Part-time wandering artifact, part-time student, Wintermuted's travels from the wastelands of California's Coachella Valley have crystallized his love of all-things soulful & strange. A child of the VHS era, and often working for the anime man, his voyages continue onward in the name of bridging generations of Japanese popular art together. Can also be found via twitter.com/winterkaijyu , as well as wanderingkaijyu.blogspot.com !
Well over twenty four hours since it landed, and I remain in that rare place. A place where something one remembers in fragments, but is jolted back by a newly formed memory. A refrain of an old poem, now enhanced by a long delayed echo. And yet we have been here before throughout numerous iterations. Just as a story is capable of ending its run of flickering across the screen, so too are our absolutes as to what happened after. Such is the miracle convergence of Shinichiro Watanabe(Cowboy Bebop/Space Dandy)’s fifteen minute bridge short, Blade Runner Blackout 2022. A short, but clearly one made with deep reverence, Blackout, portrays an event that came not too long after aged Blade Runner(a state backed assassin of humanoid slaves), Deckard, has disappeared with his last target in tow.
The event as it is portrayed in nonlinear fashion, involves a large scale terrorist attack against the global human technological infrastructure. By way of setting off a missile enabled EMP blast, the aim of a pair of renegade Replicants(Of the 8th Nexus generation. The previous we have been privy to were the 6th.) with the help of a lone human collaborator, seek to send the human race into a darkness long enough to destroy vital records as to their existence. This while the human world has grown wildly intolerant of Replicant technology, opting to enable an even worse breed of death squad. We are given a glimpse into just how terrible things have become since 2019 Los Angeles, where we are introduced to Trixie (A pleasure model Replicant), and Iggy (a former military grade model). Swiftly reunited, and ready to strike a blow against the race that created them.
Rounding out the trio involved, we are briefly introduced to Ren, a sympathetic human with great antipathy for his kind. In a moment that plays like a mildly perverse rendition of Priss and JF Sebastian from the original, we’re left pretty sure that he is to be the main trigger person for the Replicants’ plan. We are also given a window into the moment of Iggy’s awakening. While off-world, and in combat with an unnamed enemy, his discovery instantly turns the imposing humanoid into a resolute force of rebellion. Knowing full well that Trixie and he, while perhaps not long for this world due to manufacturer’s insurance in a brief lifespan, remain eager to live whatever life they choose. Almost indistinguishable from humans, save for their right eyes, plans seem primed and ready for liberation.
Needless to say, the presentation remains as impeccably realized for a Watanabe work. But what is truly extraordinary in comparison to previously produced anime shorts based upon existing western properties, this one feels like a dream project for so many animators whom I’ve grown to love. And the end product sings in a chorus of sight and sound poetics that feel less creatively strained than anything sold on the same shelf as The Matrix Trilogy, or Batman. It feels both utterly reverent to the seminal original film, yet with just enough flair and energy to fuel an entire feature. Among the incredible talent assembled, Shukou Murase (Ergo Proxy, Witch Hunter Robin), Hiroyuki Okiura (Ghost In The Shell), Shinya Ohira(Redline), Mitsuo Iso (Denno Coil), and Shinji Aramaki (Megazone 23 III), and others, it is almost like witnessing lifelong rock band fans at last allowed to share the stage with their inspiration. It’s a supergroup effort that only left me wanting more. Suddenly, two weeks feels like eternity.
But what we were able to get, is both gorgeous to the senses, yet also propulsive in helping set up Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming follow-up. Everything in Blackout, feels truly authentic, and honest to the events of the original Blade Runner, which remains to this day, one of the most impactful cinematic experiences of my viewing life. Heck. I’d go so far as to comment that without Blade Runner, so many of my interests(and this includes anime/manga) would never have materialized. So to witness Ridley Scott’s landmark of science fiction worldbuilding, at last merge with a generation of artists I have grown to love as an over thirty year result, is cause for celebration.
– And yes, that is the voice of a certain cast member, reprising a personal favorite role. Man, that was great.
In the race for anime box office domination (a race largely reserved for studios, and the occasional anime industry wonk), the unexpected can often be the most telling barometer of where art and commerce are currently merging. A dance that can often illustrate, befuddle, depress, and justify. But after finally stepping from the dark, and mulling about Makoto Shinkai’s runaway blockbuster, I am again reminded that sentiment, no matter how awkward, can be a powerful force for escapism. Adding to my still controversial relationship with the auteur’s output, the sentiment exuded in often bizarre increments by Your Name, remains a concentrated reminder that for all one’s diet for japanese animation, it takes a specific openness to quirk to overcome what has become something of a signature. Your Name, while the most standard across the surface of Shinkai’s work, stands as a veritable carnival of his best and worst tendencies.
Taking the term, En Media Res to it’s most most absurd conclusion, Shinkai throws us into the plot with all the swift-cut ferocity of an anime television teaser.(Seriously. This is a film with not one- but two segues into anime television opening montages.) City boy, Taki(Ryunosuke Kamiki) awakens, but something isn’t right. His body is swollen in some strange places, his home is now in the sticks, and he has no idea how he got there. Meanwhile, country girl, Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) is again occupying the body of a young high school boy with a yen for architecture, a crush at work, and some perplexed buddies. Especially in regards to his ability to suddenly talk with girls, and needlepoint. Both sides of this 1980s style body-switch scenario are taking in that both kids are indeed acting strangely, and that they seemed rather out of sorts the previous day. To both Taki and Mitsuha, there are no clues as to what is causing this, but handy mobile phone blog apps are providing clues to these bodies they are forcibly borrowing, and the confusion they’re causing. But can either of them ever permanently retain their respective bodies again? What kind of irrational hocus pocus is behind this shared affliction? And will Shinkai ever be able to maintain a cohesive narrative without falling back to his safe zone – the wistful, longing voice-over?
Without spoiling too much, the film does come at the audience fast and with greater energy than is common for the filmmaker’s more glacial speed. We are quickly granted glimpses into the lives of our protagonists, and their respective backgrounds. Especially true of Mitsuha, who’s father abandoned the family business of priesthood for township mayor, in a town with only a few friends, no real hangouts, save for their idea of a cafe, which is a rural bench near a coffee vending machine. These moments are endearing, but are often too brief to properly absorb. And while we do get a little background on Taki, his background does feel the real end of the shrift. He is well-to-do Japanese city boy, which is an archetype that is never given any proper background outside of the occasional crush. The film is often too busy to marinate, which is strange for Shinkai, who attempts to get out of his safer first gear, only to imitate a teen with a new car; endless stops, starts, and sudden leaps forward. Your Name, never seems to find a footing until the third act, in which case finds itself in a pacing quagmire that threatens to render the film numbing.
There are the expected sentimental images of dynamic skies, a reverence for tranquil nature, and a yearning for some form of grounded meaning amongst youthful recollection. Like the last twenty years of anime, there is a neverending nod toward some nebulous past that drives Shinkai’s work that echoes a cross between Anno and perhaps even the often forgotten Tomomi Mochizuki, but lacking in the same complexity. His works often feel like an echo rather than a spark, and with Your Name, there is this ever growing sense of the familiar that reeks of everything that has come before, without a terrible amount of freshness. Even as the film attempts to reconcile the plight of our heroes with the cosmic, and the musubi threads that bind us together, the notion never truly finds a place to be properly absorbed. The notion in a story is vital, but like proper sun and moisture, it becomes hard to effectively feel anything that is to be felt. We can gawk all we want, but to truly feel, that is at the heart of what it is to come away from a work forever changed. Which is why it’s one thing to talk about that feeling, and actually experiencing a sensation. Your Name, spends a lot of time trying so hard to obtain this, yet never allows the reins to its world, allowing viewers to take in more than a pat ideal about connection and resonance. By the end, I had no real understanding why these characters would or should find resonance with each other beyond the confines of the story.
It’s a gorgeous film for sure. It’s just too bad that for all it’s greater aspirations, the final piece never finds comfort in prolonged immersion with these charming characters. Every time a gag begins to work, the narrative grinds gears once again, skipping pertinent information that would be better explored in clearly animated terms. Very often, all we get are the occasional line explaining what happened. As if apologizing for a scene that simply had no time to be made. As a result, the film feels helplessly incomplete.
If the goal was to treat humans as proxies for collated data, we could easily watch Ghost In The Shell, but what Your Name implies within the premise, never runs further than skin deep. And if this is what passes for a complete entertainment experience, I’m quite curious about what it is they are seeing. Because for me, I see a grand missed opportunity to tell a tale of better understanding one another via cosmic circumstances. Which still feels like a goal worth exploring. Maybe five more films will be the charm?
Everything Is A Remix, as the touted video series suggests. Not unlike how favorite music finds itself warped into a virtually endless number of permutations, bound by the creativity of the remix artist. There are even times when some actually surpass the radio friendly original. But very often, some works find themselves coming up short. Often bearing the idiosyncracies of the remixer, and not enough to connect on levels that the original might have. Which is often what many condemn as a culture of rehashed filler, often forgetting that some of the most notable works in any medium are but well-executed paeans to other successful creations. This is a long way of saying that for all the bluster and excitement over Tetsuro Araki’s expensive Kotetsujou No Kabaneri (Kabaneri Of The Iron Fortress), is closer in execution to a soulless dancefloor killer 7″, than a populist blockbuster.
Written by Code Geass’s Ichiro Okouchi, and helmed by none other than Tetsuro Araki, Kabaneri is the largely noisy saga of a small population of steampunk latter-edo era nobles and peasants as they struggle to survive a ferocious existential threat. The threat coming in the form of virtually unstoppable zombielikes known as Kabaneri. A threat that has forced much of Japan to forge communities of high-walled steel, all bound together via a sophisticated (and potentially fatally flawed) locomotive transportation system. During a stop over in Aragane Station, Ayame of the noble family, Yomogawa is only around her father’s station long enough to witness it be overrun by an onslaught of Kabane. Losing her father in the scramble, the remaining survivors pack themselves into the Hayajiro Kotetsujou, and are soon rocketing off toward what they hope will mean safety. And along for the ride, are both an enterprising Steamsmith in the all-heart Ikoma, and mysterious young newcomer, Mumei. Drawn together by fates both cosmic, and plotted, the pair are soon seen as potential fissures within this rolling community. You see, the two are both infected by the same virus that has nearly decimated the world outside, complete with glowing hearts and an inability to be easily fell. Even so, the two have found ways to live with it, retaining humanity in ways that have averted seemingly all who have come into contact with the monstrous mass. And perhaps even possessing abilities that could lead the Aragane survivors to safety.
Now, considering that mouthful, about how much of this can we consider to be news? The setting has distinct possibilities for sure, but a great deal of what fills in the blanks plays like a vinyl record of Araki’s Greatest Hits. Everything from the zombies, to the walled cities, to the swordplay, thundering soundtrack, and bishounen complication, the show is more a game of, “What did Araki enjoy most about his previous works?” Even as the show decides to take a breather from all the action with a matsuri episode, there’s never a feeling like we’ve experienced a proper journey. Which could speak loudly to a show that so badly wishes to be a feature film, but is hampered with the kind of required acumen, energy, and patience (oh, and heaven forbid a budget) to function as a televised saga. What we end of getting between arguments about the treatment of our enhanced heroes, or of those deemed to be weak, the show has many philosophical targets, but never fully hones in on what it wants from within all the rabble and fire. There are even characters brought in late in the game that feel grafted in from a completely different series/aesthetic.
All the while, there are also hints of class struggles, rumination on humanity’s endless grappling with matters of faith in each other, exploitation, and revenge. But it as a twelve episode series offers very little breathing space for themes and characters to breathe. Even when they have great potential. Ikoma, makes for a surprisingly engrossing “Uppity Shonen Hero” type. His unerring wish to not only better help humanity in crisis, and later his desire to save Mumei from her plight, have moments of bittersweet complication. He’s never completely vindicated at every turn, and is often smacked down for his naivete. While Mume, makes for a duration of the series, a decent counterbalance for him by having chosen this fate, and is well under way toward becoming something potentially dangerous. Sure, she’s your typical moe icon with a heart of gold and killer skills, but there is plenty of potential for effective back and forth between these two, as well as with the rest of the cast, many of whom work well. Especially the young noble, Ayame. A character that one could easily see becoming the show’s heart and soul. But again, they are undercut by the seemingly endless collage of machine noise and horrendous screaming. The show’s lack of modulation ends up hurting the whole, while one might keep pining for a better treatment come the announced future feature films. It’s a format that might better help Kabane better tune sharply into what makes the ensemble occasionally work.
And it’s true. There are moments here that are capable of rousing even the most jaded. From well-executed escapes, to even an AoT like run in with a “hybrid” mass of monsters, the show does feature several effective showstoppers. On a presentation level, about 85% of the series comes complete with some stunning animation and color, which begins to falter hard come latter episodes. But the scenes that work evoke some of the most visually striking stuff this side of either the early 00s, or even feature film anime of the latter 1980s. And make sure to watch it with the largest screen, and best sound system possible, as Hiroyuki Sawano (of Kill La Kill, and AoT fame) breaks out some of his most overpowering material to date. But admittedly, the largest draw for me was the new character design work by Macross legend, Haruhiko Mikimoto, who’s work here goes a long way toward helping create this strange aura that can at times feel distracting, but is no less refreshing in the current era. Again, problems become very apparent come episode 9, where not only is the animation starting to cut corners wildly, but the story feels truncated. We are never given the proper dramatic fuel to help propel us emotionally into the climax. So when it all comes to a classically rushed final act, more of it feels perfunctory than satisfying.
So when the series has its great opportunity to turn something familiar, yet grand, it is with great resignation that one says here that even when faced with this not quite as daunting task, Kabaneri never seems willing to break free from formula. This is made all the more painful once we are introduced to these new characters that ultimately split up our protagonists, push them to their lowest points, and resort to Fantasy Saga Climax No.4: Win Your Friend Back With Love. There are hints throughout that it might be headed in this direction early on, but for it to stick so hard to formula does nothing to help the series be more than merely a romp. There is spectacle to be had for sure, but there is also potential for a great deal more. It’s reheated leftovers with some spice, but it’s still the same old song. And these tired dance moves are doing nothing for my back.
Kotetsujou No Kabaneri is now streamable on Amazon!
Being young hurts. Never let anyone tell you different. We can wax nostalgic all we want, but youth is the place where all the muscles get their first taste of resistance in the form of daily life. From lessons about co-existence to the heartbreak landmines one must endure, it’s no wonder so many retreat headlong into realms of fantasy. It’s a fundamental reaction to a sometimes relentlessly harsh world, devoid of many things to depend on. It is this core truth for so many that lies at the heart of Hideaki Anno & Gainax’s great claim to fame. Looking back two decades into not only Evangelion’s strange, and world-altering history, but also of my own personal tumult, it isn’t hard to see why it all mattered so much when it was first unveiled upon an unsuspecting public in the fall of 1995.
I can spend erudite paragraphs extolling the virtues of this still celebrated and debated piece of anime iconography, but it felt like something more was required. After all, art tends to connect best with a public that is ready to embrace it. So many factors play roles here that it can often be dizzying. But the goal here is to help best understand what happened so we can at least cursorily chart what has happened since. So with this in mind, let’s look a little into the era which inspired the series, and perhaps unearth why it still connects so well with old as well as young fans. Unexpectedly, or perhaps expectedly if you are sensitive to the state of the world, the realm where we should most prominently look is no further than economics.
It’s often bandied about on many a Japan enthuisast’s site that the 1980s was a time of economic potency. Credit had become shockingly easy to come by, and the banks didn’t seem too concerned about quality. And access to even shades of the high life seemed within reach for many average families. So when things took a turn for the worse come the end of that decade, and a malaise began to set in come the early 1990s, it was in many ways a crushing spiritual blow to all who had grown accustomed to that level of plenty. Notions of familial expectation were raised, only to see these notions come to a halt when the youth of that era saw harder times, especially in regards to employment prospects. Not unlike the effects of the Stock Market crash of 1991, the idea of growing up between expectant parents and the realities of the world outside began to gleam like a sun impacted prism. The break between adults and kids found itself burrowed deep within what the US experienced in the Seattle grunge music scene. After all, what was the point of a future if it was so out of reach?
Such notions were not lost on other forms of art, such as in film and animation, which suffered immense blowback from the ensuing loss of production funds. No strangers to such concerns, was the fledgling anime Studio Gainax, who had been practically buoying themselves to safety since the middling box office of their robust raison d’etre in Royal Space Force (1987). After having entered the direct-to-video market with titles like the jiggle-parody-goes-space-opus, Top Wo Nerae! Gunbuster(1988), and their risky, self-shotgunning pseudo parody Otaku No Video(1989). And soon after, riding the NHK train with the Jules Verne & Miyazaki hybrid, Fushigi No Umi No Nadia(1991), the limping bunch of ragtags with “no business sense”, found themselves in need of a hit. And badly so. Enter, Neon Genesis Evangelion. A title shrouded in veils of so much mystery, that it could only spell disaster from opinions inside and out.
It’s completely needless to elaborate what happened afterward, but it might be good to consider the implications of Evangelion’s arrival, and what has come in the wake of it. Twenty years of anime bubbles and bursts, twists and turns, often reaching to the best of any studio’s ability to harness some of the show’s all consuming fire. Despite chasms in budgets, and often harshly idiosyncratic turns by established icons, few to no series reached such thematic highs. It was, and continues to feel as if Anno’s rollercoaster met a collective wavelength that had little to no room for other serialized series. All it took, was a creaky premise, stark portrayals of archetypes that would inevitably become a license to create thousands of merchandise-worthy knockoffs, and an unerring sense of synergy with the minds behind it. Anime, had suddenly become the mirror image of a once high society’s less considered population. At long last, the disenfranchised youth of a hard driving, win-at-all-costs generation found itself an identifiable icon, and a punching bag for those less willing to acknowledge it.
Shinji, for all his emotional instability and sullenness, is the part of us that we often shove in a broom closet for fear of feeling disposable.
So when the series’ still-debated finale came to pass, to the often exasperation of a first wave of disgruntled internet fans typed furiously. In a great many ways, it was the first show of what would become a cliche in the fandom today. To this day, there isn’t an hour that doesn’t go by where some Twitter war has trails of smoke coming off of my feed, or memes concerning what character trait is the most chuckle inspiring. Yet few television shows have created such a ravenous fervor to the point that the chance opportunity to produce a feature film rendition of the finale would be a blood-smeared retort the likes few franchises have ever inspired. The bile of the complacent fan was about to come face to face with the full-fisted reciprocity of the medium.
All things on the table, for me ,Evangelion ended with the now-laughably titled, The End Of Evangelion (1997). A film that takes the Up With People finale of the show, and vomits it back in fans’ faces. An alternate ending that reduces the heroes into something a lot less palatable, and without redemption. And while other shows have tried valiantly to play the “fans have no idea” hand, rarely has it ever been so eloquently executed. Beyond the works of Tomino, and various others, EoE forces viewers to face these less than flattering elements, and to decide for themselves or not to proceed with the attitudes they espouse so heavily in their incessant commenting. It remains my personal favorite ending, not so much because of its overwrought nature, but it’s will to lay an entire mythos on the line for an exploration into the grandest question of all..
“Why the hell am I here?” – Without offering anything clearer an answer than, to grow.
Beckoning the public to not allow themselves to be prisoners of their own despair seems to be at the core of the best Evangelion has to offer. Any “deeper” interpretations feel lacking to absurd in comparison. What many imitators failed to understand about it was that underneath all the gloom & doom, lies a sincere leveling. Using a largely escapist medium the way it does can be considered verboten, even today. And yet there it defiantly remains. The show understands that youth is but a temporary place, even as so many of us pretend that we never left.
Growing up over a hundred miles from any city in either a northern or southern direction, couldn’t not have a profound effect on how a younger me viewed the world. Being from a desert area, where the expectations for a local kid were to either become a fixture in the local resort industries, or escape at the earliest opportunity, it was easy to find onesself locked in one’s own mind. Unable to connect due to a certain lack of philosophical diversity, and an overall state of economic gridlock, seeing past the world presented, made it hard to envision possibilities, let alone feel motivated to change anything. The pressure did not come from overbearing parents, but of a location’s disgust for its future generations, and a nostalgia that bordered on toxic. But as long as many of us desert children were able to embrace the arts in one form or another, and not find ourselves in the throes of early parenthood or chemical addiction, hope seemed to at the very least be a flat tire fix for a realm rife with shattered glass filled ditches.
But art & words remained my sanctuary, and continue to help shape who I will become, even as these forces can continue to beckon me into a form of submission. One can either be dictated by your passions, or sparked by them. Addiction beyond those that plague our veins is a very real thing, and it can be hard to consider the world and its ever illusory weight. But looking through the very works that helped us process our mutual evolutions rather than ensnare them, shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion remain powerful because they speak to difficult trials many of us face during that most challenging of life periods. To acknowledge the abyss, and to allow onesself to be transformed by expression, is one of the great gifts that art can provide. Being a kid is fucking brutal. Especially when one has little to no what to process what is happening all over. Thankfully, even an often derided form of entertainment can cast a healthy light to help all this madness make a lick of sense. And for this, I am grateful for The Children.
– Upon starting this piece, a part of me wanted to talk a little about the Rebuild feature films, when it hit me that the films themselves seem to be less about character, and more about the series as a whole. Which creates something of a distant echo. Something that works more on a curator level than on a personal one. And while that has its admirers, it simply lacks the cutting immediacy and urgent voice. So, forgive?
When anime has such a clear-eyed perspective on the zeitgest, I perk up. Imagine my bemused surprise when a medium so often concerned with appeasing our most questionable wishes, takes a well-timed potshot at itself. Personally, I love it when post-modernism is being used to comment on larger media concerns, and this little gag seemed aimed squarely at fans like me. So when I clicked PLAY on Yasuhiro Yoshiura‘s eight minute short, I was anticipating what Twitter dubbed to be a celebration of classic cinema imagery. What I saw, was the equivalent to a well-executed barside joke.
The Bureau Of Protosociety, takes place in a near nondescript future world where our remaining population lives deep underground. Clearly the result of some vague catastrophe that a clandestine committee continues to mull the cause and effect of. Several members, with screens surrounding them, grant us a window into possible apocalyptic scenarios that have led us to this completely sheltered existence. What ensues from here ranges from war, alien invasion, to plague. All strangely looking familiar while we’re talking about it.
But the references here aren’t what grabbed me most with this. The implication of such a piece, is that in a realm bereft of history, culture is often rendered meaningless. It’s especially biting to discover the nature of the citizenry and the bureau’s concerns over a developing uprising. Almost echoing current political concerns in Japan. A foolish lack of hindsight on the part of a populace, leading to perhaps one of the best summations of the current anime landscape I have seen in some time. (and it doesn’t hurt that the tune at the end brings back many a memory)
Among the many reasons why I have largely enjoyed the Animator Expo series, the ability to play things less commercial and safe remains my favorite. Yoshiura’s reverence for cult, and a bleak sarcasm that could rival bits of Space Dandy, makes this a special standout for those looking for something a little more biting than your usual televised fare. So what if it doesn’t run longer? It’s a nifty little mike drop that deserves your few minutes of snack time. And like all good anime diets, it is crucial that your in-betweens are a greater part of your self-nurturing side.
If you had asked me two weeks ago if I was headed out this year toward the Los Angeles Convention Center for the anime celebration of the west coast, I likely would have given you a proud “no”. Truth is, that after last year’s record attendance, and a lack of compelling guests or panels, it has become harder and harder to keep this convention momentum up. After nearly two decades of this one has to pick and choose their battles, and last year left me parched in the desert save for another chance to catch up with old friends, industry and beyond. So this year was meant to be something of a vacation from what used to be a popular personal vacation destination. I know, sounds pretty silly now, but considering what the medium has meant to me in the wake of Evangelion, one would hope noone would begrudge me the will to catch a breath. So when the grapevine juiced up with the promise of a twentieth anniversary featuring none other than NGE’s pop muse herself,Yoko Takahashi, it felt like something that just wouldn’t allow for my smug avoidance of this now major, mainstream gathering.
So in natural Winter form, I arrived at Hall B far earlier than I had any right or need to. Not a line had formed as staff had informed me that nothing would be happening until roughly 12:30p, with the show starting at 1:30. It was 10:15. Fine. It’s alright. Not feeling terribly materialistic, so Exhibit Hall is out. Nor am I hungry for overpriced poison, so forget eating. Brought a book with me that I long to finish, so the wall of waiting it is!
How little did I know that the background sounds I was hearing behind me was going to keep me from finishing that next chapter on the densha attendant who moved the packets of sarin gas out of a train in 1995, and that the singing I was hearing was Takahashi herself. My book closed as I leaned over to my back left in disbelief. She had just finished “Zankoku na Tenshi no Tēze”, and had just started with “Fly Me To The Moon”, Wait-is that the Laputa theme? Suddenly, the reality of where I was, and the significance of the whole event began to take a severe kind of hold over my body. A little over 18 years ago, these songs were just beginning their swirl throughout my consciousness like a larva burrowing deep into me in search of a home filled with food and warmth. The songs from Eva have within them a sort of emotional knowing that composer Shiro Sagisu and Takahashi infused within them that seem to understand the unspoken heart of a series that would come to define not only its director, but a generation of myth enthusiasts. The songs become iconographic, kin to GAINAX’s visual presentation and Sadamoto’s character designs. They are an indispensable part of Evangelion’s entire spirit, and every bit as important as the animation.
There was something very intimate, very curious about listening in to the rehearsal that again let me into the show’s own penchant for process. I could just ignore it, and crack open my book again, but this is process. It’s what attracted me to the entire series in the first place. A feeling of “in progress”, never perfect, always seeking the better. I never expected to be treated to such sounds, even if it was clear that the singer was taking it easy on her voice for the moment. This didn’t come with admission, and yet, this is perhaps the highlight of my afternoon.
A few chapters later, the staff at last led us out back to line up for the show which ended up lasting all of about twenty short minutes before we were corralled into a red-tinged Hall B, where the suspense built in spite of itself. And I say in spite of because the 1:30 show had soon become a 1:53 show due to one delay or another (which is expected of AX, but not accompanied by endless loops of Angel Attack–a song that will now gnaw at my brain should one note be uttered again). So when the lights finally went down, and our emcee at last revved the 3000+ crowd up for the afternoon’s festivities, all felt more than ready to experience what I had already done so, this time at 150%.
And what a sweet demon it is..
In truly top form,a winged & horned Takahashi was both deeply friendly and commanding in her performance, which included the aforementioned songs. (with a side of “Tamashii No Rufuran” – a personal favorite) And while she was given a little time to explain with translation help, the video presentation supplied by Shiro Sagisu’s company (a public premiere), and her upcoming compilation album, her appearance was meant to be but part of a larger whole presented by the folks at Bang Zoom! Entertainment. The prolific dub studio also hosted a charming cosplay contest, a voice acting demo featuring ADV dub veterans, Tiffany Grant, Matt Greenfield, and the inimitable Amanda Winn Lee, and music by ALICE Underground & Eru. And while I couldn’t be happier to see such personal favorites come by for a spell, it was Takahashi’s presence that hinted at an event that never truly materialized. But one can just call this me being greedy, which is more than likely true.
In all, the music was powerful yet brief, the appearances sweet but fleeting. And while I could certainly appreciate everyone for pulling this together with the resources they had, one could also make the case that we at Anime Expo were getting something more akin to a digest celebration. A series of tasteful morsels without going full banquet. Even when the crowd chanted for an encore, the repeat of “Thesis” only hinted at something that could be just that more involved. Or perhaps again, this is my curse of Evangelion. It always leaves me wanting more. Not so much more of the same, but more of that human touch that allows Hideaki Anno’s spirit to reach more of us.
As it is, I felt like all we received was a heartfelt, yet still passing glance as opposed to an intimate glimpse into one of the great modern myths.
Upon catching up with the news via Twitter, among all the other amazing things happening yesterday, news came that Animeigo’s ambitious Blu-ray Kickstarter had ended to incredible success. More than excited to hear that the final numbers absolutely crushed the proposed $40,000 goal with a whopping $102,869, the upcoming release plans will likely live up to and beyond initial promise. And now that the initial crowdfunding leg of this particular tour is at an end, Paypal will be open to those late to the party. Sure, goodies that were set up for those who participated won’t be available, but do not feel too left out. The hallowed Secret Master Of Otakudom edition is jam packed with celebratory sweetness for even the most pokey of supernerds.
The recent Japanese release contains not only a lovely transfer, but also an all-new commentary track featuring Shoji Murahama, Kikuko Inoue, Hiroyuki Yamaga, & Yuki Sato. The Animeigo release also promises an english commentary track by none other than Gilles Poitras!
All these bells, whistles, and glory for what exactly? Well in case you’ve been on these intarnutz over the last two decades (strangely an equivalent to being under a huge rock), Gainax’s Otaku No Video remains a poignant, and often self-effacing document on an era of anime fandom that deserves remembrance. And while we certainly have evolved into forms far beyond in that short span of time, the roots remain as relevant, and possibly as dangerous – as ever. For those with a need for that added nudge, please read.
Someone recently asked me about current anime television, and what I have been spending limited time watching lately. And they were surprised to hear that a soft series like Shirobako, has pretty much dominated a majority of that time. Which is funny considering how easily the series borders on self-parody. (even when it seems like such a turn would in fact boost it by leagues) While we have flirted with anime about anime in the past, Shirobako feels a lot like the kind of show the fictional Musashino Animation would indeed produce. Something quasi-steeped in reality, but mired so deep in the artifice of anime, that all of the drama inherent seems to roll off the shoulders like a set of remote controlled plastic clouds. It’s like a tailor-made opiate for raging internet commenters. Which isn’t to say that it is bereft of any charm whatsoever.
We have for perhaps far too long, shared a world built around the concept of the smooth pill. The easy answer. Flat tire fix. It is a complicated thing to delve into when talking about the whys, and how things are often sussed out in the real. When discussing any number of topics facing our daily world, one of the replies that tends to slip out of my mouth is that quite often, we prefer the myth over the weighty responsibility inherent.
Friend: Why do we seem so hellbent on playing the same game, even when the current model no longer seems to work? Like voting for one of only two political parties.
Me: It’s comfortable.
Or (and I know I’m being a bit pedantic here, but bear with me)
Friend: Hey, ever wonder why so many fans self-serve, rather than a reflect?
Me: Myth can be a drug. Doesn’t matter if the truth is obfuscated. Which is advantageous to those who sell the myth writ large. As long as the sleep continues, profits are kept relatively safe a little while longer. In the end, everything diminishes.
Shirobako, on its face feels like one of those great balancing acts so common in today’s market; eager to reflect the world of fans-turned-animators, yet hampered by market necessity. While we are constantly let in on the process of the creation of animated product in the Japanese system, we are also reminded of what is being used to sell the series-a near army of appealing, albeit typical teen anime girls. Definitely a latter day moé-wave title, with an easygoing pace, and ready with open arms to share the daily trials and challenges of televised anime with the public at large(all while remaining as soft-pedaled as its comfort food pedigree tends to allow). There’s nothing challenging about it save for the completion to air deadlines. It’s a fantasy about making fantasy.
Especially in a net climate where animators from both Japan and the rare U.S. expat have shared grueling tales of an environment rife with problems both internal and external, there is so much that Shirobako wishes to keep soft and harmless, so as to maintain the sales potential. While we are decades beyond Otaku No Video, we are certainly not ready to blur the line between anime and reality with this topic just yet. Or it could just be that at this point, with the industry in the place that it is now, writers and producers are in a zone where all they can think of is the familiarity of the workplace. The reality has been consumed by the need for an easier dose to down.
In one of the later episodes, a great question is posed by our central character, Aoi. She asks the big one. “Why did you chose to work in anime?” And the answers turn out to often be unfocused, and overlooked. When working in such an assembly line environment where artistic aspirations run head-on into the needs of commerce, there is a factory mentality that can often blur distinctions. And while some of the show’s animation staff try valiantly answer this burning question, the replies tend to be that of aimlessness, or a wish to share something cool with the world. Things whittle down quite rapidly as those in the wheelhouse scramble for some semblance of understanding why they do what they do. Only to reveal that very often, it couldn’t be less readily tangible.
Now the show does its part to both warm up and warn viewers regarding the attraction and repulsion of the anime production world. From charming moments that feature analogues for medium legends (there is that HA guy, as well as a vivid rendition of Hiromasa Ogura who joins in on Musashino’s latest project), to some sweet breakdowns of the process by way of Aoi’s internal greek chorus in the form of a well-intentioned teddy bear and a cynical goth loli doll. But the real surprises come in later episodes that allude to production’s darker, more broken sides by way of new PA Hiraoka, and the clearly decimated backup ani-studio TAITAINIC. As unsubtle as anime gets, if one would believe it.
It is in the short moments we have here, that the horrors and often troubling realities of anime production are cursorily hinted at if not outright explored. Dank, nearly abandoned offices occupied by merely one staffer, unseen co-workers, and half-hearted work abound. One might almost want to delve deeper into this already telling plot footnote, but alas, there’s so much more to be absorbed by. Angel Workout, anyone?
Kill me now, yes?
Now this isn’t to completely disparage the show’s occasional dips into puerile moé shtick. But as a constant quiver in Shirobako’s arsenal, it is egregious to the point of exasperation. Sure, it’s to be expected of a fluffy anime series in the mid-2010s. Who expects an anime to get its hands truly grubby with the painful complexities engulfing the entertainment industry during one of its most trying technological periods? Still. While the show does its part to make light of how episodes are divied up by PA, and each separate element is ordered, prepared, and distributed, one couldn’t be faulted for wanting just a little more adroit honesty. Every time the series runs against a potentially challenging road block, in comes a new offering of nubile comfort food to keep those nasty realities away. In classically mild Japanese fashion (and to be fair, the old school Disney model as well), Shirobako never finds itself ready to unveil past a certain amount of skin.
In tradition of hoping our entertainment would take point, and offer up something new and potent, Shirobako has certainly done its part to be mildly diverting. But one cannot help but feel the pressure of market lining every corner of its production. Heck, one episode even went so far as to address the pressures of investors that often pit artistic ambition versus sales potential, no matter how shallow or trivial. It’s at least able to get that one welt in there. Now if only more of the show were as willing to take on the industry that spawned it. And so, we’ll continue to wait. Certainly, this series could have been far more harmful than it is. At least Genshiken takes some uncomfortable, yet well-deserved jabs at a business subculture saturated in repression, and shamelessness. Shirobako is simply born to be mild by comparison. Sure, firing retorts at a wired, conspiracy-obsessed populace by way of a peek at the sausage factory through a charming set of binoculars might work. But to quell the masses, perhaps something more up front might do wonders.
As raved about over Twitter just a short while ago, subscribers to Hulu Plus can now enjoy the recently released HD edition of Mamoru Oshii’s classic adaptation. Now alongside the later (and equally thrilling) television series’, Koukaku Kidotai has itself a nice little home base with the mega streaming service. Debate no more about Hollywood film renditions, irrelevant casting controversies, and just drink in why Production IG and company have Masamune Shirow’s crowning achievement well in hand with its exploration of political intrigue, cybercrime, and groundbreaking hybridization between science fiction and faith.
Memories come rushing back during Ghost’s initial US art house theater run via the folks at Manga Video, and just how well LA audiences reacted to Oshii’s vision. A vision that until this point was largely either unknown or patently ignored by westerners. Coming hot on the heels of the ultra-personal Patlabor 2, Ghost was a pretty unexpected theatrical and home video success story stateside. And considering the cinema world pre-Matrix, this somber and flawed mood poem had so much stacked against it, save for those who knew what a terrific coup between director and material this was. And when I say flawed, I mean this as pure compliment. Before INNOCENCE veered into near ancient library obscurity, Ghost finds itself beautifully poised between crime thriller and existential voyage. And despite it’s occasionally jarring three segment structure, it’s pretty hard to impossible to envision it work any other way.
It is Oshii at his thoughtful, grounded best.
This is especially cool news since the only version Hulu has had available for years was the irksome 2.0. Rust color and unnecessary bad CG no more!
That’s right, I said it. It is no longer the “salad days” of fandom. It’s train that has long passed. In fact, when the best possible celebration of these things came to our doorstep, it was the international audience who came brandishing that flag to wave it, not us in the states. Solidarity is a nice thought, but it’s something that if even came to pass, wouldn’t make the mainstream quake in its collective boots.
Adaptation should always be about more than casting. These words have been on my mind for almost two weeks now. Whether it happens or not, the Ghost In The Shell project has again stirred the hornet’s nest. After yet another attempt to adapt a beloved Japanese property to the Hollywood realm did its part to unsettle and stir the pot, it felt time to again dish out the whys. Also, to hopefully quell minds with a few good realities to consider.
A quick fix is rarely a good thing.
We see tech offer up simplified answers to often step-packed questions, and technological development does what it can to leapfrog those steps. But skipping about can very often obscure room for nuance, and specificity that can occasionally be important to many. Which is why many stalwart admirers of the longview tend to gather more understanding of process.
As far back as I can remember learning about it, my love of anime has been a protracted lesson in how localization works. From the beginning, it has long been a held reality that direct translation leaves quite a bit to be desired, nor does it better grab the cultural and psychological nuance of a foreign work. So tweaking and fine tuning are an expected norm. And while we have made substantial leaps to best synthesize this into a palatable shared language, there is still nothing like learning and better understanding other languages and cultures. So when the mainstream is confronted with work almost completely in step with classic anime tropes and ideas (see- Pacific Rim), it’s understandable to see the average moviegoer take in such ideas and cock their heads sideways. The response is often not that of revelation.
Even when manga and anime properties are adapted on their home soil, there is disconnect. This is another huge hurdle I have had to get past these last few decades. In writing the column, Live Action Manga Blues at the Kaijyu, it over time came into sharp focus that even the Japanese are saddled with both the budgetary and literal limitations that come with taking something iconographic and making it into fleshy reality. And the reasons here are multifold. After all, we are talking about taking what is often seen as Japan’s hidden id, and bringing it into another plane of existence. To assume that the two can co-exist seamlessly without losing some grand component remains paradoxical, and often unrealistic. Sure, we have had success with certain more “experimental” fare such as Oldboy, Video Girl Ai, and the Speed Racer. But very often, there is a temptation on the part of live action filmmaking to conform the work into a language that rarely melds with the weight and necessity of itself. It either has to be almost indistinguishably gritty, or it needs to be completely gonzo. Rarely anywhere in between. And to a degree, big films like Racer and Pacific Rim are indicators that they can only work in the hands of the rare risk taker that is willing to bet the farm to see their vision to fruition. Artists with the acumen and sneakiness to ostensibly fool already cynically inclined studio heads that this is worthwhile.
(Something the director of Snow White and The Huntsman, hasn’t proven himself to me. Just saying.)
So a huge part of me isn’t expecting much of this recent news. Many would dare to still hope that one day, their favorite property would make the transition, changing the perception of at least one more set of eyes to their favorite thing. But time has perhaps hardened my purview, I suppose. Because the allure of anime is truly its own organism. And it doesn’t require further validation. It’s wild, weird, and enjoyably dysfunctional in ways that would lose fathoms of itself in being conformed to a more docile cinema language. The average mind accepts new ideas when it is time. And frankly, in twenty years we have seen Ghost In The Shell become something of an evergreen that continues to make converts out of film and science fiction fans the world over. And as new animation continues the adventures of Section 9, such windows will continue to open. Because of this shared world we now reside, it takes more than one obligatory, stunt-casting laden feature film to turn heads. Especially when the genuine global article already exists.
Been quite busy these last few months, and while in the office, I tend to listen to co-workers dish out what they enjoy via their streaming. It has become a unique period in time, one where we are now awash in months- strike that. Hours worth of newly posted visual entertainment is available with a minimum of effort. Now what this does for someone like myself, is create an ever growing cushion of work that I can delve into whenever I feel the inkling. There is an immediacy to the newly released piece of hard media that feels like a special secret had landed upon the doorstep. An effect that doesn’t have the same impact with near real-time online release. Sure, a few seasons have expressed some truly enjoyable work from numerous studios without my making a peep. But to cave in to habitual watching for the sake of it, remains a questionable prospect to me. When I hear said co-workers chirp in excitement over the latest episodes of whatever new series is on Hulu or Netflix, there is a near instinct on my part to either ignore it, or heap it onto the ever growing pile of “not likelies” that have begun to amass since at least 2008.
When only one show has you by the cerebellum, unwilling to let go, it may be time to re-evaluate what we watch, and why we do.
Having reached that hallowed (or is it feared?) fortieth year, there is a natural inclination to seek out work that not only best sums up who you are, but considers where all are going. Which is probably why Kill La Kill continues to shine in my wheelhouse over everything else. Sure, it’s a series that began a year prior, but on its plate were a number of concerns and fetishism that harkened to the more rough and tumble aspects of classic anime, while still being rowdy enough to question the now. This is vital to me in all forms of art. We can continue to laud dramatic effect, and strive for perfection, but one cannot help but wonder why this is even necessary in a landscape that often pathologically avoids reason. Which isn’t to say that creative works cannot move forward, and offer up more articulate means of expressing the anime paradigm. But to forget that so much of the stuff is often knee-jerk in nature, is kind of detrimental to its identity. It’s a delicate dance. And every so often it is nice to be knocked wobbly by a work so uninterested in recently established rules.
It’s all about the questions.
Why anime? Why escapism? Why indulge?
We could use any number of reason/excuse. And while this may trouble some as a statement, I have no issue in admitting that with age, comes less room for trumped-up reasons for being so willing to be cast away into realms of fantasy. And as time has shifted, and films like INTERSTELLAR and EDGE OF TOMORROW, explore previously trodden anime territory, does one come to the revelation that it is not merely enough to call a conceit a conceit, but to ask why it exists these stories at all. This is at the very heart of the current me, and what it means to take in a work, and find our own individual answers. The problem with overindulgence, is that it often becomes a substitute for personal rumination, and thereby epiphany. We stuff ourselves with so much input, that we deprive ourselves of enough energy or time to respond in a work or even a conversation. I cannot tell you how many times I listen to a media fan gasp excitedly about what they have just watched without considering the whys and hows of such choices. It is often only about the existence of this captured moment.
So many subcultures thrive on the idea of the find, rather than the hard work it often requires to create an organic relationship with the work. Be this relationship one of harmony, antipathy, or even “it’s complicated”. It’s how we embrace the creative output of a select few individuals that allows us to think, recept to , and perhaps enact based upon. Which is probably why, as an individual, I tend not to take character “types”, or tropes terribly seriously. They are simply shorthand for other things. And the more one studies about how these come about, or how they are arbitrarily plugged into works, does one need to pull back to see the greater mosaic of the creative process. Like a freeway, some stick to their safest lanes, while others hop erratically, in search of that miracle means of getting to a destination faster. And then there are those few, who understand the flow of traffic, and seek to become one with the entire circuit. Willing to make the freeway an extension of themselves. And once this comes together, it becomes easier to filter through all the roughage we are inundated with on a regular basis now.
Like any good diet, it becomes essential to read up, know the ingredients, and consume accordingly.
And hey, output is important too. Never let anyone tell you different.
Whilst exhuming a murdered body under investigation, Chief Daisuke Aramaki of Public Security Section 9, meets a young and already dangerous Motoko Kusanagi. There to protect the honor of the man in the casket, the once highly respected Lieutenant Colonel Mamuro, who was working as Security Official for massive tech corporation and arms titan, Harimadara. Concerns regarding what led to his killing and his possible connection to shady arms dealing make this auspicious meeting a little volatile. The investigation party at the cemetery is shocked to discover that within the casket, is not the corpse of an honored soldier, but a small, but very lethal android known as a “Land Mine”. Will the truth ever out? Can Kusanagi uncover the clues, and will she take up Aramaki’s offer of creating a special team of augmented experts to become one of the most feared cyber crime units in the world? Rarely will “more of the same” be something I can equate with sparks of positivity, but in the case of the new Ghost In The Shell, I’m inclined to let that cliche work for me.
As advertised, ARISE offers up an untold backstory to the world of Masamune Shirow’s evergreen universe in a tale of intrigue, hardware, and philosophical questions which are well worn trademarks. This time, we are hosted to the future Major as she tussles with not only authority figures, corrupt officials, cyborgs, and barrier mazes, but with a struggle for her own autonomy.
The revelation here, while not surprising, is in line with many fans already know of her. Raised into the military life, and possessing a largely cybernetic body allowed her to be a prolific Wizard-class programmer, and fighter of cyber crime at a frighteningly young age. She is a prodigy, harboring within her a surprising past that may jar some fans of the second TV series.
Being a privileged member of Mamuro’s 501st unit, her quest for the truth is a personal one. But with her expensive cyberized body on loan, and the stakes ever increasing, her very physical freedom might be in jeopardy. Not to mention concerns of a “phantom pain” that is slowly causing problems for Kusanagi.Couple this with run-ins with rivals new and old (including longtime sparring opponent, the Batou The Ranger, gambler Pazu, and up and coming Niihama Special Investigator Togusa. .), and twists making the young Major a prime suspect, and ARISE, is full blown GiTS with revelations to spare.
It’s a fresh start to a personal favorite since I first read the Dark Horse release in a Barnes & Noble over two decades ago. Growing up young in the late 1980s left me quite enamored with the myth of cyberpunk, and outside of authors like Gibson or Stephenson, Ghost has long remained a personal visual go-to when talking stories of human flesh intermingled with technology. For my money, it’s a perfect mix between comic pulp, and hard science fiction with an almost spiritual center. Everything that The Matrix adopted, but rarely understood. A big reason as to why Koukaku Kidotai has become so well entrenched in the global anime and manga consciousness, is largely the often successful balancing act Production IG has displayed between the complexities of the show’s world, coupled with sly character dynamics. Since its’ beginnings in the form of the classic Mamoru Oshii film, it has remained one of the most universal examples of the medium. Always feature film ready in its presentation, and borderline literary with its leanings. And thankfully, under longtime Ghost collaborator, Kazuchika Kise, this tradition remains strong. Getting to know some favorite characters again from a refreshing new angle makes for fun, busy viewing (Even if it’s all a bit familiar.)
The first two “Borders” focus on getting us up to speed on these early relationships as the complex digital world post-WWIV has everyone scattered, scraping to define themselves as freelancer types with guns and gear. Aramaki, sporting not-so-gray hair as he attempts to employ Kusanagi’s expertise in hopes of understanding the truth about the military man who trained (and possibly raised) her. The allegations are looking heavy, and her isolation is well reflected in her future colleagues who tend to see her as part of the threat. In Batou’s mind, she is prime suspect in the murder of a comrade and his family, while evidence eventually points to memory tampering. Meanwhile guys like Pazu are working undercover, and not so sure who to trust anymore. Even Kusanagi’s relationship with cute, sentient multiped mecha are in limbo as she is given a LogiKoma as a bodyguard and partner! Penned by science fiction writer, Tow Ubukata, there is mind-bending fun to be had, but little in the deep surprise department. The theme hovering over these first two episodes seems to be shedding pretense in the name of simple bonds. Which feels about right for a series so largely set within the often deceptive realm as cyberspace.
The second of these two episodes, “Ghost Whispers” expands on the first by this time pitting the authorities against a this time disgraced military hero on trial, who may be manipulating a transportation crisis in the city through a secured channel. While not terribly far in model from the first, there is a leap in visual ambition that works for and against the story as Kusanagi and Aramaki seek to make a team come together. All while being led by a mysterious american special agent known only as VV, the story does have its share of fun dips and swerves as allegiances are bought, and exchanged. Where it does make up for this lack of fierce originality, is in the mecha and chase sequences which remain impressive. There has never been a time in the history of this series that this crew of artists have skimped on the hard, weighty action detail, and almost fetishistic love of kinetic showmanship. In fact, once we get to the hard driving finale on the winding freeways outside the city, it becomes clear that this is what the episode was really about. Don’t let the Assange-esque plotting fool you, the action and reversals are marquee here.
Now to the package as a whole, it would be silly to call this a simple “prequel”. Considering these first two installments, there is a feel that IG was looking for a way to re-introduce rather than to make any hard connections between incarnations. More than anything, ARISE falls closer in feel to a reboot, and as such the voice cast is pretty much entirely new. And unless you’ve been an ardent fan, it’d be hard to notice. But to have Atsuko Tanaka and Akio Otsuka replaced by Maaya Sakamoto (!!) and Kenichirou Matsuda as Kusanagi and Batou respectively, it should have felt..off. It doesn’t. It works quite well actually. Even Ikyu Jyuku’s turn as “Old Ape” Aramaki, is pretty impressive. Everyone acquits themselves to this rebirth with great enthusiasm and grace. There is certainly a feel that is classic GiTS that implies many more adventures to come, and it’s quite welcoming. It’s also a nice way to re-approach the material without giving away all the mystique that so many so-called prequels seem hellbent on demystifying. Even here there is an admission that not every story will be told, and that’s always cool. To top it all off, the musical score by Cornelius is thoughtful, thrilling, and achingly human. With so much quality coming out of every pore, it’s hard to fault ARISE for being what made the world of Section 9 as prolific as it has been. And as long as our current world becomes further entangled and altered by what seems to be our inevitable date with the Singularity, the Major and company will remain thrillingly relevant.
-And no, it didn’t get past me that the so-called “Mobile Land Mines” were in the guise of little girls. Which is especially gallows funny, seeing them mowed over by a speeding APC. Feels like the franchise’s revenge for being gone long enough to let certain proclivities contaminate anime for as long as it did.
While this could merely be the interpretation of this writer, what else could that scene possibly mean?