Twists at breakneck speeds, revelations abound, and allegiances reversed. There seems to be no stopping the heartpounding freight train that is Kill La Kill’s final stretch of episodes. Common cause has been unveiled, leaving it a war of nudes versus clothed avatars of shame, and former enemies now aligned with the once thought only rebellion. With many of the principle roles now falling perfectly into what could be considered destined ones, only one element remains dangling precariously; heroine, Ryuko Matoi. Traumatized, distraught, and more than a little angry about the truth of her origin, her rudder is all but completely broken off. Unwilling to see herself as part of any side other than her own, it is up to a most unexpected ally to make a grand leap in hopes of her salvation. (even if it means beating the tar out of her first..)
Contrary to what the internet would like you to believe, it’s often a great pleasure to be wrong. Looking back at twenty episodes of Studio Trigger’s grand kiss-off/GAINAX love-fest, Kill La Kill, one couldn’t truly be faulted for being a tad presumptuous after years of often disheartening material. So what happened to make this jaded naysayer hit the about-face button so violently? Well, the show as it has been thus far owes much of its success to not only understanding the so-called Gainax formula so well, but to how well it eschews so much of what often hobbles many of the mother studio’s shows. More about playing with form, rather than clumsily taping together with function. What Imaishi and company have successfully fashioned, is the first truly post-Gainax series. One that takes everything since Top Wo Nerae!, and amps up the levels to near murderous methedrine levels, complete with hair-raising cliffhangers every week. Honesty time, it has truly been a long, long time since I have felt this way with any show.
Say what one wishes about previous Imaishi efforts, this is the first truly breakthrough series from a director who’s style has often overridden any semblance of meaning within and without. As great as Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagaan is, there remains a feeling there that is more akin to a dry run at “Hero’s Journey” territory. What KLK offers up, is something both representative of his powers as a stylist, and as a fledgling visual satirist, doling out both incredible energies and sneaking wit beneath oodles of crimson chaos. Even when the show hits an occasional iffy note, more often than not it is countered with something far wilder and more insane that what had come before. Always on the brink of total collapse, the show flirts so often with the bad, and yet it corrects course as if performing a high-wire act, knowing full well that the key to a successful display of showmanship, is the semblance of fallibility. KLK seems to know very well that it’s playing matters quite close to the wire, and yet it never steps away from the edge of that ravine.
And it’s all in the service of some very real concerns regarding the delicate balance not only the young must maintain in life affairs, but everyone. Even as the show has made it alarmingly clear that issues are to be approached in grandiose, broad strokes, it does so with such a deft, visual manner that it almost becomes a moving political mural. A warning, not only to the elder otaku set, but to all passionates that the moral standings we take are often of a musical chairs nature. One of the show’s biggest stylistic triumphs is in how it eschews a lot of the typical muddled anime thematic posturing that bogs most series down, and allows action to dictate more. Even as characters spout out about their requisite viewpoints, it is often within battle that their truest intentions for the world are made clear. Imaishi seems to finally have grand control of his best strengths(visual hyperbole and overt visual metaphors), and is hitting far more than missing this time around. And Nakashima’s story supervision has kept the story developing at such a uniquely effective clip, that one doesn’t mind so much when grand escapes happen, and one is asking questions as to how. This particular story is about the language of action, and what happens when we run so hard against another that we begin seeing the other side’s attributes. That there is more than one justice in the world, and in life we find ourselves dabbling in more than one to see what fits. The origin of community as we strive toward larger goods despite differences. While some of these were indeed explored in TTGL, it feels so much more refined and singular here.
And yes, I realize the absurdity of using “refined” to describe a series that largely consists of largely disrobed teens fighting to the tune of immense collateral damage. But despite all the anarchy and unisex debasement on display, it all seems to be in the name of greater ambitions for anime on television. Even if Kill La Kill’s final stretch turns out to be a typical series flameout, it will no doubt be spectacular. I can’t imagine the staff behind this having it any other way.
(Oh, yes. And I have to remark here that I kind of geeked out about those flashbacks regarding a younger Ragyo & Soichiro Kiryuin. Their hair. Maaaan.)
Tom Stidman is the first ever Fan Guest at Katsucon. A staple in fandom for over a decade and highly involved with local conventions, he had four panels this year covering various materials. He did an excellent interview with Otaku Journalist before Katsucon XX so I just wanted to catch up briefly with him.
The Paper: Tell me about your Katsucon as a fan guest.
Tom Stidman: It’s my best Katsucon. Absolutely fun. I only had to do panels so [it was] very relaxing. It also served as a testbed for me in making better panels. It’s a great place to learn to make panels for bigger cons.
TP: In your interview with Lauren (Otaku Journalist), you set out to provide “high quality programming” and being “a good representative to fandom”. How did you think you did?
TS: I did well on programming. I didn’t just want to do a Q and A, I wanted to bring more…I should do more. I promoted the con beforehand by reaching out [to the media]. I donated items to the charity auction. There’s always room to improve. It’s a learning experience.
TP: If you could do it again, what would you change if anything?
TS: [Exhales and ponders a bit] I may not change anything. I learned stuff that can translate into conrunning. Definitely won’t change the experience.
TP: What specifically did you learn that can translate over to running a con?
TS: I am sorry I cannot disclose details.
TP: No problem. Last question. What was the best part or moment of Katsucon for you?
TS: It’s hard to pick a best moment. There’s so many…. best to interact with folks, meet people, the other guests. Freedom is also great. Besides panels, I could do other things. Time is not on your side as a conrunner. It was much easier… I got to relax with friends.
Readers can find out where else fandom takes Tom via Twitter.
Imagine the saucers I had for eyes upon the discovery that Hollywood’s fabled Egyptian Theatre was hosting a multi-week tribute to the films of Studio Ghibli, and that two longtime favorites were sharing a bill this weekend. Upon hearing the news early Saturday, I told a partner of this and held steadfast that this could be our nocturnal activity. And considering that this new quantity has had little to no knowledge of the works of legendary animators, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, this felt like a brilliant entry point. As both films represent Miyazaki at something of a career turning point (firmly planted between humanist blockbuster maven, and quasi-individualist auteur), the commonalities and breaks seemed just right to allow new eyes to survey what it is that has captured the hearts of animation fans the world over. And while personal feelings have shifted some on these films over the years, it was truly magnificent witnessing these films in their full 35mm glory, complete with scratches, pops, and prolonged silences.
At roughly 7:00pm, we filed on in, and found seats surrounded by fellow attendees. As ideal as the seats were, I was quite impressed by the serious dearth of “anime folk” in the audience. In fact, a great deal of those in the auditorium with us were either fellow cinephiles, the occasional family, and possibly more local animation and effects artist types. The overall feeling was that of a more well-rounded viewership than I have ever been privy to for a screening like this, and that was certainly telling of Ghibli’s impact in the years since Disney/PIxar brought Ghibli’s catalog to the US masses. In a very real way, it felt as if Miyazaki’s works have finally become part of the general fabric of family film in a way that eluded many of us admirers in previous decades. It truly has been a long time since that fateful Cagliostro Castle screening at the Disneyland Hotel, with not only nerds, but parents and kids with eyes aglow at the sheer kinetic artistry gracing that audience.
Truly a long time.
So also imagine my surprise when upon giving Kiki’s Delivery Service(1989) the nth viewing, I found a great deal more to derive personally from it than I had expected. Even in the many years since first watching it, there is a confidence and effective simplicity that still evokes a potent response regarding the inherent potential in all. While many have continued to write the film off as a crowd-pleasing adaptation of Eiko Kadono’s work, it is also very much a touching call to the young, and for them to follow beyond familial piety. As young witch, Kiki seeks to create a name for herself in bayside, Koriko City, there is much to figure out as many a witch have within them a special ability that they hone into their main focus of practice. And in this single year of being away from her family (including a potions-specialist mother who muses about wishing her daughter had taken up potions as her focus), Kiki and her chatty feline familiar, Jiji must find the central meaning to independent life. Through many meetings, trials, errors, and adventures, Kiki is throughout the film faced with her own self-doubts as a girl in the world, let alone a witch. It’s a story where magic is no more than the things we grant to the world as ourselves. Told in a patient, wistful manner, the film never veers far from the focal point that Kiki is that moment between being our family’s child, and our own giving, working individual. (Which is best encapsulated by the film’s opening scene, as Kiki makes the sudden choice to leave for her one-year trip at the behest of unprepared parents. It is both a charming, and heartrending stuff that evokes feelings of that moment so many of us go through, as we move out into the world.)
So when Kiki’s journey inevitably leads to a crisis of ability come the latter third, it is vital to consider the preceding hour as lead in for this. With all the pressures that she must carry with her as both girl and witch, as other girls her age in town are living up to many of the atypical fun and relationship building, she must maintain something of an icon of tradition. We even meet another young witch early on that informs us early how this rite of passage can very easily lead us astray, without much room for others. And rather than becoming this, Kiki’s arc largely involves her natural capacity for more hand-based services. While her mother is closer to a doctor/pharmacist-type, she is closer to a public service specialist. And while that may look less than flattering to some, there is something very sneaky and hopeful happening with this in mind. When she suddenly finds herself unable to use her magic abilities, it is no wonder that the broom she came flying into Kokori breaks..is her mother’s.
It is here, and with local artist, Ursula’s advice that even our greatest gifts will experience something of a block at times, that the road to maturity drifts into cruising speed. Kiki finds herself at her best and happiest when she is living up to her own instinctive ideals, rather than any fears she might have about the thoughts of others.
As with the breaking of the mother’s broom, the broom used to rescue airship fanboy/witch fanboy, Tombo from a nasty fate..belongs to an elder street sweeper. A “public servant”. Personal redemption comes from Kiki’s own passion for helping the people of Kokori. It’s a pretty solid tale in the telling that still finds ways to keep me active and enamored throughout.
Porco Rosso(1992), while still a truly personal work for Miyazaki containing some of his most sumptuous imagery and elegaic moments, seems to have lost some luster for me over the years. Hard to say why this is so, but upon this viewing it became evident that the tale of WWI fighter pilot ace, Marco Pagot, while as complex and politically dense as it is, suffers from a lack of a stable central thesis. It really is something of a kitchen sink affair, as Miyazaki struggled to make Porco into a loving tribute to the era, and a tale of personal redemption in a time fraught with change. With Porco, now living the cursed life of a pig after long deserting his life as an air force pilot, and now making a living on the Adriatic as a bounty hunter, the film shakily dances between sweet natured comedy, adventure, and romantic homage. And while much of it works magically (as most Ghibli films of the era did), there is a lack of focus that dogs a majority of the running time.
And yet at the same time, one of the film’s meatier themes is that of a life independent. Not unlike the shame Porco feels for having abstained from serving any nation, as well as the loss of his closest colleagues, it all feels like Kiki’s darker, more battle-worn sibling. Even as the previous film lauded the individual as part of a collective, Porco represents a search for life beyond the state. Miyazaki both praises the talents and honor of those who dedicated their lives to flight, but admonishes governments who would exploit it in the name of foggy politics and control. As Italy seems on the brink of another governmental shift, and the world economy is en route to great depression, taxes and allegiances are on the lips of all. All the while, pilots find themselves in this situation either scraping out a meager living as sky pirates, or as bounty hunters living on the fringes of this now rapidly changing society. Rivalries aside, hunters like Porco and pirates like the Mamma Aiuto gang seem culled from similar cloth. All well represented by all parties cooling their engines in peace at the Andriano bar, a place run by Porco’s lifelong friend and long-suffering love interest, Gina. With these air bound skirmishes growing ever more and more desperate, things exacerbate once the pirates opt to hiring American hot-shot, Curtis, in hopes of taking down the “red pig” once and for all. (Or at the very least, humiliate him..)
Upon losing what even wouldn’t constitute an actual air duel with the eager american, Porco is forced to make a run into fascist led Milan in hopes of repairing his beloved seaplane. So when he is surprised to learn that his long trusted plane engineering and construction genius, Piccolo is bereft of his usual help, it is in the shared labor of the feminine and the talents of his youthful american granddaughter, Fio, that Porco finds within him an unexpected spark. And while much of this is classic storytelling, a great deal of the film feels more interested in the details of the world than in any real character based storytelling. The main throughline, while relatively solid, is equally as happy to examine the the world around them, occasionally to mixed results. So when it comes time for the big rematch between Porco, and the american Rattlesnake, our attentions are recalibrated toward the fate of Fio, who in the event that our hero loses, must go to Curtis, who’s buffoonish aims seem to be mostly intent on getting hitched..even if to an underaged plane engineer.
But the worries Miyazaki has about his own talents and the way in which it is utilized post-success are evident during an important exchange between him and a former colleague-turned fascist ace, Ferrarin inside a movie theatre. As Ferrarin secretly informs Porco that the new government is actively buying off sky pirates, and actively rendering them obsolete, Porco remarks how the standard “Dog Vs. Pig” animation they are watching is lousy. Staying on message seems to be the program. This is only bolstered by Ferrarin’s respone that the animation is great. It’s well considered that Porco, is indeed the spirit of Miyazaki, ever dogged by powers that only see him as a company tool. Ever longing for the freedom to tell the stories he wishes, his way. Now if only, the film could pick a theme before being merely one of several disparate ones. One could even argue that PR is something of a rail against the changing fates of animators throughout the 1980s. At any rate, there’s simply so much going on that it becomes a little tricky to suss out.
All this said, Porco Rosso remains one of Miyazaki’s most poetic and playful films. There’s no denying the power to entertain here. And as a work that lies in between the thoughtful, straightforward Kiki, and the oft-considered overbearing Princess Mononoke(1997), it’s still a gorgeous movie with a lot on its mind.
So in all, a memorable evening of some of the very best that commercial Japan has to offer, with an audience that was more than adequately receptive. So happy to see that the American Cinemateque is continuing to host these films over the next few weeks, with Takahata’s incredible Grave Of The Fireflies(1988) and Tomomi Mochizuki’s Ocean Waves(1993) tonight, ending with Miyazaki’s Oscar winning, Spirited Away(2001) on Thursday, March 20th. So if you’re in LA over the next few weeks, do give it a consider. The Egyptian remains one of my favorite cinemas, and this is a most exciting way to introduce these works to a whole new world of eyes.
As for the person I shared last night’s event with..I’d say we have a new convert.
I was reading about a reporter’s visit to Chernobyl a few weeks ago. It’s fascinating for many reasons, especially given the fact that one probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to experience it. I felt the same way about karuta after having seen Chihayafuru. It’s a sport played in the land of the Rising Sun that I figured I would never have the pleasure of playing or spectating.
That is, until this past week.
Braving the snow and freezing temperatures, a few dozen people gathered at the JICC on Wednesday for a karuta demonstration. I sat in the front row and toyed with my shiny new karuta cards when it caught Ms. Stone’s attention. She became more intrigued at my getup as I was wearing a medical mask. I sighed heavily inside, like all the other times where no one recognized my Arata cosplay at conventions.
Her voice was fading in and out, but a sudden tilt of her head coupled with a twinkle in her eye ignited a glimmer of hope in me. She continued to nod her head and at that moment, my heart probably skipped a beat. She got it!
Ms. Stone heads the DC Karuta Club. Yes, there is such a thing. She began with a lecture about the origins of karuta. It was highly informative but I was getting impatient staring at the tatami mats behind her Powerpoint presentation.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long. Entering on stage was Kyoko-san and Nanami, both attired in hakamas. It’s as if Chihayafuru magically materialized before me! I had to pull my mask down to intake more oxygen.
What proceeded next is best told in motion pictures. (Kyoko-san is on the left.)
Sugoi ne?! The only complaint I have feels unfair. Ms. Stone aims to educate the audience on karuta so her interruptions are only natural. It did interfere with my enjoyment of the match given that I am familiar with the sport.
After the lovely and amazing demonstration where I witnessed karuta in person (yeah, I am still excited), Ms. Stone insisted on dividing the audience into two groups, where those who could read Hiragana would play kyogi karuta, and those who couldn’t moved outside for Obosan Mekuri.
The latter is a karuta variation that requires pure luck. Fortunately for me, luck is just one of my many skills. Round one included three groups where the winner advanced into the championship. Needlessly to say, I trumped two others to take first place ^_^ The best part was the prize, as shown on the left.
I take that back. The best part was learning the game from Kyoko-san, who just flew in from Japan the day before. And my insistence on explaining my cosplay after she inquired about my shirt. I think I took her apathy for misunderstanding XD
This would be the end of the story except the reader can see that more words follow.
Anohana sold out before I got to the theater, so my Saturday began on a sour note. Mere hours later, I got an email that would not only turn around my day but bring more delight than I ever thought possible. Kyoko-san wrote hoping that I could attend the New Year’s celebration hosted by the JCAW on Sunday where she and Ms. Stone would have another karuta demonstration. An invitation one cannot refuse.
I want to express my gratitude towards Ms. Stone and Kyoko-san, as well as Nanami and Ms. Stone’s son (the reader!) for giving me the opportunity to experience karuta first hand. It’s a dream come true ever since Chihayafuru entered my life. Speaking of which, at the conclusion of Wednesday night, Ms. Stone mentioned that she had a dream.
“I hope in an year or ten, the U.S. will hold a karuta tournament and the winner would go on to compete in Japan.”
I am going to try to make her dream come true, just like she did for mine. But we need your help. Let’s spread our love of karuta!
The Japanese band Man With a Mission, best known for their work on the OP of Log Horizon, “Database,” answered a few questions I posed to them by email. Here are their replies!
This isn’t your first time in LA. What do you like best about the city?
Everything is great. The atmosphere, the people, the view, the weather. I love it.
What’s your favorite Jimi Hendrix guitar solo?
The one he did it in Atlanta Pop Fes. The solo sounded like he was actually talking and screaming out something.
Was “Database” written especially for Log Horizon? The lyrics fit so well.
We did think about the message and the concept of the animation but it wasn’t really totally made just for the story. But we’re really glad that it fits and matches.
Do you play MMORPGs like Log Horizon depicts? Which ones are your faves?
I don’t know much about MMORPGs but if you’re talking about what’s my favorite RPGs the Final Fantasy series rule.
If you were stuck in the world of Log Horizon, would you still want to be wolves? Would you start a wolf guild?
We’re ready to get stuck in that world anytime. Wolf it should be.
Many of your songs, like “Database” and “Emotions,” are sung predominantly in English. Did you plan on having an international/English-speaking audience right away?
We’ve always wanted to spread our music throughout the world and English is the most common language. Singing in English was a natural thing for us to do. But we both like Japanese and English. I guess it only depends on what kind of message we want the song to have.
Finally–you mention in your story* that the Principality of Zeon was behind some of the evil int he world. Does that mean one day you are going to fight against them? In a Gundam?
Woah. Do I have a chance to become a pilot? I’ll definitely do that. But I think we’re done with fighting. We’ll stick around and play music to see how much people can assemble and share the feelings we have in music.
In the year 19XX the earth was engulfed in war. Nation pitted against nation, human against human. Every living thing on the planet was locked in a chaotic battle to acquire each other’s wealth and power. In the meantime, in the farthest away land of “Ladyland” there lived a genius biologist named Dr. Jimi (hobby: guitar) who was about to conclude a mad science experiment for a pack of superior creatures that would be called MAN WITH A MISSION (MWAM).
Are they human? Are they wolves?
Their looks may be deceiving and even comical at first glance, but they have incredible brain power and a superhuman physique. Such superb abilities enabled them to carry out the planet’s most challenging top secret missions, and made them untouchable by the world’s fearsome and powerful leaders including Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, and Ivan the Terrible. The Principality of Zeon had them work in the dark shadows of history in various locations around the world.
Dr. Jimi was plagued by guilt and regret that his creations had contributed to some of the most evil deeds in history and decided to put an end to it. He wanted to ensure that they wouldn’t fall under the spell of evil again and so he froze them into eternal sleep in a far edge of the world. Determined not to let his creativity potentially bring more evil into the world the Doctor burned his guitar. He managed to escape the hands of evil and cheat death three times, but he couldn’t avoid his destiny. Retribution for his death was to keep MWAM frozen under the glaciers in the South Pole. Jimi’s last words were, “I’ll try getting a straight perm in my next life.”
Time passed by and it was now the year of 2010. The planet had gone through worldwide economic crisis, numerous political and social tensions across borders, and was slowly being destroyed by pollution induced global warming. The warming and deterioration of the planet then melted the icy caskets that Dr. Jimi had jeopardized his life for. MWAM awoke from eternal sleep!
Are they working for justice for this world, or are they nothing else but evil?
Either way “MAN WITH A MISSION” is now back on the mission around the world!
In the rather plastic world of Japanese pop music, the relatively new band Man With A Mission stands out. Rather than opting for boy band flash and glitter, or the elaborate costuming of the visual kei set, the members of Man With A Mission don just one thing: wolf heads. They are more than just masks: they are a commitment, covering the whole head and leaving only holes for the eyes, nose, and mouth. Their mouths do not move visibly, even as they sing. (Though the bass player’s eyes did glow red at one point.) They are transformed when they take the stage. They become their act.
The fanciful backstory that they conceived for themselves–that they are the botched products of human experimentation by a super-powered Jimi Hendrix–shows that their sense of humor is matched with an appreciation for the rock masters. Amid their original numbers, which included the anime opening song for Log Horizon “database” as well as anthemic numbers like “Emotions,” was a surprisingly faithful, spirited cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” They did it their own way: with their blend of rap and the original’s hard riffs, though the chorus returned to the original version. The whole crowd headbanged along. It wasn’t exactly like being back in 1992 Seattle, but I don’t think Kurt Cobain is rolling in his grave either.
(Let’s not forget, of course, Cobain’s appreciation for Japan’s original pop punk band, Shonen Knife. The distance between American alternative rock and Japanese rock is not as far as one might think. )
Much of Man With a Mission’s music is actually reminiscent of a slightly later period of music, the electronica/DJ tinged rap rock of the late 90s and early 2000s, which is most evident in “Database” and “Get Off of My Way,” and perhaps most obviously and notably, “distance”–in which DJ Starscream (SID) from Slipknot showed up to guest DJ. (The Slipknot influence runs deep: the band’s use of costumes, the stage diving, and their sound….) But unlike Slipknot and other acts in that genre, there’s a positivity to MWaM’s music, which is infectious and helped the crowd–a diverse mix of Japanese fans, regular clubgoers, and a few otakus like myself–get into the right mood, even if the songs were not necessarily familiar to everyone. Evidently realizing that the anime crowd is perhaps giving them the most exposure now, they saved “database” for last, and this got the crowd going harder than anything else. The song is a good representation of their sound, and it also fits lyrically with the themes of the show very well. Anyone who was a fan of the show left satisfied that evening, ears ringing with the powerful vocals and guitars that ring through all of their songs.
The masks never came off, so we never got to see the “real” faces of the band. They decided, instead, to allow their music to be their identity, and it’s a fresh, interesting one.
- Take What U Want
- Bubble of Life
- Smells Like Teen Spirit
- FLY AGAIN
- distance with SID
- Get Off of My Way
- DON’T LOSE YOURSELF
- Enc.1 / MASH UP THE DJ !!
- Enc.2 / database feat.TAKUMA(10-FEET)