Blood-C: The Last Dark Review

blood-c the last dark

Blood-C was one of the more notable anime of the last 10 years. It followed the adventures of Saya Kisaragi, an extremely gifted swordswoman tasked with defeating creatures called Elder Bairns. Things were not what they seemed, however. The plot twist in the final couple of episodes was unexpected, and put a much darker spin on the whole story. CLAMP was involved in the production of the show, including offering its signature character designs. All together, Blood-C is essential viewing for anime fans.

Blood-C: The Last Dark serves as the sequel and conclusion to the show. The anime’s ending perfectly set up the movie, so fans were very excited to see how it would come to a close. The Last Dark takes Saya to Tokyo on a quest to get vengeance on Fumito Nanahara. Along the way, she joins a group of hackers who also have something against Fumito. With such a notable anime, it was expected that the movie would effectively conclude the saga. Blood-C: The Last Dark features solid animation (aside from the CGI sequences) and some good plot elements, but as a sequel to the anime, it falls short.

To follow up on such a well-done anime is no easy feat, but it’s been done. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is a perfect sequel to the acclaimed The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. It combined all the elements that made the show engaging, and turned it into a production. That doesn’t quite happen in Blood-C: The Last Dark.

A good chunk of the story is focused on the hacker group Saya runs into. Now, there’s nothing wrong with new characters – if they’re interesting. Most of Shun’s lines are cringe-worthy. Mana is given the biggest focus because she tries to befriend Saya. I’m mixed on this. Mana wanting to befriend Saya happens way too quickly; there wasn’t much time to deepen the bond she felt for her. Still, the heart-to-heart the two have about Mana’s father was touching. The leader of the hackers is Kuroto. He was the most interesting of the new characters, but the plot twist kinda ruined that. A wasted opportunity was the twist of who Saya killed early on in the movie. That would have been great to explore, since it’s connected with one of the new characters.

The most disappointing thing is that the story doesn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion. First, there is no confrontation between Saya and Yūka. Yūka did appear in the movie, but had a much smaller role than hoped. It was a wasted opportunity to not have Saya run into her. Still, this wouldn’t be as bad if the conflict between Saya and Fumito was better.

Fumito was a great character in Blood-C, an antagonist who might have been on par with Makishima from Psycho-Pass. In the movie, his goals in the end were lackluster. To give some credit, he was great for most of the film. But, the resolution between him and Saya just wasn’t that interesting. We also don’t get enough insight into his island experiment. Honestly, it felt like the writing put too much of a focus on the status quo of Tokyo, instead of giving Saya’s conflict with Fumito a fine conclusion.

Surprisingly, there is less action than anticipated. This is a bit disappointing, because there were so many monsters in the anime. But, the action scenes that are present are almost always exciting. The fight in the school was very intense and well choreographed, and the chase near the intro served as a good way to start the movie.

I’ve been harsh on the movie, but it’s not terrible or anything resembling bad. There are a number of engaging moments, and Saya is an interesting protagonist as always. The soundtrack is also solid.

blood-c the last dark screen

Overall, Blood-C: The Last Dark is a disappointing conclusion to a very good anime. There are things to like of course, such as the action and Saya’s character arc. But, the movie puts too much of an emphasis on Tokyo and the hacker group. The final conflict between Saya and Fumito leaves quite a bit to be desired. It’s a pretty decent movie, but could have been better.

7/10

 

 

Avengers: Endgame Review

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It’s finally here. Endgame marks the end of the Infinity Saga, the story that began 11 years ago with the release of Iron Man. Few could have predicted how massive the Marvel Cinematic Universe would become. It is a continuing pop culture event, and Endgame is unarguably the biggest of them all. This movie is the direct sequel to last year’s Infinity War, which had Thanos wipe out half the universe’s life. It was a gloomy ending, and here we are at the endgame.

Avengers: Endgame is an achievement in film, and easily one of the most ambitious movies ever made. The climax is one everyone will be talking about for years to come. There are many fantastic moments that pay off from the previous films. The Russo Brothers have proven to be masters at juggling so many characters with Captain America: Civil War and Infinity War. That continues with Endgame. The film does have some problems however, making it, as a whole, the weakest of the Avengers films. It is a true spectacle, but with some controversial decisions that hurt the experience at times.

The Good

iron man endgame

The film’s first act is fantastic, as a fractured Avengers are now dealing with a world that has lost so many individuals. Steve Rogers encouraging others in a support group was really good. What I personally liked was the overall sad atmosphere of the first act. One of my personal favorite characters was Black Widow, easily Scarlett Johansson’s most compelling performance as the character. We see she was hit very hard by the events of Infinity War, as she considered the Avengers the only thing she had at that point.

Part of the first act focuses on Tony Stark stranded in space alongside Nebula. The scene with Stark recording into the Iron Man helmet for hopefully Pepper to hear was genuinely emotional. Tony was a big highlight throughout the film, and like Johansson, this is probably Robert Downey Jr.’s best performance yet as the character. Meanwhile, Nebula’s contribution cannot be overstated. Her character arc has come full circle here, from being the revenge-driven sister in Guardians of the Galaxy, to hero in Endgame.

Scott Lang was a lot of fun here. There’s a sense of urgency to his character that was really well done. (His wanting Captain America’s respect is also one of the funniest running jokes.) The film’s middle act was certainly unique, and though I didn’t love certain aspects of it, one can’t deny that it was an inventive way to celebrate 11 years.

The final good thing I will mention is the climax. The sudden build-up was excellent, and when all heck breaks loose, the viewer cannot turn away. This is the type of final battle that must be viewed on the big screen. The scope is unimaginable, beating out any kind of climax you can think of, from The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, to The Matrix Revolutions. Captain America was at his finest here, showing that he really is the greatest hero of them all. Of course, as you see in the final trailer, the big three – Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor unite for a battle against Thanos. It is as glorious as it sounds.

The Bad

thor endgame

While most of the characters were on point and engaging, there were questionable decisions regarding two main Avengers. First, we have Thor. After the first act, Thor’s character goes in an unexpected direction, and arguably not a good one. Sure, it will get some laughs, but in retrospect, was the direction good, or was it just played for comedy? Honestly, the trinity uniting was slightly hindered by the way Thor was portrayed, especially after such a great outing in Thor: Ragnarok. Simply put, Thor’s portrayal was more controversial (negative) than the direction Hulk was given in Infinity War. Speaking of Hulk…

Like with Thor, the direction Hulk/Bruce Banner took was unexpected. It was interesting, but once again, it seemed to be played more for comedy at times, though to a lesser extent than with Thor thankfully. After Hulk’s appearance in Infinity War, many were hoping for a character arc where Hulk would come back and face Thanos. That does not happen. In fact, Hulk doesn’t do anything notable in the climax, which was a huge letdown. At this point, it really does seem like Marvel doesn’t know what to do with the Hulk’s character.

So, regarding the middle act, there was definitely something fun and inventive to it. There were a couple of good emotional aspects as well. But, at the same time, it did feel kinda disjointed from the first act. While the first act was somber in tone, the middle had more of a jokey feel. I’m not saying the whole film had to be somber, but the rather lighthearted nature of the second act didn’t mesh well with the serious happenings of other parts of the movie. Infinity War did a better job at balancing humor with the seriousness of the situation.

The Verdict

Endgame Trinity

Endgame has a great opening act, a mixed second, and a perfect/beautiful conclusion. The film may not be perfect as a whole, but it is satisfying on many levels. The final battle itself is worth paying the ticket for. Many of the characters are at their best. Sadly, Thor and Hulk fans may be left feeling betrayed. Still, their direction shouldn’t be enough to ruin the story. Endgame is a cinematic event, with thrills, laughs, and yes, tears. It has some of the most emotional sequences of any MCU film. The film serves as a great conclusion to a few longtime character arcs. If anyone wanted to step away from the MCU, Endgame does a good job at providing closure. However, the future is bright, as there are many new things to look forward to. Endgame is not only an end, but also a new beginning.

8.5/10

Captain Marvel Review

captain marvel poster

It’s a big year for Marvel Studios. Next month, Avengers: Endgame releases, a film that will end Phase 3. Then in July, Spider-Man will be back and heads to Europe where Mysterio will make his big screen debut. Before all this however, we are introduced to a band new player to the universe: Carol Danvers, known as Captain Marvel. This movie serves a few different purposes. Of course, it introduces a powerful new character to the film universe. It is the first female-led Marvel Studios film. It also bridges to Infinity War, as we learn about the relationship between Nick Fury and Ms. Marvel. Finally, it shows how Fury came up with the idea for the Avenger initiative, an unexpected, nice touch.

Carol has had a prominent role in the comics in recent history, and thanks to the movie, it’s only going to get bigger. Brie Larson, last seen as a photographer in Kong: Skull Island, brings the character to life. It’s a unique take on an origin story, and has surprising plot twists that radically change how the story is viewed. As a whole, Captain Marvel is solid. It’s an enjoyable film with especially great performances from Samuel L. Jackson as Fury, and Ben Mendelsohn as Talos.

The story begins with Carol (at this time known as “Vers”), training with Yon-Rogg (Jude Law.) Yon-Rogg is a leader of the Kree Starforce, an intergalactic band of soldiers whose task is to bring down the Skrulls. The Skrulls are shapeshifters, making them potentially deadly enemies. After a meeting with the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence, Carol is given the okay to join the team on a mission. That mission ends up going bad, as Carol is tricked by a Skrull named Talos. Carol is taken to a Skrull base, where she’s forced to relive memories she has no recollection of. Thanks to her Kree powers, she is able to escape, and crash lands on Earth. Skrulls follow her, including Talos. Now, Earth is seemingly in danger, but things may not be what they seem…

captain-marvel

Carol Danvers is established early on as a headstrong character with a sarcastic wit. It’s not all jokes though. Carol does show scenes of feeling, such as her conversation with Yon-Rogg about the picture she found of her life on Earth. Brie Larson brings a likable charm as Captain Marvel. I would have liked to see more of those emotional scenes, because the “sarcastic character ” is nothing new in these movies. This film does not go overboard with jokes or one-liners however, as was the case in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. and Thor: The Dark World. Although I didn’t get that same inspiring persona as Gal Gadot emitted in Wonder Woman, I am looking forward to seeing more of Carol. One of the most effective sequences (and great example of editing) was in the climax, as it shows that Carol had fallen down many times throughout her life – but she always got back up.

The early space mission was engaging. It introduced the Skrulls as a big threat, and featured good choreography on a gloomy planet. While the space stuff is good, a lot of the best parts of the film are actually back on Earth. Once Carol crash lands on Blockbuster, the fun rarely stops. From Carol walking into Radio Shack to establish communications, to Fury’s first dialogue with her, there’s a lot of great moments. Speaking of Fury, right from his meeting with Ms. Marvel, viewers know they’re in for a treat. Fury is much like his current self, but less hardened due to not being exposed to these otherworldly dangers up until this point. What we have is an extremely fun character, who works really well alongside Carol. This is personally one of my favorite buddy cop duos I’ve seen in awhile.

The most interesting character might be Talos. Ben Mendelsohn plays this Skrull with perfect charisma. Perhaps the best scene in the movie is in Maria Rambeau’s house. There was such great tension thanks to Talos. He has easily become one of the best characters in the MCU.  Meanwhile, Coulson appearing as “the new guy” was fun. It’s a shame he didn’t have a bigger role. What’s even more disappointing is Ronan the Accuser. When it was announced that this character, who first appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, would be featured in Captain Marvel, fans were thrilled. But, it ended up being like a few glorified cameos. It would have been great to learn more about him, and what led him to become the psychopath seen in Guardians. This was definitely a missed opportunity.

talos

Another big character is Yon-Rogg. Here’s the thing: he was great in the first half of the movie, but then his character takes a different turn in the second. Jude Law portrayed the character of a mentor perfectly, bringing a sense of calm authority. But, this goes away because (spoiler) it’s revealed that he’s the one who killed Carol’s superior. Technically, this is a smart plot twist. But, Yon-Rogg just isn’t that interesting as a villain. Even Law’s performance took a dip – he was great as a mentor, but as an antagonist, it came off as run of the mill.

Captain Marvel features some great settings for actions scenes. Of course, we already discussed the film’s opening act on another planet. On Earth, there’s a great sequence inside an airforce warehouse. We’re also treated to action inside a Skrull spaceship, and later a Kree one. Of course, there’s also the train battle, probably the most memorable. The soundtrack definitely enhances these sequences, making use of some ’90s songs.

For a few last notes, the friendship between Maria Rambeau and Carol felt genuine. I also liked the scenes with Carol and Maria’s daughter, Monica (longtime comic readers will recognize her). Their sequence toward the climax was a very fun way for Carol to get the iconic costume. Oh, there’s also Goose, the cat-like creature. He was definitely fun to have around, but virtually nothing is known about him, which is a shame. He just kinda shows up, and then appears as a deus ex machina when needed. There’s definitely a cool aspect to Goose, but he could have used just a hint of backstory.

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Overall, Captain Marvel is yet another solid film in Marvel’s ongoing library. It doesn’t quite reach the quality of Black Panther, however. Carol herself could have used more compelling scenes, and Jude Law’s character ended up being a disappointment. But, the positives outweigh the negatives. Carol is still a very fun character that is portrayed nicely by Larson. The scenes with her and Nick are priceless, and feature some of the best exchanges from these films. Talos was also excellent – hopefully Marvel isn’t done with this character. All in all, this is a very good film with likable characters, fun action, and some great ’90s backdrops. (Hopefully you didn’t miss the Game Boy.)

8.5/10

MADE IN ABYSS: Journey’s Dawn Review

 

Made in abyss

Credit: Sentai Filmworks

MADE IN ABYSS began as a manga written by Akihito Tsukushi. It’s probably more well known for its 13-episode anime adaption, licensed by Sentai Filmworks in North America. This year sees the release of two compilation films of the anime for limited theatrical release outside Japan. Compilation films are nothing new for anime – we’ve seen that with Attack on Titan and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Making a compilation film can be tricky, as it’s more than just merging episodes together. For a 13-episode series, ideally you want to have at least two compilation films, as attempting to squeeze everything in one runs the risk of key scenes being cut. MADE IN ABYSS follows the two film format, with the first installment, Journey’s Dawn, releasing in select theaters next month. Part 2, Wandering Twilight, releases later in the year.

Now, moving on to the actual film, Journey’s Dawn compiles the events of the first eight episodes of the show. That’s a hefty amount of content, but the film gets the story going at a reasonable pace without feeling overloaded. Journey’s Dawn follows a young girl named Riko. She and many residents live near a hole in the earth called “the Abyss.” Here, many adventurers have gone in, but those who have traveled too deep never returned. Each layer of the Abyss gets worst and worst, to the point where people can lose their humanity.

While Riko is scavenging for relics in the upper layers of the Abyss, she is attacked by a monster. While she manages to briefly get away, the monster eventually comes upon her. Before being eaten alive, a mysterious blast repels the creature. Riko notices a boy, but learns that he is a robot seemingly connected to the Abyss. A bit later in the film, Riko receives a note seemingly from her mother, who went into the Abyss 10 years ago. It appears her mother is asking Riko to come find her. So, Riko and the robot boy, named Reg, journey into the dangerous hole in the earth…

made in abyss journey's Dawn

Credit: Sentai Filmworks

Journey’s Dawn begins brilliantly by establishing the setting and Riko’s mom. The Abyss itself is almost portrayed as a character, an otherworldly area of beauty, but also danger. Later in the film, we see an area called the “Inverted Forest.” As the name implies, the trees are upside down, giving a rather unique, unsettling look. We see creatures with unique features, things that appear almost alien to the world on top. The Abyss and the monsters that reside in it evoke a similar feel to the The Shimmer in the acclaimed film, Annihilation. The Abyss is a fantastic setting, making the viewer want to see more by the time the credits roll.

Of course, before Riko and Reg enter the Abyss, we get to see the world on top. This serves to introduce Riko and Reg. Riko is established as a kindhearted girl, as seen when she attempts to help the boy who saved her. She’s also a bit of a trouble maker, as we learn from the head of the orphanage. Riko’s unyielding cheerfulness is fun to watch, but she’s also capable of emitting genuine emotion. The scene where she learns about her mom’s whistle was effective. Reg is arguably the more interesting of the protagonists, a robot that doesn’t know who built him, and why. He’s capable of emitting emotion, but there’s also something distinctly mechanical about him. The entire sequence of him utilizing his “incinerator” as Riko calls it was effective. Reg’s more subdued nature makes for a great contrast to the bubbly Riko.

The first quarter of the movie does a solid job introducing the characters, and the motivation for entering the Abyss. The only negative thing was that Riko became attached to Reg rather quickly. That’s one possible danger of compilation movies: character development can feel rushed in comparison to taking it episode by episode. Thankfully, aside from the quick friendship between Riko and Reg, the film never feels rushed. The first quarter does a great job of establishing Riko’s friends in the orphanage. The emotional goodbye between Riko and Nat was well done.

Once the protagonists enter the Abyss, the story really gets going. It becomes something of a darker Journey to the Center of the Earth. The scenes with the creatures are tension-filled, and well animated. The character designs may give off a younger vibe, but there is some dark imagery in the film. The scene with a bird-like monster called “Corpse Weeper” chewing on human remains comes to mind.

The final act of the movie has Riko and Reg meet Ozen the Immovable. This was not only the greatest aspect of the movie, but one of the most well done things I’ve seen in any media recently. Ozen is a fascinating character and big highlight. I won’t get into the specifics, as spoiling these scenes would be a disservice to the film. What I can say, is that Ozen leaves her mark as one of the most notable characters in recent animation history. Every scene with her and the protagonists is a treat. Christine Auten did a fantastic job at providing the dubbed voice for Ozen.

Ozen Made in Abyss Journey's Dawn

Credit: Sentai Filmworks

The flashbacks with Rika’s mother, Lyza, are effective. Lyza is an interesting character, someone the viewer wants to see more scenes with. Meanwhile, the soundtrack does a good job enhancing the film. One particular piece of notable music is the theme that plays when Riko shows Reg the sunset behind the village. The music also works to give dangerous sequences, such as the early monster chase, and the Corpse Weepers, even more tension. It will be a treat to see the music in Part 2.

Journey’s Dawn is a strong opening to the MADE IN ABYSS saga. At its core, it’s about a daughter looking for her mother in a dangerous, unfamiliar land. Family is a strong bond, especially between mother and child. Despite not really remembering her mother, Riko is compelled to go into the Abyss. Meanwhile, Reg is an interesting character. Who built him? What’s his purpose? How does he connect to the Abyss? These questions make the viewer greatly anticipate Part 2. The Abyss itself is a fascinating setting, full of terrible creatures, and unique imagery. There are not many negatives. The development between Riko and Reg could have been better in the beginning. But, it’s not a deal-breaker. Journey’s Dawn is definitely worth checking out. I for one am excitedly anticipating Part 2: Wandering Twilight.

4/5

A big thanks to Sentai Filmworks for providing an advance screener for review. MADE IN ABYSS: Journey’s Dawn will premiere in Los Angeles at Regal Cinema on March 15th. A wide release will then commence on March 20th (subtitled) and March 25th (dubbed), courtesy of Fathom Events. You can purchase tickets here

Frankenstein vs. Baragon – A Retrospective

frankenstein vs. Baragon poster

The ’60s were home to some fantastic movies. For kaiju fans, some of the all-time best were released in this era. King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla, and Destroy All Monsters were all released in the ’60s. Even Gamera got his start here – his first film released in 1965. In fact, 1965 is an important year for this retrospective. Of course, it was the year Invasion of Astro-Monster (better known as Godzilla vs. Monster Zero) came out. But, there was another film from TOHO that also released in 1965. It also featured Ishiro Honda as director, Akira Ifukube as the composer, and Eiji Tsuburaya as the special effects director. Even the two core actors – Nick Adams, add Kumi Mizuno, were the stars. This film is Frankenstein vs. Baragon, originally known in the US as Frankenstein Conquers the World.

Frankenstein vs. Baragon is a peculiar movie, similar, and yet different than the other TOHO science fiction movies. The Frankenstein monster in this movie is a tragic figure, eliciting sympathy from the viewer. Baragon is a fantastic creation. (After watching this, you will be even more disappointed that Baragon didn’t get to do anything in Destroy All Monsters.) The story moves at a solid pace, though gets a bit slow toward the end. But, there aren’t many negatives that can be said about this movie.

As with Honda’s films, the cast deliver excellent performances. Kumi Mizuno for example demonstrates her ability to fully involve herself in her role. Kumi has played quite a few roles in kaiju films. In Matango, she played the seductress. In Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, she played the island girl. In Frankenstein vs. Baragon, she plays a passionate doctor. She can portray different characters with ease, a true actress in her craft. Of course, Frankenstein vs. Baragon delivers a satisfying showdown, as any versus movie should have. With Bandai having released the first ever vinyl figure based on TOHO’s Frankenstein, the time was right to look back on this gem of a movie. Hopefully when you’re done reading this retrospective, you’ll be inspired to check out the movie either for the first time, or the first time in awhile.

frankenstein vs. baragon screen

The opening sequence is an interesting one. It takes places in 1945, at the end of World War II. A German scientist is experimenting on something…something that sounds like it’s making heartbeats. Soon, soldiers come in and take the crate away, much to the scientist’s dismay. The scientist gives it to the Japanese, whom take it to Hiroshima. Upon opening the crate, it’s revealed that the thing making heartbeats is indeed, a heart. In fact, it’s the heart of the Frankenstein monster. The idea here is to create soldiers that can recover right away from being shot. Frankenstein’s heart would allow for such a thing to be possible. However, the idea is cut short when the Allies launch the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. 15 years pass.

In a hospital, Dr. Bowen (Nick Adams), an American scientist, has dedicated his research to helping patients from radiation poisoning due to the A-bomb. He is joined by Dr. Sueko (Kumi Mizuno) and Dr. Kawaji (Tadao Takashima.) Sometime later, Dr. Bowen and Sueko come across what appears to be a homeless boy. He is found in a cave, where Sueko attempts to befriend him.

The boy is taken to a hospital, where many people are looking at him. He is growing at an alarming rate, and it turns out he is related to the Frankenstein’s heart incident. Although not explicitly stated in the film, it seems to be that the heart has regenerated itself into a new Frankenstein. Frankenstein eventually breaks out of his cage in response to the reporters angering him with their camera lights. He runs around looking for food. Meanwhile, a monster destroys buildings, and eats cattle. Frankenstein is blamed for these things. But, later, it’s discovered that another monster was indeed responsible. Frankenstein sees Sueko in danger from this monster, called Baragon, and rushes in. What commences is a duel between titans…

Frankenstein is one of the oldest science fiction stories. It’s compelling because it consists of science gone wrong, and tragedy. The Frankenstein monster is a tragic character, and that plays a part in TOHO’s film, but in different ways. Frankenstein is portrayed by Koji Furuhata. Unfortunately, not much information can be found about the actor. It’s a shame, because his performance as Frankenstein was excellent. It takes passion and talent to play a character who has no lines throughout the entire movie. Frankenstein does not talk here. He does grunt, roar, and make sounds, but doesn’t have dialogue. This kind of portrayal works within the movie, because the character is like a lost child. The relationship he develops with Sueko is engaging. There’s a scene where Frankenstein has grown to a monstrous proportion. He goes to Sueko’s apartment, showing that he considers her a mother-like figure.

Talking about the cast, I already mentioned how great of a character Sueko is. One scene in particular that’s worth mentioning is the conversation between Bowen, Sueko, and Kawaji. Bowen and Kawaji seem to be leaning toward the idea of amputating one of Frankenstein’s limbs to prove whether or not he is actually the Frankenstein. Sueko is passionately against the idea, and it’s perfectly delivered by Kumi.

Frankenstein vs. Baragon Cast

Nick Adams and Kumi Mizuno work really well together, here and in Monster Zero. The scene with them having a meal together really does sound like a sequence where two everyday people are talking. The trio of them and Kawaji were fun to watch. A few other TOHO golden era stars appear in the movie. In the 1945 sequence, Takashi Shimura (Dr. Yamane in Gojira) briefly appears as the surgeon analyzing Frankenstein’s heart. It was a quick sequence, but Shimura was excellent here. A more prominent role is given to the police chief. He was very good, but the scenes of him trying to explain that another monster was responsible for the destruction were a bit slow. These sequences felt like they belonged in the middle act, not toward the end. This brings us to Baragon.

There was another non-Godzilla kaiju film the year before Frankenstein vs. Baragon. That film was Dogora, The Space Monster. Dogora had one of the best human plotlines in the entire kaiju lineup. (While Nick Adams in Monster Zero has been called the best American actor in these films, one could make the case that Robert Dunham is the best thanks to his fun portrayal of Mark Jackson in Dogora.) However, and this is probably the only time you will hear this from a giant monster fan, the actual kaiju part took away from the story. The Dogora scenes felt shoehorned in. Why? The plot was about the people, and the monster could have easily been written out. I bring this up because Baragon falls into this in the beginning.

Baragon appears briefly in the middle act, but disappears for awhile afterward. You could argue that it’s ominous, but such a lack of Baragon and mention of him made it seem like he was an afterthought in a movie titled Frankenstein vs. Baragon. Now, the film does kind of make of make up for this in the final 25 minutes. Baragon gets fun screen time as he breaks some beach houses, and snacks on some chickens. The story also finally gives Baragon an important plot by having him “frame” Frankenstein for the destruction. The writing could have done a better job at incorporating Baragon earlier, but the climax is satisfying enough to avoid calling it another Dogora. That, and the fact that Baragon himself is a fantastic creature.

When you watch a “vs.” movie, you expect quality action. Japanese monster movies do not disappoint, and especially not in Frankenstein vs. Baragon. The battle is lengthy and full of the creative maneuvers these classic movies are known for. Baragon has a unique jumping ability that is fun to watch. What I like about this battle is how much personality there is – both in the characters, and how the fight was choreographed. Frankenstein takes note of Baragon’s tail, and grabs it, seemingly gaining the advantage. But Baragon, realizing what’s happening, swipes his tail to make Frankenstein tumble over. In another scene, Baragon burrows into the ground, only to appear on top of a hill, much to Frankenstein’s surprise. It shouldn’t come as a shock how great Baragon moves and acts in this battle, as he was portrayed by none other than Hauro Nakujima – the man who brought Godzilla and Rodan to life.

The camera work is really good in the movie. There’s a scene in the climax where Sueko is on the ground and Baragon is approaching. It’s a genuinely terrifying sequence, as Baragon approaches and roars when he’s right over her. The special effects are mostly excellent, as one would expect from Tsuburaya. Of course, most fans know about the infamous horse. Instead of using an actual horse, a miniature was used. Honestly, it’s not that bad. What is bad however is the brief scene where a miniature tank and doll representing a soldier appeared. That scene, and the one with the boar, are the main negatives in a film with otherwise fantastic special effects and camera work.

The ending is worth discussing for a couple of reasons. If you watch this movie via the Tokyo Shock DVD, you’ll notice the “theatrical” and “international” versions. The original theatrical version features what you would call the true ending. In it, Frankenstein kills Baragon (by actually snapping his neck) and roars in victory. But, the ground beneath them breaks open, engulfing them into the earth. In the international version’s ending, Frankenstein kills Baragon, but instead of the ground opening, something else transpires. A giant octopus appears, the same creature that tussled with King Kong in King Kong vs. Godzilla. Frankenstein tries to fight, but the octopus grabs and takes him to the bottom of the ocean.

As for which ending is more effective, the giant octopus one is too abrupt. However, it’s definitely more enjoyable as it adds a brief kaiju battle to end off the film. But, the original ending makes more sense within the context of a coherent story. Interestingly, the giant octopus would once again show up, this time in the film’s direct sequel, War of the Gargantuas. (Gaira had much better luck with the octopus than Frankenstein.)

Akira Ifukube delivers an excellent soundtrack. The opening, rather mysterious theme, sets the tone for what’s to come. Unlike many of the Godzilla films, the music here is more downbeat – fitting, because the story has a tragic element. The final battle against Baragon was dramatic, and the music was a major part of that. All of this works to the film’s benefit, because the story has an emotional core to it. Like Honda, Ifukube treats the happenings with the utmost respect, and it shows in the maestro’s music.

baragon

Frankenstein vs. Baragon is tragic, fun, and an engaging movie. The Frankenstein creature is one of tragedy, a misunderstood being whom doesn’t want to hurt people. Honda is masterful with monsters and creating compelling stories around them. Baragon unfortunately takes awhile to become part of the main story. He does get great screen time in the climax thankfully, and is a major part of why the final battle is so memorable. The core human cast is excellent – Kumi Mizuno and Nick Adams are engaging leads. This film is a fine example of the amount of passion that went into making these classic kaiju movies.

Dragon Ball Super: Broly Review

dragon ball super broly poster

Credit: FUNimation

Dragon Ball Super has remained a global phenomenon, successfully bringing the Dragon Ball Z franchise back into the spotlight. Go into a store like F.Y.E. or Hot Topic, and you’ll find many Dragon Ball related items. Last year saw the release of Dragon Ball FighterZ,  which won best fighting game at The Game Awards. Putting it simply, Dragon Ball has returned as the most popular anime franchise. It continues in 2019 with the release of Dragon Ball Super: Broly.

Although the English dub of Super is currently airing on Toonami, the show ended last year in Japan. (If you wish to catch up for the release of the movie, Super is available subtitled for streaming on Crunchyroll, although the film does not contain any major spoilers.) The Tournament of Power was a crazy final arc for all the right reasons. Jiren served as the antagonist, and proved to be the strongest non-deity opponent Goku had faced. How do you top that? The answer: bring back one of the franchise’s most popular antagonists. Many of the prior Dragon Ball film villains are liked, but Broly in particular is loved by fans. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Broly is just as popular, if not more popular than the big three – Frieza, Cell, and Buu.

Dragon Ball Super: Broly serves as an adaption of the rather obscure manga titled Dragon Ball Minus, and grabs many elements from Broly’s original film, Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan. This film is wonderful for longtime Dragon Ball fans. There’s fantastic backstory, great moments, and the fights are epic. While lacking some of the overall cinematic quality of Resurrection ‘F,’ it features just about everything we like about the franchise.

broly

Credit: FUNimation

The movie begins over 40 years ago, when Planet Vegeta was still around. Its ruler is King Vegeta, but the Saiyans are subjected to the Cold force. We see King Cold arrive, but he’s there to tell the Saiyans that he is retiring. Instead, he is putting his son Frieza in charge. This eventually leads to Frieza plotting to destroy the entire Saiyan race. We also learn about a Saiyan baby with extraordinary powers even exceeding King Vegeta’s son. King Vegeta decides to exile the baby, named Broly, to a distant planet with no humanoids named Vampa. Broly’s father, Paragus, heads to the planet as well.

We all know what happens to Planet Vegeta. Frieza goes ahead and blows it up, but not before a pod escapes. Bardock and his wife Gine managed to put their son Kakarot into a pod for escape to Earth. In the modern day, Frieza is currently looking for more warriors to join his ranks. Two soldiers, Cheelai and Lemo, find Broly and Paragus on Vampa. Fueled for his hatred of King Vegeta, Paragus is happy to use Broly in service to Frieza. Now, Goku and Vegeta will once again have to face a powerful opponent.

The first quarter of the film serves as background for Broly and Planet Vegeta. The opening act is fantastic. The arrival of King Cold is filled with tension. This is actually King Cold’s first major appearance since being sliced by Future Trunks. Cold commands a presence in a similar, yet different way than Frieza does in the modern day. It’s not that long of a scene, but it shows that King Cold was a great character.

This scene also shows Frieza’s coming to power, and it’s appropriately brutal. Next, King Vegeta sentences baby Broly to Vampa. Paragus concludes that King Vegeta is doing this because Broly has more potential than the king’s son. Paragus is understandably fueled with hatred toward the king. Meanwhile, the Bardock scenes are great. It’s interesting how King Vegeta and Bardock are portrayed here. Bardock is clearly a hardened Saiyan, but still displays heart. Goku would take that trait. King Vegeta displays many of the traits Vegeta would inherit.

Bardock and Gine have a couple of scenes together, and they are nice. It’s particularly emotional when Bardock reveals he wants to send Goku away. Gine is a heartbroken mother; one could feel her turmoil as she watches the pod take off. Many non-viewers may look and think Dragon Ball Z is devoid of story substance, and only focuses on battling. That couldn’t be further from the truth. When Dragon Ball gets serious with its storytelling and dialogue, it’s some of the strongest you’ll find. That is evident throughout the first part of the film.

The only regrettable aspect of the backstory is that the film does not feature Bardock’s famous speech against Frieza before the planet gets blown up. Instead, Bardock is shown trying to repel the blast, but with no dialogue. Thus, the planet’s destruction was not as memorable as it was in the original Bardock film. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s worth mentioning.

vegeta vs. broly

Credit: FUNimation

Of course, most of the film takes place in the modern day after the Tournament of Power. The early scene with Goku and Vegeta sparring was fun. The story here is that Frieza’s forces have stolen six Dragon Balls and the radar from Bulma’s lab. There is only one Dragon Ball left. Bulma, Goku, Vegeta, and Whis head on down to locate Frieza’s henchmen. The dialogue isn’t quite as captivating as the writing in the flashback. But, Bulma’s reason for collecting the Dragon Balls is interesting.

The more interesting aspects of the film during this are with Cheelai and Lemo, members of the Frieza army. They have been tasked with locating powerful members for the force. Despite who they’re working for, they are shown not as sinister lackeys, but as people with diverse personalities. Cheelai in particular is a highlight. One interesting sequence was in Frieza’s ship. At this point, Broly and Paragus have been brought on. A member of the crew hits on Cheelai, with her telling him repeatedly to go away. Broly’s response is anger. Due to the runtime of this film being longer than the original Broly film, there is more screen time for Broly’s character to be deepened. His scenes with Cheelai and Lemo were great at accomplishing this.

The main spectacle is Broly’s fight against Goku and Vegeta. Marketing confirmed a little while ago that Gogeta, Goku and Vegeta’s combined form from Fusion Reborn, would be appearing. It’s a shame this was spoiled, as it would have been a pleasant surprise. But before that fusion, we get incredibly animated battles. Base form Broly against Vegeta was great. Goku’s battle as a Super Saiyan God was arguably even better. This is clearly a theatrical film, replacing a lot of the rapid punches seen in the show in favor of more actual blows being felt. Goku has great dialogue in the middle of the fight, once again showing that he has the biggest heart of all the characters. Finally, seeing Gogeta again was a treat. (Though Vegeta at first refusing fusion has gotten a bit old.)

gogeta

Credit: FUNimation

With all that said, while the fights are a lot of fun, Broly himself isn’t all that interesting during them. The problem is that we’ve already seen this type of character multiple times. We saw that in Broly’s original film. We saw that with Kid Buu. We saw that recently in the Tournament of Power with Kale, a character who was even clearly based off of Broly’s Super Saiyan design. So, Broly’s persona of constantly shouting is a bit lackluster. Still, Broly overall is an effective character in the story. The film successfully introduces him as one of the most tragic figures in the franchise.

On a few last notes, Frieza holds a screen presence, like always. It was particularly interesting seeing him in the flashback. Also, his brief scuffle with Broly was fun. The film’s soundtrack is epic, as expected from Dragon Ball. There are a number of notable themes, such as during the sparring match between Goku and Vegta, and Gogeta’s arrival. You won’t find any of the much-used themes of Super (though they are really good); the music is wholly original. The film’s ending is different than in the original Broly movie. It’s a nice way to end off, and it could mean some exciting things for the future.

goku

Credit: FUNimation

Overall, Dragon Ball Super: Broly is a very good film re-introducing an iconic character. Broly is a tragic figure, perhaps even more so than Jiren. Although Broly is a bit dull in his Super Saiyan form, there are enough story scenes to prevent him from being labeled a one-dimensional character. Goku is good, with a couple of great sequences. Although the second half of the film doesn’t reach the cinematic level of the opening act, the fights are grand. Dragon Ball fans will not want to miss this.

4/5

A big thanks to FUNimation for supplying a theatrical screener for review. Dragon Ball Super: Broly will be released in limited theaters starting on January 16th. You can locate a theater and purchase tickets here

 

 

GODZILLA: THE PLANET EATER Review – Where did it all go so wrong?

the planet eater

It should have been epic. The Godzilla anime trilogy should have been a lot of things. The potential was there. In the first film, Planet of the Monsters, Godzilla was established as an unstoppable threat. I remember feeling in awe when he unleashed his iconic roar in the climax of the film. The actual movie wasn’t anything great, but it was decent setup. The potential was there. The sequel’s marketing hinted at a battle between Godzilla and a new Mechagodzilla. City on the Edge of Battle did not feature a Mechagodzilla throwdown, instead rehashing the battle against small machines from the first film.

City on the Edge of Battle had some neat ideas. Mechagodzilla taking over an entire city, and the Bilusaludo willing to become one with it in order to face Godzilla were interesting concepts. The problem is that these things completely took the place of why we watch Godzilla movies. In City on the Edge of Battle, Godzilla doesn’t do anything until after the first hour. That’s a bold move with a movie titled Godzilla, but maybe it could work if the climax was amazing. It wasn’t. At the very least, the poster for The Planet Eater showed Godzilla battling an intriguing new version of King Ghidorah. There is definitely a confrontation, but fans will likely be disappointed. The film itself is kind of bizarre in that it barely even feels about Godzilla at times.

Look, deep themes and meta storylines can be fascinating. Anime is home to many fantastic concepts and themes that Western animation barely touches. So, it’s certainly welcome that a Godzilla film in anime format could touch upon themes, such as what it means to be human, and the will to keep fighting. That sounds interesting, but it only works if the themes don’t overpower the kaiju element. The Planet Eater goes full on in attempting to convey something profound with its protagonist. The film is certainly thought provoking to some extent, but in the end, it got lost in its themes and forgot to be a quality movie. The ending is downbeat and out of left field, reminding everyone that this is the Haruo Sakaki saga with Godzilla just as a guest star. The after credits scene is strange in that it literally has nothing to do with Godzilla.

Now, that’s not to say everything about The Planet Eater is awful. The story, summed up, is about Metphies revealing his plan to Haruo. The Exif plans to bring King Ghidorah, a powerful space monster who the Exif worship as a god, to deliver Earth’s destruction. Haruo is of course against this, but is manipulated by Metphies in mind games. Ghidorah arrives on Earth, and Godzilla is powerless to stop him. With Haruo edging closer and closer to the end, Maina goes to the large egg and summons a familiar moth to go inside Haruo’s mind. With Haruo later back to his senses, it’s time to stop Metphies and Ghidorah’s menace…

haruo

So, one thing that was well done was the build-up to Ghidorah. I got goosebumps when hearing the classic Ghidorah cackle. Ghidorah is treated as a god-like being, and the scene where he arrives and destroys the Aratrum was awe-inspiring. His arrival on Earth was also well done, with the animation being quite good. The encounter between him and Godzilla was, at first, interesting. Godzilla was clearly on the verge of losing, and the overall feel was that of a big climax. The problem is that the way Ghidorah was designed did not allow for a very engaging battle. It was barely even a fight as Godzilla couldn’t even touch Ghidorah until later.

The strange thing is that the film teases viewers with the classic winged Ghidorah look, but we never actually see that in the flesh. An even bigger tease was Mothra. Yes, Mothra does sort of show up – but only as a silhouette who goes inside Haruos mind. That’s her only appearance. Mothra appearing in person to help take out Ghidorah? A team-up with Godzilla, as a reference to their partnership in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and Godzilla: Final Wars? Nah, none of that stuff. Instead, the film thinks we’re satisfied by Mothra being a flying shadow.

Some of the dialogue was good. The mind sequences with Haruo and Metphies were interesting, as Haruo was brought lower and lower by Metphies’ elegant vocabulary. Methphies was definitely a highlight of the trilogy, and it was great seeing him go full on calm fanatic in this movie. Haruo isn’t a terrible focus, but at this point we’ve so much of him and so little of Godzilla, that it’s hard to be engaged. It also doesn’t help that the ending was a terrible conclusion to his story.

The Houtua were interesting characters in City on the Edge of Battle, and the twins return here. One of the best sequences was Miana discovering Metphies’ alter to Ghidorah. Meanwhile, her sister, Maina has one notable scene where she goes to the Mothra egg. However, Maina is also given a rather…odd role. Haruo seems to have gotten over Yuko quickly, huh?

At this point, there isn’t too much else to be said about The Planet Eater, and the anime trilogy as a whole. Perhaps people who have never seen a Godzilla film will enjoy these more. The themes can be interesting, but they are sandwiched with dull pacing and little kaiju action. The Planet Eater teases with winged Ghidorah and Mothra, but not much happens there. Ghidorah’s “battle” with Godzilla did have some great moments, like Godzilla snapping one of the head’s jaws. But, it did leave a lot to be desired. The soundtrack was strong overall at the very least, especially when Ghidorah arrived. The Planet Eater attempts to be a deep movie, which is admirable, but in the process loses key things associated with the Godzilla saga.

ghidorah

All in all, The Planet Eater is a mediocre conclusion to a mediocre trilogy. Throughout the films, there have been great moments and intriguing concepts. But, there is no satisfying endgame. Planet of the Monsters was decent setup, and City on the Edge of Battle was one overly long middle act for The Planet Eater, none of which delivered. Hopefully Godzilla’s journey into anime doesn’t end here.