The Hunger Games

While RABUJOI is first and formost an anime-review blog, we still endeavour to keep up with certain entertainment trends that may fall into line with our aesthetic. We’ve added our two cents to non-anime films before, so there is precedent. With that, a few things to know before we dive right into our impressions of The Hunger Games (THG):

First, we never read the book(s). We own the first one, but always prefer to go into a book-based film or TV series ‘blind’, as we do with anime series. That way, we avoid being spoiled by the source material and experience the piece not as an adaptation, but as an original work we have no prior knowledge of.

Second, We have seen Battle Royale. The internet is rife with comparisons to the the 2000 film by Kinji Fukasaku, with good reason: both films are about a deadly game in which teenagers are forced to fight to the death Some participants are more…eager than others. We could go on all day with other similarities, but we’ll give THG author Suzanne Collins the benefit of the doubt vis-a-vis whether she “borrowed” the story. Besides the fact artists borrow all the time, the two films are very different in execution, tone, and most importantly, audience (more on that later) and for diplomatic reasons we’ll forgo further comparisons. For the record, we liked BR more than THG, but not certainly not just because it was first.

Third: We’re suckers for strong female characters. Whether it be Leeloo, Major Kira, President Roslin, Hermione, Arya, Haruhi, or any of the many Miyazaki heroines, we can’t get enough of them. THG’s narrative, emotional, and spiritual core is a strong female character, Katniss Everdeen. We’re not sure why, but if the main protagonist were a dude, we wouldn’t even have gone to see the film.

Now, with all that out of the way; we liked THG. There are many reasons for this:

– Katniss. It can be argued whether Jennifer Lawrence is a brilliant actress (she does tend to stick with the default troubled pout) and a lot of her dialogue falls victim to subpar writing, but her performance works for us here because it’s so intimate. We’re right up in her face a lot of the time, listening to her ragged breath or seeing her shake in apprehension. Yet she keeps her composure and does what needs to be done. She volunteered for the games so her excitable little sister didn’t have to. She’s also a huntress, so she’s very good with the bow. This is Katniss’ film, everyone else is just living in it.

– The setting. There’s something very real and unsettling about it. The stark contrast between the postapocalyptic abject squalor and desperation of District 12 and the epicurian hedonism of the “Victorian Disco” capital district is unsettling for her and for us. After seeing Katniss freak out over a half-loaf of stale bread, suddenly finding herself on the FFVIII train before an elaborate buffet of delicacies is also a sight and a half to see.

But THG falls has its share of problems:

– Call us desensitized, but whenever a film’s camera is far more squemish than its audience in a film about teenagers fighting each other to the death, there’s a problem. THG is a young adult book, and the film had to stay PG-13, but such a rating seems a bit hypocritical to the issues being addressed. The cameras seemed all too afraid to show any violence, leaving most of it to our imaginations. High School of the Dead, Blood-C, Another, and even less gory tales like Guilty Crown, all dealt with violence more deftly and honestly. THG film would rather avoid the bloody details wherever possible, and the drama and peril somewhat suffers as a result.

– The games themselves are very silly. You have 24 players, but they all rise out of the ground in a circle in front of a structure containing survival gear and weaponry. When it begins, they literally all run at each other, thinning the heard. It’s akin to everyone in a deathmatch spawning in the same place – in other words, a bit pointless. Perhaps this is how the games evolved over time to get things moving (many of the tributes are too young and weak to survive this initial herd-thinning) but jeez, why not give the kiddies a sporting chance? Also, the gamerunners all to often manipulate the game to bring tributes closer together so they’ll fight, in the form of forest fires, predatory beasts, and other obstacles. If you’re going to have kids fighting each other to the death, have kids fighting each other to the death. Spicing it up with cheat codes cheapens the proceedings.

-The too-oft-repeated pleasantry “Happy Hunger Games!” Sounds too much like “Happy Honda Days!” for us to take it seriously.

So yeah, we believe we’ve written quite enough about this non-anime film, and we should now get back to watching anime. But we’ll say the same thing about this film as we have about many other non-anime films: we’d love to see it as an anime. Though we kinda sorta already have…in Mirai Nikki.

Advertisements

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Harry Potter is not anime. But I’ve read all the books and now seen all the films. On occasion, I’ll put a non-anime review up here. It wouldn’t be surprising if anime fans also happened to like the HP franchise. I’m among them. This last film was very good. Combined with Part 1, I consider it better than the book on which it’s based. I am one of those who watched HP1 (Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone) before reading the book, and I have to say, I’m glad I did. It led me to read the rest of the books before the films came out.

Back to HP7 Part 2 – it wasn’t a perfect “theater” film. What I mean by that is, there was too much silence. Silence can be a good tool for building suspense (or suddenly arresting it). But a movie theater is full of little annoying sounds that have nothing to do with the film being presented. Sounds like people mumbling, chewing popcorn, sipping soda, and making all manner of incidental bodily sounds. During the many scenes in HP7P2 of little or no sound, these sounds all conspired to pull me out of the fantasy. A film should immerse; I found it hard to stay immersed at times. Of course, watching a movie like this at home, it’s not really an issue.

The awkward epilogue from the book declaring “19 years later” was this film’s other major flaw. The same actors were used, but the effects used to age them fell far short, to the point of hilarity. My companion to the film couldn’t help laughing at the notion that particularly Ginny and Hermione looked pretty much the same even though their ages have doubled. I’m not saying different actors should have been used; I’m saying if there wasn’t a way to do this scene properly, it shouldn’t have been done. This didn’t look like 19 years later; it looked five years later.

Silence issues and hoaky aging effects aside, this was an excellent film, and a fitting end to the franchise. I particularly enjoyed how brief and succinct this film was – a scant two hours and change. Now that the HP film franchise is over (a long-running television – or anime! – series might’ve served it better; I can’t imagine ratings ever dropping as long as it stayed good), one wonders if anything will ever come close to matching it in popularity – or profitability.

Super 8: The Anime?

Sometimes our minds wander here at RABUJOI, and we think about anime that might work – or decidedly not work – as American TV shows and films, or vice versa. We’re not talking about particularly financially successful shows and films…just interesting ones. And sometimes we just draw parallels from existing anime to existing Americana, or vice versa.

A few for instances: there are tinges of Harry Potter in Occult Academy and Blue Exorcist. True Blood, while a good show, would be far scarier and less goofy if it followed Shiki’s storyline rather than Charlene Harris’s books. I was so turned off by the Marvel-backed Heroman (Bones) and Iron Man (Madhouse) anime, I didn’t even bother with Wolverine (which some may say was a mistake, but I still don’t really regret skipping it).

And then there’s Super 8: a perfectly decent and well-executed sci-fi mystery thriller that amazingly stars a bunch of middle schoolers – including Dakota Fanning’s little sis Elle – that manage not to annoy the hell out of me. The film wasn’t perfect, and the whole time I was watching it I was cursing J.J. Abrams for taking the time to make this film instead of the new Star Trek sequel (Classically a Trek film came out once every two years…the next one better be good for the extra year-plus we have to wait).

Super 8 was a very charming, engaging, and entertaining film, and for some reason I think it would make a great anime. Not a long one, mind you; an 11-episode series in the Noitamina timeslot would suffice in building up and laying out the nicely self-contained story. There are a lot of subtle changes that would have to be made that wouldn’t affect that story in the least. To wit: JSDF instead of USAF; a rural Japanese town instead of a rural American one; a HDV camera instead of a Super 8.

Other things could be left alone. There’s a lot to love: A romance between a boy and girl that’s forbidden by no fault of their own, but by their fathers, due to bad blood? Check. Love triangle that doesn’t get in the way? Check. Train wreck? Check. Weird happenings in a small, quiet town? Check. Classmates making a movie? Check (it worked in Haruhi Suzumiya). Aliens? Check. The town policeman bumping up against the industrial military complex? Check A shonen having to work up the courage to not just defy his and her dads, but to save said girl from said angsty alien? Check and check!

I think Super 8 has great potential moving to the anime medium. Realistically, the chances of J.J. Abrams licensing his script to a Japanese production company are probably slim to nil, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. Fortunately, and this is why I watch far more anime than American television, there is no shortage of great stories that already inhabit the anime world.

Tron Legacy

No, Tron Legacy is not an anime, so I can’t rate it here. But I will say that while it didn’t have a lot going for it in the plot department, it was an exceedingly awesome-looking and -sounding film. It owes a lot of this to Daft Punk, who were also partially responsible for Interstella 5555, which was an anime. They were also totally responsible for an rippin’ good score. They were one of the three reasons I went to see this. The other two were Olivia Wilde and all the cool future stuff.

There’s a great scale to everything, and a great sense of perfection you get from artificiality. Although Avatar’s effects were arguably better, its story was far sappier and more derivative, its acting was far worse, and all the goofy fantasy animals and silly blue Na’vi and the invincible old man all kinda chipped away pretty seriously at my ability to…take it seriously. Tron had none of these flaws, and even though many of its characters are just manifestations of programs, they had a surprising amount of humanity to them, as the actors did the best they could with what they were given. Well, except Michael Sheen…he just tried out his best Johnny Depp-as-Wonka impression.

This film also proves that you can never have too much Jeff Bridges. And that you can wait twenty-eight years to make a sequel and that sequel can be better than the original (to me, at least; as I didn’t see the original in 1982and so wasn’t as blown away as I should’ve been). One final note: Quorra looked like an anime character. I guess everyone else did too, but she looked most like one.