Tag Archives: spring 2012

The Short Review: Haiyore! Nyaruko-san

The pitch for the light novels that the Nyaruko-san franchise is based on must have been simple: “what if the Elder Gods of the Cthulu mythos were otaku, moe schoolgirls—oh, except for the trap?”Anyone who knows anything about HP Lovecraft’s work ought to have recoiled from such a proposal. And yet, here we are, with two Flash-animated series and now this fully-animated, Xebec-produced, anime, Haiyore! Nyaruko-san based on this premise.

And, shock and horror: it works.

I came to Nyaruko-san with only a glancing familiarity with the Cthulu mythos, primarily from having played a few short campaigns of the Call of Cthulu tabletop RPG with my high school buddies. So I got the SAN points references, and that most of the Cthulu knowledge actually came from the game than from the books. I didn’t get much else, and from what I’ve seen, this series is full of references, not just to Lovecraft’s sprawling mythos but to all corners of otaku culture too. What was refreshing is that I didn’t need to get everything to enjoy the show: the slapstick humor, the quick and energetic pacing, and above all the refusal of the show to take itself seriously made it a laugh-out-loud watch. I can only think of two or three moments where there is a touch of actual emotional sincerity not immediately undone by a joke—and that was enough. Any more and it would have simply been mawkish.

That Haiyore! Nyaruko-san works is also surprising given how insular and very otaku-centric it is. Ever since Haruhi Suzumiya appeared on the scene, anime has taken a lurch toward the meta, the otaku-pandering, and the niche. In this series, the Elder Gods are all otaku, in love with eroge, RPGs, and anime. Huge, world-threatening monsters are often after nothing more—or less, depending on your perspective—than otaku entertainment, which the aliens think actually is the whole of “Earth entertainment.”  One episode even features an unsubtle piece of contemporary political satire, lampooning certain Tokyo politicians who would censor manga and anime.

Most of time, I no longer find this sort of thing funny. Why is this a seeming exception?

It helps to have fun with the cliches even when you’re using them.

Aside from getting the basics of comedy right—fast pace, great comic timing (see all the moments when Kuuko and Hastur make their advances on Mahiro in reaction or in tandem with Nyaruko), and a lack of pretentiousness—it’s the contrast between the high and low that makes it work. Lovecraft’s mythos was intended to convey the terror of huge, unknown forces and beings outside of human control—to restore a kind of religious shock and awe that Lovecraft felt was missing from modern man.

To find out that these beings are…just running a theme park, and love nothing more than a stupid eroge? See, that’s funny. It cuts at the pretension that was never far from Lovecraft’s work, and nods at the fact that otaku entertainment is, in the grand scheme of things, kind of trivial. And this is not hard to understand, even if you miss the specific references. The buffoonery of all the characters is universal.

Haiyore! Nyaruko-san was my “easy to watch” dumb fun show of the season. It didn’t pretend to be anything more than that, and that was enough. This is one of the season’s unexpected winners.

Short Review Rating: 7.5/10

The Short Review: Dusk Maiden of Amnesia

The anime adaptation of Dusk Maiden of Amnesia (Tasogare Otome x Amnesia) is a lot like its title character, Yuuko: both have wild, inconsistent mood swings and moments where you wonder whether you’re still watching the same person, or show. The clumsy cobbling together of different moods and genres makes for a mediocre anime series.

The staff pedigree of Dusk Maiden held out some promise. Silver Link, the spin-off studio headed by SHAFT veteran and Shinbo acolyte Shin Oonuma (ef~a tale of memories/melodies), did a fine job with the Baka Test series in combining quirky humor, Oonuma’s Shinbo-esque visual stylings, and even the occasional serious scene.Maiden’sfirst episode, while gimmicky, promised at least some degree of cleverness in directing and approach. However, in retrospect, the basic strengths and weaknesses of the series were apparent even then: annoying side characters. Yuuko’s mostly appealing capriciousness, occasionally undermined by unnecessary fanservice. A rather diffident, blank slate of a male lead, the sort others have labeled “Insert-kun” or “Yuuji Everylead.”

The promise that is implicit at the beginning of every show, of course, is that we will see changes as it goes on. With the exception of Yuuko, the characters more or less remain the same as they were in episode 1. Our two leads fall in love, of course, though all of the personality and development is on Yuuko’s side. She is the most varied and thus interesting character, though the transitions between her moods are often clumsily handled; she is, in short, the most human character. And she’s dead.

The best moments in this show are simple ones like this.

Only two points seem to make Dusk Maiden stand out. First is Oonuma’s directorial technique, which was first shown to the world as being uniquely suited to portraying trauma in ef, and used to both comedic and dramatic effect in Baka Test. He repeats the performance in the single great episode of this series, episode 10—the flashback to Yuuko’s past. Oonuma’s ability to blend subjective and objective viewpoints, to actually show the fractured feeling of pain, is palpable. The overall way Yuuko’s light and dark halves interact is rather simplistic, but the execution of the flashback elevated it for a moment.

The second is the apparent subtext of the dark/light Yuuko story. Perhaps it is no accident that Yuuko is a ghost from the 1940s, who lives in denial of the terrible things that happened in that era, refusing to remember the acts of brutality that caused her to haunt the characters in the present. Could it be an allegory, albeit a clumsy and inexact one, of the way Japan has often been reluctant to face its own past in the Second World War and acknowledge it as part of their history? The analogy breaks down somewhat when pressed—Yuuko is the victim, not aggressor, though the images of human sacrifice cannot help but remind one of Unit 731 among other things. But Dusk Maiden is not the only series that features haunted schools from that era, and the show’s ending can be interpreted as a call to make peace with the past by taking it on directly.

That, frankly, is more interesting than what the show actually does with Yuuko’s character arc, which is a conventional anime romance marred by the standard “reset” ending, the bane of so many stories that won’t follow through on its convictions. (Even the otherwise wonderful Ano Natsu de Matteru did it.) When creators will learn that such endings destroy the emotional investment of the audience, I do not know. But that, the uneven pacing, and frequent resort to cliche preventDusk Maiden from being more than a mediocre series with occasional high points.

Short Review Rating: 7/10

The Brotherhood of Angst: Tsuritama, Kids on the Slope, and Male Bonding

On the surface, Kenji Nakamura’s Tsuritama and Shinichiro Watanabe’s Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon) couldn’t be more different. One series is a gently surreal, whimsical sci-fi fishing story with garish color choices and over-the-top acting. The other is a more realistic, musically inclined and historically rooted romantic drama. Yet, the structure of their stories and the way they use their central conceits are actually similar, and both are unique in that they spend more time than usual in developing the bonds and friendships between the male protagonists. They are quintessential teenage stories, but they don’t wallow in the adolescent mindset that a lot of lesser anime series inhabit.

Kids on the Slope (Apollon) is actually the more conventional of the two, in that it follows some fairly standard shoujo/josei romance dramatic tropes. The male characters can be slotted into well-known archetypes: studious-yet-sensitive bookworm (Kaoru), troubled-yet-kind outsider (Sentarou), rakish-yet-fascinating older man (Jun), even flamboyant boy (Seiji, though he is not presented in a positive light). Ri-chan fits the yearning schoolgirl caught between two loves, and Yurika the rich girl longing to break free from social expectations.

Of course, one could slot almost all the characters in Honey and Clover similarly, too. What counts, as always, is execution and character development, and in that Watanabe has excelled in giving the characters rich dialogue and subtext, amplifying the emotional conflicts with superb jazz performances—almost too superb to be believable, honestly, but as a dramatic device for expressing character feelings, it sure beats exposition.

The jazz performances, in fact, are the outward expression of the men’s inward bonds of friendship and family. Kaoru’s initial inability to swing and improvise reflect his cautious, timid nature, as Sentarou’s free drumming showcases his free spirit. They play well or badly together depending on the state of their relationship. Sentarou’s love of jazz was mentored by Jun, and whether Jun is there to play along on trumpet is a measure of how things are going in his life too. Not playing together is the ultimate sign of alienation. The “reunion” show between Sentarou and Kaoru is one of the most emotionally powerful concert scenes I’ve ever seen in anime, rivaling the Haruhi “God Knows” concert, in which the interplay between the piano and drums forms a kind of dialogue in itself.

Not only is it emotionally effective, but it gets the way jazz performance in particular really is a kind of dialogue in itself: the soloist is always playing off the rhythm section, the melody line, with plenty of call and response between instrumentalists. As unrealistically spectacular as these high school musicians are, I’m pleased to see that Watanabe and Kanno really understand deeply what the spirit of the music is. I won’t be surprised if this show leads many to start listening to the old masters and standards. It’s a lot more effective to show why the music is so emotionally compelling than simply give a technical or historical lesson.

I’d say actually that the male friendships depicted in the show are more interesting than the more conventional opposite-sex romances. Despite a few gestures here and there to get the BL fangirls excited, it’s actually a believable portrait of straight, close male friendship. There’s always this element of competition between Kaoru and Sentarou amid the musical rapport and sharing of their lives. Sentarou and Jun really are like brothers, in that they share similarities in personality and interests, one has closely mentored the other, and there is this contentiousness that constantly challenges them. Coming from a broken, mixed-race home, as well as being a religious minority as a Christian, Sentarou also has the burden of conflicted identity on top.

The real emotional heart of the series is how he and Kaoru deal with their upbringings and forge a bond despite their difficulties, with music as a catalyst. This is where the similarities with Tsuritama come in.

Tsuritama may use a completely different set of tropes and starting points than Apollon, but oddly enough ends up in a similar place in the character arcs of the main protagonists. In fact, with opposite sex romance virtually non-existent, it spends even more time on building up the male bonding than Apollon, and through a classic “man” activity to boot—fishing.

Look beyond the childlike, Prince Myshkin-esque Haru (who, oddly enough, actually plays a similar role that Sentarou does for Kaoru—he’s just a happy rather than troubled free spirit until recently) and you see another mentor-like relationship between Yuki and Natsuki. Natsuki and Yuki both have broken families in one way or another, and are both looking for brother and suitable father figures in their lives. Both Natsuki and Yuki end up expressing their developing selves through fishing: the training, equipment, and mastery of it, not unlike the way Kaoru’s learning of jazz and playing together with others signals his social growth. Tsuritama is, admittedly, much more a “fishing” show like Apollon is a “jazz” show, in that the equipment and technique is more lovingly detailed and explained—but this fades over time and the casting of lines, searching for the right bait, and the journeying out into the water become metaphors for what the characters need to do.

The sci-fi plot aspect of it, with Haru and his sister and Akira’s DUCK organization (a truly inspired comedic creation, I might add), almost seems incidental. The poignancy of it comes from seeing the recent episode’s troubles as an expression of Haru’s pain and desperation to hold on to friendship. Yuki’s grandmother, of course, sees it right away. Key to resolving the plot is resolving whatever is troubling Haru, and it won’t happen unless Yuki, Natsuki, and others who have become bonded through fishing work together to aid his quest. This is, of course, a classic quest plot in many ways, and it has emotional heft in the midst of the silliness because of the bonds that were built earlier through the fishing scenes.

It’s an interesting coincidence that Apollon and Tsuritama, which are possibly the two premiere series of this spring and helmed by great directors, would share that much in common. Perhaps this is a sign that anime is heading elsewhere after a few years of creative stagnation, and it’s going to be exciting to see where things are headed in this age of transition. Nevertheless, the virtues that both of them display—an understanding of how to work with theme, interesting and deep character interaction, and competent pacing and directing—are timeless. They both have, to borrow the slogan of one of my favorite burger joints, “quality you can taste.”

The Fujiko Telegrams: Lupin III Fujiko Mine 7

Continuing ElectricV01 & Wintermuted’s discussions regarding the new Lupin III television series event (Lupin III: Fujiko Mine), The Fujiko Telegrams is an in-the-moment blog/chatfest that’ll hopefully grant new and fun perspectives on the splashy return of one of anime/manga’s most enduring creations.

Wintermuted: No sooner do we follow one of the more symbolically ambitious episodes of this series, with one of the more narratively ambitious ones. Taking a wild page from the history books, Fujiko and Goemon are contacted to zero in on, and eventually assassinate, a celebrated Castro-esque leader after his island country’s liberation which has ruffled the feathers of many surrounding nations. We are flung back and forth between time periods before and after the dicey mission, offering us some interesting historical context for the series. And to top it off, the show’s thesis regarding Fujiko, and her motivations continues into some unexpected territory. Just curious as to your impressions this time..

ElectricV01: I enjoyed this episode a bit more than the previous one. I liked the alternate history take on the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it’s always a welcome addition when Goemon is around. Are Fujiko and Goemon out to start World War III or prevent it? Common sense tells you of course they are gonna save the day and probably miss out on their payday, but it was still a fun romp. Though honestly, what was with the weird names for the countries involved? Why couldn’t it just be America and the Soviet Union? Much oddness.

I immediately found the nation name-warping to be quite charming. Much like the way anime began avoiding product placement as money dwindled in the 1990s, it made more sense to turn this into something of a parody planet. And that’s just a smidge of what I dug about this episode, even if the more silly action we come to expect didn’t come into play until late in the game. In fact, a part of me really liked the constant darting back and forth between times before and closer to action day. It offered up a refreshingly believable story pace and sense of place.

Also worth making noise about was the score, specifically the Latin sounds of the mid-1960s, as well as the cultured mind of the would-be revolutionary Philadel, who is also quite charming and is actually capable of perhaps even inspiring Fujiko to act a little out of her usual bounds.

Faux News would say that obviously the director, writers, and animators are all communists for portraying an obvious Castro analog in such a positive light. Lucky for us, I’m fairly certain they aren’t even aware anime exists.

The name thing was weird to me, but I can see your point. I also liked the pacing in this episode. Great tension with the back and forth between the two countries’ war rooms, the fighter jets itching to shoot down the plane with Fujiko and Philadel inside, and the doomsday clock that almost felt like a character in its own right. And you are right, again we see a different side of Fujiko. It just serves as a reminder of how many different roles she really plays throughout the history of the Lupin franchise: lover, thief, antagonist, betrayer, babysitter… I’m not sure you can really pin one moniker on her. Maybe Femme Fatale, and she was the original in the world of anime and manga.

It was just exciting to see her almost flirt with something resembling noble this time. And like you say, it’s fascinating to see Yamamoto and company examine her many faces. I liked the brave approach toward Philadel as this almost suave, rockstar entity with a soul. It offered such a respite from the, dare I say it, selfish, obvious lot she tends to hang around. The little moments before and during the whole affair with the ousted government cronies offered an amount of gravitas that has been lacking throughout much of the series thus far.

But what of Goemon’s role here? Still not completely sure how he fit here.

The problem with Goemon traditionally is he is always used as a deus ex machina, which to be fair, comes with the territory of having a highly trained samurai with a sword that can cut through anything on your team. He’s there for when you get into a tough spot.

But the problem is that this gets boring. He usually doesn’t have anything to do until something needs to be cut. And while this episode sort of falls into that trap, the previous episode (#3) with Goemon wasn’t like that at all…which I think is one of the reasons I liked it so much. I like that Goemon in this series doesn’t know where he belongs yet. He knows he has this awesome sword and he has trained to use it to the pinnacle of his ability, but he is conflicted. He doesn’t know where he fits into the scheme of the world, or what to do with the power he has been given. In episode 3, he tries to be an assassin. That didn’t work and we know he knows that didn’t work from this episode as he doesn’t think killing is his forté. Hopefully when he finally finds his place in this reimagined Lupin world, it won’t be as Mr. Deus Ex Machina.

It’s just funny, imagining him as Fujiko’s “boyfriend”. They never figure out a way to make him work here, which I guess is counterbalanced by everything else. Now if only the episode had enough time to breathe, and drink in the tension as to whether Fujiko and Goemon could actually go through with the plan. As it works out, it feels slight, where one could easily see this being a much larger quandary.

But for what it presented in terms of time period, politics, and ultimately place, this had enough promise to get a pass from me. Now here’s hoping they take a cue from this, and add on more of this mature spin on the JFK era into the proceedings. I’d be excited for an irreverent Mad Men-esque bent to the world. The possibilities!

The style certainly fits. I just want an episode with the entire gang together working as a team. I don’t think I’m going to get that until (best guess) episode 13 though…

 

The Fujiko Telegrams: Lupin III Fujiko Mine 6

Continuing ElectricV01 & Wintermuted’s discussions regarding the new Lupin III television series event (Lupin III: Fujiko Mine), The Fujiko Telegrams is an in-the-moment blog/chatfest that’ll hopefully grant new and fun perspectives on the splashy return of one of anime/manga’s most enduring creations.

Wintermuted: After a relatively bumpy first half, the series up and pulls what seems to be the show’s true manifesto in this, unexpected and ultimately fascinating midpoint. Fujiko is suddenly a teacher at an idyllic all-girls private school which serves up a series of payoffs that may just make a few die hard fans either swoon, scream, or at the very least, raise some eyebrows. Practically taking charge and twisting up a “yuri” ideal ala Maria-sama Ga Miteru, and then doing a number on the male cast, this is modestly ballsy stuff. Thoughts, Dan?

ElectricV01: I’m surprised you felt that way, because honestly to me the first half of the episode felt like pandering.  By George, we must include some YURI in the show!  Having Fujiko make out with herself in the opening credits is not enough!  True, it turns out some of the yuri wasn’t yuri, and I liked how Lupin and Fujiko team up to outsmart (spoilers) Oscar, but overall this episode did not impress me at all.  It seemed very middle of the road.  Average.

Wintermuted: I had to watch it more than once to come to terms with what had transpired, and can humbly say that what’s going on here is pretty far from average when one considers everything that has come before. At least for me, the backdrop choice, the imagery of the school, and all the cliches that are borne from it (e.g., Fujiko working at the school under her well-worn name, and all the broken hearts in her wake) inevitably carry a unique purpose. To be fair, one could see eyes rolling to the back of my head come the first five minutes. But soon after, and once Zenigata’s bizarrely proficient and potentially imbalanced right hand-dude Oscar comes into the picture, we are suddenly in another thematic universe. In many ways, this is what I was hoping would happen sooner. A full blown solo caper that exists solely to offer counterbalance.

But considering the finale here, as well as some unique use of symbology, this is one ballsy episode that required a certain amount of setup—especially to those familiar with the Lupin world. And lastly, one cannot see the instantly uncharacteristic “yuri” elements to be pandering to any specific niche audience, when such a fandom could not be further from the often too grizzled and manly dimension of Lupin. It’s far too hard left to make work, unless it is meant to make a point—which I opine that it does, perhaps a little too finely though (talk about a flaming pen!).

ElectricV01: Meh. I just don’t see it. As soon as Fujiko was making out with students, it lost me. Maybe like you said there are hidden meanings about all the symbolism, and maybe it was poking fun at all the yuri type shows that the anime factories are pumping out, but if so it didn’t register with me. You and I are coming at this from completely different directions. You know a lot about these creators, their methods, what they have done before, and why they make certain choices. I am just looking at how the overall storytelling and characters are registering with me as a fan of everything Lupin.

And that said, I’m really, really sad how hit or miss this show has been for me. I love Lupin more than any other anime and I really want to love this show, but for me there are parts of it that just aren’t working. For example, last episode Lupin nearly had a conniption fit when it was insinuated (falsely) that Fujiko slept with Jigen, while in this episode he finds out she in fact slept with Zenigata and barely bats an eye at it. What the hell is that? It’s inconsistent.

Wintermuted: It’s possible that the series has in fact been toying with all of us from the getgo. There seems to be little consistency in regards to time with this series in general. There has been enough going on to suggest that none of this is happening in any linear fashion. And the one consistent theme has been of desire, and what many are willing to do for it. As the opening credits continuously suggests, it is asking itself, and its title character about her wishes, compulsions, and demons. And in choosing to use the world of feminine love as an opposing backdrop, the rest of the episode functions to isolate Fujiko as a being that cannot be satiated by mere notions of love and even material.

In this episode, the most popular student harbors a hopeless crush on Mine-sensei, which of course becomes the center of a caper involving the girl’s famous brother and a valuable thesis he has written. All the while Fujiko quotes Goethe regarding male vanity, and the depths of desire women covet. So when the tables are turned, and Oscar comes into the picture, the potential sexism of the whole series is turned upon its head. This is Fujiko’s world. And it’s one where the men are merely pawns to be played at will. It even goes so far as to boldly turn Lupin into a fallen example of a previously male-dominant world.

It’s so much less about story, and more about visualized nuance, which is extremely non-commercial. So yeah, new fans? Not likely to happen.

ElectricV01: I want story though DAMMIT! Story is important. Give me good story, or give me death! And, unfortunately, new fans is something a franchise like Lupin desperately needs. He is one of the most recognizable characters in Japan, yet I think the median age of his fans are like 40 to 50. I remember when I watched the first episode of this new series I thought this show was exactly what Lupin needed to bring new fans to the series. Give the visual style a much needed shot in the arm, while keeping the fun stories, and throw in a little bit more sexy time. You keep the old fans happy and bring in the new fans with the stunning visuals and fun adventure. Episode 1 is a perfect example of this.

Wintermuted: I can see that for sure. But in retrospect, that was mere prelude to what the show is actually interested in doing. And while the first episode featuring Jigen made me ready for a more visually unique spin on matters, a lot of repeat uses of motifs, lines, and images began to suggest something else in the cards. And even as I cringed at the jarring fourth episode, the suggestion there was enough to make me wonder what Yamamoto and crew were really looking to do. And this episode pretty much confirms my suspicions. The yuri elements are a forced means of conveying that this is not so much about Fujiko’s need to use men, or even be evil, but rather that she has no compunctions about doing this to ANYONE.

And what transpires from this revelation on, is consistent with the way the opening credits work, which is more akin to the characters of Lupin trapped in this dreamspace that questions their motivations. Motivations that lead to one simple conclusion—their reasoning pales to that of the desires of Fujiko. Why? Because Fujiko IS desire. And it’s something that knows no foreseen limits. The rest of the series is likely to continue working at this thesis not unlike an essay. The story work here is wonky, that’s for sure, but it’s very much an impressionistic take on character psychology that isn’t afraid to take chances.

Catch the Cagliostro take-down near the finale? If that isn’t manifesto, I don’t know what is!

ElectricV01: I’m not sure what you mean, I didn’t catch any obvious references to Cagliostro.  I’ll tell you one thing I did like about the episode was the scene where Lupin was running from the machine gun totting school girls while carrying “Isolde”. It pushed all the right nostalgic buttons. Also I still love the musical choices in this show. But yeah… other than that, this episode gets a distinct “meh” from me.

Wintermuted: On a story level, I guess I can see where you’re coming from. But once I caught myself saying “Is Fujiko pulling off what I think she is?” during the radio call, it hit me that I was on track with what is being done here. It’s a funny payoff to what I initially cringed at. Again, a long way to go for a punch to the ribs like that.The Cagliostro gag comes upon his rescue of “Isolde”, and his quiet moment with “her”. He begins his “I want no rewards” spiel, which eventually ends with a chase leading to him being gassed unconscious.(in a silhouette image that is very bold, not to mention distressing) Now a part of me feels like this audacious moment has two distinct reasons for being here:

a) To praise Monkey Punch, and give a kick to the pants of a certain Ghibli icon..

or

b) To render the general idea of the unstoppable male ideal of Lupin, impotent.

That’s right. If this entire series is happening within Fujiko’s mind, this imagery makes some truly confrontational sense. Yamamoto and company seem ready to turn the whole world of Lupin upside down in the name of both paying tribute to cinema, and even criticizing mores & gender notions of the past. While it may not be weaving a tight narrative, I do have to comment that this is something of a rarity to anime. (with possibly Casshern Sins as a unique exception)

ElectricV01: Umm… ok. I’m sorry man, I just don’t see it. That scene reminded me nothing of Cagliostro.  And I really don’t see anything different here in this series than in any previous ones where Fujiko or some other femme would outsmart Lupin from time to time. Lupin doesn’t always win. In fact in his old series, he barely ever escaped with the treasure and women always seemed to get the better of him.Because of this, I’ve never seen him as an unstoppable male ideal.

Doesn’t mean it’s not there, I just don’t see it.  Maybe the next episode will be different.

The Fujiko Telegrams: Lupin III Fujiko Mine 5

Continuing ElectricV01 & Wintermuted’s discussions regarding the new Lupin III television series event (Lupin III: Fujiko Mine), The Fujiko Telegrams is an in-the-moment blog/chatfest that’ll hopefully grant new and fun perspectives on the splashy return of one of anime/manga’s most enduring creations.

Now this is a little more like it. After what was almost a reason for me to consider dropping the series, up comes this nifty little story which at last pitts Magnum versus Walther while in search of a treasure within a newly found Egyptian pyramid. We also get a little more insight into Lupin’s personality regarding Fujiko, and to what absurd heights he will go for his “quarry”. More in tune with classic adventure/cliffhanger tales, this one’s light on story, but is at least told well enough to not be terribly offensive.

Agreed. Truth be told after last weeks… affair, it took me a while to want to jump back into the show. (My apologies to our readers for the late update on this. Completely my fault). While this episode was much better, having much more Lupin than any previous episode plus the return of Jigen, I still felt the taint of episode 4 and I had a hard time enjoying this adventure. For a first meeting between cast members, it does a decent job, but really not anything we haven’t seen before in previous stories. Of course Lupin and Jigen are gonna fight the first time they meet, and of course Fujiko is pulling the strings.

So one of the initial things I heard regarding the episode prior to my watching it was the absurd amount of frontal nudity. Twitter was flickering like a suburb during the Christmas season about this, which admittedly caused some concern on my part. If viewers had been paying attention to the series prior, this is not necessarily something to be surprised about. Was this to be more contemporary levels of service than has ever been for this franchise? So I jumped into matters with no shortage of trepidation.

Thankfully, my concerns were dashed after the initial scene, because for all the noise, it really all just takes place during one scene, but it is in “service” of the overall tone of the discussion between Lupin & Fujiko. It essentially emphasizes the master thief’s desire (ahem—commitment) toward attaining his objective, and it renders him something of an antiquated little pervert of a guy. Long & short, no matter the stakes, he will capture her. It’s a hopelessly retro moment, and she plays along knowingly, as if making sure he remains involved. Is it gratuitous & sexist? Yes. Is it cause for concern in regards to the Lupin franchise? Not at all.

This episode in particular? Have they not been watching this show? I didn’t feel this episode had any more or less nudity than any other so far in the series, with the possible exception of episode 3, which had next to none. And it did set the tone for the intro of a very typical/traditional Lupin story. Lupin steals something to try and get Fujiko’s affections, but she wants something bigger and steers him toward a mythical lost treasure—which, through odd circumstances and coincidences, Jigen is also after. I thought for sure Fujiko was going to be the one who hired Jigen to find the treasure as well, just so she could play the master thief against the master gunman and make off with the goods herself. But if that was the case it was never flat out said.

Overall, this was something of a standard episode punctuated by some very cool visuals. Leading on both men, Fujiko seems to have taken in what she has learned about both Lupin & Jigen, and woven an at-times silly scheme involving their best internal strategies. Lupin is good at getting in, while Jigen counterbalances to help them all escape. It’s amusing to see Jigen attempt to merely live the rest of his life far away from his past, only to get sucked back in and shacked up with a guy he could only imagine disliking. I did enjoy their interplay, and how Fujiko eventually plays them directly against one another just enough to help her attain a jewel peacock. And yet, they can’t keep themselves from drawing guns on each other!

This is also the first episode we see Fujiko fall into one of her more traditional roles from the old anime series: namely, the antagonist. She is the villain of this story. Part of her plot to get the peacock is supposed to involve the death of either Lupin or Jigen, as blood is needed to open the seal to the treasure. This is also probably the first episode where Fujiko’s greed makes her thoroughly unlikable, which again, is typical in any episode/story where she is cast as the bad guy…er girl. In episodes where she is bad, they don’t ever show her softer side unless it is her putting up a facade. So again, this is the creators playing with traditional Lupin tropes.

Yeah, there was a clear aim being taken with Fujiko’s role as manipulator and outright villain. It’s actually pretty amusing to see the boys essentially react to her greedy actions. One wonders if their enmity towards each other is really just leftover resentment toward her. In some respects, it explains quite a bit about what eventually happens with these guys.

Visually, it’s fascinating to see play out here as the crew is having to deal with a desert environment. And seeing this done as a hybrid old school work, we get some fascinating fire and sand work. It’s a wild jumble between eras that made me long for some old episodes again. Had a hard time deciding on screenshots this time.

And again, Egypt is another traditional Lupin locale. Also it was interesting to see Lupin get jealous at the thought of Fujiko possibly sleeping with Jigen. Which never happened, so I’m not sure where the whole “itsy bitsy” thing came from. I don’t remember her calling him that from episode 2. Still, if Lupin was that jealous of Jigen, he will probably flip out if he learns she “boinked” Zenigata…I think that is a discussion maybe for episode 6 though.

::laughs:: Oh man, IF ONLY. But yeah, that “itsy bitsy” thing came out of the blue. It felt not unlike calling Marty McFly “yellow”. When it comes down to it, it seems to have had a desired effect on both “professionals”.

Overall, this was a fun return to form, albeit still pretty lightweight as the series seems to be playing more on the many faces of Fujiko. While I wish the show offered more complexity, and less old-school gender politics, there was much to be enjoyed, scales and all. Now if only the sins of this show can help open up some truly unexpected treasure down the line.

My dearest Ri-chan

My dearest Ri-chan,

Screaming in the dark
I howl when we’re apart
Drag my teeth across your chest
to taste your beating heart

Park that car
Drop that phone
Sleep on the floor
Dream about me

Je jure de n’être plus sage
Je promets d’être sot
Tout mais pas l’indifférence

Yours Forever,

The Paper

The Magic Numbers – This Is A Song

The Submarines – Tigers

Snow Patrol – Set the Fire To the Third Bar

Barcelona – It’s About Time

Athlete – Half Light

Young Heretics – The Lost Loves

Agnes Kain – Keep Walking Or I’ll Kill You

The Do – On My Shoulders

Polly Scattergood – Please Don’t Touch

CALLmeKAT – My Sea

Macdonald Duck Eclair – Tip Tap Mac

Shrag – Rabbit Kids

Taken By Cars – Unidentified

Thrushes – Used To You

EMA – Marked

Avenue D – My Dirty South

Hello Saferide – 25 Days

Lucrecia – Counting Backwards

Spit Take: Why Mysterious Girlfriend X’s shock value works

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Everything seems fetishized in anime these days. We are living in a season where even guns are turned into moe loli girls. So why does Nazo no Kanojo (Mysterious Girlfriend) X stand out from the pack?

Let’s be honest: Urabe’s drool is fetishized in the anime, and more than in the manga. It pools, glistens, and drips. The camera lingers on it with close ups. As the series’ most obviously original conceit, the audience is shown the spit again and again as if the director—a veteran of Doraemon, for crying out loud—wanted to rub every otaku’s face in it: “see boys? How’s this different from your shimapan/zettai ryoukai/DFC/siscon? Huh? HUH?”

It reminds me of the story about a medieval saint where, being convicted of having lust in his heart for a woman, decided to take a piece of cloth that reminded him of her and take it with him everywhere until it became soiled and filthy. Rub your face in anything for too long and it becomes gross.

And let’s just say it: the drool is nasty. Purposely so, but still gross. Now from the perspective of a “normal,” a lot of the other otaku fetishes are gross too. But for people immersed in this subculture, where all the above listed database items are so commonplace that even I hardly bat an eye at their presence, it takes something a bit more outlandish to awaken the emotional reaction the creators intended. It has to jolt even otaku. What Flannery O’Connor once said when asked why her stories were so “grotesque” might be what this outsider director, and perhaps the mangaka, were thinking:

When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.

It was hard to get through the first episode. Especially when Urabe let an entire vomit tank full of spit. But along the way, and into the next few episodes, we are treated to something relatively rare in anime: teens figuring out how a relationship works beyond the stereotypical (hug, kiss, going to a movie…). How to appreciate the genuinely odd, beyond the standard list of moe “quirks”—magical, empathetic spit is definitely not moe and takes the story past the Manic Pixie Dream Girl cliche. It acknowledges that at least at this early stage, he doesn’t really know Urabe that well. No childhood friends here, or stalkers: she is, as the title says, still a mystery, as every human being is in both the unfamiliar and the mystical sense of souls having more depths than anyone but God can fathom.

What’s really interesting is that the mangaka, Riichi Ueshiba, actually made his intentions fairly clear about all this. He writes in an author’s note at the end of volume 2 about how decided to make his characters 16 because they are less likely to automatically have sex (as he imagines college-aged protagonists would) or simply be speechless around each other (as he suspects 13 year olds might be). He felt that 16 was just the right age to portray kids on the cusp of, but not quite into, full sexuality, and wanted to portray that delicious, dramatically pregnant tension:

If, by chance, this kind of delicate relationship was to emerge in our present day society, wouldn’t it most likely occur with 16 year old young adults?….This is because it’s around 16 when children are the most fragile, and tend to be uncertain about their life; and thus, I start all my stories at this time period, where the characters seem to start as children and make their way into adulthood. (Source)

His ideas of what ages kids start having sex aside, it’s clear that he desires to portray a certain time of life with a sense of emotional truth, and that comes through in the anime very well. Rather than pander to the cookie-cutter cliches of so much romance and harem anime, he wants to recover the genuine sense of strangeness that teenage boys feel around girls. In order to do that it had to look very different from most manga and anime: the 1990s styling. The not quite but yet sort of panty shot plus scissors—which thus gives the fan service a hint of menace each time. The very non-moe seiyuu playing Urabe, Ayako Yoshitani, for whom this is her first anime role.

Urabe herself is in control of her sexuality in ways that few anime/manga females are, too: eschewing the preset ways of being a couple, she has her own, um, unique ways of showing intimacy, often involving spit. Which makes Akira’s affection for her all the more engaging: while there’s something still forbidding about her he also appreciates and is learning to love her for who she is. This is much closer to the sort of love that lasting relationships are built on than what usually shows up in anime.

Mysterious Girlfriend X is a work conceived and executed by outsiders to the current anime scene, and it shows. And works. This is the biggest surprise of Spring 2012 for me, a season full of excellent shows already, and is hopefully a sign of more innovation to come. Here’s to hoping for another 2006.

The Fujiko Telegrams: Lupin III Fujiko Mine 4

Continuing ElectricV01 & Wintermuted’s discussions regarding the new Lupin III television series event (Lupin III: Fujiko Mine), The Fujiko Telegrams is an in-the-moment blog/chatfest that’ll hopefully grant new and fun perspectives on the splashy return of one of anime/manga’s most enduring creations.

Wintermuted: Now before we get into this, it might be good for me to make clear that I often encourage, and enjoy reinterpreting popular characters for future generations. One era’s character traits speak for their time, while others are more than ripe for reinvention.

So when we jump in here and share thoughts on an episode featuring the dogged Inspector Zenigata, as he plots to manipulate Fujiko, capture Lupin, all while attempting to snatch a priceless mask from the face of a famously scarred opera singer, what passes for a bold character alteration is perhaps the least of our worries.

So…you saw this first. Thoughts?

DCBebop: Hmmmmmmmm…

Well…

I didn’t completely hate the episode, but I really disliked it. So far we have had faithful yet modern reinterpretations of the main cast, but this was such a drastic change for Inspector Zenigata. He was misogynistic, crass, ruthless, and thoroughly unlikeable. It seemed his intent is killing Lupin, not capturing him. And the opening scene with him and Fujiko in this episode is something I never ever thought I would ever see, nor did I want too.

In one of our previous articles I mentioned that I was hoping the creators would make ole Pops more of a threat to Lupin and his gang, and to be fair he was a bit more ruthless in the original manga, but I really think they went too far.  They might as well have created a brand new detective character to chase Lupin, because this is not Zenigata…at all.

Yes. Seriously, this is a classic case of overzealous role reversal. It feels as if the writers were looking for a way to make Zenigata into something less boy scout-like, and much more like a man with a grudge. The problem here for me, is that it’s as if they underestimated another character’s potential in the process. While we have what is looking to be something of a more convoluted plot regarding Zenigata’s plan set amidst this opera drama. But the issue out of the gate is that the writers couldn’t decide what made for a compelling change. And considering his young charge, Oscar, this seems like a crucial creative mistake. Especially since it affects virtually everything else that’s to come in the show. It’s a bit of a hard left to deliver here when the show up to this point, has been vacillating between reinterpretation, and loving tribute. What this does feel like, is something of a troll to old fans—or perhaps even a dare..

Possibly. But you are right that this affects everything from here on out.  Part of the dynamic of the cast, particularly between the gang and Zenigata, has always been a game of “gotcha” without malicious intent.  Zenigata wants to capture Lupin because it’s his sworn duty and the honor of his family name is on the line, plus there is the fun of the chase, but he doesn’t want to kill him. This is always something the gang recognizes.  Now the gloves are off, and what would prevent Jigen or Goemon from killing Zenigata now that the detective is not bound by his duty and honor, but more seemingly some form of revenge?  It just doesn’t work for me at all.  Zenigata here is not honorable, he is the kind of man who tries to burn women with cigarettes.

And you mention Oscar, who is obviously in love with Zenigata in some form… which seems unnecessary… at least at this point.

Calling it: Oscar is the “worse” element that renders Zenigata into a less aggressive role. But the problem here, is that everything that happens in this episode seems forced, and unclear- which does nothing for the police end of the game that’s being set up. I guess where I’m coming from, is that without some manner of counterbalance, all we’re left with are the criminals. And while that’s fine and good, what made classic Lupin so much fun was the interplay between character morality, and the often gray humor to come from it. It also didn’t help that so many elements of the caper were laid out before the heist in a very haphazard fashion. It’s the kind of plot that required a bit more finesse in the setup and execution, and neither seem well thought out. Beginning to wonder if what I noticed last time has impacted the rest of the show.  I have another beef, which I’ll get into in a few.

Is it that this felt like an unfinished plot or story? Because that was my biggest beef with this episode other than the butchering of Zenigata’s character.  The episode just sort of ended abruptly.  There was no closure, no character wrap up, nothing.  I was like “That’s it?  What the hell?” Didn’t help I was already grumpy seeing Pops not be Pops. Also Lupin in this episode felt like a plot device and not a character. That bugged me. And I also can’t remember anything significant Fujiko did in the episode aside from “boinking” faux-Zenigata.  *shudders*

::laughs:: Exactly. It was as if the planning had fallen behind, that they hoped that it would get by on the “shock”, and the means by which the truth behind the mask would be revealed. And every other resolution to the episode relied so heavily on serendipity that it felt wasteful to even show us the varied wings of the opera house. The callback to the bees was also very clumsy. And all of this, as you say, more or less trivializes Lupin’s role in the episode.

But as I mentioned before, I can see Oscar becoming a betrayer-type as the series goes on. But it hardly matters as the balance has been shifted so dramatically in the name of mere shock. There needs to be a clearly thought-out reason this has happened, and as of now I can’t fathom why aside from two reasons: a) to “surprise” the viewers, and the big one in b) to link all of our characters by way of Fujiko as a crack in the moral armor of men in general. It also implies a “destiny” angle, which is questionable at best.

I hate “shock-value” plotting.  Comics do that too.  Bugs the hell out of me.  Boring, boring, boring, BIG SHOCKING THING YOU WEREN’T EXPECTING, boring, boring boring. It’s not good storytelling.  The only thing I can hope comes of this is Zenigata grows and learns to become the more honorable detective we have come to know.  Which I suppose is possible since this is a prequel, reimagining whatever you want to call it.

But yeah, overall, huge disappointment.  But I suppose every series has at least one stinker episode…right?

Yeah. At this point, I’m beginning to wonder just how much input Yamamoto has in this series, as I’m really worried that it’s almost completely mercenary. Granted the series is decidedly retro, even in its sexual politics, but by taking this option, the series has continued to view Fujiko as less a real character, and more a vessel for the weaker elements of men. While we get some amazing visuals from time to time, it’s hard to even say what audience this is being geared toward. This episode felt rushed and possibly even angrily put together, and that’s a spirit that really has little place being “jokey.” Tone is important, and the plot mechanics don’t seem there enough to warrant a functional episode. I really wanted to like Zenigata here, but this seems to be the last thing on anyone’s mind. Again, I don’t mind being shocking, but thematic reasoning needs to be put in place, and it needs to be told with enough efficiency. We don’t get much of that here. And that’s a damn shame as the setting seemed rife with possibility. (Oh, and it didn’t help that the denouement was essentially a “women are only happy when shacking up” screed.) Argh. What happened?

I don’t know but it’s irritating me just to think about it, so that is my cue to not think about it anymore.  Let’s just hope the next episode is better.

Kinda sad I went from being “I can’t wait for the next episode!” last time too “let’s hope the next one is better…” What a difference one lousy episode (and character interpretation) can make.

It is a hard thing to take back, too.  As a departure, it throws fans into some seriously strange territory. And as a character interpretation, it just seems lazily considered. But I was still able to attempt to parse out the issues that continued to dog it all. Change can be good, and heck, in more careful hands, this could have flirted with a darker rendition of the unflappable cop. But as it stands, it feels cheap—something the world of Lupin has no real room for. Let’s continue on, and just hope for the best. And at the very least, I’ll stick around for the package.

The Fujiko Telegrams: Lupin III Fujiko Mine, Episode 3

Continuing DCBebop & Wintermuted’s discussions regarding the new Lupin III television series event (Lupin III: Fujiko Mine), The Fujiko Telegrams is an in-the-moment blog/chatfest that’ll hopefully grant new and fun perspectives on the splashy return of one of anime/manga’s most enduring creations.

Wintermuted: So with the third episode, we are now transported to a more open European setting, as we are introduced to stoic but secretly soft-hearted samurai Goemon Ishikawaa. He stands between an assassination plot on Georg Trunk, an elderly king with a fight for an heir beginning to heat up, and some seriously valuable train cargo. Goemon, seemingly originally sent to pull off this assassination himself, eventually catches wind of a deeper plot, and unknowingly rubs elbows with Trunk’s grandchildren’s governess, Maria—who only just happens to be another false identity for you-know-who.

Something of an expansion and change of pace for the show, this episode attempts to do quite a bit for the atypical 22-minute running time. This Goemon episode was a bit sudden, and yet, as visually rich as expected for a fan tribute. Was wondering where you landed on it.

DCBebop: Personally I liked this episode quite a bit, and I really think that it felt like a complete throwback/homage to one of the earlier series. The plot in this episode is one I would have expected to see in the original green jacket or late in the red jacket series. That’s not a bad thing, but I agree it was a change of pace from what we had been seeing from this new series. Not as dark, and much more playful than the first two episodes.

What this does, actually, is it just makes me eager to see what the tone of the next episode will be like. I am still loving the animation of this series too, as it plays well in both the more dark gritty episodes like the Jigen one, and the opposite end of the spectrum like this most recent affair.

Wholly agreed on the visual palette on display here. There is so much experimentation and nuance in action, even in what is ostensibly a one-shot caper episode. The animation is in many ways more evocative of Russian techniques of the past, intermingled with anime techniques of the 1970s. And in that sense, this is a bit of a triumph. Being that the majority of this one is in daylight, or within the confines of a moving train, the lighting and speedline work is simply thrilling in places.

I suppose my main issues with this one is one of economy of storytelling. There were a number of nagging problems stemming likely from a need to maintain length. And even if I could just enjoy the general presentation, these issues nagged at me a great deal, particularly toward the end.

But yes, Goemon frightening children is something I had long been hoping to see..

And again, like the rest of the series, we get a perfect characterization for Goemon. Honorable, quickly frustrated, slightly confused and awkward around women, and a badass sword that can cut through anything. I also liked that we got to see another softer side of Fujiko in this episode that is usually reserved for only the more… Cagliostro-ish Lupin stories. It’s rare when this alternate aspect of her character surfaces. True, she always has an ulterior motive and something she wants to steal or take use to her advantage, but still you can’t help but wonder how much is an act and how much isn’t.

Another thing about these episodes so far is that they are actively reintroducing us to these characters one by one. We had one focused on Lupin, one on Jigen and this most recent one on Goemon. Will the next be about Zenigata? He had a brief appearance in episode one, and to me it looks like the bumbling incompetent cop he turned into over the years is gone and the character is back to to being the hard nosed badass detective he was originally.

I guess my biggest concern over this episode is that motivations are often glossed over in favor of just getting the episode in the can. Especially with Goemon’s confession of his presence to the targets: I can’t imagine anyone being so relaxed about it. And to make matters worse, Goemon’s first act as a hitman is such a doomed affair from the outset, one cannot help but wonder if there is any real reason as to why he even took up the option. For a series supposedly interested in something a little more character-driven, there is almost too much story here for one episode. One can’t help but wonder if this was initially meant to be a two-parter. This is also most evident in the episode’s final moment. It really does come out of nowhere.

I can see what you are saying, but in all honesty, while I was watching the episode none of those thoughts occurred to me. For example, when Goemon’s confessing “I’m the assassin hired to kill you,” there also happens to be a runaway train that seems to be a bit more of a pressing concern. Plus, even then it’s not like the guards were automatically trusting of the samurai…it’s just their guns happened to get cut in half so they couldn’t really do anything anyway. Like I said, I can see where you are coming from on that, but I kinda let it go as it was more or less the formula of a classic Lupin episode.

Something tells me that this was not a simple matter of budgetary or era-based limitations though. We do have two previous episodes that are pretty lean in story that they do not allow for such gaps to happen. But as I’ve previously said, it’s very possible that more was on the planning table before the episode went to production. While I had fun with it in places, I seemed much more in tune with the package than I was with the character work. Perhaps I was hoping that Goemon would have had a much more well-established start into the show, as opposed to a light romp.

That said, I love several moments of his here. (He and Duke Togo still compete for Spock status in my warped mind.) And I still feel like that need to make sure (true to old traditions of course) that Fujiko winding up naked somewhere didn’t come off as forced this time.

But as you said, they are lining up all the Lupin regulars. I guess another wish of mine would have been to see a solo Fujiko mission this early in the game as opposed to merely tagging us along for a nostalgia-fest. Though I am very excited about how Zenigata will make his impression with all soon.

It is worth noting that the nudity content was very toned down this episode. And I don’t think this episode is perfect either, but it was fun. As an introduction to Goemon, it does its job with an enjoyable and interesting story, though part of me kind of wishes we would have gotten a new adaptation on his first story in the manga. Though I shouldn’t be surprised, as this series is more or less starting a new history for these characters, and that’s fine too.

And you never know, maybe episode four will be all Fujiko, all the time. Or maybe reintroduce a classic Lupin villain like Pycal or, if we want Fujiko-centric, her old partner Pun.

This is very true. Should they opt for what I hope comes to pass—a Fujiko-centric episode that perhaps shows us new dimensions to her character, and in turn displays her abilities without any interference from the guys—I’ll definitely be engaged. From where I’m watching this, a show of this type is a golden opportunity to take what has worked in the past, and accent it with the storytelling techniques of now. And seeing as how I find Miss Mine to be one of the more intriguing turning points for women in manga, I guess one can only hope that the “retro-manly” world that is being built here gets thrown for a few unexpected loops..

Well, I think we will find out in the coming weeks if that is the case or not.  So far, I think this has been a real stand out series. I can’t wait for the next episode.