Death Parade–Anime Early Impressions

Death Parade (Hulu) is one of the more promising shows of the new anime season. It has a classy noir-ish look with nice designs and animation by Madhouse. It is smartly written though the tone varies. The first story, which occupied the first two episodes, was pretty grim. The next was poignant and rather heartwarming.
Group shot
This is one of those anthology shows in which each story follows a standard pattern. Two people walk into a bar…or at least they find themselves in a bar and can’t quite remember how they got there. Their memories seem hazy about a lot of things.
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Cute High Earth Defense Club–Anime Early Impressions

I didn’t expect to like Cute High Earth Defense Club Love! (Binan Koukou Chikyuu Boueibu Love!) (Crunchyroll.) The idea of a parody of a magical girl show seemed uninspired. It’s hard to do a good parody of a genre that never took itself very seriously in the first place. In any case the traditional magical girl story has been parodied and deconstructed many times. And the idea of making it about magical boys didn’t seem very inspired either. (Most shoujo magical girl teams typically have at least one male member anyway.)
Battle Lovers
But I’ll go along with just about anything if it’s funny enough, and this is very funny indeed. At least it has stayed funny for three episodes. We’ll have to see how it holds up over the entire season.
Wombat
Let’s call this guy Wombat. He’s not actually a wombat. He’s an [unpronounceable] from [unpronounceable], but he looks like a pink wombat so that will have to do. Wombat has just arrived on Earth and is very impressed with its culture, but he is distressed to see that it is threatened by the forces of Lovelessness. He decides to recruit some Earth people to form a team of “Battle Lovers” and fight to defend the planet.
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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies–Movie Review

3.5 Stars
The Hobbit 3 poster
After watching the first two films of the series I felt I had to watch The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (IMDB) even though it might well turn out to be a train wreck. And I’m going to surprise you by giving it a marginal recommendation.

I’m not saying that this really is a good adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel. But my rule is that a movie should be judged on its own merits without reference to the source material. If this were an original work I think that most people who like such things would say that this is a pretty decent though somewhat uneven action-adventure fantasy.
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Big Eyes–Movie Review

4 Stars
Big Eyes poster
Big Eyes (IMDB) is a quirky biopic of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), the painter responsible for those slightly creepy pictures of children with big eyes that you have almost certainly seen. Millions of them were sold as posters in the 1960s and 1970s.

The movie was directed by Tim Burton who is a big fan of Keane’s work, and unlike most biopics it sticks pretty close to the truth.

The movie gets most of its energy from Christoph Waltz who gives a brilliant and disturbing performance as Margaret’s husband Walter Keane. Arguably Walter was responsible for Margaret’s success. A talented promoter, he turned her paintings into a multimillion dollar poster empire–all the while claiming that he had painted them himself.
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Into the Woods–Movie Review

2.5 Stars

I was raised to be charming, not sincere.
–Cinderella’s Prince

Into the Woods posterInto the Woods (IMDB) is a movie adaptation of the 1987 musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. Let me start by saying that the production values are very high and the cast is first-rate. Some people are saying that it it worth going to the movie just to hear Meryl Streep sing.

Personally however I didn’t find it very satisfactory. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the movie adaptation per se. While I never saw the original stage version I think the problems lie with the original material.
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2014: The Anime Year in Review

It seems that it’s more or less a requirement for experienced anime bloggers to complain that the current season and the current year are the worst ever, a far cry from the glory days of the past. I’m pretty sure that 5 years from now bloggers will be bemoaning the dreadfulness of the 2019 season, as compared to the glory days of, say, 2014. Each year brings us a mountain of crap that is quickly forgotten, plus a few shows that people will remember fondly and even rewatch in future years.

So as usual in my annual review I will mostly ignore the shows that failed (and especially those that didn’t even try) and focus on shows that provided solid entertainment and may have some chance of being remembered fondly in future years.

Outstanding Anime of 2014

Mushishi familySeason 2 of Mushi-shi (Crunchyroll) is a rare example of an anime that aims to be high art. There is no middle ground here: such a show always seems to end up either great or unwatchable. Fortunately this one continues to hit the “great” mark.

Manaka from EDNagi no Asukara (Crunchyroll) (started Fall 2013) had some slow moments but looking back I can’t think of any other show in the past year that affected me as strongly. What starts out looking like a whimsical fairy tale turns into a powerful work of high fantasy.

After workAmagi Brilliant Park is just silly, but it is inspired silliness, perfectly executed and hilarious from beginning to end.
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Yona of the Dawn–Midseason Thoughts

Travelling party
I was initially impressed by the quality of the writing, acting and productions values of Yona of the Dawn (Akatsuki no Yona) (Crunchyroll.) Now I’m even more impressed. The story has fantasy elements but it is no simple fairy tale.

It’s a sophisticated story that seems informed by a knowledge of real history (as well as Asian mythology.)
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Amagi Brilliant Park Ends

Final video
Kyoto Animation doesn’t always get it right, but when they do get it right they really get it right. Amagi Brilliant Park had two ambitions: to tell a simple fantasy story while piling on lots of off-the-wall humor. That’s a common thing for a anime series to try, but the results are often unimpressive.
Seiya with Latifa
Amigi pulls it off perfectly. It is consistently hilarious but also surprisingly touching.
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Sword Art Online 2 Ends

Players with Urd2014 actually had some nice surprises in anime. One was that the second season of Sword Art Online (Crunchyroll) was much better than the first.

It wasn’t that I hated the first season. If you remember my posts from that time you will recall that I thought that the first half was very weak while the second half redeemed it just enough to make it worth watching. The second season is a much better work from start to finish. I won’t hesitate to recommend it–though you still probably need to watch the first season first. (You might be able to catch up from the flashbacks in the second season but you wouldn’t really understand the characters without having seen what they went through.)
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Wild–Movie Review

4 Stars
Wild poster
Wild (IMDB) is a story of self-discovery and self-renewal based on an autobiographical book by Cheryl Strayed. It is an interesting movie though some people may find it a bit frustrating. It features spectacular scenery and an excellent performance by Reese Witherspoon.

The beginning of the movie is uncomfortably reminiscent of Into the Wild, whose protagonist set off on a wilderness adventure with grossly inadequate preparation and ended up dead. We see Cheryl Strayed set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail by herself (a distance of more that 1,000 miles.) She has a backpack so heavy that she can barely stand up. She has not even taken the time to familiarize herself with her equipment. For example she brings the wrong kind of fuel for her camp stove.

Thanks to a fair amount of luck and some help from strangers she manages to stay alive, though she never finds the hike exactly comfortable. This is not surprising. It is an extremely challenging trail through desert and mountains which often proves too much even for people in much better physical condition than she is.
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