Creating a new version of a well-known and well-loved story is a big undertaking, full of both opportunities and potential challenges. In the world of manga and anime, Astro Boy is one such beloved story. Osamu Tezuka‘s tale of a super powered boy robot is one of his major manga works and widely regarded as the origin of the anime style. Imagi animation Studios‘ feature film is not the first retelling of the Astro Boy story, but it faced a unique set of obstacles. Could the film appeal to both existing fans who already loved Tezuka’s work and viewers who were completely unfamiliar with Astro? Would Tezuka’s decades old designs translate into computer animation? How would the new movie balance remaining true to the original story with appealing to modern day audiences?
Posts Tagged ‘anime’
(The Ink and Pixel Club is pleased to present a review of the episode “Sin” from the anime Fullmetal Alchemist by guest writer Aldrius.)
Fullmetal Alchemist is one of my favourite anime series. It’s got an enthralling plot, compelling characters, and it’ll break your heart three to four times per episode, mercilessly and thoroughly. The show revolves around two teenage boys who, in their hubris, attempted to bring their mother back from the dead through the science known as alchemy. alchemy is a powerful art which can transform one substance into another following the ideal of equivalent exchange: that what is created must come from something of equal value. When attempting and failing to bring their mother back from the dead (a forbidden practice) Ed and Al wound up losing parts of their bodies in the process. Ed lost his left leg and Al’s entire body was lost, forcing Ed to give his right arm in order to ‘pay’ to rescue Al’s soul and place it in a suit of armor. Soon after, Ed replaced his lost limbs with mechanical parts. Their goal throughout the series is not to bring their mother back as you may expect, but to get back what they lost in the attempt. They hunt for the Philosopher’s Stone, a mystical object which is said to allow an alchemist to bypass the rule of equivalent exchange. They believe the Stone will give them the power to restore their bodies.
The main thing that appeals to me about Fullmetal Alchemist is that it’s a show with a plot so ongoing it’s hard to say where one arc begins and one ends. The whole show feels like one big 6-7 hour movie. Characters grow and change. This becomes more and more apparent as the series progresses. I picked an episode that I felt covered the show’s themes well and showcased the complex and overarching storytelling that the series was capable of. The episode is called “Sin” and deals with the backstory of Izumi Curtis, the boys’ alchemy teacher, and the homunculus Wrath.
First of all, don’t panic. Nothing has been decided yet.
That said, an interview with Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki published in the September issue of Japan’s Cut magazine included some rather disturbing news. Here are some of the translated quotes that appeared on GhibliWiki:
“Suzuki-san (Toshio Suzuki, Studio Ghibli’s CEO) is making a dissolution program for Ghibli. No joke, we talked about it the other day.” This dissolution program changes if Arrietty succeeds.”
“For example, Ghibli should be able to continue with about five staff members as a copyright management company even if we smash the studio. So, Ghibli can say ‘We stop film production. Goodbye’. I do not have to be there.”
“Arrietty” is Studio Ghibli’s latest film The Borrower Arrietty, based on Mary Norton’s children’s novel The Borrowers. The odd thing is that Arrietty already premiered in Japan back in July. So from everything I’ve read, the success that Studio Ghibli is looking for is at the U.S. box office.
Although a distribution deal with Disney has brought many Studio Ghibli films to U.S. theaters and DVD shelves, big money at the box office has remained elusive. To date, the studio’s most successful U.S. release was Miyazaki’s Ponyo which played in over 900 theaters nationwide and grossed around $15 million (out of $200 million worldwide). It’s certainly nowhere near the totals for Pixar’s Up, which played in over 3,800 theaters and made just over $293 million domestically that same year. But Ponyo‘s U.S. performance was a huge success when compared with Tales From Earthsea, Studio Ghibli’s latest film to get a U.S. release. Earthsea played in a mere five American theaters (no wonder I couldn’t find it) and made less that $50 thousand, an amount accounting for less than .1% of the film’s worldwide earnings.
This announcement raises many more questions than it answers. One of the big ones is what Studio Ghibli would consider a successful theatrical run for Arrietty in U.S. theaters. Numbers in the range of what Ponyo made might be possible, especially if knowing that the studio’s future rests on how well Arrietty does drives U.S. fans to see the film in theaters. But if Studio Ghibli is hoping for earnings comparable to a Pixar or DreamWorks film, they are facing very tough odds. I’ve seen some fans complain that Disney doesn’t promote Studio Ghibli’s films well or get them into enough theaters. But the fact is that anime just doesn’t do very well in American theaters. According to Box Office Mojo, the most successful Japanese animated film ever to be released in the U.S. is Pokemon: The First Movie with a domestic gross of over $85 million. That’s enough to beat out South Park – Bigger, Longer, and Uncut from the same year, but well below the earnings of Pixar’s Toy Story 2 and Disney’s Tarzan<. Also notable is the fact that four of the five top U.S. released anime films are based on television shows that are in turn based on games – two more Pokemon films and a Yu-Gi-Oh! movie.Arrietty does have several things going for it in U.S. theaters: it’s based a a book American audiences may be familiar with, it’s presumably kid friendly like Ponyo, and it has the cache that comes with the Studio Ghibli name. But at the same time, it isn’t associated with a TV show, card game, or video game, it’s not actually directed by Hayao Miyazaki – the name most people know, and it’s still fighting the trend of anime underperforming in American theaters.
Another unanswered question is why the U.S. theatrical release of Arrietty has become the deciding factor in the studio’s future. Even Ponyo‘s U.S. earnings made up less than 10% of its total worldwide gross. So why aren’t Arrietty‘s potential gains in other countries being factored in to this decision? And what about home release? Surely the bigger money for a film like Arrietty comes from DVD and Blu-Ray sales, not ticket sales. So why put everything on the theatrical release in one country that traditionally hasn’t accounted for much of a Ghbli film’s total take?
The only translation of the Cut Miyazaki interview I’ve seen is the selected quotes on GhibliWiki, so I’m gleaning additional facts from the interview from coverage of it on other sites. It could be that the idea that everything rests on Arrietty‘s performance in U.S. theaters is a misunderstanding. If anyone has additional information, please let me know.
The final question is how a beloved and world renowned animation studio like Studio Ghibli could end up in a position where changing over to a purely copyright management company is a possibility. I haven’t found a definitive answer (if you have, please share it in the comments), but this 2009 article from The Japan Times suggests that Japanese anime is suffering an industrywide decline caused by the bad economy, outsourcing, and filesharing, among other woes. I have yet to see any specific data on Studio Ghibli’s current financial state, but if they are seriously considering ceasing producing on new animated films, I’m guessing that they’re suffering under the same problems facing other anime studios.
I hope Studio Ghibli doesn’t close. Several of their films number emong my all-time favorite animation. Their continued commitment to producing beautiful, hand-drawn films is important as so many studios worldwide are dumping drawn animation in favor of computers. Hayao Miyazaki is approaching 70 and I’d much prefer he spend whatever time he still wants to devote to animation actually creating new films rather than trying to get a new studio off the ground. Part of the silver lining in the Cut interview is that Miyazaki want’s to make a sequel to his 1992 film Porco Rosso. While I’m a little puzzled about what new storiy could be told after the ending of the first film, Porco Rosso is one of my favorite Miyazaki movies and I’d love to see what a follow-up would look like. If you’d like to see Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie get made or you just want Studio Ghibli to keep making films, please make an effort to catch The Borrower Arrietty in theaters. It’s currently scheduled to be released in August of next year. I’ll keep you updated as the date grows closer.
I have a question for you, dear readers. It’s actually a question that my husband came up with. We were in the middle of watching the anime series Gurren Lagann. Gurren Lagann is a very enjoyable show, mixing high action, over the top giant robot battles with surprisingly engaging characters and involving stories. But the question that came up while we were watching it had more to do with anime in general. My husband commented on how anime – just about any anime – still felt special to him. I agreed that there was a particular thrill that I got from watching anime, different from the excitement I get from watching other kinds of animation.
A little background: when my husband and I were younger, Japanese animation was not readily available in the U.S. Some kid-friendly shows from Japan were being shown on American television, as had been the case for decades before. But such shows were few and far between. Fans looking for anime aimed at an older audience had limited options. A local Japanese import shop might have boasted a decent selection of videos. Regular video retail stores were a crapshoot. Videos, and later DVDs, usually had between two and three episodes of a show per tape or disc and cost around $30 each. Budding otaku were lucky to find a single row of anime videos at the video rental store, often indiscriminately labeled “Adults Only” whether the film in question was Akira or My Neighbor Totoro.
It’s a very different story today. Anime has won mainstream acceptance, thanks to the success of kid-friendly shows like – love it or hate it – Pokemon. Anime and anime-inspired shows remain staples of many networks’ children’s programming blocks. Some channels, most notably cartoon network with their Adult Swim block, show anime targeted towards older viewers. DVD rental websites like Netflix feature robust anime collections, as do sites like Amazon for those looking to buy. Anime is everywhere.
I’m not trying to portray myself as someone who liked anime “before it was cool” or define the time when I first discovered Japanese animation as “the good old days.” Far from it. I can remember the frustration of purchasing one of those $30 DVDs with only three episodes on it and only later discovering that one of the episodes was a clip show. I don’t long for the days when I had to purchase grainy VHS bootlegs of Miyazaki films because there was no other way to see them. (All have since been replaced with legitimate release DVDs.) I love that I can easily rent and view almost any anime series I desire from the comfort of my home, or go and see a film like Ponyo in theaters. Now is unquestionably a better time to be an anime fan than when I was first becoming interested in anime.
All that said, my husband and i couldn’t help but wonder if kids growing up with anime so readily available will regard it with the same excitement that we do. I think there’s still a part of us that thinks of anime as something new and different, maybe because we are rather picky and don’t watch that much of it. One generation’s cutting edge will inevitably become another’s boring mainstream. So anime becoming more accepted and less fringe is neither unexpected nor something to fight against. What I wonder is just where we are in that cycle. Do today’s kids still see anime as something new and different, or has it become what they expect to see on TV?
What do you think? How did you first discover anime and how do you see it today? Do you think anime has lost it’s newness and is ripe to be replaced by a different animation style? Or does it still have the power to thrill audiences like no other kind of animation?
The image is this article is copyright Pioneer Entertainment.
A fellow member of a message board I post on recently posed the following question: “Which do you prefer seeing, 2D or 3D animation?” It made for some interesting discussion and forced me to think about why – even though I will watch and enjoy any well-crafted animation – I still have a preference for hand-draw. But at the same time, questions like this one trouble me. Intentionally or not, such questions feed into certain incorrect assumptions about animation.
You may have noticed that I don’t use the terms “2D” and “3D”when describing different styles of animation. The reason for this is pointed out in the thread on ToonZone (though not by me): these are very vague terms. Recently, the resurgence of wide release 3D (as in “you wear glasses so it looks like the images on the screen have depth and pop out at you”) makes the intended meaning of “2D” and “3D” less clear. I would never want to have to describe a screening of a Pixar film that required those special glasses to be viewed correctly as “a 3D 3D movie.” But even before that was an issue, these terms were problematic. “2D animation” is generally assumed to mean hand-drawn animation, while “3D animation” usually means computer animation. But Flash, cut-paper, oil on glass, and sand animation could just as easily be called “2D animation.” Clay and puppet animation could also qualify as “3D animation.”
The real problem is not that “2D” and “3D” cover all of these various styles of animation. It’s that they don’t and by excluding these other styles, the terms create the first fallacy of “either or”: that hand-drawn animation and computer animation are the only two kinds of animation out there, or at least, only two kinds that matter. Though no malice may be intended, to categorize animation as either 2D or 3D shoves all other styles of animation into a second-class “other” category. This view of animation is also extremely biased towards the past few decades of animation history. Though the impact of computer animation in the recent past has been strong, especially in the field of theatrical animation, the history if this style is still relatively short. Computer animation may make up a high percentage of animation produced in modern times, but when the whole history of animation is considered, it is highly likely that other styles are more common. Yet computer animation gets preferential treatment when the discussion is about 3D and 2D and everything but hand-drawn and computer animation gets left out.
A similar fallacy can be found in one of the other major debates of animation fandom: anime vs. cartoons. “Anime” is assumed to be all animation from Japan and sometimes a couple of other Asian countries, while “cartoons” refers to animation from either the U.S. or the entire Western world. These aren’t terrible terms and they don’t automatically suggest that there can’t be anything else the way “2D” and “3D” do. But when put into an “either or” framework, they are simultaneously too restrictive and too broad. Whichever definitions you use, the terms “cartoons” and “anime” leave animation from other parts of the world marginalized. Where does Sylvain Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville – a co-production of companies in France, Belgium, Canada, and the United Kingdom – fit into the “cartoon or anime” model? How about the Israeli film Waltz with Bashir ? Or Persepolis, a French film with an Iranian writer and director? The term “cartoon” is either far too narrow or far too vague, forcing everything from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Wizards to The Simpsons to Watership Down into one category. (And even that’s assuming that only hand-drawn animation can be called “cartoons.”) The fact that so many animated TV shows in the U.S. are developed stateside but actually animated in Asia further confuses the definitions. Some fans also use “anime” to describe the style commonly associated with Japanese animation rather than the work’s country of origin. This leads to terms like “American anime,” which makes absolutely no sense if “anime” is defined as “animation from Japan.”
The second fallacy is one that the original question doesn’t touch on as much. As I said, I though it was an interesting question that led to some very well written answers. In this case, it just reminds me of similar questions I’ve seen that demonstrate the second “either or” fallacy. Where this question is phrased “What do you prefer?,” many similar questions I’ve seen ask “Which is better?” or “Which do you like?” The incorrect assumption here is that a person must like one and not the other or see one as superior to the other. This is a really dumb way to look at animation. It’s fine to have a personal preference. I happen to have a preference for hand-drawn animation. But this doesn’t mean I hate computer animation or puppet animation or clay animation or oil on glass animation or anything else. It certainly doesn’t mean I won’t watch other styles of animation and thoroughly enjoy the best examples of that style. It definitely doesn’t mean that I think Baby Looney Tunes is better than The Incredibles. But I’ve seen the argument made that one style is somehow inherently “better.” As computer animated movies were enjoying huge financial success while hand-drawn films – primarily Disney’s – started to struggle, a number of movie critics came to the conclusion that computer animation was not only superior, but also the next evolutionary step for animation. According to these critics, hand-drawn animation was now quaint and outdated and producing new films in this style made about as much sense as making silent films for a modern mainstream audience. What these critics failed to see was that computer animation was a new style with its own set of strengths and weaknesses, not a new breakthrough for the medium like sound where here had previously been none. Their insistence that hand-drawn animation was dead is the equivalent of an art critic proclaiming that painting is no longer necessary because sculpture has been discovered.
Anime and Western animation are often treated as even more mutually exclusive, even though the argument that you can only like one or the other makes very little sense. It isn’t so much comparing apples and oranges as it is comparing one enormous pile of various fruit to another enormous pile of various fruit. We’ve already talked a little about the diversity of Western animation and the same is true of anime. Do Akira, Ponyo, Naruto, and Pokemon really have more in common with each other than they do with any animation from any other part of the world? Does it make sense to assume that one person would enjoy all of them, and all other anime ever produced, but not any animation that isn’t from Japan? It would seem bizarre for a person to declare that he or she only like French paintings or will only read books by American authors. Yet some animation fans still feel the need to “choose sides” when it comes to anime and Western animation. Different cultural climates did cause the animation industries of the U.S. and Japan to develop very differently and I do think it can be interesting to compare and contrast the two. But declaring yourself a fan of one and not the other or trying to argue the across the board superiority of either country’s animation output is just silly.
Part of the reason that this kind of “either or” thinking bothers me so much is that I used to subscribe to it myself. I was once a strict Disney fangirl who firmly believed that Disney was where animation was at and nothing else mattered. Granted, I was pretty young and the likely source of this thinking was a period of time when Disney really was at the top of their game and most other theatrical animation was other studios trying to copy what Disney did or simply making films that weren’t very good. I usually attribute my disenchantment with non-Disney films to Rock-a-Doodle, which is still a bad movie. But as sound as my reasoning may have seemed at the time, I still refer to this time in my life as “my stupid age.” By being so narrow minded about what was quality animation and what wasn’t, I was in danger of missing out on a lot of really amazing films. Fortunately, I grew out of my fangirlishness and came to recognize that Disney was not the be all and end all of animation. More importantly, I realized that I could still like the Disney films I did like and also enjoys movies from other studios just as much, if not more. Today, I like to feel that I’m at the point where I will watch just about anything that is recommended to me by a trusted source. I still have my personal tastes and I’ll tend to stay away from a studio or creator whose work I’ve disliked in the past. But if you come to me and say, “Check this out, it’s amazing,” chances are I will.
Everyone has their own personal preferences and it can be fun to discuss them and examine why we feel the way we do. But to say that animation can only be this or that and nothing else, or that good animation can only be this and not that, is downright detrimental to the medium. On an individual level, it keeps adherents from experiencing everything that animation has to offer. On a broader scale, it can limit the general public’s perception of what animation is, further minimizing animation that doesn’t fit into these simple categories. The more voices with clout there are saying that animation is either 3D or 2D, cartoons or anime, the more people will come to believe that these are the boundaries that define animation. As fans of the medium, we should be seeking to experience everything that animation can be and to let the world know that the possibilities for animation are nearly endless, and certainly not limited to either one thing or the other.
Animation has vert few limits. It can tell nearly any kind of story and depict nearly any kind of imagery. Similarly, almost any tool or medium that can be used to make a static work of art can also be used to create art that moves. There are many different kinds of animation techniques out there, some well known, some obscure. But to the average person, some of the terminology and concepts mentioned when talking about animation can get confusing. Which kinds of animation use computers? How can you animated with paint? What the heck is “Flash animation” anyway? In this article, we’re going to be taking a closer look at some of the different kinds of animation. Some you may know well already. Other you may have never seen before. All have their particular strengths and weaknesses and the potential to become amazing animation in the hands of talented artists.
Animated TV shows and toys have a long history together though not as long as you might think. Today, shows based on toy properties are quite plentiful. Flip through a couple of channels of kids’ programming and you’re bound to come across at least one series based on a toy line, a video game, a card game, or some other product available at your local toy store. Given how common such shows are now, it can be hard to believe that not too long ago, such shows did not exist in the U.S. In fact, they were pretty much against the law.
On Sunday, Tim, Liz, my husband, and I went to see Ponyo. We all enjoyed the film and it definitely gets my recommendation. I probably won’t do a full-flown review until I have a DVD copy I can watch and rewatch at my leisure. In the meantime, here are some of my impressions of the film:
– As I suspected it would be, Ponyo is less like Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke and more along the lines of My Neighbor Totoro. This may seem like an odd thing to say about of film with its fair share of magic and a storyline which include the moon threatening to pull the tides high enough to drown the world, but the scale of the film remains small and the central focus is always the two young children at the heart of the story.
– Though it may not be the constant parade of new wonders that Spirited Away is, Ponyo is still a very beautiful film with a lot to love in the visual department. The kind of attention to detail that fans of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have come to expect from Miyazaki films are on full display here. The scene where Ponyo is running along on the backs of her sisters, who have been transformed into creatures that seem to be half hish and half water, is unlike anything I have ever seen before and a truly wonderful interpretation of a storm at sea.
– Reportedly playing at roughly 800 theaters in the US and Canada, Ponyo boasts the widest North American release of any Miyazaki film to date. My guess is that this is partly because Ponyo is a very family-friendly film and Disney is hoping that this fact will help it to attract a wider audience. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any theaters near us with subtitled prints of the film, though they were available for past Miyazaki films in theatrical release. I wonder if this is an unfortunate side effect of the movie being marketed more to the general public. Perhaps Disney was concerned about kids ad parents accidentally ending up at a showing of the subtitled print.
– While I have believed for years that the reports of 2D theatrical animation’s death have been greatly exaggerated, it is nice to see a film as aggressively hand-drawn as Ponyo at a time when computer animated movies seem so dominant. Sometimes I like being able to see evidence of the artist’s hand on the screen, like the visible colored pencil lines on the backgrounds in Ponyo. I never felt like it made the environments in the film feel unrealistic; it was more just a different look at the world. As Miyazaki’s films so often do, Ponyo showed me wonderfully inviting places and describes them in such visual detail that I feel like I’m there.
– After the movie, Tim was talking about how the film “earned its cuteness.” Ponyo is certainly a very cute film, but the cuteness comes out of the characters’ invidual personalities and how they react to the situations they’re in rather than generic visual and audio cues focus tested to ensure that the largest possible percentage of the audience goes “Awwww!” I’m currently writing a piece on a movie that does not earn its cuteness and the differnce is striking.
– It’s pretty clear from the story that Sosuke’s family is going through a rough patch. He and his mother Lisa (which does appear to be her original name and not an Anglicanized version of it used only in the dub) divide their time between their cliffside home and the senior center where Lisa works, which is next door to Sosuke’s school. Sosuke’s father works on a ship which keeps him away from his family for long periods of time. In the course of the film, he calls to say that he won’t be coming home when he said he would, which leaves Lisa understandably upset with him. What I enjoy is that his family issues do not bcome the defining problem in Sosuke’s life. Despite being only five, he pretty much rolls with the punches and is even up to the task of comforting his mom when necessary.
– The movie’s theme song is exceedingly catchy and the tune will probably end up stuck in your head. The translation of the lyrics into English – like most of the film – seems fairly faithful. However, unless you have your heart set on seeing all of the credits, you may want to exit the theater before the “Radio Disney remix” starts up.
– In general, I’m pleasantly surprised by how mainstream Japanese culture has become in the US over a relatively short period of time. Just a few years back, if an anime was being dubbed and was aimed at children, “Sosuke” would be changed to “Steve,” rice balls would be indetified as doughnuts, kanji or any other Japanese writing would be replaced with English, and so on and so forth. Now importers of anime can reasonably expect audiences of all ages to accept of Japanese names, Japanses writing, Japanese food, and Japanese culture in general without immediately becoming confuse. Some writing still requires translation and certain cultural norms may require explanation, but there isn’t the same need to localize absolutely everything anymore.
Just a quick reminder that Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo (Japanese title Gake no Ue no Ponyo meaning “Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea”) comes out in theaters around the US today. It is not a huge release, but chances are if you live near a major metropolitan area or a theater with an interest in showing anime, Ponyo is playing near you. Disney has actually been marketing the film pretty well and I’ve even seen trailers on TV. Unfortunately, none of the ones I’ve found on YouTube will embed, so we’ll have to make do with some links.
One of the Japanese trailers, including the theme song guaranteed to get stuck in your head.
And even some ads for some of the Ponyo merchandise available in Japan.
Being a big Miyazaki fan, I’m pretty excited for this movie. A couple of friends and I are working out the details of our plans to see it this weekend. I’ll share my thoughts with you once I’ve had a chance to see it. In the meantime, check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.
Image copyright Disney and Studio Ghibli
Last time, Kiki made the terrible discovery that her waning self-confidence was causing her to lose her powers. Not only does this leave her unable to do her job, it puts the success of her year of training in jeopardy. The remainder of the film covers how Kiki regains her powers and her ability to believe in herself.