HOW TO PREDICT THE "BEST ANIMATED FEATURE" WINNER...
Over at RottenTomatoes.com, in this thread
, I predicted (as did the majority of voters) that Nick Park and Aardman Animation's Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit
would beat out Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle
and win the "Best Animated Feature" Oscar in February. It has a 96% "fresh" (positive) rating on the Tomatometer
(and I think it will soon be upgraded to 97% or 98%) and an overall average rating of 8.3, which means, in terms of critical reception (from critics who write in English), it's approximately equal to the previous three Best Animated Feature winners, The Incredibles
(97%/8.3), Finding Nemo
(98%/8.6), and, Hayao Miyazaki's previous film, Spirited Away
(98%/8.4). Howl's Moving Castle
got fairly good reviews, but not at the same level as the last three Best Animated Feature winners (84%/7.4).
, who hates me and my opinions (probably not really), told people not to listen to me, since I also like Sailor Moon1
, but I told him (I think it's a "him") that I was playing the "Who Will
Win" game, so my personal opinion has nothing to do with anything.
While I wouldn't say that it's an exact science, you can make a pretty good educated guess on which animated film will actually win for any given year with a mental calculation based on the following criteria, ranked roughly in order of importance:
- Visibility: How likely it is that your average voting member of the Academy would even be aware of any given animated film, since "Best Animated Feature" is, let's face it, a sideshow category, and the Academy members have too many contenders for the Acting, Director, and Best Picture categories to chase down screenings of every obscure animated film on the nomination shortlist (which is, most years, 15-20 films long). This rules out virtually all anime films not from Studio Ghibli (not counting the kiddy franchise stuff like Pokémon that have no awards chances whatsoever), since most anime films, of those that don't just get released straight-to-DVD, get theatrical releases so small that, even if the few reviews they do get are overwhelmingly positive, the ripples are too shallow to draw much of any attention. The Ghibli films don't get tremendous theatrical releases in the United States, but 200 screens per weekend is enough so that, unless you're really out in the sticks, you can see it if you want to see it, you'll just have to travel a little farther than your local suburban shopping mall multiplex, and, as such, virtually all American critics of note get to see them, while they might not get a chance for all of the other anime theatrical releases.
- Positive Reviews/Quality: Pretty self-explanatory. All 4 of the Best Animated Feature winners so far got positive reviews from most critics. This is also where "The actual inherent 'quality' of the film" comes in.
- Critical Momentum: A touch tougher to describe. Even if an animated film gets mostly positive reviews, is it enough for it to be remembered come awards time? Monster hit summer animated films that made huge waves, both critically and at the box-office, like Finding Nemo and Shrek. had no difficulty being remembered, but, for niche animated films in limited release, the time-frame is a bit more crucial. Spirited Away got released at the perfect time of year for such a limited release, during the September box-office lull, where it did not have to compete so much with the potential Best Picture contenders for critical attention, and it was not lost in the shuffle among the summer pictures with huge promotional campaigns. And it was released late enough in the year that it was still towards the top of the heads of a large number of critics when they were putting together their "Best of" lists. If Spirited Away hadn't gotten so much end of the year attention from critics, especially Ebert, it might not have been visible enough to even have been nominated.
- Box-Office: I don't think the winner is determined by the take at the *American* box-office alone, otherwise Spirited Away wouldn't have had a prayer, but it can help get a mediocre animated film nominated. Object example: Shark Tale.
- Oscar campaigning: As with the campaigns for their own animated films and Pixar's films, Disney pours money into "For Your Consideration" ads and special screenings (and, I presume, screeners) for the Ghibli films. Dreamworks and Sony just haven't done the same for the anime films they distributed (at best, they got one FYC ad), and the other anime films distributed by the domestic anime distributors won't get even that, since said anime distributors simply don't have the scratch to spare to conduct a proper Oscar campaign. This is another reason why Howl's Moving Castle will be nominated, while Steamboy, Appleseed, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, Mind Game, and such won't be.
- Oscar pedigree: Previous Oscars aren't that important a factor, but I'm sure it's something that Academy members take into consideration. There have been just four Best Animated Feature winners so far, half of them from a studio without a film in contention this year, so it would seem that Hayao Miyazaki would have a leg up on everyone else in that regards, but that would be forgetting the other animation category, Best Animated Short, where Wallace & Gromit creator Nick Park already has three, and two for shorts featuring the same characters as in the film that will almost undoubtably win Best Animated Feature in February when you apply the criteria I just mentioned. Unless Chicken Little blows the critics away.
I can't really play the "Who Should
Win" game yet. Based on what I've seen of it (and knowing the quality of its predecessors), I'd be suprised if Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit
isn't my favourite animated film of the year, but I haven't see it yet, nor have I yet seen Chicken Little
(which won't be released until next month), or The Place Promised in Our Early Days
, an anime film from up-and-coming director Makoto Shinkai
, a director that some view as being the new Hayao Miyazaki
, but, from what I understand, his films are a bit too ponderous and intellectual and lack the broad appeal of Miyazaki and he can be more accurately compared to being the new Mamoru Oshii
or the new Hideaki Anno
. I will say that I actually did like Howl's Moving Castle
just a hair more than either Madagascar
and Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride
, which both had many positive qualities but weren't quite award-worthy, and they're all better than Robots
, which was oh-kay, and Steamboy
, which was a visual treat but only a visual treat. Hopefully, I'll have seen Wallace and Gromit
by the end of the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend (which lasts through Monday); I would have seen it today, but I got caught up late last night watching breaking news on CNN about the Pakistani earthquake
and didn't get to sleep until after 6 a.m., and, as such, didn't even get up until after 2 p.m.1 I think Fëanor also believes that I don't respect Hayao Miyazaki, due to my preference for Lilo & Stitch over the pretty-good-but-underfocused-scattershot-overlong-and-overrated Spirited Away, but I have plenty of respect for Miyazaki, I just don't think the guy is so incredibly perfect that he shits golden nuggets and pees Dom Perignon champagne, and I don't think Hayao Miyazaki is the only praiseworthy animation director in the world, and I think the guy reached the peak of his artistic career in the late 1980s, with the relatively more conventional and more straightforward Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro.
RECENT ANIMATED VIEWINGS: AH MY GODDESS! TV & HALE NOCHI GUU...
The University of Ottawa anime club
met for the first time this semester on Saturday. Previously, on those Saturdays where they had meetings, I tended to write on message boards and this blog for hours and not show up until after the halftime break, but, this semester, they're showing the Ah My Goddess
TV series, a new animated adaptation of one of my all-time favourite manga series, and it's the first thing on the schedule each week, so I made a valiant effort to try and get there for 4 p.m. I timed my trip very carefully using the OC Transpo trip planner
. Unfortunately, I missed the 111 bus (which seemed to have come about 2 minutes early) and had to wait something like another 15 minutes for the 86 bus (though I generally prefer taking the 86 bus anyway, since it goes directly to the Campus Transitway stop, whereas, if I take the 111, I have to switch to the 97 at Billings Bridge to get to the university), but, fortunately for me, the screening started about 20 minutes later than scheduled, so I only missed the opening credits for the first episode.
Keiichi Morisato is an engineering student at the Nekomi Institute of Technology. He's a pretty unlucky guy, not the unluckiest lad in Japan by any stretch of the imagination (a distinction that belongs to one Ataru Moroboshi
), but, through most of the first episode, he seems to be having an unlucky streak, due, in part, to being under the Star of Misery. Dogs bark at him for no reason. His professor decides to only call upon students wearing white shirts that day (and guess who the only one wearing white is). Then, the money-lacking Nekomi Tech. Auto Club goes around giving repairs to anyone who needs them, but, when one guy whose motorcycle they just fixed refuses to make a donation, Keiichi's "sempai" (the members of his social group with a higher status), Tamiya and Ootaki (who are drawn like stereotypical tough motorcycle gang thugs but who are really quite nice guys), force Keiichi to go after the guy, and Keiichi gets the money but then has to pay everyone whose property he damaged riding down the hallways on his mini-motorcycle. Then they leave Keiichi behind to guard the clubhouse while the rest of the club goes to a party that involves sake and fixing motorcycles. He then realizes that he has to take a video back (because, evidently, Blockbuster didn't revoke the late fee in Japan), and, while he's out, even though he risks incurring the wrath of Tamiya, he helps a little girl find her mother's wallet, a small act of kindness that perhaps has cosmic ramifications. Back at the clubhouse, Keiichi takes a call meant for one of the upperclassmen at the club, but, when he tries calling to pass on the message, he gets connected to something called the Goddess Relief Office, and one of their representatives, the goddess Belldandy
(loosely based on Verdandi, one of the three Norn
sisters representing the "Fates" in Norse mythology), appears to him through the mirror, and offers to grant Keiichi one wish.
In the second episode, Belldandy tells Keiichi that he can wish for anything he wants, even if its for the destruction of the world (though they avoid doing business with the sort of person who would wish for that). Keiichi isn't sure whether it's a prank or not, and he doubts that a girl that looks like her could possibly ever be interested in him, so he makes a wish that she's sure to refuse: he wishes for a goddess like her to stay with him forever, which shocks Belldandy. Energy shoots out of the "third eye" symbol on her forehead, she faints briefly, and then she comes to and panickedly makes a phone call to the Almighty, who tells her that the wish was accepted and that she must stay on Earth with Keiichi, and the Ultimate Force, which even she can't undo, has decreed that they cannot live apart, which causes Keiichi much consternation since his dorm forbids women, so, when Tamiya, Ootaki, and the rest of the motor club returns to the clubhouse, they immediately evict Keiichi by carrying him out and dropping him off next to his BMW motorcycle. The rest of the episode has Keiichi trying to find friends that will take in not just him but also Belldandy, but, the best they could find is a car belonging to the motor club.
I've already given my problems with the OVA series and movie many times before, like here
and there's also this review of the Ah My Goddess! movie, which I wrote a couple of years back
. While this is a completely new adaptation of the Oh My Goddess
manga by Kosuke Fujishima, and one that will stick much closer to the original source material in general, it's pretty obvious that, for the first episode, Hiroaki Gohda didn't just want to do a shot-for-shot remake of what he already did some 12 odd years ago, with the opening scene where Keiichi is already stuck in the dorm and is dialing for fast food and accidentally contacts the Goddess Relief Office instead, since that part of the OVA series and only that part follows the manga very closely. Hence, they added a somewhat unnecessary prologue showing Keiichi's life before he contacted Belldandy, and, whilst Belldandy came through the mirror in about the second minute of the first episode of the OVA, here she doesn't really even appear until the final minute of the first episode. The pacing is just a bit off; it takes two whole episodes just to cover the ground they covered in just the first 15 minutes or so of the first OVA episodes. That's about the extent of my bitching. (Well, that and I know, in future episodes, that they introduce the fifth goddess, Rind (Lind
), while the fourth goddess, who is my favourite goddess, Peorth
, only appears in the briefest of cameos (shown in such a way that they're more or less promising that they'll properly introduce her should the show be popular enough for a second season to be made).
There's still plenty for me to like here. The animation quality is quite smooth for an anime TV series, and the character designs are almost as lovely as those in the movie and the OVA series. 2005 Belldandy looks a fair bit different from 1993 Belldandy, and, to a lesser degree, 2000 Belldandy, but her new design only reflects how far Kosuke Fujishima's designs have evolved over the course of a decade. According to popular anime fandom lore, what was keeping them from doing a proper Oh My Goddess!
TV series before was actually that some of the goddesses, especially Belldandy, had hair that was much too complicated to animate properly on a TV budget, but now that digital animation has facilitated the production of better-looking budget animation, reducing much of the complicated work for the "in-betweeners". And some of the computer-generated 3D backgrounds used when Keiichi is riding the motorcycle actually looks much better than the CGI from the movie.
Another thing I like is that they seem to have preserved the "occasional narration" from the manga, the first time this has been done in any animated adaptation of Oh My Goddess!
. It seems that the characterizations are a bit more fleshed-out like they are in the manga. It's a little premature for me to say for sure that Belldandy won't be a "doormat" this time, but she did seem like less of an airhead than in the OVA series, certainly.
And one of my big problems with the movie, which I find to be increasingly a problem with the manga in recent years, is that they overexplained the Yggdrasil computer
. I'm not that fond of using the Yggdrasil as a plot device; it's something that's fine in small doses, when all you need to understand to be able to follow the story is that the Yggdrasil is some sort of celestial computer system that the Almighty's goddess servants use to keep the universe in order. It's when they get too heavy on the specifics of the mechanics of how the Yggdrasil operates exactly that things get awfully convoluted awfully quickly. Calling the Yggdrasil a "computer" works well as a metaphor, but, when they start treating the metaphor literally and the computer has the weaknesses of an earth computer, like how it can be hacked and can be infected with "viruses", the stories start sinking under the weight of its own absurdity. The idea of a celestial computer is something that's inherently silly and shouldn't be overexplained. So far, the TV series has avoided that narrative trap of overreliance on the Yggdrasil as a plot device, I just hope it stays that way.
Yoko Ishida's "Open Your Mind", the opening theme song for the TV series, doesn't have nearly the same bubblegum infectiousness of Goddess Family Club's "My Heart, Iidasenai, Your Heart Tashikametai", the opening theme song from the OVA series, but it's quite an interesting song in its own right, with a fiddle and celtic pipes making it sound almost like the sort of music that should be playing in the background on an Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale commercial or maybe the sorts of clips of the Maritimes that they used to play on Canadian Sesame Street
. But, if covers are to be believed, Belldandy herself is quite proficient with a fiddle
, so it's somewhat appropriate. (Too bad there's no way you can hear the lovely music for yourself!
*coughuseapopupblockercough*). One advantage of this opening sequence over the really notorious OVA series opening sequence is that, while both of them show a lot of characters from the manga, this time around, all of the characters featured in the opening actually all appear at one point or another in the actual series. (The OVA opening was also screwy, because Skuld
was shown riding a old-fashioned temple broom, whilst Urd
was shown riding a vaccuum cleaner, however, since Urd is the Norn who represents the past, she should be riding the old-timey temple broom, while Skuld, who represents the future, should ride the newfangled vaccuum cleaner. It was pretty basic symbolism, and they couldn't even get that right.)
Anyhow, all in all, I was very pleased with the opening two episodes, though I hope that things move along at a little brisker pace in the future.
The first DVD volume of the Ah My Goddess!
TV series went on sale in North America on September 27th
, though, since it's Media Blasters which is doing the exposition, I'm skeptical that we'll actually see it on store shelves at HMV or Future Shop here in Ottawa anytime soon.
Because Blogger was down for several hours yesterday evening, I shall finish this article tomorrow, with a review of Jungle was Itsumo Hale Nochi Guu