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by Trent Walters

Princess Monoke Spirited Away If you enjoy animation but have been burned by the hype from anime fans, this may be a place for a little more discernment -- at least on a story level. For a little background on anime, a good DVD to start with is The Animatrix, the DVD I politely panned before its official release. One of the extra features, "Scrolls to Screen: The History and Culture of Anime," gives informative background on anime and points out a few classics in the genre, making The Animatrix useful for more one or two well-rendered animations.

One criticism common to many anime is that lack of logical continuity, which often breaks both the story illusion and possibility of any intellectual discourse. With the single exception of the incredible Princess Monoke -- which has beauty, imagination, and thought (Spirited Away, spun by the same mind, has even more imagination and beauty but not as finely crafted in thought and plot). Since I'm the only one I know who prefers the former over the latter, you probably ought to watch both to make up your own mind.

The animation shorts on The Animatrix are mostly trite, except for one or two. "The Final Flight of Osiris" presents a gratuitous CGI strip tease (amazingly life-like except for their movements and The Animatrix Grave of the Fireflies close-up shots), followed by information that you could surmise without it when watching the movie series. "The Second Renaissance" I watched again and still enjoyed on a detached level of intellect, admiring its attempt to add more philosophical content to the series, but it still neither fits what we call a story nor adequately explains how the Matrix came into being: never mind breaking the second law of thermodynamics, why would robots want to keep alive creatures bent on their destruction? "World Record" adds nothing new but, despite exploding muscles, has a brief moment of human triumph that helps redeem it. "Kid's Story" is a Matrix fanboy's wet dream, again adding nothing to the series.

Grave of the Fireflies is gorgeous, must-see anime, albeit with no real speculative element except for hinting at an afterlife. It tells the story of a young boy who loses his mother in the firebombing of his hometown toward the end of World War II and must take care of his younger sister, a toddler. They live with their aunt, but she grows increasingly discontent with the children, so they decide to live in a bomb shelter. He sells off all that he owns and collects the money in his parent's bank account in order to eat. The movie is guaranteed to move you in ways you wouldn't expect from animation, minus one logical flaw which turns part of it into melodrama -- and I'm not giving anything away by saying it since it is the first scene of the movie -- why does he have to die? If it's an emotional conclusion, we should have been led up to his conclusion. Still, if you're going to check out what the fuss is about anime, you can't pass this one up. The toddler is so child-like, inquisitive, pouting, and loving with intense fervor.

Memories Akira With a name like Memories, you'd think you'd be in for some schmaltzy melodrama. Not so. This, too, is one of those must-see anime. "Magnetic Rose" tells the story of astronauts intercepting a distress call from another ship. Two men explore the ship looking for who signaled for help but find only illusions that want to keep them there, as the ship crumbles apart. "Stink Bomb" is a humorous story of a weapon of mass destruction gone amuck. A sick young man working at a pharmaceutical company takes a mysterious pill to heal his flu -- only to find he's taken the wrong pill. "Cannon Fodder" is the most beautifully illustrated -- perhaps because it's unusually illustrated, similar to The Triplets of Belleville. The story -- at least the beginning of one -- indicates a potent telling of life during wartime, but it pulls up too soon, telling only the day in the life of a boy wanting to be the guy who fires the cannon at an enemy they do not see.

Katsuhiro Otomo's highly acclaimed Akira gives stunning imagery and a plot that quickly sweeps you into its events but is marred by one of those logical flaws that prevent any post-movie discourses. Children, who have PSI powers, are developed and kept by the government. One teenager they discover from ramming his motorcycle accidentally into one of these near god-like and wrinkly blue children. The new boy is also kept by the government. For no reason, the wrinkly blue children attack the new boy, which sets him off on an egomaniacal rampage of uncontrolled PSI power. So they have to unleash Akira, the creature buried beneath the Olympic Stadium.

Metropolis Ghost in the Shell Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis does not exactly repeat the same Metropolis as Fritz Lang's. Both have mechanical women that are created by evil techno-sorcerers that design them to do evil, but whereas Lang's uses a good human woman doppelganger, Tezuka's combines good and evil into one woman. Both have towers of Babel though Lang's is symbolic. Both have lower classes who are spurred to their own destruction through rebellion, but only Lang's actually deals with this and steps toward reconciliation. While the animation is stunning, the story is competent -- as good or better than most that comes out of Hollywood -- meaning you can care for the characters and get carried away by the plot while it lasts, but there's nothing in the story that will stay with you after the credits roll apart from eye-candy imagery that some may have particularly enjoyed.

The much-lauded makers of Ghost in the Shell (which now has what I felt it needed: a sequel to complete it, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence) also put together Blood: The Last Vampire, which is a demon blood-fest, a sword-swinging samurai vampire girl hacks up bad demons in human disguise. The story is not philosophically profound as many felt of the first Ghost in the Shell but is fun plot-wise if you don't mind being surprised at being cut a little short on time -- forty-five minutes -- which doesn't allow much development of a story.

Galerians: Rion Yu-Gi-Oh! Galerians: Rion is a video game-turned-CGI movie. Rion wakes up to find he has become one of a family of Galerians with superpowers of flames and lightning and much grunting while sparks fly so that you can't tell who's doing what to whom. Rion has to beat up successively powerful bad guys in his family to finally implant the virus that the evil mother computer so dreads. Here CGI has a ways to go to render realistic movement, but it may appeal to the twelve year old in you.

Another movie built to appeal to the pre-teen or younger is Yu-Gi-Oh!, which apparently is a card game and apparently requires some familiarity to enjoy. It is a series of card game battles in which the players are all cock-sure of their ingenious moves and the clueless audience is baffled by the ingenuity: "I play the Dunce of Ramalamadingdong. Ha ha! But wait! I have the turned-over card to play, which reduces your points by four-hundred whenever he tells a groaner. But wait! -- surprise! -- I sacrifice the Dunce for Megadragon of the Sharp and Pointy Teeth, so why did I play Dunce to begin with? Who knows." The movie is worth a few laughs if this kind of drama tickles your funny bone.

Copyright © 2004 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared or will appear in The Distillery, Fantastical Visions, Full Unit Hookup, Futures, Glyph, Harpweaver, Nebo, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Speculon, Spires, Vacancy, The Zone and blah blah blah. He has interviewed for, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine, he can be seen coaching Notre Dame (formerly with the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach), or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.

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