Studio Ghibli Blu-Rays: Porco Rosso, Arrietty on November 21

Porco Rosso and The Secret World of Arrietty are the newest titles to be reissued this Tuesday, November 21 on Blu-Ray, courtesy of GKIDS. They join the catalog migration to their new home at the US animation distributor.

Compared to previous Studio Ghibli reissues, there does not appear to be any notable changes from the previous Disney-released titles. Both movies feature new cover designs which are a genuine improvement, although I did like Disney's Arrietty poster. There were hopes that GKIDS would succeed in securing the UK soundtrack dub for Arrietty, but they were unsuccessful.

In any case, every Ghibli collector will want to have these movies in their movie library. Both are excellent films that your family will love. I know that I will be picking up a couple copies of Porco Rosso for early Christmas presents. And Arrietty was the most successful of all the Studio Ghibli movies in US theaters; this movie has a very devoted fan following.

Artist Spotlight: Totoro and Friends

Artist Spotlight: Totoro and Friends

You can never have enough Totoro fan art, it seems. I'm always amazed at the level of creativity and inspiration this humble little movie has spawned. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and remember that My Neighbor Totoro was an extremely obscure movie in the West as recently as a decade ago. Yes, it had a measure of success on home video (read: VHS), but the wider public never really discovered Miyazaki. Today, there is a thriving and growing fan community.

I really like this painting, which incorporates several Hayao Miyazaki characters into a Classical Japanese watercolor art style. We even see a cameo by the director himself in the background. Totoro shares the spotlight with No-Face, the Soot Sprites, a Kodama and Catbus, who appears as a kite. The composition is nicely balanced, which is a challenge when there's so many characters in view.

The artist who created this piece did an excellent job. Unfortunately, I was not able to discover the artist's name, so if you know who is responsible for this painting, please pass it along so that we can give proper credit.


My New Books Are Now Available For Pre-Order

Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes

Pop Life

Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews

Good news, everybody! I am happy to report that my new books are now available for pre-order on Amazon. Launch Day is this coming Tuesday, November 21. All three titles will be available in ebook and paperback. Simply click on the cover images to go directly to the Amazon pages, where you can pre-order the titles for your Kindle apps and ebook readers.

For "launch week," all three ebooks will be available for only 99 cents. This is a sale that will last from now until November 26, after which they will return to their normal prices.

The paperback editions will be available on November 21 for $19.99. Each book is 6" x 9" and ranges from 350-450 pages. These are big books.

Enjoy the new books, and happy pre-ordering!

Ghibli Fan Posters: Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Porco Rosso

Ghibli Fan Posters: Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Porco Rosso

Here are a pair of excellent fan-designed movie posters for two of my favorite Hayao Miyazaki movies, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind and Porco Rosso. I really enjoy these designs, which incorporate an indie comic book style. Nausicaa evokes the surreal images of the Ohmu shell, with the title character seated near the eye and the toxic fungus. Porco Rosso evokes the myth and mystery of its central character, a legendary pilot who has renounced his humanity.

Poster designs like these always remind me of the way movie posters were made long, long ago. It was an established art form all its own, as movie collectors and fans will tell you. Once the conglomerates took over the major Hollywood studios, however, everything became subsumed by marketing hacks. Everything just became another crummy commercial. The age of Photoshop has been especially cruel. Movies can still be magical. Most of the time, however, they're nothing more than plastic, a disposable product designed for immediate consumption, discarded three days after opening. Meh.

I want classic movie posters again. Don't you? Of course, you do.


Mi Vecino Miyazaki Book Reaches 5th Edition

Mi Vecino Miyazaki Book Reaches 5th Edition

Mi Vecino Miyazaki Book Reaches 5th Edition

Mi Vecino Miyazaki Book Reaches 5th Edition

Mi Vecino Miyazaki, the excellent Spanish book dedicated to the films of Studio Ghibli, has now reached its fifth edition. This latest edition has been updated to include all the Ghibli movies released to this date, including The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There, The Red Turtle and Studio Ponoc.

In addition, the cover has been redesigned, keeping much closer to the follow-up book, Antes De Mi Vecino Miyazaki, as well as other animation books published by Diablo. I really like this design, it's very colorful and showcases all these wonderful movies in bold color and detail. The layouts have likewise been given a makeover, remaining as bold and inviting as ever, with generous use of screenshots and production artwork.

One unfortunate change, unfortunately, has been made to this book. In order to squeeze in the new chapters and updated content, authors Alvaro Lopez Martin and Marta Garcia Villar have removed the collaborators' contributions. These included short snippets from selected writers, including me. I sent them micro-reviews on several Studio Ghibli movies, and they published the piece on My Neighbors the Yamadas. That piece, and all the others, will no longer be available in the newest edition.

Combine these changes and additions to the new cover design, and it looks like the previous editions of Mi Vecino Miyazaki will become collectors' items. I hope you've already bought your copy so that you can show off to your friends in a few years.

If you haven't yet purchased this book, the latest edition of Mi Vecino Miyazaki is a must-have for all Studio Ghibli and animation fans. Highly, highly recommended.


Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus on VHS

Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus on VHS

Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus on VHS

Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus on VHS

This is a nice find from one of my recent Ebay searches: a Japanese VHS release of Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus, the second of two Panda short films created by Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe. I'm surprised to see that both cartoons are not included on this tape, but such things were common back in the day. All the better to get more money from the parents.

Of the two Panda cartoons, I like this one more. They're both great fun, of course, but Rainy-Day Circus has a wide and colorful cast of characters, a bouncy tiger, a runaway train, and a massive flood. You can't beat that.

Panda Kopanda always seems to fall through the cracks: too short to be considered a "movie," not enough episodes to be considered "television." Not many Miyazaki and Takahata fans are even aware that it exists. But that's a challenge that time will solve, as it has solved that same problem for the Studio Ghibli catalog.

Remember that Panda Kopanda is available on DVD from Discotek. It's a solid release and belongs in your movie library.


DT Media: Check Out Our New Website

DT Media: Always worth a browse - indie publisher of print and digital media.

DT Media: Always worth a browse - indie publisher of print and digital media.

At long last, the DT Media website is now live! Please bookmark and visit.

DT Media is the name of my indie publishing label that specializes in the creative arts, including art, photography, books and zines. Our website features a pop culture blog, an Instagram gallery, and an ever-growing library of published books and zines.

This month, we will release three new books: Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews, Pop Life and Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes. Please click these links to visit each title's page, which features cover art, book description, and selected chapters for browsing. These pages will continue to evolve in the coming days and weeks, as we will include review clips from readers and critics.

I've spent the last 18 months writing, editing and assembling these books. The covers are fantastic, the content is fantastic. Once the Amazon pages are up, I will write a formal post announcing all the details. Expect that to happen this week (cough, Thanksgiving).

As I've stated, DT Media also features a blog which will be filled with regular content. For now, I am publishing reviews and articles that also appear in the books, such as the Ponyo review as seen in the screenshot above. There will also be new content, so please check for regular updates.

Ghibli Blog will continue as always. As you can see, I've been working overtime since September to provide essential content for this site that you cannot find anywhere else: news, reviews, essays, fan art, and more.

As always, if you want to follow the latest news and developments at DT Media and Ghibli Blog, please subscribe to our newsletter. When you join, you will also receive a free zine that is totally awesome and will make you the most popular kid on your block.

Much thanks, as always, and thanks for your support.

Movie Review: The World of Hans Christian Andersen (1968)

Movie Review: The World of Hans Christian Andersen

The World of Hans Christian Andersen is the American title to the 1968 Toei Doga animated feature Andersen Monogatari ("The Story of Andersen"). It was released in the US in 1971 by United Artists, in partnership with the legendary Hal Roach Studios, who handled the English-language dub.

The movie tells the tale of a young Hans Christian Andersen, who meets a magical storyteller who arrives to Earth from Heaven in order to guide the boy and inspire his talents as a storyteller. As young Hans observes the lives of the villagers around him, we see the trappings of the fairy tales that would make him famous. There are cartoon mice, cats and dogs, as well as about a hundred song-and-dance numbers.

Personally, I am not a great fan of this movie. Of all the Hiroshi Okawa-era Toei Doga movies (1958-1972), The World of Hans Christian Andersen feels the most formulaic, the most cliched, the most, shall we say, Disney-esque. In every way, it is a stereotypical "family cartoon" with sing-along songs, simple characters, contrived plot points, and an overall atmosphere of suffocating niceness. The swelling strings of the orchestra are pure cheese. This is a movie very specifically made for very small children who would be easily distracted and amused.

What made the classic Toei movies so compelling is how they learned the lessons of Walt Disney without copying his movies. Instead, they learned to adapt their own folk tales and legends, learned how to incorporate a purely Asian flavor to their animated features. In time, the animators learned new ways of expression, and new paradigms emerged which eventually became "anime." This movie, however, represents a massive thrust backwards. It is nowhere near the level of Hakujaden, Saiyuki, or Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon, Toei's best animated features up to that point.

Here's why I believe that happened. This movie was released in March of 1968, ahead of another Toei feature that was supposed to be completed and released earlier. It's name: The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun, the revolutionary anime masterpiece directed by Isao Takahata and helmed by Hayao Miyazaki, Yasuo Otsuka, Yoichi Kotabe, Reiko Okuyama and Yasuji Mori. The battle to create Horus lasted the better part of three years, ran massively over-budget and severely damaged relations with the production staff and its labor union (of which Takahata, Miyazaki and Otsuka served leading roles).

To the studio bosses of the day, Horus was an albatross, a dark, brooding, violent mess that would almost certainly give children heart attacks. It might even scare them away from Toei forever, into the waiting arms of rival animation studios that were flooding television screens. Something needed to be done to keep that traditional audience in place, and to prevent them from fleeing.

I believe this is the reason why Andersen Monogatari was made. It is the safest and most "child-friendly" movie the studio had ever made. It was a purely defensive move against a feared backlash, to say nothing about recovering all that money that was being spent on Horus (which ended up being the studio's biggest box-office flop, but that was at least partly due to studio sabotage as anything).

Hans Christian Andersen is not a bad movie. It's just very uninspired and very, very "safe." It could have been assembled by committee, and very likely was. To be fair, all the studio's best talent was locked up with Horus, leaving very few skilled animators or artists available for anything else (Jack and the Witch, Toei's 1967 feature, suffered from the same problem). The animation is lacking any real spark or inventiveness, never straying from the instruction manual, it seems. The story lacks inspiration in its characters or setting.

In the movie's defense, I do enjoy the "Little Match Girl" story thread the weaves in and out and supplies the climax. Here, the movie seems to have found a proper balance, striking an emotional cue that is fitting to Andersen's stories. The movie ends on a strong note. It probably doesn't matter that before the year was out, Horus, Prince of the Sun would completely demolish it to rubble. The World of Hans Christian Andersen is like that act on The Ed Sullivan Show that came on stage just before The Beatles. Does anyone remember that guy? No, of course not. Which is precisely the point.

P.S. The World of Hans Christian Andersen was recently uploaded to YouTube, in the original Japanese, where one person noted that the movie's final 25 minutes syncs up perfectly with David Bowie's Low album. That gave me a chuckle. These are the sort of things that make me question if we're really living in The Matrix.

Artist Spotlight: Studio Ghibli Movie Posters

Studio Ghibli movie posters are a popular front for indie artists and designers to show off their skills, and we've seen many inspired designs that give the official studio posters a run for their money. I really enjoy this series, which features abstract takes on Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Kiki's Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke and Howl's Moving Castle.

I really like the minimalist, zen approach to these posters. The only text is the title, in Japanese, accompanying a single silhouette with additional details inside. This style appeals most to the fans who are already familiar with these movies. This is a luxury that movie studios cannot afford, as the rules of advertising dominate over art design. Overall, great job, and as always, I would like to see this series expanded to include more Ghibli movies, and even the pre-Ghibli works as well.

I could not find the name of the artist who created these pieces. If you can find the designer, please pass it along so that we can give them the proper credit.

Ghibli Recipes: Fish Casserole (Kiki's Delivery Service)

Ghibli Recipes: Fish Casserole (Kiki's Delivery Service)

Here is a novel addition to every Studio Ghibli collection: a fish casserole as seen in Kiki's Delivery Service. You'll have to click the image to view in full size so that you can read the recipe.

In Minnesota, dishes like this are extremely common. You can mix up any combination of pasta with meats, fish, vegetables and cheese. Macaroni & Cheese is always a popular choice, as is Meat & Potatoes. Feel free to experiment to your heart's content. Personally, I would just get rid of those olives on the top. Happy cooking!


Studio Ghibli Mii Characters

Studio Ghibli Mii Characters

Studio Ghibli Mii Characters

Studio Ghibli Mii Characters

Studio Ghibli Mii Characters

Nintendo created Mii Characters are player avatars for their home video game systems. They first appeared on the Wii in 2006 and continue to this day. Players can mix and match "Miis" and trade them with family and friends, and there options for creating characters is virtually limitless.

The Mii Characters fan website has been around almost since the very beginning, and they continue to post their creations and allow visitors to rate them (Nintendo once had an excellent Wii Channel called "Check Mii Out" that is, sadly, no longer available). And wouldn't you know it, there are some Studio Ghibli characters to check out.

At the present time, there aren't very many Ghibli Miis out there. I've had No-Face in my collection for years, which was fairly common. Hayao Miyazaki is new, as is Porco Rosso and Totoro, which is especially inspired. Great jaerb!

I really do wish I could download these to my Wii system, but as I've said, Check Mii Out was closed down by Nintendo, who have a notorious habit of killing successful ideas while endlessly repackaging and reselling the less successful ones (Pikmin, 3D Mario versus 2D Mario). I really don't understand their logic sometimes.

Oh, well. Enjoy these Ghibli Miis, and good luck recreating them for your Nintendo consoles.


Photos: Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus (1973)

Photos: Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus (1973)

Photos: Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus (1973)

Photos: Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus (1973)

Photos: Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus (1973)

Here are some nice DVD screenshots from the 1973 short film, Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus. This is the second of the two Panda cartoons made by Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki, Yoichi Kotabe and much of the old Toei Doga crew. It's also the better one, more interesting and funny and visually diverse. This roughly-half-hour cartoon is packed with scenarios and funny situations.

I really do wish more of these little movies had been made, at least one or two more. However, time moves quickly, and only a year later, Takahata, Miyazaki and Kotabe unleashed Heidi, Girl of the Alps to blockbuster success, leading the anime revolution of the 1970s. They would unleash an unparalleled string of animated classics over the next four decades, barely catching their breath.

Panda Kopanda is a children's cartoon, and there are no pretensions otherwise. There are no complex deeper themes or preachy moral lessons, no cynical attempts to sell toys or merchandise. Thank Heavens for that. These movies are criminally underrated (a new English-language dub would help a lot), but at least they're available on DVD, courtesy of Discotek.

Little touches that I enjoy: the sight of a rural town massively flooded, a precursor to Miyazaki's own Ponyo; the shot of Baby Panda being chased by a sea of hands, again a precursor to the flashback scene in Nausicaa; a bumbling burglar voiced by Yasuo Yamada (Lupin); a runaway circus train, packed with animals, crashing through a town and stopping at the mayor's front gate. Everything is cheerful, everyone is having fun. What more can you ask for?

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