Category Archives: Cartoons/Animation/Video

TV to Adapt Japanese Light Novels about Vatican Investigators

Yes, my children, it’s that time again. It’s time to enjoy or shudder at the Japanese pop culture idea of Catholicism!

Anime company J.C. Staff is making a Gothic/horror/mystery anime called Vatican Miracle Investigators (Bachikan Kiseki Chousakan).

Behold. There is a trailer.

Fr. Joseph Kou Hiraga is a brilliant scientist. Fr. Roberto Nicholas is an expert in archives, paleography, and codes. Together, they investigate miracles!

(Yeah, that’s not how priests usually look. Albeit priests sent to the Vatican to study for the Vatican diplomatic service often are attractively presentable.)

To be fair, they are giving these guys some interesting features. Fr. Hiraga has a twelve year old brother with terminal bone cancer. (Ow.) Fr. Nicholas the archives researcher is an Italian bon vivant, as opposed to the more serious Fr. Hiraga.

The light novels by Rin Fujiki have been running since 2007, so there should be plenty of backstory to work with.

So yeah, it’s gonna be a doozy. Coming this July to a computer screen near you!

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Etymology: The Anime!

Nope, no magical powers. Not a historical anime, either.

It’s the story of a modern linguistics post-grad who gets hired onto the staff of a great Japanese multi-volume dictionary, similar to the Oxford English Dictionary. He finds true love and life while researching words.

It’s the new Noitamina anime for this season. Unfortunately nobody knows whether it will be licensed or not. But it starts October 13, 2016.

Fune wo Amu. The name means something like “The Great Ship,” because a dictionary is like a ship.

UPDATE:Actually, the name Fune wo Amu means “To Build a Ship” or “To Assemble a Ship.” Oh, the irony of getting this wrong about a dictionary story!

Where did the false info come from? I forgot that there is already a 2013 movie about this story. (I haven’t seen it, but it’s supposed to be very good. It doesn’t seem to be on any of the streaming services, though.) In its US release, this movie Fune wo Amu was called The Great Passage (because that’s the translation of the name of the fictional dictionary, the Daitokai).  Both the movie and the anime are based on a 2011 novel, Fune wo Amu, by Shion Miura.

Miura’s novel references a real Japanese dictionary of this sort called the Daigenkai, which literally means “The Great Ocean of Words.” It was edited by Otsuki Fumihiko, whose first and widely successful dictionary was called the Genkai, or “Sea of Words.” The big chunky Daigenkai came out in four volumes that appeared after the death of its editor in 1928.

(But he lived a long life; he was born in 1847 to a samurai scholar family** and had fought in the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, on the losing side of the Tokugawa shogunate. So yet another real-life character who could easily have appeared in Rurouni Kenshin.)

So the idea is that the new (fictional) dictionary would be a ship (fune) that would take the reader on a journey (tokai) across the ocean of words (genkai). Not what I was thinking below in the comments, but pretty cool.

(Since Otsuki was a Western studies guy, his titles may also have been referencing Noah Webster. Japanese scholars love wordplay.)

The movie adaptation seems to have focused on the love story in the novel, but the series will give more time to the friendships between the main character and other members of the dictionary staff.

** Otsuki Fumihiko’s grandfather, Otsuki Gentaku, began the tradition in his family of being scholars of “Dutch studies” (Rangaku), by learning Western science, technology, and arts from Dutch books obtained in Nagasaki. Otsuki Gentaku was a physician and writer who wrote Steps toward Dutch Studies (Rangaku Kaitei), the first Dutch grammar book in Japanese. He also founded and ran Shirando, the first private school for Dutch studies, which was located in Edo (Tokyo), and promoted honoring Hippocrates as the father of Western medicine. (And when I say “honor,” I mean “like another Shinto god or hero,” in some cases.)

He is best known today for his sensible challenge to various Japanese misconceptions about African people. For whatever reason, the Japanese believed then that Africans acquired a black skin color through too much exposure to water, but that as a result Africans were abnormally good swimmers,  as intrinsically unintelligent as Japanese fisherfolk, and  just as intrinsically lowborn. Gentaku contended that Africans were just like every other human group, full of “the noble and the lowly… the wise and the foolish.” He also helped write a famous book, Kankai Ibun, which recounted the experiences of the survivors of a Japanese ship who ended up in Russia, the Straits of Magellan, and Hawaii. The book includes a woodcut illustration of the Japanese standing by the famous St. Petersburg statue of Tsar Peter the Great.

Otsuki’s great-grandfather was Otsuki Genryo, a Western-trained physician who was the official chief surgeon of the Sendai domain and chief physician to the Ichinoseki han.

 

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Space Trucker Bruce: Possibly the Best SF Movie I’ve Seen All Year

Space Trucker Bruce, an indie movie filmed mostly inside the house of a guy who lives in Juneau, is currently available on Amazon Prime. It’s also on YouTube (courtesy of the filmmaker himself).

This 2014 movie cost all of $10,000 to make.

It is awesome. It has a few pacing problems and the comedy parts could be tightened, but it is awe-inspiring all the same.

Basically, it’s a hard sf story about a space trucker (Bruce, played by Karl Sears), who rescues a space newbie (Max, played by filmmaker Anton Doiron) whose ship ran into distress. They’re both on their way to Titan Station, with about a month to go. Neither of them are entirely on an even keel, thanks to various stresses. Still, they get along okay. So  it seems like boredom will be their only problem, but the universe has some surprises in store.

But it’s also a very strange comedy. (And pretty clean comedy, all things considered. I’m not saying you should let your eight-year-old watch it, but it’s a lot more PG than most PG flicks these days.) And when I say strange, I’m looking at you, Mr. Sour Cream.

There’s some pretty darned decent sets and special effects, mostly because the filmmakers knew their limitations and worked with them. There are also some neat worldbuilding bits and hard sf moments. There are some bits that go on a bit long, but stick with it. The good bits of the movie outshine any mediocre parts.

And did I mention hard sf? There were some bits in here that really work well, but never seem to make it to the big screen in Hollywood. The worldbuilding is interesting, because it rings pretty true to human nature.

The amazing part is how you do get sucked into this future world by the end of the movie.

Although I’m still a bit worried by Mr. Sour Cream.

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Sweetness and Lightning: A Very Cute Anime

Crunchyroll currently has a very cute family food anime called Sweetness and Lightning (Amaama to Inazuma).

Kouhei Inuzuka, a dad who lost his wife six months ago, is having a hard time raising their daughter Tsumugi alone, especially since he can’t cook. He never had much appetite, but since his wife died he’s been losing weight to the point that his teaching colleagues openly worry about him.

One of his high school students, Kotori Iida, has a mom who works all the time as a celebrity chef, and her father is gone. She also has a phobia about knives, so she can’t do most cooking; and unless she gets over it, she won’t be able to keep the family restaurant going when she grows up.

So (with her mom’s permission) the girl who knows a lot about cooking but never does any, starts to teach the widowed dad how to cook. (And she also gets to play big sister to little Tsumugi, and have a father figure in her life.) So far, Dad has to do all the chopping.

It’s a charming show made from a charming manga. (The manga is also available on Crunchyroll.) Each storyline in the comic includes a recipe as an appendix, so that you can make the same dishes that the characters do.

This is a great intro to simple Japanese cooking, or an inspiration to get off your butt and do some. It also includes some useful information about European- and American-style cooking… but obviously, Japanese cooks adapt their recipes to local taste, just like American cooks do.

So their idea of Salisbury steak is served with a tomato-based sauce and a fried egg on top. (I’m not against it, mind you, but the American idea of Salisbury steak involves brown gravy and no eggs.)

I do want to point out that Kouhei isn’t some stereotypical helpless guy. He does a pretty good job taking care of the house and his job and his daughter. He just needs to know how to cook. (And to be taken out of himself, so that he can get out of his grief and depression, which are affecting his job. As Kotori points out, it’s not good for a homeroom teacher not to know the names and faces of his students. Kouhei has been living in a grief fog, and that’s understandable; but it can’t go on.)

And no, it’s not skeevy. The manga actually points out that Japanese homeroom teachers used to spend a lot of time with their students at home, as well as doing home visits with the parents to discuss the kids. Having teachers over to eat was once common. (Although I assume that this was in the days when teacher salaries were lower, so a lot of Japanese moms probably wanted to feed sensei and keep him/her from starving to death.) This is a manga and anime about a father; he just gains an extra daughter. (Albeit a daughter who intermittently has a crush on him… but Kotori tactfully keeps it to herself.)

I actually have a suspicion that the widowed dad and the divorced mom may eventually get together in the manga. It’s hard to tell, since they haven’t actually met in person yet. (The mom writes out and draws recipe instructions each week for her daughter and the dad, so she’s actually “present” in some storylines and has some personality established.) Of course, since the comic is aimed at teenage girls, it is probably unlikely that the story would go this way! Most likely, nothing will happen except teenager angst.

Also, I forgot to point out that the voice actress playing Tsumugi is actually a young kid – one of the talented kids from the calligraphy anime Barakamon. I hope she’s still having fun with her work; but if she’s only doing one series a season, that should be okay.

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Two Disappointing Flicks: Zootopia and Ant-Man

So I went to Redbox and rented some movies. (Good price.) And I’m glad I didn’t pay a movie ticket or digital rental price, because dang, I would have been upset about the waste of money.

Zootopia was well-animated and had a lot of cute and interesting bits, but oh the stupidity.

First off, it’s not suitable for kids. It’s got scenes that are really dark in ways that will frighten young kids, and there is an extended joke about nudist animals that is presented in a really uncomfortable way. The morals of the story are banged in with hammers, and it’s insulting to kids. Oh, and there’s a Breaking Bad homage sequence. In a kids’ movie.

Second, it’s not suitable for adults, because the plotline is on rails and the police don’t act like police. It’s obvious that the story went through all kinds of developmental hell, but sheesh. The plot also contradicts the supposed morals of the story, as the writers constantly trade complexity for cheap jokes and the aforesaid hammers.

On the bright side, some of the characters are likeable, and the movie is fun when it’s working. The sets are pretty. I don’t blame the voice actors, the animators, the music people, or anybody else besides the writers and directors. Who sucked.

Ant-Man spent a zillion years setting up the action, and there were a lot of talk scenes and training montages that were so boring I turned down the volume and caught up on reading blogs. There was a really good Paul Rudd movie in there, and the action scenes were fun and interesting. Just way too much talk, way too much villain annoyance, and way too much of Hope Van Dyne whining and showing off her Buffy-like martial arts powers in the training montages. (If I want to see a woman beating up the hero of a movie for five minutes, I’ll just get out my Barbie doll and have her stomp on my action figures.)

Anyway, I liked Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, and I liked the little girl actress as Cassie Lang. And the giant Thomas the Tank Engine was worth a fair amount of annoyance.

So once again, I don’t blame the actors, the animators, the set guys…..

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“Love and Friendship” Is Hilarious Fun

The newest Jane Austen adaptation, Love and Friendship (based on Austen’s novella Lady Susan) is not Regency; it’s Georgian. And it’s not gently satirical; it has a villainess of “diabolical genius.” But the battlefields are still all family and social matters, and the ending is a happy one.

Lady Susan Vernon is a creature of charm, only because it serves her self-interest. She does have feelings, but mostly for herself. She always gets her own way… and that’s what makes her fascinating and terrifying to watch. Kate Beckinsale does a wonderful job with this part.

The rest of the cast is given some wonderful characters to play, as well as really good lines. They run with it. It’s the kind of movie where Stephen Fry plays a relatively minor role, and still has plenty to do.

The movie is set in England but was filmed on location in Ireland, using all sorts of gorgeous great houses and the Georgian-era neighborhoods of Dublin. The sets are great, and so are the costumes. (For history fans, it’s a lot of fun watching Lady Susan go from her mourning garb to half-blacks to colors again. The timing is perfect.)

It’s a wonderful example of how making everything period and believable doesn’t mean making everything deadly dull.

Go see it in the theater, if you can. It is worth it.

An interview with the director.

Austen’s epistolary novella, Lady Susan.

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Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

The time is the 1970’s. A young man is getting out of prison, with nowhere to go. But he does have a desperate plan. So he goes to the theater door of a man he saw perform only once before – at the prison – and pleads to become his apprentice in the art of rakugo.

Rakugo is usually described as a form of Japanese comedy. As this show points out early, that’s not entirely true. It’s more a blend of storytelling and acting, where the storyteller takes on all the parts. It is now regarded as high culture and performed in theaters, but it started out as just storytellers in the marketplace, sitting on mats. So the storyteller doesn’t take up much space or move around a lot, but he strives to create a whole world. Many of the stories are funny, but there’s also a tradition of scary stories.

So it’s an audacious career idea for a young man who’s totally inexperienced, but it’s not impossible. The master storyteller renames him “Yotaro” (an old-fashioned expression for “fool” that apparently shows up a lot in rakugo), but he accepts him as an apprentice. Yotaro turns out to be a hard worker and to have a good heart, and he openly supports the people around him. One of these is Konatsu, raised as a daughter of the house but actually the orphaned daughter of a famed rakugo storyteller. Although once it was just not done for women to do rakugo, Yotaro straightforwardly recognizes her skill and learns from her, while also asking the master to make her an apprentice too.

But it won’t all be that easy for Yotaro. His past follows him and causes him trouble, just as their pasts follow his master and his sempai, Konatsu. Somehow, they must reconcile the past while finding their own paths into the future. Because the problem with a traditional artform is that it has to stay enthralling to audiences in order to survive….

Visually, this show is gorgeous, albeit done in muted tones. The voice acting is also tremendous. (I’m pretty sure that the guy who plays Nyanta in Log Horizon is playing one of the small parts.) But even though it’s a “cultural” show, it’s not inaccessible to us Westerners; and it’s interesting that the anime art seems to be pointing out the debt that anime owes to traditional Japanese storytellers as well as to Japanese drama conventions. (As apparently the josei manga it’s based on was doing for manga art.) It will also be very interesting for anyone who’s ever performed in public, because it catches that feel very well. But as is fitting for a show about storytelling, it’s just a darned good story!

Episodes of this show are 47 minutes long, so you get a full drama-length TV show every week. That’s needed, because each episode apparently covers a lot of ground!

I recommend this show. Like Yotaro, it has a good heart.

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju* is available on Crunchyroll. The first ep will be available to non-subscribers (free with commercials) starting next Friday.

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