Dear Philly, Could We Please Do Something Like Reel Anime?

Note: This is another post from the backlog, written October. Please adjust date and time references accordingly 😉

A couple of weeks ago, I had one of my typical Sunday visits to the State Library turn into a visit that left me with a mission to complete. I was catching up on the anime world by reading through Anime News Network (I still need to actually watch the new anime on Crunchyroll) when I happened to catch an article in the sidebar that made me scroll back up. It was a reminder that it was the last week of Reel Anime in Australia. I remember first hearing about Reel Anime a year ago – on Anime News Network of course – and wishing how a) the US had something similar and b) I could go to it. Well, luckily for me, Reel Anime is an annual anime festival that Madman (pretty much Australia’s equivalent of Funimation) puts on in select theaters in Australia and New Zealand. Also luckily for me, one of those happened to be in Melbourne: Cinema Nova, up by Melbourne University. Now, one of the things I love about Philly is the Ritz. No, not the hotel chain, the theater chain (which is much smaller than the hotel chain). The Ritz is an independent group of theaters in Philly that have previously been awesome when it come to anime. I’ve seen both Summer Wars and From Up on Poppy Hill at the Ritz. Had I been in Philly and not on co-op in NJ, I would’ve seen the Madoka Magica movies too. With Reel Anime, the theater here in Melbourne wasn’t showing one anime film. It was showing five. This year, those five were Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo, A Letter to Momo, 009 Re: Cyborg, and a double-feature of Ghost in the Shell: Arise and The Garden of Words. As I’ve previously stated, I watch a ton of anime, but I rarely review it. As of today, that is officially over.

So, after leaving the State Library, I headed up to the theater to get a “Season Pass”, which meant tickets for all of the films. Had it not be the last week of the festival and all the posters been given away already, that would’ve come with a reproduction of the Japanese film poster for Evangelion 3. Oh well. Doubt the plane ride back to the US would’ve been kind to it anyway. Tickets in hand, the wait for 9pm began, which would mark the beginning of Reel Anime for me. To kick it off, I’d be seeing the double-feature of The Garden of Words and Ghost in the Shell: Arise (I’ll be shortening that to Arise from here out.)

The double-feature started with The Garden of Words, the latest film from Makoto Shinkai, director of 5 Centimeters Per Second and Children Who Chase Lost Voices (among others). I know he’s not a fan of being called it, but Shinkai-san is pretty much the next Miyazaki-san (that’s Hayao Miyazaki for those of you who don’t know – and you should know). His films are nothing short of masterpieces. Sure enough, Garden is his newest. The film is about two people, Takao, a student, and Yukino, occupation initially unknown, who meet each other in a park during a rainy day. Both are skipping their regular duties, school and work, respectively, to spend the day at the park, empty of other people thanks to the rain. The two pretty much fall in love, despite a considerable age gap, and proceed to see each other at the park every time it rains. However, the rainy season of Japan eventually comes to an end and quite a bit of time passes before the next rain, leaving the two unable to share their feelings towards one another.

If you’ve seen any on Shinkai-san’s previous works, you’re probably well aware that love stories are a standard plot for his films. But, these love stories are not happy love stories. I will admit, there has yet to be a film from Shinkai-san that has not made me cry at some point. He is just as much of a master at toying with emotions as he is a master of animation. With that in mind, Garden is by far his most impressive work to date. The visuals make you feel like you’re actually  there in the film (likely helped by the use of actual locations in Japan and more computer animation that before – I think) and the soundtrack is a pleasure to listen to. Garden is already out in the US on both Blu-Ray and DVD, and I strongly recommend buying it.

Immediately following Garden was Arise, the latest film – or rather, series of short films – in the Ghost in the Shell franchise. If you’ve never watched Ghost in the Shell, Arise may actually be a good starting point for you. Arise takes place prior to the events of the original movie, follow-up movies, and TV series that have previously come out, with Mokoto Kusanagi (The Major for those of you not new to the series, but you should’ve known that already) not yet a member of Section 9. While she does meet Batou, Kurtz, and Togusa (returning characters from the previous releases), none of them are yet members of Section 9. Mokoto is tasked with investigating the death of an arms dealer, hired by Daisuke Aramaki to assist with Public Security’s investigation. In a nutshell, Arise is Makoto’s backstory (as well as some of the returning character’s) and is loaded with plot twists that leave you wondering who can be trusted. And just to make things more fun, things may not be what they appear. Arise is also out in the US, courtesy of an import from Funimation. Given that Arise will be a series of four OVAs (original video animation, essentially short films), I would rent or stream Arise right now and wait for the possibility of a complete boxset. If you can’t wait, Funimation offers an import of the first episode, available now. For being rather different from the previous Ghost in the Shell releases, especially animation-wise, its upbeat score, returning characters, and short bursts of humor still make it feel familiar.

Next up, on Monday night, was Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo, which had its English-language debut and New York Comic Con that weekend, I believe. That said, all the films in Reel Anime were Japanese audio with English subtitles, just the way I like it. I’ve already seen Evagelion, TV series, original movies, and the three “Rebuild”s, but I figured I should see Redo on the big screen (and on a good sound system too). Plus, buying tickets for all the films in Reel Anime got me a discount.

Now, unlike Arise, if you’re not familiar with Evagelion at all, don’t go watch Redo without at least watching 1.11 and 2.22 first. You will be completely and utterly lost otherwise, despite it being the first original bit of Evangelion to come out in a couple years (I recently discovered the TV series was only 1995). Since Redo is a completely original story compared to Alone (1.11) and Advance (2.22), it has more of a challenge to fulfill. Alone and Advance were a retelling of Neon Genesis, the original TV series, for those of you who don’t know. Given that Evangelion was a huge hit in the past, all Alone and Advance really needed to do was give the series an HD makeover with a couple of changes (one of which I liked the original better, namely the Eva vs Eva scene). With that in mind, I do give Redo a tremendous amount of slack for being the first original story and a huge level of expectations from fans to live up to. That said, Redo is OK. Not fantastic, but OK. I wouldn’t call it horrible, but it (maybe) could’ve been better. A lot of the movie was very slow and there was definitely filler in parts. However, the battle scenes were great, as was the music. The opening is very well done, even if you have no idea what is going on the first time you watch the film. Funimation has the rights to it (again) in the US and will be releasing it early next year. I’d keep an eye on the theaters and would go see it. I’d hold off on buying it until you have seen it though, but you can pre-order it now on Blu-Ray and on DVD.

Tuesday night was A Letter To Momo, a film I remember seeing a trailer for previously (no doubt on Anime News Network) but completely forgot the name of. I remember the trailer being hilarious and wanting to see it though. And, well, now I have. I didn’t think I’d bee saying this after having seen Garden, but Momo takes home the prize as my favorite of the films shown. It’s not hard to see why it took Production I.G. seven years to create it. Stunning, beautiful, and masterpiece all do not do it justice.

“Dear Momo”. Those are the only words left from Momo’s father prior to his death. “I hate you” were Momo’s last words to him (well, close to that.) Momo, the main character, and her mom have just moved from Tokyo to the Japanese island of Shio, where Momo is often left alone, thanks to her mom attending a seminar off the island. Or rather, Momo would be alone, had three seemly harmless drops of water not landed on her head while on the ferry to the island. Those three drops turn out to be goblins, who take to living in her attic, sent from Above to watch over her and her mom. The three goblins reek all kinds of havoc, making Momo and hilarious, yet in parts horribly depressing, film. The film is gorgeously animated, as one may have come to expect from Production I.G. now and its storyline offers an interesting look into the lives of a mother and child dealing with the loss of a loved one. Momo easily receives a buy (I certainly will be when I get back to the US). It’s not out in the US yet, but you can import it if you can’t wait. I do highly suggest importing the soundtrack, which words again don’t do justice.

Closing out Reel Anime was 009 Re: Cyborg, being fully computer animated, it was the only film of the five to be in 3D (although I would’ve been just fine with it in 2D). The film is a retelling of the Cyborg 009 manga series authored by Shotaro Ishinomori in the 1960s. The film tells the story of nine cyborgs, who haven’t fought together for thirty years, that are suddenly needed again after a string of skyscraper bombings around the world. The story starts with 009, the ninth cyborg, who doesn’t recall that he is a cyborg until later. Claiming to have heard the mysterious “His Voice”, 009 originally intended to be one of the suicide bombers attacking skyscrapers. However, he is stopped by another cyborg, one of his former colleagues, who, with the help of another, succeeds in re-awakening 009’s memories of being a cyborg. Now re-awakened, he is tasked with leading the remaining others in the fight against the mysterious terrorist attacks. But just who are they fighting? And was is the justice they are fighting for? One thing is certain, while they haven’t changed, the world around them has, including the brand of justice they fight for. Overall, 009 is enjoyable, but I didn’t find it to be anything special. The graphics weren’t too bad, and some later scenes in space were easily the most visually impressive – truly stunning. However, 009 feels like a movie that rushes to get through a plot that likely both could and should have been more developed. I’d rent it when it becomes available in the US.

In conclusion, I’m very glad I did a double-take while catching up on the news on Anime New Network that Sunday. Reel Anime was an excellent anime festival, with a well curated selection of films. While Momo may have been the only film in the set that would likely appeal to a very wide audience, families included, overall I think the lineup appeared to appeal to a variety of anime fans. As the post title suggests, I just wish the US had something similar now (Philly especially). Australia and New Zealand, Reel Anime is a real treasure you’re lucky to have. If you missed it this year, I highly encourage you to keep an eye out for it next year.