Yugioh! The Dark Side of Dimensions

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I am a huge Yugioh fan. The series was the bedrock of my childhood. I would spend hours playacting as the characters with my sister, to the point where we had moulded them to our own and created our own stories. So it was with some excitement that I sat down and prepared to watch a brand new movie, and I was not disappointed!

Dark Side of Dimensions picks up where our characters had been left off. Pharaoh Atem has ascended to the spirit world, leaving the Millennium Puzzle in pieces, and Yugi is missing him but carrying on with his life and thinking about life after high school graduation with his friends Tristan, Tea, Joey and Bakura. Things are not set to be peaceful for long though as Seto Kaiba seeks to reassemble the puzzle and challenge the pharaoh once more, and a mysterious man named Aigami has a special interest in Yugi…

The movie gets off to a very cheesy start as Yugi meets up with his friends for school, almost introducing them one by one. I was afraid the dialogue would be as slow and corny throughout the rest of the movie as it was in the scene in which Yugi and his friends discuss what they plan to do with their lives after high school, but their responses are effectively a quick way to get the essence of their character for anyone who is coming into the movie with no prior knowledge of the story. I was also pleased to see that whilst the character styles had been updated a bit, it wasn’t so much as to lose the heart of the original character designs.

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“Hey Yugi, does my hair look slightly different than it used to or is that my imagination?”
The antagonist for this movie is Aigami, a blue-haired bishie boy who takes an interest in Yugi and his friends. I instantly warmed to him, because he was a fairly understated villain, which is probably a good thing with Seto Kaiba’s planet-sized ego already filling the screen on a regular basis. Aigami’s backstory is nicely tied in to the character of Shadi and how one character acquired their Millennium item. Aigami has his own kind of magic which he can use to create special “dimension” duels, which makes duelling him all the more complex and difficult for Yugi and Kaiba.

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Aigami – not your average bishie
So what did I enjoy so much about this movie? The humour was a big one, and I was pleasantly surprised by how often I laughed. Eric Stuart is on brilliant form as Seto Kaiba, with so many hilarious lines referencing his own colossal ego, and a great one in which he refers to painstakingly recreating the pharoah’s “perfectly coiffed” hair for a simulation duel. The movie makes numerous hilarious nods to the fandom as well, with Bakura’s acknowledged entourage of fangirls (“it’s the accent”), Joey dressed as a dog (again) and more over-the-top Seto Kaiba behaviour (Space elevator? Check. Casually jumping out of a moving jet? Check.)

Although there’s much that feels comfortably familiar, it also feels like characters have grown a bit too. Yugi is the heart of the series and he gives a gentle and touching speech at the beginning about missing Atem, but we nonetheless see him go on and do battle with Seto and Aigami on his own as brave as ever. Even when not mentioned, Atem’s absence is very much felt, and as Kaiba seeks to reconstruct the puzzle we wonder if we will see a return of the figure everyone is missing so much.

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Yugi may be one Pharaoh down, but he’s stronger than ever
I won’t spoil it, but the ending of the film is touching, and ends on the most thrilling tease of what I hope will be the start of a sequel movie or anime series. Even if it doesn’t, Dark Side of Dimensions reminded me of what I really love about Yugioh, and it’s vastly superior to its two predecessor movies (in my opinion). If you’re a fan it’s a must-see, and if you’re brand new to the Yugioh world, why not give it a try?

Your Name (Kimi No Na Wa)

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Mitsuha is sick of her life out in the sticks, and not even having a cafe or bookstore in her little town. She passionately declares one night “Make me a Tokyo boy in my next life!” And then she wakes up the next morning…in a Tokyo boy’s body. Taki, the boy in question, is an average teen making the most of city life, enjoying fancy treats after school with his friends which he pays for via a waiter job at a nice restaurant.

Your Name immediately takes advantage of all of the comedic value of an unexpected body swap. Mitsuha and Taki are both in the throes of puberty and still discovering their own bodies, so waking up inside the opposite sex’s has an extra layer of hilarity. One of the film’s running gags features Mitsuha (sometimes herself, sometimes Taki) waking up each morning and fondling her own breasts.

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Body swapping ain’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Mitsuha and Taki’s friends tell them that they’ve noticed a change in their personalities, and once the pair discover that what they thought were incredibly realistic dreams is actually the two of them swopping bodies, they try to ensure their lives don’t become messier than needed, leaving notes for each other to read on their bodies, and sometimes on their phones. Unfortunately, the two of them never remember each other’s names when they wake up back in their own bodies, prolonging the suspense as they don’t know whose life it is that they keep finding themselves in the middle of.

The film doesn’t focus too deeply on the effects their swapping has on each other’s lives, but it does show the obvious awkwardness of them having to ask their friends questions like “Where do I work?”and having to juggle things that are completely foreign to them – Taki attempting a traditional weaving technique is contrasted against Mitsuha running around like a headless chicken in Taki’s job. In spite of their superficial differences, the universality of their adolescent feelings shines through – Mitsuha manages to get Taki a date with his long-time crush while inhabiting his body, but realises once she’s back in her own body that she’s actually quite jealous.

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“Dear Taki, stop feeling up my boobs, Yours, Mitsuha”

The second half of Your Name takes a more serious turn than I had expected, dealing with a thread about a comet set up from the beginning. The film uses this to further expand on its themes of family, duty, and love and open out the film to a grander scale, and build much higher stakes. There are a lot of very Japanese themes thrown into the second half (I won’t spoil them here) which is one of the things bound to help this film stand the test of time as a Makoto Shinkai classic.

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This is just one example of the astounding landscapes Your Name features

Your Name is visually spectacular. The contrast of city life to country life is stunningly illustrated. Taki’s hectic urban jungle is brilliantly showcased, each sharp angular line of the skyscrapers and twinkling city lights popping off the screen. Mitsuha’s verdant town is a lush delight, and I also really loved seeing the details of her traditional life, such as when she performs a traditional Japanese ritual in her family’s shrine. I also love that the film makes multiple references to the red string of fate, inserting the symbolism in a beautifully simple but striking way throughout the film.

A gorgeous anime needs a great soundtrack and this one does not disappoint! As well as some beautiful strings pieces that really evoke the nature scenes of Mitsuha’s beautiful rural town, RADWIMPS, a Japanese rock band, offer some furiously energetic pop tracks for the chaotic life-swapping scenes of Mitsuha and Taki’s teenage lives. I’ve included the trailer below which features one of the brilliant RADWIMPS tracks.

From Garden of Words and 5 Centimetres Per Second, to Your Name, Makoto Shinkai seems to be continually building on his work, with each anime offering a greater and greater emotional scope that extends into impressive far-reaching themes of the traditional against the modern, long distance love, and figuring out our place in the world.

I love everything about Your Name: its staggeringly beautiful animation, its expressive characters with deep hearts and its moving soundtrack. It’s Japan’s highest grossing movie of 2016, if you haven’t already watched it, what are you waiting for?

The Princess and the Pilot

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Lady Fana Del Moral has been promised to Prince Carlos, and on meeting her he is so struck by her beauty he cannot wait to wed. Nonetheless, he asks that she wait a year for their marriage so that he can fight in the ongoing war against their rival nation. When a year has passed and the war has shown no signs of abating, top pilot Charles is recruited to ensure Fana’s safe passage to Carlos through a sky full of danger.

Charles is a good man who has been treated badly all his life for his lower class “sewer rat” status. Upon meeting Fana, he instantly recognises her from a time when he worked in the gardens of her estate as a child and she sweetly consoled him after he was bullied and beaten yet again for his lower position in society. Fana to begin with is a quiet and obedient lady, and Charles is professional and honourable, so at first all their interactions are polite and restrained, which means it takes longer for the emotional investment to build. The real turning point of the film occurs when Charles and Fana are put increasingly in danger from enemy planes and have to land on a nearby island, and Fana transforms from a demure lady to a more extroverted and active character.

The narrative smoothly balances the tense action moments in the sky with quieter, more intimate interactions between the two when the plane has to land. Although the animation can be on the more static two dimensional side, the plane scenes are impressive with giant looming bodies ominously appearing from the sky. Charles is often forced to make daring and risky manoeuvres while Fana tries to help, and her innocence and his honour and heroism combined with the appearance of the planes created a very Studio Ghibli vibe at times.

"What do you mean we can't be together? I cut my hair for you!"
“What do you mean we can’t be together? I cut my hair for you!”

The Princess and the Pilot takes a little time to really get into the swing of things, but I enjoyed this movie and would definitely recommend it if you’re a Studio Ghibli fan and enjoy sweet, chaste love stories. It would have been an even more satisfying ending if more had been made of Fana and Charles’ respective characters and emotions – Fana in particular feels quite two dimensional for too much of the movie. I was also disappointed that the elements of racism against Charles, and the overarching war narrative were not resolved – it is possible that these were addressed in greater detail by the original novel by Koroku Inumura. However, what Charles and Fana mean to each other and what they give each other is still communicated well enough to make the ending a beautiful tribute to two young people torn between obligation or following their heart.

 

Nagi no Asukara (A Lull in the Sea)

Humanity has split into two subspecies, those who live on the land, and those who live in the sea. When four teenagers from a village in the sea are forced to attend a new school on land, they begin to discover the depth of mistrust between their own people and those of the world above.

Hikari, a spiky stubborn teen, is forced to rethink his preconceptions of land dwellers when he sees his childhood friend Manaka, and his older sister Akari both fall for men on the surface world. He struggles more still when he realises his own feelings for Manaka go beyond brotherly protection and into uncharted waters of love. Futher complicating things, their mutual friend Chisaki harbours a hidden yearning for Hikari, as does their other mutual friend Kaname secretly long for Chisaki. Yes, it’s one long love train.

These teens may look carefree, but there's romantic angsting abound
These teens may look carefree, but there’s romantic angsting abound

The touching innocence of each teenager discovering and trying to make sense of their romantic desires is contrasted, often painfully against the escalating tensions between the adults of the land and sea, and an ever changing world, thrown into uncertain chaos. When the young foursome discover that anyone from Shioshishio (their village under the sea) who enters into a romantic relationship from someone on the surface is banished from the village to the surface world, it throws a harsh light of danger onto their already confused feelings.

Like the other Shioshishio residents, Manaka has the sparkliest blue eyes
Like the other Shioshishio residents, Manaka has the sparkliest blue eyes

Nagi no Asukara is a visually gorgeous anime, and it really makes the most of its setting, with stunning blue skies, rich, evocative ocean scenery and of course, the sparkling vibrant blue eyes of the sea dwelling teens. The world building of the lives and culture of those from the land and sea is well rounded, and the often unrequited romantic feelings zipping back and forth are not hammed up but feel genuine. What results is an involving and affecting story about teenagers caught in a storm between the sea and land, between the people they love, and ultimately, between their childhood freedoms, and adult responsibilities. Whilst this anime uses some obvious character tropes for its teenagers – the brash teenage boy trying to come to terms with his feelings, the sweet innocent girl who doesn’t want to grow up, the emotionally mature girl who wants to be selfish with her feelings but doesn’t know how – each situation feels absorbing, and the emotions and heartache are easily relatable.

While this anime will certainly err too much on the sentimental, emotional side for some, it knows how to balance each emotional confession and significant moment against the minutiae of everyday life, and it touches movingly on the pain, confusion and beauty of that precious era of teenage youth and first love, with the mystical elements of the history of the land and sea to build a wider picture. If you’re looking for a beautifully animated feels fest, give this one a watch.

Click on the link below to watch the opening credits for the first half of Nagi No Asukara – it’s become one of my favourites!

 

 

 

Code Geass

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Are you looking for an anime with giant mecha robots fighting each other? Are you looking for an anime with mysterious powers and green haired witches? Are you looking for an anime with high school romance and political rivalries and morally grey areas? Look no more! Code Geass has them all.

In the year 2010, the nations of Britannia have conquered Japan, renaming it “Area 11” and subjecting its inhabitants to a life as second class citizens. Lelouch Lamperouge, a Britannian prince is caught in an attack which kills his beloved mother and forces him to flee to Japan with his sister Nunnally, who has been rendered blind and paralysed. Although they are able to live as privileged Britannian citizens, concealing their royal status, Lelouch swears to his childhood friend Suzaku he will one day have revenge on the injustices Britannia has created.

Lelouch’s wish is granted several years later when he meets a mysterious woman named C2 (C.C. in the manga) who makes a contract with him which grants him the power of Geass. Geass allows Lelouch to command anyone to do whatever he wants, though he can only command a person once and he must have direct eye contact with them. Lelouch vows he will use Geass to create a better world for his beloved sister to live in, and begins to assemble a resistance movement called the Black Knights, led by himself under the alter ego Zero.

Lelouch and Suzaku are childhood friends...and political rivals
Lelouch and Suzaku are childhood friends…and political rivals

Code Geass is an interesting anime from the get go. It’s impossible not to support Lelouch’s cause when the effects of Britannia’s tyrannical rule are shown, but his methods and sacrifices keep him from being considered a pure hero. Lelouch believes the end justifies the means, and there isn’t much he won’t do to reach a better world for the Japanese. Suzaku is the white knight to Lelouch’s black knight, and wants to change the system from within, even joining the Britannian forces and battling Lelouch’s group. They represent two binary opposed approaches to social injustice.

Code Geass is a riveting political fantasy drama, with a set of interesting characters. Lelouch melds hero and anti-hero in an engrossing way. The budding romances add a human touch to the backdrop of war and political manoeuvring, and provide some painfully tragic moments which keep the audience asking that core question – is the end worth the means and the lives lost or destroyed along the way?

My only real complaint would be the occasional over the top fanservice moment here and there which felt unnecessary, although the men are as pretty as the women are large breasted which is down to CLAMP being responsible for the character designs. It can also be hard to keep up with the politics later on when other factions are introduced, but this only adds to the realism Code Geass aims to convey in portraying the ripple effect one warring nation can have on those around it.

Whether you’re new to anime or a seasoned watcher I would highly recommend watching Code Geass if you haven’t already. It effortlessly combines multiple genres, really makes you think about how injustice should be dealt with and demonstrates the real impact of war and tyranny on the innocent. The mecha battles are pretty cool too.

Paprika

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Every now and then an anime comes along that makes me sit up and think “This is it. This is why I love anime.”

Paprika is one of those anime. Directed by Satoshi Kon, who also worked on Tokyo Godfathers and the award-winning anime Millenium Actress, this story focuses on a team of scientists who created the device, the DC Mini, which allows a person to enter another’s dreams. This device was being used for psychiatric therapy, but when it is stolen the team fear the damage that could be done.
Leading the team to recover the device is Dr Atsuko Chiba, a cool and calm scientist who has to turn to her bouncy dream alter ego, Paprika, to save the day.

 

Paprika takes talking to yourself to a whole new level
Paprika takes talking to yourself to a whole new level

 

Paprika fully immerses herself in the dream world, navigating the landscape with a series of colourful personas such as fairy, gryphon, and mermaid. The two women work so differently it is at times hard to remember they are the same person, especially when they interact with each other and argue about how to proceed. While Paprika seems to be the heart to Chiba’s rational head, by the climax of the anime things have changed with a gentle emotional resolution that neatly balances out the ongoing craziness that has made up the majority of the film.

The sheer joy of Paprika is its vibrancy. With rich visuals and a lively soundtrack, through symbolism and sound this anime deftly portrays the nature of dreams and how they reflect our subconscious. It cleverly weaves in objects from the character’s lives which later emerge in the dream world, impressively blurring the lines between our perception of reality and dreams. Paprika presents us with the unbidden joy, the confusion and the dark terror that our minds produce when our thoughts are manifested.

Paprika would be ideal to show someone who is fairly new to anime, as its scope of story, visuals and musical background really encapsulates what anime at its very best is capable of. Be warned though – this is an anime that requires your full and complete attention, and even then you might need to watch it again to catch things you missed or to fully make sense of the unfolding events.