Tag Archives: anime reviews

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia

By Boogie Knight:

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, it’s a catchy title, and from the boxart appeared to be a straight horror title. So imagine my surprise to find that the most accurate category would be horror comedy. You really don’t find too many of those, mostly it’s comedies with monsters or parodies, but it was a rare treat to find a series which not only was funny but didn’t skimp on the horror.

Remember Casper the Friendly Ghost? It was one of those weird properties which tried to be kid friendly and charming but had the macabre subtext that the protagonist was a dead child. Our eponymous Dusk Maiden is the ghost a young woman reputed to have been haunting her school for some time, and begetting many stories about herself. Things change when she encounters a young man who sees her and doesn’t go screaming for the hills. What follows is a series of investigations into the ghostly stories in pursuit of some very hard truths.

The story itself is thankfully straightforward, a very pleasant brake from the plague of stories which have been paradoxically cardboard thin yet woefully labyrinthine. Given the story itself is simple, how well the whole thing holds up depends largely on the ability of our leading man and leading lady to sell their chemistry. Surprisingly, they do so pretty well, without 90% of the series dragging on full of teen angst as many anime had before. She’s not your typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl and he’s not your average soulless meat puppet audience avatar. That’s just refreshing. Rounding out the cast is goofy girl and a tall Naoto. It’s a nice blend of personalities to bounce off each other to provide the humor. There was one part in which they did the usual anime girl body comparisons and surprisingly it set up a pretty good scene.

At first the series takes an episodic approach, but the plot points introduced come together quite nicely. I have to say that I particularly liked one episode which dealt with the world’s most militant skeptic, even more so with a development in the plot that makes me want to force various writers to sit through and watch. That episode demonstrated a good story doesn’t need an out of left field twist, but rather can be very effective with a logical progression and solid execution.

Twists tend to be used in lazy plots the same way jump scares are used in lazy horror, but good suspense hinges on the execution. No matter how grim and horrible events unfold, it’s almost a thing of beauty in how they are pulled off and proceed to tug at the heartstrings. Speaking of heartstrings, more than a few people found some serious payoff with the finale, and it is a fitting ending which was immensely satisfying.

Dusk Maiden is a series which is well served by the setting. The school in which the story takes place is a hodgepodge of consolidations, remodelings, and other projects which give the place it’s own foreboding personality. Not only is it the appropriate setting for a horror, but makes sense as fertile ground for inspiring the kinds of spooky stories which the cast looks into.

This anime has certainly been one of the best surprises all year. I can’t recommend this enough to people who like horror, comedy, or good female main characters. Even if you’re not a big horror fan, I have to recommend it just because it’s so damn good, and a refreshing break from the utter stagnation of bland and average titles touted as the second coming. Just give it a shot.

Redline (and Battle Royale)

Remember Galaxy Express 999, or Robotech, or pretty much any of the anime that made its way overseas and opened the door? For a number of people, the works of anime that got them hooked were because of the mind expanding experience. Lately, it seems like the vast majority of anime is about naked highschool girls and their panties. Not an especially new phenomenon, but there’s a chasm with ample room for an anime that reminds people of what got them into it in the first place.

Fear no more, boys and girls, we have the movie Redline full of oldschool goodness that fills every second with a visual feast. The story is simple: an eclectic mix of characters participate in a series of high stakes races in a bizarre variety of machines. Things get more interesting as this particular race is set on a bizarre fascistic planet which does not want the race to happen. As the story is very simple, it’s hard to elaborate without ruining all the crazy events which happen. That the story maintains a tight focus speaks well of it, as there is so much going on that could easily water down the kickass racing. This reminds me of one of the things which bogs down many anime with sci-fi or fantasy elements: The need to explain so much of how the universe works.

Visually, it’s an absolute joy to behold. Words cannot adequately describe how amazing this movie looks. The audio is solid, with a pulsing soundtrack that matches the action perfectly. Dubbing has gone a long way since those early titles, and that is one recent development which enhances the movie. Just watch the movie!

Battle Royale

“Could you kill your best friend?” Possibly one of the best taglines ever in cinema, and naturally the movie has one of the most memorable premises. With the nation in spiral, and the youth in revolt, the adults are so frightened of their own children they create Battle Royale to turn the youth violence inward. In short, a class of high school students are abducted, taken to an island, rigged with explosive collars, and given weapons as they are set on each other or else get blown to bits. In this free for all, there are no rules of engagement and no quarter given as the name of the game is to be the last one standing at the end.

An obvious comparison will be made to The Hunger Games for a similar premise, but there’s one detail which makes all the difference in the world: In Battle Royale the contestants know each other. Rivalries, friendships, unrequited feelings, all of these come bubbling up and are tested as the class is put in an impossible situation. At least one scene comes to mind which played out like something out of Shakespeare, but more awesome because there were guns involved.

The current version available is the Director’s Cut with additional scenes that were shot after the fact, an unusual choice. Even more unusual the extra bits were not scenes of extra violence and sex, but scenes which expanded the characters including a recurring flashback. This also includes three epilogues, which is a little absurd but it’s hard to pick one and say that it should be removed. I’m especially partial to the final epilogue and the last line spoken which even got its own epitaph. Could also be a sign of getting old that it felt especially poignant to me.

Yes, there was a sequel to Battle Royale, but one might be better off skipping it. From what I read, it sounds like a few characters were arbitrarily brought back. While the first movie has a subtext with political implications, the second one really packed it in, which wouldn’t be so bad if it had anything insightful or fresh to say. It’s pretty much: Youth good, adults bad. Watching the first movie, I got the impression that the real problem was that nobody was being an adult. The principle antagonist in the first movie was this strange blend of terrifying, douchey, and just plain sad. Overall, Battle Royale is one of those movies which a movie buff has to see at least once.