

venus warsHere at Failed Critics, we love a good animated movie. The team have declared their love and admiration for the likes of DreamWorks and Studio Ghibli on numerous occasions and rightly so. Some of the greatest movies of all time have been animated feature films. The only downside is that many of these are either aimed at children, or appeal to the more gentle side of our nature as viewers. However, Japanese Anime unlocks a proverbial Pandora’s box into sides of the human psyche that few directors and script writers dare to explore.

The repressed darkness, ultra violent and downright too far-out imaginings of a select few animators all got their rallying cry during the golden age of adult anime in the late 80’s-early 90’s and we’ll be celebrating as many as we can, revisiting the halcyon days of Adultimation.

The first film to go under the microscope is Venus Wars, originally released in 1989. The film takes place in the late 21st century as Earth has terraformed and emigrated to Venus in the hope of a better life. However, the new frontier is dominated by 2 warring nations, Aphrodia and Ishtar, and all hopes for a better tomorrow are sunk into all-out war.

The film’s central protagonist, Hiro, is a hot-shot biker who captains the Killer Commandos in a Rollerball-esque deathrace team motorcycle sport. The film opens to a spectacular crash & burn race whereby the Killer Commandos of Aphrodia are about to seal victory in their latest race just as the aid raid sirens sound and the Ishtarian invasion begins.

venus wars 2“Aphrodians shot me, not some soldier from Ishtar! So who is my enemy, and who is my friend?

It seemed rather apt to choose to review this movie now given the WWI centenary and the current struggles in Gaza. Venus Wars isn’t an all-out action blaster following skirmishes in global war, it’s actually about the psychological effect of occupation on a distrusting and enraged youth. It’s this theme that stops the film from slipping into being just another run of the mill War film.

Hiro, who feels betrayed by his own government and refuses to accept dominion by the occupying Ishtar forces, rallies his fellow Killer Commandos to strike against an Ishtar outpost that has made home in their racing stadium. With all the pent up rage and zealous youthful enthusiasm they attack a Tank via their Mono-bikes with some light weaponry. Naturally disaster strikes as members of the team are slaughtered as their ill-conceived plans go awry.

Hiro is able to take down the tank in spectacular fashion using a crane to smash it almost like the fist of a giant robot. However, he and his team are captured by a legitimate rebel force (The Hounds) that also had plans to attack the Ishtar outpost at the Stadium. Hiro is recruited into the Hounds reluctantly in exchange for the release of his comrades and eventually pilots a heavily armed mono-bike into the crucial end of movie battle.

The action is satisfying and it has one of the better soundtracks in an Anime I’ve ever listened to with a good balance of dramatic orchestra and exhilarating J-Rock riffs that keep tempo with the on-screen action. The best aspect of Venus Wars isn’t the action, it’s the focus on the relationships between the idealistic youth and the corrupt adults and how people exploit war for their own benefit.

Aphrodia is portrayed as a weak and measly country with no backbone (almost akin to WWII France by stereotype) and Ishtar is very much the all conquering Nazi Germany; even their general has a German name (Gerhard Donner)! It’s a film that can be casually enjoyed by anyone at face value, but might stir emotion in anyone who has endured occupation of their homeland and the desire to resist is a powerful one.

Venus Wars is a very ambitious movie that had a lot to live up to, coming out on the back of the release of the mighty Akira. Whilst not quite being on the monumental level of the former, it ultimately succeeds in keeping up the momentum of the genre as it broke strongly into a Western audience.

Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s adaptation of his own manga series is probably a more relevant story today than it was when it was first released. Its similarity to the current Israel/Palestine conflict cannot be ignored and whatever side of the fence you choose to throw your metaphorical hat onto in that dilemma, you’ll find some admiration for the immeasurable human spirit to continue to fight against all odds, as is so entertainingly portrayed in this movie.

Film4’s Studio Ghibli season: The highlights

Princess Mononoke, one of the films showing in Film 4's Studio Ghibli season
Princess Mononoke, one of the films showing in Film 4’s Studio Ghibli season

Today marks the beginning of two and a half weeks of cinematic excellence on Film4, as their Studio Ghibli celebration begins. Of course, very few people will have time to watch them all (Owen Hughes of this parish will probably manage it) so we thought it would be useful to pick out five to watch. These five would provide a perfect entry point into the magical world of Studio Ghibli but this list is by no means exhaustive. There are a large number of great films in their canon and I urge you to watch as many as you can – I will certainly be taking the opportunity to catch the ones I haven’t yet seen.

Wait, Studio Ghibli? What the hell is that?

First, a little intro to Studio Ghibli for those unfamiliar with this powerhouse of Japanese animation. Set up by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata in 1985 following the success of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the studio has always prioritised artistic integrity over commercial appeal. This, famously, has extended to a “no cuts” policy when distributing internationally; Harvey Weinstein, upon suggesting that Princess Mononoke be cut to give it more commercial appeal, received a Samurai sword in the post with an accompanying message of “no cuts” from the film’s producer*. Frequent themes are nature (and man’s destruction of it), childhood and magic. The studio is notable for its frequent use of female leads who are very different from the typical Disney Princess.

Of the ten highest-grossing films in Japanese history, Ghibli has produced four of them – including number 1, Spirited Away. John Lasseter, Pixar’s chief creative officer and director of Toy Story among others, describes Miyazaki as “the world’s greatest living animator”. Outside of Disney and Lasseter himself, it is hard to think of anyone who has had more influence on animated films.

Spirited Away – Tuesday 26th, 6.30pm [subtitled]; Saturday 6th April 4.35pm [dubbed]

Previously discussed here and here, this is one of my favourite films. I’ll leave it to the BBC’s Jamie Russell, writing in 2003:

With none of the sentimentality of Disney nor the computerised sheen of Pixar, this traditional animé even blows the brilliant Finding Nemoout of the water. It’s epic story is more imaginative, rousing and luscious than anything American animation has produced since the halcyon days of Snow White and the Seven DwarfsIn two hours Miyazaki offers more magic and innovation than most animators could manage in over two decades.

Princess Mononoke – Wednesday 27th, 6.05pm [subtitled]; Wednesday 10th April, 1.10pm [dubbed]

The highest-grossing film in Japanese history until Titanic came along and ruined everything, this is a Princess tale unlike anything Disney has provided. Set in an imagined 14th Century Japan where humans and forest creatures live side-by-side, there is a surprising complexity and ambiguity to this tale. The familiar tropes of animated fantasy in the West are gone here: no black-and-white morality with a valiant hero and a damsel in distress for Miyazaki and co. Instead we find that everyone has their reasons and not everything about them is bad; in terms of educating children how the world works, this is far better than the classic Disney tale. Visually stunning throughout, whilst the film may appear a little impenetrable on the surface please don’t be put off – Princess Mononoke is a landmark in animation.

My Neighbour Totoro – Saturday 30th, 4.55pm [dubbed]

Again, I’ve written about Totoro before so I will leave it to the great Roger Ebert to describe this, the only competitor with Toy Story in my mind for the title of best animated film:

Here is a children’s film made for the world we should live in, rather than the one we occupy… Whenever I watch it, I smile, and smile, and smile… It is a little sad, a little scary, a little surprising and a little informative, just like life itself. It depends on a situation instead of a plot, and suggests that the wonder of life and the resources of imagination supply all the adventure you need.

Howl’s Moving Castle – Monday 1st, 4.35pm [dubbed]; Friday April 12th TBC [subtitled]

Surprisingly, this film is based on a book by a Welsh children’s author and Miyazaki himself is a big fan of the country; its predecessor and sister film Castle in the Sky draws heavily on his experiences of the Welsh Miner’s Strike a couple of years before its release. Not quite achieving the clarity of thought and purpose of his previous efforts, this is nonetheless a tremendously entertaining film. Here we see Sophie, a young girl, transformed into a witch and journeying to the aforementioned castle to free a fire demon from a curse in the midst of a war.

Grave of the Fireflies – Friday 5th, 12.15am

Takahata’s tale of two children struggling to survive among the bombs in late WWII Japan is more ‘adult’ than the other films here, as evidenced by it being on late at night. One of the most powerful war movies ever made (seriously), this remains the only film to make me cry. You have been warned. That said, don’t be put off by the tragic element at all. The opening scene reveals that our narrator is dead so we know throughout that this is a doomed story; however there is joy, as well as sadness, to be found in the life he tells us about. That is the real power of the film – the characters are brilliantly formed and  we care about them. This is a tale of two lives, innocently caught up in war and the societal breakdown accompanying it. That an animation can feel so real and so relevant is testament to the skill of all involved.

*Miyazaki explains: “…I did go to New York to meet this man, this Harvey Weinstein, and I was bombarded with this aggressive attack, all these demands for cuts. I defeated him.”