Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Ghibli Sidekick: Dola

Film: Laputa: Castle in the Sky (English title)
Tenku-no Shiro Rapyuta (Japanese title)

Voices: Cloris Leachman (English Disney dub)
Rachel Vanowen (Streamline English dub)
Kotoe Hatsui (Japanese)

The Character

Despite its cliched elements and 1980s style, Laputa is in fact quite a clever film, in particular in comparison to other films, especially other Ghibli films. This mainly comes from two major characters; Mushka and Dola (and her pirate gang). In the beginning, with Mushka, we think that he is protecting Sheeta and as time goes on, he graduates to pure villian. There is nothing complex about his actions: he wants Laputa purely for his powers and he is manipulative about it.

When it comes to Dola (and her gang), they never change their tactics and yet in the view of the audience, they turn from villain to sidekick and become perhaps the best characters in the film. They are pirates through and through. They want the treasure of Laputa and they are willing to risk their lives to get the crystal which will lead them to the crystal. I have seen many films featuring pirates and what I find interesting in the film is that the pirates are very honest. Despite the fact they are basically thieves, they are not manipulative, unlike Mushka who does not care how and what he does to get what he wants.

What is interesting about Dola is that she is the only female of the pirate crew and yet she rules the roost with an iron fist. Three of the pirates on board are her children and she in particularly has control over them.

Even though she is elderly, she has a fiery soul. She has a hot temper and is boisterous as well. She is bossy and her crew are quick to obey her. She is a smart lass as well. It is she who makes Pazu realise that Sheeta was trying to protect him from the army after she dismissed him from the fortress they had been taken to. Although she will deny it, there is softness inside her. It is true that when Pazu and Sheeta are brought onto the pirate ship, they are put to work immediately. However, she does get maternal with them. During the storm, she is protective of Sheeta for being in the kite with Pazu but Sheeta is just as defiant as Dola. When Dola states that Sheeta cannot do it because she is a girl, Sheeta is quick to retaliate that Dola is as well.

All I can say is that I would love to be a member of her crew.

The voices behind the character

I actually like Kotoe Hatsui. In fact compared to Cloris Leachman, she sounds more “granny-like” but her voice carries the feistiness of the character. What else can I say?

Okay, now onto Rachel Vanowen. I don't think I'll go into this one as I have mentioned before that the Streamline dub is awful. Vanowen is no different. Yes, she gives Dola the Granny touch but her voice is too scratchy that it is almost unbearable to hear; it reminds me of the feeling you get when someone scrapes against a blackboard. She is unnatural and there is no soul to her performance.

As for the Disney dub....well, as I have mentioned before, there is justification as to why the overall Disney dub has mixed reviews. Some are just off and some are just perfect. Cloris Leachman is perfect. Out of all the English Ghibli dubs for FEMALE characters, she ranks as one of the best, if not THE best! She, along with Mark Hamill as Mushka IS the reason why this dub is definitely worth a listen to. Not only is her voice spot on but she is absolutely funny, her comic timing is perfect. Anyone who has seen a certain film called “Beverley Hillbillies” (well most of us may have seen it but blanked it from our minds with good reason) will know that Leachman was perfect as the feisty Granny and she pulls of the same attitude in this film. It’s just a shame her performance in “Ponyo” is not up to the same standard but that is for a completely different entry.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Honorary Princess/Villain: Nyu/Lucy

TV series: Elfen Lied (English title)
Erufen Rīto (Japanese title)

Voices: Sanae Kobayashi (Japanese dub)
Kira Vincent Davis (English dub)

There is a reason why this character is placed into two different characters. The next entry will not be a Villain but a Sidekick and this will happen if anymore joint Princess/Villain entry should appear. In the case of Prince/Villain entries, it will be written in place of a Prince entry, then there will be a Princess entry and then jump to a Sidekick entry before the process starts again.

The Character

Lucy is perhaps one of the most complex female characters in anime. Her complexity comes from the fact that despite being stereotypical of anime, she breaks stereotypes of female anime characters. In fact, it is being a stereotypical character that makes her break the rules of anime.

In the first few minutes, Lucy‘s action results in some of the most graphic openings of any anime. She is basically a Diclonius (aged around eighteen) which is a human with two cat-ear-like horns with a telekinetic ability called 'vectors'. With these vectors, she can grasp and impact things as if they are solid, but also become insubstantial and pass through objects. These can slice objects as well, which is how Diclonius kill their victims. With these vectors, she has no hesitation in killing anyone who gets in her way. She has four vectors with a limited range of two meters, which is the shortest vector range out of the three main female Diclonius in the series. Also, these vectors can also pass on the virus, particularly to male humans which can result in, if they mate with a female who in turn gives birth, that child will be a Diclonius.

Lucy is a cruel, cold-blooded killer that wouldn't even hesitate to kill anyone, not even a human child. She does, however, like animals and will not harm them. Like the typical Diclonius, Lucy hates humans and seems to lack empathy and kicks sadistically without much concern for anyone else. Despite this she cannot and does not harm Kohta.

Nyu appears early in the episode soon after she is escaped. In fact, Nyu is her split personality brought on when a bullet strikes her head and she loses conscience. Throughout most of the series, we see her change from Lucy to Nyu and then back again. In the manga, there is a third personality and is based entirely on Diclonius instincts and who takes over when there is doubt in Lucy (who is prominently more dominant than Nyu), not fully awakening until near the end of the manga. This third personality is not mentioned or brought up at all in the anime: it merely focus on Lucy and Nyu.

These two personalities and looks could not be any different. Nyu looks more like the stereotypical anime female. She has big pink wide eyes and due to the bullet to her head, she can only say “Nyu” which is what prompts Kohta and Yuuka to name her “Nyu”. She is very sweet and naïve, has a childlike personality and infantile knowledge of the world. Nyu is innocent and incapable of violent acts, a complete constrast to the normally cold and sadistic Lucy. She is loveable, always trying to make others happy. Whilst Nyu’s hair does not cover her face, exposing her features, when she becomes Lucy, her fringe covers one eye. Her eyes are not as wide and more menacing. Their voices are different as well: Nyu is more high-pitched, almost to the point of irritation whilst Lucy is darker in her tone.

When Nyu is attacked violently (or hit on the head), she regresses into Lucy; likewise, when Lucy is treated with love and kindness, or wants to hide herself from Kohta, she will uncontrollably switch back into Nyu.

It is halfway through the series when we learn about Lucy’s past that this split personality enters a new level of complexity. First of all, it is important to note that Lucy is the original Diclonius and further Diclonius started when she passed on the virus to males via her vectors. She is known as the “Queen”. Born from humans, she can reproduce in a natural way with humans.

Despite being a Diclonius, she did not hate humans when she was a child. She was bullied as a child but she was relatively shy if not a bit sullen. The start of her descent into darkness and hate comes from when the people who bullied her killed a puppy that she adored simply to see her cry. She retaliated by using her vectors to kill those who bullied her.

Later, she encountered Kohta as a child and they became friends. However, when Kohta had to cancel a meeting to see his cousin, he lied to Lucy and said that his cousin was not female (he was meeting Yuuka for a fair). When Lucy follows him and discovers the deception, she feels betrayed which leads her to kill his sister and father in front of her (due to the traumatic experience, this becomes a repressed memory so when he meets Lucy/Nyu, he does not recognise her (as a child, he saw Lucy’s horns).

Once one knows her past, it can be interpreted that Nyu is not just a split personality but could be what Lucy could be if she had not become a killer. Nyu could be the manifestation of her “good side”. While Nyu exists due to head trauma, it is believed (and confirmed by Lucy in the manga) that Lucy encourages Nyu to appear due to her guilt towards Kohta and to prevent herself from harming him.

Her friendship/relationship with Kohta is important in her past and her present. By the end, she shows her true side and we see a side of Lucy that could have been if they had remained friends for she is guilty of killing his family. For the first time, we see Lucy being completely honest, her cold barrier broken. She admits to Nana that she feels she cannot do what Nana can do and that is love. To Kohta, she believes that their few days together as a child were the happiest she has known in what she describes as a hellish life. Despite the murders she has done, we the audience are not supposed to sympathise and want her to live but when one learns her past, one can only feel pity and we want her to live and succeed and have happiness with Kohta and the others. Despite what she did, she had transformed from a villain into a princess that needs to be rescued and maybe Kohta could be the one to do that, even though he admits he cannot forgive her for killing his family.

The ending is also important. In the anime, during the final battle, she loses one horn via an attack from Mariko’s vectors and after Mariko is defeated, she says her farewells to Kohta and the last we see of her is her second horn being blasted off and the next day, Kohta and the others see a shadowy figure by the house gate waiting for entrance and we can imply it is Lucy. In the manga, the third personality has taken over and kills numerous guards and intends to take as many people down with her, including Kohta. Due to the intervention of Lucy and Nyu's consciousnesses, Kohta and the others remain barely unscathed, as Lucy reminds Kohta of the promise he made to kill her if she ever killed a lot of people. Kohta grabs a gun from one of the dead soldiers but backs down at the last moment, unwilling to kill them. However, the third personality, possibly moved by Kohta's actions, ceases all attacks with a lone vector picking up the gun for Kohta to shoot her, which he finally does. Moved by Kohta's actions, she ceases all attacks with a lone vector picking up the gun for Kohta to shoot her, which he finally does.

The voices behind the character

It is hard for me to decipher which one is the more superior for they are both brilliant as Lucy/Nyu. They both sound very similar as Nyu; very high-pitched and child-like. Both with both of them, their strength come from how they make Lucy sound. You would not think that the same actress was voicing both characters. They are both equally cold in the beginning although Kobayashi is softer in her voice than Vincent Davis is (the latter is particularly chilling as Lucy).

Towards the end, although they are both, they are both softer in their voice, implying sadness. However, Kobayashi sounds sadder and is stronger with the emotion than Vincent Davis is.

Ghibli Prince: Haku

Film: Spirited Away (English title)
Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Japanese title)

Voices: Miyu Irino (Japanese dub)
Jason Masden (English Disney dub)

The Character

Haku is quite a complex character, more due to the fact that he keeps switching from sides. In the beginning, we see him helping Chihiro escape from the spirit world but when she fails to escape (added to the fact her parents are now pigs), he helps her again by feeding her spirit world so at least she cannot disappear. He gives her advice on Yubaba and how to get a job in the bath house so at least she can remain there until she can figure out how to get her parents back. But then once she has done all that and they encounter each other again, he is extremely cold to her. Then the next day, Haku takes Chihiro to see her parents and gives her advice that she has to remember them, advice that comes in handy later in the film. Also, he gives her a card that was in her pocket that states her real name and advises her that if she forgets her name, she will never be able to get home.

The mystery behind Haku is enhanced when Lin tells Chihiro (now known as Sen) that Haku is one of Yubaba’s henchmen that carried out some of her wicked orders and that he cannot be trusted. Although this is true, it is not the whole truth. We learn that he is a young teenage boy who is really a dragon and while he carries out Yubaba’s orders, there is a reason behind this which we learn especially when we learn his real name and where he really came from.

Haku’s backstory is more of a tragic story. Haku was originally named, Nigihayami Kohaku Nushi, the spirit of the Kohaku River and although he has forgotten his real name, he remembers meeting Chihiro, saving her from drowing when she fell into the river years before. The river was destroyed and filled in with apartments leaving Haku without a home and so he went to the spirit world seeking to learn magic from Yubaba. As a result, she stole his real name (leaving him with the name “Haku”) and he became her obedient servant, following her every command.

He has a relationship with two characters in the film: the first is Yubaba who forces him to work for her. The second is with Chihiro and theirs tends to fall into the love department although it is not declared. The closest we get to this revelation is that it is mentioned to Lin by Kamijii. The closest the pair get to is when the spell is broken and they are falling in the sky. They get close enough to kiss but despite nothing developing, the love is there and the moment is one of the most beautiful in a Ghibli film.

In the end, it is Chihiro that breaks the hold that Yubaba has over Haku. By remembering when he saved her from the river and mentioning his real name, she frees him from her forced service. However, despite that, he does not follow her out of the spirit world. It is implied he stays at the bath house.

The voices behind the character

Both Miyu Irino and Jason Mardsen are brilliant as Haku. They both give both the cold and caring side of Haku effectively although Irino is more cold and stern (compared to Irino, Mardsen is more stern than cold). In some of the more caring, Irino is less harsh and more softer in his tone of voice than Mardsen. However, this does not mean Mardsen is bad. In fact, in my opinion, he is one of the best of the Ghibli English male dubs but then when push comes to shove, “Spirited Away” has one of the best (if not the best) English dubs of any of the Ghibli films.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Honorary Sidekick: Kanoe

Film: X (or X/1999) (English title)
Ekkusu (Japanese title)

Voices: Atsuko Takahata (Japanese) (Feature film)
Denica Fairman (English) (Feature film)
Kaho Kouda (Japanese) (TV series)
Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (English) (TV series)

The Character

Kanoe is Princess Hinoto’s younger sister (and her only blood relative), although I find it slightly bizarre that Hinoto is referred to as a Princess whilst Kanoe is now. These two sisters could not be any different from each other, in looks and in personality.

While Hinoto supports the Dragons of Heaven, Kanoe supports the Dragons of Earth, although her motive for doing so changes in each format of “X”. In the film and manga, her motivations seem to be out of love for Hinoto, wishing to free from her “prison” as a dreamseer. This truth is more prominent in the film for this confession is said by Kanoe as she lays wounded before dying in Hinoto’s arms. In the film, despite them being on opposite sides, there seems to be no bitterness between them. The TV series shows a far different side to Kanoe: she admits to despising Hinoto whow as always treated better than her for having strong dreamseer powers (whilst Kanoe is also a dreamseer, her powers are limited). Throughout the TV series, Hinoto is tortured by the fact that she has dreamt that the Dragons of the Earth and the “Earth” Kamui will destroy the Dragons of Heaven and the “Heaven” Kamui, bringing the end to humanity. As Hinoto’s predictions have always been correct, Hinoto knows she cannot change it and this sadness tortures her. Kanoe has seen Hinoto’s dreams and plans to make it a reality by bringing the Dragons of Earth together and helping them in order to make her big sister suffer.

Her ability is to enter and leave dreams like Hinoto and Kakyõ but she cannot dream about the future. However, in the film, Kanoe is a complete dreamseer, an equal to her sister Hinoto in powers and abilities.

She works as a secretary in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building although this is not revealed in the film.

Whilst Kanoe looks like a china doll, to be honest, Kanoe looks and is more promiscuous. In the film, she is dressed in a long robe that shows off her well-endowed chest. She wears stockings that reach up to her thighs. In the TV series, her outfit is toned to that of a business suit.

Her behaviour reflects this as well. In the TV series and manga, she is in a sexual relationship with Yūto but she also flirts with Satsuki and Fūma. It is noticeable that even though she is in a sexual relationship with Yūto, she senses in the TV series that he is going to be late for her tea gathering and shows no emotion when Yūto dies. She is slightly more emotional when Satsuki dies.

It is her sexual manner that could be responsible for Fūma to be with the Dragons of Earth in the film. In the TV series, Fūma has no contact with Kanoe until he becomes the other Kamui. In the film, she attempts to seduce Fūma into her way of thinking.

Her fate differs in each format as well. In the manga and film, she dies but in the TV series, she lives. Her death varies in each format. In the film, she is killed by Fūma just before the Final Battle. As he lies dying in Hinoto’s arms, she explains her reasons for bringing the Dragons of the Earth together.

Her death is very different in the manga (Volume 19 Chapter 3 pages 13-17). She enters Hinoto's dreams when she hears Hinoto crying for help (by this point, Dark Hinoto has taken over). Unfortunately, Kanoe discovers that her older sister is trapped in the dreamscape and becomes confused when Hinoto's dark side appears and directly confronts her. Soon afterwards, Kamui senses Kanoe's death. However, it has become a debate on who actually killed her; whether it was Hinoto, Dark Hinoto or even Fuma for he is seen holding up her body (Page 17)

She survives in the TV series and we can imply that she survives the Final Battle between Kamui and Fuma because her last appearance in the series is in “Betrayal” (episode 22). It is here we find out her motives and her hatred for her sister. However, when Hinoto commits suicide, Kanoe cries for her sister and this is the last we see of her.

This final scene is open to interpretation. On first glance, Kanoe looks as if she is grieving for her sister and that maybe, deep down, she did love Hinoto, despite their sibling rivalry. However, Kanoe’s goal throughout the series is to do whatever she could to make her sister suffer and she has never once shown a hint of remorse or sympathy towards her older sister. Now that Hinoto is dead and is no longer in pain, Kanoe cannot see Hinoto’s reaction to the Dragons of Earth winning so in that way, Kanoe has failed and her work has been in vain. Her role is finished for she is one of the few main characters where we do not know her destiny or fate after the Final Battle.

The voices behind the character

In the film, I love Takahata’s Kanoe; she is so dark and seductive and I love her chuckle when she has captured Kotori. She is less wooden than her English counterpart, Denica Fairman.

As with most fans, I think for the most part, the English dub for the feature film is awful....not the worst but awful. Most of the voices sound wooden but I personally feel as with the Japanese dub that Fairman was the only one to come close to perfection. She captures the dark seductive tone of Kaneoe perfectly, almost to the standard of Takahata.

When it comes to the TV series, whilst Kouda is almost the same as Takahata, Kouda does not have the seductive voice as Takahata has and her assertiveness/bitterness is more at the surface, especially when it comes to Kanoe’s confrontations with Hinoto.

They could not have chosen someone so different from Fairman. Whilst McGlynn has the darkness and bitterness is her tone and she is less wooden than Fairman, the seductive tone is completely lost, except for a few scenes. Seriously, even though I am supposed to prefer McGlynn, when it comes to the English, I think Fairman is more perfect as Kanoe.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Honorary Villain: Rumi Hidaka

Film: Perfect Blue (English title)
Pāfekuto Burū (Japanese title)

Voices: Rica Matsumoto (Japanese)
Wendee Lee (English)

The Character

The character, Rumi is probably as mysterious as Me-Mania but in many ways, she is much more. Me-Mania does come across as the villain at first. After all, he is obsessed with Mima but when you come to the end, you realise that he has been used as a pawn for a much higher power and it is her who is the main villain. Of course, how many of us were shocked when we discovered that the main villain, the one posting the TRAITOR fax, killing Mima's fish, sending the bombed letter and killing the photographer and agent was Rumi? This was kinda of a let down, more to the fact that Mima is showing symptoms of DID and in the end, it is Rumi who is suffering from the disorder.

I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here. I'll start at the beginning. Rumi is Mima's agent but she is more than that. She communicates more with Rumi more than her own mother and in a way Rumi is a mother figure. She is against Mima's choices to be an actress, especially when she has to do a rape scene but as it is Mima's choice, Rumi is powerless and can only give advice.

We learn that Rumi was once a pop star, just like Mima and you have to wonder if Rumi's main concern is to protect Mima and have a long-standing career, something that Rumi may have desired but never got the chance to. She could be compared to a mother who is pushing her child to live her dreams. The concern comes in as she watches Mima act out the rape scene; she cries and flees and it is at this point, we can speculate that she went to Mima's room and killed her fish.

It could be this longing to be like Mima that the DID developed and that she thought she was Mima. Not just Mima; the real Mima and she sees Mima as the fake Mima out to destroy the real Mima. Of course, instead of getting her hands dirty, she gets Me-Mania to do some of the dirty work. In the climax, as we see Rumi as Mima, we see the floating Mima in real life and Rumi only in mirror reflections. This is significant for this signifies that the Mima persona of Rumi has surfaced and Rumi has been pushed into the background. It should be noted that some of the symptoms of DID include blackouts so it could be that Rumi is unaware of her Mima persona which would make her just a victim of her own mind as Me-Mania and Mima are.

The voices behind the character

Wendee Lee is pretty good as Rumi. She’s really convincing as Rumi and she makes the twist so much more fun and heightens up the theory that Rumi has no idea that she has problems and is actually the one trying to hurt Mima. She gives off the impression of Rumi as a concerned mother rather than a pushy agent. And the fact that she makes Rumi sound almost robotic in the climax works in her favour for we know then that Rumi isn’t conscious of what she is doing.

Rica Matsumoto is softer in her tones than Lee is. She is less abrasive and angry in her confrontations although the assertive is still there. In the final climax, she is less robotic than Lee but is more girlish almost matching Junko Iwao’s Mima perfectly.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Honorary Princess(es): Gunslinger Girls

TV Series: Gunslinger Girl (English title)
Gansuringā Gāru (Japanese title)

Gunslinger Girls

Petrushka (manga only)
Silvia (manga only)
Chiara (manga only)

To make it clear, I know that for this entry and all for Guslinger Girl character entries, I will be basically focusing on the characters featured in the anime series, not the manga so for the entries, the list is Henrietta, Rico, Triela, Angelica, Claes, Elsa and Beatrice. The latter two are not featured in the picture above as they are minor characters in comparison to the other five. If there are any more anime series/films that feature more Gunslinger Girls as main characters, they will be included in the blog.

The Character(s)

"The girl has a mechanical body. However, she is still an adolescent child."

The title and tagline says it all about the main characters in this anime/manga. Basically, these girls are child assassins. Set in Italy, the show revolves around the Social Welfare Agency which is a charitable institution sponsored by the Italian government. The aim of the SWA is to aid the rehabilitation of the physically injured. Or, to be precise, that is what it wants the government and public to think they are doing, In reality, it is a military organisation that specialising in counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism. The Gunslinger Girls are a part of Section 2 which employs young girls as agents to assassinate terrorists, gangsters and other undesirable elements of society.

Doesn't sound realistic, does it? The truth is that it is based on a true fact of life. In some countries, South America and Mexico for example, children (especially pre-teens) are used as assassins. In truth, children are seen as perfect as assassins due to the overall perception that all children are innocent. Also, in most countries, minors are not jailed. Also, minors are very naive and can easier to control than adults are so they are more obedient overall. The perfect weapon.

The tragedy is not just about these girls being child assassins. That is merely the tip of the iceberg. These girls started off as patients brought into the SWA for several reasons, whether it'd be assault or illness. They have suffered at least one traumatic experience in their early lives and it is this that has brought them to the SWA. Once there, they are brainwashed into forgetting their pasts and they are fitted with cybernetic implants. The implants consist of synthesised muscles which result in heightened strength within the girls, improves their reflexes and give him a high resilience to physical damage and pain. As well as that, these girls are conditioned to use weapons and obey their Handlers.

Each girl is assigned to her own Handler (which, strangely enough are all male) who either have a military, police or intelligence background and therefore capable enough to provide the girl in his care with training as well as act as mentor. They are referred to as a fratello, which is Italian for "brother". Because of this authority and care, he is free to choose how to train her and how much his girl is conditioned (otherwise known as brainwashing).

The relationship between each girl and their handlers are different and range from the indifferent to an almost romantic aspect. How each girl feels towards her handler and how he treats her is an important element of the plot.

Although all the girls do not complain about their life in the SWA (one even states her life is happier), it should never be forgotten that these girls have been brainwashed and it is hard to know whether part of this love is from the brainwashing or whether they are truly happy.

The ultimate tragedy of this anime/manga is the outcome of these girls. They all experienced a traumatic experience before they were brought in the SWA and were turned into cyborg killers, conditioned to obey their handlers (and maybe even conditioned to love them to some degree). However, it is implied in the manga and anime that the cyborg program is a relatively new one and was only developed to use them as assassins when their first cyborg was quick in her reflexes during a fight between two older men. The SWA knows that the brainwashing process alone limits her life span and the more intense the conditioning, the shorter her life span but the cyborg process is not perfect as is shown through their first cyborg, Angelica and later through the second cyborg, Triela. Regardless of their swiftness and coldness when on the job, it is easy to forget that they are mortal and as seen in the manga and anime, does not last as long as the SWA would like.

They are seen as Princesses because a feeling comes that anyone with a heart would want to take these girls from this life and try to let them have a normal life. Sadly, one gets a feeling that even if this did happen and the conditioning was reversed, they are doomed girls anyway.

Ghibli Prince: Porco Rosso

Film: Porco Rosso (English title)
Kurenai no Buta (Japanese title)

Voices: Shuichiro Moriyama (Japanese)
Michael Keaton (English)
Jean Reno (French)

The Character

If there is one thing that every true Hayao Miyazaki fan knows is that in almost of all his Ghibli films, there are two aspects: pigs and flying. In most of his films, there is flight and in a few, there are pigs (in Laputa: Castle in the Sky, you see pigs for a brief second and in Spirited Away, the main character's parents are turned into pigs). With Porco Rosso, you get a flying pig!!!

He is like a prince from a fairy tale. When you peel away many of the elements, you find a story that resembles Beauty and the Beast or The Frog Prince, in the sense that Porco is a man cursed to look like a pig. However, what makes this story interesting that although the origin and nature of the curse is not revealed in the film, there is a strong opinion that the curse is self-inflicting.

Before he was cursed, he was Marco Pagot who was an ace pilot of the Italian Air Force during World War I. Now, in 1929, 11 years since the War ended, he works as a bounty hunter tracking down "air pirates" and he lives alone on an island. Between the Great War and 1929, he has quit the IFA due to the rise of fascism, become disillusioned with humanity and has "quitted" being a human. He seems to hate his human form for there is only one picture of him as a human that hangs on the wall of Gina's restaurant and he has crossed out his face on the picture, much to Gina's dismay.

It is not just that he looks like a pig either. He is also crude and lazy. He can be blunt and carries some sexist attitudes towards women, particularly 17 year old Fio. He cannot believe that she can be an excellent architect and he is not too comfortable about her tagging along for the ride when he tests the new place she created. In this case with his attitude and sexist ways, he is a "pig". Whether these attitudes were there before he turned into a pig or not is debatable as it is not mentioned in the film.

However, he has got heart. His sexist attitude towards Fio, in particular changes to concern when she is crowded by air pirates and then when Donald Curtis proposes to her. Although, he has sexist attitudes, he dims them down a lot when he is talking to Gina.

Of course, every Prince has his Princess. Not this guy: he's got two!! Yes, Fio and Gina love him so much and yet he cannot see it. In fact, Gina has loved him for years. It is implied that she could have been the first man she fell in love with but due to unexplained actions, she ends up marrying his best friend, who later dies whilst fighting alongside Marco/Porco. In fact, as Marco flies, he sees his best friend fly up to join the flying line of deceased pilots. Marco screams that he has to take care of Gina which shows he genuinely cares for her. It could be the realisation of his friend's death that sent him down on his path to self-hatred. It could be that he suffers from post traumatic syndrome and feels guilty that he lived whilst his best friend dies which would make Gina sad.

He also has a rival in the form of Donald Curtis. He falls in love with every girl he meets, Gina and Fio included and in a possible quest for pride and ego, he constantly attacks Porco. However, at the end, even Curtis brings Porco to realisation.

In the end, it is these three people that bring Porco down to having faith in humanity. Gina loves him unconditionally and when Fio and Porco are alone in the island, Fio sees a glimpse of Porco/Marco and later, he hugs him. The conversation between Porco and Fio at the camp set up the "kiss the frog prince" theory and she even hugs and pecks him on the cheek.

During the battle, Donald makes Porco realise that Gina loves him to which Porco is shocked and the final act is when Fio hugs his bruised body and kisses his cheek. It is implied that his features became changed because Donald demands a look at his face as if he is seeing things. However, this is not confirmed or whether the transformation (if any) was possible. The ending is left open if Gina and Porco eventually got together but we are left with the feeling that he did and that he overcame his self-loathing and, like all good Princes, lived happily ever after.

The voices behind the character

Shuichiro Moriyama has a gravelly voice that does show bitterness which is perfect for Porco. Once you know about the character, it is so easy to understand why he was chosen.

When it comes to the English dub, Michael Keaton is an interesting choice. He does have this dark almost gravelly voice of Porco but there is something lacking. He sounds like he's straining when all other dubs mentioned in this entry are way more natural. He can be a big too loud like he's in a theatre and trying to make the audience at the back hear him. Not the best dub ever BUT he's not the worst Ghibli dub, not by a long shot.

There is one version that outstrips even the Japanese version. It's true that the Japanese ones are very strong when it comes to anime but there is one non-Japanese version that is considered to be the strongest of all the dubs possible for this film, or any Ghibli film. That dub is the French dub. The cast is incredibly strong throughout but there is one actor that was not only good as his character but was downright perfect. That person is Jean Reno.

Yes, Jean Reno as in Leon: The Professional and The Da Vinci Code amongst others. Anyone who has seen any of Reno's films, English or otherwise can understand that his gravely voice was perfect for this kind of role. I see Porco as a bitter and apathetic character, traits that Reno brings out beautifully in his voice, particularly in Leon. He is even more gravelly than Moriyama which is a strength in Reno's favour. However, he can also show the emotion needed when possible, particularly when he shows concern for Gina. I just cannot find any reasoning as to why this guy is so perfect. It's one of those "watch it to believe me" kind of scenarios.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Honorary Sidekick: Princess Hinoto

Film: X (or X/1999) (English title)
Ekkusu (Japanese title)

Voices: Yuko Minaguchi (Japanese) (Feature film)
Stacey Jefferson (English) (Feature film)
Aya Hisakawa (Japanese) (TV series)
Bridget Hoffman (English) (TV series)

* I know I have mentioned this many times in this article but I want to make my point clear: the manga is INCOMPLETE. It was put on hold due to a dispute and finishes at Volume 19 Chapter 5.

* I know I mentioned Hinoto in the manga and I would love to put up pages from the manga to prove my point. However, Clamp have stated that fans do not upload or post images from the manga. I will respect their wishes but when I mention specific points, I will type in the volume number, chapter number and page number. There are many pages where you view/download the manga for free. Just go onto Google have have fun!

The Character

The thing that first struck me when I first saw "X" (the film...I did not see the TV series for the first time until about 7 months later) was that Princess Hinoto reminded me of a china doll. After seeing the film and TV series, I still feel the same. She is a dreamseer who is employed by the Japanese government whose dreams have never failed to come true which makes her a perfect asset to running the government.

She has long white hair and red eyes. She is blind, deaf, mute and crippled; the only way she can communicate with anyone is telepathically. She is assisted constantly by two female servants (Sōhi and Hien) as well as Seiichirō Aoki's nephew, Daisuke Saiki who is besotted by her.

Her powers as a dreamseers are her biggest strength in the battle between the Dragons of Heaven and Earth as well as the advent of Kamui. However, it is also her biggest weakness and although all her dreams have always come true, some of her dreams can be vague and open to interpretation. For example, she cannot determine whether the true Kamui will become a Dragon of Heaven or a Dragon of the Earth.

In the film, there is little to know of her except she has a younger sister, Kanoe. Also, she assists the Dragons of Heaven in any way she can, even teleporting Kamui away from near death by Fuma. She later holds her drying sister in her arms and then teleports Kamui to the final battle ground before she dies.

In the manga and anime, she is far more complex for several reasons. Because of the fact that her dreams have never been wrong, she conceals several facts from the Dragons of Heaven. This is not out of spite but purely to protect them. The first of these is revealed after Kotori is killed by Fuma. Hinoto reveals that she knew that the Kamui of Earth would kill Kotori, regardless whether Kamui (Kotori's love interest) or Fuma (Kotori's brother) would do the deed. Hinoto found that revealing this beforehand not only would have not affected Kotori's death but that it would have been too painful for Kamu to take. She only conceals the fact that she has foreseen that the Dragons of Heaven will lose the final battle.

In the anime, episode 22 ("Betrayal") could be seen as Hinoto's crowning moment. At the start, we see Hinoto crying over what has happened and what is going to happen. She is tortured by the fact that her dreams are coming true and it does not help that she is tormented by her sister, Kanoe who is helping the Dragons of Earth purely to spite and torture Hinoto. This episode is important for we also see a side to Hinoto not mentioned in the film but appears in both the anime and manga: Dark Hinoto.

Dark Hinoto is literally her dark half, mostly played in Hinoto's own consciousness. In the episode, "Betrayal", it is revealed that it is Hinoto who is behind several attacks on Kamui by using charms called shikigami (most of them happening within the first half of the series, with the last intervention being in episode 20 ("Ripple") when she stopped Kamui and Sorata from helping Arashi and Yuzuriha from Fuma by telling them that the Dragons of Earth will appear in two different places. However, after a spell sheet is left behind, Kamui is able to figure out that there are two sides to Hinoto: one that is fragile, like air or water but the other, a sense that comes from the spell sheets, is dark, passionate and evil. In the manga, Kamui suspects her of foul play and relays this to Sorata who, in turn, confronts Hinoto (Volume 19 ,chapter 5, pages 12-14). There is no outcome to this confrontation as it is at the end of that chapter that the manga comes to a halt.

In the manga, Dark Hinoto uses shikigami more often in particular to prevent the Dragons of Heaven from aiding each other but she has also committed acts not mentioned in the anime or film. Byt he end, she has taken Lady Arashi into her dreams, stating that when Arashi woke up, she will become a Dragon of Earth. (Volume 19 ,chapter 5, pages 6-8). When Kanoe steps into Hinoto's dream, she is killed (Volume 19 Chapter 3 pages 13-17). However, it has become a debate on who actually killed her; whether it was Hinoto, Dark Hinoto or even Fuma for he is seen holding up her body (Page 17)

While her evil persona is controlling Hinoto's body, the good persona is trapped in the dreamscape. This is true in both the manga and anime. However, there is closure for Hinoto in both the film and anime. In the film, she dies when a building crashes on her. She is the penultimate person to die. In the anime, her good side is trapped in the dreamscape and kills herself. thus taking her own life in the waking world as well so as to end her possession and save Kamui. With her death, the protection around the Sacred Sword becomes nothing and this leads onto the Final Battle played out in the last two episodes of the series. .

In the manga, her dark side has taken over and her last scene is when she is confronted by Sorata about her actions, claiming she is not the Princess and demanding to know where Arashi is. Of course, as the manga was put on hold due to a dispute with the publishers, we fans can only hope what happened next and pray that the manga will be complete.

The voices behind the character

In the feature film, Yuko Minaguchi brings a softness to Hinoto and brings out a gentle vulnerability in her. There seems to be genuine sadness in her voice towards the end of the film as I personally feel they should be.

Stacey Jefferson, on the other hand is deeper and louder. She sounds more authoritative and assertive in her voice. Towards the end, with some phrases, she sounds robotic and slightly unconvincing in comparison to the better performance of Minaguchi

In terms of the Japanese voices that have portrayed Hinoto, Hisakawa is overall better but then again, the film does not show many sides to Hinoto. In the film, she is more straightforward whilst in the anime, she is complex which meant a diversity of ways to do the voice. She sounds more fragile compared to Minaguchi.

Bridget Hoffman is calmer than Hisakawa overall and is definitely less authoritative than Stacey Jefferson achieved. She definitely sounds more fragile and is more natural in how she says the lines. When it comes to the revelation about Kotori's destiny to die, she shows more sadness than Hisakawa but the Japanese TV Hinoto is more genuine with her words.

For both Hoffman and Hisakawa, their strength seem to be when they portray Dark Hinoto. Hisakawa brings out a beautiful contrast between the good and bad Hinoto. It is really hard to tell that both are voiced by the same actress unless one really listens. She is dark, yet soft, almost as seductive as Kanoe in the film. And of course, who can forget the beautiful OTT performance of Dark Hinoto's last performance? The laugh....the OTT speech....need I say more? :-)

Whilst there is a difference in both characters when it comes to Hoffman, it is not as great as the Japanese version. Hoffman tries to be more Kanoe-like, laying on the seductive voice very thick. Hisakawa also does this as well but it is done without gaining any resemblance to that of Kanoe. The final moments of Dark Hinoto seem to be more OOT than that of the Japanese version but bizarrely, it works.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Ghibli Villain: Witch of the Waste

Film: Howl’s Moving Castle (English title)
Hauru no Ogoku Shiro (Japanese title)

Voices: Lauren Bacall (English Disney dub)
Akihiro Miwa (Japanese)

The Character

There is always a major problem when bringing a book (especially a popular one) to the screen. In some adaptations, some characters remain faithful, some are tweaked but some are changed so completely on screen, they become a shadow on of what readers have known them to be. The Witch of the Waste arguably comes dangerously close into belonging into the third category.

In the book by Diana Wynne Jones, she is the central villain and in the book, Howl is called upon by the King of Ingary to kill her. In the book, whilst her first appearance in the film is similar to her first main scene in the book, her story quickly changes and although some traits remain, she quickly changes from main villain into a character of very little importance. This also includes the change in her personality and how she is viewed.

As mentioned before, her first scene is almost identical to that of the film. She becomes offended by the main character Sophie and turns into an old crone, stating that she can't tell anyone about the curse. Fair enough but there is a main difference: the reason as to why she cursed Sophie. In the film, it is because she found out about Howl and Sophie's encounter and becomes extremely jealous. In the book, it is far more complex. It is because the Witch mistakes Sophie for her sister, Lettie and believed Sophie had some information she needed about Howl as well as the fact that Sophie inadvertently offends by unknowingly working magic on hats.

After this moment, the Witch changes from the book. In her next scene, after "being humiliated" by struggling to walk upstairs, she has her powers removed by Madam Suliman and instantly becomes as old as (if not older than) Sophie. After this, she becomes a character who smokes and seems to talk nonsense whilst clinging to Suliman's dog, Heen. There are some references that she fell in love with Howl and was rejected by him. This indeed happened in the book and in the book, this becomes the reason why Howl was cursed so that upon falling in love he would have to return to the Witch. In the book, what is also interested is that due to the Witch's involvement with her own fire demon is the reason why Howl and Calcifer are desperate to break theirs in the first place (a fact that is never brought up in the film as well the Witch's fire demon).

She becomes the reason and cause of most events in the book (such as the disappearance of Prince Justin) and is far more sadistic in her plans. It's a shame that Ghibli could not see just how much they could have done with the character because with the change of the main villain, it meant a almost complete change of the story and it sorta lacks the Wynne Jones magic. Also, considering how powerful and evil this character is meant to be, her punishment in the film seems rather light and she seems to regain redemption without doing much (well, except after taking the heart, eventually gives it to Sophie who uses it to break the contract). This last action by her is symbolic for while it is never speculated on whether the Witch still loves Howl in the book, it is very clear in the film that she does. She clings onto his heart with dear life like a child until she realises that Sophie and Howl love each other. By giving the heart to Sophie, it means she has let him go, something emphasised by the fact that minutes later, she flirted with Prince Justin.

So it is important that for all fans of this anime film, when it comes to the book, changes of opinion of this character are expected.

The voices behind the character

I think I'll start with Akihiro Miwa who is an interesting choice for the Japanese voice. It's a well-know fact that in some cases in anime, particularly with portraying voices of pre-adolescent boys, women tend to be used. This is the first time I have ever known for a female character in anime to be voiced by a man. Yes, in case you did not know, Akihiro Miwa is a male drag queen (his real name is Akihiro Maruyama but he goes by his stage name: Akihiro Miwa). Not only that but this is not the first time he has portrayed a female character in anime. Another notable role is that of Moro, the female wolf in Princess Mononoke (don't believe me? Google/Wikipedia it or go onto imdb.com)

What can I say? Miwa was perfect as the Witch, both young and old. As the young Witch, there is a dark voice to the Witch and is very effeminate although you can detect a hint of masculinity in her tone. As the old Witch, Miwa is far more convincing. Maybe his voice is a little scratchy in some places but that gives off the impression that the Witch is indeed a cackling old witch and the voice is completely female. It becomes really hard to believe a man is doing the voice.

Lauren Bacall was also spot-on. As the young witch, her voice is very low, posh and dark as if she is trying to mimic Miwa's performance. She makes the old Witch weaker and more empty as if to reflect her powers and beauty being drained away from her. The darkness has gone from her voice and there is more emotion to her.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Honorary Princess: Mima Kirigoe

Film: Perfect Blue(English title)
Pāfekuto Burū (Japanese title)

Voices: Ruby Marlowe (English)
Junko Iwao (Japanese)

The Character

Mima Kirigoe is one of the most realistic characters portrayed in anime. In fact, Perfect Blue is realistic in the way it tackles the celebrity world. It is real because we have all seen a Mima at least once in our lifetime, where a singer will try to attempt making a success in acting and actors will try to make a success in singing. Sometimes, it is a success but most of the time, it is a failure. And of course, in the case of some celebs, they will stoop to any level for a slice of success.

Mima is one of these celebs. At the start of Perfect Blue, she is the member of a J Pop and called Cham. Despite having a strong fan base, the band has never reached the charts and it could be this lack of fulfilment/satisfaction that makes her want to try her hand in the acting.

You would think that taking this life-changing path would mean she is a confident woman, knowing what she wants. This could not be more off the mark. She is humble, cautious and timid. In one of her scenes, we see her bubbly and confident as she sings but then seconds later, when she announces her departure from the band, one of her band members is the one who eventually starts the announcement after the fight between some yobs and Me-Mania breaks out.

Also, whilst we see her singing on stage, we get glimpses of her in an office as her friend (and business agent), Rumi and her talent agency manager, Mr. Tadokoro discuss Mima's upcoming part in Double Bind. Rumi challenges Mr. Tadokoro by asking, "What about how Mima feels?" but the irony is that neither ask Mima what she wants and she sits quietly like an obedient child as two adults argue over her. Later, as criticisms mount about the lack of screen time she has, she refuses to challenge or rationalise this.

She lives alone and doesn't socialise when she is not working. She has no boyfriend or any love interests. She seems to prefer her own company. The film suggests that her only friendship resides in Rumi where during a scene where Rumi teaches her about the internet, it is almost a mother-daughter relationship. We see or hear nothing relating to her family or nothing about her past.. When she and her ex-band members are in the same room, it is a case of little acknowledgement. Whilst Cham celebrate their first single to enter in the charts, Mima checks any incoming mail for her. She does not socialise with her band members.

Her most significant scene involves when her character in Double Bind is gang-raped. For her, this starts when Rumi challenges this change of events. This is the only time where Mima openly speaks out and ironically, we find out later (after the rape scene is filmed) that she never wanted to do it in the first place. It seems that her acceptance to do the rape was secretly reluctant and that she is willing to go with the flow of others for two reasons:

a) to please others

b) she believes that others know best for her

At this moment, we see her losing her soul (as well as her sanity) especially when she poses for some provocative pictures for a magazine. At this point, she is surrendering her identity for fame which does not help by the fact that she is losing sense of the real world (as well as seeing the doppelgänger Mima). Now as I mentioned in my analysis of Perfect Blue, Mima could be suffering from DID.

However, the ending suggests otherwise and it is only after encountering Me-Mania as well as the real killer in the film, she is able to set her self free. It is also ironic that all this occurs the night that Double Bind has finished filming. It is as if to say that Mima loses her identity and sanity whilst filming the TV series and now that has finished, she confronts the enemy and able to take back her life.

In her ending shot, it is important to notice that her hair is noticeably longer than it was at the climax which suggests at least several months have passed. She is more confident in herself and smiles at the fact that even though her schedule is not as busy as imagined, she is happy to have her identity back. It could be even suggested that she has turned her back on the celebrity and is no happily normal.

The voices behind the character

Junko Iwao is beautifully vulnerable and girl-like , aspects one would expect for a vulnerable creature like Mima. Her screaming is also spot-on, not to OTT that is expected from most Japanese anime. Ruby Marlowe is Mima-worthy but there is the loss of girlish charm and vulnerabiliy that Junko Iwao displays beautifully (and Iwao's screaming is far more precise for someone who is running for their life) although she does it well for the doppelgänger Mima.