Hey folks, Harry here with a report from the festival that El Cosmico and Robogeek most wish they had just returned from... that's right, an ANIME film festival... Specifically, I wish I was there to see BLOOD... I was shown a few moments of it about... a year ago, but now... Now I really wish I had my hands on it. But since I am but the introducer of this report, I'll just turn you over to the capable and agile palms of Thet Zar...
OK, Harry, Here's my report from the 2000 New York Anime Film Festival. You can call me Thet Zar.
I want to prelude this report by saying that until a couple of months ago, I was not into anime at all. Of course, I had seen all the great American anime successes, like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll (shudder), etc, but I never considered myself a fan. Since then, I've started watching Cowboy Bebop and Rurouni Kenshin and have started to become _very_ appreciative of the genre.
The festival itself was held at the Directors Guild Theater in midtown Manhattan. It's a smallish but nice place, and the sound system is surprisingly good, so the visual and audio quality of what was shown was, thankfully, high. The whole event was sponsored by the SciFi channel, and the (quite high) ticket prices went to benefit the Japan Society.
You can find a complete list of what was shown at: SciFi.Com but unfortunately, I did not have a chance to see everything. The films which I did get to view were: Blood: The Last Vampire, Escaflowne: Girl in Gaia, The Aurora, and Jin-Roh.
Blood has had a lot of hype surrounding it recently. Production IG has decided to _heavily_ mesh 2d animation with 3d rendering for this 40-minute movie. All compositing of 2d animation was done in Photoshop, then dropped on top of the 3-d worlds in AfterEffects. I was very surprised at how well this technique worked. The movie follows a couple of days in the life of Saya, a young vampire hunter with a mysterious past. Although it does not explicitly say so in the movie, the timeframe is the 1960s, as the Vietnam war looms in the distance. Most of the story takes place within an American military base in Japan. Because of this, 70% of the movie was recorded in English originally, with the rest of the dialogue in Japanese. In the version we saw, neither language was subtitled. Although it was easy to get the gist of the conversations in Japanese, I wonder how much deeper the story would seem if I could actually have understood what was said.
The film itself was amazing, however. The composite 2d/3d animations worked very well, a did the overall tone. The entire movie is set in dark, dark reds and yellows. The palette was actually pretty close to games like Resident Evil, so if you've played them, you'll get the idea. Thanks to the new rendering technology, Blood features camera movements, pans, and zooms that were not possible to create in anime before. What's more, these camera movements do not look out of place at all, but fit perfectly in with the rest of the film, putting to rest my fears that a 3d rendered background would stick out like a sore thumb. Blood focuses on action and suspense, not plot or character development, and it's very good at what it does. If you're looking for an adrenalin rush, this is a good place to get it.
After Blood, we were shown the atrocity that was The Aurora. This completely 3d-rendered debacle is certainly the worst anime I've ever scene, and ranks in my personal All Time Bottom 5. They did nothing right. I won't waste your time with a full review. Good points: The vehicle design for the submarine was sort of cool. The 3d-rendered clothing flapped and bent very well Bad Points: Everything else. I mean it.
Next up was Escaflowne: Girl in Gaia (Esca). To those of you who might have seen the butchered version of the TV show that they're showing on Fox Kids, forget it ever existed. Not only does the American version cut out everything that is even close to offensive, but this movie was intended to be darker and more adult than even the Japanese TV series. This is demonstrated throughout the movie as a couple of serious bloodbaths erupt during fight scenes. Granted that the violence is nowhere _near_ the amount seen in many other anime features, this is still not a movie you're going to want to take your 7 year old to. Following in this theme, the characters are darker than in the TV series. The heroine, Hitomi, is a depressed teenager who suffers from mood swings and the occasional wish for suicide. She is not nearly as spirited as she was on TV. Lord Van appears to be older than he was on the TV show, and much more of a cold-blooded killer.
Esca seems to suffer a bit from a shortage of time. As with any movie that attempts to follow the plot of a TV show or novel, some things are going to have to be left out. There is no love triangle. The world of Gaia is not nearly as fleshed out as it was on TV. The relationship between Earth and Gaia is not delved into at all. As large as these gaps may seem to be, if you look at the movie alone, it is a cohesive whole. Not only that, but it is also a VERY GOOD cohesive whole. I enjoyed Esca immensely. The all-new soundtrack from real-life goddess Yoko Kanno will stick in you mind for days afterwards. The animation throughout the movie is of a high quality, though a few scenes seem to be rendered a bit more poorly. The transportation scene of Hitomi from Earth to Gaia is an amazing sequence, as is the opening battle on board the Black Dragon airship. Ah yes, airships. Just a quick note to those of you who know nothing about the Escaflowne universe: the world of Gaia is one of a cross between technology and magic. Massive steam-age machines exist alongside telepathy, magic, and many mystical races of people. It's a fascinating world. For any more than that, you're going to have to see the movie. Bandai is currently looking for a US distributor, and this should be in limited release by 2001-2002.
The only other movie I had a chance to see was Jin-Roh. Boy am I glad I did. This was only the second US screening of Jin-Roh (also by Production IG). I'm going to say this off the bat: I love Jin-Roh. In stark contrast to The Aurora (see above), Jin-Roh ranks as the _best_ anime I've ever seen (really), and in my All Time Top 5. Made by the same team who created Ghost in the Shell, this triumph is set in an alternate-reality 1960. In a Japan of great unrest and turmoil, still trying to rebuild itself from the Second World War, this story follows Fuse and he wrestles with his guilt over the death of a young girl. Fuse (foo SAE) is a member of an elite military unit set up by the government to control violent anti-government guerrillas known as The Sect. Tragedy strikes when Fuse is forced to confront a young girl transporting explosives; and choose to shoot her, or allow her to explode the device. His decision, and hers, haunt Fuse throughout the rest of the film, as he meets the girl's sister and finds himself falling in love with her.
What really makes this film stand out is its realism. I mean that both in terms of the plot and characters, and in terms of the animation. The animation depicts city life in 1960 Japan so well that you fell as if you're really there. The characters move with such grace that I was fooled into thinking I was watching live actors. The music is once again composed by Yoko Kanno, and will once again haunt you for days. As for the story, this is a movie I would lobby to be put in the 'Drama' section of your local Blockbuster, not 'Animation'. Real people with real problems, do what they really would. The madness and sorrow that Fuse suffers is communicated to the audience better than any 'shellshock' or 'war sickness' ever was in a western movie. I really don't want to say any more about Jin-Roh, for fear of spoiling it. Unfortunately, Bandai is currently unable to find a US distributor for the film, and I personally don't think they ever will. Not all the suits in Disney could turn _this_ movie into a kidflick. Why? Because this film is not 'adult' because of violence or sex (some violence, no sex), but because of the issues raised. Let's hope that if Bandai decides to release direct-to DVD they do it soon. In France (where the movie was first released), they're supposed to have it already!
Well, that about sums it up. A quick note to the organizers, if you're reading this: Never let that CNN reporter you had keynote this year ever speak again. Really. She was terrible. Other than that, great job!