Anime, Anime Reviews

Review: Demon Slayer The Movie Mugen Train

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Let’s preface this whole review by just establishing my position on the Demon Slayer anime. It’s alright. That pretty much sums it up. I was pretty behind in watching Demon Slayer so by the time I got round to it there was so much buzz about it, and I had really high expectations which I don’t feel were met. I really don’t understand the hype around it – people seem to really, really love Demon Slayer, and I just kind of like it. I can totally appreciate it’s a good story, and some of the animation is really nice, but do I love it as much as other people seem to? No, I don’t. I think it’s quite average, I liked it well enough, but I definitely think there are other shows out there with similar premises doing it better.

I hear you ask, if I don’t like Demon Slayer that much, why did I bother to see it? Well, I like it enough to want to watch the second season, and the film is canon unlike the My Hero Academia movies, so I felt like I needed to watch it before season 2 started. I even took half a day off work for it!

So, with that in mind, how was Demon Slayer: Mugen Train? Let’s get into it.

Please be aware the following review may contain spoilers for the movie.

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As a reminder, season 1 of Demon Slayer ended with Tanjiro and co. receiving a message to join flame Hashira Rengoku on the Mugen Train to investigate a case where people were going missing, and this movie is then the outcome of that mission, hence the title, Mugen Train. 

Mugen Train starts immediately with action, there’s little to no rehashing story from the first season, so you really need to go into the movie with some memory of the plot from the anime. Newcomers to Demon Slayer may feel a little lost starting their journey with Mugen Train, though it’s not impossible. Mugen Train does work well as a standalone story, though obviously there’s a lot of context missing without the knowledge of the first season of Demon Slayer.

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Plot-wise Mugen Train is an exciting and interesting ride. The action never really stops throughout the whole movie, save for a few moments of respite.

As with Demon Slayer‘s debut series, Mugen Train is beautifully animated. There does seem to be some reliance on CGI for transition scenes and some background imagery, which I did find quite jarring. I’ve never liked the combination of CG backgrounds within an anime series, which I understand is a personal preference of mine, so others might not find it as much of an issue but for me it really took me out of the moment.

Some key moments lack emotional punch as it feels like the viewer doesn’t have enough time with the characters to develop any real bonds, so it’s almost a “Well, that happened.” and not much else. I feel some of these moments might land more for manga readers who have probably spent more time with certain characters, but as an anime only viewer, for me it felt a bit lacklustre.

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Mugen Train is a good continuation of the Demon Slayer story, and builds well on the world created in the first season. Whilst the story lacked emotional depth in places, there’s no doubting that the plot is a good one, and sets up the second series of the hit anime nicely.

7 stars

Film Reviews, Films

Review: Yes, No, Or Maybe?

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Yes, No, Or Maybe? is a fairly short film – standing at 53 minutes. There’s a lot packed into the short run time, and for the most part it’s a joy to watch. This review will contain spoilers for the end, but I’ll warn you before it’s about to be mentioned, so read with caution.

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The focus of Yes, No, Or Maybe? is Kei Kunieda, a friendly newscaster with a sunny disposition. Kei has a secret – he’s actually pretty grouchy and is pretty much constantly inwardly cursing at other people. This is done to great effect throughout the film showing Kei’s inner thoughts as a little chibi figure on screen, so whilst IRL Kei might be thanking someone profusely, chibi Kei will be cursing them up a storm. It’s a really funny juxtaposition that works really well, and is much more effective than just having a voiceover show Kei’s inner thoughts.

One day, Kei is asked to interview Ushio Tsuzuki, a stop-motion animator. Following the interview, an off-duty and disguised Kei bumps into Ushio (quite literally) outside a convenience store, and after unleashing a barrage of abuse at Ushio reluctantly agrees to help him with his work after injuring him.

What follows is a back and forth between Kei and Ushio as Kei interacts with Ushio both using his work persona and his true self, and struggles to reconcile his feelings with who he truly is as a person. Being a shounen ai, there’s obviously a romantic undertone and typically of a BL anime, there’s some struggle as Kei deals with his romantic thoughts towards another man.

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Yes, No, Or Maybe? presents two really well written characters. Kei and Ushio are both really well developed and each have their own nuances and motivations. I really related to Kei having his private and public personas, as I feel like often I’m very different publicly to how I am privately, and as I said before, the way the film presents this is really effective.

I really liked the animation of Yes, No, Or Maybe?, it felt really soft and natural, with a pretty realistic colour palette, which added to the romantic tone of the movie. Whilst Yes, No, Or Maybe? is primarily a drama, it does have some really funny moments, especially between Kei’s private persona and his inner thoughts. 

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Whilst I wouldn’t want to get into spoiler territory, I feel it’s worth mentioning the end as it could be a huge trigger for viewers and could be the difference between someone watching it or not. If you don’t want to know spoilers, don’t read the next paragraph and just know that I really disliked the final scenes of Yes, No, or Maybe?

The end scene is really hard to bear and features the worst of all BL tropes – dubious consent. Except, it’s really not dubious, it’s pretty clear and repeatedly said that it’s a firm no. It’s a real shame, because up until this point, the movie was golden and the whole scene just sours the wholesome and romantic vibe of Yes, No, or Maybe? up until that point. I’m really interested to pick up the light novel to see how that compares to the film, I would hope that it isn’t so non-consensual but my experience with BL makes me think otherwise.

8 stars

Anime, Anime Reviews

Review: Given Movie

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The following review contains spoilers for the Given Movie and the anime series. 

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The Given movie is the 59 minute follow-up to 2019’s smash anime series of the same name. Adapted from an ongoing manga series, Given centres around a band of boys – two highschoolers and two college students – as they fall in love with playing music together, and with each other.

Of course, the anime left off with Mafuyu and Uenoyama getting together after some mutual pining and dealing with some underlying trauma. The focus of this movie shifts to their bandmates Akihiko and Haruki. We discovered in the series that Haruki has been in love with Akihiko for some time, whereas Akihiko seems to be a lot more of a playboy and has a different girl on his arm constantly.

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Having read the manga past this story arc, I was a little hesitant to watch the film. There was a lot I didn’t like about the arc portrayed in the film when I read it in the manga. That’s not to say it’s not good, it’s just very raw and a little bit darker but this shouldn’t be a surprise with the content from the first series of the show in mind.

Throughout the movie, it’s very clear that Akihiko has a very toxic relationship with his live-in lover Ugetsu. Neither of them seem to really want to give the other up, but they’re absolutely no good for each other. This is pretty clear throughout the whole movie. Akihiko’s behaviour ends up spiralling as a result and he acts in a truly despicable way. There’s an interesting juxtaposition between Akihiko’s behaviour when he’s influenced by interactions with Ugetsu, and those with Haruki which further cements the toxicity of Akihiko’s relationship.

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Throughout the movie there’s a multitude of levels to the characterisation. At first glance, Akihiko and Ugetsu seem like thoroughly despicable characters, both only looking out for themselves, and whilst there certainly seems to remain an element of this, there’s also a lot of depth to their relationship which becomes uncovered and you can begin to kind of see why they act the way they do. There’s also a undertone of not being able to let your first love go, which I think a lot of people can relate to.

With Ugetsu in mind, I’m really pleased at how he has been portrayed. I think it would have been really easy for him to be vilified as the mean man who is keeping Akihiko and Haruki apart, but there’s actually a really soft side to him and he is characterised really well. His interactions with Mafuyu are especially touching, as we see him helping Mafuyu to write a new song and eventually learning to trust him enough to talk about his feelings with him.

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As you’d expect from a film centred around the lives of musicians, the music in Given is impeccable. From Ugetsu’s classical violin playing, to the rock stylings of the band, the music throughout is evocative and emotional. The music always really adds to the emotion of any scene, and perfectly encapsulates the feeling of the moment.

A lot is packed into the Given movie’s short run-time, which can kind of leave your head reeling, but there are some really sweet and tender moments in amongst all of the angst. The Given movie is a near perfect continuation of a series which was so beloved, and won’t disappoint fans.

9 stars

Film Reviews

Review: Downsizing

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Downsizing is a peculiar one. I think it’s really hard to make a ‘serious film’ where the key concept of the movie is that people are shrinking themselves. I don’t know if that’s because I was a child in a time where Honey, I Shrunk The Kids and its various spin-offs were a big thing, but to me the idea of a person shrinking is just funny.

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The thing with Downsizing, though it does have its funny moments, is it’s not really a comedy. The concept of ‘downsizing’ is so that a person takes up less space on the planet and has less of an effect on the environment, so the movie is a pretty serious one with a focus on environmentalism and the selfishness of humanity.

Downsizing doesn’t really deliver its message with much impact. Yes, we all know that the Earth is struggling to cope with the volume of people who inhabit it, as well as the way they treat it. Past this it doesn’t really offer much more exploration into things. There’s no focus on how things change once the project begins, how things are developing or whether the project met its aims. Things just happen, and we’re expected to accept that.

Downsizing touches on a lot of points that would have been really interesting to explore; the import/export business in the miniature world, the wealth divide in Leisure Land, politics between the ‘normies’ and the downsizers to name a few examples, but it doesn’t expand on any of them. It’s disappointing, but throughout the movie Downsizing has a habit of introducing an interesting topic and just leaving it, undeveloped.

The protagonist, Paul (Matt Damon) doesn’t really develop much, and the same can be said for most of the characters. Everyone ends the movie as they started, there’s no journey, no development, nothing to keep you engaged and the movie feels every second of its 2hr15 runtime.

 

Film Reviews, Films

Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Going into Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri I had very little idea about the film. I thought vaguely, maybe it won’t actually be about billboards, and the billboards might be a sort of metaphor? Nope, it’s about billboards.

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The billboards, whilst not necessarily a metaphor, are a representation of ­­­Mildred’s struggle to get closure and justice for her murdered daughter. Frustrated, Mildred (played by Frances McDormand) rents out the three billboards and puts up some choice words for the local police chief essentially questioning whether he has done his job properly.

There’s a pretty stellar cast, with Frances McDormand being joined by Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, who is particularly fantastic throughout the whole film, portraying a really complex character perfectly. Everything is sublime and it’s really hard to find any faults in the whole movie.

I don’t want to delve too deeply into things, as I think it’s good to go into Three Billboards as I did, not really knowing much about it. I will say it’s a wonderfully emotional film with a really engaging plot.

Three Billboards does comedy and drama exceptionally well, giving you moments that are genuinely hilarious before smacking you in the gut with some well-delivered emotional trauma. The whole thing keeps you on your toes, in a good way, and you’re on an emotional rollercoaster along with the characters throughout the film’s 115 minutes.

I can’t recommend Three Billboards enough.