Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Anime Review: Yobi the Five-Tailed Fox

Yobi The Five-Tailed Fox is a Korean animated movie directed by Lee Seong-kang and was originally released in South Korea by CJ Entertainment in 2007. It follows the tale of Yobi, a magical fox with the unique ability to transform into just about anything but mostly chooses the form of a little girl. She lives with these aliens who have crashed onto earth and have slowly been working on their ship to leave. But as they try to leave one of the aliens runs away and gets discovered by a group of kids who live in a independently ran school of sorts and Yobi decides to start going to this school to try and get the alien back. Yobi lives with the children and forms bonds that she finds difficult to break. She must deal with the issue of growing attached to the kids when she can not truely live among as a human until she takes a soul.  

The plot is easier to follow written down than watching it first hand though. The movie pretty much starts and just slowly reveals itself through dialogue and visuals. It wasn't till close to the middle of the movie I started to understand what was all going on . The movie also relies on you hearing a plot point once and remembering it later. Other movies show you something about three or more times to make sure you remember it but rarely is any fact repeated in this movie. This can be to the movies credit or downfall depending on how you look at it. When it comes to the technicalities, legends or the myths in this movie I was mostly in the dark and I felt confused most of the time. What was also confusing was the school itself. It seemed at first that these kids were taking gym class with a coach, but then we see them sleeping at the school which befuddled me. Later the head of the school explains through dialogue that is was a school for kids for some reason can't go to regular school. this a legal program? I mean can he take these random kids in? And it's obvious that these kids are not orphans so...yeah I'm not sure what that is all about.  Random note, I think one of the kids has a mustache.

Yobi was a difficult character to get into at first. She seemed almost like some sort of evil villain with her scary smile and random laughing. But as the movie progressed I grew to like her. She fancies her self to be better than the humans laughing at the odd things they do but she also takes a great interest in them with such fascination. I also realized that she is not human and therefore her oddness was just the result of her as this magical animal trying to blend in with the humans. One of my favorite scenes was when she is sitting in the office with the man who runs the school (I don't think the term "principal" is correct here) while he is trying to ask her about something. The way she sit there kicking her legs while swaying back and fort with that quaint smile was some how mesmerizing. She does become alot of fun just to watch as she interacts with the world around her. 

There is one thing I have yet to mention about this film. The one thing that I think makes everything work in this film. I may have said something like this before for movies like Summer Wars or any Studio Ghibli film, but I truly mean it here;This is by far the absolute most beautifuly animated film I have ever seen. I mean...WOW! Every movement, every detail, every frame is gorgeous.  The lighting of the scenery, the movement of air through the forest, the ripple of water, the simple way a person's expression changes; It's all perfection. This is also the best uses of 3D CGI imagery in a 2D film I've ever witnessed. There were times that I didn't realize part of the scene was CGI. Everything blends together. Even if this movie had been given a poor story line, terrible voices acting, or bad editing, I would recomend watching this on the visuals alone. If you have ever had an interest in animated movies and making them, this is absolute must-watch.

The ending, which I will not spoil, was a bit predictable but the way it gets there is so sudden and memorable that it makes up for it. I really felt for what Yobi was going through and was moved by what she did to solve the dilemma in the end.  It was a sad but hopeful ending that I think worked well. Yobi, The Five-Tailed Fox has it's faults but it makes up for them with heart and illustration.It may not present it's plot clearly but you'll enjoy the story none the less.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Animation Analysis: Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon

     Beware! Beyond this point, There be Spoilers!

    How to Train Your Dragon surprised many people when it came out. It was one of Dreamworks Animation Studios more serious works abandoning the days of Shrek where parodies and puns were over saturating every film. It was even said by some to be a 3D movie that outdid Avatar's 3D visuals. As someone who has a somewhat small obsession with dragons, I was excited for this film and it did not disappoint me. But like with a lot of things I like, one trip to a website forum can depress the heck out of you. I noticed people complaining about this movie calling it generic and simple. But what surprised me the most was most of the hate was directed to one character; Astrid. I remember seeing one artists' work on, where they drew themselves talking smugly to Astrid saying "So you fell in love after a simple flight around your village? Geez, how deep." This comment on Astrid's character was to me so ignorant that it angered me. It's one of the things that lead me to write this blog. I will in try to explain why I think Astrid is a deeper and more complex character than people give her credit for. 

Astrid in the Beginning
     In the first scene with Astrid, Hiccup watches in awe as she calmly walks away from an explosion. A "lonely island" skit comes to mind here. Right off we can see that Astrid to Hiccup, and possibly everyone else, is seen as this tough,strong, and independent lass who doesn't take crap from anyone. That is what most take from this opening scene.
Look #1
But what most miss is what happens later in the scene after Stoick the Vast, Hiccups dad, criticizes him for running around where he shouldn't be. As he is sent away and walks by the other teens who are mocking him, we see Astrid sitting down with a sort of somber look on her face. She seems to be in deep thought about something. When she looks up as Hiccup passes by, Her look has more sadness to it if ever so slightly. The other teens look at Hiccup with discontented glances, but she doesn't. Also interesting to note that as Gobber slams down one of the teens playfully, Astrid withdraws a bit as if it startled her. It's here that I noticed that there might be something hidden in her personality that isn't reveled yet. Something is bothering her and we are left to wonder what that might be. I have a theory for what is going on here but I'll save that for later.
    Later on, the teenagers enroll in dragon training as their parents ship off in search for the dragons nest. As Astrid and the others work hard and hone their skills, Hiccup is building his relationship with the nightfury he caught, Toothless. In doing so he ends up being late for the dragon training meetings and screwing up during the battles with dragons. On one of his first times being late, he gets a second look from Astrid.
look  #2
At first it seems that she shows some interest in him arriving but then her expression changes to loathing. It's clear that she is getting turned off by his lack of effort in dragon training. It still seems odd though giving that she had such a kinder expression in that first look earlier when he was causing a mess in the dragons' raid. The reason is revealed later in their training with the Deadly Nadder. In Hiccups clumsiness, the Deadly Nadder almost harms both him and Astrid if not for Astrid's quick thinking. After defeating the dragon, Astrid turns to Hiccup in anger and yells at him. "Do you think this a game? Our parents' war is about to become are own. Find out what side you're on." It is here we learn about what has been driving Astrid this whole time. Astrid realizes the burden that are beginning to be place upon her. As their parents go off to fight the dragons in some distant land, she has to carry the burdens of the village and the fights with the dragons along the rest of the teens . That is, in my theory, why she had that sober look to her in that first scene. The pressure was starting to show and she was obviously scared of the struggles she would soon face. I think that as the training took it's course, her steady progression had helped built her confidence some and seeing Hiccup now she feels angry that he isn't taking his responsibility seriously.

The Idea of the Complex.
     In the second half of the film, Hiccup has learned a lot about dragons while working with Toothless. He then uses this knowledge to improve in his dragon training and out perform everyone including Astrid. He gains attention and respect among the teens and becomes a prodigy in the village. As this happens, Astrids look has changed once again. She now looks at Hiccup with extreme loathing. You can look at this two ways. One is the simple premise of jealously seeing how the attention has gone from her to Hiccup very rapidly. The other way is to look at this is the idea of the complex. I first learned of this idea from the anime His and Her Circumstances. In this show, the discussion of the main character's dislike for another comes up. The theory is presented that the character didn't truly hate the other but merely had a complex about them. They said that a complex was nothing more than misplaced admiration and that the hatred came from seeing this person following the same goal of perfection but doing it with more noble causes instead of some attempt at fame. I feel that something similar is going on here with Astrid. She can't understand how someone like Hiccup is overshadowing her since he doesn't act like your typical Viking. She sees there is something different about how he is doing things but can't understand it so it results in hatred and bitterness.

The False Pretense of the "magic carpet Dragon Ride"
     This next part is the thing that really gets under my skin when discussions of Astrid come up. People love to talk about how "Astrid had such a quick change of heart simply from seeing her village from the clouds" or "She fell in love and kissed Hiccup after a generic carpet ride". I can't understand how so many misunderstand the purpose of this scene. It deals not with Astrid and Hiccup but with her and Toothless. You notice how when Astrid and Toothless first encounter each other, a stand still occurs where both are weary of each other and it's only Hiccup that prevents a battle from happening. This is because Toothless sees Astrid as nothing more than another violent viking and Astrid only sees toothless as a vicious dragon. When Hiccup tries to change Astrid's view of Toothless by taking her on a ride, Toothless tears violently through the sky messing with Astrid. But in the chaos, Astrid eventually breaks down holding tight to Hiccup closing her eyes screaming "I'm sorry I'm sorry, Just make it stop". At this point she is at her lowest and has dropped her tough viking persona That's when Toothless calms down. When Astrid opens her eyes again she sees the wondrous beauty in the clouds above and the world below. This "magic carpet ride" as some try to compare it to was not a change or heart for Astrid towards Hiccup but towards Toothless.

The True Change of Heart For Astrid to Hiccup.
     In this dragon ride, Hiccup and Astrid discover the dragons nest and the truth of why the dragons would raid their village for food; to feed their queen of monstrous size. When arriving back to the cove, Astrid is hyped up about the discovery and says they should tell the village about the nest. Hiccup immediately does not like the idea for fear they will harm Toothless. Astrid is confused by Hiccups refusal to tell the village. "We just discovered the dragons nest. It's the very thing everyone has ever dreamed of when our viking ancestors first sailed here." Notice she still has the mind set of a viking. She thinks of conquering of her foes, the war against the dragons for centuries, the same thing that every other viking she ever met has been raised on. "And you want to throw all that away to protect your pet dragon? Are you serious?" Hiccup responds in a way Astrid does not see coming. He simply turns to her and says "Yes". Then we get the final look from Asrtid.

For as long as Astrid has known Hiccup, all she has ever seen him do is fail. He's always stumbled on his words, made a fool of himself, and shied away when his opinions were confronted. But Hiccup did something here Astrid has never seen him do before. He looked her straight in the eyes, without hesitation and without a stuttering word, he calmly made a stand for what he believes in. And the amazement in clearly displayed in Astrid's face. If you have to pinpoint when Astrid starts to fall for Hiccup or have a change of heart, THAT right there is it. When she saw in him real strength. Also many point to Astrid kissing Hiccup on the cheek as making her "too easy", But really since when is a kiss on the cheek an immediate sign for falling madly in love with someone? Astrid just didn't know how to properly apologize for things or to comfort him at the time so she simply kissed him on the cheek as a sign of trust.

Everything comes full circle. 
     The last scene worth noting is when Astrid talks with Hiccup after the truth is found out by the village, Toothless is captured, and the vikings leave for the dragons nest. This scene is my favorite for the dialogue and what it means in the whole point to not only Hiccups character but what it reveals when you look closer at it. 

Hiccup: Why couldn't I have killed that dragon when I found him in the woods?
It would have been better for everyone.
Astrid: Yep! The rest of us would have done it. So why didn't you?
(turns to Hiccup intently)
Why didn't you?
Hiccup: I don't know. I couldn't
Astrid: That's not an answer.
Hiccup: Why is this so important to you all the sudden?
Astrid: Cause I want to remember what you say...right now
Hiccup: For the love of...
I was a coward. I was weak. I wouldn't kill a dragon.
Astrid: You said "wouldn't" that time.
Hiccup: Whatever! I wouldn't. Three hundred years and I'm the first
viking who wouldn't kill a dragon.
Astrid: First to ride one though.
Hiccup: I wouldn't kill him because he looked as frightened as I was. 
I looked at him and I saw myself.

Remember how earlier I had a theory to the first look we see Astrid give Hiccup as he walked by in that first scene? I think the same thing that Hiccup mentions here was happening. Astrid was scared by the burdens that would soon be placed on her, and when she looked at Hiccup she saw he was scared too. She saw herself. I also feel this is what happened with Toothless when Astrid got scared while he was flying her around in a wild fashion. He saw she was just as scared.

Final Thoughts. 
     I feel Astrid's character was truly created as a reflection of Hiccup's character. They have different views on the viking culture and were taking two separate paths, but they were both scared teenagers with a lot of pressure upon them. Through Astrid, the animators tried to give characterization through actions and facial expressions instead of dialogue. I feel they did it wonderfully with Astrid. She is a much deeper character than most give her credit for. They say you can't take things at face value but with Astrid it is the very thing that expresses her. You can find such depth there, you just have to learn to look for it.

sources used
-screencaps taken from How To Train Your Dragon by me.
-His and Her Circumstances Vol 1 DVD

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Animation Analysis: Introduction

    Animation Analysis: Introduction

      Hello, my fellow anime addicts and cartoon fanatics. Welcome to my new blogs series Animation Analysis. As the name suggests this is where I discuss various things in animation that I've seen over the years: Things that have gained my up most attention, things that have moved me, things that have disgusted me, things that have changed my perspective, and some things that are hidden. In animation such as anime, cartoons, and CGI created films we are given beautiful and unique worlds: from insects struggling with life on the ground to a robot searching the stars for their lost love. It can bring to sight things no one has seen before. A lot of detail is put into these movies and shows to catch your eyes and bring you in. They flash their brilliant pallet of wonders to shock and amazes us and even bring us to tears. They leave marks on us that live with us until our last days. So in short this blog is an open love letter to everything in animation; however, that is not all this blog is about. You see I aim to dig deeper than most other bloggers and reviewers do. You see anyone can post a review of an animate movie or show they have seen. I plan to do more. 

Bringing Things To Light
     In animation, there are several hands in a production working tediously together to make a work of art. And as a result, there is a lot of detail in this said art. But sometimes things can get lost in that work and viewers can miss certain aspects. I want to shed some light on the little things that most don't see. Like the way a character expresses a certain feeling with minor or major body language or the symbolism behind ones actions on screen. 

Giving a Different Perspective 
     In the years I have watched and enjoyed things in animation, I have learned very well that not everyone sees things that same. Some things I have loved others have been misunderstood and mocked by others. I wish to give my take give the reader another idea on certain characters, plots, and ideas. Some characters need a good defense and I plan on giving them one.  

Providing Myself an Outlet 
      I've always had an acute fascination and love for certain things. But somethings can't be easily brought up in conversation. I can't explain my admiration for a movie clearly in a Facebook statues, nor can I defend my favorite hero or heroine in 140 characters. I certainly can not talk about the idea behind an entire movies' story arch in a short discussion with friends without people getting confused by my speech or interjecting with their thoughts before mine are fully explained. So This blog is my way getting out my inner thoughts.

Spoilers are to be Expected
      Like I have mentioned before, this blog is not intended to be a review series. I am not trying to convince you to buy some DVD or look something up on Netflix or Crunchyroll to view.  I will assume that when you start reading one of these blogs that you have already seen the movie or show in question and have some knowledge of the material. With dealing with specifics, spoilers will be hard if not impossible to avoid. At times my discussions will not deal in giving always major plots but at times they will. 

This is the basic ideas and structure I will be using in this blog series. I look forward to sharing my thoughts. I have a few subject ideas in store and I'm sure to gain more as I write.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Few Diamonds in the Rough (Miku Miku Dance Edition)

Anyone obsessed with watching videos on YouTube knows that the website contains three things; a good side, a dark side, and a WTF side. I met the ladder side not too long ago when a video with a title similar to "Mio has to go to the bathroom" popped up in my suggestions page. It was a strange video of Mio (K-on) doing the most insane dance I  have ever witnessed in front of a closed door which was to give the idea she had to go and the bathroom was occupied. It was made using a program I believe is called Miku Miku Dance. After watching this strange video I watched a few "related videos" which also fell under the WTF part of youtube. I then decided to put "MMD" in my search box one day and was expecting a day of seeing some strange stuff, which I did. But three video stood out to me not for their bizarre concepts, but because they were very well done. Here are a few diamonds in the rough.

【初音ミク】でVirtual Insanity【MMD】

As a kid my music influences came from two sources, my dad and my sister. One of her favorite artist was Jamiroqui. I remember when she first showed me a music video for one of his songs called "Virtual Insanity" where the singer seemed to be floating around the room while avoiding the also moving furniture. The secret to the effect was that the floor stood still while the walls and ceiling moved together via some sort of lift. Well years later as I search through these MMD video, I see the still image of the video above and I just go insane with joy. Using this program they recreated the entire video right down to Jamiroqui's unusual dancing method. I was hit by the nostalgia bomb hard and I couldn't have been happier to see this video. The only down side to this video was the vocaloid performance was lacking. Then again I've not yet heard a vocaloid perfromance of an english song perform well anyway so it is to be expected. 

 Miku Hatsune - Sweet Devil 【VOCALOID MMD-PV】 
Now being a guy who listens to mostly soft/hard rock and metal music, it's not often that a pop style song catches my attention or gains my respect so much that I feel the need to share it. This one deserves it and if it wasn't for this pretty video I would probably have not found out about it. I can't really say much about this video other than the camera movements were well done, its visually entertaining, and the dancing was fun to watch...oh and there is a near up-skirt shot of Miku's dress. It's completely unneeded but whatever.

【VOCALOID MMD PV】 glow 【Miku Hatsune】
Now to say this video is was a diamond in the rough somehow doesn't do this video justice. It is more like finding a diamond the size of a house with beautiful lady trapped inside who wants to marry you and has the cure to every know illness in the world. Yeah it was like that for me. So much to say about this video, so little writing space. First, lets talk about the song itself. It is an absolute brilliant song in every detail from the guitar's intro and outro pieces, the bass guitars rhythm, and soft and sweetly sung melody, and just the overall deep emotional feeling of the song. When a song can make you feel an emotion so strong and it isn't even in a language you can understand, it is worthy of masterpiece status. Then there is the video which perfectly matches the tone of the song. The framing, movement, and look of the camera is done perfectly like you would see in some of the best music videos. Also the animation is top notch and has some amazing detail . For example the animator had the drummer hold the stick on the snare drum upside down which I hear is a commonly used technique. The movement of each musician is life like and fits every part of the song. And boy, does miku really look like a music video star in her performance (yes I know she isn't real, but it's animation presented as a person acting so it counts).

and that's all I have at the moment. Maybe some more videos will grab my attention and deserve a blog post another day. Till then, keep searching.