The manga classic from veteran director Yoshiaki Kawajiri has been the inspiration behind many samurai and ninja anime for the past decade. Set against the upheaval of feudal Japan, acclaimed Madhouse Animation Studio created an epic tale of blood, guts and honour.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the story of the wandering swordsman Jubei, and his female ninja-counterpart, Kagero is still graphically striking. All their confrontations with the eight demons, servants to the Shogun of the Dark, are stunning in their use of swordplay, hand combat and supernatural ability.
Ninja Scroll might be the original, but is still the most graphic and kick-started a generation of anime-lovers. (4/5)
Naruto Unleashed: Series 2, Part 1
In this second series, Naruto and his classmates must overcome the survival exam, which takes place inside the ‘forest of death’, a place where mysterious creatures, deadly obstacles and the race against time make it the most formidable challenge Naruto has yet had to face.
Superb quality anime makes this a visually exciting and energetic addition to the genre, with intrigue and combat galore, as classmates rival one another and hunt amongst themselves for the scrolls of Heaven and Earth, which will win them the competition.
One aspect that lets the series down is the translation into English, whether you prefer to read subtitles or listen to the dubbed version. Other times it is apparent that spoken lines simply aren’t translated correctly, with a lapse in timing. Only a minor point, in what is essentially a fine anime series. (2/5)
Samurai 7 (Volumes 1-7)
Translated from Akira Kurosawa’s black and white classic samurai tale, into a fully animated series that has awed audiences both in the west and east.
All the original characters, and their personalities, are back. Infused with the charm of Japanese anime, and consistent quality throughout, our heroes assist the troubled peasants of a small farming village against tyrannical half samurai, half cyborg bandits.
These deadly foes are the only digitally created characters, along a few landscapes and effects, in a largely hand-drawn medium. This only expanded the possibilities for a very ambitious project that carried on beyond the plot of the 1954 feature film, whilst not neglecting the virtues of Samurai philosophy and amazing swordfights and large battle sequences. (5/5)
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
Two years on from the events of the Final Fantasy VII videogame, Cloud is searching for redemption for the loss of a close friend who he could not protect. With the world in danger again from the threat of Jenova, can Cloud find the strength to come to the aid of those who most need it this time round?
The animation from the popular Final Fantasy VII videogame has been ditched in favour of modern CGI capabilities and looks similar to animation used in SquareEnix’s last feature film, ‘Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within’. This means a great mixture of real-life CGI fighting in a fantastical world. The church garden scene between Tifa and Loz, one of Kadaj’s henchmen, is completely OTT Kung Fu action!
The final battle between our hero, Cloud, and the reincarnated-maniac Sephiroth, matches up to the epic proportions of the videogame. For such a little guy, Cloud has a range of ridiculous massive swords that he wields with devastating effect!
FFVII: AC is a quick-lived affair, very short, and is left open for an obvious sequel. It has magnificent graphical effects and animation that you’d expect from SquareEnix, formerly SquareSoft. Pity that their choice in music was not as good. What was with the throbbing techno-rock-orchestral soundtrack?!
The back-story from the videogame is explained in the opening sequences, but Advent Children is really one for the FF fans, and those who like to wield huge swords while riding a motorbike! (2/5)
The human race has turned on itself. An environmental catastrophe destroys what is left of earth as a natural habitat. Now a genetically engineered colony is all that’s left, the rest is polluted. Those that dwell within the colony must rely on the greater numbers that dig for the resources left in the toxic wastelands. One man tries to break this poverty divide.
What we have become accustomed to with anime is the amazing detail and humanisation of an animated drawing. Sky Blue calibrates hand drawing, 3D CGI [Computer Generated Imagery], and miniatures to create a world that has scale and depth. Hand-to-hand combat between Ecoban colony forces and Shua, our rebel-hero, involves no computer wizardry. The fighting is not entirely in real-time, but suspended-space to give greater impact to the delivery of roundhouse kicks and hand punches. This project was pain stakingly constructed over a seven-year period, with particular attention paid towards Jiu Jitsu and Kung Fu.
Sky Blue has a very emotive plot that exists via character development shown through physical combat as well as dialogue. There is a deep reservoir of feeling between friends and lovers that gives significance as to why they fight and it pushes the action to a greater extent. This is evident in much of the philosophy of Manga and Japanese anime.(3/5)
Akira can be credited as the film that made the world wake-up to Manga. Its creator, Katsuhiro Omoto, fused a dark world set in Neo-Tokyo, a city on the brink of complete havoc, with a striking storyline that manages to confuse and grip the viewer simultaneously.
Unfortunately it’s this factor of total chaos that drags the film far too much. In the end, you ask yourself what the hell is Akira? But the stunning hand-drawn animations and sheer creative intuition of its creator still captivates audiences today. (3/5)
Ghost In A Shell
Set in an era of government corruption where cyborgs are used for espionage and counterespionage, our heroine must track-down a super hacker “The Puppet Master”. GIAS is a sophisticated piece of anime that further implemented the use of computer-generated imagery into drawn animation.
Influences from Hollywood are obvious here. The ‘Bladerunner’ drop-back and ‘Robocop’ finale give the film a dark nature, but it stands on its own merits. Visually it is highly stimulating, while you are provoked into thinking about the blurred boundaries between a synthetic and natural world. Its short running time is only a minor point on another A-grade Manga film. (5/5)
Mobile Suit Gundam Seed (Volumes 1-10)
Gundam ‘Seed’ is the most recent series of the epic Japanese saga. The fluid mix between computer-generated imagery and hand-drawn animation is what sets this robot-fighting series apart from other Manga. The new instalment of Gundam deliveries yet again a complex storyline that rivals any on the silver screen, and keeps to its roots by not over playing the use of CGI.
As with the previous series, a score was composed for ‘Seed’. Blending orchestral elements and Tokyo-Pop inspired techno to heighten the intensity of the battle sequences. The climactic volume interweaves all elements of previous battles, relationships between friends, enemies and lovers, and provides a stunning finale to the long-standing feud between the ZAFT and Earth Forces. (5/5)