Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Here is one of my favorite, if somewhat less talked, about spooky cartoons, 'Pink Plasma' (1975). The cartoon's gags are a bit familiar, but that's probably due to DePatie-Freleng Enterprises being largely staffed by former WB animators. (The Pink Panther's conflict with the vampire bares a lot of resemblance to the Bugs Bunny short, 'Transylvania 6-5000' made 12 years earlier.) 

At any rate, 'Pink Plasma' is pretty entertaining. It's got a great sense of atmosphere and pleantly of fun little sight gags. It's also pretty amazing that theatrical shorts were still be made in the '70s, although not very many. The Pink Panther was really the last major character used for such a format. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ub Iwerk's The Headless Horseman VS Disney's Sleepy Hollow

It's that time of year again. Carved pumpkins line people's porches and parents grudgingly buy big boxes of candy while their kids decide what to wear for Halloween. Animated cartoons and films have long been made centered around the holiday. In fact, just last year three titles were released alone (Hotel Transylvania, Frankenweenie, and ParaNorman). However, very few such animated films have reached the acclaim of Disney's version of Sleepy Hollow, which curiously was adapted by Disney's rival, Ub Iwerks, over ten years earlier as a theatrical short.

A poster for the 1934 Comicolor short.

A poster for the better known 1949 film.

Because the two films were based on the same story by Washington Irving and were made by staff associated with Disney they have several similarities. But, it is probably easier to notice their differences. The Sleepy Hollow segment was part of Disney's 'package film' series and runs at half an hour, whereas Iwerks's version is under ten minutes long. Since Iwerks's short was made in the 1930s, it utilizes the old school, bouncy rubber hose technique. Its color pallet is also quite limited, since Disney was the only animation studio with the rights of using the three color Technicolor process up until 1936. Instead, the short utilizes the two color Cinecolor process, as did most other cartoon companies at the time.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is far more sophisticated in many ways. Since the movie was made right before Disney released Cinderella, its first 'true' feature since 1942, the animation is fully released and very fluid. It's moody use of Techicolor and perspective greatly heightens the contrasting scenes at Katrina's dinner party and Ichabod's encounter with the Headless Horseman. Ichabod also makes heavy use of dialogue (narrated and sung primarily by Bing Cosby), whereas Iwerks was more comfortable using pantomime and sight gags to get his message across. Thus, the characters in the Disney version are given more of a back story and fleshed out, while Iwerks manages to establish the basics allowed within the short runtime of his cartoon. (Interestingly enough, Ichabod and his rival, Brom Bones, look similar in both films, but Katrina does not. She is noticeably bigger in the 1934 incarnation, which is closer to the original source material. However, Disney's Katrina resembles a more aloof Cinderella.)

Iwerks's Brom Bones, Katrina Van Tassel, and Ichabod Crane. 

Disney's version.

As for the Headless Horseman himself, Disney and Iwerks handle the character rather differently. Both of the horsemen are introduced as menacing figures. Iwerks establishes this using his multiplane camera (which would later be adopted and refined by Disney after Iwerks returned to the studio). The camera adds a sense of depth as the Horseman races across the screen, accompanied by a haunting score by Carl Stalling (who later became famous for composing various Looney Tunes shorts). However, the mysteriousness of the Horseman is quickly pushed aside for laughs. The figure is revealed to be Brom Bones, and Ichabod later crashes Brom's and Katrina's wedding by dressing as the Horseman.

In The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, none of this happens. Although the Horseman is a legendary figure and is implied to be Brom, the events that occur after Ichabod encounters the Horseman are left for the audience to interpret. Ichabod's fate is never fully revealed after his disappearance, giving the audience the choice whether to believe the legend or not.

Iwerks introduces the Headless Horseman via the multiplane camera.

So does Disney, in a more sinister way.

So which film is 'better?' It is really hard to make a fair comparison, since they were made at different points in history and have different intents in terms of entertainment. Both films are historically significant and have very effective musical scores. Those looking for strong character development and a good scare will probably prefer the Disney version. However, anyone simply wanting some light hearted entertainment and a quick laugh will like Iwerks's short.

What do you think? Watch the two films and compare them yourself.

The complete short.

Click here to watch the segment of Disney's film (or else Ichabod will eat his hat). 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Kino's Journey Trailers and Themes

Outside of reviewing it, the best way to get people to watch a series is to show them promos and clips from it. Today's program of note is Kino's Journey, a criminally underrated anime that ponders over various aspects of human nature, while taking the guise of a 'road-trip movie' of sorts. The English trailer (uploaded by a Spanish speaker) does an excellent job of setting up the show's fairytale like atmosphere and hints at some of its themes, even if it is a bit heavy on the narration. (Curiously, I was unable to find a Japanese trailer. It seems like Kino is not very well known in its home country either.) 

The second video clip covers Kino's opening and ending themes. To be honest, the opening, "All the Way," doesn't really suit this show's aesthetics. While the song is not terrible, it is simply too cheery and uptempo given Kino's content. The closing theme, "The Beautiful World," is thankfully, slower and more contemplative. (Kino's voice actress, Ai Maeda, apparently sung both of the themes.) Most of Kino's Journey's music is similarly low key and sounds as if it were being played from afar, tying into the show's minimalist style. This is clearly demonstrated by the third song embedded here, "He is Speed and I am Balance."

Kino's Journey (TV Series Review)

Director: Ryotaro Nakamura

Company: ACGT, Genco Inc.

Year: 2003

Country: Japan

Despite it's simplistic appearance, there are a lot dense subjects covered in this unusual little series.

I have a confession to make: I don't like most post-2000 anime series. The shift in animation style, obsession with pre-adolesent girls, excessive fan service, abundance of gore, and high school dramedies make me wary (and weary) of many popular anime. Fortunately, a show comes out once in a while that reminds me why I continue to watch and love it. 

One of the reasons why I avoid many anime.

Kino's Journey (Kino no Tabi) subverts many of these cliches. At first glance, this isn't too apparent. Kino's animation is rather limited, its protagonist has a large doll eyed face, and its opening theme is an overly peppy J-pop song. Outside of these factors though, the show bears little resemblance to the likes of Naruto or Inuyasha. Based on the light novel by Keiichi Sigsawa, the series follows a young traveler who journeys to various countries astride a talking motorcycle named Hermes. Kino only spends three days and two nights in each country, before moving to the next.

Each of the different societies that Kino and Hermes visit have their own distinctive cultures and flaws. Many of these societies have tired to find ways to alleviate their troubles. However, they often fail to predict the long term consequences of their ideas (such a one country that created an invention that reads peoples' minds). Some of the countries are hospitable and kind; others are corrupt and are ruled with an iron fist. The various people Kino encounters all have differing motives. While their motives may not seem justified at first, they are all merely trying to survive.

Kino meets some friendly, but rather eccentric locals. 

It's also interesting to compare and contrast the two main characters. Hermes is very childlike and naive. He constantly worries about his immediate needs and tends to live in the present. Because of his impulsiveness, Hermes is often used as a source of comic relief in tenser moments of the show. However, Hermes is also very curious and can be rather insightful about things he observes (even if does tend to mispronounce words or botch up famous quotes). Most importantly, Hermes gives Kino someone to talk to on her seemingly endless journey. Their friendship is represented by the fact that they need each other in order to travel. Hermes provides the speed, while Kino provides balance as she rides him.

Fun Fact: Hermes is a Brough Superior motorcycle, the same bike T.E. Lawrence of Arabia rode.

On the other hand, Kino keeps as calm as possible and tries to asses the situation before making any move. While Kino can appear distant at times and seem hard to relate with, she is actually a very kind person. Kino choses not to get involved in situations, unless she absolutely has to. Many times she is faced with difficult choices. She constantly must decide if she should intervene or not if the rights of others are being violated. Kino tries not to get overly attached to any place, as she is constantly on the move. She enjoys meeting people but is afraid of settling down, likely due to her past and own traumatic childhood.

Kino's gender is often discussed among the show's fans, as it is not revealed until the fourth episode. Kino is female, but looks fairly androgynous. Her hair is cut short. She wears baggy, practical clothes, and she often uses the Japanese masculine pronoun, boku, to refer to herself. (The Japanese language does not have grammatical gender, but the speech women and men use tend to differ.) Kino is a nonconformist. She prefers not to attach any labels to herself or other people. (This was something she learned from the original Kino whom she named herself after.) Thus, Kino refuses to let gender or any other any other category define who she is. 

A younger Kino and Hermes.

Kino's Journey is ultimately about the contradicting aspects of human nature and how we must make the best we can out of seemingly bad situations. Kino is reluctant to use violence, but always carries firearms for protection because she knows that people are not angels. Each of us has the capacity to do incredible good or bad. But the bad has a purpose: true beauty can only really be appreciated if there is pain.

Kino the pacifist.

Although Kino's Journey moves at a slower rate than many anime series, it benefits the show rather than hampering it. Kino's tranquil pace allows time for the audience to digest what they have seen on screen, as they try to wrap their heads around its physiological undertones. (Much of what takes place on screen is left for the viewer to interpret on their own.) If you are looking for an action-oriented, explosive heavy anime, you better look elsewhere. Likewise, if you are craving a highly complex drama, with multiple characters, you won't find it here. However, Kino's Journey's minimalism works largely in its favor. The anime is straight to the point, it does not gloss over the ugliness of life, but it is not overly pessimistic either. 

This show is a testament that a high budget and special effects wizardry are not necessary to make a compelling storyline and create distinctive characters. Substance over style always trumps style over substance. If all we see on screen is escapist comedy and brainless action, it amuses for a while, like candy, but it has no value beyond that. Kino' Journey is a show to be thoroughly digested and analyzed.  

"The world is not beautiful, therefore it is."

Rating: 4/5

About the Dub: While ADV Film's dub is not the worst one out there, it is recommended that viewers stick to watching the original Japanese. (This shouldn't be too demanding, since the animation in this show can be rather static.) Kino's voice actress, Kelli Collins, sounds a bit old for the character and her voice is often monotonous. This isn't an issue in scenes where Kino is quietly contemplating things, but her performance can be a bit lacking at times. Cynthia Martinez as Hermes is another story. Her acting sounds overly raspy and 'cartoony'. Hermes is a comic relief bike, so one may think he lends to a funny sounding voice, but this one just comes of as irritating. All of the other background characters sound merely serviceable.