Tag Archives: Anime Memories

Bridging The Gap: The Trouble With Natsukashii

After putting some long delayed finishing touches on a Fujiko Mine post, it occurred to me that there is a bit of a disconnect between what it means to overture towards an already established fanbase, and speaking clearly enough that new audiences can appreciate the same work. And while I don’t plan on laying out every concern in this post, there’s definitely much to consider. This is especially so when regarding filmed entertainment such as movies and anime. Of course, there is the “safe bet” of familiarity for those currently bereft of successful ideas. It has been something of a constant throughout visual popular culture that such a well be present at all times, no matter the prosperity level. Shelling out a new rendition of something that has worked before often makes for a logical “band-aid” solution, but rarely is any kind of long-term one. Heck, the Japanese have virtually created an industry on so-called “natsukashii” goods and services, created to fill the hearts and minds of so many with memories of simpler thoughts and or times. But a fundamental issue that crops up time and again regarding familiar worlds, characters, situations, and the like, is in how far can a retread of familiar retain the flavor of the past without seeming out of touch with contemporary themes and concerns.

This all came to mind after watching the final episodes of the latest Lupin III series, and how that handled the differences between what was considered acceptable then versus today. With a presentation that is already pretty bold by the medium’s standards, a lot of Fujiko Mine comes equipped with the promise of a daring new take on what is considered something of a cultural evergreen. This was something, that at least to a fan like myself, that felt appropriate in this period of insightful reimagining & re-examination. Just as 007 has gone through something of a thorough contemporization in recent years, going so far as to modernizing some of the original mythology while retaining much of Ian Fleming’s darker undertones. As expressed in my previous reviews of Fujiko, there is a discord evident early on between an intent to offer up a bleak, edgy tone, and wholesale reverence for earlier incarnations of the Lupin universe. (much of which was already pretty violent despite what Miyazaki would have us believe) And yet, this is a telling microcosm of what happens very often in the dialogue exchange from creators to consumers.

It’s no real secret as to why the familiar is such a popular go-to for media companies. Just think of it. Very few things work as well as something that has in fact worked before. When being torn between a potentially groundbreaking, experimental piece of art(or heck, even just a show with a novel idea), and a proven successful product, it’s easy to see why bean counters opt for the safe bet. In such economically trying times, it’s no wonder we see more familiarity on display than ever. It’s all part of the self-preservation machine going into hyper-mode. There are thousands of great ideas out there, they just aren’t seen as being worth the gamble. (Which also explains much of the medium’s samey nature. The safety card is never far away.) When we anime fans are inudated with so many new shows per year, it’s easy to see why producers would get cold feet after a number of their riskiest titles fail to gather a sizeable viewership. After all, there are products to sell, and that stuff piles up like the madness.

Products are also a major area in which many shows are greenlit over. It’s pretty much the central nervous system of the entire anime industry. When one cannot consider the marketing potential of a series, it becomes less and less probable that a show can be made of it. Which is why shows like Puella Magi Madoka Magika can exist; they straddle the line between the artistic and commercial just fine, and require little thought as to what kind of character products can be manufactured & sold en masse. So if a show’s characters cannot be immortalized in a dakimakura, figure, toy set, gachapon, etc. , you’re show may just never be more than a script in a file cabinet. To be fair, this has been common practice for decades. Just look at all the classic robot shows of the past, realistic, and not so. The wiggle room for risk has always been shifting and shrinking as the market determines.

So the safety net of the past has this stigma with all, but it does so quite significantly with the Japanese. “Natukashii”, as in nostalgic, colors a great deal of the general perspective. The same is true here in the west, with a few exceptions here and there. But the way these cycles tend to happen with anime, it often is so with an almost uncompromisingly forced manner that implies an almost militant need to not rock the boat, and to keep things as close to the original as possible. And while this can indeed be fun (Gundam Unicorn comes rushing to mind), it can also truly stunt creativity, and worse yet, not represent the current mindset of the original author of the work. But perhaps the most dispiriting symptom of such a need to “retain an original essence”, is disregarding the climate of the times, often running face first into social-political dissonance. When Bond first arrived on the scene, the other big global contender was Soviet Russia. Now over 40 years later, not only have political opponents changed dramatically, as have ones of gender, information, social mores, etc. Even in the realm of moving visual media, the world moves on..Even when a series such as Lupin takes place in a vague time period that hews close to the early-to-mid 1960s, the possibility of looking at the world from unexpected social angles makes for potentially compelling viewing.

Of course, this often faceplants into what one can consider to be the very thing producers and fans often mutually refuse to open themselves to; re-examination. If there is anything that is anathema to the foundation of those who cling so tight to the “way things were”, this is it. While many do take change in stride, there will always be a reactionary opposite that decries any major nuance against new artistic license. It’s pretty much an inevitable matter of course. And again, this applies to western fans of famous properties as well.

So when this inevitability seems so firmly in place, why offer up the promise of something new, only to renege on it at the last second? Granted, anything can happen throughout the course of production, and funding is definitely an issue. But when the seams of a work show due to a disagreement between staff members, or possibly even the changeup in the writing team, it can harbor ill for the project as a whole. And as a viewer that is open to a retro, or a progressive approach to old tales, it can be problematic to witness such a pulling of the parachute so late in the game.

If there was anything of value gained by studying stories/film/etc. it’s that a solid foundation in the scripting phase is crucial for the remainder of the work to come across seamlessly. Every good story requires a spine, a rubric to refer to, something that all departments can keep mindful of so that the end product is consistent. Without it, as it implies, offers up an amorphous alternative – which can only work as long as a few tenets remain. But more often than not, leads to something of a confused mess. If we don’t know which side of the bread, the author’s butter is on, how can we fully trust in the message they are delivering? Even in the name of a plot twist, it has to be in the name of some central thought in order for it to even partially work.

With this in mind, there are other issues that often come to the fray when thinking of the past, and the temptation to revisit it. There’s always the concern of updating in a manner unbecoming of the original. Also, the headaches that often come with making a new rendition with new minds in the production cycle. Nothing ever remains completely the same, and a such, comes the dilemma as to what degrees the staff are willing to do to identify their own work.(leaving a stamp will always be a driving force) And lastly (for now), the dichotomy between the production/artistic voice of the originals versus the present world. These are all viable challenges that inform, and often plague many a new series/film. But the final word comes from the most important quantity in the whole equation. Something that far more studios/marketing arms should keep mind in listening to. Its a relationship so many can no longer assume they understand.

The past can be a lovely place. But without immediacy, so much runs risk of becoming the stuff of our collective amnesia.

Analog Diaries IV: The Hell Of Number 18

Admit It. I am.

Let me first preface this embarrassing little episode from my younger days by saying that behavior such as this should not be imitated, condoned, supported, in fact, it probably shouldn’t even be posted about. So why share it with Anime Diet readers the world over? Simply to illustrate not only the kind of silly kid I once was, but to perhaps help some better understand where we were. and where we are now. Always remember that like tobacco & oil in early America, Hentai became a financial pillar of US based anime distribution in those larval days. Certain titles even outsold some of the prime names of their time. There would have been no ADV without it. In fact, this story is possibly even more universal that I imagine it is.(IE-doubtful.) So to those precocious souls, this one’s for you.

Hentai.

Or rather, Hentai on VHS.

Now that more than half the room has cleared, and the rest of us can essentially share in this mini tale of woe that has surely happened in homes across the land in the hopes that more will come out, and cleanse themselves of this particular stigma. The late 80s, through early 90s was a strange time for anime since certain business decisions led to the medium eventually having certain labels emblazoned across it. Especially when one grew up where I did.

A largely conservative haven for retirees with little concern for the fringe, the California desert was never known for embracing the progressive edges of popular culture. Which is to say that even as alternative rock was gaining traction thoughout a good portion of the metropolized world, the desert was more a place where these ideas were quickly examined, only to be dismissed within the same breath. And anime, while gaining only a small following in local video shacks, had the magic word, “PORN” burned onto it as if it were some prized steer. In my area, it may as well have been a pink triangle. After print media had a field year with explaining Japan’s proclivity towards “pornographic cartoons” with the limited theatrical release of the compiled version of Urotsukidoji: Legend Of The Overfiend, it was easy to be deemed “a person of suspect” even if all you had was AKIRA at home.

So yes, it was an awkward time to be an anime enthusiast. Especially when you were 17 years old, and had a 13 year old brother with a newly found curiosity for the stuff, and an insatiable appetite when it came to his interests.

As previously mentioned in these confessionals, my brother and I had begun to check out anime from an independently run video store in town, where we first learned a love of GAINAX, reveled in the further adventures of the guys responsible for Macross, and even caught some animated Japanese Lit! It was a wholly new kind of library, but while my sibling was in candyland, enjoying his newfound hobby, I was cautiously checking tape covers for objectionable content like a dutiful big brother in hopes of keeping things sane. (and me out of hot water with the parental units) Because you see, I had been aware of this H thing for a short while, and was doing all I can to avoid spoiling this infectious new high. There were only so many titles out on the video market, and we were quickly running out of new shows.

The weekend ritual of checking out rented anime & horror films went unabated, until afterschool activities began to take hold. Being in Theater, it became harder and harder for me to be able to keep track of matters at home. And I guess, it didn’t seem to matter too terribly much since it had felt as if we had seen most-to-all of the anime available at the store we frequented. And none of it contained anything aside too terribly racy outside of Ani & Unipuma, so I felt a sense of security.

In the coming months, however, I began hearing stories that a certain “Japanimation Porno” had been making the rounds in town. And when one title makes the kind of noise this one did at my school, chances are it was within the vicinity of danger since…the video store in question was just a short walk away from campus! A part of me just shrugged it off, thinking that perhaps this was some other big brother’s mail order purchase. Their irresponsibility that landed this troublesome show in the hands of the “wrong kids”. Nothing to get too worked up about.

Now it needs to be said here that I was raised a diligent boy of Catholic faith, and had an ingrained radar for things that could get me into trouble. Anything from classmates smoking on the outskirts of school grounds, or other forms of mischief, I tended to avoid with regular frequency. After all, this was about being a model older brother, and I couldn’t be bothered with the ways kids in America expressed themselves without guidance. Seemed an easy enough life decision. At 17, I thought I had the world figured out. That was until the Friday I had no rehearsal, and my brother stormed in gleefully holding his backpack to his chest. Out of breath, he looked at me, and said “You won’t believe what I got today.” A part of me figured it was yet another low-budget horror-fest, possibly featuring Bruce Campbell, or Clint Howard again, but little did I know that it was closer to that of a little black box carrying within it 45 kilotons of nuclear fire.

Thankfully, having a hyperactive little sibling means that there are times when sitting down and watching TV wasn’t going to suffice, leading him to often drop his bag, and run out of the house afterschool to play with the neighborhood kids. Something that definitely happened that day, leaving me at home, alone.

With adults away for a few more hours, and the kind of curiosity often cursing the average kid, I scrambled for the backpack to see what all the grinning was about. Careless little brother, don’t you realize this was bound to happen? The first warning was the Anime 18 label stamped across the face of the tape, with a name I had a tough little time trying to pronounce. And realizing that this was INDEED the video mentioned all those times in the school halls as being totally insane, I just had to run it to the VCR to see what all the talk was about.

Now I may have not lived through the times of McCarthy, and in fear of being blacklisted as an undesirable. In fact, the feeling that swallowed me whole that afternoon was closer in tone to what George Orwell was feeling in Havana. The fear was so real, so palpable, that it led me to mental images of not only helicopter lights blaring though those living room windows, but of an angry deity, committed to having my soul for breakfast. It was as if I had stared straight into the forbidden, only to have it winking back with promises of forbidden pleasures, fast cars, firetrucks & kazoos, but there was also a deep feeling of this threat of eternal torment from then on and thereafter. In the near two-hour onslaught of debauchery, post-human musings, and wholesale splatter, it was clear to me that:

a) Japanese artists are much more screwed up than I had once imagined.

b) Misunderstandings were bound to ensue from this being in the country.

c) That my ubringing was far from the only valid one.

d) This thing is going to make a crapload of money.

No matter the quality of this particular work, it made a deep impression. It is something like catching your first 18 and over show, with the most decadent, wild, drug-addled rock act imaginable, and having the lead singer puke on you offstage. It is that kind of awesome, and nightmare inducing. There simply was no context for it yet, and as such, it haunted me for years.

As for what happened after this ordeal, I made it my way to get the incriminating evidence back to the store with the initial drive to find out who in their right mind would lend this out to a kid. Not unlike selling cigarettes to a minor, this was indeed a problem. (until the reality set in that this was the only store within reasonable distance that carried this stuff) Turns out it was borrowed from an older “friend”, who also had an account at the same store. The threads of fate determined this for whatever reason, and even though I had saved my sibling from what I found to be a fate worse than death, I know he eventually saw it for himself. Now if I could only see what went thorough his mind that first time.

Streaming Classics To Be Thankful For!

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

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

Space Pirate Captain Harlock

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

Here!

Fist Of The North Star

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

Here!

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

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

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

Nobody’s Boy: Remi


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

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

Galaxy Express 999


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

Farewell Days Of Youth

And now for a little something extra:

At Your Own Peril:

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

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

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

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

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

My Dear Loser: Abandoning The Romantic

With the recent release of Edgar Wright’s live-action adaptation of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, it looks like an old disconnect has come back in some respects to haunt fandom once again. Whether or not this was a factor in the film’s lackluster performance at the box office, it is clear that beyond the film’s niche leanings, there is also the phenomenon of not having the most “heroic” of central characters. Scott is jobless, stays in an enclosed studio apartment, and shares a bed with his too-cool roomie, Wallace(who owns practically everything in said apartment) , and clearly has no plans in the long term. In fact, aside from video games, having an underaged girlfriend, and playing bass in his little garage outfit Sex Bob-Omb, there’s really little to our hero that makes him such. And this is what we are essentially stuck with as love at first sight hits the mind cycles like an N2 mine. And yet this is all by design, to the detriment of many. The tendency to take a central character, and to shape them into something less than a clearly sympathetic lead is often a risky proposal in any medium, but when executed with style and balance, something can indeed be savored. And how does this apply to the worlds of anime and manga? Well, it can almost easily be said that the origins of many such stories can be traced here with equal ease.

Looking over the decades, and seeing through the often parodied cliche of the ever-unflappable hero with a desire to be “the best”, it can also be said that a saturation of such types has its very own shadow counterpart, the loser hero. Not merely comfortable with the moniker, anti-hero, these types, while having goals of their own, are often far too shortsighted, too easily distracted, or focused elsewhere to ever truly be considered heroes in any common sense of the term. They don’t take on enemy after enemy in a protracted battle royale for ultimate glory, nor do they completely embrace the power of change toward a brighter future. In fact, very often, they aren’t very heroic at all.

So why is it that they continue to have large followings despite the glares & sneers of disapproval of so many? Well the answers can be both traced to both contemporary society’s own reception of the so-called “least of us”, as well as a deep seated need for recognition of the simpler, quieter defining moments in the lives of certain individuals. It’s a quasi-response toward feelings of alienation, and disaffectedness akin to those of a young Holden Caufield, uninvolved, unimpressed, and aching to be heard regardless of the direction of the winds. Taking the time machine back to the early days of Gekiga manga, where the pratfalls of ordinary folk, with their own internal strife often enveloping their fates with the power of a black hole. Daily life, inner city dregs, and the smoky skies of industrialized society rule intersecting lives without heroes, but many interesting lives with which to explore. Whether Tatsumi knew what kind of mutations would come from his then fresh battle cry against the ever numbing assault of super robots, detectives, and action heroes or not, the influence upon later works can be seen in many well-known central characters.

Can one imagine Go Nagai’s iconic Akira Fudoh without the influence? Heck, in Japan, even Spiderman had his share of problems.(as beautifully captured here in Jason Thompson’s amazing new post.You thought Peter Parker had it bad.) A land recovering from such dramatic changes over recent decades naturally needed an outlet for them that didn’t exclusively float away into mere flights of whimsy & easy answers. Something truly had to give in regards to those less regarded, the reluctant, the daily warriors aching to see it through for another day. Which is why when Gundam first landed in Japanese homes, the very nature of Amuro Ray was something unprecedented, even for a Yamato-era series. A hero nowhere near as interested in the fate of those around him, but of those closest. There was a scrappy, everyboy feeling to the proceedings that helped pave the era of realistic mecha anime, naturally leading to the ultimate expression of this disaffected archetype, Shinji Ikari.

And for years, it came to be long debated right at the gate. Many viewers to this date cannot watch Shin Seiki Evangelion merely because the lead character is so caustic, and incapable of reaching beyond himself. And yet it spoke to so many in an unprecedented manner, exposing a spirit not only reflective of post-bubble Japan, but of a general societal malaise. To see the sheer number of international fans (US fans included) recept to the characters of this series in such a manner, even as it takes a page from Tatsumi’s book of urban isolation is telling. Many wished to not merely see the boy pilot’s evolution from troubled introspective, and into a more classic hero, only to be denied by design in an even more unprecedented move by the show’s director. But the aim remains the same, to begin a character’s arc at the lowest point is a classical method in genre fiction. But in Evangelion’s case, it is less an arc than a case study. That one of a kind look into the mind of one incapable of seeing the world in a pluralistic sense, and more longing of some unseen, ordered universe, which jibed well with many fearing the coming millennium, and a potential cerebral meltdown ala Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

And yet it is a stunt that can only work so many times, which is why the loser hero is often more suited to be a comedic lead where the stakes are lower, and the fan service can be high! When the loser hero gained traction in the late 70s, it only took one mangaka’s central pervert to pave the way for an entire generation of lucky zeroes. Ataru Moroboshi, the insatiable, aimless lowlife son of the average Japanese family became the prototypical harem lead with Urusei Yatsura. And what makes this particular character so unique in this pantheon of service is that his unrepentant nature is rarely to never deterred. Even with the ultimate prototypical alien girlfriend, it isn’t enough. And even as the whole town had had their lick at beating this boy to a bloody pulp, it never seems to be enough. It is practically a metaphor for sexualized Japan’s own inability to grow past it’s own middle school period. And yet, the fans clamored for more as Takahashi continued to refine the loser hero with Yusaku Godai from Maison Ikkoku.

Almost setting up what will likely be the final mold for the harem lead, struggling student, Godai while not dealing with a vending machine selection of potential mates, has direction issues that continue to deter him from being a typical seinen hero. Whether it be school, or his landlord, Kyoko Otonashi, Godai’s choices are often more base, and not as concerned with the greater struggles of a would-be college student. The manga & anime’s leanings coalesce into realms unexpected, and side less with what most would expect regarding the initial setup. A bittersweet set of choices makes Ikkoku into something truly brave in the gardens of anime love geometrics, and has yet to be executed with as much sensitivity or irony.

The Takahashi Loser Hero Evolution Scale:

Which leads us to where it can all go wrong. When the loser becomes so unyielding, so childish, so incapable of sympathy that it can only end in bloody histrionics. That’s right. There’s just no other way for these folks to end their journeys but in the requisite bloodletting and screams one saves for a slasher free-for-all. Now without getting into titles, we are talking about the loser heroes who usually and up becoming yandere bait, and sometimes even targets due to their indecisive, unconscionable actions. Now where this comes from internally, I won’t get into here. But I will say that it is a pretty desperate place, and will likely take a strange place in the echelons of otaku museums for future investigation. Maybe then we can all look back, and ask exactly what it was we were drinking back then.

Ahem.

And so the often kneejerk reaction toward protagonists that happen to be less than ideal comes off as not only a little strange (after all, where would Golgo 13, Taxi Driver, or Fight Club, or even Charlie Brown(!!) be without this complex viewpoint?). To not see the connection between our own fallible selves and the at times borderline massive battles of the mundane seems a little shortsighted, and more than a little unfair. To each their own of course. And of course, there has been a recent tendency to allow characters to start from this point, only to wallow in it without an ounce of likeability, nor hint of reprieve from their childish natures,which is also telling of artists & readers. But to see a non-hero from the perspective of those around them can be a rewarding experience (as best expressed in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic version of Scott Pilgrim and well implied in the film. To see this expressed stateside is something of an interesting reflection on classic Japanese tropes of these sorts, making it a fascinating counterpoint.). When writers are fully in control of where a protagonist begins, it is vital to consider the placement of it, and in the case of the film in question which owes a great deal to Japanese video games, as well as anime, has a great amount of kinship with many elements of the more comedic loser hero with a tinge of the urban disconnect prevalent in so many classic characters.

Your mileage? Can’t say, but it is a most welcome swipe at the already tired comic book movie format. Now if only other live action anime adaptations would be so lucky.

Big acknowledgments to the works of Antonia Levi.

Analog Diaries III: The Path To Legend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FLCL At 10 Years: Our Iron Lung

“pictures came and broke your heart
we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far”

– The Buggles

After some time passing, along with some negligence on my side, I have come to realize that more than just the witnessing of the rise and fall of an entertainment enterprise, but of the tenth anniversary of a singular event of the anime otaku timeline. How any times can we say that we bore witness to blunt force trauma by guitar, teleporting robots via cranial space, satellite knuckleballs, John Woo bullet free-for-alls, wanton pop culture references, streams-of-consciousness musing on everything from Hideki Kaji to ironed brains as indie rock blares out like a psychedelic greek chorus from space all within its few scant hours of running time? Hideaki Anno‘s talented disciple, Kazuya Tsurumaki’s straight to video experiment, FLCL (Furi Kuri) was something akin to an end-all to the so-called “edge anime” boom that came on the heels of his senpai’s Shin Seiki Evangelion, a series for which many can consider the last great game changer for the anime medium. Of all the would-be landmarks of the post-Evangelion era, it was the legacy of this OAV that helped cement japanese animation as a propulsive force in contemporary creative media by looking at the walls laid out by masters of old, only to laugh in its face with a rare childlike glee by also introducing many fans to animation bad boys like Shinya Ohira, Mitsuo Iso & Hiroyuki Imaishi. And even if this particular force left behind a slew of forgotten experiments, and pale imitations, few shows ever found the mix displayed within a little tale of a boy trapped within a facade of his own making.

Continue reading FLCL At 10 Years: Our Iron Lung

Analog Diaries Part 2: Thinking Of The Children

A product ripped from the blogs of recent days, The Analog Diaries is a series of recollections of a time before digital distribution. In the days when passion was gargantuan, and access was low. Created in memory of the days when all fans had on their sleeves were their desires amidst a media climate rivaling the Southern California Desert. It was a time of heroes, villains, fools & miles of tape. Welcome to the land of uncool.

How else could it have played out? A young life, within limited means.

There were only two real roads into the anime medium during those days. It was either what was provided for us on the tube, or at stores/swap meets where we could find an assortment of both authentic toy replicas as well as knockoffs emblazoned, “Made In Macau”. It was perhaps this one array of simple elements that led me down this strange road. And on that road contained a dozen or do bizarre detours, and speedbumps that only a few of us noticed. When you’re a kid, if it was cool to you, that’s all that mattered. And cable showings of edited & dubbed versions of Unico, or The Legend Of Sirius were rare. But when they came on, it was not unlike treasure landing at my feet. There was little keeping me from the tube when works like this were on. I even vividly remember catching the original Uchu Senkan Yamato feature on KTLA Channel five on a dreary Sunday morning at Grandma’s. Or how about the time’s I caught Gatchaman on mexican TV with much of the violence well intact? Better yet when Nausicaa came to cable in the form of Warriors Of The Wind? There was a quality to all of it that left me not merely surprised & inspired, but racked with longing for more.

Access…the ultimate dilemma.

And yet this very lack of access possibly even contributed to my later denial of admiration, and even disdain for it in just a few brief years later. Made all the more dramatic when my younger brother started on his weekly trips to the local video huts.

Continue reading Analog Diaries Part 2: Thinking Of The Children