Anime Reflections: “Nobunaga no Shinobi”

Had the opportunity here recently to check out this Spring’s offering of fresh, new anime series and movies. Unfortunately, what I saw was more of what I’ve come to expect from Japan’s seasonal, animated offerings. Stories of adolescent men and women falling in and out of love. Heroic forays into ancient Japan, or futurist, space-operas somewhere in a universe far, far away (had to switch it up a little). Eventually, whether through written review or through radio–my plan is to discuss some of those new shows and get at what’s hot and what could use some work.

Today though, I’m discussing a television show, that actually made it’s debut last October.

Ninja Girl and the Samurai Master

aka Nobunaga no Shinobi

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Nobunaga no Shinobi is a four-panel manga series by Naoki Shigeno. The historical comedy began in 2008, and has been running nine volumes strong since making it’s debut in Young Animal magazine.  The anime version is called Ninja Girl and the Samurai Master, and even it’s animation style lends itself toward something similar to a quick, snappy, ‘four-panel’ episode. As episodes are literally around three minutes long, the dialogue, narration, and colorful cast of characters fly in and out of frame as swiftly as they appeared. The jokes, sight-gags, and witty nature of the program really had me and my ten year-old laughing out loud; but I would like to give a bit of a warning. The show does feature blood, cartoon violence, and even some crude, gross humor that may be a bit much for some.

As it is a historically-inspired work, the series sort of summarizes each event in Nobunaga’s eventual conquest of Japan. The viewer’s eye ‘sorta’ comes in the way of a young, silly, but skilled shinobi named Chidori. Now Chidori and Oda Nobunaga seem to swear allegiance to one another fairly quickly and their antics and adventures with other characters in Oda’s clan. Again, it takes a lot for an anime to make me laugh, but the snappy characters featured in this anime pulled it off with aplomb.

As of now there are currently nineteen episodes available for viewing on Crunchyroll. Please give it a watch, and let me know what you think. While we’re on the note of thoughts and opinions, send yours to worduppodcast@gmail.com

 

Floyd Norman: An Animated Life

Words: Desmond Childs
Growing up, my “blackness” wasn’t necessarily something that I struggled with. I had a very diverse group of contemporaries, and although our teachers were often white–many were married to Blacks, Hispanics, or even Asians. I say this as a sort of reflection on the state of social issues. Comparing today to yesteryears, and I’ve definitely been singled out more so now as opposed to my childhood. Whether it’s jobs or even being picked first for basketball games simply because I was black. The color of my skin, not my values, are what many people have used as a way to interact with me.

The key difference between myself and legendary Disney animator Floyd Norman, is that he wasn’t a black man looking for a job with Disney—he saw himself as just another artist looking for a good gig with an iconic company.

This documentary mixes segments of animated anecdotes and biographical recollections about the historic career of one Floyd Norman–one the greatest, most consistent animators you’ve never heard of. From his work with Disney to his career as a writer and comic strip maker, and also his stints as an animator and writer with Hanna-Barbara. There’s even a well placed segment detailing Norman’s independent production company that focused mostly on Black history. The film doesn’t shy away from the struggle-hustle days of Norman’s making informational videos and his serving as a photographer in Nam’ before returning back to Disney to resume work on projects such as 101 Dalmatians. There is a segment, in which Floyd begins to throw out some of the names of shows he worked on throughout his career–some I heard of, others I was unfamiliar, but there were many that I absolutely loved and still do. However, instead of listing them here I suggest you look up Norman’s work yourself. Seek out his artwork, his legacy, and his impact.

My favorite part of this film had to be the discussions of how Floyd handled stress. Whether it was his drawing silly, yet insightful doodles of company bosses and co-workers; or quietly dealing with a separation and ultimate divorce from his first wife. Norman never was an emotional, excitable type. Actually (and arguably more unhealthily), he was a man who had trouble expressing his pain and heartache. Floyd did not vent often, at least verbally to others; he preferred to vent through his artwork. Interviews with his children, co-workers, and women in his life gave solid insight to Floyd’s dealing with his shortcomings and setbacks.

There are other segments that were just as engaging, but this is definitely not a film I want to spill into details over. Please do yourself a favor and check out Floyd Norman and his incredible run on Netflix today. Here’s the trailer below:

Manhole (2014)

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Directed by Shin Jae-young

Starring Jung Kyung-ho, Jung yu-mi, and Kim Sae-ron

“Go straight home, don’t worry about me!”

Words: Desmond Childs, with minor spoilers

The premise of this film is actually one I found intriguing; but for some reason by the end I felt like something was lacking. A serial killer who operates from underground essentially would totally have access to a large number of potential victims. He would probably be savvy enough to rig the surveillance system and lighting to work in his favor as well. I could have done without the ‘tramatic’ experience; i.e. family perished in a fire that father fueled with gasoline because he was…stressed at work? I dunno. Everything about the premise and villain of this film was on point.

My biggest problems with Manhole definietly stem from the police force and even the general public at large. South Korea’s known for it’s horror/thriller genre; and the fact that there always seems to be an incompetent representative of the police force (if not the police themselves). My question is why? I understand the tropes that come with this particular type of film–but it should not excuse the continued use of these worn, tiresome tropes. A police captain who doesn’t believe members of his team, simply because he doesn’t really seem to like them is not only unprofessional; it’s unbelievable. I had a lot of trouble believing that something as nefarious as a sewer dwelling predator could exist in the same world with a police force as sloppy, incompetent, and dull as the one portayed in this picture. They were in two different movies–heck, two different universes. And when the two different tones/dynamics mix down in the sewer it becomes something even more unrecognizable than it already was. At one point, there are over 4-5 individuals down in this sewer who are trying to figure out, “what’s going on” in addition to the killer and his dozens of victims. It’s so bizarre. Is this man that clever, or are the cops that stupid? We never really get a definitive answer either–as the movie quickly sends the climax over the side of a metaphorical cliff (flames and all).

Not only does the ending put a tragic spin on something it tried to put a happier ending on was also strange. And so when we do get the ‘tear-jerking’, ‘that’s that’s not fair’ moment–it feels tacked on because I guess this movie needed to fully let me down? Again, I don’t really know. Honestly, this movie showcases two things clearly about the state of the genre in South Korea:

  1. There is a formula for horror/thriller films
  2. This movie would have done better to break away from that expectation, at least a little, to tell a compelling, more coherent story.

But the film isn’t a bad one by any stretch. The issue stems from the mediocre execution and middle of the road; luke-warm representation this movie gives off. And for a thriller that ain’t all that great, but too well put together to be ‘So bad, it’s good’–there’s a little something I like to call film purgatory. Manhole is exactly the kind of film that fits squarely on a shelf, within film purgatory.

TRAILER BELOW:

L.N.D.N Marathon Movie #4: Romantic Island (2008)

Won’t you join me?

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Words by : Desmond “Neo” Childs

You look like you’ve had a rough week. Do you need a vacation or something, because you look a little out of it. Wow, you need to use some of your vacation hours–about a month’s worth.

The three couples featured in this film all need a break. Not from each other but the life that’s dealing them a rough break. The premise of the movie puts these people somewhere in the Philippines (Boracay Islands) where they began the process of ‘healing’.

One couple (the middle-aged one) take a trip together to get away from their steady, mundane jobs. However, after a while it’s revealed that the man is suffering from a disease. He’s contemplating suicide, and sees death as a way to make amends–for something.

Our second couple comes together through circumstance. A tall, lanky loser meets an idol singer who is traveling around incognito. They spend the film bonding, developing their relationship and having a blast.

The third and last couple also happen to meet by happenstance. A young businessman whose job may be in jeopardy and a young woman who has ‘run away’ from her family and responsibilities.

The men and woman in this picture our seeking a release. They are all stressed out in one way or another, and the film seems to serve as a vehicle for its characters to wind down and relax. Which is fine. I enjoyed watching them be silly, go sight-seeing and dine at expensive restaurants. There were three different writers and all of them added some depth to the couples. Dealing with the loss of a parent you didn’t get to know? Come to the Boracay Islands! Tired of the idol singer lifestyle? Head on over to Boracay Islands! Running away from responsibility?

Well.

You get the idea.

Anyway, the sub-plots aren’t heavy-handed and lightly touch on the humanity of a few individuals in the group. Nothing too deep, but just for us to understand the actions of said people. While I don’t really have anything negative to mention here I’ll admit that the film is predictable. But I didn’t have a problem and I was entertained by the gentle, romantic comedy director Kang Cheol-Woo delivered here. As of now, this movie is my second favorite behind Love in a Puff–both films truly feel like movies you’d like to enjoy with that special someone.

Aside from this picture, Kang Cheol-Woo directed Real Fiction  (2000). He’s done some work as a screenwriter and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he also did some writing for Romantic Island in addition to directing it. With that being said, the location doesn’t call for a lot of extra toward sprucing up the picture. The Boracay Islands are gorgeous. It truly does look like the vacation ads I’ll receive every now and then in the mail. The actors probably had a blast being able to not only film on location, but then go out and party.

With only one movie left to go in the marathon–I’m looking forward to seeing the last film (Rainbow Eyes). As always you can watch Romantic Island yourself by clicking on the link below. Check out the trailer too.

[CLICK HERE TO WATCH ‘ROMANTIC ISLAND’]

L.N.D.N Marathon Movie #3: Secret (2007)

I’ll play for you at graduation

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Words: Desmond “Neo” Childs

The third movie in our Late Night, Date Night Marathon differs from the previous two in that it delves in something other than romantic comedy or erotic-drama. Jay Chou, the world-famous Taiwanese musician and singer–makes his directorial début here while also starring as the male-lead. The story itself centers around a talented young pianist who meets and becomes infatuated with a classmate. The problem is, she only shows up for school now and then. How will Lun (Jay Chou) ever confess his feelings to Yu (Guey Lun-Mei), the ‘mysterious piano girl’?

I’m tempted to unfairly lump this film into a group of movies with a label on them. The label isn’t necessarily a negative one, but many people who hear it cannot help but see it at one–and it’s predictable.

No.

‘Predictable’ is the label. I kind of found this film predictable. What makes it a little weird for me, is that when I say something is predictable I’d like to be able to back that up with examples. I can’t do that. At least not at the moment. So instead, I’ll layout the most basic line of narrative this story follows.

Boy meets girl in school–in this case, they meet specifically in piano class. They’re both talented people and their supporting cast follow typical high school student tropes.

They interest one another–they begin to have cute little conversations, silly banter and begin to actively seek one another out.

Something the boy does is misinterpreted as his interest in the girl dissipating–The guy is either caught hugging another girl or some weird mishap where he kisses someone. Of course the leading-lady is worried about her relationship with such an individual.

The brief fallout–the two separate and are miserable. In this film, the fallout leads up to a major twist so I do give Mr.Chou (who also wrote the story) kudos.

The happy/magical/sappy/silly reconciliation–You know this part. It’s probably the most predictable of the predictable things I’ve listed. And to Jay Chou’s credit, he chooses take a route not traveled AS OFTEN. I can’t really say too much without giving the twist away other than the relationship between the two lead characters really is ‘timeless’.

I honestly enjoyed the subplots and supporting cast more in this one than the overall story. There were the two ruby students who befriend Lun and always seem to get into trouble. And let’s not forget Lun’s father–Chiu, played by the always brilliant Anthony Wong. The highlights of the movie itself would most definitely have to be any scene in which a piano serves as the primary set piece. The chemistry between Chou and Lun-Mei feels honest enough, but their on-screen relationship didn’t feel profound enough to call for the actions the both took. The whole ‘love’ story feels more like infatuation–and their onscreen time together was too muddled in flirting and empty promises. I guess the idea is that the two love birds didn’t really get the chance to explore ‘what could have been’.  And if that’s the case then fine. But the falling action of this movie dealing with Lun frantically searching for Yu suddenly brings out the not so obvious point that both characters are seeking something more along the lines of an escape from their loneliness. But that’s just me.

On a positive note, Jay Chou’s direction is pretty poised and the story he developed isn’t a mediocre one. The scenes featuring instruments or concerts were beautiful to watch–and even seemed to serve as action sequences in an otherwise quiet, sullen picture. I do not feel like anyone outside of Anthony Wong deserves any true praise, but even he’s given certain dialogue that made me roll my eyes.

Ex: “Don’t be anything special. Be normal.”

Or something to that effect. He doesn’t want his son to try to be anything more than what anybody else is. I understand the culture is  such that putting ‘self before the community’ is looked down upon–but it just felt like the scene wasn’t very nuanced.

This movie isn’t a bad movie. I just feel like it’s mostly forgettable. The movie did play at the 10th Udine Far East Film Festival–but i couldn’t find any info about whether it competed or just held showings. At any rate, you can check out the movie, free of charge on  hulu.com

If you’ve seen Secret and agree or disagree, send me an email at svmovieblog@outlook.com

All images used have been taken from google.com and I do not own any of them.

[CLICK HERE TO WATCH ‘SECRET’ ON HULU.COM]

 

L.N.D.N Marathon Movie #2: Love in a Puff (2010)

I Miss U!

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Words: Desmond “Neo” Childs

I’m not a smoker. I think the excuse I like to use the most–is that I’m all too aware of the years per cigarette that are apparently being removed from my overall life span. Well, at least that’s what those public service announcements use to say. In all honesty, and I have this same philosophy about drinking–of I cannot consume large quantities of something without seriously damaging my organs–I want no part of it. Plain and simple, I’ve always thought that nothing good can come from smoking.

So imagine my surprise when me and Saki Matsuri stumbled upon a film set around smoking. And not just any kind of movie–but a love story. Love in a Puff is an honest, unfiltered look at two people wanting to find–companionship.

“Wait a minute, Desmond…didn’t you use that companionship word in your last review?”

Yep.

Yes I did.

And it’s just as relevant here with our protagonists–Jimmy and Cherie. The two of them are, along with the rest of the smoking population regulated to only smoking on breaks, outside in groups. These groups, or ‘hot pot packs’ are where smokers socialize and gossip about their respective workdays.

Love in a Puff is directed by Ho-Cheung Pang (Dream Home, 2010), and benefits greatly from his steady hand behind the camera. The movie starts off interestingly enough, and one of my favorite parts of the movie involved Jimmy, Cherie, and their fellow “hot pot pack” companions retelling gossip-laden tales about the people they worked with. The back in forth between characters within the group (the bell hop’s free-willing wisecracks) or the willingness of some to bring food for the others to share (the pizza delivery boy). Jimmy and Cherie apparently had been going to this particular smoker’s circle, but at different times. The day they met sparked a week of (what felt like) a quirky, sincere, hurried little tale of two people falling for one another. It was so down-to-earth in it’s depiction of the two “love birds” that it makes me struggle for the proper way to talk about it.

This is a fun, little story that hits all the comedic notes.  The romance is nowhere near overdone, and the relationship between the two leads leans closer toward “cute” than “sexy or romantic”. And I was fine with that because I feel like reality leaves less time for dramatic, heart-filled love stories. It does seem to leave us plenty of downtime to spark one up with some friends in a back-alley–and look cute doing it.

[Watch ‘Love in a Puff’ on Hulu.com]

If you’ve seen Love in a Puff and agree or disagree, send me an email at svmovieblog@outlook.com

All images used have been taken from google.com and I do not own any of them.