Review of Spider-Man: Homecoming

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After a hat trick of subpar Spider-Man flicks New York’s favourite wall crawler returns with a reboot that successfully revitalizes the franchise. Sony’s partnership with Marvel Studios is sure to make some serious bank at the box office. Let’s hope that the alliance doesn’t come to an end with the release of Homecoming’s sequel. Prior to watching the movie I was concerned by how heavily Tony Stark featured in the trailers. Was the marketing team using Robert Downey JR’s wit to prop up another uncharismatic Peter Parker? Nope. Tom Holland nailed the role and is by far the best live action Peter Parker yet.

CATCHES THIEVES JUST LIKE FLIES

Viewers will be relieved to learn that Homecoming isn’t another rehash of Spider-Man’s origin. When the movie begins Spider-Man is already an established costumed crime fighter, who is on the cusp of securing a place on the Avengers team. His adversary, in this 133-minute feature, is a chap named Adrian Toomes (better known to comic fans as Vulture). Early scenes reveal that Toomes developed a flying suit by repurposing the alien tech left behind on Earth by the invaders who appeared in Avengers Assemble. Michael Keaton plays the chief antagonist. Birdman and now Vulture – Hollywood has seemingly typecast him as an airborne talent for superhero movies.

The majority of Homecoming’s story revolves around the Spider-Man versus Vulture feud. Can the masked protector of Queens stop Toomes from arming local hoodlums with extra-terrestrial weaponry? It’s a tough ask for anyone, let alone a rookie vigilante who has many personal commitments to juggle. Compete in a national quiz. Find a date for the homecoming dance. Help a bud with constructing a Lego Death Star. Peter has a packed itinerary, along with the added headache of keeping his superhero persona hidden from the gorgeous Aunt May (played by Marisa Tomei.) What a beauty. Her husband Uncle Ben is one lucky guy… well apart from the whole getting murdered thing.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a great film that captures the spirit of the classic comics. For better or worse, modern Marvel books also influence the movie when it comes to the subject of diversity. Every student in Peter’s school seems to come from a unique ethnic background. Parker’s love interest is black, his best friend is Hawaiian and Peter’s decathlon team includes an Asian. I’m not too bothered by the cultural variety, but it is worth mentioning. Right now Marvel is haemorrhaging readers in response to the company changing the gender/race of popular characters. If that sort of thing bothers you be forewarned that All-American meathead Flash Thompson is now a poindexter of Guatemalan descent. See what happens when you don’t build a wall?

VERDICT

My rating for Spider-Man: Homecoming is a four and a half out of five. On the web-head totem pole, Homecoming is right up there with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. It’s great to finally see Spidey portrayed by someone who gets both sides of the character. Tom Holland has no problem rattling off funny quips in the spandex, whilst also giving off the air of an uncomfortable nerd when out of costume. When it comes to visual effects Homecoming is easily the best looking of all the Spider-Man films. The action sequences are jaw dropping and even small details like the design of the suit impressed me. I think the expressive eyepieces are a nice touch. Thanks to them Spider-Man can emote without the need to unmask every few seconds (cough, Tobey Maguire, cough).

Usually I would conclude a Marvel cinematic review by lambasting the weak villain, but not so on this occasion. Unlike other MCU antagonists, Adrian Toomes is a well fleshed out character. In a similar vein to Dr Octopus and Sandman I can sympathize with his actions. Toomes isn’t motivated by greed; he just wants to provide for his family and employees. Dabbling in the underworld does however turn him into an intimidating crime boss who, when push comes to shove, will cross the line to safeguard his interests. The sad thing is that Toomes would have never gone down the illegal path had bureaucrats not ruined his company. All this could have been avoided had the government allowed Vulture to “carrion” doing business.

Review of Himouto! Umaru-chan

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Forget about fake news, what about fake people? You know the ones, folks who pretend to be someone else to fit in with the cool crowd. I am useless at hiding my geeky credentials (what with my stereotypical specs, acne encrusted skin and poor social skills) but the same isn’t true for everyone else. Your strict boss could be a closet brony for example! Umaru Doma, the star of Himouto Umaru-chan, happens to be one of those social chameleons. In public she portrays the role of model student – beautiful, great at sports and top of the class when it comes to grades. Away from prying eyes however she is a hardcore otaku who loves games, manga and unhealthy snacks.

SIBLING RIVALRY

The only person privy to Umaru’s secret identity is her long-suffering elder brother Taihei Doma. Anime fans know that parents do not exist, in the wacky world of Japanese cartoons, so the aforementioned siblings cohabitate alone in a modest studio apartment. Life at home is filled with feuds over Umaru’s refusal to do chores or anything else constructive for that matter. Taihei tries to lay down the law, but more often than not capitulates to Umaru’s tantrums. A few tears and some guilt tripping is all that’s required to coerce bro into buying her hamsters, the latest comic or a new console game.

On paper I should despise Umaru, for being a selfish brat, but somehow the series manages to make her likable. It’s tough to hate the protagonist, as her egoistic personality is the catalyst for much of the show’s hilarity. I also have a soft spot for the lead as her hobbies mirror my own. We look nothing alike though. She might be able to maintain a slim figure by guzzling carbonated beverages and sitting in front of a PC all day, but I certainly can’t. Perhaps her trim waist is the result of shape shifting powers? Whenever Umaru reaches home she transforms from a regular girl to a hoodie wearing chibi cutie.

CHARACTERS

Normally when an anime character shifts into an ultra deformed look no one acknowledges the change, but in Umaru’s case it appears that she genuinely does morph into a midget. Case in point – the time her shy classmate Kirie Motoba turned up at the Doma abode. When Kirie spotted the diminutive Umaru she was easily convinced into believing that Chibi Umaru is a made up little sister named Komaru. Then again none of the cast are sharp when it comes to identification. Umaru’s academic rival Sylphyn Tachibana for example doesn’t suspect that the buddy she hangs out with, at the local arcade, is Umaru sporting an eye mask!

Speaking of buddies, Umaru’s best friend is a buxom gal named Nana Ebina. Nana has a crush on Umaru’s brother, stemming from the time she migrated over from Akita to the big city. Taihei garnered her admiration, as he was the only person to make eye contact with her. Miss Ebina is oblivious to the fact that the locals aren’t mean; they just weren’t making eye contact as their gaze was squarely focused on her knockers! Other characters of note include Taihei’s trio of office co-workers. Takeshi the slacker with an Afro, German born Alex who browses for anime girls on work computers and Kanau the flirtatious manager.

VERDICT

My rating for Himouto Umaru-chan is a three and a half out of five. I wasn’t too impressed with the first episode, but the series gradually grew on me. Each instalment introduces a new character to the mix and it was fun watching them bounce off each other. In terms of structure the anime reminds me of The Comic Artist & His Assistants. Each episode is a chain of skits, which are low on story and high on amusement. I dug the funny anime references and could relate to the Doma brother/sister dynamic. Like most siblings they bicker a lot, but occasionally you’ll glimpse moments that show how much they value each other’s company. Their animated relationship is more genuine than the fake news CNN peddles.

Review of My Love Story

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Romance shows are so dull. Once you have watched one lovey-dovey series you have pretty much seen them all, as they all follow the same uninspired narrative. Or so I thought. My Love Story (also known as Ore Monogatari) stands out from the crowd thanks to its male lead. Instead of starring an effeminate pretty boy, protagonist Takeo Goda is a fifteen-year-old kid who has the body of an eighties roided out wrestler and looks that only a mother could love. Needless to say he isn’t very popular with the ladies, who instead prefer Takeo’s dreamy best bud Makoto Sunakawa.

ODD COUPLE

I hear that Japan’s railway service is top notch thanks to its punctual trains. Delay free travel comes at a price however; as hentai has taught me that the country’s rail lines are infested with molesters. One day, on the commute to school, Takeo spots one of these gropers harassing an innocent girl. Incensed by the lecherous behaviour, Takeo pummels the sleazebag before handing him over to the cops. Rinko Yamato, the dainty lady Takeo rescued, is so smitten by her saviour’s heroics that she cannot resist asking him out on a date. Who knew that some females are into guys that resemble gorillas?

Normally a show of this nature would test my patience with two-dozen episodes of melodrama. Will they or won’t they hook up? Thankfully author Kazune Kawahara, who penned the manga that this anime is based on, dispensed with all that nonsense. After just a few episodes Takeo and Rinko are officially an item. Rather than tease its audience the series instead focuses on telling humorous tales about the fledgling couple. We get stories dealing with their first kiss, Takeo competing at a Judo tournament and a finale featuring a love rival who threatens to steal Rinko’s heart. There’s also a trip to the beach too. Heaven forbid that we get an anime devoid of bikinis!

BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

My Love Story does an excellent job of showing how different genders react to romance. When Takeo’s pals learn that he has a girl they waste no time in congratulating him. Rinko’s friends on the other hand cannot resist making snide remarks about her man’s appearance. Girls can be rather judgemental when it comes to looks. Thankfully Takeo is able to win over the critics… even if earning the approval of Rinko’s peers required that he use his brawn to save them from a burning building! Not everyone with a vagina is that shallow though. Takeo’s selfless personality doesn’t go unnoticed. Despite his physical deficiencies he attracts a number of admirers via his willingness to always aid those in need.

One failing that Takeo’s might and altruistic principles can’t overcome is how dense he is when it comes to matters of the heart. Thankfully his BFF Suna is always close by to impart relationship advice. Suna’s knowledge on courtships is surprising, as he has never had a girlfriend. There’s a long line of moist gals (and one bespectacled stalker) who would love to jump his bones, but for whatever reason he always turns down members of the opposite sex. Maybe he is gay? Nah. That one time Takeo tried to practice kissing on Suna, in a scene that will make fujoshis squeal, he wasn’t receptive to the idea at all.

VERDICT

I am awarding My Love Story a five star rating. The series is one of those rare shows that can appeal to anyone. Girls will dig the romance whilst guys can enjoy the jokes. Despite being overly cute the anime never made me want to hurl. The show’s unconventional heartbreaker offsets the sparkle heavy mushy moments, as do the hilarious visual gags. It also gives hideous freaks like myself hope. You don’t have to be a genius or possess Brad Pitt’s looks to lead a happy life. Takeo has a ton of friends and found love just by being a nice guy. Want a girlfriend? Just man up and help that cutie that is being harassed next time you hop on the underground. Sadly for me my town doesn’t have a train station. Doh!

Review of Amagi Brilliant Park

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Today I am reviewing an anime set in an amusement park, which is rather sweet. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve theme parks. The best vacation I ever had for example was a family trip to Florida. Mornings would begin with a game of TMNT: Turtles in Time, at the hotel arcade, followed by an afternoon in places such as SeaWorld and Universal Studios. I also have good memories of playing the business management sim Theme Park on Sega Genesis. Said title taught me that companies boost their drink sales by coating their fries with thirst inducing salt. How sneaky!

MAGIC KINGDOM

Most teenagers would be ecstatic if the big-breasted transfer student, in their class, invited them on a date to the local amusement park. That’s exactly what happened to Seiya Kanie when well-endowed Isuzu Sento approached him one fateful day. The date however was actually a tour of the park’s facilities. Sento, who is employed by the titular Amagi Brilliant Park, has coerced Kanie to visit the establishment with the aims of appointing him the new park manager. It’s an offer he can’t refuse… mainly because declining would result in Sento blasting him with an enchanted musket, which despite being non-lethal is very painful.

Kanie assumes control of Amagi because the park’s owner, a sickly princess named Latifah Fleuranza, is far too ill to meet the demands of her position. All that Latifah can do, to help Kanie revitalize the struggling park, is lend morale support, feed him with tasty croquettes and plant a smooch on his lips that bestows Kanie with mind reading powers. Princess? Magic powers? Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that most of the staff at Amagi hail from the fantasy kingdom of Maple Land. They work in our world because human happiness is the sustenance that keeps them alive.

FAIRY TALE

Over the course of thirteen episodes (and one OVA) Kanie is tasked with rescuing Amagi from closure by attracting half a million customers to the park by the end of July. Aiding him is royal guard Sento, his overly serious secretary, who develops feelings for her new teenage boss, over the course of the series. The potential romance doesn’t go beyond awkward blushing though, because when it comes to flirting anime characters have less game than me. A countdown that appears at the end of each episode indicates how close Kanie is to reaching his goal.

Amagi Brilliant Park has a huge cast of quirky supporting characters. The lineup includes numerous mascots who appear to be guys in costumes, but in actuality are humanoid animals. Moffle a feisty chap, who resembles Bonta from Full Metal Panic, is the park’s most popular entertainer. Other stars of note include a ram named Macaron and a flirtatious doggie called Tiramy. Amagi’s workforce also includes a quartet of dancing elemental fairies, whose ranks contain a yaoi connoisseur and a redhead who is constantly using her phone. Reminds me of one of my pals. He’ll invite me over for drinks, only to then spend the evening texting and ignoring me in favour of catching critters on Pokémon Go. How rude!

VERDICT

My rating for Amagi Brilliant Park is a three out of five. The series showed potential early on, but in the end was nothing more than a chain of whacky one-off storylines. Amagi’s fate only takes centre stage in the final few episodes, where Kanie is forced to depend on the success of one big event to meet the 500k-visitor target. There isn’t much in the way of character development, aside from Kanie’s growth. In the first episode Kanie is portrayed as a narcissist. Responsibility however moulds him into a capable leader who values the worth of camaraderie. Although the series is a by the numbers light novel adaptation it looks very pretty thanks to KyoAni’s high production values.

The series may not have met all of my expectations, but it was still fun to watch thanks to the jokes. I liked the comedy and the eye candy wasn’t bad either. The prancing fairies look nice, as did the scenes of Sento in the tub. I don’t think that the plot holds up though. Attracting half a million patrons can’t be all that tough if you employ the Bender (Futurama) strategy. All you have to do is build a theme park with Blackjack and hookers. In fact forget about the park and Blackjack. The hookers will suffice, especially when episode one reveals that Amagi is situated next to a love hotel!

Review of Wonder Woman

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After listening to my boss wax lyrical about Gal Gadot’s beauty, for an entire shift, I decided to corroborate his claims by taking a rare trip down to the local cinema. The screening of Wonder Woman was my destination – Warner Bros’ latest attempt at getting moviegoers to love their DC cinematic universe. I was expecting a stimulating experience given that the film stars a former beauty pageant winner who is playing a heroine created by a chap who apparently was into bondage.

SYNOPSIS

Anyone who has had the misfortune of watching Batman versus Superman knows that Wonder Woman looks great for her age. A photograph uncovered by Bruce “Caped Crusader” Wayne revealed that the supermodel crime-fighter hasn’t aged a bit since she made her debut in World War I. This 140-minute flick chronicles how the Amazonian warrior got involved in the conflict. It all started one fateful day when a Yankee spy named Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) crash-landed on the secluded island of Themyscira.

The isle’s inhabitants rescued Steve from a platoon of German soldiers, who were after the clandestine notes in his possession. Armed with just bows and arrows (Themyscira is populated solely by women so they are understandably primitive) the island’s defenders prove their girl power by defeating the gun totting Krauts. After interrogating Steve they learn of the Great War being waged across the sea. Hoping to stop the atrocities Themyscira native Diana (Wonder Woman) decides to leave her paradise homeland and escort Steve back to Britain.

ACTION & COMEDY

One of the reasons why Wonder Woman is the best DC movie, post the Dark Knight trilogy, is because it isn’t overly serious. There are plenty of chuckles to be had when Diana reaches the UK. Some humorous moments include Diana shopping for a new wardrobe and Steve recruiting colourful allies at the pub. Many of the jokes revolve around Diana’s obliviousness to local customs, such as how women are treated like second-class citizens. Be aware that the story is set during a time when women hadn’t secured voting rights. How unjust! Both genders should be permitted to participate in elections. Youngsters however should be barred. Just look at all the mischief they caused during recent polls.

Apart from the comedy I also enjoyed Wonder Woman’s action. It was fun seeing the dainty Israeli hurl panzers at enemies, deflect machine gun fire with her bracelets and bash German skulls. Serves them right for being sore losers over the Brexit outcome! The villains Wonder Woman battles are hard to take seriously though, as they are so cartoonish. Main antagonist Erich Ludendorff is so evil that he not only shoots subordinates, but he also cackles with glee when trapping rivals in a room containing an airborne toxin. For the lulz he tosses a gas mask into the chamber just to see the group scrap for survival.

VERDICT

My rating for Wonder Woman is a 3.5 out of 5. Back when the casting was announced I wasn’t sure that Gal Gadot would be up to the role, but she proved me wrong. The only times her lack of acting chops were noticeable occurred during moments were she had to convey anguish or fury. She does however look ravishing in Amazonian attire and the more modest garb of a 1918 lady. Unlike Henry Cavill’s Superman, this version of Wonder Woman does come across as a true hero. Even when ignoring the plight of others would be advantageous Wonder Woman has no qualms about leaping in and protecting the weak.

The only reason I am not awarding the movie four stars is because of the ending. Just like Man of Steel, the studio went for an explosive climax that dragged on for way too long. It didn’t help either that Wonder Woman’s final adversary looked ridiculous, due in part to some ropey CGI. Other than that I was impressed with Wonder Woman. A deserved hit for Warner Bros and I appreciated that (unlike an SJW Marvel comic) the heroine wasn’t used as a vehicle to shove feminism down our throats. Fingers crossed that Wonder Woman signals the advent of more female superhero blockbusters. If done right they don’t all have to turn out as bad as Electra or Cat Woman!

Review of Gantz: O

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Whenever I hear that an anime is going down the CGI route I cannot help but shudder. Although there are computer-generated movies out there that look gorgeous, my pessimistic mind always fears the worst. We may have another Berserk on our hands or even worse Appleseed XIII, which looked like a PS2 game. Thankfully in the case of Gantz: O the artists at Digital Frontier have done a sublime job with the movie’s visuals. I’d argue that the feature’s photorealistic graphics rival the art of Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy films. Yes, there are a few scenes were the character models venture into the uncanny valley and resemble sex mannequins, but I don’t mind. Who wouldn’t buy a sex doll if their pricing weren’t so prohibitive? I would, but for now I’ll have to make do with my inflatable sheep.

OVERVIEW

It’s been thirteen years since we last saw an adaptation of Hiroya Oku’s manga on our screens (gripes, I suddenly feel ancient.) This ninety-minute flick, which premiered in Japan back in October, loosely chronicles the comic’s Osaka arc. For those of you not acquainted with the franchise, Gantz is a black sphere that rents a modest Tokyo flat. Using advanced technology it reanimates deceased humans and forces them to battle against hostile extra terrestrials. The people resurrected by Gantz are armed with ray guns and garments that bestow the wearer with superhuman might. Said skin-tight outfits resemble the gimp suits I wish I could afford. Alas, latex is pricey so I have to make do with whipping blow up farmyard animals during my lonely evenings.

The plot of Gantz: O is pretty straightforward. After getting stabbed at a train station high schooler Masaru Kato is revived by Gantz and teleported to the city of Osaka. There he is ordered to slay a legion of monsters that are running amok, within a strict two-hour deadline. Aiding our hero is an old fogey, a busty celebrity and a cocky teenager. The group struggle to survive at first, but their plight improves when they cross paths with a local Gantz team who are equipped with armaments of mass destruction. For a while it seems like Kato can focus on protecting innocent bystanders and leave the heavy lifting to the other group. That all changes however when the end of level guardian shows up. It murders most of Kato’s allies before setting its sights on him. Defeating the bugger won’t be easy because the creature has more forms than Persona 3’s final boss.

VERDICT

My rating for Gantz: O is three stars. Action packed from start to finish – the movie is good fun, providing that you can turn off your brain and permit yourself to be swept away by the spectacle of explosive CG battles. The plot however is wafer thin and suffers from a predictable ending, which is telegraphed by an earlier scene that details how Gantz rewards participants who amass 100 points worth of kills. I was also disappointed by how Gantz: O lacks many of the elements found in the 2004 anime. The tension of forcing people with different viewpoints to tackle a life or death situation was absent from this adaptation, as Kato’s party are a cooperative bunch. I also feel that the movie is less intense than the series. The carnage isn’t as gory and there was virtually no sexual content to be found. Horny fellows such as myself won’t be amused. Thank goodness that my faithful ewe is on hand to satisfy my urges.

Review of A Silent Voice

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Bullies are universally reviled and rightly so because they are cowards who ruin lives through the use of physical abuse and intimidation. Given that most people hate bullies, more than David Leavitt, it’s surprising to see that A Silent Voice tells the story of someone who picked on a disabled girl. Back in elementary school Shoya Ishida played cruel pranks on deaf transfer student Shoko Nishimiya and even went as far as destroying several of her expensive hearing aids. The tormenting got so bad that Shoko eventually moved away to another school. Shoya soon learnt that payback is a bitch, because in retaliation for the cruelty he committed his classmates severed all ties with him.

OVERVIEW

Years after the events described above Shoya contemplates suicide. He has nothing to live for, as his notoriety has left him friendless in high school. Even worse he had to sell off his entire manga collection to pay off the bill for the hearing aids he damaged. Life without comics just isn’t worth living! At the eleventh hour Shoya however decides against leaping off a tall bridge. Rather than give up on existence the repentant teenager decides instead to learn sign language, so he can track down Shoko and communicate to her how much he laments his past misdeeds.

As someone who has been the victim of bullying I didn’t expect to have any sympathy for Shoya, but somehow A Silent Voice made me feel empathy for its protagonist. A lifetime of isolation is a harsh punishment for crimes he committed as a child. We all have done stupid things in our youth after all. Unlike some bullies, who stubbornly remain jerks, Shoya feels genuine guilt for his past behaviour and puts the effort into making amends. Learning sign language, just so he can apologize to Shoko, is admirable. It’s not something I could do. As my poor grammar suggests, I haven’t even mastered English yet! I cannot imagine how much dedication it takes to train in a second form of communication

Forgiving Shoya is easy for the audience because the victim in all this harbours no ill will towards him. Shoko is a sweetheart who would rather become friends with Shoya (and maybe something more) rather than hate him. Even during the midst of his bullying Shoko tried to protect her harasser from other students, who had decided he should suffer a taste of his own medicine. In a way Shoya is just as much of a victim as Shoko is. He was made the fall guy for Shoko’s departure, despite not being the sole person to treat her poorly. Some of the girls in elementary school for example resented how having a handicap classmate was hindering their chances of winning a choir contest. Musical tournaments are serious business, as Sound Euphonium will attest to!

VERDICT

My rating for A Silent Voice is four stars. I feel that the movie deserves that score purely from a technical standpoint. The animation and artwork is gorgeous, as one would expect from a Kyo Ani production, and I liked the stylistic choice of masking the facial features of people who shunned Shoya behind an X. The story and characterisations are all strong too, which is no surprise as the movie is based on Yoshitoki Oima’s award winning manga. I can’t say however that I liked the movie to the level of other reviewers. Were I to grade the film on how much I enjoyed it I would consider awarding it a three out of five.

I watch anime for the amusing hijinks of draconic maids, the hypnotic jiggle of bouncing cat girls and the action packed battles between a geek and parasitic organisms. A Silent Voice doesn’t tick any of those boxes, although I will concede it is a beautiful work of art. The narrative’s pacing is glacial and downright depressing at times. I thought things would liven up once Shoya overcame Shoko’s overprotective relatives, enabling him to patch things up with her. Instead what we get is two hours of people feeling miserable. Shoya feels like he isn’t worthy of a pardon and Shoko feels equally bad because Shoya would have been spared from much hardship had the two never met.

Perhaps reading the manga would have been more to my liking? Pausing in between volumes, to recuperate from the gloom, would have been more palatable than 129 straight minutes of misery. Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day deals with similar themes of childhood acquaintances coming to terms with a past tragedy, but resonated more with me as it balanced out the melodrama with humour. A Silent Voice is a movie that I would recommend, although I do so with the caveat that you have to be in the right mood for it. The feature may be too much of a slog for viewers who enjoy lighthearted skits about band mates drinking tea. Those who prefer their Kyo Ani with a bit more substance will however find much to admire in this Naoko Yamada directed flick.