I've reached the last of the animes in the Studio Ghibli series that I wanted to watch (again) and it was nice that this one got to be the final one. You see, before that I had watched The Cat Returns and I rated it mediocre, so unlike the beautiful movies from the same collection. Whisper of the Heart seems to be the film designed to redeem it.

The story is that of a young girl who likes to read a lot of books. She notices that most of the books that she borrowed from the library had the same name on their library cards, a boy that she didn't know. Coincidentally she follows a fat cat, apparently named Muta, to the shop of an old man who has a beautiful doll of a cat in a suit: the Baron of Gikkingen. You guessed it, two characters from The Cat Returns. And behold, the old man is the grandfather of the boy that kept borrowing the same books.

Whisper of the Heart seems to just take beautiful elements from other Ghibli animes and bring them all together in a wonderful union. The windy hills of Tokyo, which still has beauty despite the expansion of the city. The young girl who is not only smart and sensible, but also ambitious and kind. The family who is sometimes annoying and overbearing, but that in the end is the source of support for the development of the child it nurtures. The indolent fat cat :)

And then the love story, something that springs from common interests and a karmic connection between two people who seem to have been meant for each other. But there is more. They don't just click and that's it; they get motivated and energized to be the best of what they can be in order to honor the relationship in which they enter. In a way, it is a continuation of the warm and supporting family model from which both protagonists come.

One of the scenes in the anime was so funny to my wife that she spoke the Japanese words from it for a week. What a wonderful thing to have a film that not only makes me want to be a better man, but that already does make me be so by connecting me stronger to the one I love. And I watched it on Valentine's day, too! How can I rate it any less than with a perfect 10?

Returning to The Cat Returns, it somehow felt to me that the story linked to it also from the perspective of the ever aspiring artist; the rough and unpolished plot there sounds a lot like the story Shizuku writes, her first but one in many, the stone that will allow her to get to the skill and experience to do this story, which is so much better and complete. It does seem that way to me, since I watched The Cat Returns first, but chronologically Whisper of the Heart was made seven years earlier.

Now I don't know exactly in which proportion is Hayao Miyazaki responsible for the great quality of this film and story and how much Hiiragi Aoi, the writer of the original manga, but I heartily recommend the end result. I may be exaggerating, but this could be the best anime Studio Ghibli ever did, and that is saying much.

I can't say that Neko no ongaeshi had a great effect on me. The animation was OK, the story was like a fairy tale, but it lacked something, a special feeling that I was expecting to have.

The plot is that a young girl saves a cat from death and finds herself uncomfortably rewarded by the entire hidden nation of cats with a trip to their kingdom, a marriage to their prince and a free transformation into a feline. She doesn't want this, but helped by new friends, she manages to escape. I am not really spoiling anything here. It wasn't like at any moment I felt that she might be in real danger, which I think was the biggest flaw of the story. Another anime from Studio Ghibli, Spirited Away, features a much more beautiful and scary foray in a magical world and one of the novels of Clive Barker, The Thief of Always, brings the required tension and fear that is missing in this film.

Another issue I had with this is that, other than eat mice and fish, the cats behaved exactly like humans, missing entire opportunities to delight the viewer with so many catty things. They don't use their claws, they don't do acrobatics, they live in a feudal community and are loyal to each other. The whole concept of a feline kingdom passed right by the creators of the anime.

My conclusion is that this is a film for very little children or a lazily made one. It's not that I didn't enjoy watching it, but was completely bland, devoid of any inspiration that would make it rise above average.

I always liked animes from Studio Ghibli., but until now I didn't quite get why. It is because they have calm. Everything today has to be over the top, flashy, fast. Ghibli stories take their time, they feature normal people with normal desires and rhythms. behaving normally.

The Ocean Waves is about a cute girl moving from Tokyo to a provincial highschool in Kochi. Everybody is curious about her, but she is a loner and quite rude. Two friends are both interacting with her, but it's never clear what's in their hearts. Slowly, but surely, we start to understand each of the actors and the story comes full circle after graduation, at the first highschool reunion.

I've learned so much about Japanese culture from animes, but the ones from Ghibli make me understand the people. The stories often have what is missing in not only animation, but real actor movies as well: people that you can empathise with, because they are like you (or rather, like you would like to be, but not in infantile fantasies, but in your hopeful dreams).

Really nice movie, it certainly worth seeing.

When I first started watching the movie and I saw the way it was drawn - colored pencil style, I thought it is some sort of children thing and I would not like it. But the minimalistic animation works very well for this film, which shows the everyday life of a Japanese family. They are not very smart, good looking or have anything special. They are forgetful, self centered and lazy. But they have each other and they are happy. That's a beautiful message in a world dominated by heroes, celebrity and egotism.

One might not like one thing, that the story is merely descriptive. There is no "end" to it, just a funny enumeration of family moments. I enjoyed it, though. The speech at the beginning, from the woman advising the newly weds what life is and how they should spend it together is both funny, mostly true and descriptive of the rest of the film. The part with "life is hard when you are alone, but even two losers can go through life if they are together" cracked me up, as well as the part with "have children, it will help you appreciate your parents; they will come and take care of them for you from time to time".

The bottom line is that this is a movie that families should watch together. It would relieve the pressure of never appearing to make mistakes, trying to be a perfect whatever and missing the joy of life. Now, it's too late for my family, but this film may be a way to screw up your children less.

So, while this would not be for everyone, The Yamadas is one of those Studio Ghibli. animes that makes you have warm feelings.

A lot of people nowadays are born in the city or a large town somewhere; nature and animal life is something you see on TV. Few older people, though, may remember what life used to be mere decades ago, when wild nature was what awaited you when you got out of your yard and people were three times fewer.

Pom Poko is a movie about the changes urban development brings to the land, as seen from the perspective of a playful and intelligent race of racoons, magically endowed with the ability to shapeshift into anything they choose. Worried, scared and finally enraged by the destruction of their home forests by the expansion of Tokyo, they decide to fight back. Alas, their efforts are in vain, there is no stopping the humans.

A beautiful anime, nicely drawn, very imaginative, it is almost impossible to dislike. The only problem I see is the rapid shift from the playfulness of the raccoons to their grief and despair and then back again. Sometimes I didn't know if to feel sad or to laugh; sometimes I could not stop myself doing both at the same time. And that is saying much: I am city born and bred and can't stand nature much, so it was an inspiring movie.

Watch this, it is another animation gem from Studio Ghibli.

I've read Legends of Earthsea and so I knew a little bit who the characters were and what the story was supposed to be. And still I got confused on what exactly had Tales from Earthsea in common with the books I remember. First of all it is a loose adaptation of the third book, so if you don't know who Sparrowhawk or Tenar are, you are out of luck. Also the Nipponification of the characters makes things a bit lame; for example Tenar is a kind and spirited woman, but completely helpless and always in need of a male to come rescue her. Even Sparrowhawk, the greatest mage in existence, is easily captured or fooled. Then there is the repetition of the same bullshit that without death there can be no life, the reason that Cob needs to be defeated. It's such a Japanese way of accepting fate that has nothing to do with the Le Guin books.

Basically Goro Miyazaki turned this beautiful fantasy into a moralizing piece of crap, where the biggest sin is that one wants to avoid death. The anime is missing the point of the books, it's completely unintelligible without reading those books, and finally does nothing for the viewer. Just read the books and enjoy the story. Or at least see the mini series ecranization of the first three books, with Shawn Ashmore as Sparrowhawk and the beautiful Kristin Kreuk as Tenar. This anime, unfortunately, had nothing working for it except the excellent animation.

Just to understand how bad this film is, I went to Imdb to rate it and I noticed that I had already rated it before. So I have seen it already, but forgotten about it. That's how unmemorable it is.

Kara no Kyōkai, translated in English as Garden of Sinners, but literally as Boundary/Border of Emptiness, is a strange little series of seven Japanese anime films. The lead is a girl who has a double personality, conveniently both named Shiki, but written with a different Japanese character. One of the personalities likes to kill people brutally, while the other is afraid of human contact. Enter Kokutou, a guy in the same class as Shiki, who falls in love with her and accepts her as being split like this and even covers some of her murders as he, after all, is in love with the one personality that does not kill.

Now, this is the least weird bit of the films. This story that I have been telling you is not told as linearly as I present it, but starts from the middle, then shows what happened in the past and future by flashbacks, prequel movies, and something that I can only call experimental movies, since they show scenes from what actually happens, but not in their normal order.

You see, after Kokutou starts camping outside Shiki's house to stop her from killing anyone, she attempts to murder him, only she can't and attempts suicide by throwing herself in front of a car. Only the murderous personality actually dies and when she awakens from a two year coma, Shiki has the Mystical Eyes of Death Perception, which see the seams that bind things to existence. Once you cut those, the thing dies.

In order to make her understand and control her condition another chick appears, one that is a magus. Yes, magic! I told you it was going to get weird. In the end, these three characters form a sort of private investigator agency that often deals with the supernatural and rogue magi.

All in all, the animation is rather good, the characters weird, most of them displaying some sort of emotional detachment bordering on psychopathy, but the story leaves a lot to be desired. just like the erratic order of the films, the story also jumps violently from brutal murders, criminal investigations, magic, philosophy and romance, making a mess of it all. It's not that i did not enjoy watching the films, but at the end of the seventh, when Shiki says "this is the end of my story" I couldn't actually feel it was any end at all. Perhaps the manga makes more sense, but as such, I can't really recommend watching it.

I am a complete fan of the Ghost in the Shell franchise. For those unfortunate enough to not know what that is, it is a series of manga and anime stories that describe a near future where integration with machines is the order of the day, giving rise to cyborg bodies, mind hackers and all that stuff. It is also a police procedural, where the heroes are an independent force designed to counter cyber threats. It is also an espionage thriller, since many of the actions in the stories are not linear, but have many political implications and intricate plots. But what I thought was better than a beautiful and detailed sci-fi world with deep characterization and complex storylines is the exploration of the human soul and mind in a background that is mechanistic and science squeaky clean. To manage to do this repeatedly in manga, films and anime series is truly wonderful.

For me it all started with the movie. With impressive music by Kenji Kawai and a complexity and beauty and care for detail that I had never seen before (and rarely since), Ghost in the Shell blew my mind. Then there was the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, a two season series that went a little more toward the police procedural, but overall was just as wonderful as the film. And then the second film: Innocence. And now they made Ghost in the Shell: Arise, a four part OVA series, prequel to the film. Having seen the first one hour part, I can say I am very pleased and can't wait to see the entire series. It details the roots of major Kusanagi and what are the roots of her team. Very nice indeed. The only thing that I miss is Kenji Kawai's music.

I leave you with the trailer for the series and my recommendation to see all of the Ghost in the Shell animes, even the Tachicoma OVAs :)

Update September 2014: I've watched the entire series. The episodes are almost stand alone and totally worth watching. I liked the fourth one most, as it was clearly created to made the connection with the film and series. I loved the small tips of the hat to hallmark scenes in the film: the cloaked jump from a skyscraper, the destruction of the cyber hands while pulling on the lid of a battle tank and so on. Does that mean that a new series and/or film will be created? I certainly hope so. My only problem with the new OVA is that the music of Cornelius is not even close to the haunting quality of Kenji Kawai's.

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai (lit: We Still Don't Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day) has only 11 episodes and the last episode finishes up the story completely, so it wasn't something larger that just got cancelled. Better known as "Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day", it is the story of very close childhood friends that pass through a deep trauma when one of them dies in an accident. A few years later, they all have drifted apart and each of them blames him or herself for the way things ended up. And here comes the ghost of the dead girl Menma, showing itself to only one of the group and asking him to fulfil her final wish so she can get to Heaven. The five friends get together to fulfil that wish, even if no one, including Menma, remember what it was.

At times it got annoyingly emotional with everybody crying and cringing and getting angry and stuff like that, but overall it was a nice anime, exploring the deep feelings of childhood that we don't really get over. So overall I liked it and, being short enough, I can easily recommend it to everybody, even if at times it feels like a soap opera. Perhaps making it a movie or a small series would have made it better.

This 6 episode long anime can by all rights be considered a single movie segmented into 6 small stories. The story is not extraordinary and the animation not great, but the quiet way it is told makes it nostalgic and generates a lot of kind feelings. What's it about? There are these two (highschool, of course) guys in a not far away future where robots and androids are common place. Some of them are advanced enough to obey complex commands and to look human and they all follow the Three Rules of Robotics, as coined by Asimov. One of the guys notices in the logs of his house android that it goes out from the house, occasionally, to places where it hasn't been instructed to go. The two friends follow the logs and find a weird bar where androids and humans must obey a single rule: all customers are to treat each other the same and not discriminate against robots. This makes the two understand the complex feelings that robots can have and discover their own difficulty in relating to said robots under the weight of society expectations. There is even an "Ethics Committee" that hates robots and wants to limit the interactions between man and machine, but just before they make any move the show ends.

Eve no Jikan was an interesting concept, something that reminded me of some of the quieter episodes from Ghost in the Machine or Denou Coil, which says a lot considering that GiTS is my favourite anime ever. However, the sixth episode felt like one of the others and then it suddenly says the story is finished, so its production must have ended prematurely. Maybe with a little more backing, it could have become a cult anime, as well.

Macross Frontier is a 2008 anime series of 25 episodes set in the Macross universe, itself 25 years old at the time. Humanity is expanding in the galaxy using huge self contained colony fleets that are defended by the ubiquitous Mecha humanoid robots. Their enemies, a strange race of space bugs that seem to have no mind of their own, but whose method of communication or reason for doing anything is a mystery. Enter Alto, a beautiful guy - and when I say beautiful I mean it, as he is cute as a girl and many times in the series people address him as one, to his chagrin - that wants to be a pilot. He accidentally joins up with an elite piloting force and there the story seems to become interesting: space battles, interesting aliens, amazing tech, even political machinations. But wait! In Japan there has to be more. And there is! Alto is 17 years old, that means he is also in high school. Two of his pilot buddies are his colleagues. Then there is this galactic idol pop star singer that is very beautiful and somehow falls for Alto and subsequently becomes a student in the same class! And there is another girl who also wants to be a singer and she becomes one rivalling the first, only to fall for Alto and... join the same high school class! And all the time they need to act on their feelings, without actually expressing them in an articulate way, and trying to protect one thing or the other. And if you thought the two singers are just a filler device, not at all connected to the main story, you are wrong. The singing of one of them seems to affect the alien bugs!

To quote a friend, WTF is wrong with the Japanese? Why would you mix space battles with j-pop and high school? Why hasn't there appeared a service that strips the annoying 2 minute singing at the beginning and then at the end of every episode and lets you watch everything start to end? It would be perfect if it would also remove in separate streams the fighting plus the sci-fi from the ridiculous fascination with high school puppy love!

To conclude, it wasn't great by any means, and the insistence of showing every space battle in the context of a pop song was really annoying. The story was OK, although I could spoil it for you in about 5 minutes. The animation was standard, I didn't think there were any issues with it. If you love the kind of "oh, oh, poor me, I am in a love triangle and can't get out" story, this is the one for you. The sci-fi was, really, taking the backseat in this one. I have to admit, though, that the highschool theme was not exaggerated much, nor was it absurd to the point of annoyance like in Elfen Lied, for example.

I loved the first Avatar animated series. It was deep, funny and yet innocent. A perfect kid show, but one in which an adult could find finer underlying levels of understanding. So it is no wonder that I eagerly awaited the release of Legend of Korra.

Now, that the first season is over, I can have an opinion on it. The show is not about a little kid anymore, it's about a teenager avatar. She, for she is a female, lives in a technological steampunkish world, something that is pretty hard to understand, considering she is the granddaughter of Ang, the hero of the first series, and it all happens merely 70 years afterwards. The innocence of childhood is replaced by the impetuosity of teen age, complete with mood swings, romantic feelings and a strong false sense of infallibility. The elemental countries are now united, so the only possible threat can come from a terrorist organization. There are moments of real fun, but not that many.

Bottom line: it's a completely different show! While in the first Avatar one could find strong moral values underlying what the characters did and the viewer would watch the show waiting to see what would Ang do next in the face of overwhelming adversity, now the focus is on what the avatar girl is feeling when she is not the center of attention and how she gets angry and motivated to use power to solve things. Not something terribly surprising in an American show, but really disturbing in a sequel to such beautiful a series.

So, while the show is nicely animated, the world interesting and the story passable, the overwhelming feeling I get is disappointment. I really do hope something will come out of the next seasons, which I will watch religiously, but let's face it: I do it for Ang.

Serial Experiments Lain is a strange little anime. It reminded me a bit of Dennou Coil, but the subject was more akin to the show Caprica, as it covers virtual worlds, disembodied conciousness, gods and the barriers between what is real and what is "Wired". It was also psychedelic as hell at times, full of fractured philosophical ideas that were presented in digital like flashes.

After all its 13 episodes, it is hard to say what I was left with. I enjoyed the show, but more because of its overall subject and weird presentation. I am sure I haven't understood half of what the creators were attempting to communicate. In a way, it is an abstract art anime, which might not appeal to some people and other people might like it for completely different reasons than intended, such as myself. I couldn't shake the feeling that this is what the Japanese would have done if they were making Caprica. How the characters see the connected world is interesting, as something almost occult, that can store human conciousness into protocols that are hardly well understood and that have evolved organically in time. The concepts of ego and self are also explored, when one has to ask: if I am both connected in a virtual world and have a body in the real world, where is "I" ?

All in all a pretty decent anime, something that lacked any attempt to make it artificially humorous. No highschool love stories, no weird lewd jokes, just the plain storyline. I liked it.

What a beautiful anime film this was. I rated Summer Wars a full 10 on Imdb and I just felt the need to also post my opinion on the blog. Imagine Myiakazi combined with Denou Coil and you will get a glimpse of what Summer Wars is. Brilliant!

The Sword of Uruk is the continuation of The Tower of Druaga - The Aegis of Uruk, itself a spawn of the The Tower of Druaga arcade game by Namco. I must confess I have not watched the first part before venturing to see the second, but as the story unfolded, it was pretty clear what had transpired before. The problem, thus, was not that I didn't "get it".

The animation itself is typically Japanese, but one of the styles that is found usually in children animations. I didn't really mind that so much either, except the lazy 3D CGI bits that seems to be the creation of some 90's computer. The script, though, was a combination of ridicule, then ridiculous. I liked some of the jaunts directed to some movies or other anime, but in the end, it was just a really childish story. Also, it seemed to go towards an RPG style feel, one of those weird Asian dress-up MMO games. I didn't like that at all.

The world in which the story unfolds is a combination of modern, old and RPG, something that continuously switches from serious to not. Or better said, from ridiculous to ludicrous.

Long story short, I couldn't finish watching it. It is at best a children animation, with nothing to be learned or admired, really.

The only thing I did notice and is worth mentioning is that it featured two audio tracks, one in Japanese and one in English. The English one had the text completely changed, the attitude of the voice actors was completely different and it made me realize how much people who only watch the dubbed versions miss out on Japanese animation. It was really fun to watch an episode with English dubbing and English subtitles, both very different from each other, as the subtitles were direct translations from Japanese.