10 CommentsAnime Analysis / By Scamp /

Asura Review – Leeds Fanomenon Anime Day

I’ve been going to the Leeds Anime Movie Festival for the past 3 years now. The first time I got to see Redline, which was awesome. The second year was a bit of a step down with Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Very Long Movie Titles, but still pretty good. This year had Asura, which is less a step down and more a leap off a sheer cliff. It was less a downgrade and more a hurling of your laptop out of the window and instead painting on a cave wall. It was less a loss in cutting edge and more a transferring from a blunt knife to a pillow.

What I’m trying to say is Asura isn’t very good.

Asura is Japan’s latest attempts at a fully CG movie, this time depicting the harsh life during Japan’s equivalent of the Dark Ages. The movie kicks off with a pregnant woman giving a quite graphic birth to a boy, before she beats a wild dog to death with a nearby axe. As we can see, things are looking pretty grim in this world. Everyone is dying and the only way to survive sometimes is to resort to cannibalism. This baby eventually leaves his mother (after she throws him onto a fire with the intent of eating him) and becomes a wild child who runs across the countryside, eating other dying people.

To be fair to the producers of Asura, there probably was a time in history when the outlook for society really was this grim. There probably was a time when a guard would order his father to throw his feeble son into a ravine. There indeed probably was a time when haggard housewives would stumble along a road, gossiping about how their next door neighbour ate her own baby. Maybe it’s just my fault that I can’t take such a bleak world at face value. But it would really help if the show didn’t keep undermining itself.

For one, there’s no context given for how the world ended up in this state. People are poor and there’s no food, that’s just how life is. It never gives any idea that an alternative would ever exist. It’s just grim decay from start to finish, and it really likes to beat us over the head with this, to the point that it flips around and becomes unintentional comedy. The spurts of blood that would shoot out of someone the cannibal kid attacked looked completely ridiculous. It also has real issues with continuity sometimes. The cannibal kid suddenly jumped from having a vocabulary of about 10 words to being able to philosophise the pain of existence.

Then there was the CG, which had the usual problems CG has. Characters do that thing where they sway in motion for a few seconds before coming to a standstill, like a video game character returning to their neutral stance. Hair seems to be made out of flat pieces of paper glued onto the top of their head like a wig. I know the movie is supposed to look ugly, but I don’t think these were the kinds of ugly it was going for. Sometimes I wonder whether my dislike of fully CG anime comes from me being used to 2D animation and having a gut dislike of anime designs in 3D, but then I see a shot where someone’s standing still but their feet are mysteriously hovering a few centimetres above the ground. Japan has a long way to go before it makes its CG look anywhere near Pixar/Disney/Dreamworks levels.

It’s has some incredibly dumb scenes too. I’m going to spoil a big plot twist here, but you shouldn’t watch the movie anyway so who cares. The kid occasionally meets this monk who tries to teach him not to become a killer. During one of his attempts to teach the kid, the monk pulls out a sword and then swings at his own arm. I thought this about making the kid realise he cared for someone and would stop the monk from swinging the sword. But I was under the mistaken assumption that the movie was leading to some sort of hopeful narrative conclusion. Instead the monk chops his arm clean off and tells the kid to eat it. The kid runs away, so the monk just stands there are cries for a bit, probably at the realisation of how thick he was for chopping off his own arm. I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time.

And you know what this was all leading up to (spoiler warning for the end, but again who cares because it’s a rubbish film)? The kid has an entire village trying to kill him. The kid doesn’t die, which might at least give some narrative finality to his actions where we learn the damning life of being a monster that is beyond saving. Instead he becomes a monk with his life lesson being that people die because I don’t know, life sucks I guess. It’s such a frustratingly pointless end to a movie that would have been unpleasant even if it wasn’t so badly made. With that end though, it makes me wonder what the purpose of the whole thing was. Even if you like unrelenting grimness, which makes for a bad story anyway the same way unrelenting calm and peacefulness would, there’s anime far better made than this.

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  1. Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    …Yeah, I gotta see this movie.

  2. fathomlessblue
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    I’d give an arm AND a leg just to see it.

    I’ll be here all night.

  3. Posted November 13, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Sometimes I wonder whether my dislike of fully CG anime comes from me being used to 2D animation and having a gut dislike of anime designs in 3D, but then I see a shot where someone’s standing still but their feet are mysteriously hovering a few centimetres above the ground and dismiss that thought

    As someone with a bit of education in 3D animation who grew up watching 3D series like ReBoot and Beast Wars, I’ve always wondered what it is about CG in traditional anime that turns me off so. You have full 3D anime-styled movies like Appleseed and Vexille that look good, but it’s so rare to see CG in traditional anime that isn’t completely jarring and unslightly. The original Last Exile is the only series I can think of which did this well (Fam had freaky robo-Fam protruding from her ship with a lazily-animated scarf).

    Why? There’s a lot of challenge getting something rendered in 3D and controlled by a list of motion instructions to match up with a hand-drawn world, certainly. But the real reason? No two ways about it: the 3D animators contracted to work for these studios suck.

    They animate every keyframe with the default curves (causing that “swaying in motion”). They have no grasp of weight, momentium, or secondary motion. They don’t seem to understand basic principles of animation. Their walk cycles for backdrop characters that only ever walk – the very first thing any character animator practices – are hideously inept and ugly but still get re-used as stock for multiple series. Whoever these guys are, they are not good at their jobs.

    Am I being a little unfair? Maybe, but look what happens when you get someone like Disney-Pixar in charge of this very same task.

    TL;DR: CG in anime sucks not because CG sucks in anime, but because their animators suck at CG.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 13, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same studio doing the CG. Especially with that point you make of all the shoddy walking animation looking the same. I mean, surely it can’t be too difficult to bring in someone who has worked at Disney or whatever to teach them how to do CG?

      • Posted November 14, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

        I wouldn’t be either – I know the hilariously bad Engrish scripting with bizarrely good voice actors that was in C and Night Raid certainly came from the same place.

        “You all have heard of the Caribbean Republic in the Caribbeans.”

        “As a rumour yes, I’ve heard of it. But. No one’s actually seen or heard of it.”

        What really annoys me though is that you wouldn’t even have to hire some wunderkind from an industry giant like Disney to improve this animation by leaps and bounds. A lot of the worst parts of anime CG are just basic mistakes from animators who don’t know any better/don’t care. I’m pretty sure my animation teacher (who was just an industry regular from a mid-range games company coming in once a week) could solve most of these problems.

        I mean… somebody had to make Fireball. If they can bring a robot to life like that, they can take the robot out of a human character. Get them on this problem!

  4. luffyluffy
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    One of the few times I felt stocky CG animation really helped (or made something more beautiful) was ‘that’ scene in Eva 2.0. All of the people moved so methodically, like clockwork, and that was really beautiful considering what that scene was trying to show.

    Just my dumb two cents.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      Best CG anime is Fireball. I shall accept nothing else

      • luffyluffy
        Posted November 13, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

        Robots look better in CG 55% of the time though.

  5. Flare
    Posted June 6, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Things to point out on your review:

    1. That whole “no world context” thing stems from your lack of historical knowledge. It’s obviously ancient Japan. One could tell easily from the characters clothes and the way they speak Japanese. The world is probably based on the Kansho famine era, where 2000 people died a month from starvation brought on by drought.

    2. That dumb scene? You thought Asura was going to stop the Monk from chopping off his arm like everyone else watching. That’s what makes it cliche, and I would have respected the movie less if they did that. And it’s not without purpose either. Did you not listen to the dialogue before it? Asura was distraught saying he was nothing than a beast. The monk tells Asura that he is human, and chops off his arm to prove it to Asura in the most brutal way, as a beast would eat his arm right there.

    3. You totally missed the fact that the entire film was an hour long Buddhist message. Buddhist monk, hello? He narrates the beginning and end of the movie for goodness sakes. How did you not get that? If you wanna talk about being thick, there we go. The whole movie is despair, which coincides with the Buddhist teaching that existence is suffering. That “dumb scene” you hated, even then, they were talking about controlling the beast within, which is another Buddhist teaching. And at the very end of the movie, another teaching, saying no matter what you may have done, in the end you can find peace and that’s what makes life worth living. It’s like stories I used to hear from my grandpa, only it’s in anime form and there’s cannibalism and other crap going on and it lasts a whole hour.

    So, what I take from this review is that A, you don’t know anything about Japanese History, and that B, you haven’t branched out and learned about other religions. Alright.

  6. 8.20.13SawAsura
    Posted August 21, 2013 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    I actually liked it. The art style didn’t bother me, it looks like an old painting. And to be fair the kid doesn’t know any history or other worlds, he’s just born into shit tries to live and then meets the woman where the theme isn’t everything sucks. I admit I laughed a bit when the monk didn’t twitch from chopping his arm off to give a lesson and then started tearing once the kid left but I still love the movie as a whole. Rubish? I wonder why people are giving it 7 when I would say 8.5

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