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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.

 

Bridging The Gap: Why The World Needs Sailor Moon


Can a shining light from the tail end of the brightest days of Japan be just what anime and manga need today?

 

 

There was simply no way I could resist. Ran to my local Kinokuniya to swipe up my own copy of the Kodansha Comics release of the girls manga-milestone Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon. It isn’t as if it required the more common internal debate that often clouds recent J-media purchases either. The tale of ultimate shoujo underdog, Usagi Tsukino & her meeting destiny as the leader of a celestial army of defenders against an oncoming onslaught of otherworldly weirdos has been a not-so-guilty favorite since I first discovered it through friends during the mid-1990s. And after reading this latest transtlation, along with stellar treatment, I can even see past what many will consider to be passe, juvenile, and even a little confusing since it in many ways through charm and energy (and possibly, even a sly amount of satire). And it also occurred to this writer as to what made this so exciting to more than one segregated audience. The truest definition of crossover, Naoko Takeuchi’s most beloved creation has seen fandoms even some of the most diehard mecha show fans could only dream of. Whether fans discovered it through the syndicated DiC version that played on tv screens, or merely by way of word of mouth, it only gained ground by leaps and bounds by the time the internet became more accessible to the masses. One might even venture the notion that a great deal of how we view and accept anime in a cultural sense owes a great debt to this very fandom.

 

By now, most fans of both printed and animated mediums since the 90s are well aware of Sailor Moon, and the various iterations it has taken around the world. In fact, it’s pretty hard to imagine modern fandom without it. Even long after Japan had become something of a shadow of the colorful wonderland portrayed in the comic and animated versions (oh, and even live-action), the optimistic worldview presented in it best encompassed by Usagi and friends as they struggled to maintain normal lives in between yoma invasions hit a fascinating chord with so many not even familiar with Japanese life circa the late 1980s-early 90s. It offered a window to this very culture, and in many ways gave off the aura of an idyllic, almost Disneylike utopian vision. Which was almost always in danger of destruction by way of any number of nasty (albeit beautiful) villains out to deprive the world of its spirit in the name of negative energy.

 

 

Even as the series broke ground by being a mainstream product that played with not only gender roles, but gender itself, the powers that be could never truly wash away how culturally challenging much of it really was, despite on the surface looking like little more than a hybrid of classic maho shoujo tales and super sentai legend. It was glaring proof that anime and manga was far more than the realm of boys, and opened the door for an entirely new, and untapped market. So a shiny, glass world of friendship and dreams in endless struggle with our lesser selves seemed a perfect means to usher in a whole new era of admirers of J-media. An era less content with being huddled away in the corner of a sci-fi convention shelling out VHS bootlegs for absurd prices, and vocal enough to make great strides in how the world viewed not only shoujo, but manga in general. The sheer impact of the series and its characters could be felt in nearly every facet of the ensuing years of growing awareness, and unexpected success. And all due to a wholly unique (to westerners at least) presentation, and attitude.

 

 

My initial experience with Usagi and friends came about through a most unexpected source. Through a sweet family of friends whom I had known for years, who’s elder sibling had a wholesale enthusiasm for the animated series. In fact, much of his enamored state came from seeing a vision so open to how gender roles played so freely within what seems like your classical superhero tale. It was like a door opened. So when it was time for me to investigate his obsession for myself, I was knocked aback by how different it felt alongside the largely testosterone-centric anime output that we had been privy to for decades. And then the manga took it galaxies further by further treating central relationships as matter of fact, and not so much as some kind of mutant novelty. Was very refreshing to witness. So when the fandom became something beyond anything I could ever have dreamed of with the shows I had grown up with, the writing was on the wall. Takeuchi’s creation had done something no other property to that date had done; connected beyond the already existing choir, and into something altogether different.

 

 

And most importantly…it was a creation intended for younger audiences! Remember them? Despite all that has been said, the real exciting element that helped make SM such a crossover phenomenon, was that it held within it  a certain balance of childlike innocence at odds with often mature terrors. Even if it often took on the guise of oh so many action shows, complete with extended battles, and recycled story techniques, there almost always seemed to be just enough wide-eyed wonder regarding the daily world to counter the harshess often doled out by the villains. And as Usagi must contend with what ostensibly is to be her destiny, she must also suffer the pains and foibles common to just being young. (insecurity, and an added dash of almost supernatural clumsiness on top of all this) So as she begins her journeys, and makes new and diverse friends along the way, there is a sense that stakes are indeed growing with each passing day. The identifiable character elements often transcend their seemingly simple demeanors, often granting the world of Sailor Moon something that can just as easily invite adults as well as children.

 

 

And after so many years of false starts, censorship, and unwavering fan support, Sailor Moon seems to be primed and ready for a definitive return. Naturally, the world has moved on dramatically since those bright and colorful days. But on the whole, the spirit of friendship amidst great, and terrible odds is something that is universal enough to work in any era. Applicability seems possible, as long as the character dynamics remain true to their origins, albeit within new, more challenging circumstances. The current landscape deserves not so much a shot of nostalgia, so much as a reminder of what makes the things we appreciate and respect so special. One can only hope that the recent release of both Sailor Moon, and the previously unreleased stateside Sailor V, that the still remaining embers of love for this franchise will flame up just enough for an entirely new generation to enjoy.

 

 

It was more than mere magic that helped create the contemporary anime and manga fan; it was the heart and ingenuity Naoko Takeuchi so iconically shared on the page. And even as a genre-hybrid work, it was and remains a reminder of what it takes to strike a chord with such a wild range of admirers. And while Sailor Moon is far from a perfect saga, it is filled with enough sweetness and sincerity to speak volumes long after its creation. Whether you’ve ever caught yourself talking with your cat, or retained all the wonders of young friendship, there is always a little of the Odango-atama in all of us.

 

                                          With a good, smart treatment. I’d watch it religiously.

Through Older Lenses: Megazone 23 Part One

 

Is maturity the bane of otakudom? Can one retain the same love for something years after life has added on the experience, and insight capable of seeing through much of what made it exciting in the first place? For those who have followed The Analog Diaries thus far, many have seen that a great bulk of material that drew me to the anime & manga arts were awash in the heyday of the OVA. Having been inundated by the form throughout the latter 80s thru the 90s, I have experienced a fair deluge of shows, and series that while far from masterful, helped create the admirer that I grew up to become. Being already a youth weaned on looking at the Reagan era with a bit of sourness no doubt brought upon by growing up in a family not as fortunate as so many in the trickle-down pathway, various artistic, and literary influences were already making waves in this once innocent mind.

So perhaps anime came at the right place at the right time. A dash of rogueishness to set the embers to a glowing high, and a sense of dare to raise those flames beyond control. Much like the burgeoning new music culture forming from the ashes of punk & noise, there was something immediately attractive to the anime artform when it was willing to be more than anything the west could conjure. And as in any art, all it takes is a byte, a mention, a whisper in the ear, or a song to send it all home.

It was more than mere escape, it was a thumb to the eye of caution in a media sphere fraught with zeroes and ones.

What I hope to introduce within Through Older Lenses, is an expansion beyond merely Bridging The Gap, and tackling influential works contrasting both my youthful, and current points of view.

As a first title to make mention of, I’m going to go head to head with an oft remembered, if not wholly loved first installment of an OVA series that has maintained perhaps a greater amount of influence than some are willing to admit: The Noboru Ishiguro directed Megazone 23 Part One!

 


Again, while this was in no way anything more than a stepping stone in anime history’s days before OVAs truly took off with Bubblegum Crisis, the life behind this strange title has made more than it’s fair share of waves in international fandom as (inexplicably, save for the involvement of several Macross key staff) Robotech:The Movie, as well as a briefly released VHS version via Streamline Pictures back in that company’s latter days. As mentioned previously, the Megazone 23 project started as a television series pitch under the name Omega City(as well as various monikers), which was inevitably scrapped after head sponsors pulled out mid-production.

But the pedigree behind the project is almost a who’s who of late 70s- early 80s pioneers such as Toshihiro Hirano, Ichiro Itano, & Shinji Aramaki during the burgeoning days of Artmic. All in the name of telling a tale of Tokyo awakening to a revelation that the Bubble-decade’s sunny skies, colorful clothing, and endless shopping was merely a facade concocted by a hyper-aware AI system in the hopes of lulling what remains of humanity into a happy dream. A humanity on the brink after generations of infighting that has left the populace in a perpetuated fiction, hiding an ultimate secret; that Tokyo itself is within one level of a monolithic space vessel 500 years after the remnants’ endless warring left Earth uninhabitable. Through the eyes of biker-teen Shogo Yahagi, his friends, and would-be love interest, Yui Takanaka, twist upon twist threatens to undo the fabric of Japan’s happy, yet suddenly fragile reality. And all this as the lives of Yui’s roommates take steps into following their dreams within this already volatile web of notions. With Mai, her longing to become backup singer to the era’s top idol singer & tv personality, Eve Tokimausuri, and Tomomi, hard at work guerilla-filming her very own science fiction masterwork. Streets are alive, the music heats up, as this initial outing culminates in a strangely potent finale as the truth is revealed, casualties are felt on all sides, and the moral quagmire concerning the future of the human race reaches critical mass.

 

 

Youthful Pull:

So what was it that intially drew me to this? Quite simple, actually. The unrepentantly 80s design aesthetic was an instant win for me, being one of a generation who had grown up on Macross via Robotech, and my instant recognition of the visual stylings at play here was massive. The images of both the Garland, and EVE were enough to sucker me in. Even as the look, and animation seems crude by modern standards, there was something instantly tangible and bizarre in the presentation that sealed away any doubt that I would miss this project.

 

 

Reflections Of Youth:

Being wholly frank, I loved what I saw, even if it didn’t make a lick of sense. And back then, it hardly mattered as I had already long accepted that OVAs were something of a grab bag of disparate ideas, often not cohesive enough to fully justify a continuing series. And despite knowing that the series was resumed years later, with an almost entirely different creative team, there was something inherently right about what this series’ initial outing was suggesting. It probably didn’t hurt that only a few years later did Hollywood flirt with a similar premise in the guise of the fiendishly fun, They Live (1988) where the sleeping populace were being manipulated by an alien force masquerading as the rich and powerful, and amassing many into their cult of submission in the name of interplanetary domination. It was a Streets Of Fire-infused take on Plato’s The Cave that while mired in enough 80s cheese to block an entire state’s plumbing systems, had enough cool factor & attitude to make for a fun afternoon. Again, the excitement here being a product of just being in love with the idiosyncracies of the project’s world, its wildly paranoid world view, and most importantly; the music. Few anime tracks of the 80s has the emotive power of Senaka Goshi Ni Sentimentaru, all while a young Shiro Sagisu let’s loose throughout the series. Even as it has a thing or two to say about the time it was released, it also became a surreal embodiment of it.

 

Through Older Lenses:

Upon watching this first chapter again recently, several things began to stand out that while tangible, never seemed to gel properly in my mind before. The first of which is how the show’s cast continues to act, regardless of what Shogo has uncovered while on the run with the show’s hopelessly tacked-on transforming mecha/motorcycle, The Garland. And it is in the means by which these characters either mildly shrug off the incredulous story of them living within an elaborate fiction, all the while tending to their lives, looking to either be a part of the contemporary entertainment industry, which can be considered a business of fictions in itself. Something about this connects in ways that even the oft-rumored Hollywood progeny of this series, The Matrix never did. While the main character, Neo grapples with the revelation of living in a whole new reality, he never seems to care one bit about the world he’s left behind. Something that begs some interesting questions regarding human behavior. Especially human behavior within a sprawling metropolis, while the world changes dramatically around them. There’s something very L.A. about what the kids of Megazone 23 are doing amidst all the intrigue. Characters continue to act selfishly, even irrationally to the point of sexual hysteria it seems, which is an interesting take on what has now become something of a cinematic science fiction cliche, “The world within the world”. And yet it in many ways makes a great deal of sense for a decade drunk on media success, Coca-Cola nightmares, and SONY Walkman dreams. Even if it is a dream, it’s still lights years more attractive than what’s “out there”.

Another thing that comes to mind about what makes it all work despite how patchwork this “compilation film” functions, is the almost bizarre visual juxtaposition it plays on the viewer. While Yasuomi Umetsu, and crew revamped the series to strong effect in the second chapter/film, there is almost something sly & sneaky about such dark left-field notions placed within an anime so alive with color, and adorned with many a Haruhiko Mikimoto & Toshihiro Hirano Macross-era beauty. Also telling that Ishiguro and company were hard at work on this right off the heels of Do You Remember Love? It might imply a growing distrust of all the success and artifice that was consuming Japanese culture at the time. Not that the anime industry was ever seeing too much of this, save for more eyeball-straining work. At least for this blogger, art is at its most exciting when it is calling out social norms that many don’t seem to bring up as often as some should. Something about the early moments of the film with its wanton shopping, breakdancing, and garish fashion that is almost contradicted by the uptempo-yet-saddened tones of Kumi Miyasato‘s song playing over them. As if it is preparing the viewer to look back at all of this fondly, because none of it is real.

Also worth noting while we’re talking Matrix here; the concept behind a military cover-up, and the role of the relentless officer, BD is something that I had always preferred to be the natural outcome for that film series. The concept that the AI that has created this illusion is in it only for “evil” purposes never rings true, and seeing this concept presented as it is here makes for a much more believable reason. This also leaves the door open for the story to illustrate that after all is said and done, humanity’s greatest enemy has been, and always will be itself. Philosophically, this just makes more sense, and is dramatically more interesting. Now the fact that Megazone 23 never goes all the way with this is a missed opportunity, but I appreciate that it is there. (again, something that is in many ways remedied in Part 2)

So after so many years of having this as something of a personal touchstone title, does it hold up any compared to how I saw it years ago? In many ways, yes and no. The fact that the footage was culled from a scrapped TV production makes for some seriously confused storytelling, and incessant pacing issues muddle things a bit. Not to mention more than a few baffling character beats. It’s a bumpy watch these days to be completely honest. And yet despite all of these problems, it’s all about the attitude, the presentation, and the show’s overall place in the zeitgeist that make for an interesting prototype of a film, rather than a successful one. But it takes some rather big risks for what it is, and how many shows these days can that be said?

 

Regarding The Ranma 1/2 Live Action Fluff

Can It Be True?

A live action Ranma 1/2 dorama series? Well this is out of the blue. Upon receiving scant, somewhat puzzling news from a respected source, it looks like we may be amidst something of a live-action anime renaissance that doesn’t seem to be slowing down. And since the information at hand has merely been shared via this blog, the gears have been turning via fellow writers and fans, musing the expected responses; Where? And more importantly; Why? And since the aforementioned post offers no links to an official site, or any hint of a teaser video anywhere. All we have here is a cast & crew roster, and a premiere date & time: July 10th, and starting at 10pm. Again, all one can do at the moment is to speculate which is always rife with obvious problems.

For those playing the home game, the Rumiko Takahashi martial arts genderwarp comedy Ranma Nibun No Ichi has long been regarded as one of the more iconic anime/manga creations of the last twenty odd years, and has garnered one of the most passionate and enduring international fanbases any show has experienced. The tale of woe that befalls young, hotheaded martial arts student, Ranma Saotome, and the family he is planned to be married into by a conniving, lazy father has been something that a near-entire generation of anime lovers have long embraced, made references to, and at times reviled for its wacky cast of colorful characters, bizarre gimmickry, and martial arts silliness. It’s kind of difficult to imagine the “harem anime” without it, not to mention other favorites including the Fruits Basket manga/series. Mixing a romantic comedy with water-based gender/species-switching hijinks gene grafted with a Shaw Bros. movie was something of a knockout melange that connected, and helped create the anime fandom explode in the west come the early to mid 90s. Translated into a multitude of languages (including Spanish, where yours truly caught a remainder of the show during those days), the series and its characters have retained something of a timeless quality that continues to gather new fans.

Now again, as one not to normally speculate, perhaps it might be good to just express a mixture of openness and worry to the prospect. As much as this sounds infinitely more interesting than say, an American rendition of AKIRA, one cannot help but express concern for this particular project as a live-action concept. Say that for a moment, that this is a possibility; that the approach utilized by previous live-action dorama could be implemented (a good example is 2003-04’s Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon), would it be optimal for a series that became known later for it’s visual bombast & exaggerated action? Or would it become something far more character-based, which would be fine provided the universe Takahashi created was brought down to Earth just a smidge. One could argue that a large part of the original’s success was the world in which the Ranma characters lived in, and their interactions based on such a setting. Also worth bringing up is the live Maison Ikkoku that was created as a vehicle for model-actress Misaki Ito. And this is where worry for yours truly comes in. If the object of this particular game is merely for co-opted natsukashii purposes, it may end up becoming little more than a mourning for a day long gone, and not so much a celebration of the series’ enduring legacy.

Can a “good” Ranma 1/2 project be borne out of such a notion, even if this is little more than a rumor? One would like to believe so. Recently, we’ve seen a live action love comedy with bent toward the hyperbolically surreal in theaters last summer, but again- this was with a budget & talent able to do merely one film with enough energy and style to actually pull it off. And since that film didn’t do ideal business, it is feeling less and less probable that Japanese producers would even consider this possbility.

 

 

Tomo Neko Maid Cafe; The Experience


On May 1, 2011 Tomo Neko Maid Cafe held an event in which proceeds went to the Yoshiki Foundation. Luckily for me I got to experience the event first-hand. Lucky for you, though you may have missed this event, the Cafe is always planning something.

What you missed:

At maid cafes black cats and opening umbrellas indoors is a good thing.

Maid Rachael met me at the door and ushered me into a front row seat just before the musical act, the Ajuku Girls began their set.
Ajuku Girls
Half the audience had to be resuscitated after dying* from the cuteness.

After the happy pop dancing and singing put the audience into a pleasant mood I was seated and introduced to my butler, Megaman X AND some super-awesome cat people who I’d be drinking tea with.
Butler Megaman X and the Cat People
Several butlers and maids came to the table to play card games, let me hug emo-chu, and of course to bring out delicious refreshments inbetween activities.
Chu went emo from the devastation his homeland has faced.

There was also origami to attempt.

Performances by comedians Anton Torez, Matt Johnson, and “G” were an absolute riot while the beauty of Miyuki’s Geta dance took everyone’s breath away.

During a slight intermission while raffle tickets were drawn and prizes rewarded many tried their hands at the gaming station (Marvel vs. Capcom and Smash Brothers) to win pictures with their favorite maid and/or butlers.
Several more performances from staff (Madam X sang while D Boy did a bit of comedy) kept the energy up though the most surprising was the Time Warp performed by just about everyone at the closing ceremony.

It was a great event from a wonderful Cafe for a good cause that left guests feeling as though they really were transported to a 2D world.

Tomo Neko Maid Cafe, Interview with Maid Rachael

Maid cafe popularity in my area (Southern California) has risen exponentially in the past decade, with the rise in popularity of butler cafes following suit. These trends tend to boom with every release of a maid/butler themed anime. I felt it was time to take a better look at maid cafes and see what the hubub is all about. Please note; traditionalists realize that 99.9% of everything done in America will have an American twist to it!

I had a chance to shoot Maid Rachael some questions after finding out a pop-up Maid/Butler cafe was in the works as the main theme of an event.

She's a 2D girl, living in a 3D world.

California, especially Los Angeles has a few decent maid cafes. What separates Tomo Neko Maid Cafe from other pop-up-events?

At Tomo Neko, we pride ourselves most in our uniqueness and creativity. Traditional maid cafes are generally light meals being served by cute girls. For Tomo Neko we’ve decided to add a fun twist to this by incorporating other elements of otaku and geek culture such as gaming, comedy, musical performances, and a few other surprises. We’ve really gone all out and expect customers will enjoy this unique experience – even if they’re already a cafe veteran.

When it comes to the maids and butlers, we’re also trying something a little different. Each one will be acting as a specific character with a unique personality, with outfits to match their individuality.

Kato is busy setting up the Sorry! board.


What made you want to get involved in a maid cafe? Was it difficult work putting this all together?

All of our staff members were just a group of friends first. Many of us recent college graduates. We all met as part of a local anime/manga fan group. At its start, the maid cafe idea was simply something to do for fun. Then the Japan disasters struck. That was when we realized that we could use our once informal event to help out. We got serious.

This is the first charity event we’ve ever organized! Which includes its own excitement and challenges. Many factors that appeared “easy” at first, very often proved themselves more complex and detailed over time. After completing one task, we’d discover 10 new ones yet to do. I don’t think any of us have slept much since March. ^_^;

All delays are to be blamed on Maid Saiyaka*

What would you like as an outcome for the maid cafe?
First, we want everyone to have fun and enjoy the atmosphere we’ll be creating. If customers feel as though they’ve been transported to a different world, one more elegant, charming, and exciting than our typical lives, then we’ll have succeeded.

Second, we would love the event to be a total success as a fundraiser so we can support Japan in their time of need as much as possible. And if we can raise awareness and aid for Japan while simultaneously introducing folk to some of their culture, all the better.

A portion of the proceeds are going to a Japan earthquake and tsunami relief fund…
Our charity of choice is the Yoshiki Foundation. More about them can be found here.

How do you think the damages Japan has faced has affected the Otaku community? How do you feel it’s affected you?

The otaku community has of course been deeply affected by this. There’s no way it couldn’t have been. For many of us, the fandom has changed our lives is such a positive way. I know it has for me. Through that, we have formed a connection to the country and its people. To hear that the place of origin that has given us such joy through their creations is now in a time of need:

Now is the time for us to give back.

As a maid, what are you favorite activities to engage in with your patrons?
What a tough question! There’ll be so many thing to do that day, from board games, to sharing the home-made cupcakes I’ll personally be baking.
If I had to choose… I’d say it’d be introducing the talent that I booked. You’re all in for a treat. From our; LA J-pop group the Ajuku Girls , anime con winning comedians
the mesmerizing sword wielding Geta Dance, originally created by Miyuki – there’s some amazing things to see. I can’t wait to show you.

Sugar cubes or honey?
Honey, of course. ^_~*

Special thanks to Maid Rachael for allowing me to pester her with questions. If anyone is interested in the Tomo Neko Maid Cafe, check out their website. If you are in the Southern California area over the weekend the event is being held on Sunday May 1st in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles at the Miyako Hotel.

Analog Diaries V: The Social Network

Looking at the bulk of the stories I’ve been sharing on the pages of Diet via my Analog Diaries column, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a small shoutout to a period in my fandom that so few I speak with seem to mention, let alone talk about. It is something of a footnote in the anime and manga phenomenon that doesn’t get coverage in many places online, especially since the internet can be said to be the bomb that truly blew the fandom floodgates open. But before PCs were truly widespread, and bandwidth was reasonable, connieurs of J-culture had to resort to other means to gather information, and find friends around the world with commonalities such as these to chat up.

My first brush with folks who traded tapes, zines, and materials from Japan was through the friend of a relative who had once stationed in and around Okinawa. As it turns out, since his travelling back and forth from Japan had begun to slow, it became common for this guy to have a network of pals willing to share the wealth via parcels, and classic postal service methods. There was a romance to this as it was clear that it took effort to really make these friendships last. And what would come from a lot of this would not only be some truly cool buddies from all over, care packages of stuff would often land, granting him access to things I would not see anywhere for years. This person’s room was awash in pin-up art, figures, and videocassettes, and it was something that would likely leave a burn mark within for a very long time.

Flash forward to roughly the mid-90s, and I am essentially in the California desert, many miles from anything resembling hobby shops, let alone convention venues. Access was almost completely nonexistent, save for the occasional run-in with your local geeks at the local Suncoast, and buddies. And our pally from the service had long since vanished, so it was pretty much time to either pack it in, or doggedly keep seeking out others with similar passions. When it came to learning anything about such a medium such as this, about the best ways to do so would be to save up, head out toward the Los Angeles area to forage the popular haunts, and naturally, talk to folks who really knew what was up, the elder fans. However, as in anything geek, there were many times where it felt like the only way into such a world was to “know the code”, perhaps a secret handshake, or perhaps even a little blood sharing to just get a glimpse at something else made by Miyazaki, Oshii, or even Dezaki. The walls keeping the average, passtionate fan were many if you knew noone. Simply put, if you didn’t know anyone, anime fandom was near to impossible…

…Or so I thought…

Soon after anime on VHS was beginning to gather ground, and the ADVs, Central Parks, AnimEigos, and others of the world were beginning to see an upsurge of younger fandom, I had the good fortune to spark up a conversation with someone while chatting up a mutual admiration, the manga collective CLAMP. And that’s pretty much all it took to be introduced to an already long-established world network of not only shoujo manga & anime lovers, but an entire living, breathing faction of fans with a love of the written word, as well as a humongous DIY spirit. I was introduced to the world of Friendship Books, and pen-pal circles.

For those unfamiliar; pen pal circles are as they sound, and yet offered an interesting way to get to know others without the interference, and often static that an instantaneous internet can at times elicit. To begin, one would select a fictional moniker; a name for yourself that could either be original, or naturally be that of a favorite character. (we seeing the seeds yet?) And to spread awareness of your profile to those looking for new pals to write, one would create what was known as a Friendship Book.

Apologies for this not being the best example. More in storage.


As you can see, Friendship Books cold be made out of anything from construction, to washi, to standard line stock. These books would start with a page, often decorated with an anime/manga image, and a brief opener, describing the kinds of shows you liked along with one’s mailing address. The page complete, the book could then be sent to other pen pals, and sent randomly around to other pals until the book was completed front to back, at which time the book was sent back to its author. And to see where it went was often interesting, and even moreso, was to see the creativity expressed by those placing their profiles into it. It was a fascinating process that could become messy quite quickly should one not send a few out with every replied letter. Many would even come back from as far away as Japan, or even Germany.

But the friendships that formed out of this curious move were often very cordial, and fun. Especially when con season returned. One of the more notable events each year was to be able to meet some of these fellow writers, which naturally had its highs and lows.

In all this was a truly interesting time as it was also more possible than ever to hear about current shows, as well as swap tapes of series that either hadn’t been licensed for US distribution, or even favorites that the american market would never even consider. The fansub community was still in relative infancy, so it was also a peak time for the empowered few to take their Japanese skills, and shell out free cassettes featuring anime that for better or worse helped pave the path for how anime fandom was going to burst in the near future. I would even argue that prior to the internet’s massive impact on the anime industry as a whole (rise AND fall) , it was really up to a significant, and yet largely silent subculture within subcultures. It was how I was able to first begin reading Ginga Tetsudo 999 in Japanese, as well as see shows like Escaflowne, Gundam Wing, Wedding Peach, and many others before the companies began paying real attention. And the prime motivator for all of those I met throughout this time period was less about what one had, but rather who they could share their love of all of this with. There was no malevolence, or selfishness involved, it was merely enthusiasm.

It might have been slow, but in that came a sense of build-up. Of anticipation. Even if the show was so-so, there was something of an in-the bunker vibe that came from this kind of community that made every new major show something of an event. When was the last real time we’ve experienced this?

Long before I had a net connection, and a station to type from, it was all about pens, paper, glue, and a lot of motivation(oh, and stamps).

And it is something that I at times only wish to see more of as it has the world’s fans scramble for some kind of sense of community that feels lost at the moment. And perhaps this was all because of it’s rarity. Lack of access can do amazing things when one thinks about it. Perhaps it is here that answers exist. Of course there is no going back. But one can at least hope for the kind of long form love fans have for their interests, all in the name of finding others with the same affliction. Not in the name of a cure, but in the name of understanding.

 

Understanding via creation. Isn’t that what much of this is all about?

Sanrio’s Small Gift L.A.

Hello Kitty, Keropi, My Melody, and an assortment of Sanrio’s finest graced Santa Monica Airport’s Barker Hanger during a 2 week stop in mid-November to kick off a pop-up tour around the country.

Food, games, a ferris wheel, art show, photo ops, and of course the shopping experience made for fans of Hello Kitty Hell delighted the mixed crowd who gathered.

I arrived early in the day, hopin to beat the crowds and be able to get into the shopping area without having to wait an hour in line. Unfortunately, an hour and a half’s worth of people had the same idea. Instead of shopping, I did what I do best; won lots and lots of prizes from silly Sanrio themed carnival games!

A highlight of the pop-up event was the art show, where Hello Kitty inspired a multitude of artists, notably Camilla d’Errico, kozyndan, and Audrey Kawasaki among other impressive talents.

As I arrived (and left) early in the day, I missed the massive quantity of Food Trucks opening for lunch and I skipped several activities such as the mini-putt-putt golf course and artist signings. The sugar shack did provide some nom cotton candy to tide me over with a sugar high until I was off to my next adventure.

Sanrio’s Small Gift Tour is going to continue making stops around the country through-out December. Check out the tour schedule and don’t miss the fun!

Streaming Favorites To be Thankful For (Part Two of Two)

Ah, November.


For many, it’s all about the holiday rush, and all it entails, but for some of us, it’s time to bundle up and perhaps catch something cool to watch at home. Which is likely the reason why I felt it time to seek out some favorite anime series that are now out there, and worth checking out. And also, perhaps as an entirely new generation of US fans takes to the bandwidth like mad, it might be good to shed some light on some notable favorites that we can sample online for free, and support US & Japanese anime companies while we’re at it. It’s time to embrace both past & future, so let’s go!

Continue reading Streaming Favorites To be Thankful For (Part Two of Two)

Streaming Classics To Be Thankful For!

Trouble navigating the classics online? Don’t worry. I’m here to help..

After some thought of the many out there (myself included) sharing thoughts on the growing number of streaming anime out there vying for our attention in a steadily growing new point in history for the medium in the states, it only felt right to spend some time sharing thoughts on an often overlooked quantity amidst the rabble. I’m talking of not only some of the shows I grew up with in those simpler times of either catching them via televised signal, or VHS copies lent to me via friends, and even an overlooked wonder that more folks truly need to give some time to. So let’s have at it this month, as we explore some streaming classics to be thankful for!

Space Pirate Captain Harlock

Oh, come on, you know we were going in strong with this one. And for those unfamiliar with Japan’s equivalent to Krypton’s favorite son, one must really spend some more time embracing your inner rebel, and give the adventures of Harlock and the crew of the ever iconic Arcadia a good watch. As a rule, I’m often not the biggest fan of the so-called “romantic hero”, but in the case of the title character, and the sweeping universe created by the one Leiji Matsumoto, it is an intoxicating mix of Japanese idealism & classic derring-do, made all the cooler by way of a fun supporting cast (I’ve had this lifelong kinship in Tochiro Oyama. Can’t help it.) . All the more beguiling for me has always been the universe with which Matsumoto manipulates his characters, and its a universe fraught with human frailty, and longing. Something that few to no other space-borne creations have ever embraced. Like I just mentioned, romantic. There’s no better way to explain it. And the action can still be remarkably brazen. Oh sure, it’s pure pulp, but supercool pulp, with some very interesting time capsule Japan material for the curious.

Here!

Fist Of The North Star

There are just some shonen action shows one cannot apologize for. And why bother? Buronson & Hara’s post apocalyptic bloodfest is a super-long, over the top game changer for action shows in the early 1980s. Definitely a product of not only the success of films like George Miller’s Mad Max, but also possibly of Sogo Ishii’s hyper-charged biker flicks with a little Bruce Lee in there for flavor. (not to mention the burgeoning number of violent martial arts video games coming out at this time) Add an eclectic cast of bulky maniacs, some interesting acupuncture-based martial arts, and a supertanker of human plasma, and you have a free-for-all take on the romantic action hero. Kenshiro isn’t merely a classic bad ass, but something of an extension of the kind of hero Harlock is, albeit without any real fear of interloping where he deems it necessary (Akira Kamiya, we love you.). Much more nihilistic in tone than Matsumoto’s signature superhero works, the show can, and often drags at times. But just when one thinks Hokuto no Ken will wander off into atypical Shonen Jump lumbering zombie mode- up comes another increasingly ridiculous villain to hook us into grabbing another bag of popcorn. When one considers just how massively popular this franchise has been after so many years, one owes it to themselves to see what all the noise is about.

Here!

Superdimension Fortress Macross
Okay, now this one’s a bit of a cheat, I know. But there’s just something about this unbelievably silly melange of genre & sudsy drama that still packs enough punch to create fans years long after its initial 1982-83 run. Thinking of just how many US fans alone were borne from the near-untouched Macek version of the Macross tale, it makes the head spin, even for one like myself who used to have a strictly set apointment time for this show. (4:30 Monday through Friday) Simply a coming of age tale set amidst a strange mixture of anime standards, the series made noisy the careers of many a notable artist, including Shoji Kawamori, Haruhiko Mikimoto, Kazutaka Miyatake, Toshihiro Hirano, Ichiro Itano, and is almost singlehandedly responsible for the emergence of the anime idol in Mari Iijima. Also possibly the first full-fledged “otaku’s anime”, the show is still an impressive achievement regardless of it’s limitations by today’s technical standards. Another cool thing, is that the show is featured on hulu in three incarnations (including the ADV dub from a few years back featuring a return English performance of Iijima as the Super Idol herself. How often does this happen?) for your convenience. And all headed by none other than stalwart first generation anime director Noboru Ishiguro, need we really say more?
Here in Sub or  recent Dub
Hell with that. Gimme my Battloids!

Esteban: Mysterious Cities Of Gold
Now this one isn’t necessarily a major name on my list, but it does have enough nostalgic quality to warrant a recommendation. So often, we hear little to nothing about the shows of DiC, and the French co-productions that came though this bunch long before the Sailor Moons & Power Rangers. (Yes, even 80s cartoon shows like Inspector Gadget, Heathcliff, & Dennis The Menace came from this unlikely alliance.) Airing in Japan at around the same time as Macross in Japan, and based on The King’s Fifth by Scott O’Dell, Esteban is the tale of a young lad in Barcelona who’s mysterious past is half revealed on the deathbed of the man long thought to be his father. Little Esteban is shocked to discover that not only he was adopted, but rescued from a sinking ship, and possibly linked to the mythical land of El Dorado, the golden city long held to be a South American legend. Almost immediately, he is en route to discovering more about his past by way of the man who had rescued him, a navigator named Mendoza who’s motives are anything but clear. Soon, Esteban experiences a most unusual set of adventures and makes some unique friends on the way, including a kidnapped Inca princess, and the last remnant of a vanished culture. The show, while far from great, does have in its arsenal some great story to spare. Not to mention a great deal of brain fuel for kids. Remembering this from its days here as part of Nick Jr. are filled with thoughts of summer for some reason, and it is hard to resist in areas, even if the music is a bit on the cloying side. And of course, the US version also comes with some quasi-historical cappers for each episode that border on laughable now, but is a fascinating new way of looking at how anime was utilized in the localization game oh so long ago. Oh, and the finale is pretty awesome. Seriously worth checking out.

“all i know is that i don’t know anything!”

Nobody’s Boy: Remi


Oh boy, I never imagined this one ever making it over here, but if there’s ever a massive coup for bringing a truly classic series here, this is it. This mother of a show (and I mean that in a multitude of ways) is a brutal reminder of the power of the anime artform, and its will to wring the emotions in the most amazing ways. It’s back to the late 70s , it was a time when anime knew how to lay it on thick, and this tale is of the kind that legends are made. So much of what we know and love (or hate) about tragic tales in the animated form is laid bare in this, also a tale of a young orphan in old France, who discovers that his parents aren’t who he thought they were, thus beginning a journey that is both heartbreaking, and strengthening. Directed by the usually action oriented Osamu Dezaki, and based upon the book Sans Famille by Hector Malot, this is the counterpoint to classics such as Candy Candy & Heidi. It is understandable that many may wish to dismiss a show like this today, but it must be said that after all the gimmickry & flash boils down in most shows, I’d be bold enough to say that anime hasn’t had this kind of go-for-broke emotional storytelling in many years. Remi is an often devastating show that delivers the emotional goods with enough aplomb, and hope for an entire year’s worth of shows. Dog Of Flanders has nothing on this beast.

Getting my Kleenex crate right now..
Lastly on my little list…I just had to save this for last.

Galaxy Express 999


It’s back to Leiji Matsumoto with his eternal companion piece to the Harlock saga with a much more personal tale of life, and the neverending series of lessons that can be learned merely by going out into the world (or in this case, across the expansive bounds of deep space!). The legend of young Tetsuro Hoshino, and his longing for a mechanized chassis takes a nasty turn when his poor mother is gunned down by game hunting Count Mecha. Burning with thoughts of revenge, his initial dreams of going machine are warped into plans of revenge, and his fateful meeting of mysterious beauty Maetel may either be the door toward achieving his deepest wishes, or destroy him in the process. Matsumoto’s legendary manga is another piece of longing for a Japan that had been experiencing great change in a mere few decades, and uses the visage of growing up in space as metaphor for this dramatically changing landscape. And the anime series directed by the often wonderful Rin Taro, plays like a most unique operatic/concert experience regarding the journey of life, and the price of our collective dreams. Later made into perhaps my personal favorite anime feature film of all time, GE999 may come off as more than a little overtly conservative to some, and intermittently insane to others, but it is a truly dreamlike & challenging journey where the hits often outweigh the misses, and deserves a firm place in history. Oh, and it also features Harlock, Ooyama & Emeraldas from time to time. ‘Nuff said.

Farewell Days Of Youth

And now for a little something extra:

At Your Own Peril:

Okay, now even though this is by many a classic series, to see Tomino’s claim to fame dubbed and edited in this manner still smarts to this day. But if you’re curious as to the Mobile Suit Gundam origins, and not ready to break out the wallet for some pricey imports, I suppose this is a nice, quick way to get acquainted.

That said, sweet mother of crap, Seriously guys. All this makes me think of is this.

Now on the slightly better side is the treatment that was given to the 85-86 sequel, which in many ways is almost better than the adored original! There’s not a great deal here that hasn’t been said before, but I do love the series in ways that the later shows just couldn’t hold a glow-stick to. Only one problem, the lack of proper opening animation and music. I can only surmise that the music licensing was a bit too steep, thus leaving us with this strange opening. So in the name of complet-ism  , here you go!

Join me next time, as we continue to explore some more favorites that are out there if we look hard enough. So much out there worth supporting. With hope, we can see an even more diverse library of titles for fans to sink their teeth into!

This belated post is dedicated to the memory of the one and only Yoshinobu Nishizaki. One way or another, you were an inspiration. We salute you.

New Column -The Habit: Part Of The Problem?

Introducing, The Habit: Musings on the viewing rituals of Wintermuted (aka. Mike Olivarez). I think I may have a problem..

Could it be that this crusty old viewer is borderline getting soft? Or is it more a matter of being acclimated? Sometimes the answer is incremental, as if certain degrees determine where a reviewer sees the oncoming product, and cannot help but be concerned when new approaches come to the fray. It hasn’t always been this way for sure, but perhaps I’ve been weaned far too long on the safe to where I can’t let go of what seems to work most often? As the new season has been well under way, it has become apparent to me that as someone who does in fact defend artistic diversity of all shapes and approaches, especially in a medium so drowned in sameness…that I seem to be more caught up by shows that do small tweaks to otherwise formulaic concepts this time around. So when a certain population of the fan community (myself included) see Hiroyuki Imaishi’s latest, and can’t seem to find the hip within the jive, I begin to wonder if we ourselves have at least a small part to blame for the medium’s evolutionary congestion. We can’t seem to get out of this mire, and yet here I am, actually watching Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt, wishing I was watching more Star Driver, or even Shinryaku! Ika Musume.

Seriously. Have the screws come loose at last or what?

It is no secret that many of my writings, whether they be for this site, or on mine, or even on The Wandering Kaijyu, I’ve often worked to shed light on some of the more strange, independently motivated pieces of work released into the ether. So when something like GAINAX’s latest leaves me colder than a bowl of naengmyeon, I begin to wonder if it is perhaps the fault of some of the more staunchly pro-originality bloggers & critics that studios continue to crank out the same mass production cheese-whiz. It isn’t often when even a well-respected anime studio takes the risk, and goes for broke in the manner that P & S has exhibited, but it also says something about how anime is digested, and by whom that shows like this come out into the world seeking their own lives as pieces of commodity.

Which isn’t to say that P & S is in any way an awful series. In fact, as I had mentioned in my Kaijyu review of the debut episode, it is an eye-raping tour de force in regards to sheer style. But in a time where excess is maligned, and originality of story should take precedence as fringe fans are what are really required in order to ensure a future, a show like this seems ill-conceived, and out of place. And yes, this remains true of the G-folk who for decades as a studio has never been known for their business savvy. But one would consider that for things to in fact improve, it is important to remain focused on the moment, and to shoot beyond mere wankery on par with Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi with sex & scat. It simply won’t do.

So what is it about the more traditional shows I’ve actually been enjoying?

See, this is where I run into trouble since so many of my previous posts run rampant with the expected grumbling about the dearth of ideas in anime today. So I offer this addendum to those wishing to cry foul at my apparent double-standard; it is not enough to have a unique idea, writing compelling stories with interesting characters is damn hard work, and I only wish to see more of this rather than mere animation fan porn. ( Think Kannagi from a few years ago. A tragic waste of great resources imho.)

There, I said it. Tropes are fine, as long as there is a sense of energy and fun to the written proceedings, which is probably why Star Driver has been fun so for for me. And even as the parade of archetypes rolls in, and the pageantry barges in like some kind of acid-laced throwback to the heyday of the so-called “edge-anime” of the late 90s, it is important to consider the writing behind the series. And since so many do not remember the name of Yoji Enokido, all I need say is FLCL, Utena, & RahXephon, and there you have it. It is pretty clear that we’re looking at a classier than normal surrealist take on not merely visual chutzpah, but in the storytelling to boot. And that is pretty exciting to consider. There is an economy of talent that can in fact turn in Studio Bones’ favor should this series continue in this manner.

And really, this is what it is all about for me. Economy of talent, which also…strangely..shows up in some of the least expected places. Had you asked me a few weeks ago regarding the story of Masahiro Anbe’s Shinkyraku! Ika Musume coming to Crunchyroll, I would have scoffed like so many an anime hipster. Flash forward to now, and I’m eating those notions with a giant, Pee-Wee Herman-sized spoon. As stupid as the premise truly is [Squid Girl, embittered by the carelessness of land dwelling humans declares invasion by disrupting a beachside noodle shop, only to become an employee, and friend to the proprietors-See? SEE?], it is the clever combination of fun writing (some by scribe Michiko Yokote), and clever animation that sets it apart from the current pack. A show like this simply shouldn’t work, and yet it does in spite of itself.

But there is only so much guilty pleasure to spread around, which is why Imaishi has not impressed me this time around. While it does ease off on the poo-humor, it does offer a nonstop barrage of parodies of not merely US animated shows of the last ten years, but of american culture in general, which could make for some terrific cannon fodder, the problem lies largely within the format. Had this been a series of late night three-minute shorts, I probably could be more open to it, but the assault inherent in every two segment show mows over us only to become boring.-The Worst Possible Sin. Even as a longtime Dirty Pair fan, I have to still dismiss this. After all, I like my Dirty Pair story packed, and FUN. P & S, with it’s stunning colors, animation, and sugary oxygen is just exhausting, and everything but.


So perhaps some of us are in fact getting old. I know it isn’t just me. But I do feel a little bad for defending the tide this season. Revolution works in stages, and this is perhaps one of the longest in history.

Analog Diaries III: The Path To Legend

The life of a responsible older brother of a hyperactive eleven year-old was practically a full time job by the time the VHS maelstrom was upon us. And growing up in a community, mostly divided between wealthy retirees & small-town denizens, there was little place for those with tastes outside the typical. And as there were many a time when our video rental binges would become not unlike a romanticized trip to a junkyard. ( filled to the seams with crap, yet host to a bevvy of hidden treasures) For every Suspiria, we’d find four or five Witchcraft‘s. And even at this point, I wasn’t one-hundred percent about this anime thing.

It didn’t help when looking for titles that were dubbed for western audiences, the dearth of these led to some pretty interesting discoveries.
Most notable in this sweepstakes run were the ones we found, carrying the logos of Celebrity Home Video’s Just For KIDS emblazoned on them. And these little hauls of fun came bearing images & characters that were familiar, but upon viewing them, they sure weren’t the icons I remembered them being.

The first in this series of releases that had us doubling over was their version of the Captain Harlock origin feature, Arcadia Of My Youth(1982). Recut and dubbed, the film was repackaged as Vengeance Of The Space Pirate. Now as I had been accustomed to the tales of Harlock via friends & tapes of the tv show long ago, it was pretty clear kids were getting a huge dose of false advertising.(Not to mentin the kind of violence on the cover that would never fly in this day and age. Han Solo this! ) Missing roughly forty minutes of its epic running time, the film whisks by at a Cliff’s Notes clip, and features some oddball, yet competent (for its time) dubbing. If one can survive the stilted dialogue delivery, they may not be able to contain themselves as the newly liberated space cruiser Arcadia leaves a locked down Earth to a song only the worst Barry Manilow-lover would go nuts for. We’re on the verge of a crucial, emotionally fulfilling sequence, and all we get is theme music best fitting of a 2:30 in the morning Vegas show after a sixteen hour sucker’s streak at the tables. (If I could share this monstrosity with you via a video –Someone get on this. This pain must be shared!) Even as the cut is somewhat tolerable(albeit a little too literal at points), the film is missing so much of what makes ‘s film such a vital piece of Leiji Matsumoto history.

All that was left post this initial viewing, was me in disbelief, and a very out of sorts little brother.

Could’ve been worse…It could’ve been THIS.

Which leads us to a tape I ran into at one of the local Blockbusters that grabbed my eyes with a mad fury unrivaled.

Clash Of The---whaaa?
Clash Of The---Wut?

That’s right. Celebrity also had the home video rights to the legendary Macross 1984: Ai Oboete Iimasuka? (Do You Remember Love?), and really gave it the business. A chop-shop treatment at best, this not-Macross Macross is the anime equivalent to a victim of Dr. Herbert West; Mangled , bizarre, and ultimately only good at haunting the living. Not only is the film missing some crucial moments (including one very significant death scene – seriously, if you’re going to sell this to kids, it might be best to know what you’re selling.), but it also features dubbing that is the very definition of….Awkward.

Sound familiar?(I vaguely remember the same studio and actors being used in the dub for HK favorites such as the original Police Story. ) In short, it was nice to have a home version of the Macross feature, but to settle for such a painfully wasted opportunity. It’s something that still stings to this day. If only they had taken care of this situation long ago. C’est La vie.

As a good guardian for those weekends while the mother unit was busy keeping us well fed and raised, we had our fair share of experiences such as these that kind of gave us a gauge from which to measure how video companies were treating something so regionally based. And even as the claws of anime love had yet to dig irrevocably into my being, there was a growing curiosity within me to continue to look into what was so attractive about it. And how was I to know that everything was soon to take on shapes never before witnessed when a little movie came over, and began playing in major metropolitan areas throughout the country.

Being a kid in Theater, and up for the chance to check out something outside the ordinary, I was invited by classmates to catch this film in a new theater in Palm Springs that also served as the region’s art house location. Even as there had been some talk about the film’s impact that had steadily growing over the west, nothing could prepare me for the sheer visceral impact of Katsuhiro Otomo’s little movie , AKIRA.

A film that truly requires no intro of any kind, this one viewing evoked feelings for the medium that had yet been experienced. And that is very much in the manner as films such as AKIRA must be digested as, an experience. Not being familiar with the incredible source material, it was something akin to allowing ones’ self to be absorbed into the chaotic world of these characters, and to drink in the dystopic fury of what must have been brewing deeply within many folks in Japan at the time. The film felt like a much needed purging of emotions in a rapturous package that helped illuminate my mind to the possibilities of manga art, and its animated extensions. Coming out of that theater, dizzy, and drunk with love for the film, it became something akin to what was referred by Professor Brian O’Blivion in Videodrome as “a new part of the brain”.

And it is also possible that in those pre Subs Only Watching/Japanese studying days, that it was the sensational dub licensed by Streamline Pictures from Kodansha  that helped seal the deal. Utilizing only a handful of familiar-sounding actors (These guys, anyone?) to play what is essentially an epic-sized cast was no mean feat. And even as a great deal of it is played for camp value, it at least was translated & performed well enough for many to accept it, and embrace the achievement that Otomo and company had brought to the world stage.

Aside from being such a landmark piece of work, it became something of a prophecy for the relationship between us siblings. While both of us being well-versed in film as kids, few films would ever have the same kind of jarring effect that this one had, especially once Orion & Streamline brought the film to American VHS not too much later. And once this film came into our possession, it felt as if little was to remain the same for the both of us.