Feature: Grading Toonami, Show By Show – The Film Festival (#6)

Well, let’s roll out 2013 with a bang, shall we? No time to waste, let’s just get to the flicks.

Summer Wars (December 14, 2013 and December 6, 2014)

Picture this: an online world where both artificial intelligence and human avatars roam wild in a virtually endless realm of technological wonderment and amazement, only for a rogue AI to start messing things up, both in the online world and in the real one. No, that’s not Our War Game, it’s Summer Wars, the fourth film from acclaimed director Mamoru Hosoda. But it’s more than just a VR adventure, it’s a film about a young man on holiday with his crush and her family, trying to overcome all the odds in order to both get the girl of his dreams as well as save his prefecture from a falling satellite that’s been hacked to fall down right on them. A bit mental, I know, but that’s the Internet for you.

The premise may sound a bit silly, sure, but when things get intense they get really intense. You, too, will be chanting “KOI KOI!” toward the film’s climax, I assure you. Now, given that this is a Mamoru Hosoda film, and since his films aren’t quite as “action-y” as one would expect for the block, how would you think this film would perform on that fateful weekend? Of the four films that aired in December 2013, Summer Wars was the most-viewed film of the lot. Call it a fluke or call it great timing, but for this to be the big winner of the month was certainly a bit of a surprise, given the other films and their broader reach. Regardless, the film is excellent and stands out as one of Hosoda’s better entries of his filmography; well recommended, go out and see it if you haven’t yet.

Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars is one of my all-time favorite films. Not just one of my favorite animated films, I mean one of my favorite movies ever. Summer Wars isn’t even Hosoda’s best film, yet it’s the one I keep coming back to. I was introduced to the movie after buying a used Blu-ray copy during my freshman year of high school. I brought it home, and, unlike many of my impulse anime purchases, immediately watched it. I was glued to the screen from beginning to end; I didn’t move once during my first watch. The film’s beautiful animation, amazing music, and unforgettable story added up to an experience I couldn’t just go through once. That weekend was magical, and I ended up watching the movie three times before going back to school on Monday.

Summer Wars is, of course, a story about family, but its message extends beyond that general theme. The movie also addresses how social media can either bring people closer together or tear them apart. In the end, the world of OZ brings the Jinnouchi family closer together, but it also threatened to destroy the entire stability of the family. This idea about how social media can affect our relationships with those most important to us is incredibly relevant today. Take a moment and think back on any discussion of a recent major event, online or offline, and you will see what I’m talking about.

I wasn’t surprised when Toonami announced their broadcast of Summer Wars, but I was incredibly thankful and thrilled. Over a million people watched Summer Wars on December 14th, 2013, and that knowledge put a huge smile on my face. A million people watched one of my favorite movies together! Toonami was at the top of their game at this moment, in my eyes. They just broadcasted two marvelous films to millions, Shamballa and Badlands Rumble were about to finally air on Adult Swim, and the promise of Space Dandy, Naruto: Shippuden, and Blue Exorcist was there for early 2014. Toonami was only getting better and more promising, and 2014 turned out to be an extraordinary year for the block.

For those wanting more from Hosoda, his latest film, Mirai of the Future, is scheduled to premiere in North America later this year. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see a Hosoda film in theaters!

– Tyler, @KokiriKid3, former EIC of Surreal Resolution

Grade: A
Combining virtual and real high stakes with family drama, Summer Wars stands out as one of the more unique film offerings Toonami has ever offered, as well as serve as a top draw if only for one night.

FMA: Conqueror of Shamballa (December 21, 2013)

Allow me to preface this by saying that I absolutely love Fullmetal Alchemist. It is one of my favorite manga series, and its second anime series, FMA: Brotherhood, ranks as one of my favorite anime series as well. The 2003 series, on the other hand? Yeah, I’m in the camp of “ehhhhh” to it. I’m not going to disavow it because it branches off into its own second half, but if you ask me which one I’d watch over the other, it’s always going to be Brotherhood. Though, if you want a perfect experience, feel free to make a “Machete Cut” of both series to bring forth a more complete series progression; whereas the start of Brotherhood is a bit truncated compared to the 2003 anime, its latter half picks up right where FMA 03 leaves off, midway through its run. And on that note, this film is the conclusion of the 2003 anime, having never aired before on Adult Swim before this point, believe it or not.

And I don’t like this film. I’m sorry for that, but I haven’t liked it since the first time I ever watched it in full, back in middle school.

Now, I’m not totally against the concept of world-crossing, but there’s just something about crossing into pre-WWII Nazi Germany that rubs me the wrong way. And yes, that IS a giant elephant in the room with this film. It also doesn’t help that I personally don’t really care for how the latter half of FMA 03 progressed that, to me, just makes this film feel a bit on the side of “I just don’t care for this.” It also also doesn’t help that this film was written by Shō Aikawa, known for the ultra-violent and kinda anti-Semitic Angel Cop, the could-be-considered-nationalistic Un-Go, and Eureka Seven: AO, which is just flat-out garbage. But that’s just me. I’m not a fan of the man’s writing, and it comes across in stride with projects like this that have to deal with elements of nationalism and war.

Really, this film’s reception is a case of two distinct audiences seeing it in different ways; people who prefer Brotherhood won’t be into it, while people who prefer FMA 03 will hold this up with higher regard. In other words, those who like it really like it and those who don’t just kinda don’t. But I do suppose that, after the successful run FMA 03 had on Adult Swim years ago, it was nice for its film conclusion to air all this time later. So there’s that. And if any of you are curious about this film, you actually can watch it on Crunchyroll, as its new licensor of Aniplex of America was gracious enough to not let the series just sit on a shelf for too long.

Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa is by no means an amazing movie, but it’s a movie that I hold very dear to my heart. I often credit the 2003 adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist to be the series that introduced me to the world of anime. Not only did the series introduce me to an entirely new medium and community, it was also the first television show to make my young mind consider new, intellectual ideas. So, naturally, when Conqueror of Shamballa released in North America, I was beyond excited to see the conclusion of this series I was so attached to. I shelled out some big bucks ($30, like most anime releases) to buy the DVD as soon as my local anime shop received copies. What proceeded that purchase were viewing parties with all of my favorite neighborhood anime nerds and very thorough readings of the booklet that was included with the DVD. It’s safe to say that I was crazy about Conqueror of Shamballa. 

I can’t tell you how many times I watched that DVD of Conqueror of Shamballa, though I do know that I had to buy another copy at some point. I will always remember the awesome encounter between Edward and dragon Envy, Wrath’s gruesome sacrifice, and the reunification of the Elric brothers. Most of these scenes were ridiculously silly, but I can’t deny that they left an immense impression. I believe the movie also led to my appreciation for alternate history stories, such as the recent Wolfenstein games and Code Geass.

I know Conqueror of Shamballa didn’t resonate with much of Toonami’s audience when it aired, and I attribute that to the original Fullmetal Alchemist adaptation never airing on the block. I always wondered why Adult Swim never aired the movie during the original series’ run; maybe it was too expensive? Conqueror of Shamballa will always hold a special place in my heart, and it was an absolute joy seeing it air on television. I’m glad Adult Swim got to show it, even if the timing was incredibly off.

– Tyler/@KokiriKid3, former EIC of Surreal Resolution

Grade: B-
Serving as a long-awaited conclusion to the 2003 anime, FMA: Conqueror of Shamballa is quite the interesting film; some will love it and others will not, given what it continues with and with some of its subject matter.

Trigun: Badlands Rumble (December 28, 2013)

Do you want more Trigun, but don’t want to bother with the fourteen-volume Trigun Maximum manga? Then this film is for you, Badlands Rumble is essentially an extended-length episode of the anime series, which in and of itself is excellent and also had quite a run on Adult Swim dating back to 2003. And that’s pretty much the best way to describe this film, it’s a 90-minute episode of the anime, only it’s way shinier than the anime series. Now, granted, the differences between 1998 Madhouse and 2010 Madhouse – with a film budget – is like night and day, but where the TV anime’s spaghetti-western design looked gritty with its hand-drawn animation, the film is incredibly polished and, in a way, modernized, all while keeping the western aesthetic in place. Mostly.

The film’s airing was a bit overshadowed, though, as there was a last-minute schedule shuffling of a burnoff of Cowboy Bebop, as the broadcast rights were coming to a sudden end, brought in part by the show being re-licensed by Funimation at around that time. So it did take a bit away from the special-ness of the film presentation, as well as leave 2013 on a bit of a low note. But with all of that said, if you like Trigun, definitely check this film out, it’s a fine addition for fans of the series. But don’t be alarmed by the recastings, it was kinda done out of necessity, i.e. it’s an in-house dub. Johnny’s still Vash, though, don’t worry.

Grade: B
Trigun: Badlands Rumble is, in essence, more Trigun, with a fresh coat of paint and enough western hijinks to satisfy fans of the series.

So that’s the end of 2013 for Toonami, and going into 2014 would be quite the run for the block, with more heavy hitters in the upcoming year than in both 2012 or 2013. The times were changing, and with changing times comes the need for adaptation, as well as a slight curveball to kick off the new year, along with a few more shonen stalwarts and a long-overdue dive into the realm of kick-ass seinen for those with a thirst for adrenaline.

To be continued…

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