The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: initial impressions

Tenki no Ko: Remarks on the new Makoto Shinkai Film announced for July 2019

“This is a story about a secret world only she and I know. That day, we changed the shape of the world forever.” –Movie Tagline

Amidst the runaway success of Kimi no Na Wa, Makoto Shinkai found himself staring at a towering white cumulonimbus, standing out against the vivid blue of a summer’s sky on a hot August day. The massive thunderhead’s flattened top resembled an island, and Shinkai thought, what if this was a world of its own? This is how Tenki no Ko (天気の子, Weathering With You in English, literally “Children of the Weather”) came into being: Makoto Shinkai’s latest film, Tenki no Ko follows Hodaka Morishima, a high school student who moves to Tokyo and finds that his finances are quickly consumed. He eventually takes up a position as a writer for an obscure and objectionable occult magazine. However, shortly after accepting this job, the weather in Tokyo becomes monotonously rainy. Amidst the endless activity in Tokyo, Hodaka encounters Hina Amano, an optimistic and dependable girl who lives with her brother. Beyond her cheerful manner lies her ability to clear the skies. At least, this is what the synopsis for Tenki no Ko is, and recently, a trailer was released, detailing the animation and artwork viewers can expect from Tenki no Ko. Standing in contrast with Shinkai’s previous works, which have colourful, vividly detailed and cheerful backgrounds, Tenki no Ko features much drearier, dilapidated settings in its trailer that resemble Hong Kong’s former Kowloon Walled City. Greys dominate the setting, which is covered with haphazard wiring, overgrowth and crumbling structures. Compared to the cleaner, cared-for settings of Kotonoha no Niwa and Kimi no Na Wa, Tenki no Ko conveys a more desolate setting, communicating ruin forgotten amongst a city’s endless drive for progress. However, shaft of golden light, breaking through gaps in the cloud, suggest an oasis of happiness surrounded by a sea of monotony, and so, in this trailer, Tenki no Ko hints that it is much more than being a mere film about youthful romance and fateful meetings.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The last time I wrote a preview for a Makoto Shinkai movie, it was three years ago, and I was entering the final term of my graduate studies. Kimi no Na Wa came out eight months later, and subsequently, it was an eleven month journey to the other side where I could finally watch and write about it. By comparison, Tenki no Ko‘s first trailer released precisely 100 days before its première date. It opens with closeups of details such as rain falling onto an umbrella, immediately setting the stage for what is to follow.

  • The choice of lighting, with greys, browns and tans dominating the Tokyo landscape, which is focused on older parts of the megalopolis, suggests that Tenki no Ko might be going in a slightly different direction. Each of Makoto Shinkai’s films stand out from one another despite being characterised by themes of distance, fateful encounters and the like; one possibility from the trailer is that themes of urban decay, abandonment and finding joy even among desolation come into play in Tenki no Ko. However, this scene also features a single shaft of light from the sun breaking through the clouds, suggesting that optimism and hope, also exist.

  • Hina maintains a small shrine on the roof of her building, which is evidently aging and overgrown with weeds. The scene feels more like something out of Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, a book that longtime readers of this blog will have doubtlessly heard me reference multiple times. I am admittedly curious to see where the film will go with its direction, and the trailer does seem to set the tone for what kind of settings the movie will cover. However, I imagine that as we press further into the movie, more majestic and beautiful locations will also be seen.

  • The chaotic mass of pipes and wiring here remind me greatly of the Kowloon Walled City that existed in Hong Kong: after World War Two, there was a parcel of land in Hong Kong that officially belonged to China, but seeing as how the British and China would not accept administrative responsibility of the area, what was once a walled city and yamen turned into a site for the destitute. Since neither British nor Chinese law applied here, people escaped to the Walled City and constructed their own apartments and utilities. By 1990, the site was the most densely populated site in the world, with some 1.2 million inhabitants per square kilometre, and despite its fearsome reputation as a hotbed of crime, most of the residents lived their lives peacefully.

  • The short synopsis presently provides next to nothing in the way of what’s going to happen in Tenki no Ko, rather like how the body switching of Kimi no Na Wa was only a primer for the movie’s main story – this leaves the film quite free to explore most anything, and for this, I am very excited to see where Tenki no Ko will head. Here, we have a closer look at Hina; she bears little resemblance to Shinkai’s earlier characters, and is voiced by Nana Mori. One of the chief drawbacks about Shinkai’s older works were that his female leads seemed to be ethereal, angelic beings of perfection; by the events of Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below, his female characters become more nuanced and human, giving viewers more incentive to root for them.

  • Vegetable animals are a part of the Obon Festival: they usually take the form of a a horse made from cucumber and an ox made out of eggplant. These animals symbolise transport for ancestral spirits that return them to the realm of spirits, and traditionally, were put outside one’s door on the first day of Obon with incense. The last time I saw Obon vegetable animals was in Sora no Woto‘s seventh episode, where Kanata explains customs from her area. Emphasis on this suggests that life and death might also be a component of Tenki no Ko.

  • I’ve long expressed my displeasure that there are some out there who view Makoto Shinkai’s films as a justification for pressing the idea that extensive knowledge of the Man’yōshū and other aspects of Classical Japanese literature and folklore is required to fully appreciate his films. During Kimi no Na Wa‘s run, one unscrupulous fellow continued to peddle this idea, all the while putting down others for not “getting” the film to the same level as they did. While it is true that Shinkai incorporates classical elements into his works, these merely serve as analogies and allegories that enhance the story if noticed; the story is in no way diminished if one chooses not to account for these elements.

  • Tenki no Ko remains early in its reveal, and I’ve not seen discussions go in this direction as of yet: personally, I am confident that this film will be quite enjoyable, irrespective of one’s prior knowledge in Classical Japanese literature and folklore. It suddenly strikes me that the trailer’s release is much closer to the film’s actual release than was Kimi no Na Wa‘s, and a part of me wishes that Tenki no Ko will be similarly structured and released as Kotonoha no Niwa: with a shorter runtime of 45 minutes, Kotonoha no Niwa released in May 31, 2013 and became available for home release on June 21, 2013. This made the film exceptionally accessible.

  • The trailer depicts Hina flying through the skies, far above the tops of the thunderheads, which are tinged with green to evoke imagery of islands in the skies: the scenery here is used in the promotional artwork for Tenki no Ko and, while not as iconic as Comet Tiamat’s trail in Kimi no Na Wa, remains quite distinct and grand in scale. The film’s soundtrack will be performed by RADWIMPS, who make a triumphant return after composing and performing the excellent soundtrack for Kimi no Na Wa: the theme song for Tenki no Ko is Ai ni Dekiru koto wa Mada Arukai (“Is there still anything that love can do?”).

  • I am certain I will enjoy this movie, and hope that it’ll see a shorter delay in the gap between the theatrical première. With this being said, I am certain that certain review sites, like Anime News Network. will unnecessarily waste resources to see this movie for the singular purpose of pushing out a review first. Until the rest of the world gets to see the movie, I suggest that reviews appearing at Anime News Network, and anywhere else, should not be regarded as a credible assessment of the film. I realise that I’ve been writing considerably less as of late, as well: real life obligations has meant that I’ve less time to write in general these days. Having said this, I am definitely going to be offering my thoughts on Tenki no Ko once it is available, and in the near future, I am also doing a talk on I Want to Eat Your Pancreas, a solid film whose home release became available earlier this month.

Entering Tenki no Ko, expectations are high for a visually stunning film – the trailer and Shinkai’s past works set the precedence for what audiences can expect. From the glint of light on raindrops to flaking paint, dense, unkempt vegetation on a building’s rooftop and the enigmatic world above the clouds, Tenki no Ko will undoubtedly impress with Shinkai’s signature artwork and animation. The story remains unknown right now, and here, I will enter with an open mind – I recall that with Kimi no Na Wa, I expressed a want to see reduced romance in favour of exploring growth. The film delivered this, in a manner of speaking, but with the benefit of hindsight, I ended up eating my words. Tenki no Ko represents a familiar setup for Shinkai, but with a different premise, I look forwards to seeing what new directions the film can explore, especially with rain and its associated themes making a return in conjunction with a bit of magic that manifests in Hina’s ability to stop the rain. While perhaps nowhere nearly as potent as the Infinity Gauntlet, I look forwards to seeing how this ability will impact her and Hodaka’s growth. Aside from a more open mind, I also enter the long wait for Tenki no Ko with the understanding that this film could take a similarly long time to become available for English-speakers: with a release date of July 19, Tenki no Ko will likely see a home release in June 2020, ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, if it sees a strong box office performance. This wait is going to be a tricky one, although now that I am entering with the preparedness to endure a long wait, I can pursue other things while spoilers for Tenki no Ko become more commonplace – the Halo: Master Chief Collection looks to be more than acceptable a means of enjoying myself while we wait for the film to become available, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be vociferously griping about my inability to watch this film while I melt through the Covenant, Flood and Forerunner Prometheans alike.

Your Name (Kimi no na wa) Home Release Set for July 26

“Anyways, this is a good movie. I was genuinely moved by the displays of courage and sacrifice in the name of what they felt was right. So Mitsuha and Taki can have their moment, I’ll give them that, because at the end of the day, you win some, and you lose some. And today, they are about to win some, big time! The Blu-Rays are about to come out, and we are about to take them on a test run! Believe! Believe that!” –Kylo Ren on the announcement

Update: The release date of July 26 has been officially announced as of May 10. 

I open with the remark that there has been no official announcement yet: this information is relatively recent, and its authenticity is unverified. Derived from a lower-resolution photograph of a promotional poster that was handed out with some stores accompanying purchases, it seems that Your Name will be available for purchase on July 26, 2017. Continuing with translation of the poster finds that there will be four tiers of the film available for purchase: the basic DVD will cost 3800 yen (46.56 CAD) and the standard edition BD will be 4800 yen (58.81 CAD). The special edition BD will include two bonus disks (likely containing the behind-the-scenes and other materials), plus a special booklet and artwork. This one will retail for 7800 yen (88.21 CAD). Finally, the ultimate collector’s edition BD will go for 12000 yen (147.02 CAD). The ultimate collector’s edition is notably less than the price of Battlefield 1: Ultimate Edition, which costs 165 CAD, and two dollars more than picking up Battlefield 1 and Battlefield 1 Premium Pass separately at current exchange rates: at the top-tier, consumers will get five disks in total (two for the movie, and three for behind-the-scenes features), plus a one-hundred page booklet and all-new visuals. Of note is the fact that there is going to be a 4K version: a resolution of 3840 × 2160 pixels, such a version of Your Name will look fabulous on screens ranging from 4K monitors to the iPad Pro tablets.

  • Unlike Girls und Panzer Der Film, as I’m no longer a student, I cannot spend a full day writing a larger review: that post took twelve hours over the course of a day to write, and taking a day off work for an anime movie review makes no sense. With this in mind, having seen the movie previously, I’ve got a very good idea of what to write about going into the projected BD release date: I will aim to have the review (likely eclipsing even Girls und Panzer Der Film‘s review and discussion in size) out on the same day that my copy of Your Name arrives.

This news comes five years after I learned of the K-On! Movie‘s release, which was also set to be in July. The three month timeframe between the announcement and actual release is consistent with the K-On! Movie, as well as Girls und Panzer Der Film (which was also announced roughly three months before release) both cases, so while the July 26 release date is presently unconfirmed, I imagine that official news will be appearing quite soon. Further to this, the soundtrack for Your Name released on July 26, 2016, a month before the movie itself premièred in Japanese theatres. Finally, I’ve heard that Your Name‘s theatrical run in Japan drew to a close last week. The sum of these observations point in a direction to support the authenticity of this news; should Your Name indeed be released on July 26, the wait for this movie, however arduous it has been for the past several months, will have been worth something. At the minimum, Your Name will not be as elusive as Half-Life 3 or Half-Life 2 Episode 3. It will be fantastic to be able to watch Your Name in proper HD on my own screens.

Your Name: Remarks about a future review

“Sometimes things aren’t clear right away. That’s where you need to be patient and persevere and see where things lead.” —Mary Pierce

Makoto Shinkai’s Kimi no na wa (the English title, Your Name, will be used from here on out) is one of 2016’s biggest anime movies; while its box office numbers are smaller than those of Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the film’s sales have reached a total of 11.1 billion yen (roughly 111 million USD), putting it at nearly five times the total box office gross that Girls und Panzer Der Film made. The trailers hinted at a narrative involving exchange of conciousness between a Tokyo high school male student and a high school female student living in rural Japan. Your Name is inspired by the classical Heian work, Torikaebaya Monogatari, where two siblings possessed mannerisms are those of the opposite sex, as well as Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence, in which the eponymous characters fall in love with one another after Griffin receives a post card from Sabine that changes his life forever. With a more compelling and immersive narrative than any of his previous films, Shinkai casts Your Name as a powerful story where themes of distance and longing are now interwoven with initiative and resolve. His characters take charge of their situation and are no longer passive observers; they actively make an effort towards altering their circumstances, resulting in a film that is rather more conclusive and satisfying, even if some elements are roughly presented.

  • Kimi no na wa will hitherto be known as Your Name for easier typing. In this short preview review, I utilise screenshots obtained from the trailers, hence their quality, although I’m rather excited to see how sharp screenshots will look in full 1080p. Makoto Shinkai’s films look amazing in full quality, and since The Place Promised In Our Early Days, I’ve aimed to watch his films at the best possible quality to really take in all of the visual elements.

  • Makoto Shinkai’s interior environments are incredibly detailed and give a very lived-in feeling: the trend continues into Your Name, with Taki’s room filled with clutter appropriate for that of a high school student. His iPhone 6 is visible here, and throughout the movie, he uses the LINE app for communications. A Japanese platform for instant messaging and VOIP conversations, I prefer to use Skype only because all of my contacts, save one, use Skype.

  • Mitsuha expresses total frustration at the monotony in her life, shouting out that she wishes to respawn as a “handsome Tokyo boy” with the expectation that life could be more exciting. The movie juxtaposes this with her experiences as Taki, who leads a busy life. On top of being a student, he works part time at an Italian restaurant. On the topic of respawning, I’m still early to be thinking about that sort of thing, but should respawns be real, I’d probably like a chance to live in the Japanese countryside.

  • Notions of conscious transfer and body-swapping remains (thankfully) confined to the realm of fiction for the present: if someone were to swap places with me for a day, the kind of chaos it would cause would be immense. Because such a transfer is impossible, people strongly identify individuals based on their appearance as much as their personalities, so an exchange of any sort would result in an identity crisis of sorts.

  • In Your Name, Makoto Shinkai takes his animation to the next level: where Taki is in Mitsuha’s place, he gropes Mitsuha and results in Mitsuha’s younger sister growing suspicious. Later, during a basketball game, Taki executes a move that Mitusha would unlikely carry out, and the camera angles illustrate that non-rigid physics in Your Name are also well-tended to, standing in contrast with his previous films.

  • One of the elements I will need to consider for the figure captions in the full review is how to refer to the characters while they’re swapped, without resulting in any sort of confusion. The notation will probably resolve itself, and with no known release date for the BDs, I imagine there will be plenty of time to figure out how I will structure said review. The soundtrack, performed by RADWIMPS, is a reasonably enjoyable listen; I found myself enjoying the violin and piano pieces much more than the lyrical performances.

  • The vocal songs interspersed throughout Your Name are a bit different than the sort of music I enjoy, although they do add some impact to the film. I will aim to keep spoilers in this review to an absolute minimum, especially in light of how difficult it will be to access this movie in some places. Intel has been lacking, and besides the fact that Funimation’s licensed Your Name, dates and locations for North American screenings of this movie simply don’t exist.

  • A vast field in the top of a caldera is one of the locales in Your Name. The scale of the landscape is reminiscent of the finis terra of Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below, and while Your Name is ostensibly set in the real world, there are enough supernatural elements for the film to be classified as a fantasy, as well. The trailers have done a fantastic job of making it known that body switching is plays a substantial role in Your Name, although the movie itself uses this as one of many elements to deliver a multi-dimensional story.

  • Besides figuring out how to best present a talk on the themes in Your Name, I will also take advantage of the (presently) unknown time between now and the home release to eyeball whether or not the effects of an impact event is reasonably depicted in Your Name. I’m normally quite lax when it comes to accuracy in anime, but because Makoto Shinkai’s visuals are particularly good, I hold higher expectations; if the visuals correspond at least somewhat plausibly with real world observations, I will be satisfied.

  • As with Girls und Panzer Der Film, I will do my best to let readers know when a home release becomes a reality. With this post now done, and the fall season under way, I will tend to the Non Non Biyori Repeat OVA before Brave Witches kicks off.

Your Name is a moving and engaging film that features an optimistic theme; deriving a combination of elements from Five Centimeters per Second, Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below and The Garden of Words, Your Name tells a tale of separation as a smaller component in a much larger series of events. Driven by a desire to reach closure of some sort, Shinkai has his characters sieze the initiative rather than resigning themselves to what could have been in Your Name. The end result is an immensely meaningful conclusion to Your Name, and consequently, it is unsurprising that the film has performed as observed in the box office. At present, no information is available on when the home release is coming out, but I definitely will be doing a full review of the movie once the home release becomes available: like Girls und Panzer Der Film, it will be a larger talk with anywhere from sixty to ninety screenshots. Experience has found that such a post will take anywhere from nine to twelve hours to write, but this time, with the movie’s contents fresh on my mind, I’ll be able to distribute that time over a greater period, meaning that writing such a post will mean less exhaustion on my end.

“Kimi no Na wa”: A New Makoto Shinkai Film, Announced for August 2016

“I am searching for you, whom I have never met yet.” —Movie Tagline

Late in January 2015, Makoto Shinkai posted to his blog that he was working on the storyboards to a new story. Nearly a year later, the film’s title and story has been released. Called “Kimi no Na wa” (Your Name), the new film is going to follow the seemingly disparate lives of two high school students shortly after a comet has impacted Japan for the first time in a millennium. Mitsuba (Moka Kamishiraishi) lives in rural Japan but longs to move to a city its hustle and bustle. She frequently experiences dreams of life as a young man. Taki (Ryuunosuke Kamiki) lives in Tokyo; working part time at an Italian restaurant, he has a particularly strong interest in architecture, but dreams that he’s a female student attending a rural high school. This enigmatic connection seemingly links the two together and appears to form the basis for the main story, leading one to question what secrets said connection entails, and how all of this relates with the impact event. The unique combination of everyday familiarity with a touch of fantasy is distinctly Makoto Shinkai, and as per the post’s title, it will be released in Japanese theatres somewhere in August 2016. A bit of pattern analysis suggests that a home release will follow anywhere from two to six months after depending on its length (so, if it’s an hour or less, it’s quite possible that the movie could be out as soon as September-October 2016, while a feature-length movie exceeding 90 minutes will probably mean a home release in February 2017).

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Impact events have a very profound effect on the immediate landscape, and larger impacts can significantly alter the planet’s climate. Sources are painting the impacting object as a comet, although this is technically incorrect: most comets average from several hundred meters to tens of kilometers across. An object with a 75 meter diameter would hit the surface with roughly 100 MT, which would annihilate a major city and yield a 1.5 kilometer wide crater. The smallest of comets, a few hundred meters in diameter, would impact with 15 GT, enough energy to destroy an area the size of Taiwan. So, the translations might not be accurate, and the impacting object is probably an asteroid no greater than 10 metres in diameter.

  • Discussions off-site marvel at the level of detail that an iPhone 6 is depicted in. There are just enough differences between the real-world equivalent and this fictionalised version to avoid a lawsuit: while the interface seen on the screen is clearly iOS 9, the fictionalised phone’s edges are more angular than that of its real-world counterpart. I upgraded my Nokia Lumia 520 to an iPhone 6 more than a month ago for iOS development purposes, and because I’m quite familiar with the iOS ecosystem, this phone’s proven to be far more useful than my old Windows Phone.

  • I still retain enough of my Chinese knowledge to read the squared-out section as “During the evening” (literally “evening-time”). The trailer was released on December 10, and featured extremities that characterise Shinkai’s specialities: intricate, highly-detailed depiction of mundane subjects (phones, blackboards and what appears to be a loom), as well as stunningly vivid skies.

  • The cityscapes depicted in the Kimi no Na wa trailer appear to depict the same areas of Tokyo that were seen in Five Centimeters per Second. Both the previous films (Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below and Garden of Words) are as detailed as Five Centimeters per Second but made use of more advanced lighting techniques to bring scenes to life: I often compare the differences in the artwork for Shinkai’s later works to the differences between Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4, where the graphical advancements were quite subtle but noticeable.

  • With that being said, there is an upper limit to how intricate or vivid Shinkai’s works can be: the visual fidelity improved dramatically between The Placed Promised in Our Early Days and Five Centimeters per Second, but since then, have remained quite consistent. Thus, I can be quite certain in saying that Kimi no Na wa will be very similar to Garden of Words in terms of graphics, leaving only the story as an avenue for improvement.

  • While Shinkai’s artistic talent and sense are unparalleled, his story-telling comes across as being weaker: Five Centimeters per Second is easily his best film, for being focused and telling a realistic, but melancholic story about one individual’s distance defeating his feelings for a girl he’d known since childhood. However, the ending proved to be somewhat difficult to understand for the audience. I’ve done an exhaustive review and analysis of the anime, hopefully clearing up some of these inconsistencies.

  • Distance and separation form the bulk of the themes for Shinkai’s movies, and admittedly, I am not particularly keen on his interpretation of distance in Five Centimeters per Second, which suggested that the process of absence driving longing, and longing begetting melancholy, is outside of one’s control. Consequently, his characters suffer, grow depressed as a result of being unable to affect their circumstances. His later films attempt to step away from this, and while the execution becomes choppier (it would appear that Shinkai is not particularly versed on writing happier stories), I appreciate them all the same for aiming to be more optimistic: Garden of Words was quite fun to watch for that reason, as Takao is actively doing everything he can to connect with Yukari, and even though she ultimately moves, the efforts turn out to be worth something.

  • Therefore, going into Kimi no Na wa, I think that the story would stand to gain a great deal if either 1) the romance aspects are outlined in a positive manner to help Mitsuba and Taki understand more about their circumstances or 2) is discarded altogether in favour of a conventional friendship, such that any romantic overtones need not be explored in further detail. The second approach is preferred simply because it would allow for Mitsuba and Taki to explore their dreams much more openly, in greater detail, without demanding inordinate time to reasonably build up a relationship, plus all of the challenges, especially since it’s clear that neither Mitsuba or Taki have previously met.

  • I do not believe that the composer for Kimi no Na wa‘s music is known yet. Garden of Words‘ soundtrack was by Daisuke Kashiwa, and previous films featured music from Tenmon. The minimalistic presence of music in Shinkai’s works is fitting: details in the environment and lighting serve to convey particular moods and emotions in place of heavier musical accompaniment, and consequently, the music in most of Shinkai’s films (save Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below) acts to create ambiance.

  • The upcoming wait for Kimi no Na wa is anywhere from ten to sixteen months; I’m willing to bet an arm and a leg that Girls und Panzer Der Film will have a home release well before then. Because the release date is so far in the future, I cannot guarantee that I’ll still be in a position to review this when the time comes, but I am going to do my best to try and watch it.

With Shinkai’s previous showings in mind, I anticipate that Kimi no Na wa will probably not be the powerhouse performance that Five Centimeters per Second was: his most recent two works, Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below and Garden of Words both were quite unique and entertaining. Moreover, they carry Makoto Shinkai’s signature style, featuring incredibly detailed interiors, landscapes, lighting details and artwork of common everyday objects. This particular aspect has become something that Shinkai’s become quite renowned for. In addition to his artwork, Shinkai’s love stories are also distinct: they tend towards a more open ending, leaving viewers to speculate what might progress from there. In doing so, Shinkai suggests that life itself is most definitely not deterministic and can’t be predicted; besides Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below, most of Shinkai’s stories take a particularly melancholic outlook on love itself, suggesting that it is unattainable for some. I am hoping that this will not be the case in Kimi no Na wa, as the premise appears to be conducive for two individuals coming together through fate. In fact, I assert that Kimi no Na wa will probably deliver a superior story if love is omitted: Mitsuba and Taki’s encounter should result in a friendship, not relationship, that allows the two to learn more about the secrets surrounding their dreams without introducing additional detritus that limits the main story.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided- Late Impressions from the E3 Reveal

“The promise of a golden age is over!” — Viktor Marchenko

I might be late to the party, but I’m still the life of it- the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo was back in June, and has been one of the more solid ones in recent history, showcasing titles such as Star Wars Battlefront and DOOM. However, for me, the pièce de résistance was easily Edios Montreal’s Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the sequel to 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolutions. When I completed it last summer, Human Revolutions took the spot as my favourite game of all time. Here was a title that had a very compelling story about the implications of technology, a richly developed world and abundance of choice. Players were free to complete the game in any manner of their choosing without penalty, and the game rewarded players for exploration. These elements together formed a title that was superbly memorable and entertaining. The ending I received for completing Human Revolutions was satisfying, so it did surprise me to learn that there was a direct sequel in development. Set after Human Revolutions, Mankind Divided deals with a world where augmentations have been viewed as harmful, and augmented individuals have been segregated from the remainder of society. Adam Jensen returns as the protagonist, assigned with stopping terrorist attacks and all the while, confront the individuals responsible for guiding the world into its present state from the shadows.

From the E3 gameplay alone, I’m already anticipating Mankind Divided. The developers explain that, as with Human Revolutions, their game can be approached from a multi-path, multi-solution perspective. This allows players to approach a situation in the manner of their choosing without penalty, and also encourages exploration. The footage also shows Mankind Divided as having superb graphics. While the new graphics are a bonus, they also enhance the sense of immersion: clutter in the environment and subtle details, such as the items in a room, really give the sense that Jensen is moving through a ghetto for augmented individuals. Features to gameplay not present in Human Revolutions include improved hacking, and all-new augmentations that allow for new approaches towards a problem. Adam Jensen can now lock onto and stun four individuals using stun darts, knock electronic enemies out of the air with a hand-mounted PEPS, and even fire explosive nanoblades to engage enemies behind cover. Hacking also appears to be given an upgrade; it feels familiar enough, but there are nuances that will make it a more engaging, challenging experience. In showcasing some of these new features, the E3 demonstration does much to build my anticipation for Mankind Divided, which is set for a release somewhere in “early 2016”.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The first bit of gamplay shows that the UI’s been given a complete overhaul. It’s much cleaner and simpler than before, with key augmentations being accessible by shortcuts. There is a trove of information about Mankind Divided: it’s to be set in 2029, two years after Mankind Divided, and apparently, Adam Jensen’s found a new employer: he’s a part of Task Force 29, an Interpol Department that specialises in counterterrorism. However, Jensen does not fully trust them and occasionally leaks information to the Juggernaut Collective.

  • We recall that in Human Revolutions, combat was underwhelming in comparison to stealth. The developers state that combat’s been improved, so hopefully, that means firefights will be much more enjoyable. Similar to Crysis, it is now possible to customise weapons on the fly, and here, the developers switch to EMP pistol rounds to quietly disable a security camera.

  • Similar to the original Deus Ex, players can now receive conflicting missions and will be forced to make their decisions as to whom to trust. Boss fights will see improvements, which hopefully means that under some cases, there will be opportunities to negotiate with bosses, rather than forcing players to kill them in a straight-up fight. This was one of the few limitations in Human Revolutions, and was somewhat remedied in Director’s Cut, but it will be nice to have the full spectrum of options.

  • Several new augmentations were shown in the E3 demo: these are tesla darts that can lock onto up to four targets at once to silently stun them. Because augmentation abilities now figure greatly in the game, the notion of batteries have been dispensed with. Instead, there is a single bar for energy that gradually refills to a certain level, and consumption of certain resources can allow for the battery to recharge fully.

  • Improved spatial options are also available, allowing players to rapidly profile their environment for threats, pathways and resources. This tool could be especially useful for full stealth runs, allowing players to immediately figure out where enemies are and plot a path accordingly. However, Edios Montreal also states that a full-on combat approach will be a possibility, as well.

  • Remote hacking was one of the coolest new features to be implemented: with it, it’s possible to take control of and override elements from a distance. Successfully hacking something remotely will be intended to unlock shortcuts, allowing for stealth as Jensen bypasses heavily patrolled areas to minimise combat.

  • The ICARUS system makes a welcome return, and as with before, can be used to produce a hard landing that stuns everyone within a certain radius. It was one of the most useful augmentations in Human Revolutions, allowing Jensen to drop from heights without fear of death.

  • While there’s remote hacking, traditional hacking also makes a much welcome (and necessary) return. The new and improved hacking system sports visual improvements, but also is said to have additional tricks that make hacking more engaging and challenging. In Human Revolutions, hacking alone yielded substantial experience bonuses that made it easier to purchase praxis points for unlocking new augmentations. I wonder what augmentations will be available in Mankind Divided right off the bat, and which ones will need to be unlocked.

  • The updated graphics in Mankind Divided look amazing, featuring dynamic lighting, better textures and reflections. Human Revolutions excelled in its gameplay, so when I went through the game, the slightly older graphics were not a concern, but if Mankind Divided is able to match or surpass the story and gameplay of Human Revolution, this is going to be a title that will be remembered. Of course, if the graphics prove too much for my aging GPU, it might be time for an upgrade.

  • Most of the enemies featured in the E3 demo were themselves augmented, contrasting the unaugmented guards and soldiers that comprised much of Human Revolution‘s enemies. The presence of augmented enemies means that the possibility for combat diversity will be much greater. Some enemies have exo-skeletons, exotic weapons and unique abilities that is sure to liven up direct engagements. Given that Jensen has upgrades of his own, this could make fights more interesting, and here, the demo shows off the explosive nano-blade, which provides a means of engaging enemies behind cover.

  • According to some sources, all of the setpiece events in Mankind Divided will occur dynamically in response to the different decisions and choices that Jensen makes; nothing is scripted. Here, Jensen is using a shield that protects him from all harm for a short period: it was first showcased back during the March reveal trailer.

  • If the E3 demo is to be believed, combat will handle like a proper first person shooter now: besides the boss fights, I always felt that the combat rifle and shotgun in Human Revolutions were woefully underpowered, taking entire magazines to down a basic guard.

  • Remote turrets also make a return: here, Jensen makes use of an EMP grenade to disable it, before finishing it off with AP rounds from the combat rifle. I never did bother with the augmentation that allowed me to take control of turrets and robots, preferring to either sneak by them or using EMP grenades to stop them.

  • Being able to switch up a weapon’s attachments on the fly is going to be an immeasurably useful ability, allowing players to immediately react to different events and threats on the battlefield. Weapons customisation could very well be a large part of the game, enabling players to tailor a weapon towards their combat style, and admittedly, it will be nice to be able to swap between different sights and attachments for the different weapons.

  • Edios Montreal has stated that while the events of Human Revolution might not be entirely canon, they are planning to continue expanding this universe. There are no plans to make an MMORPG out of the franchise, but truth be told, that’s for the better. The Deus Ex franchise excelled in giving players choice and a highly immersive story, so an MMO with fetch-quests and mundane side missions could undermine the immersion.

  • While I’m ordinarily a somewhat impatient gamer and skip cutscenes, the conversation and social system in Human Revolutions marked the first time I was interested in listening carefully before making a choice. Whenever these conversations occurred, I strove to deliver responses closest to how I would personally react. Such an element contributed to Human Revolution‘s immersion, allowing me to project myself into Adam Jensen’s character, and it looks to make a return in Mankind Divided.

  • The HUD in Mankind Divided no longer has a golden-yellow finish, and also dispenses with the MMO-style inventory displays. While the weapon status and health/energy displays are still in their usual sports, the mini-map’s been moved into the upper right hand corner, and the lower left hand corner is now dominated by a display for augmentation shortcuts. It appears that augmentations will replace items as the elements in the game, although one would imagine that collecting things could still be important.

  • The amount of detail in the environments is quite stunning, and it’s sections like these that lead me to wonder whether or not my aging rig can still run it. As the demo showcases what would happen should Jensen fail the conversation, much combat ensues. The weapons sound much more powerful, and feel like they could actually cause some damage now. If this is indeed the case, then Mankind Divided will merit at minimum two playthroughs, one each for the combat and stealth.

  • This short demo has not given too much of the story away, but in the trailers, several characters make an appearance, including Victor Marchenko and a mysterious augmented youth responsible for a terrorist attack. The story is set in the Czech Republic, and much of the E3 demo is set in a decrepit area reminiscent of the Kowloon Walled City, a lawless settlement in Hong Kong that neither Britain nor China wanted to claim responsibility for. The ghetto showcased in Mankind Divided is composed of shops lining the streets and temporary housing units are stacked on one another, reaching upwards toward the sky to create a very claustrophobic atmosphere similar to that of the Kowloon Walled City.

  • Michael McCann will return to compose Mankind Divided‘s music: the trailer already features a fantastic piece that captures the dark, brooding feel of the Human Revolutions universe, and with the game set to come out in early 2016, I’m über-excited about this title’s release. In the meantime, there’s still plenty to do (read “Metro 2033 ReduxDead Core and Sakura Angels still need to be completed”), so for the present, my initial impressions of Mankind Divided have come to an end.

Because of my overwhelmingly positive experience with Human Revolutions, I am considering pre-ordering Mankind Divided. The decision to pre-order a title does not come lightly, and my typical modus operandi is to wait until a sale before picking up a new title. This way, I have time to determine whether a title is worth my while, and the savings are quite good. However, Mankind Divided appears to be a completely different beast: if the E3 demo is anything to go by, Edios Montreal has shown that Mankind Divided will be the a finely-crafted combination of story, gameplay and visuals. Most titles in the present age excel with two elements at the expense of a third, but Mankind Divided appears to have all three in abundance. These elements mean that the cost of pre-ordering would be offset by a title whose value justifies the launch price: fully exploring this game’s areas and playing through twice (once for stealth and once for combat) could yield some 70 hours of gameplay if the campaign was as long as that of Human Revolutions, a reasonable amount of gametime for a title costing an anticipated 70 CAD. Of course, it’ll be on me to finish my not-impossible Steam backlog before Mankind Divided‘s launch date is announced, before I’ll make a concrete decision.