Steamboy

Steamboy

Sometimes, you watch or read something that seems to be the apotheosis of a movement or genre. In my case, that movement is steampunk and that something is Steamboy, the 2004 animated film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo (of Akira fame). Take any screenshot of this film and it oozes steampunk. It feels, in its own strange way, almost pure steampunk, if there is such a thing.

Despite being a Japanese production, the film is set in Britain, the country that, more than any other, is the lynchpin of the steampunk genre. The smoke-filled skylines and dirty cities come straight out of a Dickens novel.

Steampunk exists to reimagine the Industrial Revolution, and that is what Otomo does. Specifically, the plot takes place in Manchester, that great city of textile work that was one dubbed “Cottonopolis”, and one of the birthplaces of modern industrial society. It is only fitting that such a quintessential steampunk story should take place in such a quintessential location.

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9

9

9‘s marketing can make this animated film by Shane Acker seem deceptively childish. It revolves, after all, around talking rag dolls. But the movie can get disturbingly dark in a conceptual, atmospheric way that is absolutely unnerving.

The world of 9 is a post-apocalyptic hellscape with barely a sign of life. It is a world brought about by overuse of resources and man’s creations turning against him. This is a land of bombed-out houses and abandoned factories, where wreckage litters the cracked remnants of boulevards. It is a nightmare, one so awful there is no human left to dream at all.

Watch closely and it appears 9 is set in a dieselpunk world, where certain technological advances in the interwar era brought wrack and ruin to the world in a way reminiscent of, but in some ways scarier than, the firebombs and atomic weapons of World War II. At least those left survivors.

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From Up on Poppy Hill

From Up on Poppy Hill

Studio Ghibli is known for its whimsical fantasy movies, featuring fantastic creatures (literally) and colorful characters.

But the studio is also really good at producing calm, slice-of-life films featuring nothing other than regular human beings.

Kokuriko-zaka Kara (From Up on Poppy Hill) is such a movie, following the lives of high schoolers in 1968 Yokohama, Japan, who are trying to save their run-down and decrepit club house from demolition while dealing with personal problems in the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War.

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Drifting Dragons

Drifting Dragons

I chose to watch Netflix’s Drifting Dragons practically on a whim. It had airships, and it would allow me to partially fulfill my desire to get more into anime, given how much it has influenced my social circles. I watched the whole thing in a single night, about four hours or so.

In terms of the ‘punk aspect, it is on the boundary between steam and diesel. The series is set in a fantasy world separate from our own, but the technology is familiar: you have the helium zeppelin and the small helicopter that it dispatches to fight dragons.

Given that it’s in the very title of the show, I feel I must comment on the dragons. These are not the dragons of European fairytales, nor are they the dragons of Chinese myth; these are more Lovecraftian monsters than anything else, with a sort of otherworldly horror to their design that made my skin crawl. They’re not just inhuman; they almost feel as if they were not designed by humans.

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Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045

Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045

It’s 2045. War is the main industry and cryptocurrencies are invalid, leading to even more conflict and civil unrest.

Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 doesn’t start with a bang. It takes several episodes before the plot gains momentum and you’ve seen enough of the world, and the people in it, to really get into it. But it’s worth sticking with it.

Unlike such dystopias as Mad Max, the post-apocalyptic world of SAC_2045 is familiar to ours. It’s about real people. The series shows the impact of a large economical crisis and currency devaluation on average people.

The impact of the United States as a global power on other countries is another nice touch. It’s a bit of a cautionary tale, and this aspect of the anime is very well done.

What is less well done is the animation. I am not a fan of this style of cheap and basic-looking CGI at all, and I feel the anime deserves better.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress

Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri, or Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, is a beautifully done anime, set in a post-apocalyptic Japan.

At the time of industrialization, a mysterious plague broke out, turning corpses into kabane, a kind of blood-drinking zombie that is extremely hard to kill. Get bitten and you turn into one. Die and you turn into a kabane. Or, if you’re lucky, a kabaneri, a halfbreed of man and kabane. Survivors live in stations along the route of heavily armored trains, known as iron fortresses.

It is in these stations and on these trains that we find the characters of this story.

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Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 may seem like the umptieth Disney movie, especially the umptieth digitally animated one. Considering it’s by the team of Frozen, people may expect something along those lines. Nothing could be further from the truth. Big Hero 6 is one of the best things released by Disney since well, quite a while.

This Marvel/Disney collaboration is proof that both companies should work together more often. The film is not only a magnificent feat when it comes to animation, but also has the same kind of imaginative storytelling and feel of adventure that Marvel movies have become famous for in the last decade.

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Avatar: The Legend of Korra

Avatar: The Legend of Korra

The Legend of Korra is the sequel to the original Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon from Nickelodeon. It’s set seventy years into the future from the original series and is a whole new show in its own right. Although it’s not necessarily to see Avatar first, I would still very much recommend it or you will miss out on a great many details and history of this story.

In the first season we meet some familiar characters, a whole brand new bunch and a brand-new setting.

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The Triplets of Belleville

The Triplets of Belleville

The Triplets of Belleville bills itself as being something different from anything you’ve seen before. This may not be 100 percent true, as it certainly takes its cues from some of the original animations dating back to the first filmic era and there have been other animators to play extensively with the medium. However, it is a film you don’t see every day with a rather unusual style. The film has a certain dark, dingy quality that’s hard to put your finger on.

Visually, there are a lot of muted colors, with browns and beiges predominating, similar to old sepia photographs. Likewise, character designs are somewhat grotesquely shaped, and some of the scene are just a little bizarre.

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