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New York Anime Film Festival Report: BLOOD, JIN-ROH, ESCAFLOWNE: GIRL IN GAIA & AURORA

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!

Thet Zar

Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 10, 2000, 3:45 a.m. CST


    by tylerdurden


  • Oct. 10, 2000, 3:56 a.m. CST


    by DJ-Killa

    i've been reading about this anime for the past two years! i've heard it's supposed to blow away all the classics: Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Mononoke... how the hell do i get a bootleg of this one??

  • Oct. 10, 2000, 5:30 a.m. CST

    Bandai and Viz got Jin-Roh

    by junkkid

    Bandai announced at Anime Weekend Atlanta convention over the weekend that Viz Communications will bring it over to US with help of Bandai Entertainment. Can't wait!

  • Oct. 10, 2000, 7:58 a.m. CST


    by Tesarta

    It was so bad I fell asleep. There were so many problems with Aurora that the reviewer had the right idea writing that EVERYTHING was wrong with it. Characters who looked like they woke up with a severe case of water retention. Pointless characters. Violin-string sappy emotional moments that go on FOREVER while the bad bacteria nasty is WAITING OUTSIDE for them to FINISH. False tragedy, poorly realized backstories (the guy in the reactor furnace tells us he has a daughter a couple minutes before he's about to die so that we can sympathize with him). Plus, as my friend who was with me said, this movie is nothing but a big MartyrMart. If you ever see it, you'll know what that means. But I pray that you DON'T see it, so as not to waste 90 minutes of your life while you could be doing something more productive, like staring at sweaty cheese.

  • Oct. 10, 2000, 10:38 a.m. CST

    Have seen three, and recommend all 3 ^_^

    by Mikuji

    The subject really gives it away, i guess ^_^ Escaflowne - A Girl in Gaea was a blast. Returning to the world of Gaea which I hadn't been to since watching the TV series over a year ago was fantastic, Yoko Kanno was pumping out her awesome and unique musical style (to call her a goddess is an understatement), and an entirely different slant on the Escaflowne story worked for me. As mentioned in another post, the movie went nowhere near the depth of the TV series, with the history of the earth-gaea connection, Allen's father and Isaac, Dilandau's past and many other story plots that added to the richness of the world dropped. I wouldn't call it a disappointment though, because the replacement is also fantastic. Torushina, and Dreiden (?)'s establisment were beautiful, the catgirls (and their awesome singing) were beautiful, and Dilandau was his maniacal, crazy self ^_^ (just the way I like him). Jin-Roh.. wow. That's all I can say. This movie left me drained. All I can say is that it is now the best movie of it's genre that I have seen. Fantastic. There aren't enough words to describe it. From the opening sequences, it was clear that it would be brilliant. The imagery is inspiring - the meshing of the fairy tale and the true life story even better. The tale of Little Red Riding Hood changed completely for me, after watching this. The scene with the little girl during the protesting.. ahh. Blood - well, this was a bold new step. The 2d/3d thing has been done before, but this movie was very, very pretty. I have spoken to people who believed, at times, that real footage had been blended in, in particular a scene where an aircraft flies overhead. As mentioned in the article, the use of new camera lines, rotating camera images and unfamiliar shots in anime made it a new experience. My only gripe would be that Blood lacked a coherent ending. It is clear that there is much more planned (I believe there's a manga, an OVA and a Playstation 2 game, amongst others). I've heard some reviewers describe Blood as a sort of 'Buffy'. It's not. The entire tone is much, much darker than the BtVS series. There's my 2 cents ^_^ I'll be buying all of em

  • Oct. 10, 2000, 12:07 p.m. CST


    by Thet Zar

    Just a quick correction. The soundtrack of Jin-Roh is actually by Hajime Mizoguchi, with Yoko Kanno only contributing one (beautiful) track. Escaflowne was also a (more ballanced) collaboration between the two.

  • Oct. 10, 2000, 2:22 p.m. CST

    A comment and a question

    by The Great One

    I wanted to go to this festival, but I was already committed to working at Anime Weekend Atlanta so I couldn't make it. Watching Jerry Chu and Carl Horn make the announcement about Jin-Roh made my mouth drop, then I decided to be first in line for theatrical tickets. Must see that film. Anyway, I've seen the Escaflowne movie. I have to agree with previous statements about this film. It's got great dark animation, a soundtrack I'd kill for and a... nastier version of the Escaflowne guymelf, but the character development isn't there. Van is a homicidal maniac, and Hitomi is now sucidal, but these elements aren't enough to make me totally happy with this film. More style than substance in this script. Macross DYRL did indeed do a better TV to movie transition, as did Galaxy Express 999 and Space Adventure Cobra. I hope the Cowboy Bebop movie is as good. (Speaking of which, just saw the final episode, and damn it was fucked up!) Anyway, my question is what happened to the new Vampire Hunter D? It was supposed to be shown there as well and was one of the big reasons I wanted to go to NY.

  • Oct. 10, 2000, 3:12 p.m. CST

    Vampire Hunter D answer

    by Thet Zar

    Whoa, a Cowboy Bebop movie? Didn't know about that! No spoilers on the end of the series please! I'm still on DVD 2! :) Anyway, the new Vampire Hunter D was indeed shown at NYAFF, but neither I nor anyone I know got a chance to see it. They screened the film last thing on Saturday; poor timing.

  • Oct. 10, 2000, 3:14 p.m. CST


    by Ungoliant

    You should check out the Bubblegum Crisis series. Classic Japanese Anime. The DVD Megaseries is coming out at the end of the month. It is in Japanese with English or French subtitles, OR you can watch the dubbed version in English. If you are exploring Japanese Anime, you have to give this one a try. As the series goes on, the animation and plot both get better and better. Ungoliant

  • Oct. 10, 2000, 5:29 p.m. CST

    What About Japan's Latest Instrument of, Anime: AD

    by Buzz Maverik

    The backstory is more interesting than the movie itself. Toward the end of World War II, Allied forces uncovered secret Axis bases in the Manchurian district of occupied Korea where all kinds of strange experiments were taking place. Mind control. Sleeper assassains. Very cool stuff. They were already working with television, trying to create an addictive electronic image. It seems that these Axis scientists already knew they were going to lose the war. Their remote viewers hadn't been able to pierce the psychic shields around the Manhattan Project, but they knew a storm was coming. They had the idea, they just had to wait for the technology to catch up. On a lighter note, every child who has seen ADDICTEMON the movie is just crazy about those impish little monsters that run races and compete in wacky, fun AND SAVAGE GLADIATORIAL BLOODBATHS AGAINST EACH OTHER , all the while helping young Orbs Humongus become Addictemon Keeper First Class. Yes, the young fans of these characters can't get enough of the trading cards, toys, clothes, video games, videos, posters, potato peelers, DVDs and CDs and neither can their parents. Why, Candidate Manchuria Company, the owners of Addictemon can't crank out the stuff fast enough. And if the kids run out of money, they can always steal it from their parents, grandparents neighbors or other kids. Like the theme songs says "You must buy them all, you must spend it all, must buy them all..."

  • Oct. 10, 2000, 6:25 p.m. CST

    Yoko Kanno

    by Ambrose Chappell

    Yoko Kanno is a brilliant composer, not only of orchestral anime scores but also jazz, pop music and...stuff that can't be classified. Her scores for Macross Plus and Cowboy Bebop are my favorites (I can't get enough of the Cowboy Bebop title theme - it's so crisp and it sets the tone for the series so well). I'm really looking forward to hearing Kanno's music from this new Escaflone film. However, I would love to see her score a non-anime film sometime.

  • Oct. 10, 2000, 8:17 p.m. CST

    Esca/Yoko Kanno

    by Griever

    Personally, I really, really liked the Escaflowne movie, although I also can't say I really disagree with the points raised against it, either... I just felt it worked for me, both when I saw it at AX, then again more recently, but, you know. Whatever. As for Yoko Kanno, well, yeah, she's incredible, particularly so with good collaborators - such as Tsuneo Imahori and the other Seatbelts for Bebop, and Mizoguchi on Escaflowne - though I think she particularly shines with her 'undefinable' music, like most of the stuff from Macross Plus. Her work with her protege of sorts, Sakamoto Maaya - a voice actress and singer, who provided the vocals of Hitomi in Esca, as well as Yakusoku wa Iranai, the TV opening, and Yubiwa, the movie theme - is really some of my favourite stuff, period. Anyway, I'm gonna go listen to my Cowboy Bebop OSTs. Oh, and my ill-gotten Esca movie one, too. Whee!

  • Oct. 12, 2000, 5:47 p.m. CST

    Jin-Roh on the BBC

    by Dave Patrick

    Jin Roh was shown on the digital channel BBC Choice (basically its BBC 3 and will be changing its name to that in the near future) a couple of months back as part of its Japan Weekend. The BBC probably has the rights to show it again one or more times so keep an eye out for it in the UK. They trailed it as the world TV premiere (which is certainly possible). So if you have an anime friend in the UK and your video can play PAL, get a copy. It is in the top three anime of all time. It is that good.

  • Flawless animation and a deep, perfectly-crafted story. What more can anyone ask for ? Ok, I may be a little biased here since I'm the "webmaster" of which, without false modesty, is probably the best Jin-Roh site around. ^^ Well, the news of the movie being licensed in the US was certainly a very bright spot in my week! ***** Escaflowne - OF COURSE it doesn't have the character depth of the series, it's only a movie for chrissakes. If they had made the movie as a continuation of the series then they could have kept the whole background, but the series provides very good closure and a sequel would have felt too "tagged on". In my opinion, it was a very good idea to change the characters and provide an alternate storyline. It was certainly a surprise to see the characters' personnalities change so much. I think that the darker world of Escaflowne the Movie was an interesting place to visit. ***** Vampire Hunter D 2000 - Visually stunning. Action sequences to die for. A LOT of action sequences, which is both the strength and the weakness of this movie because the story was sacrificed for them. It's not a bad story but it's pretty straightforward, no real surprises anywhere.

  • Dec. 8, 2000, 2:54 a.m. CST

    Jin-Roh Music

    by BigFire

    Is not done by Yoko Kanno. Her sometime musical partner in crime Hajime Mizoguchi did the soundtrack for Jin-Roh. I know, I own the soundtrack, and a haunting one it is. In case no one mentioned, the title, and the story is sort of a twisted take on the Little Red Ridding Hood. Jin-Roh the title means "Man-Wolf", which referes to the special militarized police that Fuse belongs to. The young girls that Sect use to transport bombs are dressed to represent the Little Red Ridding Hood...