Review: Rebirth Of Mothra 3

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Note: the trailer has significant spoilers, but the story in general doesn’t make all that much sense to begin with. There’s going to be spoilers in this review, but pretty much anyone interested in the movie already knows what’s going on.

This happens to be one of my bucket list items; watch RoM 3. Thanks to Sony, who has bundled all three movies in a Blu-ray release, I now can.

A little history. Rebirth of Mothra is a spinoff series featuring the giant moth from the Godzilla films. Aimed primarily at children, three films were made. However, only the first two saw release in the States on home video. The third saw limited broadcast on the Syfy channel, but other than that no other way to watch it was available save for importing the original Japanese DVDs. Now that Sony has released it though, I can finally watch it.

It’s both better and worse than expected.

The story is confusing. A swarm of meteorites falls on Japan, creating large organic domes in the forest nearby a small family. Meanwhile the three Elias-diminuitive humans linked to Mothra-are battling over an unknown artifact. The eldest of the three, Belvera, tricks the other two into unlocking it, revealing gems that grant the three of them power. As Moll and Lora drive off Belvera, she warns them about something called the King Of Terror.

It’s popular Godzilla villain King Ghidorah, and he’s out to kill us all. Only Mothra can save us, but the way to defeating him is a lot more involved than you think.

The story is weird, to put it bluntly. It’s not shown so much as told, and is more a collection of images. Some very cool, some hokey, and some unique. You’re really not going to watch this for the story, as opposed to seeing the two best portrayals of Mothra and King Ghidorah of all time.

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from vsbattleswikia.com

The version of Ghidorah in this film is called Grand Ghidorah, and he’s never looked better. There’s a solidity and mass about him that makes him terrifying, yet it doesn’t sacrifice the original concept. Ghidorah is a monster that can either look imposing or silly, depending on the camera angle but Grand Ghidorah manages to look imposing nearly all the time.

He’s also powerful. TV Tropes used to include him under their “Eldritch Abomination”  entry, because he’s practically immortal and comes from space to kill us all periodically. This movie amps him up considerably. He’s millions of years old, and the last time he was on the earth, he killed off all the dinosaurs. Now he’s come back, and the first thing he does is steal all of the children in Japan.

You’d think this would be bizarre, and it is. I didn’t really get why he did it, and I don’t think it’s explained in so many words. But remarkably it manages to work.

It works because the scenes where the kids are being stolen are surprisingly well done, and it hints at such malevolence that you can start to think it really does want to wipe us all out. Ghidorah flies over, and suddenly they are gone. Sometimes the scene shows him warping them out for effect, and against all odds it works well. Ghidorah also has a few other tricks up his sleeve, and he’s not just three heads wobbling on strings firing out random lightning in this film; he takes it to Mothra hard.

Mothra himself has her best incarnation in this film, Rainbow Mothra. Leo_(Armor)

Her/His final form.

Mothra is a limited character in these movies because you can’t really articulate a big moth puppet that well. Rainbow is well done though, and a striking model. Mothra in general though fights fiercely and really comes across as a character instead of an idea. A striking scene is Moll and the young boy Shota approaching the downed Mothra in the forest; all around them the light is shining through her wings in a kaleidoscope of warm color.  The battles make heavy use of beam spam for the most part, but are engaging despite that.

Another great element in the movie are the Elias-the three fairies linked to Mothra. Belvera sees a dramatic improvement. In the first two films, she’s sort of like Rita Repulsa; the token evil Maleficent style character who acts as an adversary to our heroes. In this movie she changes dramatically and while still an adversary at first, is wonderfully, wonderfully serious. The film mentions that the eldest sibling often has the most problems, and Belvera reflects this.  Moll and Lora also come across as stronger characters. Each of them is part of what is called the Elias Triangle: Wisdom, Courage, and Love. It plays all three of them surprisingly straight, and there are some dramatic moments that you wouldn’t expect a film aimed for kids to have.

The final two delights in the movie are the cinematography and the music. When I say the cinematography is a delight, I’m not saying this is a masterpiece. It’s a Japanese film, with all the pitfalls of that industry; low-budget effects, bad CGI, and some silly design work. Despite this though, you find yourself admiring the shots. A scene where Moll falls to the earth off mini-Mothra Fairy is done very well, and a lot of the film is set in a lush, green forest. The destructive city scenes are brief, but really show the terror of people fleeing from a giant monster that is taking their children from them. Even some hokey dinosaur work turns into an unusually chilling moment when Ghirdorah busts out on the scene and you are reminded how big and malevolent he is. It works in spite of itself.

The music has the two great versions of Mothra’s “power up” theme, Haora Mothra. It’s two of my favorite pieces of music ever, and it;s only let down slightly by the dance Moll or Lora does while singing it.

Now that I’ve praised the movie, I have to damn it some.

The story…well, it’s loopy. It doesn’t explain much. Things happen, and then we get told the bare minimum needed to connect the scenes into some kind of whole. Considering the movie likes to invent new powers and abilities for the kaiju,  this gets pretty bad. Mothra can travel through time? King Ghidorah can hypnotize people? The Elias Triangle does what exactly? Stuff like that forces you to shut your brain off to have a chance of tolerating the film.

The effects too suffer. Surprisingly, the monster suits are the best of the effects. There’s some horrid blue screen work whenever Moll and Lora ride Fairy, and you get 1990’s B-move CGI effects, which means you get no quality whatsoever. Playstation One-level graphics. Since this is a Rebirth film, you have the necessary child actors/sidekicks. About all that can be said is that at least they aren’t as annoying as the first two films. They still feel out of place, especially since the movie passes up a strong opportunity to mirror the three Elias with the three children. And of course, it’s Japanese film, which barely rises above B-level at best due to the relatively lesser amount of money in that industry. Much better than Sharknado, but nowhere near a moderate budget Hollywood A film.

So I’d probably rate this a 5/10 objectively. Godzilla or kaiju fans might get some more out of it if they are willing to put some effort into thinking on the plot. Kind of a better Godzilla’s Revenge or Godzilla Vs. the Smog Monster-it’s not the best film out there, but has its charms.

Ratings for Christians. Mild PG due to very brief monster blood and some semi-violent monster battles. Christian kaiju fans might find some weirdness about this film that may be considered Christian friendly.

For example, Mothra is usually an illustration of death and rebirth. Oddly in this film, Mothra doesn’t seem to die. She is gravely (maybe fatally) wounded, but is buried in the earth to emerge from her cocoon in a powered up form. It’s a noticeable difference from the main Toho films, in which she dies and the next generation of Mothra pick up the fight. There’s also the tripartite nature of the Elias Triangle, faintly evoking faith, hope, and love. Some weak parallels that would make some interesting discussions exist, especially since Mothra is considered a physical God in the Godzilla universe. The film itself though has little to no objectionable content.


Adventures In Cultural Christianity: Moneychangers In The Temple Edition

Inspired by two things I have had the pleasure of noticing this week.

I’m not big on name and shame of cultural Christianity when it comes to actual culture. Yes, a lot of it is hokey or bad. Yes, it can make you wince. But that’s not something to be irate about, because the people are honestly trying to serve God. I can’t get too mad about people who do this, because it’s better to try to serve Him and be incompetent or fail than to never try. However, what gets me mad are things that are done to be harmful, or for self-aggrandizement, or that promote seriously screwed doctrines. These two random things made me think of this, and how sometimes cultural Christianity needs to be overturned and run out of the temple.

skirt1. WholesomeWear.

Loved by the Duggars and mentioned in their faq. WholesomeWear…what do you think those things are?

Skirts?

Jumpers?

Workwear?

No, those are swimsuits.

Yeah, WholesomeWear makes swimsuits that are designed to be even more modest than normal clothes. According to the site, they are designed to draw attention to the face, and not the body, and come in two separate pieces for your homeschooling pleasure. They’ll set you back about $90-$100 bucks normal price.

Look, I’m not saying you need to go and get your kids bikinis. We can have a long argument about when garments do cross the line between revealing the body in lustful ways, or are just comfortable or fun to wear. But this…this is too much. This is modesty raised to the level of a spiritual disease.

Christianity is often a balancing act. Too much liberty and we sin. But this is falling off the other side into an almost gnostic level of hatred of the physical body. This is such a fear of lust that it’s almost like a prison. We are to avoid sin, but this to me would go beyond that to create negative thoughts about a person’s own body that can be hard to overcome later in life. Your body as a woman isn’t evil that you need to hide it so much, nor are you so weak as a man that you need this kind of stuff to keep your soul from being in jeopardy. They are pushing weakness, not strength, and making a healthy profit off of it.

duck2. Duck Dynasty: Quack or Treat.

Can we just call these guys shills yet?

You would not believe the tons of merchandise surrounding these good old Godly boys. I mean, there is no trinket to low and no kitschy good too vile for them to slap their likeness on to make lots of money.

LOTS of money.

These guys are so moneychangers it’s not even funny. And we wound up defending them when it seemed A&E would drop them over their remarks on gay marriage. I oppose gay marriage, but man, the fact that we aren’t rebuking these Proud ‘Muricans for their remarkably materialist ways is starting to make us look bad.

You think I kid? Here’s some of D.M.’s snapshots of the lovely God-honoring merchandise from these bearded bozos.

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Because all good Christian men slap their face on jigsaw puzzles. Like nothing to do with profit, or making even more money despite being on TV and owning a successful business already. It’s a calling from God to put out Christian-honoring jigsaw ministries to save souls.

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Got to get those kids to save up for their tithes some way, after all.

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Makes you long for the days that Christians thought playing cards were from the devil.

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Dudes, you allowed people to make Duck Dynasty Garden Gnomes.

If all you did was bring out a lot of books like these, I wouldn’t complain one bit. But you guys are notorious for slapping your face on EVERYTHING. Duck Dynasty fleece throw blankets. Duck Dynasty cups. Bracelets. Duct tape. Dear God, this:

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And we as Christians don’t call them out on this.

You cannot play the good old God honoring lovable redneck thing when you aren’t God honoring. At some point, what we do matters. When you flood the Wal-marts of the world with junk bearing your own name, who really is your God? None of this stuff adds value, save for the Faith Commander book. It’s sole purpose is to make you money.

That’s okay, but you are also playing the God card while doing it. If you were merely an unbeliever, this would be kitschy. As a believer, this is poisonous. It’s cynical to a level I can’t fathom.

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If I did some research, I’m sure I could find more things like this. I notice we really don’t talk about moneychangers in the temple all that much.

It’s not something that should be neglected.

The point of this is not that money is evil, or being a good businessman is bad. The point is that merchandise and money-making can be extremely toxic to the faith, because with it come a host of other nasty behaviors. The profit motive is not a specifically Christian thing; like any normal urge, it too can be perverted and be used as a carrier for harmful values. And it’s not the kind of values we are instinctively wary of.

See, most orthodox Christians are very good at noticing secularism from nonbelievers. But many absolutely suck at defeating bad ideas when its wrapped in a Christian gloss and not beating us over the head while saying “Bad Sheeple!” And we’ve had some absolutely horrid ideas as of late; the damage both homeschooling and the hyper-purity culture have inflicted in a generation of Christian kids will not be easily repaired. This is because we’ve really neglected the fact that we also have things that we like that can bring us to sin. No, Christians aren’t as vulnerable to promiscuity, but we can be vulnerable to a gnostic hatred of the flesh which has no place in the faith. Less pride, more greed in the guise of Dave Ramsey homeschooling classes. I think we have gotten way too comfortable fighting visible adversaries, while Satan slips in and saps the walls.

I’m not saying this to make people more paranoid. It’s just that we’re not supposed to neglect sword and shield; we parry and defend from attacks from both right and left. We’ve been a bit too comfortable with the right so we’ve dropped our guard. And I think we’re starting to wake up and realize we’ve been getting more and more wounded from the sneaky attacks on that side. We need to be vigilant, otherwise we wake up and see ourselves damaged from things like this. Endless piles of merchandise hiding Jesus from view.


Why Don’t They Believe Me?

Episode 8 of Invaders of the Rokujyoma?! starred one of the series most lovable characters, the magical girl Yurika. She’s whiny, a crybaby, and one of the many girls trying to take over Koutarou’s room for her own reasons. In this case, it’s to defend it against other magical girls. This week one finally shows up.

True to form, no one believes Yurika when she mentions that the new arrival Rika is a evil magical girl. But unlike before, when Yurika’s being mistaken for a cosplayer was played for laughs, this time it’s very serious.

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Rika is even unwittingly invited into the very room Yurika desperately wants to defend. The evil magical girl is taking full advantage of everyones atheism surrounding magical girls, and it gets to be too much. Yurika storms out of the surprise party being held for Rika in tears. She’s found by Knitting-kun, as she’s dejectedly sitting by herself on a bench.

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Sound familiar?

Yurika gets played for jokes a lot, but her story in a way is very serious, and very sad. Out of all of them, she is the only one who fights on her own, and the only one to possess a truth that no matter what she tries to do, she can’t get others to believe. She’s a little like a Christian that way; the world really views what we believe in a way the others handle what Yurika believes; they like her, but they think it’s just playacting or an endearing (or even annoying) quirk. But her truth is real, and it’s vital that she gets it across.

Especially when she’s the least likely person to do so.

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

Unlike the others, Yurika only has good motives in trying to invade the room. She’s not doing it to take over the world, or to prove herself by conquering a backwards species, or even just to get peace and quiet. She’s trying to defend it and by extension the people in it from others who would harm it. But she’s clumsy, and weak, and so whiny. She’s a normal girl in possession of an awesome power, but who doesn’t want it for its own sake or to get glory for herself. She just wants to help because another magical girl cared enough to save her life. It’s not even something she likes to do, or thinks she can, but she must.

But she’s failing.

As a Christian, it can really be a hard thing to have no one believe you. People talk a lot about Christian privilege or cultural influence, but I don’t think many people really get that a devout Christian is often very much like Yurika; alone, unlistened to, and often with no one who understand their fight. People really do treat our faith like Yurika’s power is treated; as  a story we make up for our own reasons. That’s a hard thing to take, especially when the battle grows real. It’s no wonder Yurika has lost her courage.

But she gets some good advice, for magical girls and Christians both.

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And we do, really.

Sakuraba-senpai is right. A lot of people assume that faith in Christ and preaching the Gospel is done for selfish or bad motives. But it’s not. We really do care for people; for friends, for family, and more. That’s why evangelism exists. But Yurika is reminded of a necessary truth.

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This gets abused a lot. But it’s done very well here. Actions, not just words. Many people say “You need to preach by your actions!” as a way of shutting people up. In other words, you need to be Mother Teresa before you can say anything about Jesus. But this isn’t the case. Yurika will never truly be a saint, even if she is slowly becoming a loyal friend and a courageous magical girl. But she needs to use actions too; she can’t give in to her weak nature and hide. And so she does.

The episode ends on a big cliffhanger. But actions do convince, at least. Faith isn’t in vain. At least we can be encouraged by the example of a slightly ditzy magical girl.

Fight on, Yurika!


Review: Creation Of The Humanoids.

I don’t often review non-anime movies here, but this one was so good that I couldn’t pass it up.

A little history. If you grew up in New England around the 1980s, one of the highlights of your week was WLVI-56’s Creature Double Feature. This was in the days before cable networks, so you had a bunch of local TV stations trying to fill the hours with whatever programs they could find. This station, located in Boston, MA, would broadcast old monster movies from noon till four on every Saturday. You had Universal monster movies, Godzilla and Gamera pictures, Hammer horror films, and more. This program created a tremendous number of geeks in the Northeast, and even now many people still have fond memories of being a child and watching bad b-movies and giant monster flicks. This was how I was introduced to Godzilla and Gamera, among others.

So bored at work, one day I found the site above. They had a list of every single movie played on that program, and I vowed to go down and watch every one of them. When I got to Creation of the Humanoids, I was shocked. It was one of the best pure science fiction movies I have seen, ever.

The plot is surprisingly sophisticated for a B-movie. In a future after atomic war, the human race is a shadow of itself. To survive, they create robots to do all the menial and difficult jobs that they can’t. However, not everyone likes how humanity has declined due to this; a society of anti-robot humans called The League of Flesh and Blood are campaigning against one model of the robots, the human-like Humanoids. One day on patrol, a man from that society named Cragus observes some odd behavior from a pair of humanoids. He follows them, and soon discovers a plot by them which will have grave implications for humanity as a whole.

It’s a basic plot, but what’s surprising is the depth and complexity of the ideas behind it. Cragus in any other movie would be a fanatic and destined to be killed, but the movie manages the incredible task of making him a fully realized human. It gets how a human can be resistant to change, and even violently so, and not be evil; it gets the conservative mindset in a time of drastic societal upheaval. You can feel his shock as the world is changing around him, conveyed brilliantly in a conversation with his sister.

And that conversation is one of the highlights of the film. Cragus’s sister is the liberal side of things. She has a rapport with her robot-she’s literally taken part of her personality, put it inside of him, and has fallen in love with the reflection he is to her. She’s also surprising; while she’s liberal, she’s triumphant, smug, and definitely dismissive of Cragus as her brother while having good points about adapting to change instead of pointlessly fighting it. This is a B-move made in the 60’s, yet it talks more intelligently about how science can disrupt mores and customs than many films made forty years later.

That sophistication continues through the film. The idea of humans racist against robots is a common trope today, but the hatred against the Clickers is done much better than later films. This predated Blade Runner by twenty years, and in a way is a better treatment of it. The Humanoids aren’t just toys or dolls, but are slowly building their own society and religion, and are also dealing with a future in which Man will one day no longer exist. They’ve begun the first steps to that by creating robots that forget they are robots: humanoids who are imprinted with the minds of men.

And amazingly, they talk about the implications of that, and even in some Christian terms. Even if you are a robot, you are not Godless, for in the end the same creator who made the humans made you. The question of whether robots have a soul is also done well; while the robots don’t truly know if they do, they do know they are possible of having the faith to believe in their own souls, and that has to mean something right? And there’s some discussion about whether or not a soul can be diminished by robothood, with some good points. If you cut off a person’s leg, does their soul diminish? No.

There is the main twist of the thing, which I won’t spoil but is slightly more than you’d think. There’s a second “gotcha’ twist which really needed some more developing, but is thought provoking. It’s not the strongest plot, but this is more about the ideas than the explosions or danger.

It’s not a perfect film, however. It’s more of a stage play set to film; there is little to no camera work, and a lot of talking. There’s a romance that’s key to the plot which to me developed abruptly. It is a B-movie made in the sixties, so it’s not triple A level production values. It does have some striking set design, with a  retro-sixties Art Deco tinge to it which has aged very well. Ironically, it fails at being a B-movie; most people watch science fiction films of that era to enjoy bad storylines, campy acting, and the absurdity of the 50’s idea of the future.

What you get instead is a very thoughtful look at a human future in the middle of being absorbed into a transhuman one. There’s a complexity to the subject which is unusual for films even done today, let alone in an era where radiation was magic. You can find the film up on Youtube, or a DVD edition bundled with another sixties movie on Amazon. It’s worth a watch at least once though. A similar film, but with a higher budget, is Truffault’s version of Fahrenheit 451. 


A Game That Never Was

I have to write this, just to keep the memory of it somewhere. Tonight, I once again dreamed of a game that never was. It was called “From My Own Friends,” published by Square Enix, and this was the first time I dreamed of it in years.

It’s hard to detail the plot of a dream, but I’ll try. There was this villain in control of a world somewhere, who had brought over a girl from our world. She was desperately trying to escape him, with the help of a fairy-like companion and a boy wizard. It wasn’t working though, as he had caught up with her and forced her to choose something which diminished her humanity even further. Like arriving had caused level one, and now he had caused level two; when the level filled up, it was game over. She would become his bride. There was a scene of the boy wizard fighting the villain, and getting his butt kicked, and one where gameplay was being explained; a centaur had a forwards attack of seven squares, but only the tip hit enemies; you got bonuses for each square before it that was occupied by friends. I had a memory of going to a movie and getting a bonus item for the game, and in the dream I actually looked it up on Amazon to see if I could buy it; it was something like fifty bucks used.

Needless to say when I woke up I immediately looked up on Amazon for it. It didn’t exist. I had hallucinated it.

I’m writing this post if just to keep the memory alive. It felt almost like a magical spell; I barely remembered the name on waking, and in the brief time between searching for it on Amazon and starting the post I forgot it again! I had to look up in my history to remember the title. I had dreamed of it many years back, and recognized this in the dream. For me, very rarely, certain dreams can and will repeat themselves. It’s a unusual thing when it happens, because it makes it feel like an actual historical memory instead of a dream. Like I had really played some obscure PS 1 RPG, had forgotten about it, and was now remembering it in the context of a dream.

It was unusual this time because I actually remembered the name. On reflection now, it’s obvious it’s a dream. The boy wizard (who was overconfident) used a cell phone’s battery power to enhance his magic; this wouldn’t have existed in a PS 1 RPG. Nor even in my dreams back then; I owned a cell phone only in the past five years. Even now the rest of the dream is fading.

It’s eerie in a way because it does feel like a spell. There is no game by SE or anyone called “From My Own Friends,” which in a way makes it weirder. I could see a game with that name filtering into my subconscious and being misidentified, but the thought that I literally created the title of a dream game in my mind as well as assign it to a publisher and struggled to remember it is an unusual feeling. It’s potent too because one of my important values is to remember things that are forgotten or lost. I tend to like weird or obscure things so that they stay alive in memory. I’m the kind of guy who forgets where he puts his car keys if he isn’t careful, but can remember vividly all the places where he first played an arcade game over thirty years ago. I’m probably one of the few gamers who remembers Kartia and played it before the rerelease. When I didn’t believe, I’d say that remembering things like this was a small victory against entropy and death.

This though, I know I will forget. I really don’t want to.

I think in part this is why atheistic claims of rationality just don’t work on me. It’s hard to be against superstition and in favor of rationality after an experience where your mind deceives you enough in a dream where you imagine a game you created out of whole cloth is real. You get reminded of the oddity of memory and how little we know about it, or even how little we remember. Another example would be sleep paralysis; rationally, you understand the concept of your brain firing off while your body is still immobile in a sleep trance. In reality, you suddenly are aware of a spiderlike jumble floating two feet above your head, hovering there, and then floating away to disappear into the wall. The atheists thought that focusing on the mechanical aspects of the brain would debunk any idea of a soul, but instead it created massive doubts about how rational we really are.

It’s like everything breaks down. Really, in the end all we have is hope. It’s really only the young who disdain faith as a crutch, I think. As you get older, the uncertainty of everything only grows. You hope in Christ not entirely because He explains everything, but because there’s nothing else in the world that warrants hope to any level similar. All other crutches break under your own weight. This dream was just an odd little reminder of how little I can trust one of my own core values; the remembrance of things forgotten. How fluid a sense of memory can be at times. Without the internet, I doubt I’d even know the game didn’t exist. The world has a habit of  acting like this. Little weird moments like imagining a game you thought you played ten years ago.


Weird Anime Of The Day: Fumoon

Fumoon This should be titled Dark Anime of the Day, because despite it’s cartoony Tezuka style, it’s one of the saddest and most sober anime I’ve seen.

In the future, a professor visits the barren Batetio Island. He discovers an odd creature there, and brings it home. He plans to show it off at an exposition, and asks his friend, the archetypical Tezuka detective Shunsaku Ban, to guard it. One night though it escapes its cage, and is swallowed up along with Ban himself by a UFO. This is the start of Fumoon, a story about war, destruction, and the potential end of the human race.

The Fumoon are an elfin race of beings that somehow was birthed on Batetio Island. They are smaller than us, but are possessed of intense psychic and technological power. It seems that they are stealing animals from across the globe for some unknown purpose, and it’s up to Ban’s nephew Keniji and his sister Peach to find out why. The reality is far darker than anyone expects.

In a distant galaxy, a supernova has caused a massive gas cloud to be sent rocketing towards the earth. This cloud will destroy all life on the planet in three weeks, and the Fumoon are saving as many animals as they can find to be placed on their “gondola” starships. Their goal is to leave the earth and the humans that have destroyed it behind, and start anew on another planet. Our only hope is a small group of people, and one renegade Fumoon, Rococo. But as the cloud nears, the cold war between the two greatest nations on the world turns hot, and we may end up destroying ourselves before the cloud finds earth…

This movie was nothing like I expected. I came to it after watching Undersea Super Train: The Marine Express. Both it and Fumoon were works originally designed to be shown at the Japanese equivalent of a Jerry Lewis Telethon, but while the first was silly-awesome, this one was pure darkness and seriousness. The Fumoon do not like us at all, and you can’t blame them; the greed and environmental rapacity of humanity is shown baldly. The scene where they flee the planet in a flotilla of starships is particularly haunting, and only Rococo is left to give us any help.

Help that we need. When the cold war between the two world powers finally erupts, it’s surprisingly harrowing for what is more or less a G-rated level of violence. It’s total war, with planes bombing civilian populations, and in one especially harrowing scene, attacking an entire highway full of stalled cars seeking to escape the destruction. The movie was made during a time when the Cold War between the USA and USSR was in full swing, and it pulls no punches with depicting war. Then the black cloud hits, and life on the surface on the earth begins to end. The last we see of the two leaders of the nations are them surrounded by their cocoons of video screens, screaming at a deaf monitor to launch the nukes.

We’re saved in the end, but at a great cost. The most damning cost was in our own human stupidity. If not for Rococo, we would have destroyed the only chance we had at salvation out of fear of being left behind. Rococo’s grace in realizing that not all humans are like this, and that some can protect, is the only reason why she helps us, and she also pays the ultimate price for that rebellion. This is all done straight; there are blessed few of the comic-book like tics you see in Marine Express, and the gravity of the danger facing the world is never lessened, not even for a moment.

This makes for an unusual film. It’s not particularly experimental, and has a basic seventies/early eighties vibe to it. The animation is functional at best, with Tezuka’s simple, stylized character designs combines with some decent, if not spectacular background work. It makes up for this though by playing it’s extremely serious and well-thought out plot absolutely straight, save for one silly montage which shows how the Fumoon plan to get all the animals onto their ships; they shrink and squash them. And there is very little “anime logic” to Fumoon; it could easily be recast as a live-action SF film with little loss. No overbearing tropes, no fan service; just a very serious tale about environmental devastation, the threat of war, and a dark catastrophe coming to wipe us out.

You can see it for free on Youtube or on Viki. In terms of real violence, it’s barely a PG, but it’s surprisingly intense for a cartoon. A scene where a plane strafes a mother trapped under a car and killing her as Rock looks on is shocking, as is a scene where one of the baddies puts out a cigar on the arm of one of the captive Fumoons, and then shoots them down after. Very little comic relief is to be found, even from the little onee-chan Peach. It’s also in a way much more intelligent than typical anime of the time; the film feels like it was inspired by things like This Island Earth and Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, but its story is surprisingly well done.

It’s a weird anime in that you simply don’t expect it to be so straightforwards and somber. The ending sequence, where the black cloud starts to descend on earth, is quite chilling, and despite Rococo’s odd appearance (she has a long proboscis like a butterfly) she’s a character you grow to care deeply about. A hidden little gem, indeed.


First Impressions: Akiba’s Trip

akibasBest game about stripping vampires you’ll ever play.

In Akihabara, a young otaku gets suckered into a shady job by the promise of super-rare figures. Unfortunately it’s a front designed to transform people into Synthisters; a vampirish-like creature that is nothing more than a collection of obsessions. This otaku is saved by the mysterious Shizuka, and he, along with his friends at game lounge MOGRA, vow to stop the invasion by the only way they know how: beating them to a pulp and then stripping off their clothes so they melt in the sun.

No seriously, you do this.

The game’s a cross between Shenmue and a Grand Theft Auto game. It faithfully recreates Akihabara, a city known for selling electronics and being geek heaven, and uses story and side missions to advance the plot. It’s not exactly open world as opposed to being a collection of zones (like Shenmue again) but you’re free to take side missions or just roam around beating up on vampires or even locals. It’s very much like Shenmue in that it faithfully recreates a Japanese location in serious detail, but Akiba’s does it even better by including real world stores, flyers, and even video of games and things like idol singers. The detail is amazing; you can see video of several other video games on the screens in your hangout or on the street, and on the loading screens you even get advertisements for places that would be competitors, or anime like Genshiken 2. It’s really well done.

Combat isn’t done as well. You can attack low, mid, and high, and you need to damage the opponent’s clothes enough so that you can strip them off in one move. You have about five or six types of weapons you can use to do this, but there’s a stunning amount of different models these weapons can have. A sword-class can be an umbrella, a bat, a toy hammer, or more. You even get items that change your standard idle animation, or the way you strip people. Stripping people drunken kung-fu style evokes real-life laughter when I first saw it.

You have unblockable attacks, and you can guard and counter. The guard is the worst, though, because you have a fair amount of lag before you can do so. You need to guard in advance, and that generally makes it much less useful. Combat too is a bit wonky, as your AI partner can get in the way or you be out of range all too often. You suffer damage to your clothes in the same way the enemies do, but at any time you can adjust your clothing to go back to full health. The fighting part isn’t that bad once you get the hang of it, but it never feels as fluid as it could be.

The stripping part is hilarious, though. Not so much the basic stripping at first, but then the game starts to add advanced concepts. You can chain-strip enemies if enough are weakened, teleporting from one to the next and removing clothes like a dervish. If you can chain enough, you can finish them off by even taking their underwear, in which they run away in a censor-beam of light. Yes, you can equip underwear; the enemies can strip you too. Especially hilarious is the team-up stripping. Fill a gauge up enough and you can strip one enemy completely, and the scene in which you do so varies based on your AI partner. Shizuka beats enemies up until you throw them into the air for an aerial stripping, while The Imouto beats both them and you up before a panty-flash trip gives you the opening you need to de-clothe your assailant. It never gets old.

The characters are great, too. They are all anime types, but decent ones. Mysterious girl Shizuka, your childhood friend, The Imouto, the foreign maid cosplayer, and more. It feels like you’re recruiting the cast of Genshiken to beat up the undead, and it works pretty well. Nana, aka The Imouto, is especially good; she’s your hikkikomori younger sister, and she never lets you forget it, brotagonist. You have English and Japanese voices, but I turned the english ones off after hearing Nana, whose voice simply doesn’t fit. I can see what they tried to do, which is match the vocal tone of each of the Japanese voices, but The Imouto’s tone isn’t as cute in English.

The missions are okay, but with one serious flaw. Side missions can be taken at any time, but the expire if you do enough story missions. Sometimes this makes them unwinnable, as the story location you need to go to is the same as the side mission, but takes precedence. So it’s an automatic “out of time” if it happens, and the missions expire quickly. It’s best to do them ASAP, and checking for new ones whenever you get a notification. Most are simple fetch quests or beat em ups, and some are funny. You have to convince an otaku’s mom to stop cosplaying, beat up an otaku who keeps buying all the Dengeki Playstation issues, or deal with a rabid fujoshi who thinks you make a great bottom…or maybe a top.

The extras aren’t all that bad. You have a twitter clone that is very similar to the forums from .hack, and they nailed the way people forum-speak dead on. You can collect real-life Akihabara flyers to view in your encyclopedia later. You can fuse equipment for better stats, although there’s no real crafting elements in the game so far. They even have an optional minigame based on the in-universe magical girl trio, Striprism.

There are some issues with the Vita version, though. It can take some time for models of NPCs to load, and sometimes your AI partner freezes up. The beginning doesn’t really introduce you to the concepts well, so it’s a rough start. One example; to detect Synthisters with the app, you need to take out your camera and snap a pic in scanning mode. The game doesn’t really mention this. There’s some decent loading times, especially on boot. You get the sense that the game is a prettied up PSP port in some ways. None of these are game killers, but you’ll notice them.

For Christians, the stripping is probably the only issue you’d mind out of it. It’s not really as lurid as you think, and you can even equip an item that makes it done quickly. It comes across as silly most of the time, although it does get embarrassing when you’re team-up stripping, and you’ve got some innocent girl wearing a straw hat and a skirt in an armlock while your girl partner administers a beatdown. You strip guys as much as girl, too, and the men right down to the briefs or boxers they wear. There was one point when it was salacious, but it’s a minor plot point so no spoilers. It’s on the level of a standard harem anime. So far though, there hasn’t been too much offensive, compared to something like Conception II, aka space baby-making game.

Is it worth buying? Yeah, definitely for anime fans. For others, it really won’t convert you. Chances are if you own a Vita you are buying this anyways due to few good games on the system. I’m enjoying it.


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