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Golden Kamuy (manga 2014–present / anime 2018)

Manga written and illustrated by Satoru Noda. Anime directed by Hitoshi Nanba, written by Noboru Takagi, with Geno Studio.

Golden Kamuy is a historical, action, mystery set in the Hokkaido region, a short while after the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05). The story follows former soldier Saichi Sugimoto, and young Ainu Asirpa; in their search for a cache of hidden gold rumoured to be worth around ¥800 million. The catch is, the map is tattooed on the backs of 24 escaped prisoners from the infamous Abashiri prison.

Historical fictions usually aren’t my bag, but I couldn’t resist the unusual premise — Golden Kamuy is now a firm favourite. Noda has a compelling style of storytelling and does a fantastic job of vilifying, and then redeeming characters. I found myself warming to the extended cast’s charming quirks. Not to mention, they’re seriously fucking funny.

Some studios tend to overuse 3D, but Geno Studio has struck the perfect balance between traditional animation and visual effects. The hand-painted background’s capture Hokkaido’s wilderness beautifully, and create a dramatic contrast with the character design. The restrained and subtle use of VFX to generate fire and animal fur, raise the bar high for a TV series — even though I’m up to date with the manga, watching will be a delight.

Though for me, what makes this series great is Noda’s use of historical facts and research. Hiroshi Nakagawa, an Ainu language linguist from Chiba University, supervised production. Noda also included many historical, flora and fauna notes in the manga; which helps tremendously with the culinary sub-plot, where Sugimoto and Asirpa eat absolutely everything they get their mitts on. Literally every chapter they’re enjoying a new dish, and going by the amount of detail included in the books — I’d bet these are legitimate recipes. Hinna! Hinna!.

Episode one aired April 9. The anime looks incredible; I highly recommend watching the season and picking up the manga where it leaves off.

Stream on Crunchyroll

Sources
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Kamuy

Golden Kamuy (manga 2014–present / anim…

Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell (1995 film)
Based on the manga by Masamune Shirow, written by Kozunori Itō, directed by Mamoru Oshii with studio Production I.G.

Ghost in the Shell is a political, cyberpunk, action-thriller set in 2029 Japan. Technology has advanced to a point where the body can be replaced with cybernetic parts or the brain encased in a mechanical shell with network connectivity. We follow Major Mokoto Kusanagi, a full cyborg and leader of Public Security Section 9 of New Port City.

The film balances story and action exceptionally well, the dynamic sequences are short but have exceptional choreography. Though where it truly shines is the level of detail throughout, from the intricate cyber bodies to sprawling urban landscapes; the film gives you plenty of time to enjoy them. Some of my favourite moments are the simply observing the futuristic city.

While other iterations of Ghost in the Shell don’t quite match the perfection of this film, they are worth a look.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004 film)
Based on the manga by Masamune Shirow, written and directed by Mamoru Oshii with studio Production I.G.

Apparently, Innocence isn’t a sequel as much as a separate work, though it’s set after and references the original as well as parts of the manga. The plot isn’t as straightforward as the first film and leans heavily into psychological mystery. While looking like something from the Ghost in the Shell universe, Oshii has given Innocence a distinctly different feel. 3D and visual effects are blended with traditional techniques to produce a beautiful animation style. City scenes and Batou’s apartment are gorgeous, and the way reflective surfaces are treated particularly stand out. Despite the mixed reception, I like Innocence and feel it fits well into the overall series.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002–05)
Written and directed by Kenji Kamiyama with studio Production I.G.

The TV series includes two seasons and a bunch of specials which will take too long to cover here, but they’re worth watching if you enjoy the films. The character design resembles the manga a little more, and the animation quality is typical of a series. Personally, I prefer season one over two; I found storyline more engaging. The series also spends plenty of time telling the backstory of supporting characters as well as a fun side plot with Tachikoma.

Ghost in the Shell: Arise (2013–15)
Written by Tow Ubukata and directed by Kazuya Nomura with studio Production I.G.

Arise is the latest adaptation set two years before the original film and the formation of Section 9. On paper, the series order is a little confusing. Arise can be watched two ways; start with the five OAVs (Border 1–5) or the ten-part series (which is each OAV split into two episodes); then watch Ghost in the Shell: New Movie to wrap it up — see, confusing right? I don’t think Arise takes the series anywhere new, I found it underwhelming, and the character designs were a little bland — the Major, in particular, had lost her edginess.

Review: Ghost in the Shell

AKIRA (1988 film)

Based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga. Directed by Otomo, written by Otomo and Izo Hashimoto with studio TMS Entertainment.

Technically, this was the first anime I watched; my uncle played it for me when I was around 7-years-old, and it scared the shit out of me. I’ve viewed it more times than I can count and it’s still an incredible film that holds up today.

AKIRA is a dystopian sci-fi set in post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo, a city simultaneously rebuilding and falling apart after WWIII. It follows Kaneda, a high school dropout and leader of a motorcycle gang; and his friend Tetsuo who acquires telekinetic powers after the military performs tests on him.
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The film is complex, gritty, violent and gorgeous. The trailing tail lights and explosions during the opening motorcycle chase, look spectacular thanks to the 160,000+ animation cells used to create the film’s super-fluid motion. The fully realised, futuristic urban landscapes are painted with incredible detail, you can tell the ¥1.1 billion budget was put to good use. AKIRA has had a lasting effect on the industry and pop culture, many famous scenes have been parodied in everything from music videos to South Park.

I suggest watching the film, then read the manga. If you don’t fully understand all the psychic stuff — you’re not alone. It can take a few viewings to get your head around it, but the manga does a better job of explaining it. While the film can be considered an abridged version of the book, there is a whole lot more to the story that can’t fit in two hours.

Review: AKIRA (1988 film)
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