Monday, January 30, 2012

My Experience With The Nintendo 3DS' Circle Pad Pro

Yesterday I made a trip to the Nintendo World Store in New York City. I expected to get some street passes, see merchandise that’s available nowhere else, and see children running around having fun. Or rather adults who are children at heart. I did not expect to have a Circle Pad Pro put in my hands from behind the counter and then check it out with a Nintendo World employee’s 3DS. The best part? They just got the device in that morning and even they weren’t used to it yet. Cool!

As you can see, the Circle Pad Pro is just a bit larger than my hand and it’s not as ugly as originally predicted. It’s actually fairly light and only adds a bit of weight to the overall handling of the system. Although I will admit that it will make fitting the 3DS into your jean’s pocket more of a chore than before.

The design isn’t entirely sleek, but what Nintendo does go for is the theme of being comfortable. When holding the system with both hands, it really does fit well. It’s much better than just the 3DS alone, and it will make playing Mario Kart 7 a more enjoyful experience for your hands.

The Circle Pad Pro will be adding an additional circle pad that is identical in function to the one that is already in place on the left side of the system. For those of you who have used the 3DS’ existing circle pad, you will know that an additional analog stick on the right will be very beneficial. The add-on will also extend the left and right shoulder buttons, adding R1 and R2-like triggers to the right side and an R2-like trigger to the right. I tried seeing how reaching for the shoulder buttons would work, and it sort of doesn’t. This actually makes me question the device’s compatibility with Mario Kart 7, as the game was released before the Circle Pad Pro. It sure would be nice to have these new left and right triggers to drift with.

The Circle Pad Pro will be a GameStop exclusive which is interesting in its own right. The add-on is certainly more than just a piece of plastic, as it will enhance the experience with future games. But what if you decide not to purchase the Circle Pad Pro? Will future games give the option to use just one thumb stick? If a game is designed to use the two thumb sticks it would be beneficial with the add-on, so why not get it? I personally believe it will take some sort of a bundle with a great game that makes excellent use of the Circle Pad Pro to get me to invest in the attachment. Bundle the game with the add-on and Nintendo will sell a lot of Circle Pad Pro’s. Just a theory!

Oh wait, Resident Evil: Revelations is being bundled with the Circle Pad Pro and is releasing February 7th. My bad! Although the bundle price is $70 when the game and attachment bought separately total $60. Hmm...

-Jared Cyhowski

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Special Screening: The Secret World of Arrietty

This past weekend I attended a special prescreening event for Studio Ghibli’s The Secret World of Arrietty at Symphony Space in New York City. Due to the film being screened as a very special pre-theatrical release, all reviewers, writers, and bloggers were asked to refrain from writing reviews on the film. And so I will respect Symphony Space’s request and wait to post a full-fledged write-up until the film is fully released in February. For the time being, I would like to give a general summary of my experience at Symphony Space and the screening that helped to kick off the Children’s Film Festival in NYC.

The Secret World of Arrietty is a Studio Ghibli film that has been licensed by Disney for release in the United States, while GKIDS is distributing the film to theaters. The film is an adaptation of the novel “The Borrowers” and its target audience is young children to adults. It follows the young “borrower” Arrietty and her adventures in being a miniature human being. No really, she’s only a few inches tall! She befriends a human being named Sho, or Shawn in the English dub, and such an act is forbidden to such borrowers. This of course creates a friendship and a conflict within the film, but I will go into that more in a future write-up.

Seeing Arrietty in a large theater was a fantastic experience, and I can’t thank Symphony Space and GKIDS enough for allowing such a special screening. There were many children who attended the screening along with their parents, but it was evident that anime fans made their way to the screening as well. As announced before the beginning of the film, this was the official first screening of the English dub in the United States. And if I may add, the dub was overall pretty good. So don’t be afraid to check out the dubbed release in February as it is very entertaining.

Of particular interest and a fact I would like to point out is how when waiting for the film to start there were a number of images projected onto the screen in regards to the Children’s Film Festival that GKIDS helps to put on. Of particular interest were the titles Hoshi o Ou Kodomo (Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below) by Makoto Shinkai and Hiroyuki Okiura’s (of Jin-Roh: Wolf Brigade fame) A Letter to Momo. I believe this means they will be screened as a part of the New York Children’s Film Festival, and I can’t wait to see these films on the big screen.

Thank you again to Symphony Space and GKIDS for distributing The Secret World of Arrietty! Keep up the good work and bring more anime to NYC!

-Jared Cyhowski

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos

I must start by saying that I have never seen Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood beyond the first handful of episodes. I’ve heard from many people just how great the series is, but I’ve only seen the original Fullmetal Alchemist series and the movie that went with it. I enjoyed the original series to a great degree, so going into The Sacred Star of Milos without knowing much about Brotherhood was a little worrisome. But in the end I don’t think anything was really spoiled for me beyond a few select minor details. Cool beans!

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos takes place somewhere in between episodes of the Brotherhood series. Ed and Al are on an adventure, doing something and going somewhere when they get caught up with an alchemist fugitive who just escaped from prison. It’s no secret that this alchemist, who goes by the name of Ashley, can create alchemy out of thin air with just his hands. What is unique about him is that he can create and utilize different elements such as lightning and water, making him a powerful antagonist. Also, his name is Ashley for crying out loud, and his name got many laughs during the screening.

Although that doesn’t last long, as after he abducts, or rather saves, a character named Julia Crichton, we learn that he is actually her long lost brother. Ed and Al somehow get caught up in Ashley and Julia’s interesting past, and then they learn of what is happening with Julia’s current objectives. It turns out that Julia is part of an underground movement to help save her homeland from dying out, and that Milos is caught geographically between two warring nations. I wasn’t expecting The Sacred Star of Milos to have such a strong political background story, so that was surprising. I forgot how realistic the creators of Fullmetal Alchemist can be, and the political drama that unfolded was well done. War, power, alchemy, death… they all come into play.

But was the film any good? YES, it was excellent. The animation was done well, the story was pretty good, and the action scenes were very entertaining. I forgot how great a Fullmetal Alchemist fight can be. I need to mention that the animation quality at times was astounding, especially during a particular battle or high movement scene. It’s as if the animators were aware that they were dealing with animation, so they went ahead and gave it an extra umph of what looks to be hand drawn quality. It just really stood out. And also, Funimation’s English dub was fairly well done and I have no complaints about it. But I do still think it’s funny that Julia’s brother is named Ashley. No wonder his past is so screwed up.

I went and saw Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos at the Cinema Village movie theater at 22 East 12th Street in New York. With it being the opening night of the show, the movie most certainly sold out. The theater, which only holds 67 seats in the particular room I was in, was packed with anime fans. I know that sounds like a bad idea but it went well for an event catered to fans of Fullmetal Alchemist. The theater was quiet for a good chunk of the time and the side talking wasn’t that distracting. It was more like people were reacting to the film and yelling “Oooh!” and “Oh no!” while something awesome, or sad, was happening on screen. Although there was definitely more talking happening at this screening than at the screening of a normal film, but I would say it was all a part of the experience of viewing an anime film in the theater. And this is coming from someone who usually hates it if people talk during a movie.

Overall I am glad that Funimation and Eleven Arts were able to get Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos in North American theaters. It’s unfortunate the film will only be playing at select theaters in cities around the country, but if you’re interested check out the theater list here. Go see it if you can!

-Jared Cyhowski

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Laputa: Castle in the Sky

It had been a long while since the last time I saw Laputa, maybe six or seven years ago. It was probably around the time I wanted to see more Ghibli films after the encapsulation of Spirited Away. All I was able to find, though, were Kiki’s Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky at my local movie rental store. At that age I was able to enjoy Laputa with the mindset of a 14-year old. Now in 2012 I am 22 years old and I appreciate the film with so much more depth and meaning. I had forgotten the struggles of Pazu and Sheeta, and the mind-blowing quality of animation that is precedent in so many of the film’s scenes.

Castle in the Sky was released in 1986 and the film has aged well over time. The tale is a classic but I will recount it anyway. The mysterious Sheeta falls from the sky and is surrounded by a blue light, allowing her to float to the ground with a graceful essence. The power of her necklace protects her in times of need, but it’s also the main source of conflict throughout the film. Meanwhile, the energetic Pazu is there to catch her from the sky. He’s an orphan who prides himself on the fact that his father once saw the famed ancient city Laputa while flying in the sky.

There are two main organizations who are after Sheeta and her necklace. One of them is a crew of sky pirates led by the granny-like Captain Dola. The other is the military, headed by an investigator named Colonel Muska. Dola and Muska’s objectives differ significantly, or so it seems. Dola seems to want the necklace as it’s a valuable treasure to steal while Muska believes it will lead him to Laputa where he will gain access to great destructive power.

One great element that is featured in Laputa is its set up of characters and what Miyazaki does with them. He crafts them in such a way that you care for them and you want to support them in their struggles. The antagonists are molded into beings that we want to see defeated, and then Miyazaki has us question the morals of others. Captain Dola is an example of a woman who is revealed to be kind at heart even though she is first presented as a pure antagonist. Muska is pure evil and his facial expressions alone reveal his obsessions for power.

I have yet to see every Ghibli movie, but of the moderate selection I have seen there are not that many male protagonists. As Studio Ghibli’s first actual film, I wonder if they experienced difficulty with balancing between Pazu and Sheeta. Sheeta is a strong character but she relies on Pazu for portions of the film to help her get through situations. Pazu has his own flaws but comes through for Sheeta as he learns about himself and grows into a fine young man. Sometimes he is typical of a male antagonist, diving into the fray to save the princess. He is the determined hero who guides Sheeta to safety. But he’s also so young that he is learning that he himself may not be the bravest person, but that he can still make up for his faults. This is why he returns to Sheeta to be her knight in shining armor, except the armor is replaced with a miner’s clothing.

Another element that defines Laputa as a Ghibli film is the connection to nature and humankind. I’m not sure how well Disney’s dub tried to match the original Japanese language track, but clear references are made to respect the planet as it will protect you back. Miyazaki also shows a Laputa overrun with plant life as a result to some great calamity in the skies from years ago. This must mean that the flying islands of old warred with one another until Laputa was the only nation left standing. And the result? A once lively culture bereft of human beings where only defunct robots lie in a rusted sleep.

Our senses are teased with warm feelings as atmospheres of green habitat caress our eyes. But in a turn of grief the Laputa civilization is lost and Sheeta is alone in her lineage. So instead of just toying with our emotions, Miyazaki uses transitions in emotion to teach us valuable lessons in appreciating family and nature. And if you were to take a look at other Ghibli films you will see similar themes across the board.

More can be analyzed in Miyazaki’s Laputa, but it is these simple elements that come together to create a great film. The friendship that is formed between Sheeta and Pazu is unique in that they are both carefree (to certain extents) and that they have conveniently found one another at just the right time. Sheeta literally fell unconscious into Pazu’s arms for crying out loud! We can wrap Laputa’s themes and characters into a presentation of lessons and entertainment, but Ghibli never quite seems to just want to make a piece of throwaway fun. They want to walk with us as we grow, remaining a part of our lives throughout.

I believe this has happened with my experience with Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and I sincerely hope that you rewatch it every now and then to be reminded of a companion film in your life. It’s fun, entertaining, imaginary, and full of things to help you reflect on yourself. Ghibli may not be the only ones to do this, but they are certainly masters of it. So enjoy it while you can.

-Jared C.