October 12, 2011

Space Battleship Yamato

Today's Mystery Meat is Space Battleship Yamato, the 2010 live-action movie based on the classic show which in the US was known as "Star Blazers".

It is fantastic. There are times when the dialogue and character interaction gets a bit cheesy, but that's OK; they're doing what the original did.

The acting is decent. It's the CG and sound effects where the movie really shines, but I have to say that the story is really quite good, cheesy dialogue notwithstanding. It certainly kept me involved, right up to the ending -- which was fantastic. It really was the only way the story could have ended.

Here's what Yamato looks like:

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That's the center of the real frame grab. This movie is 1920*802, 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Here's the whole thing, shrunk down:

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And... they sure do make some of 'em pretty, don't they? This is the female lead:

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Definitely recommended!

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August 29, 2011

Mystery Meat -- Little Nemo in Slumberland

Winsor McKay was one of the standout comic artists in the early 20th century, with his weekly comic "Little Nemo in Slumberland". Each week he turned out a full page, and the drawings were lush and complicated. It ran from 1905 to 1914 in its original run.

Originally it was about the dreams of a boy named Nemo, who visited a place called Slumberland every night. And "surreal" doesn't begin to do it justice.

McKay was also a pioneer of drawn animation. He created a character called "Gertie the Dinosaur" and wowed audiences by standing on the stage in front of the movie screen and seemingly interacting with Gertie in real time. And McKay himself did a short animation of Little Nemo in 1911. (They animated about 2 minutes, and fleshed it out to a 10 minute feature with other material. The animation starts at 7:30.)

So it's appropriate that Little Nemo should end up an animated movie. The only concern, really, is, "Did they butcher it? Did they do it right?"

This was a big budget movie created in 1989 by a combined team from Japan and the US, and a bit of France.

My first reaction was astonishment, just from reading the credits. The story was written by Moebius. Chris Columbus helped with the script. (You may remember him as the guy who directed the first two Harry Potter movies.) And the "Concept for screen" credit goes to Ray Bradbury. The music was performed by the London Symphony. ANN says it cost ¥3.3 billion.

It's interesting how I keep recognizing names. Another I spotted was Brian Froud, who worked on "Labyrinth" with Jim Henson. Well, I have to look at something. The credits run almost three minutes and consist only of white text on a colored background. ...snore...

So is it true to McKay? Sadly, not really. The character designs owe more to emulation of Chuck Jones and Walt Disney than to McKay, and the Nemo character doesn't really act much like I recall the original acting. (You can see the original characters at the Wikipedia article.)

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I suppose it was necessary to make some concessions to the different medium, but it's still a shame. Did they really need to give Nemo a cute animal sidekick? A flying squirrel named Icarus. There was never anything like that in the original.

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And half an hour into it, I find myself wanting to start skipping. This is a real disappointment.

There's a brillliant sequence at the very beginning, pretty much a dream that turns into a nightmare, at the beginning. The rest of it? It's like someone read a third-party description of McKay's work and decided to do something a bit like it.

Dreams have a logic all their own. Things change in a dream; what you look at may have morphed from a moment before when you looked at it. McKay handled that beautifully in the original comic, but at least so far they've chucked that aspect of it entirely. That was the core of the story!

And Flip, from what we've seen of him, is an entirely different character. Where's the "Wake Up!" sign?

And then we get to the princess. And she's completely unrecognizable. They discarded the original character completely and started from scratch.

I stepped through the rest of it, and it was quite pedestrian. It wasn't "Little Nemo in Slumberland". The part that runs from 03:00 to 07:30 is brilliant. The rest is a complete waste of time. Not recommended.

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August 11, 2011

Mystery Meat -- Oblivion Island, Haruka and the magic mirror

4 minutes into Hottarake no Shima, and I got tears in my eyes. And there were I think three other scenes which did that to me.

This is a really good movie. Visually it is very imaginative. The eponymous "Oblivion Island" is very strange, very complex, very interesting. It's even rather terrifying some of the time.

At the 15-word-to-describe-it level, it's the same overall plotline as Spirited Away, in the sense that Haruka (the protagonist) goes through a life changing experience in a magical place and is a better person afterwards.

But as soon as you use 50 words, the movies bear very little resemblance.

Early on, they used a fair amount of shortcuts, with rendered characters composited into painted scenes in a few places. And I began to wonder about their budget. But as soon as we reached the "other side", it all got much better, and as the movie went on it only improved.

Now nobody would mistake this for a Pixar movie, especially in the character models. If I understood the credits, they used AutoDesk as the modeler and renderer, and that's maybe two generations back from what Pixar uses. So, for instance, Haruka's hair is painted onto a solid shape, with an alpha mask also painted on it. Poser had that 10 years ago.

They did a lot better for the scenery and the residents of the island, and in fact that worked. It made Haruka look a little bit out of place, which was good because she was out of place. Here's a 1080p grab showing her and... well... you'll find out for yourself who the other person is. Here's a scene after she's left the world we know. It's very definitely a "We're not in Kansas anymore" moment.

So, what's it about? Remember the itty bitty shrine that the sisters used for shelter in the rain, in Totoro? There were statues in it. That shrine was to Inari, the goddess of harvest. By tradition, she is served by foxes, and that's what the statues were. According to one legend, the foxes take objects which we have forgotten, take them away to a place where they will never be seen again.

That's the island. Haruka lost something, something she promised she would never forget. And she wants it back. That's what the movie is about, but I don't really want to say any more for fear of spoilers.

It's really good. And it fully justifies being seen in 1080p. Unlike a lot of anime we get, it isn't upscaled from 720p (or even from 480p). It was a theatrical release, and they rendered at full theater resolution. So it's sharp and gorgeous in 1080p.

Definitely recommended.

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August 10, 2011

Mystery Meat -- Fighting Beauty Wulong

If I were to summarize this in two words, it would be "low budget". The art is awful. For a fighting anime, the fights are really terrible, with almost no action. Character art drifts all over the place. The voice work is none too good, either.

Our heroine is Mao Ran. She's 17. She's shapely. She's beautiful -- though you'd never know it, from the way she's drawn. The episode opens with her being in a dark alley, in a rain storm, being attacked by five big punks, who she massacres. One of them at least she takes down with an energy blast.

This is all observed by one of her classmates in high school, who is a wimp that the gang had just beaten up. Next day he begs her to teach him the Mao style of fighting. He always refers to her as "Mao shishou" (e.g. Master Mao).

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Mao and her grandfather run a bathhouse. Mao's grandfather is a lush and a perv. Their main clientele is old men from the neighborhood, and one of the things he encourages them all to do is to watch Mao Ran when she's bathing.

Which, when she finds out, usually leads to violence by her against them.

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But he's also a top level master of the Mao style of open-hand fighting, which is reputed to be the best and most dangerous in the world. It isn't taught to anyone outside the family, and ordinarily is passed from father to son in the Mao lineage.

But something happened to his son, Mao Ran's father, and his wife, her mother. And she's their only child; there is no brother. So she has been trained in the style her whole life. Her grandfather assigns her "homework", which means she gets waylaid on the street all the time by people who attack her -- who she invariably wipes out.

She also seems to show up to take out gang bullies pretty commonly; it happens twice in the first episode alone.

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Anyway, she can't teach that guy; it's against the clan rules. But he keeps showing up at the bathhouse and begging her grandfather, and Grampa eventually hires him to work helping to clean the place when it's closed.

At one point Grampa is out getting drunk in a park, and a man in a suit shows up. He is taken (voluntarily) to see an old man named Xao, an old friend and a rival. The Xaou family also have a family style of fighting. Xao wants to fight Grampa one last time. But there's more to it.

Old man Xao has two granddaughters, and apparently no grandson. His elder granddaughter is named Xao Chunyan and she's a bully. She is viewed by her grandfather as disgracing the family name. The younger granddaughter thinks so, too, but she cannot defeat her older sister. Anyway, old man Xao begs Grampa to promise that Chunyan will be defeated.

And our girl Mao Ran is gonna be the one to do it, whether she likes it or not.

That's the story, as presented in ep 1. And I don't have the slightest urge to watch any more of it. It isn't just that the animation is terrible. The cast is almost entirely no-name. The seiyuu cast to do Mao Ran sounds almost exactly like Bulma in DBZ, though it's not the same seiyuu. It's not the voice of a high school girl; she's dreadfully miscast. The only other thing I've seen that she was in was Shingu, where she did the voice of Setsuna. She was really good in that, but it's not the same kind of part.

Based on the first episode, this is utter crap. Yet somehow or other, it ended up running 25 episodes, and was followed by a 25-ep sequel.

This is what I get for looking for Mystery Meat with the "ecchi" keyword on BakaBT. Not recommended.

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July 20, 2011

Mystery Meat -- Kage Kara Mamoru

Today's Mystery Meat is Kage Kara Mamoru, "Mamoru the shadow protector".

A lot of anime, for that matter a lot of entertainment of all kinds, involves fantasy wish fulfillment. That's what this show is about, in spades. The hero is Kagemori Mamoru. His next door neighbor is Konnyaku Yuna. Mamoru is a complete dork, but Yuna is really cute.

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Ah, but looks are deceiving. Mamoru is the latest in a long line of ninja, and his family has been protecting her family for 400 years, though as of the first episode we haven't been told why. Mamoru himself has been protecting Yuna since they were very young. He is fast and strong and extremely skilled with traditional weapons, and when Yuna gets into trouble, he (metaphorically speaking) ducks into a phone booth and changes his clothes, becoming super-ninja.

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And he has to do a lot of that, because Yuna is a real airhead and has a penchant for getting into trouble. In the first episode, she gets confused and uses the men's room at a bowling alley, and overhears some yakuza involved in selling bootleg anime figurines. (Serious, this ain't.) They capture her and take her back to their boss's office, who is about to molest her when Mamoru shows up and proceeds to kick ass.

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This is the fantasy of every dork who has a crush on a cute girl, I think. It sure was one of mine when I was a young dork. "What if I secretly was really cool?" Well, Mamoru is, but he can't let her know.

There isn't anything very deep about this series. The yakuza are played as clowns, for example, and Mamoru's skills are rather beyond anything remotely realistic, like the way he stood in the direct fire of a gatling gun and deflected every bullet fired at him using just his sword. Or the way he threw a kunai and dropped a model plane without Yuna noticing, even though she was standing right next to him. (Admittedly, it takes a baseball bat to get her attention. But no one else noticed, either.)

And it turns out that his parents are even more dorky than he is -- and even more skilled ninja. His mom protects Yuna's mom, and his dad protects Yuna's dad. Who is paying for all this isn't clear, let alone why they're doing it. We're not supposed to ask those kinds of questions, because it would interfere with the fantasy wish fulfillment.

The animation is rather simple, and pretty average. It's actually a bit lousy for 2005, when it was made. The voice acting is competent but no one really stands out as giving a spectacular performance. I don't think that's the fault of the seiyuu; they can only work with the material they've been given, and this isn't a breakout show.

There are hints of a harem forming, and we've got at least one girl already introduced who may be tsundere. I don't really think I'm interested enough to watch any more of it.

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May 23, 2011

Mystery Meat -- Akazukin Chacha

Today's Mystery Meat isAkazukin Chacha. It dates from 1994, and I don't have the slightest idea why I downloaded it. In fact, I'm not ever sure where I got it.

It's a magical girl show, and fundamentally a comedy. Our main character is Chacha, who looks to be maybe 7 years old. She's an orphan with a (tadadum) mysterious past who has been raised by Seravey, self-proclaimed (and apparently widely acknowledged) finest magician alive. Chacha has been trained by him in magic, but she's a screwup; every spell she casts goes awry.

For instance, she tries to turn a cloud of dandelion seeds into a cloud (雲 kumo), but instead gets spiders (蜘蛛 kumo).

Seravey is leery about sending her to magic school, but ultimately decides that she needs to go. But having an intuition that someone will be gunning for her, he gives her some powerful magic items to protect her: a medallion, a bracelet, and a ring. If she wears the medallion, and gives the bracelet and ring to two friends, then she can transform. I mean, that's in the rules, isn't it?

So this:

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becomes this:

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So who are the two friends? One is Riiya, childhood friend. He can transform himself into a tiny white wolf, or maybe it's a fox. Whatever it is, whenever he does it Chacha grabs him and goes "kawaii! kawaii!" The other is Shiine, who is a bit strange. He, too, can transform, but he becomes a chipmunk. Chacha goes "Eww! A rat! I hate rats!" and hits him with her shoe, much to his disappointment.

He's a student of Dorothy, a rival mage. There may be some romantic history between her and Serevay. Anyway, Dorothy is tremendously strange. She forces Shiine to wear something that might be a long robe, but it looks like a dress. Shiine has a love-at-first-sight reaction to Chacha, and since Riiya is long since smitten as well, we've got our comedic love triangle. Which isn't very serious, because these kids are all very young.

Those are the three main characters. The villain is someone called the Dark Lord ("Dai maou sama", and where have we heard that before?), whose face we aren't shown. He has one of his minions send a magic mirror to Dorothy, which fills her with resentment about Serevay, whom she kidnaps and imprisons in a bottle. Chacha determines to save him, but has trouble with her magic. Yet in the end she is able to (mis)use it in ways which resullt in a rescue especially after she gives the bracelet and ring to Riiya and Shiine and becomes that magic archer.

The whole thing is very light, yet it doesn't seem to descend to farce. And the long term story is about Chacha eventually going on a quest to find out where she really came from.

This seems to have been a classic of the form, and it also seems to be blazing trails. Remember Friagne's doll Marianne? Serevay has a doll named Elizabeth, but there isn't anything sinister about it. It's a ventriloquist dummy and Serevay operates it and does its speaking for it. Now why he does this is anybody's guess, but he doesn't seem to be crazy. When I saw Serevay holding Elizabeth and, seemingly, talking to her, I wondered whether Friagne's doll was a reference to this series.

This show ran 74 episodes, and I have no idea whether I'll want to watch it all. But the first episode was fun, frothy without being sickening. Chacha could have been intolerable but she isn't. A lot of things about this could have been awful, but weren't. I'm impressed.

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February 13, 2011

Mystery Meat -- Futakoi

Today's Mystery Meat is Futakoi, which can be loosely translated as "Twin Love". (It's 双恋. Koi implies passionate love, where ai implies tender love.)

Long ago, two twin women fell in love with the same man, and he with both of them. But he could not decide between them, and in the end didn't marry either. Ultimately this unresolved love lead all three to misery, and the women were turned into birds by a magic rock, and flew away into the night sky.

At the location where this happened, there is a shrine. The rock is still there, surrounded by a rope, and it is thought to be cursed. And in that town, there are many twin girls born, and the locals think it is because of that event long ago.

Our hero is Futami Nozomu. He and his parents lived in that town until he was in kindergarten, and then moved to Tokyo. A bit later, his mother died. His father is an astronomer, and he passed up several professional opportunities so he could stay in Tokyo and raise his son.

Now Nozomu is in 8th grade? 9th grade? or in high school? I'm not clear on that. And his father was offered a chance to work in Hawaii. Nozomu could have gone with him, but he decided he wanted to let his father really get the most out of this opportunity. So instead, it has been arranged for Nozomu to stay for two years with the family that runs that shrine, back in his original home town, and to attend middle school there so he can prepare for his high school entrance exams. (Or he already passed them and is in high school. Or something.)

When Nozomu was in kindergarten, twin girls lived next door to him and they were all friends. Their names are Kaoruko and Sumireiko, and one time they both told him they wanted to marry him when they all grew up. He linked little fingers with them.

So in the first episode he returns to the town by train, and follows the instructions he was given to walk to the shrine. On the way he has an unfortunate incident with another pair of twins named Kira and Yura. They're odd ones; their family is rich, rich, rich and they've lived their entire lives away from anything we'd consider normal. But it is their family's tradition that their kids have to live a year out in the world, to get grounded. That day was their first as part of this tradition, and their mission was to buy things at a convenience store.

Anyway, there's an innocent misunderstanding that gets cleared up, but only after he runs away after being threatened by the rich twins' combat butler. (He looks like the one in Princess Lover and the one in Keroro Gunsou. Lean, tall, gray haired, and with a prominent sagging moustache.)

So he finally arrives at the shrine, and it turns out that the lady he'll be staying with (who doesn't seem to have a husband, for whatever reason) has twin girls who are in grade school. Their names are Lulu and Lala.

The basic hook for this series is that Nozomu will have various dealings with fully six different pairs of twins of various ages:

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Top left is Kaoruko and Suireiko, childhood friends. Top middle is Kira and Yura, rich girls on a safari to experience normal life. Top right are Lulu and Lala, lolis.

Bottom right are teachers at the school. The one without the glasses is Momoi Ai, Nozomu's home room teacher. The other teacher and the other two pairs of twins didn't appear in the first episode.

Based on one episode, the series has something of a warm heart, and a tendency to eschew cheap laughts. Nozomu embarasses himself about three times in the first episode, but it's not the kind of mortification that makes me run fleeing. For instance, he did not innocently stumble and fall and end up with one or another girl's boobs in his face. (Or her crotch. Or him clutching her boob. Or her crotch.) His first encounter with the rich girls, one of them drops her wallet, he picks it up and tries to return it, but they've been told about creepy people and flee from him. Eventually the combat butler, misunderstanding everything, knocks Nozomu down. Nozomu hands the wallet to the store clerk and runs away. Then a little boy there with his mother, who saw all of this, explains what was going on -- and the twins and their combat butler are themselves embarassed.

So when, at the school the next day, Nozomu encounters the two, they apologize to him. He was just trying to do a good deed, and by that point they know it. And in as much as they have learned about the world by reading manga, they decide that the meeting with him is Destiny™. (Given the basic level of writing in this show, I'm not really sure they're wrong about that.)

One reason they're eschewing those uncomfortable kinds of jokes is that this doesn't seem to be a fan service show. The girls are cute, but no one has ridiculous boobs, and there hasn't been any jiggle, and pretty much no pandering at all -- besides the huge pander of "lots of girls and one guy" which is inherent in the story concept.

There is one odd thing, though. At the end of the first episode, we got a picture of the rock, with a sudden breeze blowing. At the Tropes site, there's a picture of Nozomu and the 12 and this caption: "If he screws this up, there will be a ton of birds flying around."

I can't say I'm all that intrigued by the show, though. I may jump ahead and watch the last episode, just to see how it comes out.

UPDATE: Wikipedia has full episode summaries, so I can save some time.

UPDATE: And... the answer is

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February 11, 2011

Mystery Meat -- Kagihime Monogatari -- Eikyuu Alice Rondo

It's based on a manga by the writer that did Steel Angel Kurumi...

It seems that the two Alice books weren't written by someone named Carroll, or Dodgson. They were written by someone named Takion, and he actually wrote three books. The third is magical, somehow, and the pages of it got scattered. There are people called "Alice Seekers", and each of them has a bit of it.

So they fight, and the winners collect pages from the losers. In the end There Can Be Only One, and whoever it is gets to have a wish granted.

Our hero is a guy named Aruto Kirihara. His younger sister is named Kiraha. Their parents are travelling. (Lessee, the trope count is up to about 8 now.) Aruto is a fan of the Alice books, and is writing his own Alice fanfic, using a quill pen he bought in an antique store.

He's really a major league otaku about this. In his bedroom there's a grandfather clock, but instead of a cuckoo, it presents a white rabbit. He's up at 2 AM, working on his book, when out of his window he sees a girl with rabbit ears flying, or at least doing a good imitation of it. He leaves the house and chases after her, and eventually ends up in the library of the academy he attends, which is open and well lit.

Inside he goes, and eventually finds that girl and another fighting in midair. The strawberry blonde beats the one with purple hair, and then does magic on her and summons a book out of her -- and takes one page from it.

Next day, at school, Aruto is in the library and that same girl (now wearing a school uniform) seeks him out and they start talking. She eventually identifies herself as Arisu Arisugawa, and she invites herself over to visit Aruto and read his story, or as much of it as he has written.

Aruto's sister Ariha is jealous. She seems to have a bit of a brocon. There's a girl named Kisa who seems to have a yuri crush on Ariha. Arisu does come to visit, and Ariha sticks to the two of them like glue to make sure nothing funny happens. (The trope count is up to maybe 12, and we're approaching the redline.)

It eventually turns out that Ariha herself is an Alice Seeker. She hates all things Alice, but she loves her brother and wants to make him happy. So she's been collecting pages for a long time.

...and so on.

I watched one ep, and I don't really think I'll watch any more of it.

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February 02, 2011

Mystery Meat -- Happy Seven

Today's Mystery Meat is "Happy Seven".

It's an action comedy about (mostly) girls, and I thought I'd give it a try. And after one episode, I like what I see.

Lots of frame grabs below the fold.

more...

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January 26, 2011

Mystery Meat -- Havoc in Heaven

Da nao tian gong means "havoc in heaven" or "uproar in heaven". It's an 80 minute animated feature (in the version I have) which was produced in Shanghai in the late 1950's and early 1960's. It was released in two halves, the first in 1961 and the second in 1964.

It's a very ambitious work, and the animation is smooth and the art is of very high quality. It seems as if the artists were trying to live up to the kind of standards Walt Disney had set with his 1940's feature-length cartoons, but of course using Chinese style art and characters and situations.

It's based on the early part of Journey to the West, and it may well be the earliest cartoon to tap into that mythos. It stars the Monkey King, Sun WuKong. His people live on the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers, and one day he watches them practicing their martial arts. He decides to put on a show for them, dancing with his sword.

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But the sword breaks, and he laments that there is no weapon there worthy of him. One of his advisors tells  him that he can journey to the castle of the dragon king, where there are many worthy weapons. So he does.

But none of them are good enough. Even the one that weighs 1600 kilograms is too light, too flimsy. Then they show him Ruyi Jingu Bang, a magical staff which can change size at the will of the wielder. When Sun WuKong first sees it, it is huge, and it had been left there by the gods to quell the oceans and make them calm. The Dragon King tells Sun WuKong he may have the staff if only he can pick it up, but the offer is not genuine. The Dragon King thinks he'll fail, become discouraged, and leave.

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Unfortunately for him, Sun WuKong does pick it up, and it responds to him by changing size as he wishes it to. He prepares to leave with it, and the Dragon king says wait, you can't take that. But you said I could, and so I will.

The Dragon King goes to the Jade Emperor, top of all the gods in heaven, and complains that Sun WuKong has stolen the staff. The Jade Emperor is ready to order an arrest for it, but one of his advisors, an old sycophant who apparently is Venus, instead suggests that they bring Sun WuKong into heaven and give him a low position there, so they can keep an eye on him.

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And that is what they do. Sun WuKong is made head of the stables. But he's a troublemaker, and the first thing he does is to release all the horses so they can run free. For that the horses love him, but it gets him into trouble with the power structure.

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The head of the imperial cavalry attacks him for it, and is defeated easily. Sun WuKong realizes he's been tricked, and goes back to the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers.

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But the Jade Emperor has not forgotten about him, or given up. Two gods are sent to capture him, but Sun WuKong defeats them both. And the story proceeds from there.

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It's an amazing film, and though I got really tired of the Beijing-Opera-style music, the animation is superb from beginning to end.

The Wikipedia article about the film is rather somber reading. The Shanghai animation scene had gotten going in earnest in the early 1950's, once things had settled down from WWII and the Chinese Civil War, and had gotten bigger, better, and more successful. This film was the last one made there, and it was a critical and commercial success, getting all kinds of awards.

Shortly after this film was released, the entire industry was shut down by the Cultural Revolution. It's one of the lesser crimes of that terrible event, but a crime nonetheless. The sheer mastery of the animation form in this film offers the promise of much that might have come after, but didn't... because it didn't fit within Mao's idea of how the nation should be.

Fortunately, they didn't outright destroy this film, or maybe copies of it survived overseas. Whichever it was, this masterpiece is available to us now, and I recommend it highly.

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