Leeds International Film Festival Fanomenon Anime Day 2010

Posted by DiGiKerot in Random Stuff at November 20, 2010 on 11:47 pm

Another month, another anime film festival…. would be something that would be great to be able say. Alas, I doubt any of us are that fortunate (and, frankly, even I have a limit of how frequently I can see the same movies over and over), but we in the UK have been pretty well off this year, and after visiting Edinburgh for Scotland Loves Anime last month, this time I headed down to Leeds for Leeds International Film Festival Fanomenon Anime Day.

Of course, there are only so many anime movies to go around, with just over half of the movies being shown in Leeds being titles that I’d seen previously either at the BFI back in May or in Edinburgh last month, and there’s only really so much which could be said about those movies. I mean, I can’t really think of another way to say that One Piece Strong World is a touch too long for it’s own good, nor do I feel like harping on about how the Evangelion 2.0 screening was less than ideal (for those who were there, I was the obnoxious fellow who piped up to ask them to turn the volume back up during the ending credits prior to the post-credit content).

I can always pontificate about how REDLINE is the greatest thing ever (or at least this years anime incarnation of it), but I’d really hate to sound too much like a broken record. I found out several hours after the fact that Scamp was lurking around for a couple of the screenings, so he’ll probably have something more interesting to say about that one anyway (and for those who were at the REDLINE screening, I was the obnoxious fellow who insisted trying to start a round of applause for the movie – thought I was going to alone in that for a while, but I guess the audience was just a little shell-shocked).

I do think that having lived with a copy of the movies soundtrack on my portable music device of choice for the last couple of weeks did nothing but increase my enjoyment of the movie – the familiarity of the repetitive beats drilled into my brain through repeated play had me involuntarily nodding my head along. Being in the envious position of having seen the movie previously also left me in the position to be able to ignore the subtitles and more fully admire the animation, which is a fantastic position to be in for a film that feels like it exists to wave a huge middle finger at Mamoru Oshii for daring to suggest that Japan can’t hand animate mecha any more.

I will say that Leeds Town Hall is an extremely peculiar forum for watching movies in. It’s a really large hall which had been set up as an impromptu cinema for the duration of the Leeds Film Fesitval, with a flat lower level where all the seats are level. As a result, the screen was hoisted pretty high up to enable a decent view over relatively tall people. There was also a balcony, which I assume was looking slightly downwards onto the screen, but it was a little further back than I generally like to sit from the screen in the cinema. The hall is huge, and cavernous enough to fit several hundred people, not to mention that it gave the sound a strange, echoing quality. The seats aren’t the usual cinema fair – they weren’t uncomfortable, but they were low-backed and tightly packed. Food and drink policy was pretty lax. That’s not to mention the fact that there seemed to be an unusually high quotient of the less anime-literate, presumably due largely to the screenings context within the film festival as a whole.

Don’t get me wrong – this wasn’t particularly bad thing (if nothing else, it meant I could just leave my bag reserving my seat of choice between movies rather than worry about re-queuing), it just made it a very different experience to the usual film festival. It’s probably a lot like those outside screenings they tend to put on in London over the summer. Most of the movies are being repeated in an actual cinema on Sunday 21st of November, and if I’d been able to hang around for the weekend, it’d have been interesting to see the movies again in the different setting for comparison (that, and I could stand to see REDLINE for a third time). I kind of suspect the program may go down better on Sunday – some of the stuff I’ve seen before didn’t get the reactions I was expecting in places, making me wonder if the environment was making it hard for people to get into the swing of things. Saying that, it might just be the availability of fansubs in the interim period means that half the audience had seen the movies before.

There were two movies that I hadn’t previously seen shown as part of the anime day, at least on Friday – those being the Gintama movie and Mardock Scramble -The First Compression-.

Gintama is something that I’d read a few volumes of the manga of a few years back when it’s English print commenced, and then promptly marathoned about seventy episodes of the TV anime version of over the last three weeks in order to be in a position to comprehend the movie. That was a good place to get to watching the TV anime, actually, as in traditional Sunrise fashion the movie re-edited predominantly from TV footage. The Gintama movie is a re-telling of the Benizakura story arc which ran from episodes 58 through 61 of the TV show, and by retelling, I basically mean that it’s the TV episodes strung together. There’s a few cuts in the movie that were new, at least in terms of their animation if not the actual content, but it’s nothing of any really substance – a few tweaks for continuities sake, mostly.

I enjoyed it, though. It strikes me that I should really be a little more down than I am about a movie that was essentially the same as a bunch of TV episodes I’d watched only a week prior, particularly given that Gintama is a series that doesn’t ever really do story well, but have to I admit that I had a big, goofy grin on my face throughout.

That’s because I got everything which I wanted from the movie within it’s opening five minutes. You see, Gintama doesn’t really shine in it’s story or setting, but rather in the quality of it’s written dialogue. Specifically, the show excels when it revels in meta-humour – jokes about it being a shonen series, jokes about it being an anime series, jokes about it being an anime adaptation of a manga – Gintama is at it’s best when it’s being irreverent and self-referential. It’s the very definition of an acquired sense of humour, but one which anyone who sticks with Gintama will inevitably attain.

So when the movie starts with a barrage of gags about the cancellation of the TV show, the fact that’s it’s now a movie and precisely how accommodating they have to be to the newcomers in the audience, all set to a static shot of the Oddjobs office that fans of the show will be very familiar with, it’s difficult for anyone who’s familiar with it not to be immediately won over. It put a big smile on my face which refused to leave, as even if the story isn’t great, it’s not like the rest of the movie isn’t extremely humorous. This isn’t to mention the extended mid-credit sequence at the end of the movie, which calls back to one of the TV animes most infamous episodes (not to mention the discussion at the start of the movie) in a truly hilarious fashion.

Ultimately, it is a little difficult to fathom out exactly who the movie is supposed to be aimed at. Being a re-edit movie which doesn’t really make much consideration for those without prior Gintama experience, it’s certainly not likely to win the franchise any new fans, and those familiar with Gintama will know the content already. It’s hard not to think that they wouldn’t have been better off editing the actual story part of the movie down a little more viciously, but I suppose they did at least make something coherent for the uninitiated, even if it was saturated with injokes. It was fun regardless, though.

The festival also had the European premiere of the first Mardock Scramble movie. It’d previously been shown in New York, but I gather it didn’t have a huge turn out due to being shown opposite to the Haruhi movie being poorly advertised.

Mardock Scramble is really more like a 90s OAV than it is a movie – certainly, aside from some less-than-great looking CG cars, it certainly looks like one. The weiting, visual styling and the character design certainly harks back to the 90s, and the animation quality, whilst great in a few places, is more on the standard of a competent OAV of the period more than a theatrical feature.

It’s a pretty interesting movie. It’s easy to explain in very broad details – there’s a girl called Rune Ballot, who is as messed-up a heroine as anyone has seen in anime in recent years for reasons it’s really best I don’t go into the detail of (in a nutshell, her concept of love has been severely distorted). She survives an attempted murder by explosion and is rebuilt by a scientist and his magic mouse partner Eufcoque so that she can raise charges and testify in court against her attempted murderer, yet apparently if she happens to disappear or be murdered the charges will be dropped entirely.

Yet it’s rather more difficult to pick up on the minutia of the proceedings. Exactly how and in what way Rune was rebuilt was a mystery, though it’s clear she’s become physically powerful and is now able to exert control over machines. Exactly who her would be “saviours” are and what role they play in the world isn’t explicitly made clear – are they sci-fi lawyers, scientists or both? How does the legal system in this universe even work? In many ways it’s the antithesis of what people complain about with A Certain Magical Index, in that there’s a dearth of any real exposition. Either they are expecting everyone to have read the novel, or they’ve approached the production of the movie with a subtlety that’s all too rare in anime these days. It challenges the audience to figure out what is and is not important, what information is actually relevant, and use that to make the mental leaps and assumptions that are required to follow along.

Arguably the entire setting is irrelevant window dressing anyway, as it’s really the relationship between the broken Rune and Eufcoque, a mouse with human intelligence if not sensibilities, that provides both the real meat of the content and the movies emotional core.

There’s some interesting magical girl genre parallels that can be drawn to Mardock Scramble. I’m not just talking about the superficial elements here, though those certainly exist – Eufcoque, a glowing yellow mouse with the intelligence of a human and the ability to morph into other shapes (including Runes weapon of choice), clearly has the properties typical of a magical girl mascot. Eufcoque even provides Runes clothing during the movies final battle. Away from the superficial, though, there’s certain thematic similarities as well. Magical Girl anime, or at least the better examples, are all about rebirth of character in one way or another – a troubled young girl is gifted with abilities which allow her to change into someone else, and through her adventures comes to come to terms with those issues and make positive actions regarding them.

Rune is far more broken than any magical girl heroine, though. Her issues certainly aren’t trifling, and her original being was obliterated to the point where she can no longer even remember what her voice sounds like. With her new-found powers putting her about as far away from her original position as possible, combined with Rune having a broken concept of the love that provides a magical girls power, it all takes a rather more sinister turn towards the end than the traditional magical girl work as Rune goes to some very dark places. This is where the production goes from merely being like a 90s OAV to diving headfirst into it, as an array of weird adversaries which could have been pulled straight out of an old Yoshiaki Kawajiri production head off to attack Rune. This blog is too family-friendly to describe them, but I’ll leave the fact that one of them is called “Pussyhand” to your imagination.

Whilst the action in the second half certainly isn’t badly done, it does totally throw out the subtlety of the movies earlier half in favour of something rather more explicit and visceral. What was building up as an interesting and contemplative science fiction movie ended up not being that in the end.

Well, at least not in the end of this part – the issue is that, after just 66 minutes (well, slightly longer at this screening – it looked to have been projected off a subtitled DVD, only they managed to forget to switch the subtitles on their first attempt at playing it), it ends incredibly abruptly mid-sequence, ready to be picked up by a sequel should this prove a moderate success. I’d like to think it will be – there’s precious little SF of the ilk being made these days – but it’s hard to put any kind of value judgement on this movie as a standalone work. Whilst some other serial movies like Evangelion 2.0 are substantial enough to recommend seeing on their own, if only for sheer spectacle, Mardock really feels like it needs to context of what’s to come to figure out if it’s worthwhile or not. I’m inclined to suggest that the interested try and hold off and wait until the movie trilogy is completed and marathoning the lot, but that wouldn’t really be productive to getting the other movies made.

As it happens, Haikasoru is publishing the novel the series is based upon early next year, so chances are that I’ll be learning whether or not it’s worth sticking with through that long before I’ve a chance to see the anime continuation…

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