Tag Archives: Anime Events

Bridging The Gap: The Value Of Penguindrum (An Ode To Change)

Well there was no real way this post could be avoided. After finishing this series and realizing that there was little to no way this couldn’t be openly discussed in mere tweets/Facebook discussions, it finally came to pass that an extended post would have to be made regarding Kunihiko Ikuhara’s return to anime television. The very notion that such a long break from the industry that helped bring his name to international prominence in the mid-to latter 1990s by way of Sailor Moon R, and of course, Utena, it would have been safe to assume that any return could only be a disappointment. It seemed an inevitability considering how dramatically different the state of the medium is today. Or so I woefully assumed.

Taken as an entire piece, Mawaru Penguindrum is an unrepentantly unique, and often visionary series the likes of which may delight older fans, and utterly shut out a good portion of modern anime’s devotees with its treatise on a Japan gone from shattered paradigm to helplessly lost world amidst manufactured dreamscapes. Ikuhara alonsgide Takayo Ikami & Brain’s Base, Penguindrum takes very much the same “process” based cinematic techniques that helped make Utena become one of the most accessible, yet bizarre-on-the-surface titles to have ever made a splash on the international fan scene. The story of sickly Himari, and her two older siblings, Shouma and Kanba remains less about a bizarre quest to save her life from almost certain doom with the help of a penguin-hat sporting princess and a trio of hallucinatory birds, but rather the journey of many through a near concrete thick foundation of denial. It is from this outset, not remotely interested in tropes so much as the subversion of them, all the while spinning a tale of what extremities some feel compelled to go through based on perceived positions. Fate and destiny being something of an established chess board, with all characters merely pieces, often willing to turn to amazingly questionable behavior in the name of altering trajectory, or abiding it.




The biggest difference now is that the ante has been sufficiently upped by no longer setting the central action within and around a mythical school life/incubator space where our main characters could fight their ways through. This new expansion of the discussion pitts the characters within something almost resembling contemporary Tokyo, only with a slightly more advanced technological milieu. In fact, much of what many to consider Cool Japan is hyperbolized within this at times unsettling presentation. Colors are intense with pinks and blues, and structures are often day-glo bright. The interior of one of the most often used settings- the subway, is almost wall-to-wall with moving digital advertisement (often featuring the greek chorus in Double-H, who also serve a core purpose around the story). It is almost as if the entire design aesthetic in itself is a paradoxical reflection of internet pop culture Japan. Thereby universalizing the director’s concerns that haven’t subsided any since his previous masterwork. His concerns are Japan’s concerns. His characters may be living in a world of fairy tales, but they certainly don’t see that. In fact, the two-tone reality shared by the majority of Penguindrum’s characters seems to have cornered them to the point that delusions and/or audacious actions seem reasonable. In anime reality, we are quick to judge, but the show continually calls out the viewer, making the case that even wholly reasonable people are capable of such untoward behavior.



Continuing a 17 Year Old Soul Search
As the parentless Takakura children are further tumbling down the story’s rabbit hole, it becomes apparent that not only they are bound by the illogical in order to maintain a rendition of peace, but as are the lives of virtually everyone around them. The three kids, with the youngest mostly in the dark regarding these forces that apparently hold her life in limbo, are eventually surrounded by characters who also seem primed to overstep their moral bounds in order to attain a semblance of happiness. Carrying on the theme that binds all characters in the series, it is a seemingly generational curse that has even left troubling marks on those who came before our central leads. And the more we get to grasp the lives of Tabuki, one of the boys’ most seemingly level-headed schoolteachers, and stage actress celebrity, Yuri, it becomes all the more apparent that the Takakuras lie close the ground zero of a secret that almost brought the contemporary Japanese conscience to its knees. Even as the inexplicable advances of Masako seem ready to systematically “crush” some undisclosed object close-particularly to Kanba (who’s reputation as something of a playboy belies even stranger secrets). Even more troubling still is the role of pretty, yet seemingly ordinary high schooler, Ringo Oginome. A girl who could so easily be an inocuous entity in the story, becomes an unexpected element that may save or destroy all everyone holds dear. Not unlike the American television series, LOST, perceptions are questioned, rugs are constantly pulled, and Mawaru Penguidrum becomes something that series failed to become in six seasons, a tale of a society within stones throw of a heart hampered by a lack of emotional insight. It isn’t that Japan is screwed, but rather that it stopped looking forward when the chips were down. So as the tension ramps up when history seems bent on repeating itself, the world of the show is primed to either play within these assumed constructs, or break free by acting humanly unpredictable.




A big stumbling block this show may experience in regards to fandom outside Japan, may very well be the reality that much of what is discussed within the its 24 episodes. The entire narrative decidedly centers within a wholly Japan-centric mindset. As westernized as Japan currently is, much of what affects, and ultimately motivates the show’s characters is something more akin to post-WWII psychology. And while this may seem like something that is easy for many acclimated anime admirers to overcome, there is still quite a bit of context that is left intentionally unexplained in the confidence that those aware of their surroundings might pick up on it. Which makes the series an interesting twist on what some detractors have been declaring a growing “insular” movement in anime. This is perhaps an ultimate rendition of how that very movement can create something of cultural value without resorting heavily upon familiar tropes, lest they be toyed with in some signature manner. As visually specacular as this series can be, it’s often at the service of continuing a poem Anno helped spur to introspective life in 1995.





Backtracking a little, it is important to consider that Ikuhara has long been friends with Shin Seiki Evangelion director, Hideaki Anno. An artist who became famous for pulling the veneer away from anime’s “fantasy for its own sake” place of safety with his epoch-making series. A show that was in fact affected by the outside world as terror enveloped the nation as the sarin gas attacks, and subsequent trials pertaining to the cult known as Aum Shinrikyo were taking place on tv screens during that time. A nation half a decade into crippling recession, and such events revealed a growing sense of spiritual panic that came symptomatic of a society long neglectful of its heart as profits went up a decade prior, now broken and brimming with an almost insurmountable amount of confusion ready to burst at any moment. For many, Evangelion provided a much needed pressure valve for these emotions homeside, even as the series became a monstrous media success. But it’s also worth noting that despite many series to retread similar territory (as well as Evangelion’s unfortunate “molding” into safer fabrics over the years), it has often come at the sacrifice of likeable characters, and compelling storytelling. Something with Penguindrum never seems to run short on.

Humoring The Blackness
For a series tackling such heavy themes, one wouldn’t expect the series to continue Ikuhara’s trademark surreal humor. This is something Ikuhara’s contemporary could never take away from him, and it is here in full flower, personal quirks and all. From the often amusing antics of the Takakura family’ s newly adopted penguins, to the clever use of repetition, music, love of the takarazuka, and various spins on fan expectations, the series never lets us forget that we are in an exaggeration of matters. What makes this work so well for me is that despite all the goofy antics, there is often a very character-centric reason for it. Even when the penguins acts reach absurds highs like fighting off an octopus on a window-sill, there is often a lyrical purpose to it all that remains unspoken. The show’s faith in its audience to put everything together while laughing about what could very easily become a harsh melodrama is very hard to achieve, and more often than not, it works toward better helping us understand character dimensions we didn’t realize were apparent upon initial glances. “Show. Don’t tell” is a valuable tool in film, and Ikuhara remains a master of constantly playing with this.



Industry Of Seduction
Which plays quite nicely against the series’ ultimate vision of collective antagonism, the enigmatic Sanitoshi’s belief that it doesn’t matter if fleeting love is what it is, as long as one feels it if even for a brief moment. More extravanant and over the top than even the character of Yuri, Sanitoshi with his hopelessly fujoshi-bait image and voice embodies a youth unwilling to compromise with their mission to undo all around him, no matter the cost. The most ironic element within his penchant for things “eletrifying”, and in the moment, his seemingly magical presence belies something of an unerring addiction to simplified solutions to complex daily problems. With all of his smiles and assurances, there is little in the way of anything truly transformative within his motivations. In fact, it is every bit as binary as the world he seems hellbent to destroy. And like all classic visions of Mephisto, Methusela, and Coyote, he is a soothing, seductive presence fully in the mold of what some fans long to adore, all the while tending to a world of emptiness. He is the face of an artistic medium gone commercially desperate.



Mawaru Conundrum


Which brings me back to the core of why the series carries with it something that has long eluded anime containing elements of the experimental; a solid sense of purpose. Despite years of post-Evangelion attempts to inject a certain “newness” to certain series, eager to capitalize on a growing mature market, most series have had the unfortunate distinction of either taking themselves far too seriously, or suffering from copycat-ism often symptomatic of shows existing in a newly defined environment. And it isn’t that shows like Bakemonogatari are intrinsically flawed, but rather that they often carry lesser baggage and lack the narrative acumen to reach beyond a specific audience. They ultimately become niches unto themselves, making them not only hard to market, but closer to gallery material better suited to a Murakami exhibit. What Mawaru Penguindrum has that most of these series do not is a truly sneaky package, made all the more potent by being especially meticulous about its messages/questions. There never seems to be a moment wasted, or a shot in it for the mere sake of showing it. Ikuhara has observed anime over the last ten-plus years, and clearly has quite a bit to say about it with imagery that spans the absurdist to the terrifying. Most often asking contradictory questions within the same mise en scene, as if the internet age has accelerated our intake of complexity in how we view the world, and he acknowledges this, even as the drama unfolds. Carefully, and provocatively, it beings back the notion of the auteur to television anime in a way that simply has been missing for quite some time.


Smashing The World’s Blu-ray Case
So when the climax comes, and matters for our heroes have reached their irrevocable conclusion, this is where Ikuhara delivers a passionate plea for not only the medium, but its fans. As our most unlikely characters are forced to rise to a challenge that threatens the future of many, including characters we once thought we knew within how the series initially presented itself, we are visually made aware of a world which Ikuhara seems ready to do away with. One that has essentially caged all of our characters, and led them to this desperate, penultimate moment. We are suddenly shown the destruction of a very vessel that binds many a fan the world over.- A batch of anime dvds/Blu-ray. Which in and of itself could very well have been taken alone as an atypical cinematic means of hammering the point home in a one-sided metaphor. But it is immediately amended when this very vessel becomes the means by which salvation is delivered. Interpretation: Mindless consumption carries none of the value that comes with what is being said within the things we value most. In short; Ikuhara’s distaste for ravenous fan culture & preference for something resembling actual substance is made clear within a mere few seconds of animation.


The world model within the series is rhetorically based on years of buying into invisible assumptions (Often bolstered by consumer culture sturm & drang-Something which even more harshly binds the Japanese.), and the form of the show (not unlike certain characters) seems bent on shattering these illusory traps. It seeks honest answers as opposed to perpetuating ad-hoc, otaku posturing. The show opines that destiny is what we determine with our ever changing expressions of inner personal desire, and not on what we are sold into accepting. The cycle begun with Shoujo Kakumei Utena closes with Mawaru Penguidrum, making it both one of the more exciting shows to have ever been given the green light in such a volatile media climate, and a challenging riposte to a decade of hiding beneath a shell of societal assumption. It’s wild, weird, beautiful, gaudy, painful, and imperfect look forward and backward, seeking diverse answers from difficult questions. It’s both an introspective masterpiece for modern Japanese media, and a spectacular yet inelegant kick in the teeth to the addicted, and we are all the healthier for it.


Anime Expo 2010: Impressions Of A New World

So where does one even start? After what was likely the one time I most regretted not purchasing a full 4-day pass for Anime Expo in several years (The whole fit HERE), we finally arrived, able to enter the fray yet again for more of the same exploits and fun, right? Nope. The game, while cosmetically similar to the cons of years gone by has altered significantly. And even as licensors, vendors, and creatives alike are hard at work to promote their love of an art medium that has been going strong for 60-plus years now, it has become clear that the language of anime is indeed changing. What was once the domain of merely a rogue’s collection of animation, electronics, and toy heads diving in for a profit off of either the children’s or hardcore fan’s market, is becoming something of a more open, formless thing – especially in regards to distribution.

To witness what seems to be an almost apocalyptic dearth of US anime distributors (which we had all been following of course – to see it displayed so clearly…different matter altogether) for some might seem indeed like the end of a world out of yet another blast of teenage angst amidst a full-fledged end game replete with screams & scorched earth. A great deal of good pals new and old shared some time to essentially break down what has in fact happened, and what it is we are doing in order to better support a newly forming system. It can be argued that destruction itself is a creative act, and while many may wish to counter that, I tend to agree with it. Especially in times where the currently in place model does little to actually nurture creativity. We’ve been through the same shows so many times it’s no wonder even free streaming shows experience a hard time with clicks reaching double-digit numbers. And even then it isn’t as if it is the fault of the shows. Many diamonds in that rough, but a glut is a glut, and to see the possibilities in restructuring finally looking good to many in the know is very encouraging.

Among those met who gave some good impressions of this came in the form of both industry & bloggers alike. When discussing this with names such as ANN‘s Gia Manry, or even Nihon Review’s Tony Wang (aka Kyalaran), it’s pretty clear that what both anime and manga alike are within the same larval stage of development in a new world. And that to cower, and live desperately amidst challenging times helps noone. And the fear from some is understandable,

Carl Horn
‘s notion of the presence of downloading, versus providing payment (of any kind) was reiterated by Manry. “It’s more about finding something you like very much, and giving something back. It only makes sense.”

“If the artists can’t figure out a way to get paid, then how do the companies ever hope to expect so many pages a week?” restated Jonathan Tarbox of Arashi Production. “Even I who comes from a generation that has been unwilling to be open to the technological changes over the years now knows that this is here to stay, and that we need to engender the future who will eventually master this.” He added. “We can help navigate it now with ideas instead of panic.”

But it also looks like were merely at another key moment in a neverending cycle. A very crucial one with a particular bent to it.

“We’ve been here before.” Tony made clear, “Many seem to overlook that when the printing press was first invented, noone knew how in the world this was going to work.” Important words to keep in mind. It is as if we are in the middle of a massive turning point to where the independent will have a greater say than ever, and without nearly as much interference from interest groups or major labels. We’re witnessing the remaining factions within and without the industry reach near equilibrium with the need for anime bloggers, journalists, and acolytes to keep the flame burning. And it has been a most fascinating ride to see the hands shift the way they have. Naturally, some are more ready than others. But it is pretty clear now that this is no longer a matter between japanese production companies, and american localization entities. In fact, it could be argued that anime itself is mutating through alternate forms of media and expression that have little place in what some would expect to be the realm of otaku vice. Whether it be american electronic music in the form of original 8-Bit wackiness ala _tlr_ , or comics like Hetalia that swing back in anime form, it is much like a sprouting, bulging cultural beast not unlike those inhabiting a Cronenberg film.

The promise, and perhaps horrors of living and terraforming a new home for media was also captured on a special AX edition of the ever-popular ANN Cast, where hosts Justin Sevakis and Zac Bertschy had some good words to share about the industry without sugar coating anything. (We were in attendance for this, and felt it was worth sharing here.)

Not to mention the words from Production IG who’s panel switcharoo was plagued with dramas of its own gave off the impression that despite the hard times we’ve been under, perhaps a more democratized approach to anime is necessary. When the Japanese production companies are looking for the help of the dedicated fans, it can either be a sign of something less than bright, or a field of hope never before displayed.

But what was expressed by many we spoke with was that of a market that has already hit rock bottom, and could only rise from the ash in an altogether ambiguous, yet promising form. If not a Phoenix, then what is it? Who knows? Personally, I found it refreshing to see so many willing to stare reality in the face, much like Jack in LOST. Allowing the fear to settle in for five seconds, only to dive headlong into a world of unknowns. We are in uncharted territory for media, and it couldn’t be more exciting.

(As a special bonus, here is a jumbled mass of memories of the weekend through the eyes of both V.Zero‘s junior mascot & friend Kiyomi Park and I! Enjoy.)

A Case Of Pre-Anime Expo Sickness…

Oohhh the hurting…

Unlike many of my cohorts here at Anime Diet, I was not able to work out the schedule in a way that I could enjoy every major event taking place this weekend in downtown Los Angeles. And in doing so, the agony for some of these events is still quite fresh!

So what we have here is a little pre-con rant before the true realization sets in that I likely wasn’t going to catch these anyway. But it does make me a little sad monster to know that I will not be in attendance for these significant events at what poses to be one of the most exciting last-minute lineups in Anime Expo history.

So without additional fanfare, a list of what I wish I was checking out this week instead of posting this. So break out the anesthetic, and dose me up… because this is gonna smart.

5. Yuu Asakawa : Time to fess up. I’m a sucker for the vocal stylings of this particular performer. It seems strange as she’s not particularly known for the atypical bubbly-voice that most expect from female seiyuu.Since her turn as cool-headed, turtle-phobe Motoko Aoyama in Love Hina, I’ve consistently been a fan of her brand of natural presence. (something that became all the rage in seiyuu work into the 2000s) Who can imagine super-cool classmate Sakaki-san without her wonderfully dry deliveries? And even as I’ve not heard much of her most recent work with recent shows, as well as the second Vocaloid app, it’s a shame that I won’t be able to catch her live.

{Diagnosis: Sad Face}

4. Toshihiro Kawamoto: Do I really need to explain this one?

{Diagnosis: Continuous “NOOOOOOOO!”s}

The Missing. The Anger!

3. Kenji Kamiyama, Tomohiko Ishii, & Satoru Nakamura: Folks, about the most important element of the congoing experience for me is the GoHs. There’s no disputing this. No matter how much conventions have evolved over the last several years, it has remained clear to me that the ability to actually see, and chat with those who bring us such amazing works is the prime blood of this activity. And to catch the minds behind such a classy production seems to me to be the ultimate reason to attend this year’s AX. True to the best years of this convention, FUNI and pals have delivered an awesome package with bringing some of Production IG’s most progressive minds responsible for one of the most consistently exciting shows in years. No doubt, one of the best licensing acquisitions I’ve been following in a long time, Eden Of The East (Higashi No Eden) is cause for celebration. So naturally, missing this only adds to the sad panda experience that is my AX.

{Diagnosis: Pangs Of Regret-Ow.}

2. Yui Horie: Again, another from the Hinata Sou camp. This is the one this year that pains me to no end to miss. As a longtime fan of this icon’s sound & range, to imagine much of recent anime without the often grouding timbre to her voice is near-impossible. And to think that she’s come from playing the quasi-tsundere violent romantic lead, to plucky heroines, and ultimately to the distant, loopy love interest of Toradora! makes me happy to see her weather the storm of the last ten years, and remain as charming as ever. I know this comes counter to my often sedate demeanor on this site, but this just plain hurts like the treads of a Guntank over my face.

{Diagnosis:Pathetic Tears In A Darkroom, followed by Hemorrhaging}

1. Ai Nakajima & May’n: OK. This is it. The big one. The announcement that almost made me throw my hands up, giving up on con events altogether this year. To not catch this duo live in LA is something tantamount not catching the first Moon Landing. It is just that kind of lunatic event that transcends merely an anime act. This is J-pop at its most vital & thrilling. Whether one has actually seen Macross F or not, this is a “can’t miss” appearance that very well lives up to being in Nokia Theater and blowing away expectations. From catching some of their performances online, this is ground zero for my inner fanboy this year. And it is made all the more crushing that it takes place mere hours before I actually show up! To quoth Paul Atreides:THE PAIN!!!!

{diagnosis: Tears Of Blood}

(All the best to my fellow Dieters on the scene right this moment, as well as all the fans taking part in as many AX events as possible!)