Originally released on Steam back in mid-2014 following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Whispering Willows’ humble beginnings are apparent from the get go. There’s no voice acting, no grand production values. Cut scenes are composed of static images and the whole thing barely lasts three hours. It’s game design on a diet, stripped of the fat and distilled into a single afternoon experience. And it’s all the better for it.
Anime, like comic books and video games, has often found itself on the absolute fringe of nerd culture. When someone isn’t into anime, it’s almost impossible to get them to give it a try with an open mind–and that’s really too bad, because they’re depriving themselves of some really spectacular stuff like Attack on Titan.
In its frequently sorrowful tale of young Japanese siblings struggling through the tail end or immediate aftermath of World War II, anime Giovanni’s Island faces seemingly inevitable comparisons to both Grave of the Fireflies and the Barefoot Gen features. Mizuho Nishikubo’s film, however, has a spirit all of its own, even if you can trace in it bits of those other films’ DNA, as well as notorious British anti-war animation When the Wind Blows, whose art style it resembles more than the likes of Studio Ghibli. It stands apart in offering a look at an aspect of Japanese history rarely explored in any art form to date, that of the Russian occupation of the island of Shitokan after Japan’s defeat in 1945, as seen through the eyes of two Japanese children among the residents whose lives are upended by the new rule.
Taking many of its features from Studio Ghibli mainstays, Isao Takahata’s latest film The Tale of Princess Kaguya tackles an age-old folktale from Japan, bringing the studio’s warmth and childhood imagination to a mythic scale. It’s based upon The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter with a visual style imitating children’s storybooks or perhaps the scroll of the tale itself. It’s an act of wonderment to be in the presence of fluid, beautiful hand-drawn animation in a time clamoring for more and more computers at play, but the nostalgic value only barely supersedes its rough-and-tumble approach to adapting the anti-fairy-tale to the big screen.
It’s interesting to consider how for many of us, games have been growing up with us. Atlus’ Catherine serves as a prime example of this phenomenon. Having been developed by a team who grew and matured as games themselves did the same, it simultaneously reaches much of the gaming audience as they confront the very issues addressed within it.
Finding the reason for Akira’s resonance with all manner of audiences is not particularly difficult, since it is the zenith of great narrative-meets-dreamlike philosophical reality bending. For all that it blurs the lines of established faux-reality and fantasy, science-fiction and existentialism, it is ultimately a film about the fatal danger posed by one’s own anger.
The animated companion to Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell seeks to delve even deeper into the nature of identity than its predecessor, distinguishing itself with a more political story and its backdrop as the advent of the information age. An animated art film is a nigh-singular achievement. It’s a cross-section of two genres you almost never get, and a great one to boot.