369. Review Roundup: Fairy Tale Edition

Once upon a time, in the faraway land of Indiana, Adam the blogger enjoyed a number of whimsical stories and contemporary fairy tales. Here are his impressions of three animated films, a video game, and an anime: Inside OutBraveBrother Bear, Ni No Kuni, and Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun.

These are the stories of a plucky princess, an Inuit tribesman, a brave little boy, a Japanese manga artist, and the personifications of a girl’s emotions. Do they live happily ever after?

Let’s find out.

Inside Out

Inside Out

Inside Out brought me closer to weeping openly in a movie theater than any other film has done. (Fortunately, I have a heart of stone, sparing myself and my younger brother the embarrassment of annoying our fellow theatergoers.) This is a brilliant movie, and I have literally nothing bad to say about it.

Pixar’s Inside Out pictures the human mind as a control room operated by five engineers, each representing an emotion: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. In the mind of Riley, a girl from Minnesota, her emotions struggle to keep her happy as she moves with her parents to California. When an accident sends Joy and Sadness to the farthest reaches of Riley’s mind, these unlikely partners must make it back to the control center before Riley breaks down.

This film boasts the usual Pixar polish, with top-notch animation, writing, and performances. Beyond that, Inside Out is the first Pixar movie in years to feature a truly original concept. (Of the past four Pixar films, two were sequels, one was a prequel, and one had the style of a traditional fairy tale—more on that last one in just a bit.) The movie’s concept of the mind is creative, clever, and—importantly—consistent. The way the mind works in Inside Out isn’t hard to understand, and the film does a fine job of sticking to it.

As I hinted above, this is a film with emotional punch. Pixar has a gift for depicting emotion with heartfelt sincerity and simplicity: Carl’s irritable despondency in Up, the toys’ sense of loss in Toy Story 3, Mike’s resignation to his limitations in Monsters UniversityInside Out is quite literally a film about emotions, so you can bet it hits the viewer—at any rate, this viewer—with feels.

This is pretty much how I felt at the end of the film.

This is pretty much how I felt at the end of the film.

Inside Out is a fantastic film. Somewhere deep inside my mind, my sense of Joy is fiddling with whatever knobs and buttons affect my actions, willing me to recommend this film. Watch it. Your own sense of Joy will thank you.

Brave

Brave

Here’s another Pixar classic, this time telling the age-old story of a princess who falls in love with a prince and—what’s that? She doesn’t fall in love with a prince? Well, that’s different.

Brave is an original fairy tale. Set in Scotland, it tells the tale of a princess named Merida, who decides she doesn’t want to let her parents marry her off to any of the local chieftains’ sons. Merida tries to change her fate… and accidentally transforms her mother into a bear. Mother and daughter must shelve their pride, settle their differences, and somehow make things right.

The film’s independent, self-reliant heroine is a refreshing change of pace from the mild princesses of other fairy-tale movies, and I appreciate the way the Merida and her mother learn to understand, respect, and trust each other. Merida’s family is a colorful bunch. Even the chieftains and their sons, who could easily have been throwaway characters, have some personality.

As a Pixar movie, Brave doesn’t feel particularly, well, brave. It’s a fairy tale. Even with its feminist undertones and emphasis on family relationships, it treads a lot of familiar ground. It’s a fine film nevertheless, and I appreciate it as a deeper alternative to the princess-flavored romances Disney loves so much.

By the way, does the Scottish setting of Brave give anyone else flashbacks to How to Train Your Dragon? No? I guess it’s just me, then.

Brother Bear

Brother Bear

Here’s another animated movie about people turning into bears. Why do people keep turning into bears? I just can’t bear it. (I’m so, so sorry.)

Brother Bear is a Disney animated film from the early two thousands: that nebulous stretch of Disney history whose movies nobody remembers. In the film, an Inuit tribesman named Kenai seeks revenge on a bear that killed a loved one, and is turned into a bear for his trouble. He must go on a quest, and learn the power of love, and—y’know, forget it. If you’ve ever seen a Disney film, you know where this is going.

This is not a bad movie. The Canadian wilderness is a great setting, and Inuit culture is largely unexplored in pop fiction. The acting, animation, and story were all perfectly adequate. I just couldn’t help feeling that this film didn’t really need to be made. Brother Bear is an uninspired blend of other Disney movies. Its plot borrows heavily from The Emperor’s New Groove: a man turned into an animal finds a buddy and goes on a trip to regain his (literal and figurative) humanity. The film’s music channels the soundtrack of Tarzan, down to a song from Phil Collins. It’s all been done before.

Brother Bear does have its moments. A couple of moose with heavy Canadian accents wander in and out of the movie, providing comic relief and stealing every scene in which they appear. The movie lacks a traditional villain, which is a refreshing change from Disney’s usual black-and-white morality.

In the end, however, Brother Bear is nothing special. I recommend The Emperor’s New Groove instead: pretty much the same story, but much funnier.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Ni No Kuni cover

Flipping heck, this game is amazing. I’ve already discussed the excellence of Ni No Kuni, so I’ll try not to ramble!

Ni No Kuni is a beautiful fairy tale. (It also happens to be a JRPG for the PlayStation 3.) It tells the story of Oliver, a little boy who sets out on a quest to save his mum. Accompanied by Drippy, the “Lord High Lord of the Fairies,” Oliver must mend broken hearts, defeat an evil jinn, and rescue a parallel world.

That world is one of the most charming and beautiful places I’ve seen in a video game. The look of Ni No Kuni was based on the work of the legendary Studio Ghibli, which handled the game’s animated cutscenes. This a lovely game. Apart from the cutscenes, which are nothing less than I expected of the Oscar-winning animation studio, the game itself is gorgeous.

I mean, look at it. Just look at it.

This is a gameplay screenshot, not an animated cutscene. This is what the game looks like. Ain't it pretty?

This is a gameplay screenshot. This is what the game looks like, more or less. Ain’t it pretty?

Ni No Kuni is visually appealing, but its excellence doesn’t stop there. The music, composed by renowned film composer Joe Hisaishi and performed by a live orchestra, is fantastic. Most importantly, the game is flipping fun to play.

The gameplay blends the fighting and adventuring of Final Fantasy games and the creature-catching of Pokémon. Oliver and his companions command familiars, adorable monsters that handle most of the fighting. Like Pokémon, familiars can be caught, trained, and metamorphosed into stronger creatures. Outside of battle, exploration is fun and sidequests abound.

Ni No Kuni even includes the full text of an original book, The Wizard’s Companion, which contains maps, spells, descriptions of familiars, old-fashioned illustrations, runes to decipher, and fairy tales. Yes, this fairy tale contains fairy tales of its own, and they’re delightful. In fact, The Wizard’s Companion is so good that I wish I owned a hard copy. As Oliver travels, he gathers the book’s scattered pages, unlocking more reading material.

Alas, Ni No Kuni is not quite perfect. It’s hard to read The Wizard’s Companion on a television screen, and flipping through its pages is a pain.

By far the biggest flaw of Ni No Kuni is its ending. Without spoiling anything, I must admit that it feels tacked on. The game reaches a satisfying conclusion, with Oliver reaching his goal and finishing his character arc… and then the game goes on for another four to six hours, limping doggedly to an anticlimax. Although the game’s final chapter answers some lingering questions, a little rewriting would have tied up those loose ends sooner, giving the game a stronger finish.

Despite its weak ending, this game is one of the finest I’ve ever played. RPGs aren’t for everyone, but for anyone with the patience, Ni No Kuni is a gem.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun

I can’t decide whether Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is a heartwarming parody or a self-aware romantic comedy. Either way, it’s brilliant.

In Japan, there is a genre of manga (comics) called shojo. This genre is aimed at teenage girls, generally focusing on romance and emotional characters. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is the story of a high school student named Sakura. When she tries to confess romantic feelings for Nozaki, one of her classmates, he mistakes her for a fan of his work. You see, Nozaki—an analytical, unromantic wet blanket—is secretly the writer and artist behind a popular shojo manga series, Let’s Fall in Love. When Nozaki invites Sakura to be his assistant, she agrees, hoping to get closer to him.

This twelve-episode series is a hilarious deconstruction of romantic comedies. The eponymous Nozaki-kun is intrigued by romance, but only from an academic point of view. For example, he loves St. Valentine’s Day, but only because observing romantic couples gives him ideas for his manga series. The thought of actually being romantic never crosses his mind. This makes for some delightful moments when Sakura is convinced he is finally falling in love with her… only to realize he’s testing out ideas for his manga.

For example, Nozaki realizes it’s romantic for a man and woman to share a bicycle, but he doesn’t understand why. He tests the scenario repeatedly with Sakura, eventually acquiring a tandem bike and riding down city streets with Sakura reluctantly in tow. Once he figures out the most romantic method for sharing a bike, he reasons, he can use it in his story for optimal effect.

Romantic, I guess

This is romantic, right? Right?!

As Sakura becomes acquainted with Nozaki and his other assistants, she realizes how much of his manga is based on people she knows. For example, the heroine of Let’s Fall in Love is based on Mikoshiba, a flirtatious male friend of Nozaki’s who is secretly very insecure.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun deconstructs rom-com clichés, yet the series is never bitter or mean-spirited. I was also pleasantly surprised by the show’s family-friendly tone. Japanese anime is notorious for its inappropriate content. As I began this anime about high school romance, I resigned myself to the saucy innuendos and panty shots that plague other series. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun rises above cheap lewdness, keeping things at a PG level. I found the show’s innocence added to its charm, which is already considerable.

Like many anime, this one offers fascinating glimpses into Japanese culture. I was particularly interested by the creative process of writing and drawing manga, which is gradually shown in the series as Nozaki enlists more assistants.

I highly recommend Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun to anyone who likes anime or romantic comedies. I’m not a particular fan of either, yet I really enjoyed it.

What books, films, shows, or video games have you enjoyed lately? Let us know in the comments!

Ni No Kuni Is Flipping Amazing

All right, guys, I’ll do my best to contain my excitement for this game, but MY GOSH NI NO KUNI IS AMAZING. I’m trying not to shout, but WHO AM I KIDDING IF ANY GAME DESERVES ALL CAPS IT’S THIS ONE.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a PlayStation 3 game: an RPG (Role-Playing Game) about a little boy named Oliver who tries to save his mother by rescuing a parallel world from an evil jinn. (Ni No Kuni means Second Country in Japanese.) After Oliver’s mum dies, the heartbroken boy meets Drippy, the “Lord High Lord of the Fairies,” a little fellow with a winning Welsh accent and a lantern dangling from his nose.

Ni No Kuni

Drippy explains that he comes from a parallel world: a fairy-tale realm threatened by a dark wizard named Shadar. If Oliver defeats Shadar, he may be able to rescue his mum. Oliver and Drippy set out to save the world, meeting all sorts of colorful characters along the way.

The first thing that stands out about the Ni No Kuni is its visuals. Most blockbuster video games these days are drenched in drab colors: gray, brown, black, white, and occasionally dark green. By contrast, Ni No Kuni boasts bright colors and a cartoony aesthetic.

This brings me to my next point: The cutscenes in Ni No Kuni are animated by Studio Ghibli. Yes, I mean the Studio Ghibli: the legendary filmmaker behind such masterpieces as My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. Besides the cutscenes, all of the visual designs in Ni No Kuni are influenced by Ghibli’s distinctive style.

Much of the game’s music was written by Joe Hisaishi, the renowned film composer, and performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Needless to say, the music is fantastic.

Of course, none of this would matter if the game were not fun to play. It is. I’ll spare my dear readers all of the technical details, but Ni No Kuni is easily one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. It’s in the same league as masterpieces like Final Fantasy VIChrono Trigger, and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. I hardly ever play RPGs these days because they demand so much time, but I’ve cheerfully made an exception for this one.

The last thing I love about Ni No Kuni is that it is so darn charming. It has so many silly puns and funny moments. A cat king is addressed as “Your Meowjesty,” except by Drippy, who prefers to call him “Kingface.” Speaking of the Lord High Lord of the Fairies, Drippy uses all sorts of adorable colloquialisms, saying things like, “That’s flipping fantastic, mun, en’t it? It’s proper tidy!”

Ni No Kuni is colorful, beautiful, heartwarming, charming, and just a little bonkers. It’s easily one of the finest games I’ve ever played. If you have a PS3, like RPGs, or have a soul, I give it my highest recommendation.

My Neighbor Baymax

My Neighbor BaymaxBravo, Disney. Bravo.

This lovely art was drawn by Jin Kim, a character designer for Walt Disney Animation Studios. It uses the Japan-inspired setting of Disney’s Big Hero Six to pay homage to Japan’s greatest animation studio, the amazing Studio Ghibli.

For comparison, here’s the image from My Neighbor Totoro on which Kim’s picture is based.

Totoro in the rainI really enjoyed Big Hero Six, the first animated Disney movie based on Marvel comic book characters. In fact, it’s one of my favorite films of the past five years. Its story hit all the right notes for me, and its visuals are jaw-dropping. Despite being much more Disney than it is Marvel, Big Hero Six avoids most of Disney’s clichés. There are no princesses; there is no romance; the villain is not pointlessly evil. Big Hero Six is a film about brotherly love, coping with loss, and the futility of revenge. It’s pretty deep stuff… for Disney, anyway.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen Big Hero Six, you should go watch it. And then, regardless of whether you’ve already seen it, you should watch My Neighbor Totoro. You’ll thank me later.

Three Minutes of Charm

The animation above, produced by Mechanical Apple and presented by Disney, is basically three minutes of heartwarming charm. Like many of my favorite short animations, Motorbike doesn’t need words to tell its story, just soft music and softer colors.

The first time I watched the video, I was struck by its similarities to the Professor Layton games: the music, pastel colors, and comic-strip character designs seem familiar. My impression of the video the second time around was that reminds me strongly of Kiki’s Delivery Service and Studio Ghibli’s other films.

Either way, Motorbike is ridiculously charming.

I encourage you, dear reader, to set aside the woes, worries, trials, troubles, and problems of your life for three minutes, and spend those minutes on a motorbike in the sunshine.

275. TMTF’s Top Ten Chase Scenes in Film

Do you know what’s exciting in movies? Chase scenes. I love chase scenes. Chase scenes are wonderful.

Whether the heroes are fleeing in fear from something dangerous or bravely pursuing an important objective, the high-speed, action-packed, adrenaline-pumping excitement of chase scenes is glorious. I’m no film expert, but I like movies as much as anyone, and today we’re looking at some of my favorite chase scenes in film.

The usual one-per-series rule applies here, of course, and I’ve included YouTube links to chase scenes wherever possible. Observant readers will notice a lack of scenes from the James BondDie Hard and Bourne movies. This isn’t due to any personal prejudice against action thrillers. It’s because I’ve seen hardly any of those movies I wanted this list to have some variety!

On your marks, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Chase Scenes in Film!

10. The Mines of Moria (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001)

Mines of Moria

Although this chase isn’t as action-packed as others on this list, the Fellowship’s flight from the Balrog in the Mines of Moria ramps up the tension with an awesome musical score and a moment at which they must leap over a chasm as the unseen menace of the Balrog draws nearer. The monster doesn’t appear until the end of the chase, but the mere noise of its approach is enough to send Gandalf, a powerful wizard, running like a spooked cat. When the Balrog finally catches up with the Fellowship, it’s an epic conclusion to a thrilling chase.

I couldn’t find the scene on YouTube, so you’ll just have to watch the movie.

9. Light cycle chase (Tron: Legacy, 2010)

Light cycle chase

Short, sweet and colorful, this race between a Blue Guy and a Yellow Guy is great fun. The lack of music lends an understated realism to the scene; it reminds me of the podrace from the first Star Wars movie, but with brighter visuals and no annoying commentary. This chase also gets an honorable mention because Jeff Bridges.

You can watch this scene here.

8. Escaping the Reavers (Serenity, 2005)

Reaver chase

I was going to put the iconic speeder bike chase from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi on this list, but then I remembered this little gem from Joss Whedon’s Serenity. It has all the excitement of the Star Wars chase, and also boasts wonderful dialogue and much higher stakes. As an all-or-nothing escape from vicious cannibals, it’s a tense scene… but not so tense as to exclude one or two really funny lines.

You can watch this scene here.

7. Motorcycle chase (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989)

Motorcycle chase

Indiana Jones is practically synonymous with exciting chase scenes. Every film starring this intrepid grave robber archaeologist has him running away from something. This chase is by far my favorite. I mean, it has motorcycle jousting. It also has Henry Jones’s deadpan reactions to his son’s violent tactics. These disapproving glances, like the relics Indiana Jones picks up on his adventures, are simply priceless.

You can watch this scene here.

6. Fleeing baboons (Tarzan, 1999)

Fleeing baboons

This wonderful chase has Tarzan rescue Jane as she flees a hoard of angry baboons. Sprinkled with droll humor and backed by a lively musical score, this chase also features CG effects that were pretty impressive for the time. My favorite part of this chase? Tarzan’s facial expressions.

You can watch this scene here.

5. Pirate pursuit (Castle in the Sky, 1986)

Pirate pursuit

This chase is one of the best scenes in what may be my all-time favorite film, a classic from the legendary Studio Ghibli. The Dola Gang, a notorious band of sky pirates, pursue an innocent boy and girl into a canyon. When the children hop onto a train on raised tracks, the pirates follow in a rickety automobile. This beautifully-animated scene would be wonderful even without the pirates’ dialogue, which is hilarious.

I couldn’t find the scene on YouTube, so you’ll just have to watch the movie. Seriously, go watch it. Stop reading this blog post and go watch the movie!

4. Race through Bagghar (The Adventures of Tintin, 2011)

Race through Bagghar

Steven Spielberg, bless him, sure knows a thing or two about directing great chase scenes. This chaotic rush down the streets of Bagghar, a fictional Moroccan city, is a joy to watch as Tintin crashes through buildings and over rooftops in a motorbike, trying to snatch a scroll from the talons of a hawk. There’s also a tank and a zip line and some accidental cross-dressing. Really, it’s quite a chase.

You can watch this scene here, but the quality of the clip is very poor; you may be better off just watching the movie.

3. Motorcycle duel (Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, 2005)

Motorcycle duel

Despite a nonsensical plot, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is probably the best video game movie I’ve seen, and a personal favorite of mine. Why? Because it’s packed with scenes like this one, in which the hero wields an oversized sword to fend off bad guys while hurtling down a highway on a motorcycle. Everyone in this scene has superhuman agility and reflexes. There are gratuitous slow-motion shots. Explosions and gunshots punctuate a frenetic musical score. (It’s basically The Matrix, but better.) And this, an extended version of the scene, throws in some helicopters because why not.

You can watch this scene here.

2. Locomotive chase (The General, 1926)

Locomotive chase

Chase scenes are generally frantic, but they don’t have to be. The General, Buster Keaton’s masterpiece, has two phenomenal chase scenes that last at least ten minutes each. In the first, the protagonist chases a train on foot, and then on a handcar, and then on an old-fashioned bicycle, and finally on his own locomotive. In the second, the protagonist’s locomotive is pursued by enemy trains. Everything about these chases is perfect, from Keaton’s deadpan expressions to his ingenious solutions for overcoming obstacles. They may not be fast or furious, but these chase scenes are outstanding.

You can watch part of the first chase here, and you should go watch The General in its entirety. It’s a great film.

1. Toy train shenanigans (The Wrong Trousers, 1993)

Toy train shenanigans

My favorite chase scene in film history has no guns or explosions. What it has is a penguin, a dog, a toy train, a pair of mechanical trousers and a middle-aged man in his underpants. This scene, animated painstakingly in clay, is superb. As I worked on this top ten list, my younger brother asked me if this scene was number one, and added that he would slap me in the face if it was not. It’s that good. This brief, bizarre, brilliant chase through an ordinary English residence is my favorite in all of film.

You can watch this scene here. Please do.

What is your favorite chase scene in film? Let us know in the comments!

261. About Storytelling: Nazis

Nazis are bad. If you carry away one thing from this blog post, it’s that Nazis are bad.

Nazis Swastika

Protip: This is not a good design for interior decorating.

In fact, Nazis have become a handy shortcut in storytelling for representing evil. Need a bad guy? Make him a Nazi. No reader of books or viewer of films or player of video games thinks twice if Nazis die. They are evil. They are all evil!

There’s only one problem with this convenient idea.

Not all Nazis are evil—rather, Nazis are not all evil.

You see, people are complicated. No person—Nazi or not—is absolutely, one hundred percent wicked. No person is completely good, either. Bad people have virtues, and good people have flaws.

As satisfying as black-and-white moral struggles are in storytelling, they’re not very realistic. It’s hardly ever as simple as “good versus evil.” It’s usually “something versus a different something.” Even in cases of clear-cut good and bad, it tends to be “something mostly good versus something mostly bad.”

It’s hardly ever good storytelling to make the good guys perfect and the bad guys irredeemable. In real life, when does that ever happen?

Granted, it can work. J.R.R. Tolkien, who somehow managed to write great books while ignoring a lot of basic rules for storytelling, pits (mostly) good and selfless hobbits, men, elves and dwarves against orcs—twisted creatures damned to an existence of pain, war and cruelty. Tolkien’s black-and-white struggles work because they’re sort of symbolic. Orcs seem almost like Tolkien’s fairy-tale representation of absolute evil in his fairy-tale realm of Middle-earth. The villain, Sauron, is more like the concept of badness than an actual bad guy. (I should note that Tolkien did manage some morally ambiguous characters, such as Gollum and Boromir.)

For the most part, however, the best stories have good guys that are sort of bad and bad guys that are sort of good. Consider Avatar: The Last Airbender, the fantastic fantasy show. In its world, the Fire Nation is a lot like Nazi Germany. It attempts to conquer, exploit and control other countries: in this case, the Water Tribe and Earth Nation.

Guess what? The “good” countries have their fair share of bad guys. A psychotic criminal belongs to the Water Tribe. The Earth Kingdom is the home of thugs and thieves, not to mention a corrupt official and the merciless secret police under his control. The “evil” Fire Nation is populated largely by innocent, well-meaning citizens.

Iroh

The Fire Nation also has this guy.

Hayao Miyazaki also does a great job of creating morally ambiguous characters. Probably his best films in this regard are Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, in which the villains are… no one, really. Princess Mononoke has a bunch of characters fighting selfishly for their own survival and prosperity; they’re self-centered, but not really evil. Spirited Away has characters that seem bad, but when you get to know them you realize they’re just gruff and insensitive.

People are hardly ever all good or all bad, and conflicts are usually more complicated than “good versus evil.” Ambiguity and subtlety are invaluable assets for any story or character!

The Legendary Hayao Miyazaki

Art by Orioto on deviantART.

Art by Orioto on deviantART.

Hayao Miyazaki. If you’ve never heard of him, you’re most likely wondering who he is and why he’s important. If you’ve seen any of his films, however, you’re probably one of two things: a fan of his work, or else a person allergic to joy, creativity and childlike wonder.

Miyazaki is a Japanese filmmaker and one of the most influential animators of all time. There are a lot of adjectives I could apply to Miyazaki’s movies—breathtaking and awe-inspiring come to mind—but the best word for them is beautiful. Hayao Miyazaki makes beautiful films.

Miyazaki’s work is notable for its thematic complexity as well as its stunning animation. The conflicts in his stories are seldom black-and-white clashes of good and evil, but subtler disputes among flawed characters. Environmentalism, feminism and Japanese folklore are woven throughout Miyazaki’s movies—along with airplanes and airships, for some reason.

Miyazaki and his colleagues founded Studio Ghibli, the animation company behind movies such as My Neighbor TotoroKiki’s Delivery Service, Academy Award-winning Spirited Away and my all-time favorite film Castle in the Sky. (Studio Ghibli’s mascot is the adorable Totoro.) Miyazaki’s latest movie, The Wind Rises, was just released in the West and I want to see it so much.

This is supposedly Miyazaki’s final feature before his retirement, but I hope he continues working. He has “retired” at least two or three times since the release of Princess Mononoke, his first “last film,” in the late nineties. Whether or not he keeps making movies, his creativity and vision will continue to influence filmmakers all over the world.

Consider John Lasseter, director of classics like Toy Story and chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Lasseter declared of Miyazaki’s work, “It is unbelievable, it is hand-drawn animation at its finest. Unbelievable.” (May it also be known that Toy Story 3 included a plush Totoro as an homage to Miyazaki.) Thanks to Lasseter and the good folks at Disney, Studio Ghibli’s films have escaped the hack localization and lousy dubbing from which so many foreign films suffer. The American versions of Studio Ghibli’s films are superb.

If you like animated movies and/or have a soul, I recommend watching at least one of Studio Ghibli’s films. Castle in the Sky is an epic fantasy adventure; My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service are slow, gentle family films; Grave of the Fireflies, directed by Isao Takahata, will break your heart; Spirited Away is Japan’s lovely answer to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; and Porco Rosso stars a flying pig. (Hey, don’t laugh! The hero of Porco Rosso is a legendary fighter pilot, thank you very much.) Watch just one of these films. Everyone needs a little Studio Ghibli.

Better yet, watch all of these movies!

Airships

The Tiger Moth from Castle in the Sky

The Tiger Moth from Castle in the Sky

An airship is a lighter-than-air aircraft; examples include dirigibles and hot-air balloons. Airships use buoyant gases such as hydrogen and helium to remain aloft, unlike heaver-than-air aircraft such as airplanes and helicopters that rely upon wings or rotors.

In fiction, however, airship is a catch-all term for unusual aircraft. Fictional airships are much cooler than real-life ones, probably because their designs aren’t restricted by nuisances like production cost and the law of gravity.

Airships are common in certain kinds of fiction (notably steampunk fantasy) and even make appearances in the Super Mario Bros. games. My favorite airships, however, are those from the Final Fantasy series and the films of Hayao Miyazaki.

Airships in fiction often evoke a sense of nautical adventure. The sky is an ocean waiting to be explored! In stories with airships, pirates roam the skies as readily as the seas. Balthier from Final Fantasy XII (who is basically Captain Jack Sparrow, but cooler) and the Dola Gang from Castle in the Sky (whose airship, the Tiger Moth, can be seen in the picture above) are among the most memorable sky pirates I’ve seen.

In its earliest stages, The Trials of Lance Eliot involved airships. I eventually cut them out of the novel because they served no significant purpose (other than being awesome) and complicated the story. It’s kind of a pity, really.

Here are some of my favorite airships.

The Gigante from Future Boy Conan

The Gigante from Future Boy Conan

The Highwind from Final Fantasy VII

The Highwind from Final Fantasy VII

The Fahrenheit from Final Fantasy X

The Fahrenheit from Final Fantasy X

The Strahl from Final Fantasy XII

The Strahl from Final Fantasy XII

The RLS Legacy from Treasure Planet

The RLS Legacy from Treasure Planet

Have you seen any interesting airships in fiction? Let us know in the comments!