Spoiler Notes for Nagi no Asukara

Manaka from ED
The usual warning applies: if you haven’t watched Nagi no Asukara (Crunchyroll) and you have any possible interest in watching it then you should watch it before reading the rest of this post.

If you have watched it and payed close attention and are pretty familiar with Japanese culture and folklore then you may not find anything new in this post. The show is actually more generous with explanations than the average Japanese fantasy. However not everyone got all the key points, so you may find this helpful.
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Noah–Movie Review

3.5 Stars

Noah posterIn Noah (IMDB) writer/director Darren Aronofsky gives us a dark, disturbing and thought-provoking retelling of a story that we are all familiar with–a story that most of us would consider dark and disturbing if we had not first encountered it in cutesy illustrated children’s books.

So the first thing I want to make clear is that this movie is not suitable for young children. It is quite violent and some of the violence is of a sort that children will find especially frightening.

Since the original story is just a few paragraphs long, Aronofsky has fleshed it out with some material from the Jewish Apocrypha, plus some stuff that he just made up. Whatever you may say about the result, you can’t deny that it is interesting.
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Hoozuki no Reitetsu Ends

Hoozuki eyecatchHoozuki no Reitetsu (Crunchyroll) is a fine piece of work: a sharp-witted comedy with great artwork. (I’m talking about the drawings themselves. In terms of animation it’s fine but not striking.) If you are at all interested in Japanese folklore you should check it out.
Troublesome cat
You shouldn’t be intimidated if you don’t know too much about traditional Japanese folklore. This is not one of those anime comedies where you won’t get any of the jokes unless you are immersed in Japanese popular culture. In fact, many Japanese viewers don’t know all that much about traditional folklore, so the writers are careful to fill in enough context for each character that you can usually get the point of the joke.
Iron Amaterasu
Have you never heard of Minamoto no Yoshitsune? Some of the Japanese viewers may not have heard of him either (or at least may have forgotten which famous figure from the Genpei War he was.)
Yoshitsune (traditional)
So the writers quickly mention that he was a famous general who was betrayed by his brother and met a noble but tragic end. That should be enough to understand why it’s funny to portray him as a pretty boy who is sensitive about his feminine features.
(Though he was undoubtedly a real person, Yoshitsune also qualifies as folklore since he is the hero of many fanciful tales. Pop culture references often depict him as a bishounen though that surely is not historically accurate.)
When I compare this to Chuunibyou, the season’s other top comedy, I have to admit that I like Chuunibyou better, even though it is less sophisticated. Chuunibyou is mainly a slapstick-fest but it is warm and upbeat and really likes its characters. Hoozuki is witty and clever and erudite but…well, it’s set in Hell. The characters are not people that you would actually want to meet. The main character is certainly admirable in his own way, but not likeable.
Injured editor
Still if you appreciated a well-executed show, this is well worth the time.
Peach Maki

Nagi no Asukara Ends

I enjoyed Nagi no Asukara (Crunchyroll) but it’s not perfect. It has some pacing problems. Of course that’s common with Japanese TV shows. Hopefully you have some overall story to tell, but you have to organize it into one or two cours, each consisting of 12 or 13 episodes of 24 minutes each. For ratings reasons each cour should end at a dramatic high point and each individual episode must be interesting enough to keep people watching, all while advancing the overall plot.
Eyecatch on Seawall
A very small number of shows do it perfectly. Nagi no Asukara has some great episodes, but also a fair number that drag.

But now it’s time to look back and evaluate the series as a whole. I think it’s pretty good. It has an innovative premise, terrific artwork, likeable though flawed characters and a story with real emotional resonance. But not everyone likes it and I quite understand why it isn’t to everyone’s taste.
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Chuunibyou 2 Ends

As I originally suspected the second season of Chuunibyou (Crunchyroll) was sort of unnecessary. Strictly from a story-telling standpoint it didn’t add much to what had been said in the first season (Crunchyroll).
Rikka eyecatch
But if something is funny enough, that can be it’s own justification–and the second season is indeed very funny. I applaud the ability of the writers to keep the show laugh-out-loud funny for two seasons. That isn’t easy to do.
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Golden Time Ends

Golden Time (Crunchyroll) left me with mixed feelings. Technically it’s very well-executed. It’s offbeat and often quite amusing. But…parts of it were rather unpleasant to watch.
Kouko eyecatch
Now this may turn out to be one of those series that I initially react badly to, but which I end up liking much more after I have had time to rewatch and think about them. Part of the trouble may have been my expectations. I thought of this as a “romantic comedy,” but really the story is more about how the hero deals with his amnesia, presented with a lot of Buddhist ideas about the nature of the “self.” Not your standard rom-com fare.
Kouko and Banri stealing forms
When we first meet the hero Banri he seems awkward and unsure of himself, but we quickly learn that he is brave and resourceful, not to mention unfailingly loyal to his friends. In other words, the sort of person you would probably like to have as a friend.

But we gradually learn that he has only been like this since the accident that cost him his memory. We see in flashbacks that before the accident he was an annoying whiny self-pitying little wimp.
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Noragami Ends

This is probably my favorite anime of the Winter 2014 season. (I say “probably” because there are some other good shows that are about to end and one of them still might surprise me.)
A Tail
This is, of course, a shounen action-adventure series with all that implies, but it is an outstanding example of the genre: well-written and well-thought-out, with fascinating characters.

It’s a bit dark, with elements of horror; certainly not a show for small children. But it’s solidly entertaining and basically upbeat.
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The Grand Budapest Hotel–Movie Review

3.5 Stars

The Grand Budapest Hotel posterThe Grand Budapest Hotel (IMDB) is a new movie by Wes Anderson, and thus is both rather funny and rather strange. It reminds me a bit of the old Pink Panther movies–the original funny ones starring Peter Sellers (IMDB, IMDB, IMDB, IMDB and IMDB), not the one starring his corpse (IMDB) or any of the endless later imitations. Unfortunately Peter Sellers is dead and while this movie has a very talented cast there is no one who can match his comic genius.

This movie is framed as a nested series of flashbacks. A student in the fictitious Central European Republic of Zubrowka visits the grave of her country’s most famous writer (Tom Wilkinson) and reads his most famous book, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The writer tells how in the late 1960s as a young man (played by Jude Law) he stayed at a run-down but once-magnificent hotel. There he encountered the mysterious owner (F. Murray Abraham) who agreed to tell him his story.
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Tim’s Vermeer–Movie Review

5 Stars

Tim's Vermeer posterTim’s Vermeer (IMDB) is a fascinating documentary by Penn and Teller. (Penn Jillette narrates while Teller, of course, directed.) It tells the story of an eccentric inventor who becomes obsessed with an artistic mystery.

Tim Jenison had made a successful career as the inventor of a number of video processing gadgets. He became fascinated with the theory that Renaissance artists used a variety of optical devices to develop their painting techniques. In particular he became obsessed with the 17th century Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer who is famous for the complex and subtle lighting of his paintings.

Did Vermeer have a super-human ability to sense absolute lighting levels? Or was he actually a brilliant engineer who enhanced the camera obscura (a primitive device that could project a 3-dimensional scene onto a wall) into something that would allow a painter to create something resembling a photograph?
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The Wind Rises–Movie Review

5 Stars

“All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.”
–Jiro Horikoshi

The Wind Rises posterIf you live near an art-house theater you might have a chance to see The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu) (IMDB), which may well be the last animated film by Hayao Miyazaki. But you’d better act fast.

Of all Miyazaki’s work, this may be the least suited to the American market: a sad, romantic story about a nerdy but pure-hearted engineer. It is very loosely based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane.

As a young boy in a relatively poor and backward country Jiro (voiced as a child by Zach Callison and as an adult by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is fascinated by airplanes but frustrated by the knowledge that his poor eyesight will keep him from ever becoming a pilot.

In a vivid lucid dream he meets Giovanni Caproni (Stanley Tucci) the famous aircraft designer. Caproni, who claims that he is also dreaming, shows Jiro his plans for a gigantic trans-Atlantic passenger aircraft. Inspired, Jiro vows to become an aeronautical engineer.
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