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Ghost in the Shell (a J!-ENT 4K Ultra HD Review)

July 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Considering the other not-so-good Hollywood-made anime live-action film adaptations, one can’t deny that “Ghost in the Shell” is one of the better adaptations from an anime or manga series.  The film just misses the mark of being a wonderful, memorable film and feels like a simplified, less complex version of the original storyline and a film with untapped potential.  But there is always room for improvement if a sequel does happen in the future.

Images courtesy of © 2017 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Ghost in the Shell

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 2017

DURATION: 126 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 2160p 4K Ultra High Definition, English Dolby Atmos, French, Spanish, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, English Audio Description, SUBTITLES: English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese

COMPANY: Paramount

RATED: PG-13 (For Intense Sequences of Sci-fi Violence, Suggestive Content and Some Disturbing Images)

RELEASE DATE: July 25, 2017


Based on the comic “The Ghost in the Shell” by Masamune Shirow

Directed by Rupert Sanders

Screenplay by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger

Producer: Ari Arad, Michael Costigan, Steven PAul

Co-Producer: Holly Bario, Jane Nerlinger Evans, Maki Terashima-Furuta

Executive Producer: Tetsuya Fujimura, Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, Yoshinobu Noma, Jeffrey Silver

Music by Lorne Balfe, Clint Mansell

Cinematography by Jess Hall

Edited by Billy Rich, Neil Smith

Casting by Lucy Vevan, Liz Mullane, Miranda Rivers

Production Design by Jan Roelfs

Art Direction by Matt Austin, Simon Bright, Leri Greer, Miro Harre, Ben Hawker, Richard L. Johnson, Agata Maliauka, Andy McLaren, Erik Polczwartek, Brad Ricker, Ken Turner

Set Decoration by Greg Cokerill, Elli Griff, Craig Poll, Calvin Tsoi, Brana Rosenfeld, Kitt Van Der Kidd

Costume Design by Kurt and Bart


Starring:

Scarlett Johansson as Major

Pilou Asbaek as Batou

Takeshi Kitano as Aramaki

Juliette Binoche as Dr. Ouelet

Michael Pitt as Kuze

Chin Han as Togusa

Danusia Samal as Ladriya

Lasarus Ratuere as Ishikawa

Yutaka Izumihara as Saito

Tawanda Manyimo as Borma

Peter Ferdinando as Cutter

Anamaria Marinca as Dr. Dahlin


Set in a world where people are enhanced with technology, GHOST IN THE SHELL follows Major (Scarlett Johansson), who believes she was rescued from near death. The first of her kind, Major is a human mind inside an artificial body designed to fight the war against cyber-crime. While investigating a dangerous criminal, Major makes a shocking discovery – the corporation that created her lied about her past life in order to control her. Unsure what to believe, Major will stop at nothing to unravel the mystery of her true identity and exact revenge against the corporation she was built to serve.


The year 1989 and Masamune Shirow would create his manga “Ghost in the Shell”.

By 1995, an animated film was released and would become a box office hit in Japan, would achieve success via video retail and would also receive critical acclaim worldwide.  So much that even filmmaker James Cameron cited the film as a source of inspiration, saying “The first truly adult animation film to reach a level of literary and visual excellence”.

While considered complex and too some as cerebral, the popularity of the first film would lead to more animated films, animated series, video games and books.

And in 2008, DreamWorks and Steven Spielberg would acquire the rights to produce a live-action film adaptation of the original manga and in 2017, the film would be released in theaters, earning over $169 million in the box office.

The film is directed by Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) and would be co-written by Jamie Moss (“Safe House 2”, “Street Kings”), William Wheeler (“Queen of Katwe”, “The Hoax”) and Ehren Kruhger (“Transformers” films, “The Ring”).

The film stars Scarlett Johansson (“Lost in Translation”, “The Avengers”, “Lucy”), Pilou Asbaek (“Lucy”, “Hijacking”, “A War”), Takeshi Kitano (“Brother”, “The Blind Swordsman/Zatoichi”, “Fireworks”), Juliette Binoche (“The English Patient”, “Three Colors: Blue”, “Cache”, “Godzilla”), Michael Pitt (“Seven Psychopaths”, “I Origins”), Chin Han (“The Dark Knight”, “Contagion”, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), Danusia Samal (“Tyrant”, “Boom”) and Peter Ferdinando (“Tony”, “Starred Up”).

And now, the film will be released on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Paramount.

The film begins with a woman being wheeled in via a stretcher and her brain being removed and inserted in a mechanical body (shell) at Hanka Robotics, the world’s leading developer of augmentative technology.

And the first experimented is made to integrate a human brain versus an AI, and the results on Mira Killian (portrayed by Scarlett Johansson) is a success.  While Dr. Ouelet (portrayed by Juliette Binoche) is thrilled that the experiment had worked, Hanka CEO Cutter (portrayed by Peter Ferdinando) wants to use her immediately as a soldier/counter-terrorism operative.

Dr. Ouelet tells Mira that she was involved in an accident and that her body was too damaged but they were able to rescue her brain.  She was also told that her parents have passed away.

Fastforward a year later and Mira is now a “Major” in the anti-terrorist bureau, Section 9, and she and her fellow operatives Batou (portrayed by Pilou Asbaek) and Togusa (portrayed by Chin Han) working under their boss, Chief Daisuke Aramaki (portrayed by Takeshi Kitano) are trying to prevent a terrorist attack on a Hanka business conference.

As the terrorists attack, Major acts on her own despite her Chief telling her not to to and in the process, she destroys a rogue geisha robot who ends up murdering her hostage.  After Major destroys the geisha robot, a message is given directly to her.

As Major goes for rehabilitation and medication, she tells Dr. Ouelet that she is experiencing hallucinations and that she doesn’t remember her past.

Wanting to know why the geisha robot gave her a message, she tells her partner Batou that she will be diving into the geisha robot and when she does, she knows she is breaking protocol.  But wanting to find answers, she finds out that the robot was hacked by a mysterious individual known as Kuze and Kuze tries to do a reverse hack.

As Major starts to be affected by the reverse hack, Batou has her disconnected and Major was able to extract information that leads her to a Yakuza nightclub.

As Major and Batou continue to investigate, what will they find out about this mysterious individual known as Kuze and because of her belligerence of not following orders, will she be deprogrammed?


VIDEO:

“Ghost in the Shell” receives its first 4K Ultra HD K Ultra HD release and is presented in 2160p Ultra High Definition.

While the setting is in the future, the film reflects that with a lot of CG created buildings and virtual/holographic signs.  For the most part, closeups show great detail and the overall look of the film is cool.  Combining realistic scenes with a lot of CG, the two are able to coexist with great efficacy.

For the most part, the film looks fantastic in 4K Ultra HD.

IMPORTANT TO KNOW: To watch 4K Ultra HD, you will need a 4K UHD TV with HDR and an Ultra HD Blu-ray Player + a high-speed HDMI 2.0A Cable.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

Lossless audio quality is equally impressive. Featured in English Dolby Atmos, French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital and English audio description.

Considering that this sci-fi action film contains a lot of action sequences, this lossless soundtrack is quite impressive. Surround channels and LFE are well-utilized during the high actions sequences.  And may it be weapon shots to glass shattering, “Ghost in the Shell” sounds magnificent.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Ghost in the Shell” on 4K Ultra HD comes with the following special features:

  • Hard-Wired Humanity: Making Ghost in the Shell – (30:05) A featurette on the making of “Ghost in the Shell” and bringing the popular manga to film and how it took nine years to develop.
  • Section 9: Cyber Defenders – (11:28) A featurette about the anti-terrorist unit, Section 9.  Interviews with the cast who are members of Section 9.
  • Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy – (10:35) A featurette with cast and crew discussing the quickly changing technology and the integration of human/technology.

EXTRAS:

“Ghost in the Shell” comes with a slipcover, both the 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray disc and an UltraViolet Digital HD code.


Having loved the animated film “Ghost in the Shell”, I have seen the manga/film evolve as a TV series, animated film, video games and literally captivate people all over the world.

So, when the film was announced that there would be a live-action film starring Scarlett Johansson, as beloved as they are too fans, they are also the harshest critics.

Could a live-action film due the manga/animated film justice?  Will the casting of Scarlett Johansson instead of an Asian actress hurt the film?

There are a lot of things that the film has been criticized and as a fan of “Ghost in the Shell”, you can see this film as being half empty and half full.

For one, I give the creators of the film credit for creating this CG landcape of a futuristic megalopolis.  The film does go into why the character of Major is not Asian.

But there are a few concessions that I can understand why the producers had to do it.  For example, the animated film, while awesome as it is, not everyone is able to follow it.  Many found it too smart, too cerebral for their own tastes, so in order to make money and make this film accessible to the public, the film can’t be too complex.

It’s important to note that in Japan, the film did much better than the original 1995 anime film, they also embraced Scarlett Johansson as the main protagonist.  Having watched many anime live-action film adaptations, believe it or not, “Ghost in the Shell” is probably one of the better adaptations from Hollywood.  You have star power in this film with Johannson, Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbaek, Juliette Binoche, to name a few and the acting is very good.  The visual effects are phenomenal.

Now compare this to “Dragon Ball: Evolution”, “The Guyver”, “Fist of the North Star”, “Speed Racer”. Aside from “Edge of Tomorrow”, the majority of Hollywood live-action film adaptations of popular anime and manga series have led to crap.  And “Ghost in the Shell” is no doubt much better than those films I have mentioned.

In some ways, I like to think as those years of crappy anime film adaptations similar to where Marvel Comics live-action films used to be in the ’80s and ’90s.  Until Marvel was able to strike gold with “Spider-Man”, “X-Men” and later with “The Avengers”, “Iron Man” and the plethora of superhero films that are doing wonderfully in the box office, anime film adaptations are starting to show an improvement in quality and that’s important.

In Japan, the country is experiencing a boom of anime to live-action film adaptations with “Fullmetal Alchemist”, “Gintama”, “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures” starting to generate hype in 2017, people are fully aware of what happens when the film is in the hands of a director who takes the film with a different approach (ie. the two “Attack on Titan” live-action films).

I tend to see the future being bright for anime to live-action films in the future but while Japanese audiences are more accepting, outside of Japan, it’s a different story.  With social media and voices becoming more loud about Hollywood casting, at least the writing does find a way to make sense of Scarlett Johansson’s character.

If anything, I see “Ghost in the Shell” a live-action film that is on the lighter side of storytelling.  Unfortunately, the lighter side of storytelling is what hurts the film because aside from Major and Batou and of course, Kitano as Aramaki is a major win for the film, the problem is the development of the characters and motivations in the live-action film.

I don’t think the film’s antagonist was written all that well and if anything, I found Michael Carmen Pitt’s character, Kuze, to be forgetful.  When Major and Kuze come across each other, I didn’t care for Kuze’s character one bit even after the reveal is made.

I will give the producers and director Rupert Sanders credit for what they were able to accomplish.  The film looks great, visual effects were fantastic, the film featured solid acting but is hurt by its other characters and lack of a gripping storyline.

But considering the other not-so-good Hollywood-made anime live-action film adaptations, one can’t deny that “Ghost in the Shell” is one of the better adaptations from an anime or manga series.  The film just misses the mark of being a wonderful, memorable film and feels like a simplified, less complex version of the original storyline and a film with untapped potential.  But there is always room for improvement if a sequel does happen in the future.

Appleseed XIII: Complete Series (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 31, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

appleseedxiii

“Appleseed XIII” was a fascinating and entertaining anime series, especially for those who enjoyed the previous OVA or animated “Appleseed”  films.  The TV series was an interesting look into the background of the protagonists Deunan and Briareos and their earlier relationship as a couple and members of E.S.W.A.T.  An action-packed anime series with an emotional touch, “Appleseed XIII” is recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2013 FUNimation. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Appleseed XIII: Complete Series

FILM RELEASE: 2011

DURATION: Episodes 1-13 (390 Minutes)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 Aspect Ratio), Audio: English and Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH and French

RATED: TV 14

COMPANY: FUNimation

RELEASE DATE: June 4, 2013

Originally Created by Masamune Shirow

Directed by Takayuki Hamana

Sereis Composition by Jun’Ichi Fujisaku

Music by Conisch

Original Character Design by Masasamune Shirow

Character Design by Masanobu Nomura

Mechanical Design by Atsushi Takeuchi

Anime Production: Jimi’s Animation Studios

Background Art: Studio Biho

Featuring the voices of:

Kouichi Yamadera/David Matranga as Brialeos

Maaya Sakamoto/Luci Christian as Deunan Knotts

Ami Koshimizu/Caitlin Glass as Gina

Hiro Shimono/Micah Solusod as Yoshitsune

Jouji Nakata/Mike McFarland as Mags

Kanji Suzumori/Brandon Potter as Reese

Kenjiro Tsuda/Chuck Huber as Greg

Masashi Sugawara/Cris George as Baxter

Mayumi Yanagisawa/Shelley Calene-Black as Nike

Mikako Takahashi/Emily Neves as Hitomi

Naomi Shindoh/Monica Rial as Dia

Naoya Uchida/Charles Campbell as Lance

Ryotaro Okiayu/Ian Sinclair as Archedes

Sakiko Tamagawa/Allison Sumrall as Athena

In the wake of destruction from a worldwide non-nuclear war, the city of Olympus has become the control center of the world. As humanity adopts biological enhancements in attempts to achieve perfection, a terrorist organization uprises to prevent what could be the eventual extinction of the human race. Two former LAPD SWAT members join a special mech-piloting, military force to take down the leader of the terrorist organization.

Masamune Shirow, one of my favorite manga artists that I had the opportunity to enjoy his works back when I was a teenager.

Creator of manga hits such as “Black Magic”, “Dominion”, “Ghost in the Shell”, “Orion” and also had the opportunity to read the manga and watch the original 1988 OVA series “Appleseed”.

Although the first Shirow anime I watched was the OVA “Black Magic M-66″, I also had the opportunity to watch the first anime release of “Appleseed” and I can easily remember how cerebral the OAV was compared to “Black Magic M-66″ and the two “Dominion Tank Police” OVA’s.  But if there is one thing that you can expect from Shirow’s work is an intelligent story, being created with meticulous detail and a tremendous back story.  Shirow is able to create a world with characters that just amazes me.

Granted, his work that a lot of people outside of Japan are familiar with is “Ghost in the Shell”, in 2004, all things changed with the release of “Appleseed” the movie, a film that brought the world of “Appleseed” using new technology and a creative, innovative way to use 3D in a film.  Directed by Shinji Aramaki, a sequel titled “Appleseed Ex Machina” was created in 2007.

The main premise of “Appleseed” is a problematic world in chaos after a non-nuclear Third World War has decimated Earth in the 22nd Century.  The United States, Great Britain and China are having problems maintaining order, while former LAPD SWAT members Deunan Kute and Briareos Hecantonchires work for the prestigious ES.W.A.T. (Extra Special Weapons and Tactics) in the city of Olympus.  A city in which half of the population are bioroids and shows how Deunan and Briareos are dedicated to protecting their home from their enemies.

But for those wanting storyline exploring how Deunan and Briareos became close as partners, the storyline was never fully explored in an animated version (only in the manga series) until 2011 when the CGI anime adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s “Appleseed XIII” was aired on television in 2011-2012.  The first 6 episodes were then made into a film titled “Appleseed XIII: Tartaros” in June 2011 and a second film based on the final seven episodes  titled “Appleseed XIII: Ouranos” was released in October 2011.

The series was directed by Takayuki Hamana (“The Prince of Tennis”, “Sisters of Wellber”, “Library War”) and features a screenplay by Jun’ichi Fujisaku (“Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”, “Real Drive”, “XxxHOLic the Movie: A Midsummer Night’s Dream”).  The music for the animated series was created by Conisch (“Mardock Scramble” films, “ToHeart2”, “Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal”), character designs by Takayuki Goto  (“Blue Seed”, “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”) and art direction by Masanobu Nomura (“The Big O”, “Blue Exorcist”, “Gurren Lagann”, “Ah! My Goddess: The Movie”).

The animated series focuses on a younger Deunan and her relationship with Briareos.  Deunan is a special agent who is in a relationship with Briareos, a veteran cyborg soldier.

She’s has a temper and doesn’t like how Briareos acts like her father (which she didn’t get along with), but Briareos has promised her father and to her, that he would protect her no matter what.  And as the two want to protect Olympus as members of ES.W.A.T., they must deal with a lot of corruption, may it be corporate or political.

But trouble ensues when the city is implementing the Ark Project, a project to preserve the future of human kind but under bioroid supervision.  And as there are humans who have accepted bioroids as part of society, there is another group known as the Human Liberation Front that opposes the project, as they despise anything bioroid.

And because the HLF is tied to a terrorist group known as the Argonauts, trouble begins to take place in the city of Olympus and Deunan and Briareos must do what they can to protect Olympus.

VIDEO:

“Appleseed XIII: Complete Series” is presented in 1080p High Definition.  While both “Appleseed” films raised the bar of what can be accomplished in CG animation during that time, “Appleseed XIII” also utilizes CG but in a different style.  Not to say that it’s bad because it’s a given that a TV series will not have the same animation budget as a film, but there is obviously less detail and the animation can look a bit jerky at times.  From character movements, hair movements, it just reminded me of how animation was back in the mid-to-late ’90s at times, while background art was very good.  It takes a while to get used to, but the art backgrounds, mechanical design and are well-done!

Presentation on Blu-ray is clean with no artifacts, slight banding and colors look very good in HD.

AUDIO:

“Appleseed XIII: Complete Series” is presented in Japanese and English Dolby TrueHD 5.1.  Action scenes showcase very good use of panning for the surround channels and also good use of LFE.   As for voice acting on the Japanese side, you have two veterans involved with the series.  Kouichi Yamadera who had previously done the voice of Briareos (as well as the voice of Spike on “Cowboy Bebop”, Tenshin han on “Dragon Ball Z”, Cheese on “Soreike! Anpanman”.  And you have Maaya Sakamoto doing the voice of Deunan (she also did the voice of Lunamaria Hawke in “Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny”, Ciel Phantomhive in “Black Butler”and Aura in the “.Hack” series).

As for the English dub, it’s important to note that the English voice talent for the TV series is different from the films (as original voice talent were not available) but the voice talent featuring David Matranga as Briareos and Luci Christian as Deunan, both did a wonderful job.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Appleseed XIII: Complete Series” comes with the following special features:

  • Episode 7 Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Mike McFarland, Ian Sinclair and Monica Rial.
  • Episode 12 Audio Commentary – (7:23) Featuring audio commentary by Colleen Clinkenbeard and David Matranga.
  • The Inside – (2:23:56) A wonderful featurette featuring 13 special features on the making of “Appleseed XIII” and learning about how the series involved various Japanese creators and companies who took part in making the animated series.
  • U.S. Trailer – (2:02) FUNimation’s trailer for “Appleseed XIII”.
  • Textless Opening and Closing Theme

EXTRAS:

“Appleseed XIII: Complete Series” comes with both the Blu-ray and DVD version of the films.

When it comes to Masamune Shirow works, one of the experiences that I like to come out of reading or watching his works is the feeling of intellectual storytelling.  Storytelling that captivates you for how cerebral and not worrying if the masses will understand his work or not.

“Appleseed” is an interesting anime because the storyline of the characters of Deunan and Briareos as members of ES.W.A.T. has been established in the OAV and the two animated films.  We know these two characters are kick ass, no nonsense and literally get the job done, no matter what challenges come their way.

We have seen the corruption of the powerful and we have seen the troubles within society between humans and bioroids.   So, that is an established storyline for those who have followed “Appleseed” in the past.

With the success of the two films and so much content from Shirow’s manga that have yet to be covered, “Appleseed XIII” takes the storyline before those major events and focuses on a young, explosive Deunan and her overprotective boyfriend/cyborg Briareos.

And I have to admit that I was surprised to see the sentimental side between these two characters.  For so long, they have been involved in storylines where your attention is focused on their partnership and taking on criminals but this time around, while the focuses on protecting the city and going after criminals, still continues, we also get to see an emotional side of the characters.

Deunan’s lack of a relationship with her father, her stubbornness of being upset at Briareos who wants to protect her.  And to see the two bickering about their relationship, it was not what I was expecting to see. But the fact that this series covers their early relationship, I suppose I never really expected to see this emotional side of either characters.

But I suppose it is necessary to show how these two have evolved as partners but I suppose I never really thought about them in a romantic kind of way considering she is human and he is cyborg.

The storyline between human and bioroids actually made me think of an older anime series titled “Bubblegum Crisis” and the hatred between humans and robots trying to co-exist but “Appleseed XIII” also explores the positive bond between human and bioroids as well.   I know there have been several stories that explored that tale, but it’s interesting to see how this storyline plays out and how it starts to affect Deunan.

As for the anime series, I felt the animation took getting used to.  After watching the beautiful animation of the films, it took a while to get used to the anime production.  Character designs were good but at times were clunky.  From hair movement to body movement, the jerkiness was almost like a trip back to the late ’90s of CG animation.  But there are impressive visual moments throughout the film.  Backgrounds were beautiful to look at, fight scenes were impressive and mechanical designs were awesome.

While certain aspects of the film looked amazing on Blu-ray and good use of surround channels and LFE for lossless audio, I was also happy to see the 2 hour and 23 minute featurettes about the making of the series plus the addition of two audio commentaries.

Overall, “Appleseed XIII” was a fascinating series and for those who enjoyed the previous OVA or films, it was an interesting look into the background of the protagonists Deunan and Briareos and their earlier relationship as a couple and members of E.S.W.A.T taking on a variety of challenges.  An action-packed anime series with an emotional touch, “Appleseed XIII” is recommended!

Ghost Hound – Complete Collection (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 26, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

“Ghost Hound – Complete Collection” is probably the best anime TV series I have watched on Blu-ray thus far.  Masamune Shirow’s story is dark, unsettling but also humorous and fun.  I absolutely enjoyed this series from start to finish and it has quickly become one of my top anime series on Blu-ray thus far.  Highly recommended!

 

Image courtesy of © 2010 Sentai Filmworks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Ghost Hound – The Complete Series

 

DURATION: 22 Episodes (550 Minutes)

 

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080i High Definition (16×9), English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Subtitles: English

 

COMPANY: Showgate/Sentai Filmworks

RATED: TV 14

 

Release Date: September 14, 2010

 

 

Originally created by Shirow Masamune

 

Directed by Ryutaro Nakamura

Series Composition by Chiaki J. Konaka

Character Design by Mariko Oka

Art Direction by Hiromasa Ogura

Chief Animation Director: Mariko Oka

3D Work – Kenji Kobayashi

Music by TENG

Anime Production by Production I.G.

 

Featuring the following voice talent:

Akiko Yajima/Brittney Karbowski as Miyako Komagusu

Jun Fukuyama/Corey Hartzong as Masayuki Nakajima

Kensho Ono/Clint Bickham as Tarō Komori

Souichiro Hoshi/Josh Grelle as Makoto Ōgami

Atsuko Mine/Joanne Bonasso as Noriko Kabata

Ikuko Tani/Monica Rial as Himeko Ōgami (Makoto’s grandmother)

Jin Urayama/John Swasey as Motoi Yazaki

Michiko Neya/Kaytha Coker as Reika Ōtori

Mitsuki Saiga/Shelley Calene-Black as Kei Yakushi

Rintarou Nishi/Rob Mungle as Seiichi Suzuki

Sho Hayami/Illich Guardiola as Masato Kaibara/Snark

Tetsuo Komura/Chris Hutchinson as Genma Saruta

Toru Ohkawa/Andrew Love as Yasuhiro Nakajima (Masayuki’s father)

Yasunori Matsumoto/Chris Ayres as Takahito Komagusa

Yoshinori Fujita/Jay Hickman as Atsushi Hirata

Yurika Hino/Luci Christian as Sanae Tanabe (Makoto’s mother)

 

When he was three, Taro Komori and his sister were kidnapped, but the kidnapper was run over and killed before the ransom could be delivered. The police eventually found Taro, but not before his sister died. Eleven years later, Taro still has nightmares of the events surrounding the kidnapping and is haunted by a tall, featureless specter. Now, Taro searches for answers in the Hidden Realm, but something sinister is brewing there.

The spirits are restless and a malevolent ghost is appearing with increasing frequency. In the “real” world, an out-of-favor religious cult is finding dozens of new converts, especially among high ranking politicians. And just what the scientists at Dai Nippon Bio are up to is a question in need of an answer. Can Taro and his friends find the answers they need in time to save their friends and families?

Anime studio Production I.G. is one of Japan’s premiere anime studios.  Known for their work on series and films such as the “Ghost in the Shell” films, “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade”, “Evangelion: Death and Rebirth” and “The End of Evangelion”, “Blue Seed”, “FLCL”, “xxxHolic” to name a few, the studio is known for their animation quality, exquisite art backgrounds and their work is known worldwide.

Masamune Shirow is also known worldwide as his manga works “Ghost in the Shell”, “Appleseed”, “Black Magic M-66”, “Dominion Tank Police”, to name a few, have received an anime adaptation and also hailed by fans for the intelligent and creative writing that is involved with his work.

And both Production I.G. and Shirow have had a wonderful collaboration especially with the success of the “Ghost in the Shell” animated films and the TV series “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”.

So, in 2007, when Production I.G. celebrated their 20th Anniversary in 2007, the studio collaborated with Shirow again for a series known as “Shinreigari/Ghost Hound”.  A dark, unsettling, humorous and addicting series which premiered on Japan’s WOWOW at 11:30 p.m.

As Shirow provided the original concept and design (which he did back in 1987), Production I.G. took the concept and design and the series was well received in Japan.

Ryutaro Nakamura (“Legends of Crystania”, “Kino’s Journey”, “Sakura Wars”) directed the series, while Chiaki J. Konaka (“Eureka Seven”, Kino’s Travels”, “Armitage III”, “Air Gear”) provided the screenplay.  Character design is by Mariko Oka (“Hell Girl”), art direction is by Hiromasa Ogura (“Appleseed”, “Ghost in the Shell” movies, “Last Exile”, “Samurai 7”) and music is by TENG.

“Ghost Hound” takes place in the town of Suiten located in a mountainous region of Kyushu.

In 1996, a young boy named Taro Komori and his older sister Mizuka were kidnapped.  In the end, Taro was rescued but his sister unfortunately died.  Meanwhile, after the abductions, a family relative, the father of young Makoto Ogami committed suicide.  Although, not responsible for the kidnappings, suffice to say, the town of Suiten has had its share of tragic stories.

Fast forward to 2007.  Taro Komori is now a 14-year-old boy who is suffering post-traumatic stress and is narcoleptic from his kidnapping.  He and his mother are being seen by a psychiatrist from Tokyo who is trying to help them.  For Taro, his image of his sister’s abduction was a big, ominous shadow figure and when he and his sister were tied up, his sister said something to him which he desperately wants to remember and hopes the psychiatrist can help him.  Meanwhile, for his mother, she is still suffering major depression since the death of her daughter.    The Komori family run the family sake making business that thrives on the water that comes into Suiten.

As for Makoto Ogami, also a 14-year-old, despite the family being part of the Komori line, the families have not gotten along.  Makoto is somewhat of a misanthrope and hates everything around him.  His mother left him at a young age right after his father commits suicide but he refuses to believe his father killed himself and wants to know the truth.   His grandmother Himeko Ogami is well-known for her ties of leading a religious cult and she was the person that alerted police to where the kidnapped Komori children can be found eleven years ago.  Makoto doesn’t get along with his grandmother who cares more about Makoto continuing the family line.  He also has an unknown hatred towards his mother.

Meanwhile, a new student from Tokyo has moved to Suiten and his name is Masayuki Nakajima.  Masayuki, who is in the same class as Taro and Makoto, is addicted to video games and his father is a major researcher at Japan Bio-Tech.  His father cares more about his job and his mother for some reason is distant and just plays video games all day long.  But Masayuki also has skeletons in his closet as a boy who was bullied at the school that Masayuki attended in Tokyo, had killed himself and before he committed suicide, he wrote on the blackboard of people he has cursed and Masayuki was one of them.  So, the Nakajima family are trying to have a fresh start in Suiten but each day he notices his new friend Michio being bullied.  Masayuki wants to step in and defend him but he’s afraid to.  If anything, the Suiten tragedies has made him interested in Taro and Makoto.

One day, Masayuki invites both Taro and Makoto to join him and go to an abandoned building that lies in the mountains.  The place where Taro and his sister were held during the kidnapping and a place that maybe Makoto can find some answers.  If anything, the three can go to this building and since they each have some baggage, they can face their fears together.

But when the two start venturing inside the abandoned and creepy building, not only do they find the area where Taro and his sister were kept in but somehow the three are able to “soul travel”.  The ability to leave their bodies when they are asleep and are in another dimension where they can see spirits of extinct animals and other dead things from long ago.

With this new ability, the three grow closer as friends but also can learn more about themselves and the unusual things that have been happening in Suiten as of late.

While no one human can see them in their “soul travel” or “homunculus” form, somehow a homeless traveler in the mountains is able to see them, but also a sixth grader named Miyako Komagusu.

Miyako is a young girl who lives with her father, Takahito Komagusu, a former folklore professor at Tokyo who moved to Suinta to become a priest and is head of the shrine.  Together they perform exorcisms for people who have strayed into the mountains and have seen spirits and feel they have been cursed.   Unlike the three main characters, Miyako somehow has a mysterious gift, she can sense when someone is dying but also has the ability to be possessed by spirits and for some reason, Taro has connection to Miyako which he is unsure about.

VIDEO:

“Ghost Hound” is presented in 1080i High Definition (note: There was an error on the packaging that mentions the anime series in 1080p but it is in fact 1080i).  Production I.G. literally went all out in making sure their 20th anniversary anime series looks incredible.   The artistic backgrounds are just amazingly detailed and it’s quite obvious that it was a priority to capture the look and feel of the mountainous region and the town of Suiten by making sure each background scenery looked amazing, especially the detail on the buildings.  Animation was also well done and in many ways, character designer Mariko Oka’s work on “Hell Girl” is quite apparent in the look and feel of the characters.

As for the picture quality, I did notice some jaggies at times but aside from that, I felt that “Ghost Hound” looks very good in HD.  Granted, it’s before my usual feeling that Blu-ray series look better after 2008, but this 2007 anime series looks great.  Blacks are nice and deep, colors are vibrant and for the most part, fans of the series will notice how much more detail there is in “Ghost Hound” compared to the original DVD release.   Also, it is important to note that this is a TV series and not a film and typically, I don’t expect too much from PQ in a TV series compared to an OVA or a film but Production I.G. has done a wonderful job with this series.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Ghost Hound – Complete Collection” sounds fantastic in lossless audio.  Presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, this series is probably the first non-action anime series that didn’t involve massive battles or action sequences in which the audio sounds spectacular and actually enhances the dark and brooding feel of the anime series.

The first episode alone shows you how the anime series really takes advantage of the soundscape by making various sounds such as light flickering, bugs flying around to the screams of a person and literally, there were times when I was watching this and the sounds really made this series creepy. Well-done!

As for my preference between the English dub and original Japanese voice acting.  I watched the series with both English and Japanese dialogue and enjoyed both.  Granted, the only thing about the English dub is that Makoto does have a lower, much more manlier voice for a young teenager at times. But in a way, I did enjoy the English voice acting for this series and felt that the ADR on the American did a great job on casting for this series.  Japanese voice acting was of course awesome and the seiyuu’s did a fantastic job capturing the more emotional moments of the series.

Subtitles are provided in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Ghost Hound – Complete Collection” comes with the textless opening and closing themes.

I have to admit that I have a personal bias towards Masamune Shirow works.  Ever since I first read his manga series “Orion”, I have been hooked on his works because not only are they intelligently written, Shirow knows how to add layers to his characters and is very good at character development.  But although he only provided the overall concept, credit has to go to Production I.G. for going all out in creating this TV series.  Granted, it’s a series to celebrate Production I.G.’s 20th anniversary but you can’t help but appreciate how much went into the series story-wise, animation wise, artistic backgrounds and audio.

I guess my overall impression after watching “Ghost Hound – Complete Collection” is that this is the first TV anime series on Blu-ray that I absolutely loved.  Not only was I hooked and could not stop watching, it was a series that just captivated me from beginning to end.  There are way too many anime TV series on Blu-ray that have too many filler episodes or storylines that are primarily episode-based and most often at times, series in which the storyline picks up at the second half.  For “Ghost Hound”, it’s an engrossing anime series from beginning to end.

Sure, I still have some questions that relate to certain characters or even some plotlines (especially the ominous black figure) but I was still content with the overall series.  As for the Blu-ray release, I know there are some people who are going to be upset that this is not a 1080p release but a 1080i release.  Also, that the series does not come with many special features but the textless opening and closing themes.  Personally, when a series only have these two to give for special features, sometimes I just hope they can include audio commentary and it would have been nice if there audio commentary included.   But I suppose that is me being picky and wanting to see more special features on anime on BD especially for a 20th anniversary project from Production I.G., if anything,  I was expecting some time of featurette or the making of the series.

Overall, for those wanting an anime series on Blu-ray that features a fantastic storyline, great character development, animation and background art, awesome loss audio and more…”Ghost Hound – Complete Collection” is highly recommended!

Appleseed (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 20, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Action-packed, vibrant and all-out awesome! “Appleseed” set the bar for 3D animation used in a Japanese animated film back in 2004 and it still looks absolutely awesome in 2010 on Blu-ray.  Although, a major caveat of Sentai Filmwork’s first Blu-ray release is it lacks lossless audio!

Image courtesy of © 2010 Sentail Filmworks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Appleseed

DURATION: 105 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16×9), English DTS, English 5.1, Japanese DTS, Japanese 5.1, Subtitles: English, English for the Hearing Impaired

COMPANY: Sentai Filmworks

RATED: R (Some Violence)

Release Date: March 16, 2010

 

Originally created by Masamune Shirow

Directed by Shinji Aramaki

Screenplay by Haruka Handa, Tsutomu Kamishiro

Character Design by Masaki Yamada

Mechanical Design by Takeshi Takakura

Mecha Design by Atsushi Takeuchi

Sound Director: Yota Tsuruoka

CGI Director: Yasuhiro Ohtsuka

Executive Producer: Sumiji Miyake

Producer: Hidenori Ueki, Naoko Watanabe, SORI

Backround Design by Nobuhito Sue

Music Production by Shin Yasui

Original Music by Tetsuya Takahashi

Production: Fumihiko Sori

Production Design by Shinji Aramaki

Featuring the following voice talent:

Ai Kobayashi/Luci Christian/Jennifer Proud as Deunan Knute

Juurouta Kosugi/David Matranga/James Lyon as Brialeos Hecatombcales

Mami Koyama/Allison Sumrall/Lee Rush as Athena Areios

Miho Yamada/Shelley Calene-Black/Cindy Robinson as Nike

Takehito Koyasu/Andrew Love/Jack Aubree as (Colonel) Hades

Toshiyuki Morikawa/Chris Patton/Dave Wittenberg as Yoshitsune Miyamoto

Yuki Matsuoka/Hilary Haag/Mia Bradley as Hitomi

Yuzuru Fujimoto/Jason Douglas/Michael McConnohie as (General) Uranus

Plucked from the last battlefields of the final war, mercenary Deunan Knute finds herself pressed into duty with the ESWAT, defenders of the Utopian city of Olympus. But serpents lurk beneath the peaceful surface of this apparent Garden of Eden, and new seeds of destruction have already been planted! Now it’s up to Deunan and her former lover, the now-cyborg Briareos, to unravel a deadly web of plots that threaten to bring down Olympus from within!

Special Features: Commentary with Shinji Aramaki (Director) & Fumihiko Sori (Producer), Alternate English Dub (5.1), The Birth of 3D Live Anime, Original Japanese Trailer, Special Japanese Trailer, Staff Profiles.

Masamune Shirow, one of my favorite manga artists that I had the opportunity to enjoy his works back when I was a teenager.  I’ve grown up reading his manga “Black Magic”, “Dominion”, “Ghost in the Shell”, “Orion” and also had the opportunity to read his series “Appleseed”.

Although the first Shirow anime I watched was the OVA “Black Magic M-66”, I also had the opportunity to watch the first anime release of “Appleseed” and I can easily remember how cerebral the OAV was compared to “Black Magic M-66” and the two “Dominion Tank Police” OVA’s.  But if there is one thing that you can expect from Shirow’s work is an intelligent story, being created with meticulous detail and a tremendous back story.  Shirow is able to create a world with characters that just amazes me.

Granted, his work that a lot of people outside of Japan are familiar with is “Ghost in the Shell” but in 2004, all things changed with the release of “Appleseed” the movie.  The bar has been raised for anime films courtesy of director Shinji Aramaki (known for his mechanical design work on anime such as “Bubblegum Crisis”, “Gasaraki”, “Megazone 23”, “Genesis Climber Mospeada”, to name a few), character designer Masaki Yamada (“Great Dangaioh, “Samurai Champloo”, “Midnight Strike Force”), mechanical designer Takeshi Takakura (“Glass Fleet”, “Galaxy Angel”, “Heat Guy J”) and Atsushi Takeuchi (“Ghost in the Shell”, “Ah! My Godess”, “Moldiver”) along with producer/live action director Fumihiko SORI.

And now the film makes its HD debut on Blu-ray from Sentai Filmworks.  “Appleed” also happens to be the first Blu-ray release from Section23 Films.

“Appleseed” is about a young female soldier named Deunan Knute, a survivor of the Global War who is running away from a group of strong, mecha enemies.  She eventually is captured and we learn that she is actually rescued by a group who have brought her to the Utopian city known as Olympus.

She meets Hitomi, a bioroid (robots that look like human, were built to protect humanity and have no emotions of love or hate) who is responsible for recruiting new members of ES.W.A.T. (Extra Special Weapons and Advanced Tactics).  Upon Deunan’s awakening, she finds out that her former boyfriend Briareos Hecatonchires, who has been missing is alive.  But no longer the man he once was.  He is now a cyborg that still has part of his humanity but his whole look is of a robotic soldier who works for ES.W.A.T.

Deunan is shocked by finding out that Briareos is still alive but surprised that when around her, he acts as if he doesn’t care.  Meanwhile, she is brought up to speed about the city of Olympus in which its inhabitants are half human and half robot/clone known as Bioroids.  The city is governed by three factions – Prime Minister Athena (who is a first-generation Bioroid actually created by Deunan’s mother, Dr. Gilliam Knute) who has been searching for Deunan; General Uranus III of the Olympus Army who doesn’t like Bioroids and does not trust them; and the Council of Elders, a group of Elders that listens to a supercomputer known as Gaia who believe the future is with Bioroids and not humanity.

Because of these three factions, all is not good in the world as each have their own agenda and everyone is going after data known as “Appleseed”.  Data that will give Bioroids the ability to reproduce and extend Bioroid life.

But it appears that these factions are all after Deunan.  Why is she a target for these factions and why do they want her?

VIDEO:

“Appleseed” receives its 1080p (16×9) High Definition Blu-ray release and for the most part, Sentai Filmworks does a great job in ensuring the film and their first Blu-ray release looks very appealing.  It’s important to remind everyone that “Appleseed” was released in 2004, before SORI’s “Vexille” (2007) and before “Appleseed Ex Machina” (2007).

When I first watched this film on DVD, I was blown away by the animation.  Watching it in 2010, the animation, movements and the overall look of the film is still pleasing but having seen how far it has come a few years later with the sequel, you can’t help but watch this film and think to yourself of how this film was the stepping block for big things to come.  The artistic backgrounds still look amazing and the Blu-ray release definitely gives us more detail of the concrete, the overall vibrant look of Olympus to the awesome detail of the mecha and vehicles.

Comparing it to its DVD counterpart, the Blu-ray looks fantastic.  Even if you have never seen the sequel to “Appleseed” or even “Vexille”, six years later after the film’s release, “Appleseed” still holds up very well.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

This is where things tend to get a little murky with this release.  To put it bluntly, there is no lossless audio.  Sentai Film works forgoes Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA for simple DVD DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1.  Granted, the DTS audio track has more space to work with on the Blu-ray versus its DVD counterpart but this is a film in which lossless could have taken this film to an amazing direction.

We are given both the Geneon English dub track and then we are given the Sentai Filmworks English dub track in DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1.  In addition, we also get the Japanese DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks.

I have watched the film with both soundtracks and I have to say that…I enjoy the new dub for Deunan but I prefer the older Briareos as I felt the newer dub made him sound like X-Men’s Wolverine.  But overall, it all comes down to preference and for me, I preferred the newer English dub track over the original but I also preferred the Japanese soundtrack over both English tracks.

Without the lossless soundtracks, if you have a solid home theater receiver and have the ability to play stereo on all channels, I felt that was my choice to have a more immersive soundtrack.

Speaking of the soundtrack, when the movie was released in Japan, I was doing review work of the original album soundtrack (before I watched the film) and I was very impressed with the original soundtrack and its use of electronic music.  It definitely kept in pace with the action and overall, fans of Boom Boom Satellites, Paul Oakenfold, Ryuichi Sakamoto will definitely dig the music soundtrack.  Also, Tetsuya Takahashi does an amazing job with the musical score as well!

As for subtitles, subtitles are in English and English for the hearing impaired.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Appleseed” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio commentary with Shinji Aramaki (Director) and Fumihiko SORI (Producer) – Both Aramaki and SORI discuss various scenes of the film and what was changed from the original dialogue, various challenges they encountered from the creation of the 3D segments from the original sketches, the revisions, added scenes that were not part of the original story and more.  Subtitles are provided for the commentary and when each person talks, the subtitles for Aramaki are white and SORI’s are in yellow.  Overall, an upbeat commentary track.
  • Alternate English Dub – Not more of a special feature but an audio setting.
  • The Birth of 3D Live Anime – (35:54) A special Japanese featurette (with English subtitles) about the making of “Appleseed”.  From the use of motion capture to the making of the 3D characters, the environments and more.
  • Production Staff Files – A text based profile of Shirow Masamune, Shinji Aramaki, Fumihiko SORI, Yusaku Toyoshima, Yasuhiro Ohtsuka and Tetsuya Takahashi.

When “Appleseed” came out, I remember my first impression was… “I hope it’s a lot better than the OVA series”.  And sure enough, after watching the film, I was impressed by the 3D animation, the enjoyable storyline, the pulse-pounding action, the music, the mechanical designs and more.

I felt that “Appleseed” raised the bar for Japanese animated films and sure enough, we have seen how far both Shinji Aramaki and SORI have taken 3D animation and anime a few years later and I can only wonder what kind of film these two have in store for viewers in the near future.

“Appleseed” was very exciting in that the storyline was smart but also managed to have a bit of humor and also this dramatic aspect as Deunan is reunited with her boyfriend turned cyborg Briareos.

I will also say that the film was viewer-friendly because when the manga series came out, I was very fortunate to pick up the “Appleseed Databook” to get a better idea of the “Appleseed Chronology” because the manga and also the OAV can get a bit over your head, while this film, anyone can easily watch it and understand what is going on.

Overall, “Appleseed” is one of those animated films that is deserving of a Blu-ray release.  For Section23 Films/Sentai Filmworks, “Appleseed” is a fantastic choice for a release.  But I know the main caveat for anime on Blu-ray fans is the fact that this release does not come with a lossless English and Japanese track.

But considering the price this Blu-ray is going for and in terms of audio, you do get two English dub tracks in DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1, you get the Japanese audio track in DTS/Dolby Digital 5.1 and also an audio commentary track in addition to a half hour documentary on the making, you do get your money’s worth.   Also, since the sequel “Appleseed Ex Machina” came out on Blu-ray several years ago, if you own that release, you more than likely will want this first film for your collection.

Overall, “Appleseed” is an awesome film and for fans of Masamune Shirow’s work, especially those familiar with the “Appleseed” manga series and OVA will definitely be pleased by this film.  The characters and the whole city of Olympus just looks fantastic on Blu-ray.  Again, the lack of lossless audio is a bummer but for now, especially for its price in the US, this is the definitive version of “Appleseed” to own and in my opinion, it’s a film worth having in your anime on Blu-ray collection.

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