Mononoke 5 – Put to a Close


The fifth Mononoke marks the end of the Ghost Ship arc. We’ve seen some quick-thinking ghost fighting tricks in Medicine Seller’s bag (or box rather), a whodunit detective mystery, and the trademark Ayakashi’s confession, which I suspect is one of the main draws to this series for me.

Dark WavesNot Think

That moment of breakdown and confession is what I really like in this series. One of my favorite television shows is Law and Order: Criminal Intent, expressly because of this device. There is a scene at the end of each episode where Detective Goren, after spending time getting into the criminal’s mind as well as piecing together the crime, where he breaks down their facade, and they can’t help but confess to the crime, their emotional core bare. I kind of see now that’s the “Form, Truth, and Regret” element in Mononoke. While the Medicine Seller is learning all the details of the Ayakashi’s creation, he’s laying bare the horrible secret this person, living or dead, has lived with for so long. I suppose it’s rather therapeutic in that way.


The imagery wasn’t quite as frightening in this episode, though as a conclusion that’s to be expected. After the last episode I was fully expecting to see the ghost revealed Ring-like: draped, hanging hair with a single wild eye visible beneath or the glimpse of a bare skeleton. You know, something terribly creepy. However we see the ghost in her human form, as she was before this terrible ordeal, and the effect serves to deepen the viewer’s compassion as the last of this story unfolds.

ReleasePaper Attack

I very much liked this episode, and if all conclusion episodes in the series are done this well, I will definitely be watching more. The odd, frenetic feeling I had from the beginning of the series? It didn’t end up in this arc. Three episodes and five characters allowed the tone of the series to breathe, and it did not feel like a “crazy scariness” was crammed into a short period for a quick result. All the strange characters and psychotic babbling had a point, and it was a great gimmick to use the fish-headed Ayakashi lute player to expose the core of each of the characters and lead into this episode.

OyouUmi Bozu

I think Mononoke is less about the Medicine Seller’s adventures, and more about the cathartic release of horrible secrets, bound up inside the secondary characters throughout the series. That’s perfectly fine by me.

The Vault 06: Boogiepop Phantom


Explanation of the Vault series

Originally published on September 23, 2003. This was my second attempt, after my Akira review, to write a “professional review” and analysis. It’s dicier than that one to be honest, and occasionally overreaches in my current opinion. But it still has some decent insights worth sharing.

Supernatural Angst

Gothic Coming-of-Age Parables in Boogiepop Phantom

Boogiepop Phantom (2000)
directed by Watanabe Takeshi
12 episodes, 360 minutes.

Though it feels like anything but, teenage angst is a species of earnest innocence. Things seem so serious and significant, which can only be if one has not yet acquired the coping mechanism of cynicism or indifference. So if you are like many youths growing up in comfortable middle-class environments, the most important things are what’s in front you: school, peers, the flutterings of infatuation mistaken for love. Oftentimes, things genuinely large do appear: the death of loved ones, the disappointment of discovering the brutishness of society and the indifference of adults, who seem to be busy suppressing the pain they felt at your age by dismissing it all as a “phase.” You wonder why, as you stare outside the train window at the changing cityscape, few grown people have mapped the landscape of your mind, leaving so much uncharted territory full of depth and sadness and anger and joy: the whole topography of the soul. This is, after all, your whole world, all of nature–and perhaps the supernatural too–seen through this individual, subjective lens from which only time will provide some kind of escape. Or perhaps not. You wonder how far the facades go, how many “phonies” there are. And how they got that way, if they were all like you once, and how they could have missed the importance of all that’s going on inside you now.
Continue reading The Vault 06: Boogiepop Phantom

Claymore 22 – the movement VS the contemplation and add some shonen convention to the mix.

After watching this episode, honestly, I felt a little disappointed.


After reading various comments, some spoilers, additional info, and the manga, I wasn’t impressed with this episode as I was with 20 or 21. That being said, this episode definitely isn’t bad by a long stretch; it’s just a little bit…cliched?

Things that I felt were consistent with regular shonen convention that appear during this episode:

1. Clare keeps on muttering how slow she is, and how she has to get faster – Check. I think Goku says that while fighting Freeza. Or just fighting just about anyone in DBZ for that matter.

2. Powering up beyond your previous limit after the enemy is too super strong and he beats the crap out of ya for the gadzillionth time – Check. I think Seiya did that against one of the 12 Golden Constellation Saint Fighters. Or against all his powerful opponents.

3. Ultra strong god-like enemy that doesn’t suspect a thing whatsoever that our hero (in this case heroine) could do any damage at all, and when he (she) does, the enemy looks briefly surprised but not much reaction (like, I don’t know, pain) beyond that – check. I think Cell did that when Vegeta blows half of his body off, and that’s more damage than what Clare gives to Ligardes.

4. Keeps on switching back and forth between the action scenes and talking scenes – A definite check. Not that it’s pointlessly abused in this episode like they do in Initial D and Dragon Ball Z. What happens in the non-action scene here actually serves a purpose. But the switching here happened so often that it got a little distracting for me.


So, let’s dissect this episode.

Ligardes proves to be impossible to beat. Nothing’s new here. This episode constantly switches back and forth between action and contemplation. The music helps in that regard by being urgent in the fighting scenes but not too terribly fast paced, and slower and more thoughtful in the non-action scenes. It’s the “move” VS the “still” that gives us the contrast here. To what end? I’m not sure.

What I’m sure here are two things: 1. Raki finally decides that he has to do something. His resolves becomes firmer after he sees Priscilla having her full course dinner minus the dessert, and after a push from Isley.

2. To show the audience how his decision is made under urgent conditions, though he’s not quite aware of that, and to let him lead us into the next phase of the battle.

(Also to make his hesitations and indecisiveness less boring to watch.)

I think what Madhouse does here is successfully making a not so popular character having enough weight and making enough impression on all of us. Some people hate him, some don’t. I’m rather touched by his determination, his bravery and guts after he begin to travel with Clare. I mean, dare I say it? He is MAN! Hear him ROAR! Among a bunch of super strong women!

Or hear him scream like a boy, but a brave boy nonetheless.

However, once again I question the plot involving him. Why is Isley helping him out with sword techniques? Why is it Isley telling him things that he finds helpful in living? When Isley says: “Being weak is a sin.” Raki strengthens his resolve and rides toward Pieta. So I guess in this case, what Isley says is helpful? Perhaps he wants Raki to see the cruel truth for himself and then laugh at him? But Isley doesn’t seem like that kind of character.

What I do know is that so far, whatever Raki can do and does do, doesn’t matter at this point.


Few reviews ago I talked about how similar this show is with some elements of LotR. Now I’m not so sure anymore. One of the things LotR emphasize is companionship; another is what seems small and weak can actually affect the greater whole. However, in the case of Claymore, there aren’t too much displays of companionship until recent episodes. In LotR, each companion contributes to something; in Claymore, Raki is pretty useless. As for “what seems small and weak can actually affect the greater whole”, well, Raki is small and weak, but here, I don’t see he has a real chance helping anyone. Clare, on the other hand, is seeming small and weak, but she may have a chance.

I finally figured out why in the manga, Clare and Flore actually fought without Jean coming out to stop them – It’s to tell the readers that Clare’s power is now as good as some people in the single digits, maybe not as good as people from 6 and above, but at least as good as number 8 Flora. In the manga, during the time Miria led Clare, Deneve, and Helene fought against that male awakened, Miria had already stated that the group including Clare but other than herself has the capability of single digit Claymores, save the top 4. This time, after Flora and Clare fought, Flora told Clare flat out that Clare’s skills are comparable with her own. However, in the anime, we never get to see that. What we do see is Clare keep on getting frustrated that she’s not strong enough, or she hasn’t grown enough, and in this episode, she mutters about not being fast enough.

What happens to Clare in the anime seems to build up her frustration about lack of strength, and it seems to build her frustration up to the end of this episode, where she finally snaps. Clare looks like she just broke through another level during an impossible battle.

This part definitely falls into the stereotypical shonen trope. This even happens in Sailor Moon – Sailor Stars.

Had I not read the manga, I’d be sitting here wondering how exactly Clare’s power raised so much that she can actually deal a significant damage to Ligardes.


But you know, if Ligardes grows his arm back like Cell does, or losing an arm doesn’t matter to him at all, and everyone looks stupefied with their mouths open and trembling while he flexes his new arm, then I could complete the “regular shonen convention” list I have above with entry number 5 – Our hero/heros perform a seemingly devastating attack that should work against the opponent, or at least works agains the scenery/surroundings (see DBZ), but besides some dust and scratches on the opponent’s body (and no need to photoshop that one out), the opponent is unscathed.

Even with my sarcasm, I’m still giving Claymore more points than other shonen shows, because it doesn’t fall helplessly into the mud puddle that we know as “typical shonen conventions”, and when it does fall near the puddle, it uses the mud to make something, and then get itself away from the puddle – I’m talking about the anime. As for the manga, I don’t have too much problem with it on using the typical shonen conventions, because it’s so tight and gritty that whatever happens just make so much sense to me. The anime does that well enough but it cuts out bits and piece of information that would make some perhaps minor things make more sense to the more discretionary viewers.

I’m currently wondering about one thing, will they be able to end the Northern Campaign conclusively on episode 26? In any case,


94% recommended for your daily anime diet. I’m not quite sure if the switching back and forth is a smart way of doing this episode or is simply being too conventional, and I did find this episode just a tiny bit flat for me.

El Cazador 22 – finally the plot gets going and characters get moving.


So, Doug takes the plane to somewhere, and we learn what the bracelets on LA’s wrists are for. Elis talks under influence not from alcohol but from power, and Nadie gets hurt.

But at last, they find Wiñay Marka. Or do they?

I was sighing and shaking my head for about 1/3 of the show when plot suddenly gets going.

We discover that Nadie and Elis are asking around about unusual things like witches; LA shows up and literally points out the location of the “Eternal City (or it’s not)”; Jody, who has been acting on her own, follows Nadie and Elis and also follows them to the Witches’ Village, and guess what? There’s Ricardo and Lilio again!


Aside from the important fact that they have discovered what appears to be a key place to the witches, most of the episode is almost the same old, everyday occurrence that we’re so accustomed – Nadie and Elis are broke and hungry, Ricardo and Lilio show up to the rescue, LA speaks psycho-nese, Jody follows our dynamic yuri-wanna be duo, and Doug…

Oh but wait, here’s what some of us have been waiting for – Doug is finally on the move.

He manipulates LA into position, and now all the pieces of the puzzle are finally in place, he’s going there personally to pull off his grand move, to be on the stage where everything is happening, and he will help us understand what the hell is going on by unveiling his scheme, which appears to have come to fruition.

Or so we can hope.


It’s really hard for me to think intelligently and decipher the undercurrent (actually, only if there really are some) because there are so many fillers, or maybe not quite 100% fillers; however, unlike some other shows where just about every episode is tight, even if a lot of them are seeming fillers they at least really tell us something about the characters, the undercurrent behind the plot(s), or some other important elements of a story.

With El Cazador, fillers at best tell us little about relationships between Nadie and Elis; among other characters, or relationships between the two and others. The characters are portrayed pretty well, with some minor stereotypes. That, plus we get to learn little bits about the project, the Witches’ Council, the legend, and so on. Oh, and we can all thank the staff for their on-location work to bring us the beauty of South America and some places in Canada. The artwork is excellent and the music from Kajiura is great as usual (if you like the music get the soundtrack. It’s highly recommended).

However, at its worst, El Cazador is filled with inexcusable stupidities, pointless minor side quests that doesn’t appear to do much other than showing a slice of Nadie and Elis’ life on the travel, endless teasers of action that gets interrupted abruptly, silly jokes and dragged on plot developments – for a 26 episode show what I’m feeling is that at the end, there actually won’t be enough time to explain everything, precisely because all the silly stuff, the fillers that doesn’t really move the plot anywhere, and finally, the minor characters that keep on showing up in the side quests that takes the precious time of a 26 episode series away. Yes, in today’s anime world, 26 episode is considered long, but with the pace El Cazador has been going, I wonder if 36 episode would be more appropriate?

But thank God there aren’t going to be 36 episodes or I’d get bored to tears and frustrated to senselessness.


For this episode, 81% recommended for your daily anime diet. It’s not as good as the previous episode but finally something is actually happening.

The first “Maid Hair Salon” is born in the Tokai Area


A “Maid Hair Salon”, which can be considered an extension of “Maid Cafe” has opened in Kanayama, Naka-ku, Nagoya, Japan. The store has quickly gained popularity among maid-lovers. The name of the salon is “Maid Salon Hermes” and it has 11 female staffers wearing maid uniform at your service. It’s parent company is the “Straight Artisan”, which operates out of Nagoya. This store is the first in the Tokai area.

The service fee is 5000 yen for shampoo, cut, and blow dry (shampoo and service fee included), plus the “moe massage”. Pay 8000 yen and you’ll get the “moe-up” massage called “Moe-moe massage”. There are other services such as manicure (for 5000 yen) and others.

It’s reported that in contrast to the store’s expectations, instead of 20-something young men, men in their 30’s-40s frequent the store. One officer worker reported that “it’s very relaxing to come here. As for the maid uniform? Well, I’m not really into that.”

This is a real hair salon and doesn’t offer that kind of service.

For my source see here (if you want to brush up on your Chinese).

Aha! 200th vote for a poll! And a bonus ringtone!

Wow! Thanks to all who visited and voted! This poll we have is the first poll that got 200 votes! Thank you, Mr. or Ms. 200th voter!

To commemorate this event (I just feel like putting something up), here’s a bonus ringtone from the action sequence in El Cazador:

Now just imagine Nadie becomes scarily good at whacking men…That would be cool…heh heh heh hmm heh heh heh hmm heh! Yeah! Yeah! Whack ’em! Whack ’em!

My “Girls with Guns” ringtone trilogy

For this special service post, I’m putting up the ringtones made from the ED of El Cazador, from the action sequences of Madlax, and from the action sequences of Noir (sorry if you have any or all of these already).

I hear these, especially the second two, and I imagine the girls go out and whack 150 guys among them all…awesome…

New interviews: Anime set to invade UK TV with Anime Central


With Anime Central – the UK’s first ever 100% dedicated anime TV channel – set to hit British airwaves in September, Anime UK News has turned its attention to the state of anime on UK TV.

As anime invades the small screen, AUKN talks to Anime Central brand manager Mark Buchanan to find out what viewers can expect to see on the new anime channel heading on UK TV screens in September ’07.

Anime UK News: How was the idea of “Anime Central” conceived and what convinced Chart Show Channels it was a concept worth supporting?

Mark Buchanan: Originally, I was brought in to research a bunch of concepts for entertainment channels that had been floating around the company for a while. Having enjoyed anime down the years, I was desperate to include an anime block regardless of what channel it would eventually become. Luckily my bosses had a decent awareness of the material and they knew it was strong. It wasn’t difficult to convince them that anime warranted more than just a slot.

Anime UK News: There have been a few short-lived UK TV channels that aired anime, so why do you feel the time is right to launch Anime Central now? How will you attract an audience?

Mark Buchanan: I think you only have to look at the phenomenal work that companies like Manga, MVM, Beez, Revelation, and ADV have done in promoting the discs in the UK to know that interest in anime has grown in the last decade. My hope is Anime Central will be both passionate and all-inclusive, appealing to the hardcore fans while catering to folk who are completely new to it.

Developing the channel’s look has been key along with continued cross-promotion that will occur on channels such as Scuzz, The Vault and Flaunt.

We’re going to have an exciting web presence at where we hope to build a strong community of viewers and fans.

Anime UK News: The vast majority of anime lined up for Anime Central is aimed at the young adult demographic, could you explain to us why you decided to go down this route instead of attempting to tap in to children’s anime instead?

Mark Buchanan: The diversity of anime out there is staggering and I truly believe that the ‘grown-up’ shows in our line up like GITS: SAC or Planetes rank up there with the best of American television. With such strong content available, I really wasn’t interested in doing a kids channel. The little folk are already well served with a decent amount of anime on other stations and I feel that it’s time for the big ‘uns to get a look in.

Anime UK News: Anime Central has plans to air a lot of highly acclaimed anime TV series. With this in mind, how do you go about selecting what to air on Anime Central?

Mark Buchanan: I watch absolutely everything that’s sent my way. By far the most difficult part is selection and I’m cursed with taking programming too personally at times. I often have to take a step back and ask myself if this will play well to large audiences. That’s not to say we won’t be broadcasting more challenging titles, but if the channel’s ever going to stand a chance we need to introduce a launch with a line-up that is going to appeal to as many people as possible. As it stands, I‘m immensely proud of the collection and I believe it balances my selfishness with the requirements of the casual viewer!

Anime UK News: Given the recent popularity of fan subs and video streaming sites like You Tube amongst anime fans, how does Anime Central plan to tempt fans away from their computer screens and back in front of their TV sets?

Mark Buchanan: The picture’s a lot better!

For the rest of this excellent article please go here.

The Vault 05: Akira


Explanation of the Vault series

Originally published on September 16, 2003. A shorter version of this review was also published on To date, it is my only “professional” review and was an attempt to review in detail all my anime DVDs.

Come, Sweet Destruction

Akira and the Japanese Apocalyptic Imagination

Akira (1987)
directed by Katsuhiro Otomo
Rated R. 124 minutes.

Akira, perhaps the most impressive anime movie to come out in the 1980s, was many Americans’ first exposure to anime. Its bad original English dubbing, starring Ninja Turtle voice actors, has become a kitsch item for many old timer anime fans–there were many complaints when Pioneer redubbed the movie for its 2001 DVD restoration. What captivated those select audiences in the late 1980s to join the then tiny, unhip, and perhaps freakish anime fan community and launch a phenonemon that has now gone mainstream? In this age where even wildly left-field shows like FLCL can get shown on the Cartoon Network, it’s good to go back to one of the touchstones of modern anime and see what made it tick for so many people.

It’s become a cliche for Tokyo to get destroyed in various animes, though few have done so as artfully as this film. The shadow and influence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey hangs over the ending sequences, however, and in that film perhaps we can begin to see where some of the appeal of Akira comes from. Both are, for one, partly cautionary tales about the dangers of science run amok: artificial intelligence in one, the irresponsible channeling of psionic powers in the other. Both offer violent catharsis leading to cosmic rebirth, though the bloody messes in Akira are far more graphic than apes beating each other with bones or an astronaut shutting down a computer. And both films express the anxiety in modern soceity that something great and terrible is going to happen soon, something beautiful, perhaps, but also awful: in short, an apocalypse.

For the Japanese, having seen nuclear holocaust firsthand, any apocalypse is most likely going to involve mushroom clouds or similar shaped explosions. Anime from Evangelion to Escaflowne have used thinly veiled references to nuclear disasters. True to form, Akira also begins with an apparent nuclear explosion (though we discover later that it is not), and explains that the film takes place after “World War III.” (With the sheen of high-tech skyscrapers and synthesized tribal music beating in the background, one wonders though if anyone remembered Einstein’s quip about World War IV being fought with sticks and stones. Perhaps this is a backhanded optimism at work in the filmmakers?) The nuclear age put the dangers of science, which literature had been excoriating since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, into sharp relief: here, at last, was a way that humankind’s folly could actually destroy the whole world. It’s no surprise then that, like many other technology-run-amok science fiction stories, Akira is largely about what happens when great power corrupts and is misused–mainly in the character of Tetsuo and his psychic abilities, but also in the civilian Tokyo government, the colonel’s military, and of course the conniving scientist, who marvels at the data printouts spewing from the plotters (“we’ll finally have a Grand Unified Theory!” he exults) while the city crumbles.

Naturally, there have been all too many low-class sci-fi books and movies about the dangers of science: Godzilla, for instance. Akira however is not quite as simple: the filmmakers clearly delight in the immense urban techno-glow of Neo-Tokyo, giving us hyperkinetic shots of racing motorcycles, cascading streetlights, little desks inside thousands of tiny office windows. The viewer’s impression of Tetsuo falling from the hospital into the field of man-made lights, into the valley of skyscrapers, is awe–the kind of awe that one has at thousands of Towers of Babel, perhaps, but awe all the same. I gleefully confess to wishing that this neon purgatory, whose streets are as dirty as New York City’s on a sanitation strike and where students and brutal riot police battle between the lanes, were real. It’s just so cool. The gamelan music accompanying the chase scenes and the gothic elegance of all the twisted pipes, wires, and towering heights makes it even cooler. This is The Future . . .

. . . and it is going to explode. New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael controversially described 2001 as a film longing for the destruction of the human race, for nothingness and existence beyond the body. The impulse seems to be embedded in human nature. Watch a little kid build a towering Lego construction, only to knock it down gleefully with one swipe. We see the beautiful city of Neo-Tokyo crumble before our eyes in Akira, swallowed up by Tetsuo’s literal self-absorption. There is an awe-filled beauty in that kind of destruction, too, which culminates in that Kubrickian “star-gate” sequence in which Tetsuo literally becomes another universe, a universe where he is the great I AM–“I AM TETSUO,” the new god announces at the film’s end.

But Testsuo is a lonely god, a god without followers–only fond memorializers at the end with his biker friends. If one wants to psychoanlayze the character, one could say that at this point Tetsuo has reached the logical end of his depressed, downtrodden, and vengeful existence: complete self-absorption. That was where he was headed when he became a giant, gelatinous baby in the Olympic stadium, swallowing everyone and literally hugging his girlfriend to death. In the end, for him to exist, he has to be the only thing that exists in his universe. This seems like a terribly lonely fate to me–it’s more or less what CS Lewis conceived Hell to be like–but it is fitting for the increasingly dangerous Tetsuo, whose powers grew out of control because his desires for respect, for vengeance, and for domination grew out of control. Unable to live with others, he must separate himself from everyone else.

(Interestingly enough, a very similar thing happens at the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion, but the moral and the conclusion of the story is very different. More will be said on that issue when I get to Eva.)

Moreover, what happens to Tetsuo is a microcosm at what happens when human beings let their desire for power or knowledge grow out of control as well. The end result it the death of anything beautiful or worthwhile that man creates. This fear that we will knock ourselves down is at the heart of the apocalyptic anxiety, one that constantly pulses through popular Japanese imagination. We Americans are less prone to the fear of total annihilation, since the Cold War has ended. But after September 11th, which was a terrible day in which we saw high-tech towers falling apocalyptically through the blue skies, some of that fear resonates again. We can’t look at the gratuitous destruction of buildings the same way anymore. They have passed from action spectacles to the fearful, awe-full things that they really are. The perpetrators may be religious ideologues, but the means were technological: the fruits of our science and wisdom turned against us, out of its intentions and out of our control.

Out of our fears and anxieties come dreams, and then visions: the visions, in this case, of many artists come together to create an exciting, sometimes troubling work. The violence is often gratuitous and the characters merely screaming cutouts (and they all look the same in this movie, honestly), but all the wonder and the horror of modernity is on display in the city. Modern Tower-of-Babel stories never looked this good.

Michael is on hiatus for the remainder of August. The Vault series resurrects entries from his personal blog about anime, written from 2002-2006. Entries will appear in the series every other day.

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