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January 22, 2014

Simply Anime: Space Brothers


As a life long fan of Japanese animation or as it is more commonly called, anime, I have watched many types of films and shows that have ranged from the absurd like Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, to Hitchcock inspired thrillers like Perfect Blue, that would go on to inspire Hollywood directors like Darren Aronofsky in films like Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan. So for my first official review here with Simplistic Reviews, I decided to give you my critique of a currently on-going series that even those new to anime will enjoy, Space Brothers.

Created by Chuya Koyama in 2008 originally as a manga (which is essentially a comic. In Japan, people regardless of age read manga and they have various categories just like books in your local library {people still go to those right?}) is published in the magazine Weekly Morning. The manga was nominated twice for a Manga Taisho award in 2008 and 2010, and would win the Shogakukan Manga Award for best general anime and in 2011 the Kodansha Manga Award in the same category. I don’t need to tell you how big that is, I mean these are like the Eisner’s of Japan, (ok you don’t know what the Eisner’s are, sorry didn’t mean to alienate you any more than I already have. The Eisner Awards are given for excellence in cook books, kinda like a Golden Globe or Oscars. Yes, I could’ve just use that analogy to begin with but I’m talking a completely different medium here folks!) So to put this in perspective, Space Brothers in prose shared award winning company with titles such as Bleach, Inuyasha, Golgo 13, Galaxy Express 999, Salior Moon and Akira! This manga is no slouch. So, in 2012 it was adapted into an anime and is still going strong with 91 episodes under it’s belt (and counting) and even boasts a full lengthened live action feature film to boot. Now, still skeptical of anime; or maybe you just haven’t watched a series since Ash was try to catch the original 150 Pokemon, but just chill for a second before you write off this series and review.

This was a show that I began on a whim, probably after looking at something on my Tumblr wall in a moment of boredom and/or depression. I was, broke, unemployed and pretty much feelign as low as I possibly could at that moment. So, with no expectations for this show, I took a chance and started the series. After the first episode I was hooked. Not in the way that an action show can grab you but in an emotional way, like the first time I saw Bridge to Terabithia (the original and not the remake which I shudder to think about). The series characters paralleled so much of my life at the time and was so compelling, that before I knew it I was 10+ episodes in. Now this isn’t me getting on a soap box and saying that an anime changed my life or anything like that, but I am saying that this amine is one that people can relate to on many levels for a multitude of reasons.

The story follows Mutta Nanba, (in Japan last names come first, so when you watch you will see the surname come first, i.e. Nanba Mutta), he’s just been fired from his rather sweet job as automotive engineer, because his verbally abusive boss was disrespecting his brother Hibito whom is going to become the first Japanese astronaut on to walk on the moon, so, quick to defend of his brother, Mutta headbutted his boss in the face! Freaking. Awesome. However as art imitates life and Mutta’s actions come at a cost. He soon finds himself black listed and unable to find a job. Untriumphantly he returns home to live with his parents and is forced to take any menial job he can find, that is until his past actions eventually bite him in the rear, then it’s back to square one again. All the while, Mutta is trying to remain the staunch older brother, telling his parents not to inform his younger brother what happened. Of course as parents usually do, they don’t adhere to the request and his mother tells Hibito. What ensues from that results in Mutta remembering a promise that he made years ago as a child and the opportunity to make that promise become a reality, when his mother submits his resume to JAXA (the Japanese version of NASA). We get to experience the lives of the Nanba brothers as one is venturing off into space and the other is making his way to catch up to his younger brother.

Filled with a cast of memorable characters like Ozzy – the senior citizen that lives in Houston near Hibito, who has a penchant for gambling (but in a good way), Kenji Makabe – Mutta’s fast friend that he meets during the astronaut candidate processing phase, Serika Itou – Mutt’s love interest with an insatiable appetite, and the person who steals the show whenever he’s on, Apo – Hibito’s pet pug that Mutta ends up watching once Hibito goes to space, (and no Apo doesn’t talk, it’s not that type of anime). Each character has their own motivations for being in the place that they’re in and are each developed so well. Their reasons are as real as you, or me if we were trying to get a job. At the heart of the series, space is the backdrop for every single one these characters hopes and dreams. If as a child you were ever enthralled with all things outer space, than you too can relate. The reason why is because space, and space exploration represents what we can do as human beings. We can colonize new worlds or even the moon if we want to. We can dare to dream again like we did when we were young and it’s okay. Space represents hope in the face of all that’s not, and sometimes that all we ever really ever need. So I highly recommend Space Brothers for that reason alone. Oh, and did I mention that the hallmark of every anime, Space Brothers included, is the kick ass opening and closing themes. The theme for the first 13 episodes in a awesome J-Rock (Japanese rock) song by a band named Unicorn called “Feels SoMoon”, that really sets the tone for the series. The themes never let up, and you will enjoy them every time that they are on. Inversely, the ending themes are just catchy and enjoyable and are like a kiss goodnight after a great date (get it together Hollywood, you don’t need that much freaking ad time). Bonus, you get exposed to a different type of music that you may never have heard before, so thank in advance for broadening you musical pallet.

I could go on but I think you get my drift. Watch Space Brothers. But of course; you don’t have to take my word for it.

July 18, 2013

Pacific Rim (Matt’s Take)

Pacific Rim – Correct


In a movie climate of big booms, there is a vacuum of emptiness. You have “Transformers”, “Man of Steel”, and countless “Fast and the Furious” sequels where droves of people go just to see what I’ll call “explosion porn.” In a summer full of disappointment it’s refreshing to finally see a big budget tent pole film live up to not only its potential, but gives even more. “Pacific Rim” might be the wild card blockbuster of this Summer, but it does everything correct.

I could make this review brief and just say “Rim” is great and you should plunk down $10 at your local multiplex and support a film that, one, doesn’t take itself too serious, two, provides over two hours of action eye candy, and three, is a breath of fresh air in a time of cinema that relies on sequels that are inferior to its predecessors.  The sad part about “Rim” is that it will ultimately become a cult hit, which is odd for a film that cost upwards of $200 Million between it’s production and marketing, but that is what Guillermo del Toro films are; cult hits that delivers fan service up the ass, but just don’t make enough at the box office to call themselves “monetary hits” despite the fact that nearly all of del Toro’s films have been critically lauded (I’m not including “Rim” in that bunch because at heart it’s really just a bunch of dumb fun).

But what’s wrong with dumb fun?  I mean “Grown Ups 2” made nearly $50 Million in it’s opening weekend. “Grown Ups 2”?!  Really?!  A film that has plenty dumb, and I’m sure some people would say is “fun.”  And this isn’t going into an Adam Sandler rant.  I respect anyone that finds a niche and makes money off of it.  Del Toro has his niche, sci-fi and fantasy geeks, which are mostly single guys and girls between the ages of 18-35.  Seems like a solid demographic, right?  Not when you look at the ticket returns.  I can see “Hellboy” not making a ton of money.  It’s literally a fringe comic from Dark Horse that not many people would know about outside the comic book reading public.  “Rim” should appeal to EVERYONE who saw all three “Transformers” film as well as anyone who saw “Cloverfield” or “Independence Day” or “Godzilla” or I could keep the list going but I won’t.  My question is why didn’t this film get the love, and money, it deserves its opening week.  Yes, it’s the Summer and there are a lot of movies to see right now.  I’m not going to say they are good movies, but they’re movies nonetheless.  What continues to befuddle me is the movie-going audience in this day and age.  They will celebrate sequel after horrible sequel, but when something interesting comes their way with the same thing they are watching over and over, they dare not give it a chance?  Rant end, now let’s get to Grown U…..I mean “Pacific Rim.”

In short, “Rim” is about a war between humans and giant sea monsters.  These monsters, or Kaiju, are creating havoc within the ‘Ring of Fire” in the Pacific Ocean, decimating China, Japan, Australia, and the West Coast of the United States.  To combat this menace, the Jaeger Program was created.  A program comprised of giant robots piloted by humans, the robots, called Jaegers, hunt the Kaiju, engage them in combat, and most of the time defeat them.  Controlling the Jaegers requires a mind-meld between the pilots called “drifting” in which the pilots share memories, fears, and anger in order to fight better.  As the plot progresses we are introduced to your typical action movie archetypes; the loner with a past, the quiet girl that kicks ass, the grizzled guy in charge with a past, and your typical bad-ass roughnecks, but just become fodder for story’s sake.  The whole story leads up to a final confrontation with “a category 5 monster” and when all seems lost for humanity….well, I’ll stop there.

While acting isn’t it’s strongest suit, the camp element of robots fighting monsters makes the acting fit like a glove.  Even when Idris Elba gives his “Braveheart” speech, which is shoehorned in, I still felt inspired despite the fact I’ve heard the same speech in every sports film ever made.  Even though Charlie Day does his best Charlie Kelly the Scientist impression I still thought the character had a place in the film as a so-called “Kaiju groupie.”

Yes, we’ve all seen “Rim” before, just not all in one film.  del Toro, a master of genre film-making, borrows what he likes best from “Aliens” all the way to H.P. Lovercraft, and creates a cohesive film filled with colorful characters, locations, and amazing action set pieces.  There isn’t any new ground being broken which leads to my massive confusion of why this film isn’t getting the love it should be getting.  Are we going cold turkey on big-budget robot/monster beat-em-ups?  In the case of “Transformers”, I hope so, but not “Pacific Rim.”  There is a love and commitment to detail in “Rim.”  Keep in mind, this is the film that del Toro left “The Hobbit” for.  “The Hobbit,” a guaranteed, and critic proof, hit, was put aside so he could create a wonderful genre piece that is now being overlooked by audiences.

I could be getting ahead of myself.  Perhaps word of mouth will help “Rim” in the coming weeks and it’s box office receipts won’t drop off too much, but it’s Summer, where a film’s time to make a dent in an audiences’ wallet is limited, and it could be an uphill battle.  Regardless, the fact that “Pacific Rim” exists is a good for film.  It reinvigorates the “giant monster/robot” genre but it does it in a way that provides just enough heart and tongue-in-cheek fun where you wouldn’t mind seeing more Kaiju vs. Jaeger fist fighting.  For a fun time, check out “Pacific Rim.”

Fun Fact:  Having now appeared in five of del Toro’s films, this is the first film where Ron Perlman plays a human character, Hannibal Chau.

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