Mania Grade: C-
0 Comments | Add
Rate & Share:
- Audio Rating: A+
- Video Rating: B+
- Packaging Rating: B-
- Menus Rating: B
- Extras Rating: A
- Age Rating: All
- Region: 1 - North America
- Released By: Image Entertainment
- MSRP: 24.95
- Running time: 117
- Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Hermes: Winds of Love
Hermes: Winds of Love
March 30, 2002
Release Date: August 28, 2001
Hermes: Winds of Love
What They Say
© Image Entertainment
Full of exciting adventure and great passion, this animated Japanese favorite tells the legendary tale of the mythological hero Hermes. The creator of the world orders Hermes to defeat the evil King Minos, tyrant of Crete. With his beautiful wife, Aphrodite, by his side, he bravely responds to the challenge. A battle between good and evil rocks the heavens as Hermes fights to unite Greece!The Review!
**A WORD OF WARNING**: If you really don't like the idea of a work of art that chiefly exists to advocate a religion, then you won't enjoy the anime theatrical movie "Hermes: Winds of Love" (or, to give it its original Japanese title, "Hermes: Ai Wa Kaze No Gotoku," which means something slightly different, and is rather singular in its wording - see CONTENT). "Hermes" was funded by, and promotes the worldview of, *Kofuku no Kagaku* -- a fundamentally Buddhist but markedly syncretic (combining aspects of multiple belief systems) evangelical religion, founded in Japan in 1986, and that, according to some sources (which I've been able to neither confirm nor disprove), has about 300,000 members worldwide. In English-speaking lands, they go by the name of *The Institute for Research into Human Happiness,* or the acronym *IRH* for short. I've decided not to go into a detailed discussion of Kofuku no Kagaku in this review, because the necessary context - as with any other belief system - would be at least several dozen pages long. I've included a summary of its fundamentals in the CONTENT section.
That having been said, the domestic release of "Hermes: Winds of Love" (originally released in Japanese theaters in 1997) effectively constitutes Image Entertainment's first "self-licensed" anime release (though, in a sense, it isn't one - see CONTENT). Previously, Image has released anime on DVD for Central Park Media and the now-defunct Streamline Productions. Actually, Image has recently (as of the time of this review's writing) re-issued three of their former Streamline DVD titles, to which they own the rights: "Crimson Wolf" "8 Man After" and "Babel II"; however, if you already own these, you needn't bother getting them again, because they're exactly the same dub-only editions as before. This is actually NOT a sign of what to expect from Image, which works in a way very unlike that of most anime-releasing companies. On 3/19/2002, Image had just released a second "self-licensed" anime title to DVD, "Psychic Force." If Image handles anime the way that they've handled, say, European horror films (see CONTENT) - which is the way they seem to be handling it - then the future of anime releases from Image looks, with certain reservations, fairly promising.
AUDIO: A+. There are three audio tracks, all Dolby Digital: A 5.1 track (default), a 2.0 Stereo track, and a 2.0 Stereo "music and effects" track, which is exactly what it sounds like - just the music and sound effects, without any voices. All are clear and undistorted - I had to turn the volume up the maximum to hear the slightest hint of a hiss, and even then there was almost none. The "music and effects" track was probably part of the licensing package from the vendor - the raw materials needed to make a dub track, which the releasing company (actually Vanguard films, rather than Image Entertainment per se - see CONTENT) chose not to do. While I mean no disrespect to dub fans, I agree with Image's decision, for reasons discussed in the CONTENT section.
VIDEO: B+. The encoding of the image is very good - very clear, with only a slight suggestion of pixelization on my system. Frequently, in panning/tilting shots, there's a flicker, but this seems to be the often-discussed "digital pan" effect: the animation of "Hermes" is largely digital, rather like that in "Angel Sanctuary" or "Amazing Nurse Nanako." The image itself is fairly clear - there's a soft, glowy quality to much of the film, but this seems to be mostly intentional (see EXTRAS). However, there seems to be a very slight greenish tinge to the entire film, especially in the blacks and the darker scenes (you can see what I mean in the back-cover screenshot of Minos and his army - see PACKAGING). Also, very slight black scratches appear occasionally, such as at around 0:30:40. And there are also, rarely, white dust motes and hairs. These defects would seem to indicate that the master for the U.S. release of "Hermes" either was or was struck off of a used negative element, most likely an internegative. Still, overall, the picture quality is quite good. The film is presented letterboxed, in what's listed as 1.85:1 widescreen, but looks a bit closer to 1.78:1 to me - it might look different played on another system; at any rate, no significant visual information seems to be missing anywhere. The DVD is not anamorphic. For a first anime DVD, released by a small company (see CONTENT), it's quite good in video terms.
PACKAGING: B-. The cover art is excellent - it shows exactly the kind of art that you'll see in the movie. The front cover is a group portrait of the title character, his spouse, and two other characters - I'm not sure if it's a composite of screenshots or an original piece of promotional art (or possibly a piece of promotional art made from screenshots or cel art), as I'm sure I saw all of those characters in those poses in the film. Either way, it's actually quite a pretty picture. The back cover shows several of what are definitely screenshots. However, the excellence of the cover art is offset by a rather inaccurate summary, which tries very hard to pass off the film as an adaptation of a well-known ancient Greek myth. In a sense it *is,* but anyone expecting "Hermes" to be anything like a direct adaptation of any Greek myth they've ever heard of will be very disappointed in that respect (see CONTENT); the summary is very easy to read, though, being written in a nicely-sized, sunny yellow font. The background color is an earthy reddish-brown, framing the art and summary nicely. Also, there are a few translated credits on the back of the box, but these are so sparse as to be of limited use. The DVD itself is silkscreened with a DVD-shaped excerpt from the front cover art. It also has, in plain view, the following copyright statement, on the opposite side of the center-hole from the one for Image Entertainment:
"PROGRAM CONTENT: [copyright symbol] KOFUKU-NO-KAGAKU / IRH PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED."
In one sense, Image Entertainment, with its catalogue of *over 1,700* titles, has never actually released *anything* -- more on that in the CONTENT section. The actual DVD case that my copy of "Hermes" came in is interesting - I've never seen one like it, and can't find a brand-name on it anywhere. It's an opaque, black plastic keepcase, of average dimensions, with a central hub very like that of a *CD* case. You get the DVD out by pressing down hard on the hub with one finger and lifting the DVD out with your other hand. Overall, it's fairly sturdy, though not crushproof, and holds the DVD solidly without making it hard to remove. (To digress momentarily, I really despise Amaray cases, which often get broken, or at least get the DVD popped out, in shipping, handling and storage, and also tend to scratch the DVD when you put it back in.) However, I can't comment on how easy (or not) it is to put the DVD back into Image's keepcase, because I keep all of my DVD's in Alpha keepcases - I buy my own for those that don't already come that way; have scratched, broken or alarmingly bent too many DVD's by trying to use other kinds of case; and therefore, don't like messing about with unfamilar cases.
MENUES: B. The menues are simple, without either music or background animation, only having static backgrounds. However, they worked quickly and without problems on my system, which is primarily what matters - I wouldn't mind if all of Image's future anime releases had menues like this; after all, the more space on a DVD gets used for the menues, the less there is for the actual show. The backgrounds themselves are very pretty. The layout, while fairly intuitive, is unusual in some ways. For instance, the Scene Selection Menu looks rather typical, having blocks of screen-caps, each representing a particular chapter; however, instead of selecting and clicking on these, you select and click on a chapter-title from one of the complete list of chapter titles *to the right of* the screencaps. Advancing down this list advances from one block of screencaps to the next (the list, being complete, is unchanged). Also, in the Extras Menu, the feature listed as an "out-take" is actually not one (instead, it's something more unusual - see EXTRAS). Like a number of other subtitled-only Region 1anime releases, the subtitles, oddly, default to "off." Also, for reasons that I've been unable to determine, there seem to be two subtitle tracks, the first of which has the English subtitles, and the second one of which seems to have absolutely nothing whatsoever - it's exactly like watching the film with the subtitles off. No second subtitle track is listed on the box. Both subtitle tracks are listed on-screen as "English" when I select them (which means nothing - I've watched DVD's with multilingual subtitles, and multilingual audio, in which all of these selection are listed on-screen as "English" or "Others"). It could just be some sort of authoring error. The subtitles on the first, listed track are in a pale yellow font, and very easy to read. At this point, regarding the subtitles, I must point out what I consider to be the only definite, significant authoring error on this disc: at 1:00:24, one sentence - ["I've overthrown Minos for the people of Crete."] - flashes by, appearing for a grand total of ONE FRAME. You have to watch it frame-by-frame to read it; otherwise, you just get a fleeting impression of text, and then the next sentence - which, since it refers to the previous sentence and begins with "however," doesn't make complete sense by itself. Still, for a company's first anime DVD, that isn't bad: it's better than having dubtitles (ADV's "Tekken" DVD); or having true subtitles that drift by up to 5 seconds (CPM's original "Project A-Ko" DVD, released via Image), or having them not switch back on after title-changes (FUNimation's first 10 "Dragon Ball Z" DVD's - they've fixed that on all their subsequent releases). For a first anime DVD, this is extremely good. Also, in an odd touch, if you stop the DVD, instead of getting your DVD Player's "Default Screen" (??? - I don't know what it's actually called), you get one loaded by the DVD, just like on the DVD's of Pioneer's "Akira" or ADV's "Neon Genesis Evangelion" (except for the first pressing of Vol. 1, anyway). In the case of "Hermes," the screen is rather odd: you get a screencap of the opening "Toei" trademark sequence of their logo (actually their name in Kanji f- see CONTENT) and waves breaking on a beach. If Image Entertainment does another Toei anime, what'll they use then? Image Entertainment has done "default screens" before, on live-action DVD titles of theirs which I have (such as Jess Franco's 1983 film "Oasis of The Zombies"). Also, unusually for an Image DVD, you can fast forward through (and scan backward through, and pause, and jump back to the beginning of) the copyright notice, or go from it directly to the Main Menu using the "Menu" button. You can't skip over by trying to jump a chapter, though.
EXTRAS: A. There are two theatrical trailers, and something that the menu calls an "out-take" - which is, in fact, not an outtake at all, but instead a deleted scene, something rarely ever seen in U.S. anime releases. (The only other such releases with deleted scenes that I'm currently aware of, other than "Hermes," are CPM's "Project A-Ko: Love and Robots" and Media Blasters' "Space Travellers: The Animation.") Just so that this is not misunderstood, a "deleted scene" in this context does not mean a cut made by the U.S. distributor (i.e. like in the utterly butchered American TV versions of "Sailor Moon," "Dragon Ball Z," "Card Captor Sakura," "Gatchaman," and so on, and [sadly] so on), but instead means a cut made *by the original creators of the anime.* In this case, I think it was because the scene, while beautifully executed, added very little to the film, and was probably deemed unnecessary by the film's creators. Filming or animating a scene, or a shot out of a scene, for a screenplay (which both an anime and a live-action film qualify as), and then deciding it's unnecessary, is actually a very common occurence, especially in the production of theatrical films. Because it was probably never used in the mastering process, the deleted scene is in absolutely pristine condition, without the film's greenish tinge, slight scratches or dust, and also looks somewhat sharper - though not vastly so, the image quality of the movie itself being quite satisfactory. As there's quite a bit of dialogue in the scene, there are optional subtitles for it - if you select the subtitles for the movie, they'll be on here, too. The trailers, by contrast, are grainy, soft and washed-out looking, and sound a little bit muffled. They also, though having a running narration and bits of dialogue, have no subtitles. Oddly, though, the trailers seem to be genuinely 1.85:1, while the deleted scene is about like the movie. Again, it could just be my system's interpretation of the way the movie (and deleted scene) itself is encoded. As I said before, nothing important seems to be left out of any part of the movie.
*About Kofuku no Kagaku*: Kofuku no Kagaku was founded in Japan in 1986 by Guru Ryuho Okawa, a former international investment banker. Believers in Kofuku no Kagaku consider Mr. Okawa to have achieved Enlightenment - to be a *buddha*, like Siddharta Gautama (*The* Buddha -- the founder of Buddhism) himself.
It is an *evangelical* religion, meaning that it actively tries to convert people to its beliefs. Not all religions are evangelical. In order to join some, you have to go ask someone who is already member (and just doing this often doesn't guarantee acceptance); this tends to insure that all members are people who truly *want* to be members. *The Ordo Templi Orientis* (administrated and largely organized by Aleister Crowley from 1922 to 1947) is an example of such a religion. Other religions you have to be born into to be member of, such as, until recently, Orthodox Judaism. Christianity and Islam, on the other hand, are evangelical, actively seeking to gain as many new members as possible. One expression of Kofuku no Kagaku's evangelism is the movie "Hermes."
Kofuku no Kagaku is fundamentally Buddhist in its basics. It believes in reincarnation, and the influence of one's acts in one's current incarnation upon the nature of one's next incarnation. It believes in the renunciation of extreme personal desires, in favor of treading a middle path between extreme self-indulgence and extreme self-denial. And, it believes in the existence of buddhas (in its case, plural - most Buddhist religions only acknowledge Siddharta Gautama), and of *bodhisattvas*: souls who are enlightened enough to ascend to a higher plane of existence, and so need not be reincarnated in this world - and, yet, out of a generous desire to help others, have either remained in or returned to this world, to share their wisdom. In the context of Kofuku no Kagaku - which emphasizes the fundamentals of its beliefs over absolute adherance to any written theology - the concepts of "buddha" and "bodhisattva" seem to overlap somewhat, as it believes that a soul always comes to Earth for a pre-decided reason (which spreading wisdom definitely qualifies as). Here we come to some of the syncretic aspects of Kofuku-no Kagaku: it believes that all prophets - from all religions - are to some extent enlightened souls, though perhaps not perfectly so (thus explaining all of the bloody tribalism and doctrines of intolerance inherent, to varying extents, in so many religions). It has a strong belief in being generous to the physical and spiritual needs of others before one's own, which fits in with its belief in not going to extremes - if anything, this aspect of it is very like the Christian concept of a vow of poverty/charity, as practiced by some contemporary Christian religious orders (i.e. The Sisters of Mercy) and some individual Christians. And, Kofuku no Kagaku has both a Heaven and a Hell (which both Buddhism and Christianity believe in, in different ways) - though, in keeping with Buddhist belief, both are places that you can, either by simple choice or by "learning the error of your ways," be born out of, into one of the other two realms (though it seems unlikely that you'll skip Earth after leaving Hell; actually, in some forms of Buddhism, some of the Hells [plural] are permanent, and, in most forms of Buddhism, one that has achieved ultimate Nirvana is, by definition, not re-born). Actually, Kofuku no Kagaku's concept of Heaven seems more Christian than Buddhist - in many forms of Buddhism, "Nirvana" (which literally means "blowing out" or "extinction") is not so much a positive state - a gratification of some kind of desires, physical or spiritual - but is instead *the end* of all desires. After all - said Siddharta Gautama, though some forms of Buddhism disagree with this - suffering is the frustration of want, and, in order to stop suffering, one must stop wanting. Therefore, in several senses, Kofuku no Kagaku is more Christian than Buddhist. On the other hand, in some forms of Buddhism, those who live properly look foreward to living in the afterlife "with Buddha in His pure lands," which sounds very similar to the Christian definition of Heaven. Additionally, in a very Christian way, Kofuku no Kagaku believes in predestination and Divine Will. Kofuku no Kagaku also has some rather interesting beliefs unique to itself, as put forth by Guru Ryuho Okawa: for instance, it believes that the planet Venus used to be inhabited by highly intelligent plant/animal hybrids, the upper bodies of which resembled lotus flowers (I am reminded of this by one of the early scenes in "Hermes"). It also believe the spiritual plane - which it describes as "The Fourth Dimension," and contains both Heaven and Hell - to be outside of time (which sets up one of the more striking statements in its anime movie).
Mr. Okawa has also predicted the end of the world several times, changing the prediction when the assigned dates have passed without incident. He predicted it for 2000 A.D. once, I believe.
In an interesting bit of real-life dramatics, Japanese law enforcement officials not very long ago uncovered a plot to assassinate Mr. Okawa (along a list of other, unrelated people, including manga artist Yoshinori Kobayasi). The organization behind this plot was an antagonistic rival religious group, *Aum Shinri Kyo* - the same group that killed 6 people with nerve gas in a Tokyo subway in 1995. Both Aum Shinri Kyo and Kofuku no Kagaku are what is termed "New Religions" in Japan, meaning religions founded from the 1970's on. There are countless others.
The movie "Hermes: Ai Wa Kaze No Gotoku" was funded entirely by Kofuku no Kagaku, and was actually made by the famous, huge Japanese film company Toei (see below). Toei neither is affiliated with nor supports any particular religon. So, therefore, why did they agree to make this movie? Because they're not *against* any particular religion, either (except, of course, Aum Shinri Kyo, which is regarded like the original Charles Manson "Family" in Japan, being generally loathed for its acts of terrorism). Toei, in this sense, typifies the Japanese attitude toward religion in general: if it doesn't kill or truly hurt anyone, it's not a problem; you believe anything you want, I'll believe anything I want - including nothing, if I so decide (the majority of modern Japanese are not part of any organized religion as such). This attitude is very unlike that in The U.S., which - despite its written laws to the contrary - generally assumes that, if you don't oppose a certain viewpoint or practice, you have to agree with it (an false assumption). Indeed, there is, in Western-European-based thought in general, and U.S. thought in particular, an implicit association between "tolerance" and "acceptance." It is currently popular to say that those who tolerate something embrace it. Some *do* embrace whatever they tolerate, but it is unnecessary to do so merely to achieve toleration (in fact, if you have to embrace whatever you tolerate, it severely limits how much you *can* tolerate). In example, I could, personally, tolerate people wearing baggy tan shorts, but find the idea of wearing them myself unappealing (what I actually wear or not is irrelevent to this discussion). Just because I have nothing against people wearing them does not automatically mean that I want to wear them myself. The same idea applies to religious views, sexual preferences, and everything else in Human life. The Japanese - though no more perfect than any other nation, having their own share of intolerant people and beliefs - apply it well. Something that often comes as a great surprise to many Americans, and Westerners in general, is that part of the Japanese people's attitude includes the right to openly discuss, utilize or criticize any viewpoint, religious or otherwise; this includes serious debates about it, use of it in fiction (either seriously, as in "Neon Genesis Evangelion" and "The Dark Myth / Ankoku Shinwa," or humorously, as in "Haunted Junction"), and even flat-out disapproval (sticks and stones can break my bones, but words cannot truly hurt me - especially when *I* can absolutely lay into *your* beliefs just as hard as you're laying into mine, if I so decide!). This is a great contrast to The U.S., where you can be sued or arrested for openly criticizing a religion (which frankly contradicts the true concept of "freedom of religion" - freedom to have any opinion[s] that you want about any religion[s] that you want to, and being able to say it/them out loud; as the objections to doing this are themselves religious rules, to be subject to them is to be subject to a religion - whether your believe in that religion or not; this I consider unbearable).
Also, I've read (but cannot confirm) that "Hermes" was actually the highest-grossing theatrical film in Japan for three months, eventually losing its position to nothing less than Hayao Miyazaki's "Princess Mononoke" (a.k.a. "Mononoke-Hime"). As the majority of Japanese, still, aren't religious (and of those that are, there are far more that follow traditional religions, like Shinto, than those who follow any "New Religion"), and the facts of the "Hermes" movie's origins and intentions were never secret (Ryuho Okawa and his flock have occasionally been in the news, for various reasons), the fact that such a film could do so well - and, also, be released widely to regular theaters - says something for the Japanese people, something truly great.
Now that all those things have been said, on to the review of the anime theatrical film "Hermes: Winds of Love" (a.k.a. "Hermes: Ai Wa Kaze No Gotoku), released on DVD by Image Entertainment.
Just for starters, the translation of the title is rather loose. "Ai Wa Kaze No Gotoku," translated literally, would be something like "Love Being Like The Wind." "Ai No Kaze" would be "Wind/s of Love." And, also, the word "gotoku" is archaic, and generally not used in modern Japanese. Its modern equivalent is "youni" (as in "Zankoku na tenshi no youni" in the "Neon Genesis Evangelion" opening theme song, "Cruel Angel's Thesis"). Both say that something is like (the preceding). The best translation that I can come up with - including the archaism - might be "Hermes: Love Be Like Unto The Wind."
On a positive note, the original Japanese opening and ending credits are retained, absolutely untouched - something that I wish a lot of established anime-releasing companies would do, because even in cases in which the original opening and closing animation is used with English-language credits, those credits are often artlessly centered in the middle of the screen, covering up eyes, parts of faces, and other important details; note that in, in the parts of original Japanese opening and ending credits that have both animation and text, the text generally never does this, and is sometimes arranged in interesting ways to avoid doing so. On the other hand, the the only translated credits in the film itself consist of a few of the optional subtitles, naming a few people and their parts in the making of the film, that appear over the endning credits.
In purely visual terms, the film is actually quite lovely - I watched the first twenty minutes of it with my jaw hanging open. It's done, as noted above in the VIDEO section, in a partially digital style, like "Amazing Nurse Nanako" or "Angel Sanctuary." The first couple of scenes (the "space shuttle" scene and the "lotuses of Heaven" scene - trust me, you'll know what I'm talking about) show a bit of the harshness that gives digital animation in anime a bad name, reminding me of "Blue Submarine #6"; however, after that, the effect is much less pronounced, the digital and traditional animation elements more effectively harmonized, and the animation much gentler on the eye. Most of the story occurs in Ancient Greece, and, interestingly, the characters look very much like the Ancient Greeks actually did in terms of their features; Hermes and Aphrodite have improbably fair hair (particularly the golden-tressed Aphrodite), but other than that, the emphasis in the character design is on realism. (In case you're actually wondering *NO,* I'm *NOT* a racist - I'm just so used to watching anime characters with huge eyes, stylized facial features, stylized body proportions and rainbow-colored hair that characters drawn to look extremely realistic [as they are in "Akira"] are a novelty to me. To digress: Neither way of drawing is inherently better than the other - it depends on whether the emphasis is more on what the characters actually are supposed to *look like,* or on conveying symbolically what they're supposed to *be* -- anime [and manga] characters almost invariably communicate both to some degree.) The architecture and clothes throughout most of the film are very detailed and realistic, consistent with Ancient Greece. In particular, the palaces are stunningly rendered, their walls painted with illustrative and abstract designs in bold colors. Oddly, however (and this could simply be a mistake by a colorist), the edged weapons used by soldiers in the film, while historically accurate in form, frequently seem to be made of steel rather than bronze. Overall, the film is colorful, rendered in great detail (as is typical of an anime theatrical film, which is made to be watched on a big screen), and often very pretty visually. The character animation often looks a bit jerky, indicating an oddly low frame rate - perhaps due to a limited budget (according to Vanguard Films [see below], the equivalent of $13,000,000 U.S. - the computer graphics, in 1997, must've been expensive) - but it's not extremely obtrusive.
*The story*: The film begins with a brief, narrated prologue set in either the present or the near future (the latter more likely, looking at the design of the space shuttle). The narrator puts forth the idea that most myths can be traced back to real events, but that, with the passage of time, the true details of those events are often forgotten. (This explains why Hermes and Aphrodite in the movie "Hermes" are, in fact, not Gods, but Humans.) The setting then shifts back to Ancient Greece - specifically, "4,300 years ago." Well, sort of - first, it takes us on a rather blatantly digital but nonetheless pretty (and initially rather confusing) jaunt through Heaven, following a glowing golden feather (representing a soul going to Earth to be born), and also meeting Pegasus (the winged horse) in passing. The feather/soul takes its time, taking a dip in the sea, and then a little stroll through the island/city-state of "Sitia" (Scythia), pausing for a moment to inspire some sort of elderly seer with the prophecy that a great hero will be born in Sitia, who will rule over all Greece, and bring prosperity. (At least, I'd guess that he's a seer, from the way the crowd gathers around to listen; either that, or the Sitians generally love to hear prophecies from goat-herds who snooze under trees.) We also get our first glimpse of two little kids (one of whom is yet another improbable Ancient Greek blond), who'll show up more later - and, tellingly, seem aware of the feather/soul.
The feather/soul takes its time so that it can arrive, in the Sitian royal palace, *exactly* at the moment of the birth of the current King and Queen's son (it's going to be *his* soul, after all). Their son is, of course, Hermes. They decide on his name (which, despite what his mother seems to think, does NOT mean "The Child of Light" in ANY language I'm aware of, including Ancient Greek). They discuss his future. It's actually a rather touching sequence.
I couldn't help but notice that the last scene of this part the film is a stylized still image that bears a more-than-slight resemblance to the usual Christian portrayal of The Naitivity (the birth of Christ), with Hermes' mom and dad taking the places of The Virgin Mary and Joseph.
The setting then flashes forward in time. Hermes is a young man of 26 years (which, actually, wouldn't've been considered *that* young in the real Ancient Greece). He's practicing his fighting skills, because of a threat hanging over Sitia and all of Greece: King Minos of Crete, who's been subjugating the city-states of the region one by one, and demanding a tribute of young men and women to sacrifice to his son. (His son is The Minotaur, of course - that guy with the head of a bull, who lives in a labyrinth, and eats people; incidentally, the English word "labyrinth," in actual fact, derives the the Ancient Greek word "labrys" - a kind of double-headed axe that was, historically, the symbol of the royal house of Crete.)
At this point, you're probably gotten an impression of the movie's peculiar, often disorienting fusion of Ancient Greek religious, mythic and historical motifs; Buddhist motifs; Christian motifs; and wholesale rewriting of its source-material. I'll just do an overview of the rest of the film, which can be divided into two parts:
The first part of the film is an action-packed, and immensely improbable, adventure story, with some very peculiar elements thrown in. The two little kids seen at the beginning of the film are seemingly omniscient, and, throughout most of the movie, trade pieces of commentary back and forth about what has happened, is happening, and will happen - exactly like The Shadow Girls (a.k.a. Kageshoujo) in the "Utena" TV series and movie. The borrowing here is blatantly obvious, and just serves to make things that much stranger (personally, I groaned when it hit me what those two were doing). Before anyone else points it out, *yes,* The Shadow Girls can themselves be compared to the chorus of a Classical Greek (as opposed to Ancient Greek) play - but not in their specifics, because the chorus for a Classical Greek play is just that: a chorus, walking back and forth across the stage between scenes, SINGING a commentary; and there are usually more than two people in it. Hermes rescues Aphrodite (in this movie, a princess rather than a Goddess), in a scenario very like The Brothers Grimm's "Rapunzel" story - she's locked up in a tower, and he, overcoming great odds, sets her free. At this point, we're treated the first of many of the film's *Deus ex Machinae* (Latin: "Devices of God"; singular *Deus ex Machina*) - in, perhaps, a much more literal sense than is usually meant in fiction. Whenever any of our heroes get into an otherwise-inescapable tight spot, something will happen straight out of the blue (also somewhat literally in this case) that'll get them out of it. This is one of the movie's multiple assertions of the existence of predestination and Divine Will - Hermes is on Earth for an important purpose, and so can't be allowed to die. It really, REALLY kills any suspense that there might've been. Also, in this part of the film, we're treated to first Aphrodite and then Hermes *singing,* as if they were characters in a Disney movie. Actually, Aphrodite's song sounds very beautiful to me - not so much the words, as the singing itself; I don't know if the same person who did her voice did her songs, but I think so. After making Aphrodite his bride, Hermes is visited by The God Ophealis, Creator of The World (I've never heard of any God called that, Creator or otherwise; I surmise the point here to be that specific names for The Divine are irrelevant). Ophealis tells Hermes that he must begin a new life, for the benefit of all Greece. Overall, this part of the story is very reminiscent of all of the Christian accounts of God speaking to a prophet (i.e. Moses). Hermes then forges an alliance between the city-states of Greece to defeat Minos, and is successful. Along the way, the myth of Theseus and The Minotaur gets played out, in this film's usual combination of traditional accuracy and odd, evangelically-inclined re-writing. Minos dies, and Hermes is King of all Greece. He then, kind of as an afterthought, defeats the small (but heavily armed) island nation that was formerly keeping Aphrodite prisoner, in the process freeing her mother (who got left behind the first time).
At this point, about three-fifths of the way through the film, the adventure yarn is finished, and the religious elements that were never far off take over entirely. Hermes recieves a blessing from Ophealis that grants him nearly Godlike power himself (on the condition that he can't use it for personal benefit - which, to my way of thinking, takes all the fun out of the idea). He meditates a lot (frequently wearing Buddhist-style robes). He has an out-of-body experience, and visits Heaven and Hell. Heaven is a vibrantly colorful place, full of light, flowers, and - bizarrely - decorative pools filled with *coelocanths* that're colored like *nishikigoi* (brightly colored decorative carp - commonly called "koi" in The U.S.). Hell, on the other hand, is a gloomy, red-lit place that seems largely to have been borrowed from Dante's "Inferno." (NOTE: If reading that book gives you the creeps, as it does some, then so will this movie's version of Hell.) Hermes also finally discovers what the two little kids are (not that it's much of a surprise - look at the DVD case's front cover art). After this, Ophealis speaks to Hermes yet again (beginning with the most distinctly Christian-sounding statement in the entire film), with a striking revelation of the connection between them - namely, that Hermes is Ophealis' former incarnation. (Also, we can conclude, based on various statements and images earlier in the film, that Aphrodite actually *is* The Goddess of Love, in the same sense that Hermes is Ophealis - she, also, meets herself at least once.) The film ends with images of Hermes/Ophealis going on to become a distinctly Christian-styled prophet/King.
And that's essentially it. The credits roll. After the credits, we see the feather/soul again, rising into Earth orbit - Hermes has presumably passed away, and his soul goes to be reborn in some form or other.
There are some fairly bloody and gruesome moments in the film, mostly involving either battle sequences or Hell; it's not very heavy, though - "Hermes" was a family-friendly film in Japan; there are "Dragon Ball Z" episodes more violent than this (and DBZ, despite what you may've heard elsewhere, IS a show acceptable for viewing by little kids in Japan - which I have no problems with whatsoever, because if more kids knew that unrestricted fighting can genuinely hurt and / or kill people, they'd probably do it less). Also, there's some mild, artistic nudity, mostly involving Aphrodite taking a dip in the sea early in the film, nude. This is presented in a *very* mild, non-explicit way - no more than you'd see in the uncut "Sailor Moon" or DBZ. Still, I genuinely can't recommend "Hermes" as a children's film in the U.S.. In fact, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who can't be aware of, and analyze, a viewpoint other than their own - religious or otherwise - with detachment and impartiality.
The subtitle script for "Hermes" is adequate, but it tends to be like some of ADV's subtitle scripts - it approximates too much for my tastes, and tends to omit the details. The songs, in particular, don't fare well (for that matter, the second line of of Aphrodite's song is actually a repetition of the first line; in the subtitle script, it isn't). Also, it generally omits background speech: many of the "extras" in crowd scenes can be heard mutedly but clearly speaking in Japanese, but they get no subtitles. Also, as in a few other titles I've seen (by various companies), the occasional odd phrase or short sentence spoken by a "foreground character" doesn't have subtitles. Also, this subtitle script does something that I've previously only seen in the subtitles for some live-action films: if someone just says someone's name (not as part of a sentence), and that name has already been established in a previous subtitle, then there is, sometimes, no subtitle for it. This doesn't bother me much, because it's common in the subtitles for foreign-language live-action films, of which I watch many; and I can easily remember who people like "Minoso" are. For anime fans who've only really seen subtitles in anime, it could be a bit confusing. I ask at this point that Image Entertainment not be credited with (or blamed for) the subtitle script, which was in fact created by the movie's actual American license-holder, Vanguard Films (see below). And anyway, it's still not the worst subtitle script I've ever seen, by far.
Some people have complained about the U.S. release of "Hermes" not having an English dub-track. While I fully understand the reason for this complaint (though I myself invariably prefer to watch of all my anime subtitled), I personally agree with Vanguard Films' decision not to make a dub track. This is why:
I am not, personally, a very business-oriented person. "The bottom line," making a profit, is not the ultimate goal for me (I have nothing against people for whom it is, I've just never been that way myself). However, in order for any company - i.e. an anime-releasing company - to remain in business, it must make a profit. "Hermes" is a very uncommercial title in The U.S. market. Its profit margin - the amount of money made by sales of the title *in excess of* the amount spent on licensing the show; making the DVD master; and mass-producing, packaging and marketing the DVD - is, at best, small. As far as I know, Image's release of "Hermes" may not even have one: it may've been a financial loss for Image, which is a big enough company to "soak it up," i.e. not go bankrupt because one of their titles ended up costing more money than it made. Now consider this: a dub costs money. You have to pay a scriptwriter to write the dub-script. You have to pay the voice-performers and their director, and the sound technicians, to make the dub. Then, after the title is released, you may have to pay some or all of these people a certain percentage of the title's gross profit, in royalties. A dub costs much more than subtitles, and having both is that much more expense. Having to pay for a dub can be the difference between having a marginally or technically profitable release and having a financial loss. But - the question of course occurs - might not a title sell better if it was had both a subtitled Japanese track *and* a dub track? Perhaps -- *if it were a title with a wide appeal within the market it's released to.* "Akira," "Gundam Wing" and "Dragon Ball Z" are examples of this. They appeal to many different people in the American audience, for many different reasons. They are, for that audience, relatively acessible in their basic concepts, requiring little or no prior knowledge of their subject matter to be understood. And, they're (relatively) inoffensive to the sensiblities of most Americans. "Hermes" is EXTREMELY unlikely to be the next "Akira" in the U.S. market. As a film, it's pretty much a curiosity item only - something that probably only someone who either (A) wants to see a truly peculiar anime or (B) studies esoteric religion would find interesting. "Hermes" is primarily concerned with advocating a viewpoint (actually a religion) that's very dissimilar conceptually to the viewpoints of most people in The U.S. market, and so is rather inacessible to them. And, the fact that "Hermes" is a work of religious propaganda, and makes no secret of it, will offend many, many people, either because it contradicts their established religion, or simply because it tries to push one. (I myself am, personally, NOT impressed by or convinced of the worldview of Kofuku no Kagaku; however, I find "Hermes" interesting in esthetic and academic senses - in the same sense that, while I'm not a Christian, I enjoy listening to Gregorian chants.) The only people in America likely to be interested in "Hermes" are well-established anime fans with a streak of adventurous curiosity, and/or people interested in studying the expression of religion in the medium of film. These people, more often than not, prefer to watch anime (or, in the case of the students of religions, any foregn-language film) in its original language. In other words, doing a dub track for it would not significantly increase its sales figures, and could easily cause it to be a financial loss. I believe this to be true of many less-mainstream-friendly anime titles - titles that generally appeal only to people already deeply into anime, not to casual mainstream shoppers - and the anime-releasing companies seem to agree with me, based on a variety of releases that I'm aware of. Among them are: ADV's upcoming release of "Miyuki-Chan in Wonderland" (comical lesbian innuendo, parodying the works of Lewis Carroll); ADV's already-released "Sakura Diaries: Collector's Edition" (exactly the same overall story as the regular, bilingual edition, only with occasionally different scene length/ordering and MUCH more explicit nudity - it's the home video version, as opposed to the TV version - both are uncut); Tokyopop's upcoming last four volumes of "Saint Tail" (the series has limited mainstream selling power for various reasons, such as the endless pseudo-Roman Catholic references inherent to the setting of Saint Paulia's Catholic School - which, as has been pointed out, is neither a real place nor an accurate representation of real Roman Catholicism; also, the series would be considered inappropriate for its originally intended age demographic [little kids] in The U.S., because of its title character's endless breaking of the written law, and the [totally innocent] two-way crush between her and the boy Asuka Jr.); and the recently released, recently Out-Of-Print, Central Park Media / NuTech release of "Armored Trooper VOTOMS" (an early-80's mecha TV series, with a quality of animation typical of its time, and also some minor, but noticeable, signs of wear in the source elements - neither of which is actually bad, but both of which seem to turn off many of the more casual anime fans, along with the show's age itself; I personally don't have or understand any of those problems, and attribute them to prejudice). Essentially, I think that quite a few anime titles are either going to be released in The U.S. as straight subtitled releases, or aren't going to be released at all, because dubbing them would make them unprofitable - it'd annihilate their already-small profit margins. To see so many titles, like the ones listed above, go unreleased because of a "dub audio option or else" policy in the industry (or among anime fans) would be an immeasurable, terrible loss. And, before it becomes a subject of flames directed at this website (which didn't write this review - I did), I *do* realize that there are a certain few serious otaku who prefer dubbed to subtitled, and I fully respect their preference - but just because you might not be able to have something, does that mean that none of the rest of us ever can either? Is that even remotely fair? Please, have compassion. (NOTE: Image's release of "Psychic Force," though advertised as sub-only, is really bilingual, with an English dub. Whether any particular one of Image's anime titles has a dub track or not will depend on the particular company that's releasing it *through* Image, as is explained immediately below.)
*About Image Entertainment*: Image Entertainment is one of the largest "independant" DVD companies in The U.S., and the world. "Independant," in this context, means not part of a huge, industry-dominating multimedia company, like Time/Warner/AOL or Miramax/Buena Vista/Disney. Though unknown to most anime fans (or so it seems to me), Image is extremely well-known and highly-regarded to fans of "genre" or "cult" movies - horror films, psychotronica, drive-in movies, old "exploitation" films, etc.. So, what have they released? In a sense, nothing: all of Image's releases are made jointly with other companies, which provide the actual source materials, subtitle scripts, etc.. They have a catalogue of over 1,700 DVD titles, encompassing nearly all possible contents: Comedy, Horror, Documentary, Science Fiction, Opera, Fantasy, Anime, Animation (non-Japanese), Drama, Family, Mystery, Silent, Action, Special Interest, Audio DVD's...and the list goes on. "Hermes" is licensed in The U.S. to Vanguard Films (discussed in the next paragraph), who also released a VHS tape of it independantly of Image. CPM's first DVD releases were through Image. Also, Universal Pictures first broke into the DVD market via Image, with a selection of fifty or so titles back in 1998. However, it's some of their currently active partnerships/licenses that've really put them on the map. For instance, in association with Tim Lucas - founder, owner and chief editor of "Video Watchdog," a magazine for genre-film fans - Image has, since 1999, been releasing "The EuroShock Collection," a widely varied collection of European horror films, mostly dating from the '60's and '70's. Most of these films have either never been officially released in The U.S. or have only appeared in horrendously chopped-up, cut, edited versions. Though all are selected and scouted out by Tim Lucas (who's also a film historian specializing in genre films, and has an extensive knowledge of truly obscure ones), these films are licensed through or from many different companies, in many different countries. While some of the earliest few entries into the "Collection" were a bit hit-and-miss - taken off of pan-and-scan video tape masters, missing footage - most of the subsequent ones have been widescreen, uncut versions; recently, Image released, as part of The EuroShock Collection, the extremely notorious 1980 Italian horror/action film "Cannibal Apocalypse," starring John Saxon, uncut and unrated for the first time ever in The U.S.. Occasionally, one of The Collection still turns out to be slightly flawed - missing a scene, etc - but, on average, their quality ranges from good to excellent. Why bring this up in an anime review? Because if Image starts releasing anime titles like it's released these films, then we're going to have a lot of offbeat, interesting anime titles - titles that no major anime company would be likely to bother with, licensed by small companies like Vanguard - in presentations that're at least acceptable, and could be quite good. (NOTE: "Psychic Force" isn't from Vanguard - it's from another company.) Image Entertainment has no objection to weird, outre subject matter, including that which could be religiously offensive to quite a few people (just look at "Hermes"). They also have no objection to violence: in association with Mike Vraney's "Something Weird" company, they've released the '60's and '70's gore films of H.G. Lewis, who actually *invented* gore films in Western-hemisphere cinema. Lewis' gore films have been released by Image uncut and unrated. They generally feature eye-gouging, murder, disememberment, disembowelment (courtesy of some stewed sheep guts), and gallons of corn-syrup blood - not for the squeamish, and *vastly* in excess of anything that could now (or ever) be passed by The (Stupid and Power-Abusing) MPAA with an "R" rating. Also, some of The EuroShock Collection, like "Cannibal Apocalypse," are equally graphic and gruesome, and are likewise presented uncut and unrated. (On the other hand, other titles in The EuroShock Collection could be, and have been, played uncut on broadcast TV - they're not ALL gruesome). Image has very little objection to sex - but the objections it does seem to have are, perhaps, a cause for worry. On the one hand, they released the unrated, uncut, uncensored version of the legendarily extreme 1980 film "Caligula" for Penthouse Productions, which includes, in its two-and-a-half-hour-plus runtime, about six minutes of absolutely genuine, totally explicit...ahem, *activity,* as well as non-stop total nudity, some unconvincing but graphic gore, and some very fine acting by such greats as Malcom MacDowell, Helen Mirren and Sir Peter O'Toole - none of whom, of course, are really physically involved in that aformentioned six minutes. On the other hand, when they released (as part of The EuroShock Collection) the 1973 Jess Franco film "Female Vampire" (which features, among other things, the title character wearing only her cape and boots for most of the film), many knowledgeable critics pointed out that, in a particular scene, there was a single semi-explicit shot in most versions of the film - but not in Image's release. However, the scene in question doesn't seem to be any shorter, and another, unrelated scene is actually longer. This leads me to conclude (I could be wrong) that Image chose a print of the film without that particular shot - which is quite possible, because Eurocine, the company that made and owns "Female Vampire," is well- known for having many different cuts of individual movies, frequently with substantial alternate footage; it's practically impossible to say what footage a "definitive" version of some of these would have to include. However, I *do* know for a fact that Image recently decided not to pick up another Jess Franco / Eurocine film, "Exorcism" (which was instead picked up by Synapse Films, and released), for reasons of content. Therefore, I personally doubt the rumors that I've heard, that Image is planning to release hentai titles - unless they're going to cut them, at which point I hope they decide to just drop the whole idea. Please, either release it uncut - if it won't get you arrested (change those laws!) - or don't release it. Writing or e-mailing Image Entertainment about this, politely, might be a good idea. Of course, Image is also puts out all of the Penthouse and Playboy titles on DVD - but they don't count, being as mainstream as Disney.
*About Vanguard Films*: Vanguard Films is a small U.S. company, specializing the in Central / South American films; U.S. independant films; European films; and an assortment films from elsewhere, such as Asia. They have their own website. Practically all of their previous releases haved been live-action (not that there's anything wrong with that) - with one exception: they released the 1982 French animated feature film "Time Masters" (a.k.a. "Les Maitres du Temps"), which was directed by Rene Laloux. Rene Laloux also directed and co-animated the 1972 animated film "Fantastic Planet" (a.k.a "Le Planete Sauvage" - literally "The Savage Planet"). Though not nearly on par technically with anime from 1982, "Time Masters" is still one of the few completely serious works of animation-for-grownups made outside of Japan, along with "Fantastic Planet"; the original (1981) "Heavy Metal: The Movie"; Ralph Bakshi's "Wizards"; Michael Chung's "Aeon Flux"; and Todd MacFarlane's "Spawn: The Animated Series." "Time Masters" is available both as a VHS tape from Vanguard and as a DVD from Image Entertainment, both in subtitled French only (though the DVD has *optional* subtitles). A word of warning: compared to the relatively pristine release of "Hermes," Vanguard's release of "Time Masters" is rather slipshod - it's pan-and-scan, seemingly based on a used half-inch tape master, based in turn off of what was probably a rather worn theatrical print. Still, if you like "Fantastic Planet," you'll like "Time Masters." (For the sake of completion, I'll add that "Fantastic Planet" is available on DVD - in a beautiful widescreen transfer, with the extras of a U.S. theatrical trailer and three early, short animated films by Mr. Laloux - from *Anchor Bay,* another independant DVD company.)
*About Toei Studios*: Toei Studios was founded in Japan in 1956. They produced what are arguably, for better or worse, the two currently best-known anime titles in America - "Sailor Moon" and "Dragon Ball Z." However, they've also produced many more things. In the anime field, they're produced dozens of titles, among them "Fist of The North Star," "Yu Yu Hakusho," "Utena: Adolescence Mokurshiroku" (as a partner, rather than the sole producer), and many of the early works of Hayao Miyazaki. In live-action, they've been no less prolific: they produced internationally-acclaimed samurai films in the late 50's and the 60's; they created the famous *kaiju* (giant monster) Gamera, Friend to All Children; and, they made the SF movie "Mechanical Violator Hakkaider" released in the U.S. by Media Blasters. As with their anime titles, this is to name but a few - Toei in Japan is the equivalent of a company like MGM/Universal in The U.S.. Their name - "Toei" - means "projection," in the sense of a motion picture projector or a slide projector, making it an obvious name-choice for a motion picture company; their triangular logo is the Kanji for "Toei."
Japanese Language,English Subtitles