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Hi! It's babyeinstein12, a relatively new member of the anime world yet someone completely willing to write about it! Here are my takes.
La Corda d'Oro (Overall Rating: 5/10)
Tales from Earthsea (Overall Rating: 8.5/10)
La Corda d'Oro
So how often do we hear "shoujo" and "classical music" uttered in the same sentence? Both entities dwell in vastly different realms of substance, media, and mind, and after watching La Corda d’Oro, I am convinced that it should stay that way. For the average shoujo-loving viewer, this series will be nothing more than a delicious catalogue of hot guys (who, as a side note, all happen to play instruments, but that doesn’t really matter). For the classical music junkie, it will twist a dearly beloved genre of music into something more akin to bubblegum pop.
Kahoko Hino, a regular high school sophomore, stumbles upon a fairy, receives a magic violin that anyone can play, and promptly finds herself in the school’s prestigious music performance competition. Throughout the next twenty-five dragging episodes, she gets to know her handsome competitors even while she confronts jealousy and sabotage. She also struggles to cope both with her unfair advantage, and her lack of skill. Sound interesting? It’s really not. Hino meanders along in a romantically drugged haze, and the show quickly tires with its loose plot and lackluster characters.
For those who enjoyed the masterpiece that is Nodame Cantabile, I urge you take strong precaution with La Corda. Within this sissified, sugared depiction of a rich Old World tradition, one will be acquainted with more sparkles than musical notes, with more tantalizingly open collars than instruments, with more bishonen than genius composers, and with more squeal moments than enriching tapestries of an underappreciated art form. Well, perhaps the intent of La Corda has always been more about pleasing female viewers than educating them. But even the series’ shoujo elements, while carried off in an aesthetically pleasing manner, hold the dangerous risk of leaving even the least discerning fangirls unsatisfied.
Of course, virtually all slice-of-life shoujo anime treads that fine line where filler and plot happily blend together. This is no exception with La Corda. Actually, the show benefits from an overarching premise with its four-round music competition; the viewer is able to see how Hino grows as a musician throughout the months that the competition spans. However, instead of shaping the competition as an integral plot device, the anime takes a form more similar to a stock chart – moments of brief culmination at the competition rounds that give way to plotless lulls. The relationships that are formed remain hopelessly one-dimensional. The drama so integral to a shoujo is, in a word, nonexistent. The conclusion is slapdash, leaving absolutely no closure.
In short: this series falls short in its role both as a showcase of classical music and as a shoujo anime.
La Corda d’Oro makes fine use of color shading, which owes to its soft, pretty look. The backgrounds are not particularly detailed, but that does not mean they are simplistic. Actually, the pastel-like texture combines nicely with the still clearly definable lines.
Most of the energy, however, is spent on its plethora of close-up face shots, which, while unneeded, becomes an integral method for retaining viewers. Shiny lips and smooth skin run unbounded in this anime. In fact, everyone’s skin is so smooth that they all almost resemble porcelain dolls. In my opinion, this is the show’s greatest strength – the men are positive drool-mats, even if they are shallow and indecisive to a one. The prospect of impending eye candy is the thing that kept me watching, at least. Unfortunate, but true.
For an anime that is supposed to emphasize the “heart” of classical music, it hardly presents the best of what the genre has to offer. From countless Ave Marias to Chopin clichés, much of the featured pieces take the form of generic favorites, utilized more to elicit the “Hey, I know this!” than to actually freshen up an old form of music. What’s even sadder is that half of the time, they muddle up the titles. On the other hand, the music composed specifically for the anime boasts an inexplicable yet noticeable charm. I did not get tired of the background music; instead, I actually wanted to hear more.
The Japanese voice acting stands out not so much for how they were performed as for who were performing. Each seiyu speaks with a unique tone that supplies their respective characters with individuality. I especially loved the trumpet player, because Masakazu Morita voiced it. Contrarily, I found the cellist’s voice annoying, because it only slowed up the already sluggish pacing. Whether I love a voice or hate it, La Corda succeeds in this aspect because the variety of lilts all so greatly help define a character’s identity from the others.
As with any reverse harem anime, the male cast becomes vital to La Corda 's survival. Each typecast is faithfully administered, from the cold prodigy to the friendly jock to the heartwarming nice guy. They fling into the mix the ever-popular “angel of light” who happens to have a dark side, as well as the aloof cutie pie. It’s as if nothing could go wrong with this tried-and-true arsenal of bodacious boys.
And yet, things do go wrong. Instead of the guys coming into their own, they dig deeper and deeper into their preprogrammed personality modes. As a result, their bonds with Hino never grow. For example, the icy, talented Tsukimori continues sawing away at his violin, forever out of reach. The cheerful Hihara’s conversations never evolve past small talk. One could forget that the sleepy, supposedly endearing Shimizu even exchanged words with Hino on more than three or four occasions. At the end of the series, Hino’s friendships with each male do not seem to have expanded in any dimension.
This is not to mention the utter tedium that is the protagonist herself. Hino seems an affable girl in the first episode, yet as the anime continues, she judders into a completely static character, never progressing beyond the spouting off of pleasantries like “Oh, Hihara-kun!” or “I am going to try my best!” Then, to make things even more irritating, everyone begins to crush on her. Nothing connects.
Evidently, La Corda's superb animation and well-gauged voices somewhat recompense the poor storyline and even poorer characterization. The series as a whole teeters on a very precarious edge, and in my opinion, it all boils down to a matter of taste and a reason for deciding to watch it in the first place. Even then, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that La Corda d’Oro is firmly planted within the ranks of the utterly mediocre.
Tales from Earthsea
When Miyazaki Goro’s anticipated debut film hit the screens in 2006, much of the reception was lukewarm, and even a bit unflattering. Let me tell you this: Don’t take those criticisms seriously. The problem was that many of the reviews judged the then newest Ghibli film as just that – a Ghibli film. Young Miyazaki was unable to escape his father’s shadow (not unlike his film’s protagonist,) and his ambitious work ended up the undeserved target of many preconceived expectations. Tales from Earthsea is a far cry from the typical family-friendly flight of whimsy that characterizes most Studio Ghibli films, but while considered a studio “disappointment,” it remains a movie that can stand quite well on its own, thank you very much.
True, Tales from Earthsea is not a movie for kids. Nor is it a movie tailored for those simply “in for a nice time.” It is an unpretentious work with an unpretentious story, but a lot is said. Unlike Miyazaki Hayao, Goro’s narrative is driven more by mood and character than actual plot, though father and son align in their ability to convey something to their audience.
Prince Arren, a troubled teenager and runaway, finds himself unwittingly caught in an evil scheme that has been throwing the world of Earthsea out of sync. In the midst of such troubles, he gains friends, traverses the countryside, hides from slave traders, and delves into the meanings of life and death. It is by no means a swashbuckling adventure, but is instead a series of thoughtful portraits in which Arren comes to learn about himself and the way he views the circumstances around him. Miyazaki Goro clearly has something to say through this movie. I found this quite arresting, and it left me thinking long after the film had finished.
Compared to the charms of other Ghibli films, Earthsea promises a very different kind of magic. The fantasy surrounding the land of Earthsea is presented in a way not dissimilar to Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter: Its tone is much airier than those of the elder Miyazaki, the landscapes are distinctly un-Japanese, and all in all, there is just something sweeping about the whole thing. Perhaps not what every anime fan is looking for, but when coupled with its not-as-flashy story, it becomes a unique, and quite memorable, type of fantasy.
This isn’t to say that the story is without gaps and flaws. As a matter of fact, there exist a few moments where motives and actions do not connect adequately, leaving the overarching story less convincing than it could have been. Some plot occurrences are unneeded, while others are left unexplained. Nevertheless, its theme on the dynamics between life and death hits hard. The climax, while lacking a sense of urgency, is ethereal and grandiose, and then cascades into a quiet, satisfying conclusion.
One can easily detect the classic “Ghibli style” in Miyazaki Goro. Like its story, the animation and backgrounds are unpretentious, uncluttered works of art that serve their purposes well and add to the fresh, “open” feel of the film. What drew me in the most were its vast landscape designs. With such breezy, sun-tinted oceans, desert seas, broad mountain ranges, and windblown grass fields, I felt a strong desire to step through my computer screen and actually experience the sensations that the scenes so strongly elicited. The characters are drawn in an uncomplicated manner and yet exhibit a cleaner, more detailed polish than earlier Miyazaki counterparts.
Let me just say that the music is absolutely, unequivocally beautiful. Its exotic harmonies and sweeping symphonic elements truly bring the world of Earthsea to greater life. Some main themes were used rather repetitively, yet they were so exquisite and full of imagery that I hardly minded. I particularly liked the more folksong-like piece that makes a poetic appearance sometime in the second half, sung by Therru, the heroine.
The voice acting is well done. I was above all struck by the voice for Cob, whose low, musical murmurs captured his mystique and lent to an odd kind of hypnotism that was fascinating to hear. The others’ voices, while performed persuasively, were generally unremarkable in timbre. It was only Cob’s voice that stuck in my mind.
What the film might miss in plot it almost completely makes up for in the multifaceted characterization of its protagonist, Prince Arren. It is the boy’s realizations of life, death, and himself that largely constitute the story as a whole; throughout his journey fraught with guilt, doubt, and fear, he is able to strike a deeply familiar chord with many viewers. Seemingly crushed by the irrevocability of one day dying, Arren copes with the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life. His development throughout the film makes it easy for viewers struggling with similar problems to reflect and journey with him. The impact of such a dynamic evolution of character cannot be denied.
Many of the other characters initially appear to fit into one-dimensional frames. Some of them remain so, while others grow into themselves. Sparrowhawk remains the stereotypical wise wizard, Tenar the supportive and strong female adult ally. However, Therru transforms from a lonely girl into a vital part of Arren’s self-realizations, and the greedy, evil Cob is not without his share of vulnerabilities. The only disappointing character is the annoying, broad-faced slave trader lackey who repeatedly fails in his attempts to apprehend Arren. His presence is merely a bad aftertaste that pops up over and over again as a device to tend to the rather forced undercurrent of suspense throughout the first half.
In my opinion, the critics who have trashed this majestic film are merely failing to come to terms with their own presuppositions. Of course, no one can call this piece flawless. Yet I see in the film a young director’s immense potential, as well as a stunning individuality that went by duly unappreciated by those who merely desired to see an unoffending successor to the Ghibli tradition. The future looks dim for this underrated movie, and to be honest, this saddens me. I am not afraid to admit that I am completely taken with Tales from Earthsea: with its style, its aesthetics, and most especially its characterization. It has carried me upon wild wings of rhapsody. I know this sounds cheesy, but it really did.
Last edited by babyeinstein12; 07-10-2009 at 11:38 PM.