This is review number one hundred and fifty. It took me days to track down this movie but I wanted to try something from studio 4°C. They’re pretty unique in their style of animation that I wanted to try my hand at reviewing some of their pieces. The movie I’ll be reviewing is Mind Game. It’s a 2004 anime about that acid trip you had last summer. Yeah, that doesn’t make sense.
On the flip side, I’m close to two hundred reviews. I just need a little more push and maybe get to the big double zero before I enter my first year as TPAB. Anyways, this movie is unique and well, a bit weird for weird sake. Let’s read on.
The anime is about this guy named Nishi who has always liked this girl named Myon. They met on a rainy day after bumping into each other at the subway. Myon invited Nishi to a free meal at her family’s yakitori restaurant as thanks for helping her sprained ankle. It’s the typical mood for a bar with various musings until some Yakuza started harassing the place. One of them swung a gun around and eventually killed Nishi. Nishi was given a second chance though and with his new chance in life, he decided to live as if there is no tomorrow.
Taking the Pants Off
I’ve been dying to see this movie ever since a random dude had it on his list of favorite anime. Just from the movie poster, I knew the anime would be a challenge and I love challenges. Take a glance at the picture above. It has weird looking characters and very bright colors that really come off as a drugged up movie about to throw up. I think that’s accurate. This movie is like being on an acid trip where the walls are closing in and various montages are playing on your head. I wanted to try this movie though because it was directed by Maasaki Yuasa. He’s very fond of this freaky kind of anime that breaks the conventional rule of how an anime should be. I’m in love with his shows like Kaiba and The Tatami Galaxy because, story wise, they’re very deep. He knows how to make thought provoking pieces that doesn’t really hit you until you ponder hard upon. He has a high level of sophistication and imagination that you don’t see a lot in the industry. He loves making Frankenstein’s with different body parts but all possessing a heart of gold. I’m on a literary high for some reason. Bottomline is the guy who directed this anime is awesome but it’s still up in the air. Is this movie an awesome anime? I personally think it the idea to be good but somewhere down the line, the goal of being good vanished for some reason.
The first thing you’ll notice about the anime is the animation. I’m going to say “weird” but it’s more of the line of unorthodox. It’s not your typical anime style and the movie seems to enjoying attacking you visually. First impression of the movie is definitely bad because the art style is a massive headache and the story started out on a slow pace. It didn’t introduce the characters, never explained the setting or the situation and just commences with very little detail to work with. There was that weird montage at the opening of the movie though that contains various characters and different shots of people. It’s weird. A little patience is required because the first twenty minutes of the movie is really slow. Through various conversations, we soon get an idea of the situation.
There was definitely a slow buildup but the anime certainly had a pretty awesome idea behind it. Nishi was a guy who never really stood out. He let chances slip away and he had never done anything brave his entire life. Even getting the girl he had a crush on since he was young was impossible for Nishi. He was pathetic and a loser. Imagine his surprise though when a suddenly started getting angry at a Yakuza waving a gun around. He was certainly brave at that moment but he never lived to see his efforts come to fruition. He got a second chance and his attitude changed drastically. The premise really had potential to be good because there are some real life implications to it that really stands out. Despite the visual rape, the story is legit and it needed to be the thing that truly elevates the anime. The anime had a strong theme of “seizing the opportunity” and never spending the rest of your life wondering what could’ve happened. There is something very human about the story that hits each and every viewer. The movie is basically telling us that don’t wait for a Yakuza to shoot you dead to realize that opportunities are hard to come by.
The story took it’s time but I was eventually hyped to see the anime all the way through. I was hyped until the movie entered the second half. There was a very unexpected twist in the anime entering the second half. The first half ended with a bunch of Yakuza trying to kill Nishi but his second chance in life convinces him to just enjoying the ride while it last. For some odd reason, the story took a weird right turn entering the second half. As I said before, I didn’t see it coming and I love it. It opened new doors for the anime but the story slowly loses its steam going towards the ending. The story still had a decent build up and the movie actually focused on internal conflicts of the characters. There was a decent transformation the characters had in the second half that was pretty awesome. It still had a punch to deliver but it felt like a different story compared to the first half. It kind of dragged a bit and was soon slowly embraced by the visuals.
The first impression of the show is an acid attack. The story was the only thing preventing the movie to turning into one. The amount of weirdness in the movie is pretty hard to watch which needs to be properly balanced by a smart story. I thought Maasaki’s directorial touch can balance the movie out but it didn’t. The movie just couldn’t help but express itself instead of tell a proper story. It was soon drowning in metaphors and symbolisms. It soon turned into an acid attack. The movie spent a lot of time capturing the emotion of the characters through the visuals. It did a lot of things to really set the mood. When the characters are depressed, the darkness of the world is dominant. When the characters are bordering the line of insanity then…yeah, acid attack. When the characters embraced their new found freedom, the visuals became more artistic. There was even a passionate scene in the anime the movie just couldn’t help but throw paintballs at. I’ll admit that the visuals were very impressive at the later parts of the show. There was something raw about that I can’t seem to explain in a better way. It’s just pure raw experience relating to the ever passive journey humans as they walk the Earth.
I don’t need a visual experience though. I wanted a goddamn story. The visuals had enough time to attack my senses so the least the movie could do was to give us a proper story. The same clever story with a hint of dark humor the first half slowly built. I think the movie didn’t care for a good story as long as the visuals can shine through. It did very splendidly but there are more than visuals to create a solid movie experience. I can’t help but wonder how Satoshi could’ve worked with this movie. He was always playful with his movies but he balances it out with a really wonderful story. Sadly, Mind Game is more of an expression than an actual movie. It challenges the notion that a movie should rely heavily on its plot rather than the majestic unlimited potential of animation itself. It defies normal movie progression to express a deeper form of movie telling that cinematography and the clash of art styles can bring. It’s one of those movies that allow you to be submerged in the weird yet magical world of animation. The movie is more of a living breathing art. I appreciate that but still, the way it held back its story was pretty annoying.
The later parts of the anime were knee deep in symbolisms and metaphors that almost every scene stands for something else. I admire this part of the anime because there are very little details about the scenes. It basically depends on the audience on how to experience the movie. The way it embraces freedom and the way it lashes out at life is pretty well executed. The theme the movie used in the first part was delivered very strong handedly at the later parts and I can’t help but admire it. Its loose interpretation of the ending was also pretty damn nice.
The anime also uses dark comedy in a very well executed way. There were some very grim scenes in the anime that I really laughed at. For example, there was a yakuza about to be hit by a truck but he was suddenly transported back to his childhood where he was crying because his pet bird died. He suddenly saw the bird in his hands and happily saying that he came back. The bird then had a halo signifying that it’s death. Then the scene ends with the truck hitting the thug. It’s a very different kind of comedy that I really enjoyed about the movie. There aren’t a lot though but it’s the highlights of the movie for me.
This was an interesting movie but it could’ve been much better. I’m just complaining though because I’m a fan of a good story. The anime was expressing something more than a story can contain. I appreciate that but I still love plot over anything else. For me, the movie relied too much on its gimmicky nature because it just couldn’t properly execute its story. Decide for yourself though because, like I said, it’s more of an expression than an actual movie.
Sight and Sound
The visuals of the anime are certainly different. It’s weird and pretty insane at times. It’s hard to tell but the movie is actually a mix of hand drawn animation, pencil/ charcoal sketches, real photographs and CGI. This kind of animation is hard to do because there are so much complicated intricate details given to each scene that it really requires a lot of attention. The character design is very loose. The characters basically just wear recognizable clothes to set them apart then they often randomly change their facial features. The characters are more like western cartoons than conventional anime characters. There is no uniformity and there is no line that can’t be stretched beyond recognition. There are also real faces of humans when the movie does a close up shot of the characters. The camera angle is often skewered or distorted or disproportionally aligned that the shapes of the characters also changes. There is just a simple rough idea of the characters based on their height and body frame then the other features are often changed or mixed up. It’s very hard to follow at first but you will eventually get used to it.
The animation is really top notch. I kid you not, the frame rate of the anime is very high. The transition of the movements is very smooth and very precise. The way the characters move and the way the artistic appeal of the anime was brought out was really damn precise. Despite the lack of uniformity, the frame by frame quality of the anime is very high. One best example of this was during the sex scene of the anime where the characters transform into moving paintings but each frame was a different painting that depicts the characters moving along water. It’s pretty detailed and precise yet also artistic in a way that no other anime has ever try to do. Another favorite scene of mine is the God scene where the almighty being changed shape and form every second so the animation often feature him changing shape from one thing to another. The cinematography of the movie is also very well done. There are a lot of stylistic shots and the use of different camera angles really deepens the quality of the anime. It’s really well done and I admire how the director was able to fully grasp such high quality cinematic touches to the movie.
Majority of the background of the anime is simple sketches made by pencil or charcoal. You’ll also notice that majority of the straight lines in the anime aren’t straight. They look as if it was drawn without a ruler so it looks weird and the anime takes advantage of that. Most background scenes are also plain photographs with altered exposures or simple background with different shade of the just one color. There are some complex backgrounds though that are often normally hand painted and then there those done in CG. The anime takes it another level and often incorporates all of it in one scene. There is CG amidst the background that is incorporated pretty nicely. There are a lot of zoom shots and transitioning camera shots from the anime that really brings out the charm of the combined styles. I also love those point of view style shots. It’s really awesome.
The anime has a very wonderful soundtrack to it. They generally set the tone for the visuals to be experienced more on a deeper level. The soundtrack is very dynamic and there are a few insert songs that sound really nice. I particularly like the accompanying song of the closing montage. It sounds festive yet also very laidback.
The anime has no OP. Its ED song is “Saisho de Saigo no Koi” by Fayray. It’s played during the credits of the film. It’s a very lovely song and Fayray’s voice is really wonderful. It starts with a mellow acoustic beat that steadily builds. The chorus sounds really wonderful with an arrangement of colorful beat to it. The song is a very romantic yet reminiscent song that captures the deep soft theme of the anime.
7/10 “It’s hard to watch the movie for sure, but the experience it delivers is unlike any other.”
The visuals will be an eyesore at the beginning but the anime eventually brings out its distinct charm very nicely. The story isn’t important in this anime, even though it had the potential to create a grand one. Instead, it’s all about the experience and the profound meaning the movie will give us. I recommend it.