What They Say
When aliens suddenly invade the world, Earth seems to be fighting a losing battle until Arikawa, one of the defense command staff, accidentally discovers a young man lying on a hill. Tests soon prove the impossible: this one teenager, Kakashi, has the power to defeat the attackers! Unfortunately, Kakashi has also lost his memory, and with it the knowledge of how to actually use his power. Moving Kakashi in with himself and his own commander, Shiro, Arikawa accidentally starts a strange triangle of emotions and relationships. A triangle that threatens the fate of the planet as Kakashi begins to question his own motivations! From up and coming director Soubi Yamamoto, and CoMix Wave, who spearheaded Japan’s new wave of independent anime production with the works of Makoto Shinkai, comes a film that turns The War of The Worlds inside out: THIS BOY CAN FIGHT ALIENS!
Audio: This DVD contains both the original Japanese language track and an English dub, which are both presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo encoded at 224 Kbps. The sound is overall very crisp, and the dialog-heavy film isn’t hindered in any way by the lack of a surround-sound track. One interesting thing I noticed when comparing the Japanese and English tracks is that the English track tends to match more closely to the lip-flaps than the original Japanese track. Having watched the three bonus shorts included on the DVD, it was clear that the timing of the dialog was not necessarily the primary concern when animating the characters, so I found it interesting that the English adaptation seemed to pay special attention to what was by all indication an afterthought in the original.
Though most anime is produced digitally nowadays, this feature makes no effort to disguise that fact. Though the animation itself contains few frames, the movement of the various elements is much smoother than in series which are produced in a more traditional manner. The film also makes heavy use of digital compositing and embraces the visual crispness, use of texture, and saturated colors that are made possible by using computers. The quality of the video itself is mostly up to the challenge of presenting these elements in a way that highlights them; the odd pixelation effects are clearly intentional rather than a result of sloppy encoding, for example. There are, however, some noticeable examples of color banding that occur in a couple of the darker scenes that stand out, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Overall this is a nice-looking disc.
Packaging: The packaging for this release leaves a lot to be desired. The cover artwork itself is bright and colorful and features the three central characters from the film. The physical packaging itself, however, feels flimsy and cheap. The plastic DVD case isn’t solid; the front and back have large cutouts in the plastic in what seems like a feature meant to lessen its environmental impact. This in itself isn’t bad in theory, but it seems as though it could pose a risk to the integrity of the disc itself should the case fall or get crushed. The ease with which the case gives way under pressure could also conceivably damage the paper slipcover.
The DVD menu is very simple, and features a still image of a field of sunflowers with the film’s title in the background. The main menu contains three options, all of which are contained within what appear to be stylized word balloons. The text is a fuscha color which is a little bit hard on the eyes, but which otherwise fits in well with the overall bright, cheery color scheme. The language menu offers the choice of English audio, or Japanese audio with subtitles. There is no option to listen to the Japanese track without subtitles; fairly standard nowadays, but perhaps inconvenient for those who are bi-lingual and like to practice their Japanese skills without help. The Special Features menu is the most cluttered of them all, which is perhaps a blessing in disguise considering the general lack of special features on many releases nowadays.
Though the main feature only clocks in at about a half an hour, this release makes up for that short run time by offering a selection of director Soubi Yamamoto’s earlier animation pieces. Included are three animated shorts which, while simplistic, do a good job of demonstrating the general progression of the director’s work and deal with some common themes. Though in total the three shorts add up to about fifteen minutes worth of content, their value lies more in the window they provide into the world of student animators in Japan, something we so rarely are privileged to see. There’s also a short interview with Soubi Yamamoto which tends to avoid any hard-hitting questions, but gives a bit of insight into some of her likes and dislikes, as well as her motives as a director. Rounding out the special features are a selection of trailers for some of Sentai Filmworks’ other releases, and the DVD credits.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Though Western anime fandom is enthusiastic and manages to consume almost any new anime with the ferocity of my family when faced with a Thanksgiving spread, one area in which the fandom seems to lack is an awareness of and an appreciation for the people who actually write and create the TV series and movies that are enjoyed by the masses. Sure, most fans have heard of Hayao Miyazaki, and one could go so far to assume that many are well-aware of Mamoru Hosoda, due to his recent cinematic successes. But beyond that, there are very few anime directors whose lifetime accomplishments are known and celebrated by fans beyond the few hardcore otaku who devote their free time to keeping tabs on those very things. This release seems poised to try to change that; director Soubi Yamamoto is a young, unknown talent who has yet to make a name for herself, but this pleasant, inexpensive introduction to her work could very well get a few more fans interested in this new director before she hits the big time.
The story itself is fairly standard, sci-fi material. Aliens have invaded the planet, and the world seems poised for destruction until government employee Arikawa discovers the fighting abilities of Kakashi, a high school student. Kakashi is the only human alive who can fight and defeat the alien forces, which he does daily, one alien at a time. The trade off is that Kakashi’s abilities have come to him at the expense of the memories of his former life, and as the days and weeks tick by he begins to despair over the person he might have been and the family he can no longer remember. It takes Arikawa’s gentle heart and their boss, the gruff Shiro’s commitment to their cause to draw Kakashi back from the brink of sorrow.
It’s obvious by the end of the film that the story, while based around the threat of extraterrestrial invasion, really isn’t about aliens at all. The central character, Kakashi, undergoes a full story’s-worth of emotional turmoil which suggests that his amnesia and the daily grind of his one-on-one alien battles are symbolic of some less concrete element of emotional isolation and depression. His life is limited to that within the rectangular yard in which he lives with Arakawa and Shiro, and until the final third of the film he’s unwilling to fix the cell phone which might provide some insight into his prior life, essentially cutting off his communication from the outside world. On the surface these elements seem more like a ploy to keep the story snugly within a bottle for convenience’s sake; with only a few settings and three characters, there’s less to design and animate. Ultimately, though, there’s a certain cleverness in how Kakashi’s physical circumstances mimic his self-imposed emotional disconnect and his unwillingness to face the realities of the world outside his bubble.
It’s because there’s a hint of depth to the narrative that some of its less successful elements can be forgiven. Truth be told, the character interactions can be pretty angsty and melodramatic, which may not sit well with older audiences. Kakashi’s slip into depression and his black-and-white assumptions about the inherent lack of “niceness” in the world gets a little bit hyperbolic, and one piece of the plot in particular seems tossed into the mix simply to make his emotional torment more raw without really earning an emotional reaction. There’s also a bit of a “will-they-or-won’t-they” romantic element bubbling below the surface between Kakashi and Arita, and while there’s nothing wrong with that in theory the way in which the film steers clear of concretely addressing it is a bit frustrating.
On the upside, though, there’s a certain visual beauty to the scenes that’s difficult to convey in words but which makes the piece feel very distinct. For lack of a better way to put it, the director seems to embrace clutter, packing each scene to the gills with color, texture, pattern, text and scenery. I found the effect reminiscent of some Japanese street fashion, in which people pull seemingly disparate wardrobe pieces together to somehow form a coherent whole. There are times when the effect becomes a bit overwhelming and the clash between color and texture are more distracting than is ideal, but I certainly appreciate that the film seems to use the aspects of the digital production process as features rather than in a primarily utilitarian manner.
It may be tempting to compare this film to its more well-known and successful cousin Voices of a Distant Star, but I think to do so would be missing the point. There are very few debuts which result in the sort of instantaneous name recognition that became a reality for Makoto Shinkai, the more famous graduate of CoMix Wave films. Though This Boy Can Fight Aliens comes across as a bit of a juvenile effort, there’s a clear stylistic sense in Soubi Yamamoto’s directing and her ability to combine the fanciful elements of the plot with the emotional progression of its main character shows a lot of promise for her future outings as director. This DVD is inexpensive, and the film is pleasant and fun, which makes it a relatively easy investment for fans looking to get into DVD collecting. The bonus featurettes and short interview included also sweeten the deal. All-in-all, this is a worthwhile investment and will hopefully help build anticipation for the further products of its director.
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: C-
Menu Grade: C+
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 14, 2012
Running Time: 28 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Review Equipment: Acer P235H 1080p LCD Monitor connected via DVI input, Logitech S220 2.1 Speakers, Samsung SH-B123L Blu-ray Drive, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560