MMF: Sailor Moon Artbooks

Just one artbook cover

If you happen to google “Sailor Moon” “Manga” “Artbooks”, you shall definitely see images from the volumes of Sailor Moon. This is a series of seven art books that were published by Kodansha during the years when Sailor Moon was being released. Since that time, these books have been quite out of print. These images are quite ingrained into the minds of fans for being the pinnacle of how Sailor Moon is suppose to be on paper and in color.

Concepts explored..

I can seriously say that these drawings fuel theory and thoughts over the year. The Inners with the Dark Kingdom generals. Takeuchi never really mentioned about the Moon Kingdom except through flashback and foreshadow through Sailor V and Sailor Moon, but this image is one that broke perceptions, that doesn’t even eclipse Haruka and Michiru. Yet for the romanticists, I can only sigh.. as this for me is akin to being something as an Jane Austen romance can provide.

Briefly summing:

  • Volumes 1-2 covers only the Inners and if you count the anime into this, Sailor Moon to Sailor Moon R.
  • Volume 3-4 has the Outers, alongside the continuing seasons of Sailor Moon S to Sailor Moon Super S.
  • Volume 5 includes the Starlights, and Chibi Chibi. This covers Sailor Stars.
  • Materials Collection has the character sketches and drawings of the entire Sailor Moon cast series, along with a short manga.

Each volume also cover manga’s noted villains, and so what would happen to be your favorite set of villains and Sailor Warriors?

My collection of artbooks sadly does not include the Infinity one which I have seen on sale topping $1,000+ at Otakon and on eBay. This is a collectors boom to ever own these seven books, and just so you know if you happen to want to read any of the week long worth of MMF with Sailor Moon, check out here! I am currently rushing on just one more blog entry, hopefully I make it.. but if anything…  Happy New Year!!!!!!!!

あけまして おめてどう ございます!!!!!!!

Wintermuted’s 2011: Meeting Futures Halfway

 

 

2011; what it mean to me? Well to look back, dig deep, and investigate would mean having to consider something that wasn’t a list of some sort. And while something like a list surely would offer up some kind of marquee-type value to the  site, I find it much more important to point out what made the year stand out in regards to content.

With a year fraught with very real tragedy and fear when and after Japan was hit by one of the great natural disasters of our time, it is on the other hand encouraging that changes for the anime industry have indeed been in the chrysalis stages, and only seem to be accelerating again. It’s no accident that the concepts behind many of the year’s standouts seem to be coming from places not as often tread by the typical fan wank, and are edging to what is hopefully a positive new turn for the medium in regards to risk, which is something so many seem to have been dreadfully allergic to for years. While there was indeed more of the same bouts of helplessly pander-heavy shows, and milquetoast offerings, there were also some standouts that seem to indicate what I mean.

 

 

Early in the year, my initial reactions were that shows like Level E were looking toward manga’s past for potential answers, while Yamamoto’s ill-fated Fractale did the same whilst seeking a bold new bent on familiar themes. Right away the vibe was that the studios were actively looking for paths less familiar to the current generation of animators on a work level, possibly in hopes of creating a new language. And while both of these series diverge in regards to actual quality storywise, it was interesting to see this precedent so early on. Also highly worthy of note, was the inclusion of Horou Musuko, which not only offered a bold premise and story, but it also came with a rare visual palette that immediately sent me shivers. It was as if studios across the board were suddenly ready to play ball, and offer up not only something truly new, but almost completely out of the realm of anime familiarity, which is always a plus. Despite some minor story issues, it remains a standout and must-see. However, it took another show to unexpectedly take this lead further and do what few shows have in recent years. (Something I’ll get to in a bit, please be patient.)

 

 


Moving into Spring season, and with an entire world rattled by catastrophy that seemingly had no end, several shows offered up unique twists on what could otherwise be considered standard fare. The big surprise winner for me being the wildly fun and retro-tastic Tiger & Bunny, which offered up a dazzling mix of comedy, action, and drama that has been greatly missed for some time. By taking the american superhero subversion that has been occurring in the west, and giving it a Japanese consumer-satire sheen atop of it, it ends up being not only a fitting tribute to pop culture’s costumed cousins, it also grants them hearts in the best manner the Japanese can provide. It’s rare when such a reinterpretation works so well, and this is that moment where even new viewers can be allowed into a whole new world they have often felt left out of. Also standing out at this point was Hanasaku Iroha, which seemed ready to tackle not only a simple tale of familial strife, it also had cultural identity wholly on its sleeve. In a rare move for recent anime on tv, a call for balance was brought to the table. And while shows like Nichijou offered often beautifully animated absurdism ala Azumanga Daioh via David Lynch, there was still a hint of deeper concern happening within Iroha that left a lingering impression, even if the show didn’t always deliver what it set out to. Even Steins;Gate, while occasionally interesting, seemed ready to take its place alongside the ever growing pile of “cool idea that needs just a little more time to cook” shows that Nitroplus was involved with this year. Regardless, effort was seen shining in unexpected places, which was encouraging.

 


As summer came in, so did some great surprises in the form of a most unusual family drama, and the return of a long-missing master with a whopper to tell. Upon first hearing that the popular manga by Yumi Unita was to become a tv series, worry began to fill my heart, and not only for obvious reasons. Could a story this laid-back, and in the moment work even for a noItamina series? It’s great to be proven wrong sometimes, and Usagi Drop remains a heartfelt and often truthfully sweet testiment to the changing face of family. Featuring the second awkward dad this year (the first being Kotetsu T. Kaburagi of Tiger & Bunny, of course) to have not only a great handful to deal with, but also an unerring wish to be the best dad he can. He may not be the sharpest crayola in the box, but he’s doing his damndest. And it’s great to watch him try. It’s extremely rare to see such sincerity at work in anime, and the show’s 11 episodes often shine brightly because of it.

 

 
So what were my favorites overall? If I had to make a thoughtful decision, I suppose two won me over due to their audaciousness, while the third did by playing things straighter than most, with just enough contemporary thoughtfulness to make it count.

 

 


First has to go to Puella Magi Madoka Magica, an out-of-nowhere project that reminded of how much I’ve missed the full potential of anime. Confession time: coming from a very sincere place, I can’t say that I have ever truly enjoyed anything directed by Akiyuki Shinbo. Aside from being an efficient stylist with little to actually say, he has never come off as more than this, and had yet to do anything substantial on a story level. And yet it took collaborating with Gen Urobochi to rise to unheard of heights by doing his own tribute to the very best of 90s “edge anime”, and offering something that resembles an solid human theme, not to mention some vital life questions. (A fitting counterpoint to the often comfort-food territory of the Magical Girl show) Using the history of maho shoujo lore to tell what is essentially a treatise on female roles and the responsibility that lies ahead in an ever unpredictable new world. Somehow defies what I still find to be an unfocused story in the first half (populated mostly by types rather than characters). So when the footing is found, the wins often outnumber the losses despite a large need for some additonal characterization. It’s a bumpy ride, but I remain ultimately satisfied by what I see as one of the most visually haunting shows in years. Where Chihayafuru maintains a stalwart heart, and longing for simpler ideals, Madoka Magica reinstills an unyielding, provocatively forward mind.  Positing that the value of intention only goes as far as we are willing to see them through with clear eyes, and often not to what we imagine them to be. And yet, despite the false footing it starts on, it somehow eventually wields an immediacy that is sorely lacking right now. The packaging is striking, and the choices within are unrepentantly anti-fan. Simply put: the Blu-ray release can’t come soon enough.

 

A most welcome return..

 

When word came around that long out-of-action anime auteur, Kunihiko Ikuhara was to make his return with the series, Mawaru Penguindrum, I must admit that it was with a great deal of reservation. So many years had past since his work on 1997’s crossover hit Shoujo Kakumei Utena helped usher in an era of surreal, cerebral television anime, and I couldn’t help but be worried if the medium had long left his parade charge behind. Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong as Penguindrum remains as baffling, yet startlingly entertaining from start to just recent finish. Again tackling much of the same territory he did with Utena, albeit in a world outside of merely school, Ikuhara’s obsessions with multiplicity, and justification are in full force for a new generation to parse and muse over. Whether fate comes from without or within, it could also be considered another grand questioning of the things that the average person uses to account for their disposition and actions. Also in force is Ikuhara’s lampooning of old anime’s cost-saving techniques of stock footage, perhaps even commentating on anime’s often samey nature which is more than welcome. Overall, a strangely touching and occasionally frustrating series that’s never satisfied with being one thing. Well worth the trip.

 

Long Live The Queen..

Honestly, if you had told me that my favorite series of the year was to be an old-fashioned sports-anime mashup about competitive  karuta and ancient Japanese poetry directed by Madhouse regular, Morio Asaka, I would have called you straight up…well..mad. Chihayafuru makes no bones about what it is, and makes it’s strengths look so effortless. But it takes a great amount of craft to tell a tale like this, and not lose one’s way in the process. There are so many places this could have gone wrong, and somehow the series continued to warm the heart and challenge modern anime with its tale of a trio of young people captured by an affinity for the senses. As the game of karuta requires, it is all about attentiveness & impulse. And the expected shoujo elements somehow play quite beautifully with the game-centric elements of the plot, which like in all sports anime (or even movies), are more representative of where a character is at a certain point. A series like this could never work without a likeable lead, and Chihaya Ayase is as well-rounded and likeable as they come. She contains the beauty and spiritual shell of a typical heroine of this ilk, but she also has with her an enthusiasm that is often blinding to the point of clumsiness in terms of the closest things in her life. And in how the two young men in her life represent major parts in what has led her to a path away from a more manufactured existence is palpable. They both have their qualities, so none of that ever rings false. And as I just mentioned, through Chihaya, and a group of memorable characters, the series also wins where Hanasaku Iroha was merely scratching at; offering another look at a possible Japan with one eye toward the future, yet with a true sense of identity not wrapped in consumerist plastic. Intelligent and pleasing all around, Chihayafuru is my personal favorite for 2011.

Not such a bad year despite all that happened around it, which in itself is an awe inspiring testament. May inspiration & hope continue to spring forth.

 

Until Next Year..

Classic Anime Review: Porco Rosso

I would have missed the IFC Studio Ghibli retrospective in my New York visit if omo hadn’t invited me to join him and his friends to tonight’s showing of Porco Rosso, and for that I thank him—because it gives me a chance to talk about one of Hayao Miyazaki’s most unique films and why it still stands the test of time nearly 20 years since its release in 1992.

SUMMARY

“Porco Rosso”—”The Crimson Pig”—is a man-turned-pig flying ace who, after seeing combat in the Italian Air Force during WWI, leads the life of  a solitary bounty hunter going after various air pirates. A new American hotshot pilot, Curtis, challenges his supremacy in both the air and in love with the beautiful club owner Gina. When Porco’s plane goes down, a bright female mechanic named Fio and the rest of her family help rebuild it and become involved in the ultimate showdown between the two pilots.

REVIEW

Porco Rosso is perhaps one of the more overlooked titles in Hayao Miyazaki’s catalogue. Its release fell between Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and the international breakout hit Princess Mononoke (1997). Mononoke represented a shift in Miyazaki’s direction toward a somewhat darker and surreal approach, making the comparatively carefree Porco Rosso the last of its kind until the child-like Ponyo came out a few years ago.

It also marked a number of firsts for a Miyazaki film. It is one of his only films with a male, rather than female protagonist. (The females present are plenty strong and capable, however.) Despite the title character’s porcine nature, it is also his least “fantastic” film—it is grounded in a real historical time period and place and aside from Porco has no spirits, creatures, Totoros, and invented nations. The amount of care and detail given to the airplanes and the dogfights testifies to Miyazaki’s lifelong love of flight; this is perhaps his purest love letter to flying in his career, capturing its freedom, adventure, and excitement like no other. There is plenty of flying of various kinds in all his movies, but only Porco Rosso is about flying itself. That focus, and the film’s sun-dappled Mediterranean/Adriatic Sea setting, are what make the film feel so joyous.

This is true even though there are many understated, but finely depicted, elements of adult emotion throughout: grief over the war dead, regret, and the grizzled weariness borne from life experience. Porco and Gina are adults, not teenagers like most modern anime protagonists, and they’ve lived through a lot. The adolescent in the cast, Fio, seems almost ridiculously naive as if compensating for it; she is pure Ghibli girlhood distilled: optimistic, competent, and confident and brave in front of men who otherwise look down on her, including slightly sexist Porco himself. (He is a pig, after all!) With the comical air pirates in tow, reminiscent of the pirates in Laputa: Castle in the Sky, the cast is well-balanced and with relatively little exposition drawn vividly.

An old war buddy tries to recruit Porco into the Fascist Air Force.

One thing that is interesting is that for a film set in 1930s Fascist Italy, Porco Rosso seems to keep much of the darkness of the outside world confined to the edges of the narrative. There’s evidence of it, to be sure: we see the Fascists march down the street, and later, there is a chase and a shootout with the secret police. The arrival of the Italian Air Force signals the end of the party, and there is more than one mention of the ongoing Depression. But the characters seem to live in a bubble where few of those things impinge on the jaunty, carefree mood of the loose plot. Kidnapping seems fun for the kids. No one really gets hurt. There is enough personal regret to go around to help make up for it, though: again, it is refreshing to see real adult emotion in anime today. The scene with the queue of fallen pilots and their planes was particularly moving and free of melodrama, something most anime drama can only dream about achieving.

Still, no one in the named cast, not the pirates, or Curtis, has malevolent motives; they’re all basically good people. A deeper examination reveals nostalgia for the age of freelance flying aces and even air pirates, an age that the impending wars would end for good. In a totalitarian world, there is no room for people like Porco in the long run, and in one clever line Porco declares “I’d rather be a pig than a Fascist.” Perhaps since everyone knows just how dark the world would become in the years forward, there was a need to lighten the tone and make the world of aces and pirates a bit more romantic by comparison.

But this isn’t really a problem. In a way it helps make the film feel more timeless, and it’s hard to see how darkening the mood would have really added depth to the story. The likability of the characters, Joe Hisaishi’s bouncy score, and the sheer delight evident in the flying scenes leaves the viewer feeling refreshed and satisfied by the end. There is some sadness in realizing that not even Miyazaki makes ’em like he used to anymore, but that makes this film all the more special.

 

AVAILABILITY

Porco Rosso has been available on home video through Disney for a while now in the US. This review was based on a renewed 35mm print shown at the IFC Ghibli Retrospective, which continues until January 12. I highly recommend anyone in the New York area to see it and the other Ghibli masterpieces in these clean, nearly pristine prints: the hand-drawn quality of the film stands out so well and more than holds up in our cel-less age.

Half a Decade of Dieting on Anime


Mugi is as surprised as we are.

Five years ago today, Ray and I started a little anime website called “Scattered Cels.” It became “Anime Diet” in the spring of 2007, hardly missing a beat in the transition, and we’ve been writing, con covering, and growing ever since! Thanks to all the staff, past and present, who helped build this site, and thanks to all of you readers, listeners, and viewers who’ve been supporting us all along. Because of all of you, we are one of the longest surviving anime blogs on the Internet, having long beaten the 2 year curse more than twice over. And we ain’t stopping anytime soon.

There’s still so much we have yet to accomplish, and some much left to do. So join us as we continue our journey forward in love and anime and otakuness. Who knows where we’ll end up as we began our sixth year? There will be ups, and there will be downs. Wherever it is, though, we can’t make it without you. And we hope to see you along the way.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
—JRR Tolkien

Art source: 榛名ヒスイ via nanami.

Blu-ray Review: Onigamiden (Legend of the Millennium Dragon)

Legend of the Millennium Dragon (Onigamiden)
Dir. Hirotsugu Kawasaki (Spriggan, Naruto)
Produced by Studio Pierrot
Released by Sony Pictures, 2011. 98 minutes.
SRP $45.99. Buy from Amazon!

Onigamiden—known in English as Legend of the Millennium Dragon—is Studio Pierrot’s attempt to make a movie that isn’t Naruto and Bleach. (Considering that Pierrot is the studio behind such powerhouse franchises, and has produced dozens of notable anime over the past few decades including Urusei Yatsura, Kimagure Orange Road, and Fushigi Yugi just to name a few, it gets little love from fans compared to SHAFT, Madhouse, Gainax, or Ghibli.) The story is adapted from a two volume novel Takafumi Takada, and is trying to branch out into more historically grounded material and themes. There are times when both the look and the themes of the movie resemble Princess Mononoke more than a shounen action franchise.

Unfortunately, Onigamiden doesn’t come close to the sensitivity and nuance of the best Ghibli movies, and its exquisite background work and fluid battle animation both literally and metaphorically can’t hide the relative flatness of the people in front. For a film that clearly had a large budget and opportunities for originality, it feels workmanlike at best in its plotting and characterization.

SUMMARY

In Heian-period Japan, the nobles are battling a constant invasion of monstrous oni into their city. Their leader, Gen’un, uses his powers to summon a modern middle school boy, Jun, to their time to be their Savior from the oni. Jun has the power to control a mighty dragon, Orochi, and it is up to him whether he will take on the mantle of being Orochi’s master.

PACKAGING/EXTRAS

I reviewed the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack. Both discs come in the standard Blu-ray translucent box, with each disc on the inside of the front and back covers respectively. There are no inserts of any kind, not even of the chapters of the film.

The only extra offered on the Blu-ray is a still gallery of concept art from the film. It showcases just how much detail went into the backgrounds, and is beautiful in its own right. The BD Live simply provided links to other Sony Pictures productions and offered nothing specific to the film. The DVD had no extras.

The lack of extras represents a missed opportunity: perhaps some words from the staff about the project’s background, an overview of the Heian period of Japanese history, and an explanation of the film’s mythological background would have been appreciated. The film assumes some knowledge of both Japanese history and traditional mythology, something not all Western audiences will have—and this is clearly targeted for a more mainstream release than many anime.

AUDIO/VIDEO

I reviewed the Blu-ray on a Playstation 3 in 720p. The video quality is consistently excellent. Lines are sharp and well-defined, colors are rich (particularly in the backgrounds), and there was no noticeable motion blur, even during the intense battle sequences. The subtitles were readable at all times. The visual quality of this disc is excellent.

As for the audio, the voices were clear and distinct and the mix between the music and dialogue was balanced. As I do not have a surround sound setup, I was unable to test the 5.1 channel mix.

CONTENT

Anime is a visual medium, which means that the way a story is told visually is just as important as its more literary characteristics (plot, character, setting, etc.). Ideally, the visuals should do the work of the storytelling in a way that wouldn’t be possible in a more verbal or written form. There have been anime whose stories were not necessarily the most comprehensible, profound, or even original, but whose sumptuous visuals were still a delight to behold. For me a lynchpin example is Akira, whose animation quality holds up decades later even if its story is a bunch of metaphysical fluff.

Sadly, Onigamiden is not one of those anime whose visuals help redeem a lackluster story. The background art, showcased in the Blu-Ray gallery and the in the movie itself, is detailed and rich; the battle sequences are fluid and detailed. But the characters are as flat as their 2D, oddly blank (even for anime) expressions. The plot hinges on a single simple reversal that still doesn’t lend either side much nuance, and ends up being preachy in the way other “noble savage” stories like Avatar, Dances With Wolves, and others tend to be. Given its setting and the art style, it is probably trying more to be like Princess Mononoke, but Miyazaki’s film was actually more balanced in its man vs. nature conflict than this one. With a predictable plotline, the otherwise beautifully rendered battle sequences are robbed of any real sense of urgency or danger. The final battle, in particular, feels unnecessarily drawn out, though of course it involves the full force of the titular dragon.

The protagonist, Jun, is in some ways a typical whiny male anime protagonist—he takes the reluctant in reluctant hero to a new level. Then he suddenly transforms, with little transition, into a much more resolute character. The only other character who is given any kind of change is Raiko, who honestly might have made a more interesting central character than Jun. Raiko, Orochi, and many other elements of the story are drawn from Japanese mythology and legend, and the movie presumes prior knowledge in order to catch the full resonance of who these people are and their roles. It may explain why the movie sometimes feels curiously underexplained while at the same time being simplistic.

The lackluster soundtrack also tended to diminish any epic quality the battles were supposed to have. The horn-driven pieces in particular set the wrong mood for the sequences that were intended to be fast-paced and exciting. They felt more like the generic pieces that would accompany, say, a battle in Naruto or Bleach than a cinematic epic, and this was when the movie was trying to reach for grandeur at times. Even a cookie-cutter John Williams-esque score (composed, say, by Yoko Kanno in her orchestral mode) would have been preferable.

CONCLUSION

The bottom line is that Onigamiden is a well-mastered disc, but the pretty film in it  is dragged down by its simplistic and unevenly executed story. It’s an admirable attempt by Studio Pierrot to do a non Naruto or Bleach project, but seems thin by comparison. It’s not bad, per se, but neither is it very good. It’s worth a rental at most.

OVERALL GRADE: C+

Chihayafuru: The Rules of the Shoujo Game

Strategy.

Early in its run, I remarked on Twitter that Chihayafuru was an example of how good writers can make any situation and any subject interesting. This is because what a good writer can do is make almost any specific experience or subject matter universally relatable. Someone may not necessarily know much about the exact rules of karuta, but he or she will know what it’s like to find new friends and do things together with them, and how painful it is to part after being together for a while. Karuta is just a catalyst, or an organizing principle, in which the human drama can play out.

The first few episodes of Chihayafuru started this way, with plenty of subtext and hints of things to come: for instance, Chihaya’s neglectful home situation, the rivalry between Taichi and Arata, the implicit love triangle between the three of them. Chihaya’s enthusiasm, concern for the outcast, and diligence are infectious and make her a surprisingly likable protagonist—especially later on, when some of her actions might seem grating and obnoxious were it done by someone in reality. (No doubt, it also helps that she is pretty, and seems to have a soft spot for lonely nerds. If only there was someone like that in my life at that age—ahem, moving on…) Taichi, too, comes off as initially unsympathetic compared to Arata, but his character grows over time and matures subtly.

All this happens while large amounts of screen time is given to the game itself, to a degree that often feels like the show is sponsored by whatever official league might exist for karuta in Japan. Various strategies for passing cards are discussed, in detail. The etymology, and later the meaning, of many of the poems of the Hundred Poets is lovingly explained (and indeed, given the name of our heroine and the show itself, this is an important detail). The swiping of cards is presented with such kinetic force it manages to make the game feel badass. To a large extent, the show actually serves an educational function, though if the game is played in most elementary schools (as I’ve read), one might wonder why the show forms such an extensive tutorial in the basics. I walked into this show knowing nothing about the game, and now, after watching 10 episodes, I have a grasp of the basics.

The problem is: I’m beginning to feel like it’s a bit much in the game-focusing department. The sense nagged me even as early as the childhood arc in the beginning, and it’s gotten moreso over time.

Not hating the game: worth a dozen shoujo sparkles

More specifically, the game is frequently called upon to serve as the singular metaphor or analogy for what the characters are going through, and it’s getting more and more strained. Chihaya’s frequent declarations, both as a child and as a teen, that all she wants is to play karuta forever and that karuta will bring them all together is overstated. So, too, are the stories of Arata and Nishida (Porky), in which their lack of playing the game is the chief sign of their trauma—and of course it’s up to cheerful, persistent Chihaya to coax them back into the game, and thus into friendship? love? (Shades of Fruits Basket here; this is a very shoujo-y kind of thing.) Taichi, who is the most complex character of the lot, is also the only character who doesn’t seem to be basing his entire life around playing, or not playing, karuta. The attitudes toward the game actually kind of typecast most of the characters and define their roles in the story.

I think this is fine in the initial stages, but I’d like to see the more overtly human element pick up more emphasis as the series continues. We’re seeing some good hints of that, fortunately—Chihaya’s sweet 16 was a particularly well-handled scene, if a tad melodramatic. Part of Chihaya’s maturing, no doubt, is to be able to grasp her own feelings beyond the filter of the game and understand what the pining Taichi, and the hurting Arata (among others) are trying to say. The exclusivity of that filter so far has been a little grating. Yes, I know, a lot of it is not-very-subtle sublimation. It just feels somewhat, well, overused.

But only somewhat. The show has charmed me and I’m glad I caught up on it. Its earnestness and likability is a good counterpoint to the cynical Mirai Nikki, and it stuns me that this isn’t a Noitamina title and Guilty Crown is. (More on that one in a future article…)

Live-Action Ranma 1/2: Damage Assessment With Joy To Spare

 

So it has come to pass. As the great Stephen Tobolowsky once said that was something to the effect of, “When you take a Japanese cartoon, which is in it’s very nature, iconographic, and translate it into live action, you could be in sucky territory.” NTV’s one-shot live-action Ranma ½ has aired, and for what it’s worth, at least demands a few words before heading off into the ever growing sea of anime/manga adaptations that have come and gone with middling to poor results. So going in, my hopes were pretty near to at gutter levels. Especially when considering 2007’s Maison Ikkoku special starring Misaki Ito, it was something I wasn’t ready to be burned by again. As stated via The Wandering Kaijyu, Japan’s history with live action adaptations have often performed in the manner of the way Hollywood once treated their once watercolor product; as safe, campy, and often incongruous throw-away works with little emphasis on story. And while that practice does indeed continue in many instances, films have only recently begun to mirror the originals, or at least begun to be treated with a certain amount of reverence by filmmakers with an eye for what made such characters appealing to the masses. So when it came time for the Japanese to take on what is obviously a large Rumiko Takahashi property, one that is far more over the top & beholden the the drawn page, concern was plastered across the table- late 1980s- early 1990s appropriate, in bright neon.

 

(For those curious as to my initial worries upon the announcement back in May, go here.)

 

So how does it stack up? Well, to be fair, perhaps it may be important to place focus on the fact that I’ve been a Ranma ½ apologist since it’s US home video release through Viz back in the mid 1990s. While not the best Takahashi creation, it’s certainly one of the most accessible, and remains something of a dopey cure-all in my home. And it was largely due to Furinkan’s wild, weird, stupid, and often neurotically hopeless characters. Story was often an afterthought, while the animation staffs did an interesting dance around Takahashi’s bizarre & sugar-infused tribute to martial arts cinema, romantic comedies, and the culinary arts in order to fashion what was perhaps one of the more enduring properties in the legendary mangaka’s output. It is perhaps my biggest “guilty” pleasure, and I truly stand by it, even as the world has moved on significantly. All that baggage included, it’s perhaps best to say that for all my initial worry, Ranma ½ comes pretty close to capturing the spirit of the original despite the limitations inherent in J-dorama production value. While definitely hurt by unexpected, grafted elements, what it does get right, it does so with a surprising amount of sensitivity.

 

 

In this incarnation, Furinkan’s own Tendo Dojo of Anything Goes Martial Arts remains in deep need of new members, when a fateful postcard arrives, detailing the coming of dojo master Soun Tendo’s oldest & best martial arts pal, Genma Saotome is to visit with his also practicing son, Ranma. The hope being that young Ranma would be willing to marry one of Tendo’s three daughters, and carry on the dojo into the future(all arrows pointing to the youngest, the punchy, tomboyish, very reluctant Akane) . Plans are dashed almost immediately when the Tendo family find a panda at their front door, not to mention Akane, meeting a fiery young female redhead martial artist sporting the name of the boy she simply refuses to marry, Ranma Saotome. The confusion is explained by way of a tragedy that befell the two men as they traversed China to perfect their training, only to fall into the cursed springs of Jusenkyo, springs with the ability to curse those who fall into them to be affected every time they come in contact with varying temperatures of water. Genma, becomes the hulking, yet huggable panda. While Ranma..in a crushing blow to his boisterous ego, becomes a girl when hit with cold water. Needless to say, this is the tip of an even crazier iceberg as this curse becomes trouble for not only the Saotomes and Tendos, but to anyone else who encounters them as they seek desperately for a cure. But amidst all this trouble, could true love blossom despite being put upon by family elders?

 

 

So there are a few things worth pointing out that I did like. Surprisingly, the casting is possibly the biggest triumph that could be noted here. Upon initial reports, again concern was my first reaction, but now I can totally see where they were coming at this from. Partcularly the cast at the Tendo dojo. Katsuhisa Namase does a great eternal worrywart in Soun Tendo, while Arata Furuta  makes for an impressively voiced loafer in Genma Saotome. Kyoko Hasegawa is a very grounded Kasumi Tendo, while Maki Nishiyama is a fun (albeit questionably reinvented) sister in Nabiki. But the real surprise is in the casting and treatment of Yui Aragaki as Akane, and the impressive work by Kaku Kento/ Natsuna as Ranma/Ranko. It’s the relationship that serves the balance of the entire story, and the performances here are primed and ready for an actual feature film. It’s almost stupefying how well they got it right in this instance. There are moments that evoke the best in Ranma’s original incarnations, and the casting is probably as good as it could ever be (even barring height, which was originally primed to be a nit-picky round in my chamber). The crew even goes so far as to implement some famous moments into this series with both actors, and the fan meter is almost primed to explode when these moments are witnessed. Aragaki’s Akane is not only easy on the eyes, but captures very well the conflicted, at times volatile character she originally was on the page. Kaku’s boy-Ranma is believable as the cocky, insolent wall of stubbornness that is as much hero, as is butt of quite the number of gender-warping jokes the show has to offer. Still the likeable dope. And speaking of likeable, Natsuna’s Ranko (Ranma’s girl-type form) is as spot-on as one is willing to hope for. Filled with the right amount of spunk and swagger, she does a great job capturing a lot of Kaku’s mannerisms, whilst implementing her own style for when Ranma is coerced into going “undercover” to seek answers to what may cure him. The most successful material in the whole piece is what they cribbed directly from the manga and anime, right on down to Akane’s coming of age arc regarding older(and far more domestically inclined) sister Kasumi, and the ever kind & flustered Tofu-sensei(Shosuke Tanihara).

 

 

 

So where does this all go wrong? Well, not unlike so many live action adaptations, this one also falls victim to attempting to create a new villain to wrap the special around, one that has little bearing on the core plot, no matter how much the writers attempt to sandwich it into the story. It’s a faceplant move that almost kills the show’s momentum when we are subject to it. With the MacGuffin being an amulet hanging around Akane’s neck, the new villain is primed to open up a hidden spring, and unlock it’s secrets for himself. I won’t go too far into detailing anything more of the antagonist in this special, except to say that it is the biggest misstep imaginable. To make it worse, it’s completely unnecessary considering that they introduce one of Ranma’s greatest rivals, the rich, obsessive-bordering-on-batcrap-insane rich-boy Tatewaki Kuno early into the show. The very notion that they would sidestep this character, in order to make room for a villain that is not only dead on arrival, but borderline offensive, is virtually poisonous to the entire 90 minute running time. It is a bad idea, and little can undo the damage, except for the leads who do their best with what they’ve been saddled with. There are also problems regarding the establishment of rules regarding the use of water (Case in point- a bath scene midway. Very distracting.), and how it works on Ranma. The martial arts scenes are brief, and only middling as to be expected. And the update to the character of Nabiki Tendo is something so egregious that I couldn’t help but wonder if it was demographics that spurred that one on. A sign of the times, perhaps. But seeing as how she has remained a favorite character, one with an intelligence and zeal that often dwarfs the entire cast, one wonders if this was the brightest decision. Especially considering how much more leverage an independent girl like her would have in the world now. Making her into a hostess-gyaru type seems reductive. Also still not sure why Gosunkugi is even in this special.

 

There are also nuggets of fun strewn throughout. Plenty of moments that will make fans smile, from Ranma being unable to manage his…er..problem just walking down the street, to Genma’s panda-fu. There is even an unexpected call-back to Scott Pilgrim Versus The World, a film/comic that paid plenty of tribute to manga/anime such as Ranma 1/2. There are even shots interspersed her that were very reminiscent of Bill Pope’s work on that film, which was more than welcome. There is even a tiny Ryoga Hibiki gag in there for those paying attention.

 

So yes, this rare attempt is far from good, let alone perfect. But it is also a nice look at what could be, and I suppose this is where Japanese adaptations are at the moment. So many great characters in the Ranma universe to be mined, and all we have here is merely one sprinkle on top of a very large, tasty sundae. Like many firsts, it’s a mishmash of potential without the full delivery. Hints of a promising broth, rather than a full bowl of nabe. Despite several creative decisions, there is a pretty good Ranma 1/2 cast and crew at work here. One can only hope someone out there is listening.