Barefoot Gen: 9/10
A line from Apocalypse Now kept creeping into my head whilst I watched this - "The horror, the horror..."
Barefoot Gen more than lived up to my expectations. I'd read before watching that it's very similar to Grave of the Fireflies, it being story about children trying to survive during World War 2, and they are indeed worthy of being spoken of in the same breath. There aren't many films, live-action or animated, that have the sort of impact these films do on viewers.
Barefoot Gen is a story told from the viewpoint of a child, the story being about the Hiroshima bombing. Instead of rushing into the bombing, time was spent showing the viewer Gen's (Gen is the main character) family and how they struggled to survive with little to no food. Gen spent a lot time with his younger brother during the early section, trying to find food for their pregnant mother and, basically, acting like kids do. This early pre-bombing section was good because it allowed viewers to become emotionally attached to the family and made them want the familty to survive.
And then, suddenly, the atomic bomb hits and, in graphic detail, you see people falling apart and getting burnt alive. Eye sockets fall out, skin melts...it wasn't easy to watch. Gen then rushed back to home to find his father, brother and sister all stuck under their house, which had collapsed due to the blast. After Gen and his mother couldn't lift what their family was stuck under, Gen had to pull his mother away from their family in order to save themselves due to the fire spreading, but Gen first made a teary-eyed promise with his father - his father made him make a non-verbal promise that he'd protect his mother and the child growing inside her.
It continued like that until the end. It was realistic to the point of being painful to watch. Animation or not, it was hard not to see what was happening as real. Barefoot Gen was based on the real life story of the author, so it'd be wrong to view as "just a silly cartoon" because of the lack of real actors, but it's rare for animation to have that sort of impact on me.
There were a few things I wasn't impressed with, such as the semi-annoying voice actor of Gen, how easily Gen's brother was allowed to be replaced by someone who looked like him and how well Gen and his mother handled losing their loved ones, but the good outweighed the bad. It was a wonderful film, and I highly recommend it to anyone with interest in the more realistic side of anime.
Barefoot Gen 2: 7.5/10
Barefoot Gen 2 continues the story 3 years after the end of the first film. Japan has started to return to normal but there are still problems like starvation and people being homeless. The bombing resulted in a lot of kids having their entire families killed and that obviously meant there were a lot of kids living on the street, unable to even get education because people need to pay to go to school in Japan. The story in this film focuses on a group of kids Gen befriends and shows how, even after the bombings had stopped, Japan was still far from repaired.
In all honesty, there didn't need to be a sequel made. The first film covered everything important and only the left the aftermath, which was never going to be as powerful as what came before, to be shown. The film had potential but a lot of the potentially interesting aspects, such as how people with burns from the atomic bomb were treated like monsters, were never looked into too deeply. Although I didn't feel the film was bad, I felt it wasn't made with the same amount of effort as the first and, quite simply, the story was weaker due to it not having to cover anything as horrific as what was shown in the first film.
A decent sequel, and a very nice DVD extra (both Barefoot films are on the same disc), but not worthy of a high rating.