Through Older Lenses: A Candy Colored Pill They Call Shirobako

 

Someone recently asked me about current anime television, and what I have been spending limited time watching lately. And they were surprised to hear that a soft series like Shirobako, has pretty much dominated a majority of that time. Which is funny considering how easily the series borders on self-parody. (even when it seems like such a turn would in fact boost it by leagues) While we have flirted with anime about anime in the past, Shirobako feels a lot like the kind of show the fictional Musashino Animation would indeed produce. Something quasi-steeped in reality, but mired so deep in the artifice of anime, that all of the drama inherent seems to roll off the shoulders like a set of remote controlled plastic clouds. It’s like a tailor-made opiate for raging internet commenters. Which isn’t to say that it is bereft of any charm whatsoever.

We have for perhaps far too long, shared a world built around the concept of the smooth pill. The easy answer. Flat tire fix. It is a complicated thing to delve into when talking about the whys, and how things are often sussed out in the real. When discussing any number of topics facing our daily world, one of the replies that tends to slip out of my mouth is that quite often, we prefer the myth over the weighty responsibility inherent.

Examples:

Friend: Why do we seem so hellbent on playing the same game, even when the current model no longer seems to work? Like voting for one of only two political parties.

Me: It’s comfortable.

Or (and I know I’m being a bit pedantic here, but bear with me)

Friend: Hey, ever wonder why so many fans self-serve, rather than a reflect?

Me: Myth can be a drug. Doesn’t matter if the truth is obfuscated. Which is advantageous to those who sell the myth writ large. As long as the sleep continues, profits are kept relatively safe a little while longer. In the end, everything diminishes.

Shirobako, on its face feels like one of those great balancing acts so common in today’s market; eager to reflect the world of fans-turned-animators, yet hampered by market necessity. While we are constantly let in on the process of the creation of animated product in the Japanese system, we are also reminded of what is being used to sell the series-a near army of appealing, albeit typical teen anime girls. Definitely a latter day moé-wave title, with an easygoing pace, and ready with open arms to share the daily trials and challenges of televised anime with the public at large(all while remaining as soft-pedaled as its comfort food pedigree tends to allow). There’s nothing challenging about it save for the completion to air deadlines. It’s a fantasy about making fantasy.

Especially in a net climate where animators from both Japan and the rare U.S. expat have shared grueling tales of an environment rife with problems both internal and external, there is so much that Shirobako wishes to keep soft and harmless, so as to maintain the sales potential. While we are decades beyond Otaku No Video, we are certainly not ready to blur the line between anime and reality with this topic just yet. Or it could just be that at this point, with the industry in the place that it is now, writers and producers are in a zone where all they can think of is the familiarity of the workplace. The reality has been consumed by the need for an easier dose to down.

In one of the later episodes, a great question is posed by our central character, Aoi. She asks the big one. “Why did you chose to work in anime?” And the answers turn out to often be unfocused, and overlooked. When working in such an assembly line environment where artistic aspirations run head-on into the needs of commerce, there is a factory mentality that can often blur distinctions. And while some of the show’s animation staff try valiantly answer this burning question, the replies tend to be that of aimlessness, or a wish to share something cool with the world. Things whittle down quite rapidly as those in the wheelhouse scramble for some semblance of understanding why they do what they do. Only to reveal that very often, it couldn’t be less readily tangible.

taitanic

Now the show does its part to both warm up and warn viewers regarding the attraction and repulsion of the anime production world. From charming moments that feature analogues for medium legends (there is that HA guy, as well as a vivid rendition of Hiromasa Ogura who joins in on Musashino’s latest project), to some sweet breakdowns of the process by way of Aoi’s internal greek chorus in the form of a well-intentioned teddy bear and a cynical goth loli doll. But the real surprises come in later episodes that allude to production’s darker, more broken sides by way of new PA Hiraoka, and the clearly decimated backup ani-studio TAITAINIC. As unsubtle as anime gets, if one would believe it.

It is in the short moments we have here, that the horrors and often troubling realities of anime production are cursorily hinted at if not outright explored. Dank, nearly abandoned offices occupied by merely one staffer, unseen co-workers, and half-hearted work abound. One might almost want to delve deeper into this already telling plot footnote, but alas, there’s so much more to be absorbed by. Angel Workout, anyone?

Kill me now, yes?

Now this isn’t to completely disparage the show’s occasional dips into puerile moé shtick. But as a constant quiver in Shirobako’s arsenal, it is egregious to the point of exasperation. Sure, it’s to be expected of a fluffy anime series in the mid-2010s. Who expects an anime to get its hands truly grubby with the painful complexities engulfing the entertainment industry during one of its most trying technological periods? Still. While the show does its part to make light of how episodes are divied up by PA, and each separate element is ordered, prepared, and distributed, one couldn’t be faulted for wanting just a little more adroit honesty. Every time the series runs against a potentially challenging road block, in comes a new offering of nubile comfort food to keep those nasty realities away. In classically mild Japanese fashion (and to be fair, the old school Disney model as well), Shirobako never finds itself ready to unveil past a certain amount of skin.

In tradition of hoping our entertainment would take point, and offer up something new and potent, Shirobako has certainly done its part to be mildly diverting. But one cannot help but feel the pressure of market lining every corner of its production. Heck, one episode even went so far as to address the pressures of investors that often pit artistic ambition versus sales potential, no matter how shallow or trivial. It’s at least able to get that one welt in there. Now if only more of the show were as willing to take on the industry that spawned it. And so, we’ll continue to wait. Certainly, this series could have been far more harmful than it is. At least Genshiken takes some uncomfortable, yet well-deserved jabs at a business subculture saturated in repression, and shamelessness. Shirobako is simply born to be mild by comparison. Sure, firing retorts at a wired, conspiracy-obsessed populace by way of a peek at the sausage factory through a charming set of binoculars might work. But to quell the masses, perhaps something more up front might do wonders.

garrr

Ghost In The Shell At 20 (Now on Hulu Plus)

gitshd

As raved about over Twitter just a short while ago, subscribers to Hulu Plus can now enjoy the recently released HD edition of Mamoru Oshii’s classic adaptation. Now alongside the later (and equally thrilling) television series’, Koukaku Kidotai has itself a nice little home base with the mega streaming service. Debate no more about Hollywood film renditions, irrelevant casting controversies, and just drink in why Production IG and company have Masamune Shirow’s crowning achievement well in hand with its exploration of political intrigue, cybercrime, and groundbreaking hybridization between science fiction and faith.

Memories come rushing back during Ghost’s initial US art house theater run via the folks at Manga Video, and just how well LA audiences reacted to Oshii’s vision. A vision that until this point was largely either unknown or patently ignored by westerners. Coming hot on the heels of the ultra-personal Patlabor 2, Ghost was a pretty unexpected theatrical and home video success story stateside. And considering the cinema world pre-Matrix, this somber and flawed mood poem had so much stacked against it, save for those who knew what a terrific coup between director and material this was. And when I say flawed, I mean this as pure compliment. Before INNOCENCE veered into near ancient library obscurity, Ghost finds itself beautifully poised between crime thriller and existential voyage. And despite it’s occasionally jarring three segment structure, it’s pretty hard to impossible to envision it work any other way.

It is Oshii at his thoughtful, grounded best.

This is especially cool news since the only version Hulu has had available for years was the irksome 2.0. Rust color and unnecessary bad CG no more!

So get on it, already!

Interview: JAM Project

JAM Project, one of the biggest anisong “supergroups” in the industry, was founded in order to further the genre of anime songs specifically. Consisting of a number of veteran anisong singers, today it now comprises founding members Masaaki Endoh and Hironobu Kageyama, as well as Masami Okui, Hiroshi Kitadani, and Yoshiki Fukuyama, who all joined between 2002-2003. They are best known for songs for shounen action shows such as Cardfight Vanguard, Nobunaga the Fool, GARO, and New Getter Robo, as well as video games like Super Robot Wars. Their operatic rock seems to fit those genres especially well.

Unfortunately, the audio for our transcript recording was sometimes fuzzy so not all attributions were 100% clear. Apologies for lack of clarity on those questions and answers.

We started by asking Masaaki Endoh about his famous predilection for bringing instant noodles with him on tour.

Endoh-san, what kind of instant noodle did you bring this time?

Masaaki Endoh: Six different flavors of mini-sized ramen! But I don’t have a water boiler due to luggage weight limits, and unlike in Japan, they don’t have hot water dispensers in every room.

Your stagecraft and style of music is very theatrical and almost operatic.  Is that a reflection of the sort of anime that you do music form or is that your natural style?

Hironobu Kageyama: Actually it is influenced by the type of anime the songs are for. So if it’s anime that has robots, like Super Robot Taisen where there’s a lot of fighting and energy, the songs will be influenced by that.

How do you think your style has adjusted over the past 15 years?

Kageyama: We don’t so much change our style as look for something new to do.

So would you ever do a song for a moe anime?

Kageyama: If someone ever asked us to, sure. We have girls in the band. [looks at Masami Okui] But we don’t ever get asked to do that sort of thing…

How do you relax when you’re off jam project? Individually? Or collectively?

Kageyama:We always like to talk together sometimes. Outside of music…well, we always thought about making our own jam. Jam Project jam!

What flavor of jam?

Strawberry!

What secret hobbies or hidden talents do you have?

Kageyama: I’m the oldest, so working out is my hobby. Recently I’ve been cycling and scuba diving. And this year, I’m challenging myself to train for a short distance triathlon.
Hiroshi Kitadani: The fans on twitter probably already know this, but my hobby is cooking. I do it every day, and when I make my own dish and drink alcohol, it’s very relaxing and therapeutic.

What’s your favorite dish?

Kitadani: Oden! It’s easy to make.
Masami Okui: As for [my hobbies], in Japan or all over the world, I like to visit “power spots”–places with spiritual energy. In Japan, that would be shrines or temples I love. When I’m off work, I go there a lot. This year, though, I want to go to Mt. Shasta.
Yoshiki Fukuyama: I have no hobby. So my hobby now is to look for a hobby.
Endoh: I love animals, so I have a lot of pets. It’s a dream that I want to be surrounded by animals in a big place.

Kageyama-san, you said last year at Anime Boston that you started the band when anisongs were in decline . Do you think the anisong industry has revived since then? Where do you see it going?

Kageyama: Anime songs are much more popular popular in Japan compared to 10 years ago. There are a lot of live events and concerts now and the audience has increased a lot. And variety of artists have shown up. So, it has changed a lot over the course of 10 years.

Who is the first musical artist that grabbed your heart?

Kitadani: I love Kiss.
Kageyama: I love Motley Crue.
Fukuyama: I love Deep Purple.
Okui: I love Kageyama’s vocal band, Lazy.
Endoh: I love the Beatles.

You’re all at Las Vegas now, do you plan to gamble and do you feel lucky? 

Okui: Living is a gamble.
Kageyama: I don’t feel the urge to gamble. But if I was, I’ll pull a slot machine handle once.
Kitadani: It’s a little scary, but I would like to try roulette.  Try betting on black. Ehh, really but what about red? You can split it 50/50, like your hair! [Laughter–ED: Kitadani had colored half his hair red, as in the picture at the bottom.]
Fukuyama: I never tried gambling, but I have seen it a lot in movies, so I like to try it like they do it in the movies.
Endoh: I like hitting the jackpot.

You’ve done a lot of songs for sentai series. What are your sentai colors?

Kitadani: [points to Kageyama]: He’s red.
Kageyama: Oh, I’m red, huh?
Okui: I’m pink.
Endoh: I like red, but red’s been taken, so I’ll be green.
Fukuyama: I’m blue.
Kitadani: I’m yellow.


The interview was conducted by Jeremy Booth with additional questions by Michael Huang. Rome Yamashita, Raymond Hu, and Linda Yau translated from the audio for this transcript.

Interview: Yoko Ishida

Yoko Ishida has been actively singing anime songs since her recorded debut in 1993, Sailor Moon R’s ED “Otomo no Policy.” She has sung songs for series as wide as Ai Yori Aoishi, Strike Witches, and most recently the first OP for Shirobako. At the Lantis Anisong Festival in Las Vegas, in addition to her own songs she also covered the Haruhi Suzumiya insert song “God Knows.”

When did you decide to sing anime songs?

When there was an anime singer contest. I auditioned for that–and won!

The Grand Prix 1990, right? What was your winning song?

The assigned song was from Maple Town. And the free song I chose was by Imai Miku.

What was like to prepare for your recording debut with “Otome no Policy” (the Sailor Moon ED)?

At the vocal booth, I entered alone. It’s a solitary process, so when I record a vocal, I imagine that I’m singing in front of a huge audience.

Were you nervous?

I get nervous every time!

You’ve done a lot of songs. How do you choose which ones to do at each performance?

For example, like this performance in Vegas or elsewhere abroad, I choose whatever songs are popular in that local area. And I also take into account what songs fit in outdoor or indoor venues.

Do you have any hidden talents?

I don’t have any…[but] I love traveling abroad privately. Now I go abroad for work, but since I love traveling, I still feel happy.

Can you tell me which anime moved you emotionally?

My debut song was in Sailor Moon, but recently I was moved by Strike Witches. Those girls work so hard.  They fight hard and build their friendship, and that kind of story moves me.

How do you translate those feelings into a performance?

Many times that the lyrics tells a story and the girl’s emotion, so when I sing, I put emotions into the lyrics, and I remind myself of the first scene [in the story], which raises the right emotions.

I love your opening for Shirobako, “Colorful Box.” Based on what you know, how realistic is that show in showing the anime production process?

The people I know in the industry say “oh yeah, that’s true, that happens!” when watching that show. So I think it’s close to reality.

What other anime you watching?

I don’t watch a lot recently, but I did enjoy watching Strike Witches.

Who is your first music love?

My mother loved old Japanese pop songs. Lyrics were sung very clearly in the old days, so now I sing lyrics very clearly too.

Do you plan to gamble tonight?

Yes, on the slot machines!

Are you feeling lucky?

Yes I will today, since I lost yesterday. (Laughs)


Michael Huang conducted the interview, with assistance by Jeremy Booth. Raymond Hu provided on-site translation. The full interview was translated by Rome Yamashita.

Yoko Ishida
Yoko Ishida

Interview: ChouCho

ChouCho is the singer of many recent anisongs, including songs for Fate/kaleid Liner Prisma Illya, Heaven’s Memo Pad, Glasslip, and Mashiiro Symphony. She got her start singing Vocaloid covers on Nico Nico Douga and quickly established a successful solo career in recent years.

We started off by asking her about a sandwich from the Hard Rock Cafe (the concert was held there) she tweeted a picture of the day before, marveling at the size of it:

What do you think about size of the food here in the US?

It’s double the size of Japan’s.

Aside from American food, we understand you’re from Osaka. What kind of food from Osaka do you like?

I want to eat takoyaki sometimes!

Let’s go back to the start of your career. You sang anisongs even as early as high school.What anime did you like back then?

I used to copy J-pop songs then [actually]. After graduating from high school with the band I had, that was the first time I copied anime songs.

Any particular ones?

Evangelion and Aquarion–songs by Yoko Kanno and Maaya Sakamoto.

What inspired you to post videos on Nico Nico Douga?

When I was in an anime song cover band, we entered a local anime song event in Osaka. And the other band’s vocalist was posting their songs on Nico Nico, which was the first time I heard about anyone doing that.  That inspired me to do the same.

Any particular Nico Nico artists you liked?

Vocaloid composers, like supercell.

Any favorite supercell songs?

The most played song on Nico Nico was “Hajimete No Koi Ga Owaru”. [ED: Below is her cover of the song.]

Did you feel you were adding something unique by covering Vocaloid songs? They start out as a software voice, after all…

Hatsune Miku is a machine, so it doesn’t have emotion. Even without vocals, the song itself has enough charm to convey [emotions] directly, so when I did the cover, I was thinking a lot about how to convey the charm of the songs through my performance.

Tell us about how you got chosen to do the KamiMemo OP.

They were looking for a singer to do OP for KamiMemo, and I was selected from various candidates. They saw my NicoNico videos and that’s how I got vetted, and I feel I was very lucky.

How do you prepare for a performance like the one you just did?

I practiced at home a lot, and practiced English MCing. I studied English in Canada for a half year. But that was 5 years ago, so I almost forgot all my English. It’s been a long time since I went over English and I was nervous about it.

The anime you sing for features a lot of cute girls. Who are your favorite cute anime characters?

It’s difficult to say! I put a lot of energy into each anime I sing for, so it’s hard to choose. If I have to choose, it’s Alice from KamiMemo.

Do you have any image in your head when you sing?

Since it’s main theme song, I have to become the character’s feeling, in order to express.

How’s your pet rabbit Sanagi doing?

It’s very cute and tsundere! Normally, it’s cool (tsun), but when it’s hungry and begs for food, it’s cute (dere).

How did you name Sanagi?

My name is ChouCho (“butterfly”), and Sanagi means “cocoon.”

What message do you have for your American fans?

I now understand that our songs are loved even across international borders. Through this concert, I will try our best, so we can come back to the USA again.

So, last question: are you gonna gamble here in Vegas?

Probably, if I have time tonight!


Michael Huang conducted the interview, with on-site translation help by Raymond Hu. Rome Yamashita translated the interview from the Japanese.

ChouCho
ChouCho

Song Stream: Lantis Anisong Festival, Las Vegas

DSC_0346
bamboo (milktub)

 

This is the first of several articles/interviews about the Lantis Anisong Festival, held a month ago in Las Vegas in conjunction with Otakon Vegas. Interviews and videos coming later during the weekend.

This article is based on the second day of the festival on Saturday January 17.

There was a certain clockwork efficiency to the Lantis Anisong Festival in Las Vegas, with the way each act came and left the stage in relatively rapid succession. It had to be, given that there were about a dozen acts reprising anime song favorites, 2-3 songs per artist, who sometimes doubled up and collaborated (as ChouCho and Sayaka Sasaki did). Despite being all managed by the same record label, a great diversity of anime was also represented, from pure shounen action (such as with the headliners JAM Project and solo performer Hiroshi Kitadani with songs from One Piece) to otaku fan service comedies (Bamboo, singing the OP to Baka Test “Baka.Go.Home”), to moe parody (ChouCho‘s Fate Prisma Iliya OP “starlog“), a cover of Haruhi Suzumiya’s legendary insert song “God Knows” by veteran singer Yoko Ishida, and even the Power Rangers theme song at one point with JAM Project founder Masaaki Endo. The presence of a stage band anchored the live musicianship consistently, with only other full bands like Yousei Teikoku needing to take the stage with their own players. Full, live musicianship is relatively rare at convention concerts, so hearing nearly four hours of actual performed music was a treat.

Sayaka Sasaki and ChouCho
Sayaka Sasaki and ChouCho

And yet this was not a convention concert in the usual sense, despite the festival’s ties to concurrent Otakon Vegas: it had its own management, ticketing, and arrangements, but both logistics and logic dictated some overlap. Its relative independence proved a boon, because the general convention audience and the audience that would “get” the majority of these songs do not necessarily overlap: there were relatively few cosplayers in the audience, for instance, and many of the songs played were from obscure-in-America properties, like the original live-action GARO. The truly committed had paid over $100 for VIP tickets, and many of them were decked out in traditional otaku fan garb: glowsticks, headbands, and coordinated gestures. Buying a VIP ticket also entitled the holder to high five the artists on the way out of the venue, a touch opportunity that is generally coveted highly in Japan, the subject of lotteries and contests. This was the Anisong Festival’s only non-Asian stop and it was Asian-style fandom that was fully on display.

Hiroshi Kitadani of JAM Project
Hiroshi Kitadani of JAM Project

As for the performances themselves: they were, above all else, consistent in their high level of musicianship and singing, with sacrificing the distinctives of each artist. Standouts include not only the highly energetic headliners JAM Project, with their excellent operatic singing and rock god poses, but the exuberant bamboo (milktub). As he sang the Baka Test OP, he clambered down from the stage and simply started mingling with the crowd–not just the VIPs!–singing all the while with his wireless microphone, high-fiving everyone. He carried and showed off a body pillow. Bamboo came off as a man who has truly embraced anime music as a culture, perhaps a job requirement given his other job as the head of MangaGamer but deeply felt all the same. Sayaka Sasaki, who we saw last year at Otakon Vegas, also gave a spirited performance, though the more restrained ChouCho slightly edged her out in vocal consistency. Both were equally charming though during their joint performance of “Enter Enter Mission!”, the ED to Girls und PanzerFaylan, who sang the OP to the Nasu-conceived PA Works action series Canaan, showed off some great choreography skills along with aggressive singing.

Yui of Yousei Teitoku (Official Photo)
Yui of Yousei Teitoku (Official Photo)

Perhaps the hardest rocking performance was given by the goth metallers Yousei Teikoku, who at one point seemed to be launching into something resembling the intro to Metallica’s “Masters of Puppets” before proceeding into one of their own songs, “Kyuusei Argyros” (the ED of Tokyo ESP). Many heads banged along. True to their image, they played the aloof, too-cool-for-school part, even during the final ensemble festival anthem “Starting Style” where all the artists took the stage at once: perhaps a bit too syrupy for their taste? The singer did induct all the audience into her Fairy Empire however, and in a show that featured much more pop and light rock, their heavier sound was welcome.

JAM Project
JAM Project

A few more words about JAM Project and their associated members, Masaaki Endoh and Hiroshi Kitadani. Perhaps no other act embodied the spirit of the festival and its purpose than them, a supergroup started explicitly to carry on the spirit of anime music. The two leads, Endoh and Hironobu Kageyama, are veterans of the industry whose operatic metal-influenced voices practically defined a generation of shounen, super robot, and tokusatsu animes, shows, and games from the 80s-90s onward. That sort of anime is now only one type of many in today’s media landscape, and arguably garners less immediate commercial attention than the cute/moe aesthetic typically favored by today’s otaku (the sort of anime an artist like ChouCho sings for, for instance). Their sheer performance chops are undeniable, however, and they were absolutely the correct act to close the afternoon: after seeing them belt out passionately, jump and wheel about on stage, working in near perfect coordination, one feels almost as pumped up as they evidently were. For an evening that started with the purely artificial Hatsune Miku, the end was about the power of raw, organic performance, the essence of what rock music has always been about. It is an “anime” music festival, yes, but it is a “music festival” too, and all in all it succeeded being that just as much as being a celebration of anime.

Our photos, taken by Jeremy Booth:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Official photos by Lantis:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Setlist (Saturday, January 17, 2015)

Hatsune Miku

  1. Sharing the World
  2. World is Mine
  3. Tell Your World

ChouCho

  1. starlog (Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya OP)
  2. Authentic Symphony (Mashiroiro Symphony OP)
  3. Enter Enter MISSION! (Girls Und Panzer ED) w/Sayaka Sasaki

Sayaka Sasaki

  1. Reason why XXX (So I Can’t Play H OP)
  2. Zzz (Nichijou ED)

bamboo (milktub)

  1. Uchoten Jinsei (Eccentric Family OP)
  2. Baka.Go.Home (Baka Test ED)

Hiroshi Kitadani

  1. We Are! (One Piece OP 1)
  2. We Go! (One Piece OP 15)

Yousei Teitoku

  1. Kuusou Mesorogiwi (Future Diary OP)
  2. Kyuusei Argyros (Tokyo ESP ED)
  3. Baptize (Seikon no Qwasar OP 2)

Yoko Ishida

  1. Eien no Hana (Ai Yori Aoshi OP)
  2. God Knows (Haruhi Suzumiya insert)

Masaaki Endoh

  1. Yuusha-Oh Tanjyou! (GaoGaiGar OP)
  2. Go Go Power Rangers (with Hiroshi Kitadani)
  3. Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger (OP for show of same title)

Faylan

  1. Last Vision for Last (Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls OP)
  2. mind as judgment (Canaan OP)

JAM Project

  1. Break Out (Super Robot Wars Original Generation: Divine Wars OP)
  2. Vanguard (Cardfight Vanguard OP 1)
  3. GARO-Savior in the Dark (GARO live action OP 1)
  4. SKILL (Dai2ji Super Robot Wars α OP)

All Artists

Starting Style

Through Older Lenses: Letting Go Of Live Action

 

Anime fans, asian cinema lovers, genre hounds.

It’s time to grow a little.

That’s right, I said it. It is no longer the “salad days” of fandom. It’s train that has long passed. In fact, when the best possible celebration of these things came to our doorstep, it was the international audience who came brandishing that flag to wave it, not us in the states. Solidarity is a nice thought, but it’s something that if even came to pass, wouldn’t make the mainstream quake in its collective boots.

Adaptation should always be about more than casting. These words have been on my mind for almost two weeks now. Whether it happens or not, the Ghost In The Shell project has again stirred the hornet’s nest. After yet another attempt to adapt a beloved Japanese property to the Hollywood realm did its part to unsettle and stir the pot, it felt time to again dish out the whys. Also, to hopefully quell minds with a few good realities to consider.

A quick fix is rarely a good thing.

We see tech offer up simplified answers to often step-packed questions, and technological development does what it can to leapfrog those steps. But skipping about can very often obscure room for nuance, and specificity that can occasionally be important to many. Which is why many stalwart admirers of the longview tend to gather more understanding of process.

As far back as I can remember learning about it, my love of anime has been a protracted lesson in how localization works. From the beginning, it has long been a held reality that direct translation leaves quite a bit to be desired, nor does it better grab the cultural and psychological nuance of a foreign work. So tweaking and fine tuning are an expected norm. And while we have made substantial leaps to best synthesize this into a palatable shared language, there is still nothing like learning and better understanding other languages and cultures. So when the mainstream is confronted with work almost completely in step with classic anime tropes and ideas (see- Pacific Rim), it’s understandable to see the average moviegoer take in such ideas and cock their heads sideways. The response is often not that of revelation.

Even when manga and anime properties are adapted on their home soil, there is disconnect. This is another huge hurdle I have had to get past these last few decades. In writing the column, Live Action Manga Blues at the Kaijyu, it over time came into sharp focus that even the Japanese are saddled with both the budgetary and literal limitations that come with taking something iconographic and making it into fleshy reality. And the reasons here are multifold. After all, we are talking about taking what is often seen as Japan’s hidden id, and bringing it into another plane of existence. To assume that the two can co-exist seamlessly without losing some grand component remains paradoxical, and often unrealistic. Sure, we have had success with certain more “experimental” fare such as Oldboy, Video Girl Ai, and the Speed Racer. But very often, there is a temptation on the part of live action filmmaking to conform the work into a language that rarely melds with the weight and necessity of itself. It either has to be almost indistinguishably gritty, or it needs to be completely gonzo. Rarely anywhere in between. And to a degree, big films like Racer and Pacific Rim are indicators that they can only work in the hands of the rare risk taker that is willing to bet the farm to see their vision to fruition. Artists with the acumen and sneakiness to ostensibly fool already cynically inclined studio heads that this is worthwhile.

(Something the director of Snow White and The Huntsman, hasn’t proven himself to me. Just saying.)

So a huge part of me isn’t expecting much of this recent news. Many would dare to still hope that one day, their favorite property would make the transition, changing the perception of at least one more set of eyes to their favorite thing. But time has perhaps hardened my purview, I suppose. Because the allure of anime is truly its own organism. And it doesn’t require further validation. It’s wild, weird, and enjoyably dysfunctional in ways that would lose fathoms of itself in being conformed to a more docile cinema language. The average mind accepts new ideas when it is time. And frankly, in twenty years we have seen Ghost In The Shell become something of an evergreen that continues to make converts out of film and science fiction fans the world over. And as new animation continues the adventures of Section 9, such windows will continue to open. Because of this shared world we now reside, it takes more than one obligatory, stunt-casting laden feature film to turn heads. Especially when the genuine global article already exists.

Anime Power Ranking: Gendomike’s Top 10 Anime of 2014

Due to life events, I’ve been away from the Anime Power Ranking ballots for a few weeks, but I’ve returned to tabulate what I think are the best anime series of 2014!

  1. Mushi-shi
  2. Kill La Kill
  3. Terror in Resonance
  4. Barakamon
  5. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun
  6. One Week Friends
  7. Rage of Bahamut: Genesis
  8. Sabagebu
  9. Log Horizon
  10. Gugure! Kokkuri-san

This list only includes series that concluded in 2014, which means series that began this year, but are not finished (ex: Knights of Sidonia, Your Lie in April, Shirobako, Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, Parasyte) are not included, and shows that started in 2013 but finished this year (ex: Kill La Killare included.

Here are my comments about all the series, briefly:

  • The top position was a toss up between Mushi-shi and Kill La Kill, and there could not be two shows more different. Mushi-shi is simply one of a kind, the sort of quiet, contemplative, and haunting anime that simply has no peer or imitator, and is worthy of nearly every accolade.
  • Kill La Kill, by contrast, started off dumb but became so wild, carefree, and epic by the end that it put the biggest smile on my face. It too proved one of a kind. The true spirit of Gainax lives on in Studio Trigger.
  • It’s sad that a lot of my actual favorites–Knights of Sidonia, Shirobako, Your Lie in April, etc.–do not qualify for this ballot due to them not being done or being split cour. However I was left with 18 choices initially and I had to shut out some worthy but ultimately deeply flawed series like Golden Time, Yuki Yuna, and Chaika.
  • Terror in Resonance fits that description too, but its highs are so high, and the Watanabe/Kanno combo so potent at its best, that it still is one of the best things I watched this year. It was undermined by a muddled plot and a confusion of symbolic gesture with political statement, but aesthetically it was one of the finest presentations of the year.
  • Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun is, hands down, the most entertaining and original comedy of the year. More character-driven and consistent than its nearest analogue, Ouran High School Host Club, it takes aim at shoujo cliches but doesn’t forget to make the characters not only wacky but likable. 
  • Barakamon is a personal favorite, being a comedic drama that I could identify with and whose children are deeply authentic in their portrayal. The storyline is typical but the execution is both funny and touching.
  • The same applies with the patient, low-key, and charming One Week Friends, whose understated innocence is instrumental to its success. Also if one understands the subtext, it becomes a deeply poignant story about a person learning to come to terms with reality.
  • Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, which just concluded, is simply a winner by virtue of its sheer competence: it is essentially a Hollywood blockbuster fantasy film in anime form, but done with a high degree of finesse and wit. It falters near the end somewhat, but remains endlessly watchable. It may win a special award for greatest adaptation from a plotless card game.
  • Both Sabagebu and Gugure! Kokkuri-san provided many barrels of laughs, especially the former, which may have been the biggest surprise of the summer season. Both comedies feature demented, jerkish characters who amuse in direct proportion to their meanness. In an anime world full of characters who are too nice, it’s a breath of fresh air.
  • Log Horizon contains just enough touches of intelligence and thought-provoking drama, as well as far better developed approach to the MMO genre, to assure its place in the top 10. The slow patches were difficult to get through at times, but the reward was worthwhile, even for this non-MMO player.

Secret Santa Review: Wolf Children

Mamoru Hosoda makes family movies. That is, he not only makes movies that are suitable for a broad range of ages and backgrounds, but his movies are about families in deep and insightful ways. The families can be biological (Summer Wars, Wolf Children) or the virtual ones of friendship (Our War Game, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time), but Hosoda is most interested in exploring the interconnected bonds between people and how they help individual characters become more than they would be by themselves.

The first quarter of Wolf Children depicts the mother, Hana, and the nameless werewolf father falling in love and marrying, and it is one of the most heartwarming and unpretentious courtships in recent anime, comparable to the first scenes of Pixar’s Up. This is, of course, how new families begin, and the film makes clear about how this is just like any other marriage but also different, given the father’s background. In homogeneous Japan, this mixed race marriage–for lack of a better term–is perhaps even more unique, and by hammering home its ordinariness, it helps the audience empathize with them and paves the way for later conflicts in the story.

For the bulk of the film, however, Hosoda examines what is perhaps the most direct, elemental act of family: parenting. And make no mistake, this film is about the mother much more than it is about her son Ame and daughter Yuki, the half-offspring of an actual, literal werewolf and who have a divided heritage. This detail is simultaneously crucial and inessential to the film’s central themes. The way that Ame and Yuki follow diametrically different paths is a direct result of the different ways they respond to their wolf natures, but it is also an easily relatable analogy for how any children in the same family can follow profoundly different life paths. There is also the specter of racial prejudice hanging over all of their lives, beginning with the death of their werewolf father. The family must figure out just how much to show or hide their lineage, confronting stereotypes about wolves that threatens their self-image, living in fear that their mixed heritage will be discovered and lead to ostracization. It is an unusually sensitive film for an anime in that regard, and perhaps it could only be told in this semi-allegorical, magical realist mode to make it resonate with audiences.

Caught inbetween is the protagonist, Hana, whose efforts to raise her children after their father’s death are nothing short of heroic. Wolf Children may be the perfect Mother’s Day film. Hana refurbishes an entire abandoned country house, struggles to learn how to grow vegetables in the field while suffering the suspicions of the local community, goes out in dangerous conditions to look for her lost son. These are actually the routine kinds of sacrifices that parents make every day, but they are presented in the film with such grace and nobility, it serves as a reminder to appreciate one’s parents.

To Hosoda’s credit, however, the story does not end there. To some extent, the story arc of Wolf Children covers the entire cycle of parenthood in accelerated time: from dating to marriage to conception to birth to growing up and, finally, to the children leaving home. Ame, who wishes to embrace his wolf nature fully, leaves first, as a costly act of independence that is both painful and necessary to anyone who has grown up (or who has watched their grown children leave the nest). Yuki, by contrast, chooses to focus on her human nature and thus moves to a boarding school to be closer to her peers. Part of the story fo a family is that the child’s relationship to his or her parents changes over time in just this way: no longer dependent, but hopefully still filled with love and respect. Wolf Children recognizes both the pathos and the necessity of this process. It is how the film can be shot through with melancholy and yet still feel so affirming and warm-hearted by the end.

In my view, Mamoru Hosoda comes much closer to the inheritor of the Ghibli mantle than Makoto Shinkai or, of all people, Hideaki Anno. Hosoda, like Hayao Miyazaki, writes about children and families with unusual perceptiveness, though his imagination is more grounded than the whimsical Miyazaki–it is closer to Isao Takahata’s sensibility and mood. Like Ghibli’s general output, his films have broad appeal that go beyond the otaku audience, and the background art and animation quality are never less than outstanding. Wolf Children represents a further maturation of his exploration of family ties and how they shape people in meaningful ways, and a sincere celebration of parenthood in its trials and joys.


This review was part of the Reverse Thieves’ annual Secret Santa project, in which an anime is recommended for review anonymously until Christmas. The other choices were Tatami Galaxy and xxxHolic, and I chose this one by virtue of its being the shortest. :) The last time I participated in the Secret Santa, I reviewed the first season of A Certain Scientific Railgun.

Through Older Lenses: The Malleability Of Dieting

futureamano

Been quite busy these last few months, and while in the office, I tend to listen to co-workers dish out what they enjoy via their streaming. It has become a unique period in time, one where we are now awash in months- strike that. Hours worth of newly posted visual entertainment is available with a minimum of effort. Now what this does for someone like myself, is create an ever growing cushion of work that I can delve into whenever I feel the inkling. There is an immediacy to the newly released piece of hard media that feels like a special secret had landed upon the doorstep. An effect that doesn’t have the same impact with near real-time online release. Sure, a few seasons have expressed some truly enjoyable work from numerous studios without my making a peep. But to cave in to habitual watching for the sake of it, remains a questionable prospect to me. When I hear said co-workers chirp in excitement over the latest episodes of whatever new series is on Hulu or Netflix, there is a near instinct on my part to either ignore it, or heap it onto the ever growing pile of “not likelies” that have begun to amass since at least 2008.

When only one show has you by the cerebellum, unwilling to let go, it may be time to re-evaluate what we watch, and why we do.

Having reached that hallowed (or is it feared?) fortieth year, there is a natural inclination to seek out work that not only best sums up who you are, but considers where all are going. Which is probably why Kill La Kill continues to shine in my wheelhouse over everything else. Sure, it’s a series that began a year prior, but on its plate were a number of concerns and fetishism that harkened to the more rough and tumble aspects of classic anime, while still being rowdy enough to question the now. This is vital to me in all forms of art. We can continue to laud dramatic effect, and strive for perfection, but one cannot help but wonder why this is even necessary in a landscape that often pathologically avoids reason. Which isn’t to say that creative works cannot move forward, and offer up more articulate means of expressing the anime paradigm. But to forget that so much of the stuff is often knee-jerk in nature, is kind of detrimental to its identity. It’s a delicate dance. And every so often it is nice to be knocked wobbly by a work so uninterested in recently established rules.

It’s all about the questions.

Why anime? Why escapism? Why indulge?

We could use any number of reason/excuse. And while this may trouble some as a statement, I have no issue in admitting that with age, comes less room for trumped-up reasons for being so willing to be cast away into realms of fantasy. And as time has shifted, and films like INTERSTELLAR and EDGE OF TOMORROW, explore previously trodden anime territory, does one come to the revelation that it is not merely enough to call a conceit a conceit, but to ask why it exists these stories at all. This is at the very heart of the current me, and what it means to take in a work, and find our own individual answers. The problem with overindulgence, is that it often becomes a substitute for personal rumination, and thereby epiphany. We stuff ourselves with so much input, that we deprive ourselves of enough energy or time to respond in a work or even a conversation. I cannot tell you how many times I listen to a media fan gasp excitedly about what they have just watched without considering the whys and hows of such choices. It is often only about the existence of this captured moment.

So many subcultures thrive on the idea of the find, rather than the hard work it often requires to create an organic relationship with the work. Be this relationship one of harmony, antipathy, or even “it’s complicated”. It’s how we embrace the creative output of a select few individuals that allows us to think, recept to , and perhaps enact based upon. Which is probably why, as an individual, I tend not to take character “types”, or tropes terribly seriously. They are simply shorthand for other things. And the more one studies about how these come about, or how they are arbitrarily plugged into works, does one need to pull back to see the greater mosaic of the creative process. Like a freeway, some stick to their safest lanes, while others hop erratically, in search of that miracle means of getting to a destination faster. And then there are those few, who understand the flow of traffic, and seek to become one with the entire circuit. Willing to make the freeway an extension of themselves. And once this comes together, it becomes easier to filter through all the roughage we are inundated with on a regular basis now.

Like any good diet, it becomes essential to read up, know the ingredients, and consume accordingly.

And hey, output is important too. Never let anyone tell you different.

%d bloggers like this: