They’re the best Anime that 2007 has to offer! We counts down the best anime to come out this year, including the likes of Hokuto no Ken: Raoh Gaiden Gekitou-hen, Piano no Mori, Kino no Tabi: The Beautiful World – Byouki no Kuni – For You, and more!
5: Hokuto no Ken: Raoh Gaiden Gekitou-hen
Japanese: 真救世主伝説 北斗の拳 ラオウ伝 激闘の章
MAL Score: 7.56
The third chapter of the pentalogy (3 Movies + 2 OVAs). A retelling of Kenshiro’s final battle with Raoh.
4: Piano no Mori
Japanese: ピアノの森 The Perfect World of Kai
MAL Score: 7.65
Piano no Mori tells the story of Shuuhei Amamiya, a transfer student, and Kai Ichinose, a problem child from the rough areas of town. Upon transferring to Moriwaki Elementary and telling the other kids about his talent for piano, Shuuhei quickly finds himself as the victim of bully Daigaku Kanehira.
Daigaku dares Shuuhei to find and play a cursed piano in the forest, which leads him to meet Kai, who claims to be the owner of the piano and the only one who can play it. Intrigued, Shuuhei follows Kai to the hidden piano in the forest and listens to him play a beautiful medley.
Earning the respect of not only Shuuhei but school music teacher Sousuke Ajino as well, Kai now finds himself formally learning how to play the piano.
The story takes place in a small town in the countryside, and revolves around the friendship and rivalry between Amamiya Shuuhei and Ichinose Kai. Shuuhei is an accomplished child pianist, and has studied hard for years to uphold the family tradition of producing outstanding musical talent. He and his family move to the countryside for a short time to help nurse his sick grandmother, and because of the duration of their stay, he must attend the school there. It is while he is at school that he first hears of the mysterious piano in the forest (which is rumoured to be cursed as no sound will be heard if you play it), and where he first encounters the scruffy and enigmatic Kai, who claims the piano belongs to him and only he can play it.
The artwork for this movie is excellent. The town and forest backdrops are very well realised, and the characters are nicely depicted as unique individuals. The animation is generally very smooth, especially during the piano scenes.
The sound is one area where this movie excels, especially during the scenes involving music. The sound effects throughout the movie are generally very good, from the hum of the car, to the sound of a restless crowd.
I found both Kai and Shuuhei to be very likeable characters, and the interaction between them is quite realistic. The side characters are also very well done, but as this is a movie, the only real development is given to the main characters, with a little devoted to some of the side characters. This should not be considered a limiting factor though, as the movie doesn’t really suffer for it.
I enjoyed this movie immensely, not simply because I’m a fan of classical music (and anime), but because it’s a very nice story that has been very well animated with some good characters and excellent sound.
I would recommend this movie to anyone who is a fan of classical music. I’d also recommend it to fans of shows such as Nodame Cantabile and La Corda D’Oro.
If you’re after action, adventure, fanservice, etc, then this movie is probably one you should avoid. If what you’re looking for however, is a heartwarming movie about friendship and rivalry then you should definitely check this out.
To conclude this review, I would reccomend this movie to musicians. Without these factors, the movie was just cute. Nothing special. But for a musician or a musician in the making this movie is beautiful simply beautiful.
To be honest, I hadn’t really expected to find other classical music anime that could compare to “Nodame Cantabile”, but enter “Piano no Mori”, a quiet film that, in less than two hours, captured what was at the heart of “Nodame Cantabile” surprisingly well – its passion for music.
“Piano no Mori” revolves around two boys, Shuuhei and Kai, who both have piano as one of the central aspects of their lives. Shuuhei comes from a family of pianists, is forced to practice piano day in day out in order to become a pianist himself. On the other end of the spectrum, Kai found a broken piano in the forest which only he can play; it enthralled him and he has grown up playing it without any formal training. The story starts off with Shuuhei moving to a new town with his family and meeting Kai, who attends the same school. The two soon become good friends, and the story focuses on how their attitudes towards playing piano is changed by one another.
The set up is not too dis-similar to “Nodame Cantabile”, with Shuuhei being a bit like the serious, hard working Chiaki and Kai representing the unrefined genius type, blessed with vast, untamed talents just like Nodame. Unlike “Nodame Cantabile” though, the characters are more polarised: while Chiaki also had talent and passion for music in abundance, and Nodame is also (somewhat) classically trained, Shuuhei and Kai have less of an overlap.
This comparison also holds true in other common areas shared between the two anime: while they have a lot in common in terms of what they have to say about music, “Piano no Mori” explores the themes with less maturity, and presents its messages in a more black and white, more straight forward way. As an example, see how easy it is for Kai to play complex pieces by ear, and to play a challenging Chopin sonata after just practicing the scales for a bit. Even for a genius, to play like he does without formal training and proper practice is just impossible. And this is one of my main complaint for the film: while I acknowledge that “Piano no Mori” isn’t meant to be well grounded in reality, at times it feels a tad too fairy-tale-esq in light of its generally earnest approach to music.
But because of its earnest approach, its faults are something I’m willing to forgive. The movie covers remarkable breadth and depth, emphasising amongst other things passion, hard work, as well as finding one’s self within the music. Shuuhei impresses upon Kai the importance of taking piano more seriously and facing it head on. But while Shuuhei learnt the piano, Kai lived it, and the latter’s infectious enthusiasm profoundly effects the former, for whom piano is mostly like a chore. To those who’ve watched “Nodame Cantabile”, most of this will sound familiar.
Unlike “Nodame Cantabile” though, I would hesitate to recommend this to people not into classical music. I just can imagine non-enthusiasts yawning through the first half of the film, though the second half is somewhat more entertaining. Though Shuuhei is a bit dull, Kai makes for an interesting, spunky lead; he pretty much carries the entertainment factor of the show, and often drew chuckles from me with his outrageous antics.
The story of “Piano no Mori” is a bit loose. For one thing it feels incomplete – it’s odd that the film introduces the mysterious piano in the forest that only Kai could play, only to ignore the mystery of its magical qualities almost completely. Also, the story is annoyingly inconsistent regarding the piano competition preliminaries that was featured. First they were saying the everyone had to play Mozart’s piano sonata K. 311… but then in the competition, someone played a different Mozart piece, and that seemed okay too. Also there was one part of the film dedicated to a contestant whining about someone like Shuuhei being in the region ruining her chances in the preliminaries as though there’s only one person who can qualify. In the end, about 10 people qualified, and I was left wondering what the big fuss was all about.
If you like classical music though, these problems will seem small compared to what the film does right. Unlike “Kiniro no Corda”, which often seems more concerned about its bishies than the music, “Piano no Mori” focuses on the music, and is essentially a simplified emboddiment of the ideas at the core of “Nodame Cantabile”. And THAT, is why it does not disappoint.
3: Kino no Tabi: The Beautiful World – Byouki no Kuni – For You
Japanese: キノの旅 -the Beautiful World- 病気の国 -For You-
MAL Score: 7.70
After a long journey, Kino and Hermes finally arrive at their destination—a very beautiful and clean country with many skyscrapers. Unlike the other places they have visited so far, the country’s landscape is a little peculiar. Although the countryside appears to be farmland, the area seems to be abandoned. Filled with old and damaged buildings, there is no sign of life. In contrast, the city is hidden within a mountain, confined under a fabricated sky that is generated by advanced technology. The highly developed city is focused on healthcare, practicing strict hygiene regulations and aiming to turn its citizens into the healthiest of people.
However, despite being in a beautiful and clean environment, Kino cannot help but feel a sense of uneasiness. The town’s air slightly contains a peculiar smell, and there are no birds to be seen flying in the skies, bringing a sense of mystery and dizziness to the scenery. After all, as an experienced traveler, Kino knows that looks can be deceiving and that the town may not be what they had initially expected.
Movie: Kino no Tabi: Byoku no Kuni -For You- was premiered at the Dengekibunko Movie Festival in April of 2007, and started running in theatres on April 21st, 2007. It was animated by Studio SHAFT (famous for their work on REC and Sayonara Zetsubo-Sensei) and directed by Ryutaro Nakamura (famous for his work on the Kino no Tabi series and Serial Experiments Lain). It has yet to be licensed Stateside.
Story: Kino (who’s grown up a bit and filled out o.O) and Hermes make a stop in a country where the majority of the citizens are sealed in a germ-free bubble, and the minority are out in the wastelands, reclaiming the land. They meet a girl who has the one disease (that sounds kind of like cancer to me) that they haven’t been able to cure, and is currently the subject of pharmaceutical research. She asks them to deliver a little trinket to a boy out in the reclamation who she’s been writing back and forth with. But when they go out to deliver the trinket, they discover the truth about the reclamation… (What, you thought I was going to give it away? :P)
This felt like a Kino no Tabi episode. This is what the other movie was missing. While the other movie was good, and it did explain more about Kino, it just didn’t feel like the series did. This movie, however, could have very easily fit anywhere in the series.
It was apparently adapted from later in the novel series (whereas the show only stuck to the first few volumes), which renews my wish for more Kino. They’ve got the source material and the fan base (I think) that they could probably do it.
Art: There’s a bit more CG this time around than there was in the series, but while it is distracting at times, it blends very well with the animation, which is in the same style as the series (even though it was done by a different studio).
Music: There’s the same themes from the series from what I noticed of the background music, and the new ED wasn’t all that noteworthy.
Seiyuu: Same seiyuu as the series, so nothing to add here.
Length: Like the other movie, it’s a half-hour, but this time, I don’t feel so cheated because of it.
Overall: A good story that would’ve made a fine episode in the series. Now hurry up and do a second season already!
Overall: 43/50; 86% (B )
The character artistic design is adequate, and you will find no deviation from the series. Kino is as enigmatic as ever, although Hermes seems just a bit more immature and inept than usual. The backgrounds were much more detailed and the enhanced production budget shows here. Although the integration of CGI was not seamless nor flawless, it did not detract from the overall experience.
‘The Land of Sickness’ is every bit as enjoyable as any other story in the franchise, and remains true to the original concept of gimmick-free story telling, using violence only to advance the plot. Add the requisite subtle invitation to examine human nature, and you get one of my favorite stories of the franchise, following the travels of the most underestimated ‘tough guy’ in anime. I will definitely watch this again, in a few years.
At first glance, For You seems to fit this mold. Unlike Life Goes On, it’s essentially another episode, following the standard formula of focusing on a unique set of customs for contemplation. Compared to other episodes, though, it’s pretty lackluster. Instead of developing the philosophical/cultural aspect, most of the story is about Kino driving around the city and talking to a single person, a young girl who embodies the system but lacks the maturity to embrace or rationalize it. It isn’t until the climactic finale that the cultural aspect comes to the foreground, but even this is rushed and underdeveloped, leaving us with a superficial analysis of a custom that wasn’t too novel to begin with.
As a Kino’s Journey fan I still enjoyed For You, but it would have benefited from more time reflecting upon the country’s culture and less time telling the girl’s story. Or it could have shortened the “Country of Illness” story and added in one or two other journeys. As it stands, there just isn’t much of substance to show for dedicating a half hour to a single country.
On the bright side, the soundtrack and voice cast are the same great stuff from the series. The new animation style is pretty, but it’s harder to gauge. The crisper, higher quality give the film a sharp look, but it also loses the storybook feel. If more Kino’s Journey is ever made, hopefully they’ll improve the classic style (as Life Goes On did) rather than discard it for something more mainstream.
For You is a decent continuation to the series, but this journey doesn’t possess the magic or depth of the rest. Even Life Goes On gave me more to think about. If you want more Kino, this is one of your only options, but it’s also the weakest.
2: JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken: Phantom Blood
English: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood
Japanese: ジョジョの奇妙な冒険 ファントム ブラッド
MAL Score: 7.70
An adaptation of the original five volume arc of the popular JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure manga, covering the Phantom Blood chapters. Jonathan Joestar is an aristocratic boy whose life is suddenly turned upside down by a mysterious new boy who arrives, Dio Brando. Dio has a connection to his father, and over time, a rivalry forms as Dio becomes obsessed with a mysterious, ancient, and mystical stone mask that Jonathan’s father keeps.
1: Stranger: Mukou Hadan
English: Sword of the Stranger
Japanese: ストレンヂア -無皇刃譚-
MAL Score: 8.29
In the Sengoku period of Japan, a young orphan named Kotarou and his dog Tobimaru steal from unsuspecting villagers in order to make ends meet. However, Kotarou is forced to remain on the run when he finds himself being hunted down by assassins sent by China’s Ming Dynasty for mysterious reasons not involving his petty crimes.
Fortunately, the duo run into Nanashi, a ronin who has taken refuge in a small temple, when Kotarou is attacked and Tobimaru poisoned. Although the samurai saves the helpless pair from their pursuers, he feels that there is no need to help them further; but when offered a gem in exchange for his services as a bodyguard, he reluctantly accepts Kotarou’s offer of employment—just until Tobimaru is healed and the two reach their destination. As the three set out on a perilous journey, it soon becomes evident that their path is riddled with danger, as the Ming Dynasty has now sent a terrifying swordsman after them to capture Kotarou and fulfill a certain prophecy.
Some people have already ordained this film as a classic of sorts, but I’d have to disagree with that, simply because, although it hits hard and fast with splendour, and resonates beyond mere eye-candy, it doesn’t have a crucial element to elevate it into that tier. The characters do have sufficient weight for the audience to empathise with them, and they are also very likeable, but I felt that my appreciation of the characterisation is due largely to the voice talent behind them. So, credit goes to the cast and not necessarily to the way the film was written, which perhaps had more featured characters than it should have. If the film had focused more on the central to characters, I feel it could have been a classic, or at the very least, deliver an even more powerful finale. Perhaps replacing some of the action scenes with more intimate, personal character moments could have helped. But that minor gripe aside, the big problem with the film was the gaping hole where the plot should be.
A plot should always be more than just a vague framework to drive a movie from one scene another all the way to the climax. It should give credence to the movie, so that the film has a certain importance or reason. As it was, the plot, both simple and relatively silly, told me that the film existed for the sake of great action scenes. It’s a valid premise for entertainment, but it means there’s no lasting impact on the audience because it doesn’t really have anything much to convey. There’s no story here I haven’t seen before in this genre, and for much of the time the plot is a little too confusing.
It seems I’d almost forgotten the potential for animation to be so visually compelling. On a technical level, the anime medium has frequent success, but transcending animation quality, it’s a very rare experience for an anime to be truly visually compelling, creating not just mood and detail, but also scenes of beauty. This film achieves that in a way that totally blew me away, and I don’t say that very often (I’m not one of those apt to calling every Kyoto Animation production flawlessly animated). The climax of the film, a roaring skirmish amidst snow and fire, is breathtaking and elegiac. More than just an impressive, visceral action sequence, it is tinged with emotion and dramatic tension, which drives the film up to its climactic pinnacle.
As I say time and time again, the concept of a conclusion is highly important to me. When anything ends I expect more than a bit of excitement, or an explanatory wrap-up, I want the climax to resonate and to pay-off the themes of the series/movie. This film does achieve that, and even though it is devoid of really challenging and engaging themes, it still manages to be moving with likeable characters and endearing score music. In my mind, an anime that can end on a powerful high note, with stunning production and consistent pacing, is a winner. Even though the film falls prey to a number of action film clichés, and at times feels like a rehash of bits of the samurai film genre, and even though its plot is undemanding and almost silly, it is irresistibly engaging. Beyond anything else, this should definitely be approached as an action film, and with that approach, I can safely say it is a great accomplishment in its genre. It is fast-paced and features fierce, clever battle sequences, but more importantly, overshadowing the violence (which any action film can claim on), it is rendered with artistry and beauty, and effortlessly tugs at your heart. Frankly put, the only flaw in this film is the slight lack of depth to the characters, and the completely unremarkable plot. But if, like me, you’ve grown tired of the relative mediocrity of most anime television and want something to renew your love for the anime medium as an art form, this would be a good bet.
I guess I could just say that and be done, but if you’re not convinced yet, I’ll pimp it some more.
Story – typical action stuff, set in historical Japan, but has twists enough in the plot to make me unable to predict exactly what was going to happen next–and I’ve watched enough action movies and anime to know that this one stands firmly within its chosen genre, yet breaks out of it from time to time. This, I think, makes it interesting to watch (because who wants to be able to predict the whole story?).
Art – Quite good, detailed backgrounds, though there aren’t that many grand, sweeping vistas in this movie. There’s some CG that’s done fairly well. The action scenes is where the animation makes you sit up and question whether what you’ve just seen is drawn or not. I’ve never seen sword fights done this well before: without excessive slow-motion, artsy camera angles, just straight up, flat out, swordsmanship. Of course, it’s flashy, but much more realistic than many live action sword fights I’ve seen in other movies. The characters are drawn realistically as well.
Sound -There were distinctly Japanese themes and instruments in the soundtrack. Perhaps a bit over-dramatic at times, but I like dramatic music to set the scene, so though it may bother some people I liked it a lot.
Character -Some cliche/stereotypical stuff here, but for the most part, sympathetic characters. There’s no annoying characters, and the main characters are developed/change throughout the course of the movie, which in my opinion is hard to do considering the time constraints.
Enjoyment -Well, if you don’t like a lot of blood, then your enjoyment will be lower than mine. I don’t particularly like loads of it, but in this movie, since the fight scenes are realistic, with swords and all, there’s all the slicing and dicing of enemies you can possibly imagine that goes on.
Ok, enough of my raving about it. Just go watch it already!!
Stranger is first and foremost an action movie. Because the meat and potatoes don’t lie primarily with the plot, its straightforward and very typical “unlikely hero” premise is forgivable. A wandering swordsman reluctantly agrees to protect a child from an elite Chinese expedition. The local feudal lord joins the pursuit, stacking the odds further against the protagonists.
By no means am I implying that the story is bland. The web of tangled motives creates conflicts between the feudal government and the Chinese, and also internal conflicts within each group. There’s plenty of plot movement here to justify a feature length film even though the simple premise of “samurai protects child” remains throughout. The overall simplicity is, in fact, a benefit to this historical martial arts epic; the story flows at a brisk pace, but remains cohesive and effortless to follow. This straightforward approach to the plot lends itself to the primal, action oriented appeal of this film.
In the bread and butter aspects of the visuals, Stranger isn’t especially impressive for a movie. Though the character animations show consistent attention to details of weight and balance, the ugly CG and the lack of textural details in the background make the more mundane scenes easily mistaken for a half decent TV series.
As soon as the first action scene shows up-and fret not, for this occurs during the opening credits, the merits in the visuals suddenly become abundantly clear. Aesthetically, these scenes are impressive. The characters are spritely and acrobatic, but grounded with a touch of realism in their body mechanics. Even in the fastest exchanges, the frames of animation are sufficient to keep individual moves distinguishable.
Regarding everything that puts the drama into gratifying action scenes, Stranger delivers in spades. The action choreography moves at lightning speed with elaborate exchanges passing within the blink of an eye, but apart from a few of the villains’ excessively acrobatic flourishes, the characters’ techniques still manage to stay within their weapons and personalities. The main character, for instance, is an unambitious, get the job done kind of guy, which comes through in the action scenes with his simple, fundamentally sound usage of his two handed sword. The fact that he actually cuts and thrusts with two hands may seem like a trifle detail, but it contributes to the continuity of his character. Considering the characters’ personalities in the choreography make it altogether more believable, more engrossing, than if it had been treated merely as eye candy.
This film puts the “acting” of the characters to good, tension building use as well. With their body language and facial expressions, most of the characters show fear as they barely manage to thwart an attack and an eruption of killer intent as they deal a finishing blow. A few of the villains are emotionally unphased by pain, which, by design or not (in this case, it is by the design of the plot), saps a little of the drama out of these scenes. Still, a good majority of the cast members, including the main character, deliver convincing performances that make these fight scenes more like a tooth and nail brawl, and less like a ballet masquerading as violence.
The music primarily consists of the powerful orchestral pieces typical of epics. The ever present leather drum beats and flute solos give the soundtrack a distinct Asian flavor appropriate for the setting. The full onslaught of an orchestra of strings or a blaring leather drum beat are played against the action scenes, while unaccompanied flute solos match well with the more tender segments. Despite the range of emotions that the different tracks embody, the Asian motif keeps the soundtrack cohesive, as if each track was part of a single, larger piece of music.
My one glaring issue is the “dub” put over the Chinese expedition. It’s shown many times in the movie that these characters don’t speak Japanese with any semblance of fluency. Most of the time, their lines will be dubbed in Japanese, leaving the viewer to imagine that in reality, the language they are speaking is Chinese. On the other hand, at seemingly random points, these characters will actually speak Chinese to each other. How the director decided when Chinese was appropriate as opposed to the dub is beyond me. One character may deliver a Chinese line, and the very next line he utters in the same scene will be dubbed. It’s also a little jarring when half of the expedition speaks perfect Chinese while the other half speak it so poorly that had the context not been there, I’d have sooner guessed it to be broken German than broken Chinese.
The characters in Stranger have few nuances. Simply describing the two main characters as lone wolves, one a petulant child, the other a reluctant, carefree ronin, covers most of the complexities you will see in their personalities. From this description you could probably also guess that the two characters eventually bond, and bring out the virtues within one another. The child learns to be more appreciative and apologetic, while the ronin finds meaning in self sacrifice. The rest of the cast is equally simple, only the exact opposite of the two protagonists. They’re not malice embodied ala traditional Disney villains, but they do demonstrate the darker side of humanity: cowardice, ambition, blood thirst, greed, and several other character flaws. The heroism and purity of the protagonists are highlighted nicely next to the backdrop of immorality in the rest of the cast.
The emphasis of these characters is the virtuous courage of our ronin hero; going against the world if need be to save an innocent child. The clash of heroic self sacrifice and greed inspired villainy gives the cast a bedtime story charm that is unhindered by simple and clear characterizations. The two main characters also avoid my two greatest peeves with one dimensional leads; their defining quirks aren’t obnoxiously exaggerated, and they prefer emotional understatement over melodrama. Instead of beating you over the head screaming “this is my unique personality!” or sulking and bawling at their own misfortunes, the two main characters retain a believable mildness that separates them from the droves of corny single-layer characters.
You can, and ought to, leave your higher thought processes behind while watching Stranger. Its story piques our deepest, most primal sense of morality, and the action fuels our savage desire to watch violence unfold. If at any time you are too lazy to follow convoluted plots, too irritable to stomach pretentious lectures on philosophy, but you want to find release in heart pounding action sequences, then there is no title more elegant than Stranger that will satiate such a craving.
Did YOUR favorite anime make the cut? Let us know in the comments below!
1. Stranger: Mukou Hadan
2. Kino no Tabi: The Beautiful World – Byouki no Kuni – For You
3. JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken: Phantom Blood
4. Piano no Mori
5. Hokuto no Ken: Raoh Gaiden Gekitou-hen