Alarm goes off, waking me up at an ungodly hour in preparation for a full day’s worth of films at Leeds International Film Festival’s Fanomenon Anime Day 2012.
Get up. Get ready.
Give the cat some extra food to last her through the day. Set off.
Oops - my housemate’s forgotten his ticket at home.
Turn back, pick up ticket, set off again.
Get down to the venue. They haven’t opened the doors yet and there is a bit of a scuffle as a woman hands out tickets for those who needed to pick them up on the door. The Geeks are there in numbers and are growing restless.
Finally, the doors open and everyone pours in. We decide to head for the balcony seats and make our way up the plush carpeted stairs. Leeds Town Hall is a beautiful venue and pretty huge to boot.
After a brief intro on stage from a dude in a suit on behalf of LIFF, the first film gets under way.
12.15pm - Asura
A tale set in civil war era Japan, Asura is a tale of a feral child who is abandoned after his mother tries to eat him (yeah, times were hard back then and war and famine meant everyone was starving to the point of madness).
This grim start sets the tone for the rest of the film, as desperation and madness are prevalent themes throughout – the central irony being that even the so called ‘civilized’ people end up being driven to acts of violence and cruelty by their situation, just as the feral Asura has learnt how to survive in the wild.
Through the various characters that cross his path, he learns to adjust to human interaction and receives lessons of temperance and kindness, although it doesn't always turn out well.
The combination of cell shaded CG animation combined seamlessly with hand drawn backdrops created a beautifully grim style to the picture, resulting in distinct visuals and a wonderful sense of kinetic movement – especially since Asura often springs about the place like a monkey on crack.
Voicework from the legendary Masako Nozawa (most famous for playing Goku in the Dragon Ball series) as Asura was the icing in the cake.
The only thing that was distracting during the film was actually not from the film itself, but from a guy (sitting on his own) in the row in front who uncontrollably burst out in fits of silent laughter at the most inappropriate moments. I have no problem with people enjoying themselves at the movies, but this guy’s laughing was the kind where he was literally flopping about the place. Not only that, but the things he was laughing at weren’t particulary funny. Asura creeps into a house and slays an entire family? – hilarious! A monk cuts off his own arm as a demonstration of self-sacrifice and humility? – side splitting!
1.45pm – Wolf Children
Totally different in tone, Wolf Children is a heartwarming tale of a woman who falls in love with a werewolf and has to deal with the trials and tribulations of life raising her two wolf children. Although it sounds pretty bizarre, it's a sweet tale that, despite the fantastical elements of the central conceit, is largely grounded in reality and deals with the practicalities of the everyday problems of having to cope with children who can transform into wolves at the drop of a hat. One humourous example being when one of the children falls ill, the mother is stuck trying to decide whether it’s better to take them to a hospital or a vet.
As the film follows the children’s growth over a number of years and their various experiences, you can’t help but feel emotionally invested in them, such is the film’s charm. Also, having lived in Japan, the portrayal of both city and country life in this film is extremely well done.
Sharing the same vibe in tone and animation style as the excellent The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (by the same director Mamoru Hosada), lovers of Studio Ghibli type anime lovers should definitely seek this one out.
Cheeky Starbucks break...
4.15pm – Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning
Based in the near future, the exploits of superheroes are carefully documented with prime-time TV coverage, with points being awarded for various feats (such as first to arrive on the scene, saving citizens, apprehending criminals etc…) with only one of them being crowned ‘King of Heroes’ at the end of each ‘season’. With big money being involved (each hero being branded with a plethora of real-life corporate sponsors) the race is on to see who can score the most points and save the day!
The central thread of the story follows the old veteran of the scene Wild Tiger, who believes in the traditional view of being a hero, and his clash of personality with a younger rival that he is forced to partner up with named Barnaby, whom he mockingly nicknames ‘Bunny’.
Tiger & Bunny was the most surprising film of the day for me as this film was genuinely funny in parts due to the great character ensemble of the heroes (all of whom have distinct personalities as well as different powers) and the satirical take on media spin and corporate sponsorship that is prevalent throughout.
My only gripe was that the film lacked a decent climax – although I found out later that this film was originally adapted from a TV series and that another film entitled Tiger & Bunny: The Rising is due for release later next year.
Finally, the two films that interested me in doing this marathon in the first place – the Berserk films! Following the exploits of a hard-as-nails mercenary named Guts, Berserk is a fantasy tale based on the long running hit manga series by Kentaro Miura. Featuring epic battle scenes, bloody swordfights and political intrigue – this is great for fans of the genre.
After a short break, the second Berserk film started…
More of the same - continuing where the first film left off.
Now, as a massive fan of Berserk (both the manga series and the TV anime adaptation) I was a little disappointed with these films. Sure, the production values were great – the animation being vastly improved from the TV series and the action scenes were suitably epic – but two things left me feeling a bit deflated.
Firstly, when the second film ended it was revealed there was to be a third part (not due for release until early next year), which unfortunately left the evening on an unsatisfying cliffhanger.
And secondly, and perhaps this is a bigger problem – so much was left out of the films in terms of the story - such as the deep characterization and the contextual backdrop - just because the move from TV series to film demanded that so much of the epic tale had to be cut down. This means: little to no origin of Guts, no “blackswordsman” stuff, Casca’s character development is somewhat sidelined, much of the other Band of Hawk’s members lack decent characterization leading to a lack of audience attachment etc…
Whatever scope they gained from being in a big screen format and having better animation was lost by lack of detail and richness in the story.
I realize that this was a compromise that had to be made due to the format change, but in my mind there was always a nagging thought – why didn't they just adapt one of the several other story arcs (this was just one out of four completed arcs from the currently ongoing manga series) instead of just choosing to redo one that had already been previously adapted?
Here’s hoping they will eventually adapt some of the other Berserk story arcs in the future.
The geeks slowly shuffled out of the Town Hall and quietly dispersed into the night.
So, all in all a good day at the LIFF Anime Day. There were many surprises along the way, with Wolf Children in particular being the unexpected highlight, and me being a little disappointed by the Berserk films. It’s not to say they are bad films – I just felt they didn't do the story as much justice as they it deserved.
Until next year, folks!
13 Nov 2012