Friday, 8 December 2017

Anime Review: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 (Uchū Senkan Yamato Ni-ichi-kyū-kyū / 宇宙戦艦ヤマト2199) ... and two potentially huge projects in the making

At the age of seven I was the proud owner of my first double sided pencil case, magnetic covers and all. On its cover graced a magnificent grey and red starship called the Yamato. Back then I had no idea that this cool looking space-faring battleship was from 'a seminal series in the history of anime, marking a turn towards more complex serious works'. Fast forward to 2017 and I found myself finally watching the anime albeit a modern remake of the original TV series. So with the year winding down and hobby-related projects at a lazy standstill, I present you with an anime review of ... Space Battleship Yamato 2199 (Uchū Senkan Yamato Ni-ichi-kyū-kyū / 宇宙戦艦ヤマト2199)

Space Battleship Yamato 2199 (Uchū Senkan Yamato Ni-ichi-kyū-kyū / 宇宙戦艦ヤマト2199)

What is this anime about? Genre-wise Space Battleship Yamato 2199 can be categorised as a military science fiction television series. It revolves around the trials and tribulations of a starship crew as they travel to Iscandar, a planet located in the Large Magellanic Cloud some 168,000 light years away. The year is 2199 and Earth is on the brink of extinction due to constant planetary bombardment by aliens called Gamilas. Having learned of Earth's plight, another alien race Iscandarans send technological help enabling Yamato to reach their homeworld and retrieve humankind's last hope. 

Our heroes' first glimpse of the starship Yamato is that of a grounded wreck
But a new dawn is arising for mankind's last hope against the Gamilas
Space Battleship Yamato carries the ship registry alphanumeric BBY-01

Apart from the Yamato which is obviously the main draw, a diverse and interesting cast of characters also populate the sci-fi anime series. Combination of the two gives credence to the old adage the whole is greater than the sum of the parts because together they elevate the show to a higher level. It transcends the staid recipe of archetypal characters (e.g. ship captain and main antagonist) and a commonly used sci-fi plot of aliens invading Earth. In addition to good vehicle/character design, the writing, music and animation also contribute towards an anime that is well worth watching.       

Captain Okita Juuzu is an archetypal ship captain not unlike the old man of the sea in Greek mythology ...
... and Lord Dessler an archetypal villain who is calm, cool, collected and of course merciless
Space Battleship Yamato's crew in their colour coded uniforms ala Star Trek

If I were to describe Space Battleship Yamato 2199 using comparisons with existing sci-fi universes then I would say these series most resembles Star Trek. On the surface, this is evident in the crew's color coded uniforms which correspond their respective areas of responsibility. For example pink is the medical division, orange (engineering), red (tactical), blue (science), grey (security), dark grey (fighter pilots), green (navigation), etc. Even operationally the Yamato tends to mimic Federation Starship Procedure like the formation of away teams. And of all the Star Trek series, this anime most resembles Voyager in spirit with its concept of a lone starship many light years away from Earth.

Mori Yuki (left) and Kodai Susumu (right) form the main romance arc in the 26-episode series
Any romance worth its salt needs additional conflict which Yamamoto Akira provides as Kodai's secret admirer

Character development is sufficiently deep to make viewers care for the main characters and most of the supporting cast. As such the crew are no mere extras playing second fiddle to an inanimate object that is the Yamato. If that had been the case, this series would've found it hard to retain viewer interest beyond the first few episodes. Space Battleship Yamato 2199 also treats war in a serious and realistic manner. Let me explain. A reoccurring theme in military autobiographies is the description of dying soldiers calling out for their mothers. This little known detail is depicted accurately in the anime.

Supporting casts Sanada Shiro (left) and Niimi Kaoru (right) were reasonably fleshed out via their own backstories 

On a lighter note, humour and fan service is alive and well in Space Battleship Yamato 2199. Head of the Medical Division Dr. Sado Sakezo and field medic Harada Makoto (see below) provide a fair bit of comic relief. But they aren't the sole characters around which humorous situations occur. This is spread out among the other characters too. As for fan service, the female crew (dubbed the Yamato Girls) fulfill this role gratuitously enough for it to be vividly recollected long after the show has ended. Personally though, I find fan service to be harmless so it wasn't an issue with me. 

Slapstick humour seems to be a staple of anime in general ...
... as is gratuitous fan service courtesy of the Yamato Girls
From left: Ace pilot Akira, ship counselor Kaoru, operations officer Yuki, field medic Makoto, and cadet Misaki Yuria

If you delight in fleet-level space battles (as well as fighter dogfights for that matter) then you are in for a treat with Space Battleship Yamato 2199. Animation in this sci-fi series is top notch with the first 10 episodes animated by AIC (Anime International Co.) and the subsequent ones by Xebec. I like the art style of the whole series. And although the 26 episodes has more than its fair share of CGI but it's adroitly done so as to blend in with the regular animation.

Yamato is involved in a lot of 'against-the-odds' space battles
So it's no surprise Yamato sustains incredible amounts of damage throughout her journey
Yet she can certainly hold her own and dish out devastating damage in return
Complementing the starship's considerable firepower are its fighters both in planetary atmosphere ... 
... and in space; seen above is the starship's iconic Cosmo Zero fighter

Meanwhile, well animated digital instrumentation panels on the Yamato imbue an appropriate sense of futuristic high-tech gadgetry. In other words, the world in which the characters inhabit most of the time i.e. the Yamato is a believable one. Tackiness is kept at bay completely, well almost anyway.

As the Ship Affairs Division Officer, Yuki is exposed to her fair share of digital instrumentation panels
Colour scheme of the digital instrumentation panels comprised soft pastel hues
Roman alpha-numerals and Japanese characters are the written language of choice aboard the starship Yamato 
Panels display symbols that actually make scientific sense and aren't just flashy, nonsensical show pieces

There is perhaps only one exception. To me the way that Kodai fires Yamato's most powerful weapon (the wave motion gun) was reminiscent of a 70's perception of high tech. What he does (see below) is pull out a pistol-like handle, calls out 'target scope, open', visually aligns the target and then ... pulls a trigger. I can understand if this is the director's idea of an ode to the original series in 1972, a creative throwback if you will. Otherwise, this animated sequence is an awkward wince-inducing moment.

To fire Yamato's wave motion gun, Kodai goes into a decidedly 1970's low tech mode
For a ship capable of interstellar travel, whipping out a pistol-like handle and pulling the trigger is ... well ... tacky

Yamato is an extremely versatile starship that can withstand many different mediums of travel be it space, planetary atmosphere, liquid or even a dimensional rift. For such a large starship, it is surprisingly agile too. And despite experiencing major battle damage throughout its journey, the Yamato seems to find the resources and manpower to repair itself to almost new. While a sense of incredulity may be starting to creep into my words, it is in no way a slight to the series. Some suspension of disbelieve is always needed in a sci-fi series. After all, not too long ago the universal translator was a fanciful thingamajig in Star Trek but we now have Google Translate App (while the app isn't perfect by any means, it's certainly a step in the right direction).  

Yamato flies/sails through all types of medium; here she's caught in a dimensional rift
She is also seen sailing comfortably on an alien planet's liquid medium
Of course, the Yamato is in her element when traversing the vacuum of space

Any good sci-fi show is sure to inspire a hobby modeller to recreate what he or she saw. It's no different with Space Battleship Yamato 2199 which I give a rating of 8.5/10. There are two model kits that I've my eye on and they are both from Bandai. One is the Space Battleship Yamato 2199 Cosmo Reverse Version at 1/1000 scale. It's basically how the starship looks like on her journey back to Earth. The other is the Space Battleship Yamato 2199 United Nations Cosmo Force BBY-01 at 1/500 scale. It's a bigger and more detailed plastic model kit and represents the starship early on its voyage to the planet Iscandar. I would love to get my hands on both kits in the future. 

Bandai's 1/1000 scale Space Battleship Yamato 2199 (Cosmo Reverse Version) plastic model kit
Bandai's 1/500 scale Space Battleship Yamato 2199 (United Nations Cosmo Force BBY-01) plastic model kit

[Spoiler Alert Begins] On this day over 180 years into the future, the Yamato returns home after a long and arduous journey. Well, it isn't that much of a spoiler as most viewers would've expected the Yamato to return. Essentially it's the journey to Iscandar and back to Earth that constitutes the great unknown and opportunities for good story telling. And in that the series succeeds. [Spoiler Alert Ends] In short, it's a must-watch for anime and/or military sci-fi fans.

Binge watching anime hasn't been a complete waste of time as it has allowed me to recharge my batteries. Hopefully this will translate into more finished projects soon. That's a promise. The next blog post will definitely maybe feature a finished miniature painting project. Pinky swear!

P.S. Please note that character names listed here are shown in the order of surname first followed by given name as is the norm for East/Southeast Asian naming conventions.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Anime Review: Your Lie In April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso / 四月は君の嘘)

Funny how things turn out sometimes. I wasn't planning to watch this anime let alone review it. It all began with a search for Japanese high school uniforms with a pastel colour scheme. Google Images turned up nothing so I decided to scour through my other source of inspiration for colour schemes i.e. anime art. It was then that I chanced upon Your Lie In April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso / 四月は君の嘘) which depicted Japanese high school uniforms in a pleasing pastel colour scheme. What I ended up doing was watch the entire series of this romantic-comedy/drama in two marathon sessions.  

Your Lie In April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso / 四月は君の嘘)

What is the anime about? Well, it's a story of love, of suffering, of growing up pains, of friendship, of letting go, of music and ultimately of life. Former child music prodigy Arima Kōsei lost his ability to hear the piano pieces he's playing when his mother died. Two years after that fateful day he stopped playing music, Kōsei meets Miyazono Kaori - the girl who would forever change his life and the lives of his two closest friends Tsubaki Sawabe and Ryōta Watari. In essence, it's a romantic coming-of-age tale that both warms the heart and tears it apart in equal measure.  

Arima Kōsei is the main protagnoist and pianist who can no longer hear the pieces he plays
Miyazono Kaori, a free-spirited girl whom Kōsei meets under the full-bloomed cheery blossoms  

If you've read other reviews about this drama you would've quickly surmised that viewers fall into two distinct categories. They either love it or hate it. So you know, I loved it. Criticisms often revolve around the show being overly melodramatic; filled with monologues; and populated with characters mature and insightful beyond their age. While the first two are fairly valid observations, I felt both the melodrama and monologues were implemented adroitly within the context of a romantic sob story. Meanwhile, maturity and insightfulness isn't necessarily the purview of the old. Death and suffering can have a profound effect on teenagers and make them see things in a different light.

From the start, pastel hues overwhelm your senses in a beautiful kaleidoscope of colours 
It's April and the cherry blossoms are in full bloom

There is some slapstick humour thrown in which at first glance seems out of place in scenes that are unbearably sad and/or melodramatic. And true enough some reviewers felt them to have dulled the emotional scene. To me though, these comedic moments are badly needed emotional release valves that help mitigated the melodrama and sadness permeating this romantic drama. It turns your tears of sorrow into tears of laughter, recharging your batteries to face the sorrowful onslaught ahead.  

Romance is at the core of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso but music is what binds the elements together
Tsubaki Sawabe, the girl next door whom Kōsei has known all his life
Four fourteen-year-old high school students on a journey that will change them forever

For me, what stands out the most is the pastel colour scheme used throughout Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. It was the perfect choice which helps lightens the mood of a story that deals with tragedy and suffering. It was also an important story telling tool used to portray how the teen characters viewed the world around them i.e. either in colour or in monotone. And most importantly, the pastel hues allowed me to find the perfect Japanese high school uniform colour scheme for my project.   

Kaori and Kōsei play music together for the first time ... 
... with her on the violin ...
... and him as a piano accompanist

One thing critics and fans alike can agree on is that the music accompanying this anime is simply beautiful. Classical music and original compositions intertwine wonderfully to form the fabric that embraces this show in a symphony of sound. Add this to the already wonderful colour palette and you have an aurally and visually breathtaking story. Two of my favourite pieces of music from Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso are the original piano arrangement Kimi wa Wasurerareru no by Masaru Yokoyama and the classical piano solo Ballade No 1 in G Minor, Op 23 by Chopin.

There is certainly something magical about school during the night
Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are ...

I'm a big old softy but I still rarely cry when viewing shows. This one, however, made me bawl like a baby. [Minor spoiler alert] Although I kinda guessed how the story would end, I was still thrown for a loop when the lie was revealed. It caught me off guard. Not many shows can do that nowadays especially with viewers jaded with age. Just when you thought the show couldn't possibly be more heart-wrenching than it already is ... wham, the lie hits you, and hits you hard. [Minor spoiler ends] Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso has been one of the best anime I've seen in years. But it's not for everyone, especially if you aren't a fan of slow-paced romantic dramas. For me, it gets 9/10. 

When the lie is revealed, prepare to bawl your eyes out
Did I reach you?

And what, you might belatedly wonder, was the pastel hued Japanese high school uniforms research for? Well, there are some 1/12 scale resin miniature figurines of Japanese Kawaii High School Girls I've been eyeing for a long time now. They are expensive, really expensive. But I'm thinking to take the plunge and get a few of the figurines to paint. Here's hoping I didn't get ahead of myself by doing the research before even obtaining the pieces to paint. Being garage/resin kits produced in limited quantities they tend to run out of stock fairly fast. Now that would make me bawl like a baby too!  

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Thursday, 16 November 2017

Star Wars AT-ST - Bandai 1/48 Scale Model Kit [Unboxing and Pre-Assembly Review]

Dubbed the chicken walker, the Imperial AT-ST (All Terrain Scout Transport) Walker is my third favourite Star Wars vehicle after the AT-AT (All Terrain Armoured Transport) Walker and TIE Fighter. So I guess my list is top-heavy with either Galactic Empire Imperial Navy Fleet Starships or Imperial Army Mechanized Vehicles. So much so that only two Rebel Alliance vehicles i.e. the CR90 Corvette (Tantive IV) and Millennium Falcon stand any chance of joining this Empire-heavy list. But I digress. My mind is wandering off-topic as usual. So here's the unboxing and pre-assembly review of the Bandai Star Wars 1/48 scale Imperial AT-ST plastic model kit.   

Bandai Star Wars 1/48 scale AT-ST (Imperial All Terrain Scout Transport Walker)
Side boxart of the Bandai Star Wars AT-ST scale model kit

Being in the same scale as my recently completed Snowspeeder, the AT-ST would make for an interesting vignette when paired with the modified Incom T-47 Airspeeder, especially in a Battle of Hoth scene. For now though, I plan to paint the AT-ST on its own and not as part of a vignette. As such at this point in time I'm still unsure myself if the AT-ST will be painted with winter weathering ala Hoth or with mud/dirt weathering ala Endor. Either one will be fine with me.

Sprues of the Bandai plastic model kit comes in the usual individually sealed wrappings

Simple, straightforward instructions are a prelude of what's to come for hobbyists new to Bandai's line of Star Wars plastic model kits. Snap-fit parts require almost no gluing (although some here and there would go a long way in making the overall structure stronger). Individually or in-pairs, the sprues are heat-sealed in clear plastic wrappings which is what you would expect from a standard model kit. A good look at the parts indicate highly detailed castings from Bandai's injection moulding process. Long story short, the materials needed to recreate a movie accurate AT-ST is all in the box.

AT-ST booklet was a combination of colour depicting a finished painted model and ...
... black and white diagrammatic pictures for the assembly instructions

Not everything is rosy though. Of all the Bandai Star Wars plastic model kits I've worked on so far, this one has the most awful looking figurines. Both Chewbacca and the AT-ST pilots look stiffly posed. From what I hear through the grapevine the award for worst figurine (if you could even call it that) belongs to Bandai's A-Wing kit. But that's a story for another day. And to be fair, the AT-ST figurines are still well detailed. So I can still get an okay-ish result from painting them. After all, a miniature painter is only as good as the underlying base sculpture ... most of the time. 

Sprue A: Chewbacca, Endor base, gyro, connective/leg parts, etc. 
Sprue B: Front hull, connective/leg parts, miscellaneous armour plating, etc.
Sprue C1: Main hull, interior, etc.

Based on the inclusion of the Chewbacca figurine and damage decals, I assume this AT-ST model kit is intended as the version found in the Battle of Endor. But that apart, the AT-ST can easily be build and painted to fit in a Battle of Hoth diorama/vignette. As I alluded to earlier, I'm still undecided as to which version I will be doing in this first attempt at the Bandai AT-ST kit. 

Sprue C2: Main hull, interior, power system, etc.
Sprue D1 and D2: Pilot figruines, foot joints/pads, connective/leg parts, etc.
Bandai water slide decals (left) and stickers (right) for the AT-ST; a fairly limited selection

Key to making the dull grey's of this AT-ST come to live is weathering. And therein lies the biggest challenge of this model kit. Most of my weathering paints and washes are enamel-based. Unfortunately, Bandai plastic is susceptible to cracking when exposed to thinners and white spirit, both of which are used extensively in enamel-based weathering techniques. However the time has come to take on this challenge. No more pussy footing around. Carpe diem and all that stercus. It has been a slow week for me hobby-wise. Hope yours was better. Until next week, stay happy and safe.

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