Tag Archives: Editorials

Psycho Pass – an emotional and joyful moment for Cyberpunk fans…Eh?

I wrote about my thoughts on Cyberpunk in a paper back in 2007! http://animediet.net/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/cyberpunk-anime.doc , and I must say, I’ve become much dumber and can’t carry on an intelligent conversation like that. In addition, the entire article or parts of it = tl;dr. But after years of yearning, I can’t believe (Hallelujah), they finally made another hard core Cyberpunk anime…

Continue reading Psycho Pass – an emotional and joyful moment for Cyberpunk fans…Eh?

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.

Bridging The Gap: How Oncoming Trucks In Slo-Mo Went Mainstream

Initially, I had been looking to avoid any posts on this subject after reading endless posts regarding the news in the wake of Bandai’s shuttering of new acquisitions of physical media, and now its backing out of several other regions, including France. But the ensuing talk and blogging that has come since has more or less left me feeling the need to make sure Diet readers gain an important insight regarding where the industry has been over the last several years. Most noise-making by far has been a writeup at Kotaku, where he not only professed his ignorance of the nature of the industry, but echoed sentiments often more recently heard by many within the continuously dwindling US anime infrastructure. While much of what was important about the post dealt with the media reality we all currently share, I also found it to be fraught with questionable statements, and not to mention lacking in any grounded fact. While it may be true that piracy has been a long-standing issue in anime fandom, it has also in fact been one of denying the inevitable.

A large portion of what makes Charlie Maib’s article so misguided, is that like so many contacts, associates, friends, and peers within the LA-based anime world, many seem to only be focusing strictly on ONE major point of concern, the piracy issue. Now while I consider myself to be a firm supporter of artist rights, concepts of ownership, I also find it deeply important to look at changes that affect this. If there’s a piece of media (not just anime) that I truly enjoy, I will shell out the money and pay for it. And one can also see me constantly directing interested parties to ideas and works I like in hopes of helping them survive in such a volatile climate. But the writing has been on the wall regarding even larger problems for such an absurdly long time- That physical media as a means to support an industry was fatally flawed from the start, and was never meant to last.

And this isn’t merely about anime we are dealing with here, we are talking all media, down to movies, television shows, etc. The very foundation of what was once a collector’s only club was likely only meant as such during the early days of home video. Many may not remember a time when a single VHS cassette of a film like Raiders Of The Lost Ark would go for roughly $80.00 . It was a number of years before the dreaded $24.95 price tag was even considered by the major studios. And a major reason for the change of heart was the advent of cable tv, a  growing new market that was sapping away ticket sales for films released in theaters. The world had changed, and the movie industry had to grudgingly adjust to the new reality by taking a large hit. And this is far from the first time this has happened. Since technology has gathered steam, profits for such an industry has had to rush to keep up by retaining losses in often risk-taking new ventures. This has been a constant struggle, and we see it prevalent in so many ways we collect media.

Top this off with the reality that even in the days of magnetic media, people could make copies of their own. Anyone remember your local Sam Goody? A large part of the music chain’s intake came from the sales of blank cassettes, be they audio OR video, and often sold at the counter as if to know full well what customers were doing with them. And this was in the era of stereo consoles, often packaged with dual-cassette decks. In other words, the recording industries were looking for something resembling a happy medium between consumers and the industries they support. To assume the left didn’t know what the right was doing is nothing short of selective blindness.

Which is something of an important affliction to consider, particularly when discussing the anime industry, and how it has essentially cratered due to virtual ignorance of larger changes in the world. Everywhere we turn, closures of physical media outlets have become chiming reminders that a paradigm has reached its final point of shift. And yet only an enterprising few have allowed themselves a means to survive by ways of adjusting to new realities. Even if the profit margins have been at times drastically lowered, there is at least some growth, especially in the realms of streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, and Crunchyroll. With coding becoming more and more sophisticated, alongside great advances in how content is shared online, there has been a great deal of potential found here. But leave it to hindsight as the piracy target sees itself coated with another bright shade of red, when the obvious continues to dog the discussion…

While Maib’s ideas make the point that piracy helped lead toward this violent shift, anime as a sales-centric industry certainly did little to counter it. It wasn’t as if noone saw this coming. In fact, one can also say that once digisubs became a thing, the once laborious daisy-chaining of VHS recorders had been liberated to the high bitrate sphere of the internet, with little means of slowing down once bandwidth rates went up. Even in the days of dial-up, this was happening on a much larger scale than ever could have been dreamt of in the days of analog. Even as the american anime boom was under way, granting any new label the ability to bring out a battery of shows, often offering financial shelter to dozens of people, not to mention english voice acting talent, the simple reality that the entire party was dancing on a limited tap. As evidenced by Carl Macek who once bemoaned the idea of subtitling, let alone bringing every title under the sun to growing legions of fans, there was a glaring warning sign hovering over the proceedings that call into question; just how much of this stuff is actually worth owning?

Television series come and go, that’s the nature of the beast. And not every show is worth keeping, let alone watching more than  once. Thus comes the fatal flaw in the anime as a hard media commodity scheme. The very idea that we are consumers are asked to pony up roughly 4-6 dollars per episode for a show that may not be worth a second viewing comes at odds with the movie collector’s mentality. The people ultimately know what they want, and will pay for it. The problem comes when we are inundated with the latest, and are essentially given no choice in between. When this happens, and our homes are buried with bricks of material that we cannot even give away- it presents a serious problem. So by the time bandwidth went hi-speed cable, the very idea of mindlessly selling was rendered instantly obsolete. Couple this with the Japanese studios ignoring potentially profitable crossover titles, and opting to merely cater to the otaku market, it is not unlike cutting one’s nose off to spite their face. Anime had gone global, and the first reaction was to pretend that outside markets behaved exactly the same as theirs.

Couple this with an increasingly sophisticated new culture of fans, read and willing to watch anime without need for localization. I know twelve-year-olds watching subtitled anime, who have no predilection to having their favorite shows in english. In another of the all-encompassing ways the internet has altered the world culture, the concept of localization was marginalized into something that no longer made any clear-cut sense. Dubs were practically created as a manner of course rather than a means to highlight the very best the medium had to offer. Entitlement had suddenly become something not only beholden to the fans, but to those relying on anime to pay the bills. (gross miscalculation)

And yes, while I agree that to a degree, fansubbing helped create something of a culture of entitlement, one has to remember that with any technological advent, progress is imperative for survival. What someone forgot to do was make this a major point of discussion while the floodgates opened around 2000. Especially when the medium had shifted toward discs containing DIGITAL material. With home systems utilizing the same language, this was the elephant in the room that noone seemed ready to confront. And this was a crucial first mistake. And yet the years after saw entire sets of shows reach prices of nearly 200+ dollars. As long as they sold, supposedly all would be fine. This almost collective state of denial continued as sales began to plummet around 2004-2005, which was around the time that anime productions began to shift more toward strictly otaku-bait material. The warning signs were emerging, and yet again, noone took action on the leak in the hull. As long as the guests topside were distracted by glitter and flash, all was okay. And the longer this took place, another culture was brewing, one with even less willingness to buy anything.

Either one molds the culture, or the culture molds you. By this point, convention numbers had reached impressive levels, but sales continued to decline. The variety of shows suddenly began to wane. Even as more shows seemed to appear, their diversity began to falter as more began to feed off each other in tropes and stories. There was little for this rabid fanbase to go in regards to anything that could possibly sustain itself in a financial sense. So naturally, with hi-speed internet being what it was, and little to no streaming service ready to take on the new era, piracy reached epidemic proportions. And merely telling them to stop was in no way a tennable strategy. Much like opening a shop in a town without the best neighborhood, one cannot do so without a good, manageable storefront and security system. Without it is not unlike an invitation…There. Said it. Piracy may be a terrible thing, but it is also an inevitable thing. This is not cynicism, this is pure unadulterated reality in most senses, and not merely business. And on the flip-side, fansubs have not provided any real value outside of filling the pirate void for over a decade now. If anything, the piracy and fan entitlement issue is merely a byproduct of inaction on the part of higher-ups unwilling to face the issue directly while the technology was evolving. The Ostrich Method has never been and will never be a sound business strategy.

As long as there is a culture of not merely need, but also want, piracy will always be.  And backpedalling such a slow realization is in no way a realistic reaction. Look at how it worked for Woodstock.

So when we look at all that has happened, it becomes more important to question how we got here, and where the real problem has festered, and what it has infected along the way. In a very real sense, it hurt everyone, and everyone is almost equally to blame for believing in the permanence of a medium that was built on an impermanent foundation. When one takes into account the reality that television was not designed specifically for shows, but for selling ads, the fallacy so many had been laboring under comes into view. We were all hit by it. Noone got off clean. The fans, the pirates, AND the industry are now in this difficult spot due to a continued assumption that physical media had a continued place in the sphere. It was a grand scale change that happened over several years, and one particular group of entities continued to pretend that it wasn’t happening. Many even backing out when they could have stayed and weathered the storm. For so many, the panic button seemed far too reasonable an option. All the while others continued to see hope in a place where we could actually meet the companies halfway by sampling the product before making an informed choice. It makes me so sad that many Japanese companies up and ran without taking a bold series of baby steps that could have helped lead the charge for a new, more promising entertainment landscape.

Like the wilderness, the internet is The Great Equalizer..It’s a terrible shame that so many industries seem so unwilling to step up to the challenge.

Blood C – kill ’em all Tomino hiding among the staff?

THIS IS FUCKING ENOUGH!!! NOW TURN RED-EYED ALREADY!!!

 

Good God, man! Stop the overflowing of blood! It’s massive and tiresome. And stop the kill them all plot line! I mean, sure, for the drama, THIS IS BLOOOOOOOOOD C! Right? But sheesh, this type of nearly complete overturning of character list by killing nearly 98 % of them is just way too fucking much.

This totally reminds me of Ga Rei Zero’s first episode, where we are introduced of a bunch of characters and starting to learn about them, on pretty decent terms, and then…

KillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKill…

They all fucking die! WTF???

And this time, we had over 7 episodes (before the death of one of the twins) to get to learn and like all the characters, before Tomino the show just decides to kill them all and pour buckets of blood upon us. I mean, Shit! This is so close to what B- flicks would do that it isn’t interesting, at all.

OK! We get it! It’s Blood C! But jesus, stop raining down blood on us! Or at least declare a formal WWIII on Saya and the audience first before the God of character-kill KILL THEM ALL TOMINO shows us his powers! Who the fuck summoned him, anyway?

The plot is supposed to be cranking up and becoming more and more relevant and clear, but the over-bloodiness is just too distracting even for this anime veteran. After all, there’s only so much killing that one can take in a non-B flick before he calls “mercy” or “give up”.

There was so much blood and so many established characters that died that the show became shitty. Spare us, please, but more importatntly,

Kill ’em all plots just doesn’t work in 2011. Please don’t fucking pull that shit again; it was even quite tiring when I saw it for Gundam V, which was made in 1989-1990.

Of course Tomino isn’t in this show, but this style is just so…sigh…

P.S. found the screen cap from the good reviewers here. And these people have great reasons to be angry about this shit!

Blade – a good action anime for a Japanese Sunday morning

I’m not a comic book guy and never read the comic, nor did I watch the movie, so I can only comment from an anime watcher’s point of view:

First of all, this is a good anime. It’s good not because of powerful emotions or particularly smart plots. As for the drama, it’s competently done without anything dragged out or overtly lacking. The overall feeling of the show is clean. There’s action, and there’s character interaction. It’s not nearly non-stop fights (like Wolverine), and it doesn’t talk too much without doing what’s at the core of this show. After all, this is a vampire action anime, and that’s what it delivers.

For people who read the American comic, you know more than I do. For people who are like me, you can simply find the background on wiki or ANN or MAL. So I won’t bother with that. I’m just going to give an honest opinion on this stuff.

I’m not a big fan of any anime with a male lead unless it’s harem. An anime about a muscle dude that kicks ass appeals to me even less. However, Blade is not just any other muscle guy that kicks ass. He is the definition of the line “always bet on black”. No, not the cheesiness and exploitation of color, but the fact that he always manages to find a way to win. However, compared with wolverine, I feel the show makes it so that Blade tend to just overpower his opponents at the last second. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the fluid animation (when it’s not still shots) shows that this man can battle, but I don’t see the finesse of a swordsman. I’m probably the minority here, but what I’m trying to say is that, because it’s mostly he goes out and cut down the monster group of the week, there is a  sense of lacking in substance in the fighting department. I dunno, maybe I’m just picky (that’s what I do). After all, Madhouse animation equals top-notch quality, nearly flawless fights, right?

This show is certainly no Claymore. And it lags far behind Ninja Scroll. It probably doesn’t even hold up to the much-less known but awesome Kurozuka…or many other Madhouse fighting shows. It’s competent and good, but it doesn’t quite get there.

The reason I’m harping on the action because it’s an action anime.

But see, for what it is, it does a great job doing what it promises. It does give us the fight, the drama of Eric (Blade) having to deal with the evil within. The stuff about how he had to kill the most important person in his life, how he remains unconvinced of any possible salvation or saving graces, and all that. I get the feeling comic book fans would like this anime just fine. It’s another good Sunday morning cartoon except for the Japanese audience.

With Akio Ozuka, a good veteran male seiyuu with years of experience, as Blade, adding a likable female lead, played by the pure-voiced songstress Maaya Sakamoto (unfortunately she doesn’t sing in this show), an easily identifiable villain, some encounters with people affected by vampire events in different ways, and a cheesy but understandable cameo (I mean, Clamp does cameos and cross-overs all the time), you have a winsome formula. And that’s what the show is trying to do, really.

It’s just I want more from Madhouse.

Bottom line: it’s a summer blockbuster without real solid substance and it’s obvious that Madhouse is fulfilling its contract with Marvel and doing a great job at it. And sometimes, that’s all we ask for.

It’s just that this is a little bland.

 

Conventional Wisdom: A Reflection on Congoing (Part 1)

Three Vignettes

2007, Long Beach Convention Center.

There is a man named Matt dressed as a Wii remote standing in front of me and my linemate Steve. We are waiting for the possibility of getting an autograph from Hirano Aya, and we’ve been waiting for two hours already. My new Panasonic video camera and its cigarette microphone are out for fan interviews: they were a great way to pass the time. I sometimes forget to press and hold down the “mic” button to ensure that Mr. Wiimote’s voice is picked up by the external mic and not the camera’s weak built-in one. The sound fades in and out abruptly in the footage. Despite some misgivings, I decide to leave it as is when I edit it, backed by the music of the Pillows. His enthusiasm and uniqueness more than made up for the lack of technical quality. After all, I wasn’t press or anyone from the “real media,” as I called it at the end of my last video that year. I was just trying to record my thoughts and feelings of being at an anime convention.

None of us ever got that autograph, of course.


Unreleased footage from AX 2009

2009, LA Convention Center.

I am sitting against the wall across from Petree Hall, cradling a borrowed video camera. We had just finished our joint panel, the Indecent Otaku Comedy Hour, which was fun, and flawed, and draining. The thought occurred to me that I should be out with my microphone in hand, interviewing the cosplayers for the video diary. But I barely had enough energy to lift my head, let alone summon the courage to talk to a stranger dressed up like Prinny, or Pedobear.

I turned the lens toward the passing crowd, pressed “record,” and said a few words into the microphone—I can’t remember exactly what. When I looked through my video archives to look for it, it was nowhere to be found. It was probably recorded over, replaced by footage that I never ended up releasing. There was no video diary that year, and there hasn’t been since.


This video was actually shot before the vignette that folllows, but it shows the spirit at work in it.

2010, LA Convention Center.

Five of us are hanging out in the press lounge on the next-to-last day of the convention. We are busy reviewing the footage captured both by the HD camera and Ray’s Sony Bloggie, as well as the pictures taken by the new DSLR. There are close ups of singers and cosplayers, footage of fan interviews and guest of honor interviews from the junket. Dan walks in after covering the Funimation industry panel and announces that he has gotten in touch with industry reps to get review copies. Jeremy has just finished his first review in a while, something which is a delight and a surprise. We fill the whole table, and we are the loudest in an otherwise quiet press lounge.

I lean back in my chair, watching ourselves sit and stand and pace about, the tools of our trade and all its wires scattered about the surface. I can’t help but grin. Soon it would be time for the Masquerade, which was held in the Nokia Theater that evening. The theater staff confiscate the Leatherman on my keychain. The costumes were nice but the skits still suck.


Evolution

Do I congratulate ourselves too much there? Very well, I congratulate ourselves. How could I not, when all of these wonderful people that I’m privileged to work with here have accomplished so much? They are why there’s anything here at all, and why we’ve gone even further since that moment of glory described above.

This series is a personal look at my years of convention-going, though, an attempt to distill the experiences of the past several years into something like a coherent statement. The vignettes were chosen to suggest the broad evolution of my “coverage” of conventions, from random video diaries to formal press. But while they were milestones, they don’t tell the whole story either: the endless Skype planning meetings, the hurried dinners at Denny’s before LA Live was built, the dramas that sometimes broke out, and the exhausted birthday toasts at the ESPN Sports Bar after a long day’s work. Because, now, conventions are work. Fulfilling work, but intense and sleep-depriving work, so that readers all over the world can catch a glimpse of what fans and guests alike are doing in the name of Japanese animation and manga.

It’s work, but most of all, it’s fun. There have been many lows as well as highs, but that core has always remained: I do this because I enjoy it. So the pursuit of happiness through anime convention coverage, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way, are the topics I’ll be writing about over the next week to close this summer’s con season.

Next time: Full Court Press, or, what it means for a blogger to be considered a member of the media

Summer Of The Flesh-Eating Otaku?

And so I finally get off my duff after some expected reminiscing, and whatnot to take a look at what some consider to be two of the summer season’s most promising shows. Say what I will about the current state of the industry, it at least feels like someone’s finally taking steps. That said, it is as if these steps are none too different from last seasons, or the one before it, albeit with a slightly more fierce cadence than usual. It is pretty known here, as well as on other writings elsewhere that I’m a pretty large fan of the horror genre. Growing up large with Lovecraft, King, & Poe was a massive part of growing up literate for me while the visual was defined by names like Romero, Carpenter, Cronenberg, Hooper & Fulci. So upon noticing that these two well-spoken-of shows embraced elements of western horror, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. (The ex-darkling in me has been ready for a horror-anime fix for quite some time.) Result-wise, I would say that the shows so far give off mixed signals that may be more economic than qualitatively bankrupt.

First on the roster is A-1’s supernatural series, Occult Academy that pits a petulant teen against the forces residing within the mysterious private school her recently deceased father curated as principal. Right away, the initial episode tinkers with multiple expectations to deliver a hint of fun to come. Not content with spelling out just how many fringe, occult, supernatural concepts will be toyed with, the initial episode is riddled with in-gags aimed at the cinephiles out there. (Notice the transporter right out of Cronenberg’s The Fly, The tower from Lang’s Metropolis, the nod to Evil Dead 2, as well as other benign references laced all over.) Introducing the story in the year, 1999 is a novel touch that readily hints at even time travel is a pretty cool way to keep us viewers off balance in what to expect,which is always a plus.

Regarding the central lead in Maya Kumashiro, she’s deceptively interesting as the scripting hints at a very intimate arc in the making. Being reunited with her estranged father after his death, the series seems to be playing up the gaps in their relationship as she continues to investigate the campus in the name of undoing the bad in their mutual pasts. This mixed with a labyrinthian campus, harboring some clearly nasty secrets is a pretty good setup for a character such as she. (even if I kept saying to myself, “if you’re going to run around a castle-like structure from monsters, please -TAKE OFF THE SHOES!) Even if the supporting cast seems to take a big backseat to her, it’s likely going to need balancing out as the series introduces her partner & comedic foil in time-leaping Uchida. The esoterics of the world,and the at-times kooky, yet tasteful humor make for an interesting high-wire act rare in series of this ilk. And Takahiro Chiba’s unique character designs only add more flavor to an already beguiling mix of character study & genre comedy. (also worthy of amusement is hearing bishounen seiyuu legend, Takehito Koyasu as the portly dowser, JK!)

And then came the zombies….

Okay, before sharing some thoughts on Madhouse’s High School Of The Dead, some primer words.

I’ve grown up a bit of a zombie fanatic. Few horror icons are as applicable as the zombie. In many ways, George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead is a penultimate blueprint for the apocalyptic drama. And in the earliest incarnations were a bleak & brilliant means of summoning the best and worst of human nature when placed in a pressure cooker. And when his sequel, Dawn Of The Dead shocked the world with its expanded vision of a thoughtless, self-consuming society finding solace in consumerism, the zombie movie was no longer just a brilliant metaphor, it became a license to print money and spawn a generation of mash-ups and imitators. Whether it was Fulci’s brutal Zombie series, the “zombies with guns(!!)” saga that is Nightmare City, the genie was out of the bottle. And it wasn’t until Dan O’ Bannon put a wily spin on matters with his Return Of The Living Dead that the trope had found irony and was quelled for several years as the stuff of comedy, and sent packing back into its well deserving grave. (see Peter Jackson’s Braindead for more proof)

That was until Danny Boyle’s contagion nightmare, 28 Days Later & Edgar Wright’s ingenious Shaun Of The Dead that the zombie genre experienced a sudden explosion to heights never before experienced by horror film in possibly a generation. It was even instrumental in bringing Mr. Romero back into the undead fray with new (yet terminally weaker) installments to his Dead saga. The advent of evolving, and even at times “running” zombies had ravaged the cinemas, inspired books, and slews of online activity unlike anything I had ever witnessed. So it felt like a (……..won’t say it)…natural thing for the flesh/brain eating masses to invade the anime world. Also funnier still, are my memories of a company president, and his love of american zombie flicks. This love leading to the creation of an internally made manga featuring the entire crew within the all-too-familiar confines of a zombeh holocaust.(* the archives of this little seen comic has since been lost in time, but is said to exist in places not the internet. If I could find it, it would most definitely be shared) But his love of Romero-isms (confined to an enclosed space with strangers, and low on ammunition as hordes of the creatures amass outside like oceans of motorized flesh & bone) was the stuff of office legend, which makes the release of both the manga and now anime release of Highschool Of The Dead that much more amusing to me. (“ahhh…they finally heard his prayers?”)

And so why is the show no-more than a middling parody/graftfest of anime cliches & stereotypes? The problems that follow this are of a more obvious nature when considering that the illustrated world has already experienced perhaps the pitch-perfect incarnation in ‘Kirkman & Moore’s long-running masterpiece The Walking Dead. Then again, perhaps this is why the producers here have decided on eschewing the seriousness of the genre, and goes full-bore with instant gratification at nearly every turn. From stock characters(including ditzy dead-weight ones that would sooner get you gored in minutes flat), to awkwardly staged fan service galore with the female characters, the show makes no bones about its trashy intentions. Coming from famed scribe, Yosuke Kuroda, one would expect more from a show taking on such a beloved staple of horror geekdom, but alas the exercise’s issues feel more desperately economic than a matter of being a straight-up misfire.

And yet, it is still a watchable show, in that oh-so base pleasure sort of manner in line with so many other shows of the last decade. But a part of me still mulls in the could-have-beens, like a post-Battle Royale work, where modern Japan is faced with the best representation of it’s own self-destructive nature. Now that would have been incredible. But instead, we have a zombie army invading yet another post KOR universe variation of high school crushes, and staid types(complete with well-endowed school doctor with all the grey matter of a gnat.)And the references keep coming as we even experience the already old “noble friend must kill infected buddy before he becomes one” trope, and even a song on the soundtrack resembles John Murphy’s classic track, In The House, In A Heartbeat.

But even then, the series feels as if it wants to function as a horror piece as well as a parody of tired anime tropes. Regardless, the show thus far works less than it should in this regard. So far, it has all the feel of a post-Romero gore fest, but lacks the visceral punch necessary to make it flow, nor does it have a clear agenda as to what the zombies represent this time out. At least in the west and in the 2000’s, it made a certain arcane sense before it just became another means of making green off of ravenous fanchildren. For all we know, in HOTD,… it’s representing the endless hordes of otaku, incapable of consuming anything new or inventive. Busting down doors for new renditions of exactly the same song.

Perhaps the otaku apocalypse is finally at hand? I hope so.

(btw-The Walking Dead are almost here!)

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

Anime Diet – Ray Reports 3, Saturday, June 5th

Enjoy the special Saturday report. The report will come out on weekdays only in the future. Ray discusses tobacco, wifus of the Anime Diet Staff, comments on Godin’s blog, a slut, and other topics. The pics for the show is after the cutaway.

Continue reading Anime Diet – Ray Reports 3, Saturday, June 5th

That’s Character: Where Is Kenichi Sonoda?

A continuing feature, giving the podium to one of the anime medium’s truly unsung heroes, the character designers.

Been picking the brain pan heavily lately on what it is that is truly missing in today’s anime sweepstakes. An oversimplified question to a much more complex issue to be true. And while I can also handpick a number of factors that have led us to a near barren wasteland of proto-moe cyborgs, and recycled plotlines(most of which are economic, I can assure you), I can also point to a massive singularity that’s been staring us in the face for years. Something that few have considered, but I have felt imperative to share with all of you now.

A lingering shame that has kept me wondering for years, even as I failed to grasp it at the forefront of my mind.

No Kenichi Sonoda,….anywhere.

Continue reading That’s Character: Where Is Kenichi Sonoda?

Bridging The Gap: The Spectre Of Beautiful Death

And to the faithful, death the gate of life. - John Milton
And to the faithful, death the gate of life. - John Milton

WARNING: This spiel contains potential spoilers for Superdimension Fortress Macross, as well as IDEON.

Okay. Fess up time. I love brevity in storytelling. Some creations go on far too long for my taste, despite the public’s often endless rabble-rousing for more. There’s just something to me that speaks greater volumes by leaving the viewer/reader with the faintest hint of more outside the page/frame. More often than not, the delivery of more tends to leave me disapointed, and more convinced that things would have been better off left behind, while new mythologies formed. That said, I am a big fan of when characters exit in the most dramatic way possible. That’s right. I love it when characters die. And die well. Call it sadistic, call it what you will. There’s just no way to describe the value of a good, wrenching character exit to throw the protagonists’ future into greater uncertainty.

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Jokes, Caprices, and Coincidences (Durarara! Thus Far..)

They were being driven to a prison, through no fault of their own, in all probability for life. In comparison, how much easier it would be to walk to the gallows than to this tomb of living horrors!

-Nellie Bly

Finally strapped myself in, and took a nice deep dive into the hellish wonders of Durarara! And for this reviewer, it can be shared with no uncertain issue, that it is easily one of the most consistently interesting series this year. As much as I’d love to spend the whole of this post to merely puncture myself to incessantly gush at any who’ll gawk about my positive feelings about the series, it only felt right to at first give a smal glimpse into what it is precisely that keeps me transfixed, drawing me further into its surreal comic nightmare.

Continue reading Jokes, Caprices, and Coincidences (Durarara! Thus Far..)