When anime has such a clear-eyed perspective on the zeitgest, I perk up. Imagine my bemused surprise when a medium so often concerned with appeasing our most questionable wishes, takes a well-timed potshot at itself. Personally, I love it when post-modernism is being used to comment on larger media concerns, and this little gag seemed aimed squarely at fans like me. So when I clicked PLAY on Yasuhiro Yoshiura‘s eight minute short, I was anticipating what Twitter dubbed to be a celebration of classic cinema imagery. What I saw, was the equivalent to a well-executed barside joke.
The Bureau Of Protosociety, takes place in a near nondescript future world where our remaining population lives deep underground. Clearly the result of some vague catastrophe that a clandestine committee continues to mull the cause and effect of. Several members, with screens surrounding them, grant us a window into possible apocalyptic scenarios that have led us to this completely sheltered existence. What ensues from here ranges from war, alien invasion, to plague. All strangely looking familiar while we’re talking about it.
But the references here aren’t what grabbed me most with this. The implication of such a piece, is that in a realm bereft of history, culture is often rendered meaningless. It’s especially biting to discover the nature of the citizenry and the bureau’s concerns over a developing uprising. Almost echoing current political concerns in Japan. A foolish lack of hindsight on the part of a populace, leading to perhaps one of the best summations of the current anime landscape I have seen in some time. (and it doesn’t hurt that the tune at the end brings back many a memory)
Among the many reasons why I have largely enjoyed the Animator Expo series, the ability to play things less commercial and safe remains my favorite. Yoshiura’s reverence for cult, and a bleak sarcasm that could rival bits of Space Dandy, makes this a special standout for those looking for something a little more biting than your usual televised fare. So what if it doesn’t run longer? It’s a nifty little mike drop that deserves your few minutes of snack time. And like all good anime diets, it is crucial that your in-betweens are a greater part of your self-nurturing side.
As raved about over Twitter just a short while ago, subscribers to Hulu Plus can now enjoy the recently released HD edition of Mamoru Oshii’s classic adaptation. Now alongside the later (and equally thrilling) television series’, Koukaku Kidotai has itself a nice little home base with the mega streaming service. Debate no more about Hollywood film renditions, irrelevant casting controversies, and just drink in why Production IG and company have Masamune Shirow’s crowning achievement well in hand with its exploration of political intrigue, cybercrime, and groundbreaking hybridization between science fiction and faith.
Memories come rushing back during Ghost’s initial US art house theater run via the folks at Manga Video, and just how well LA audiences reacted to Oshii’s vision. A vision that until this point was largely either unknown or patently ignored by westerners. Coming hot on the heels of the ultra-personal Patlabor 2, Ghost was a pretty unexpected theatrical and home video success story stateside. And considering the cinema world pre-Matrix, this somber and flawed mood poem had so much stacked against it, save for those who knew what a terrific coup between director and material this was. And when I say flawed, I mean this as pure compliment. Before INNOCENCE veered into near ancient library obscurity, Ghost finds itself beautifully poised between crime thriller and existential voyage. And despite it’s occasionally jarring three segment structure, it’s pretty hard to impossible to envision it work any other way.
It is Oshii at his thoughtful, grounded best.
This is especially cool news since the only version Hulu has had available for years was the irksome 2.0. Rust color and unnecessary bad CG no more!
Been quite busy these last few months, and while in the office, I tend to listen to co-workers dish out what they enjoy via their streaming. It has become a unique period in time, one where we are now awash in months- strike that. Hours worth of newly posted visual entertainment is available with a minimum of effort. Now what this does for someone like myself, is create an ever growing cushion of work that I can delve into whenever I feel the inkling. There is an immediacy to the newly released piece of hard media that feels like a special secret had landed upon the doorstep. An effect that doesn’t have the same impact with near real-time online release. Sure, a few seasons have expressed some truly enjoyable work from numerous studios without my making a peep. But to cave in to habitual watching for the sake of it, remains a questionable prospect to me. When I hear said co-workers chirp in excitement over the latest episodes of whatever new series is on Hulu or Netflix, there is a near instinct on my part to either ignore it, or heap it onto the ever growing pile of “not likelies” that have begun to amass since at least 2008.
When only one show has you by the cerebellum, unwilling to let go, it may be time to re-evaluate what we watch, and why we do.
Having reached that hallowed (or is it feared?) fortieth year, there is a natural inclination to seek out work that not only best sums up who you are, but considers where all are going. Which is probably why Kill La Kill continues to shine in my wheelhouse over everything else. Sure, it’s a series that began a year prior, but on its plate were a number of concerns and fetishism that harkened to the more rough and tumble aspects of classic anime, while still being rowdy enough to question the now. This is vital to me in all forms of art. We can continue to laud dramatic effect, and strive for perfection, but one cannot help but wonder why this is even necessary in a landscape that often pathologically avoids reason. Which isn’t to say that creative works cannot move forward, and offer up more articulate means of expressing the anime paradigm. But to forget that so much of the stuff is often knee-jerk in nature, is kind of detrimental to its identity. It’s a delicate dance. And every so often it is nice to be knocked wobbly by a work so uninterested in recently established rules.
It’s all about the questions.
Why anime? Why escapism? Why indulge?
We could use any number of reason/excuse. And while this may trouble some as a statement, I have no issue in admitting that with age, comes less room for trumped-up reasons for being so willing to be cast away into realms of fantasy. And as time has shifted, and films like INTERSTELLAR and EDGE OF TOMORROW, explore previously trodden anime territory, does one come to the revelation that it is not merely enough to call a conceit a conceit, but to ask why it exists these stories at all. This is at the very heart of the current me, and what it means to take in a work, and find our own individual answers. The problem with overindulgence, is that it often becomes a substitute for personal rumination, and thereby epiphany. We stuff ourselves with so much input, that we deprive ourselves of enough energy or time to respond in a work or even a conversation. I cannot tell you how many times I listen to a media fan gasp excitedly about what they have just watched without considering the whys and hows of such choices. It is often only about the existence of this captured moment.
So many subcultures thrive on the idea of the find, rather than the hard work it often requires to create an organic relationship with the work. Be this relationship one of harmony, antipathy, or even “it’s complicated”. It’s how we embrace the creative output of a select few individuals that allows us to think, recept to , and perhaps enact based upon. Which is probably why, as an individual, I tend not to take character “types”, or tropes terribly seriously. They are simply shorthand for other things. And the more one studies about how these come about, or how they are arbitrarily plugged into works, does one need to pull back to see the greater mosaic of the creative process. Like a freeway, some stick to their safest lanes, while others hop erratically, in search of that miracle means of getting to a destination faster. And then there are those few, who understand the flow of traffic, and seek to become one with the entire circuit. Willing to make the freeway an extension of themselves. And once this comes together, it becomes easier to filter through all the roughage we are inundated with on a regular basis now.
Like any good diet, it becomes essential to read up, know the ingredients, and consume accordingly.
And hey, output is important too. Never let anyone tell you different.
And so with self-expulsion comes long-sought intention. Flirtation with the unfamiliar, and an attraction to all things id. What can be perceived as broken and dangerous to some, just might be liberation for others. Finally caught up with the misadventures of Takao & Nakamura when matters became abundantly transparent that the entire series has in fact revolved around a very simple concern that plagues many a creative talent; whether the work is endemic to a continuing, organic process, or merely additional fodder for mass consumption. (and that high school life itself can be seen as a working analogue for this) A merging of form and function is at the center of this affair, and it has little to do with maintaining a vanilla existence – which is often everything that anime safely represents ad-infinitum.
While over the course of several weeks already, we have seen our lead character’s indiscretion become something of a spark for all manner of internal conflict. From the onset, we are privy to his bookish nature, his curiosity for the darker corners of life’s domain. And yet we are also allowed to understand his need to be embedded within the collective in some manner, no matter how slight in his adoration of Saeki, a classmate with which he cannot help but feel represents something of a sanctuary in a world he sees rotting from all corners. How funny it all is when the caustically antisocial Nakamura enters his life, and sees Takao as some form of externalizing force for her rage, something far more volatile than his own concerns. How strange it is then, that the show has done quite a spirited job at offering attractive glimpses at both roads Takao can choose for himself. Saeki (and in turn, his mother) representing a domestic world packed with sincerity amongst so much data defect, and conformity. Whereas Nakamura is an unwitting emissary of a much-required deviation from this world. A kindred which is using a bevy on repressed angst, and emotion to whatever end. While both have their respective dangers, they also carry with them some manner of very real desires, ever at conflict with one another.
There also seems to be an unspoken choice which is implied by his subsequent actions throughout the story that is never verbalized, and yet seems on the edge of virtually every rash decision; that expression manifests as it will, whether the bearer of such feelings recognize them or not. That the outlet of art is often one of compulsion, and not as much a matter of practicality.
A facsimile versus an authentic portrait. A photograph, or a personally nuanced drawing? This is where Aku No Hana resides as of episode 10. In this series, form and function are paramount, and as our leads struggle to best grasp what it is they truly wish for, while it won’t always be pretty, it is perhaps in the name of all that it is to be young that it be as ungraceful as humanly possible. Even when one wishes to look away, there is something undeniably true about a collective sigh versus a scream. And even when a reviewer cannot agree with the choices of a character, there is also an implicit understanding of life within certain guidelines that occasionally requires aberrant types to balance out the larger equations.
Many of my own personal inspirations have opined that the creative impulse is something embedded within all of us, yet not all of us feel it knocking as loudly as it does with others. Pop music icon, Bjork once even stated that her shifts in musical tone have been so not because of some need for her work to be impenetrable, but because of a deeply rooted compulsion to do so. That these things spring forth as they will, and WILL manifest one way or another. It becomes less a matter of economics as it is one of lava that is primed to escape the crust, ever closer to bursting. That a minor few find themselves in this predicament, often very early in life, and is often something that mainstream society isn’t willing to accept, or is adamant about stamping out. The Takaos and Nakamuras of the world, for all their unspoken pains, have a need to produce, to quantify and expose their findings, society be damned. And while they flirt endlessly with ideas that are on a surface misanthropic and strange, could the alternative provide a reasonable, honest equivalent?
A nasty paradox..
While so many detractors have complained regarding the show’s presentation and pace, it is with a happy heart that I look at views such as this with fondness, as if I once knew a time when such feelings were as natural as breathing. To be confronted with something this stark, this honest, it is often the last thing many fan-types find themselves either interested in, or willing to submit themselves to. This series demands to be seen on its own terms, and that in and of itself is worth shouting about. The choices are more than clear at this point, and to imagine that we have a show like this airing right now is akin to a miracle. It simply shouldn’t be happening – and that..is invigorating.
The only thing worse than offering a break from the expected, is to turn one’s back on it at the last moment. Which is exactly what it feels like watching the latter half of Lupin III’s return to TV. About a good half of the show seems hellbent on showing us some new dimensions to what are ostensibly a cadre of unbreakable, traditional characters. So imagine my response when upon the show’s final episode opts for a neat-fitting return to status-quo. It’s not wholly unexpected, but seriously- this is what it means to cower in the face of making your own name. It is the powers that be getting cold feet, and backing off when the world has indeed been ready for something new.
To support this stance; a little look back at previous episodes not covered in The Fujiko Telegrams-
(But first, a look back at an earlier installment.)
Episode Six: Prison Of Love
“Women never show themselves in natural form.”
What may look to many as a means of catering to an unexpected audience, a lot of this school-centric episode is playing directly with gender expectation, as well as with yuri-bait imagery and themes. It is here that we get a bigger hint of the kind of dangerous character Zenigata’s charge in Oscar truly is. Clearly the product of some truly confused bouts of sexual repression, his only true aim, is in punishing the feminine in his own warped manner. He lives as a shining example of an old world’s values at odds with the manner of independent creature Fujiko is. She, herself a reaction to the popular social tenets of the day, is unconcerned with what is supposed to be her “place”.
Which leads to some truly telling revelations regarding the potential of the series.
Flash Forward to
Episode Eight: Dying Day
Renowned fortune teller, Shitoto’s source of foresight is stolen by Fujiko, leading to some disturbing information regarding her past. And even though the episode features a decent amount of Lupin, attempting to clear his name of several deaths, this one attempts to reveal more than has ever been attempted with these characters. Mamo lookalike aside, the show offers up flashbacks of a nighmarish childhood, visions of terrible abuse, and a decidedly dark ending. But the theme of repressed/abused femininity is made explicitly clear, charting new territory which had never really been explored before in any incarnation of the franchise.
Episode Nine: Love Wreathed In Steam
What again on the surface starts like a more routine Lupin & Goemon on a merry chase episode, becomes a more troubling look at femininity as commodity, and of the greater questions of pathology the series seems to be ready to ask. In nearly one fell swoop, this one over nearly the entire series, is the one with a great deal more on its mind than the expected sexy caper action many come to expect. With Lupin & Goemon attempting to protect a legendary illustrated woman from a gun-toting, clearly deranged Fujiko, we have an example of a socially accepted chain in dire need of breaking. Bringing Lupin up to speed on what makes Fujiko so attractive, yet so terrifying, while not completely convincing, is fascinating. The show at this point is at the door, banging loudly at a world that women like Fujiko were born in, and forced to exist with.
Episode Ten: Ghost Town (Story by Monkey Punch)
As we follow the dark path laid forth by the previous episodes, we now find ourselves in the belly of the beast as Lupin is tapped by the enigmatic organization surrounding the narrative, and seeks out to find the truth, and discovers a long thought abandoned wreck of a town. A place of terrible memories, and an even worse aftermath. It is here that we tie together numerous dangling plot threads, and also meet a figure from Fujiko’s past that may make some eyebrows levitate. But at the core here, is that Lupin is caught in the middle of something here that offers up an unusually dire set of circumstances. The show seems primed and ready to take itself into some bold, new areas.
Episode Eleven: Feast Of Fools
As a ramp-up of sorts to the two-part finale, we get our ultimate Oscar episode which again taps into pathology, this time within the obsessive mind of our “lawful” foil. And what ensues is something of a jumble as Oscar attempts to put a final kabosh on Fujiko, but is well worth the watch due to containing one of the series’ most visually impressive scenes as he explains “the perfect plan”. And naturally the episode is a bit packed on the event side as things careen toward a finale of sorts, but not before an explosive finish. At this point, worry began to settle in as it feels very much like the new wrinkles in the “mythos” might easily go in problematic directions.
Episodes twelve & thirteen: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine
The big finish is a wild, noisy two-parter in which Zenigata joins Fujiko in finally facing up to the spectre of her past, Count Luis Yu Almeida. Possibly the man most responsible for the Fujiko we know so well. They, later joined by the Lupin and the rest of the gang finally converge on a terrifying amusement park (House Of Fujiko), and the disturbing secrets within. The final connections between the second and first halves come together, but in such a wayward fashion, it makes the brain throb just to think about it. Were these the answers all were seeking? That we were? Where am I? What is happening? I thought we were doing something ne- Forget it…
And so the real problems pile up when considering all that came before. That this was to be a Lupin series with the focus shifted toward a popular supporting character that was never truly given her due, and could do with a more contemporary slant. Even from a retro-standpoint, this was something that had never really been given much thought in any rendition of the Lupin franchise prior. Definitely a product of a bygone era, Fujiko is something of a masculine vision of a “liberated” woman, and something of a negative one at that to be frank. What we ended up receiving here was closer to being caught between two potential justifications for this famous character’s demeanor and perplexing nature. And while the show is in fact set in very much the same world that the characters originated, shows are far more capable now of adding dimension to these initially very simple archetypes. So when Fujiko Mine begins to wander into potentially groundbreaking new areas with a revealing backstory of our title character, it seems that the very notion that a rare quantity such as a female anime director would be capable of saying something forward & bold with the palette she has. But as it stands, the finale grinds to a halt when it openly admits that nothing could possibly change, and that this is all the justification she needs. Something which can in some respects make some of the more patient old guard fans happy, and the rest potentially frustrated.
This halfhearted attempt at selling off Fujiko as a victim, only to revert to old notions of empowerment is the kind of misstep that undermines the entire series, and makes it hard to recommend for anyone other than animation fans, or those looking for something out of the realm of contemporary anime norms. Both options end up being unsatisfactory, to be fair. But what we have, is perhaps those in charge buckling at the last moment, unwilling to break with tradition, and caving in to old hat misogyny, and objectification. Not that it was not there throughout the series, but it at least seemed ready to question all of it. The world has moved by great bounds since the inception of Fujiko Mine. To see that denied proper reflection with such an aesthetically unique, and potentially forward-thinking series is a bit of a tragedy.
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.
Episode Two: .357 Magnum
Wintermuted: Talk about unexpected wonderment. The second episode wastes no time in offering what is both a clever nod to the classic Bond films, as well as the colorfully cool movies of one Seijun Suzuki, in what is a smooth, moody way to introduce master marksman, Daisuke Jigen. If there was ever a moment that screamed Dai Sato (Bebop co-writer) to me, this episode was it. Not as comedic and overt in the action realm as the previous, it does a pretty solid job in setting up another famous rivalry. It’s always cool when these stories take a little extra time to explore what are ostensibly archetypes. But in pitting Fujiko against the often stone-cold Jigen, who starts as an implicated bodyguard for a troubled crime syndicate’s leader, this was an almost tonal about face.
ElectricV01: And again a perfect interpretation of the character. Jigen has long been one of my favorite anime characters, and this episode really focused on what pre-Lupin Jigen is like. Like in all past incarnations of his character, before he meets Lupin, he is as you put it “stone cold.” He doesn’t really loosen up and let himself have fun until after partnering up with the master thief. Jigen in every previous version also has had an intense distrust in women, especially Fujiko, and it is quite nice to see where this distrust may had stemmed from. This episode had a nice film noir-ish feeling to it I really liked. It was only missing the classic detective narration. Less on the funny action as you said, but again that fit the story this week.
It’s especially fun, as we get a glimpse into each character’s internal politics prior to meeting Fujiko, who seems to fly in the face of these, with varying results..
Exactly, and each character so far has emerged from the encounter with this femme fatale changed in some way. Lupin finding something new worth chasing to relieve his boredom and Jigen some closure to his past. I’m curious to how Goemon is going to factor into this dynamic. In the original manga and green jacket series, the group first meets Goemon when Fujiko is posing as his fiance, and I’m curious if we will see a new interpretation of that classic story at some point in this new series .
Judging from the latest episode, we’re getting a peek at some new rendition of this meeting for sure. But when I continue thinking about the Jigen episode, I love how it again reinforces the dynamic that women in the world of Lupin often have to resort to their cunning, and sense of gall in the face of a so-called “man’s world”. Ciccolina makes for an interesting precursor/counterpoint to Fujiko, in that she perhaps commits far worse things in the name of desperately altering her fate. She remains relatable, but only in a sense that roles for women in the era the show is portraying…are very limited. Fujiko is a new brand of woman to this universe, and as such, comes off as something perhaps an “old fashioned” guy like Jigen cannot fathom. He’s super cool in this episode, but it’s clear he’s cornered into making some manner of evaluation. The life of a yojimbo just wasn’t going to cut it anymore..Especially after that.
Yep, and we should mention Kiyoshi Kobayashi, who has been voicing Jigen since the very first Lupin anime. In fact he is the only remaining original cast member, and he’s as good as ever. Also I am really digging Miyuki Sawashiro as the new voice of Fujiko. She is doing a great job so far.
Was wondering if it was still Kobayashi! It all seemed too perfect an impersonation. I also adore Kanchi Kurita’s take on the legendary Yasuo Yamada. Yes, the performances thus far have been more than a little faithful to the original cast. And the new members have done quite a lovely job of retaining the essence of the world, as well as the characters. Sawashiro is most definitely the most impressive addition in the title role. So far, just about every element, down to the audio mix of the series has impressed me thus far.
Also wanted to reiterate that the general presentation of the series has been a most exciting one that takes full advantage of techniques that have only altered the visual vernacular of anime recently. This mixed with some good writing, and performances, and you have a really cool start to what is promising to be a welcome ride.
So what of the recently released third episode? The beans have been spilled. What of our favorite stoic swordsman? I guess you’ll have to tune in to find out!
I have cut an unworthy object… I hope he says that!
Whoa. 2012 is has been off to a brisk start, and Spring seems to already be in the air. And even though the year has started off without a surprise breakout a la Madoka, one cannot help but feel like some greatness in the form of old favorites, the long awaited return of a genre-bending master, and more seem to be on the horizon. And not merely in regards to shows and films (although there are a few worth making noise about here), but in ventures that could very well change the anime market landscape for the better. To be completely honest, it has been a truly long time since someone like me has felt any real modicum of excitement about the coming months.
So let’s give a few moments to consider these potentially mark-making projects, and what they could possibly offer.
1. Uchu Senkan Yamato 2199
You guys have no idea how thrilled I am for this massive revival project. Far better than any of the previous movie attempts to resurrect Nishizaki/Matsumoto’s science fiction allegory classic, this big budget retelling of the Voyage To Iscandar has an equally large pedigree of talent and familiarity. It’s a project so large in ambition, the first 50 minutes of the series is to be premiered in a few weeks in select theatres in Japan on April 7th. Sporting modern animation, featuring some unique takes on all-time favorite characters via Nobuteru Yuuki (Escaflowne, Harlock Saga, X/1999,etc), and impressively updated mechanical works by way of Makoto Kobayashi (Super Atragon, Last Exile, Steamboy). For seiyuu fans, seeing Daisuke Ono cast as Susumu Kodai was definitely an eyebrow raiser. And most standout is the appointing of former mecha-design icon, Yutaka Izibuchi (Patlabor).
This is perhaps one of the more standout decisions for me as I remain in that cult of folks who happened to deeply enjoy his directorial work on RahXephon, so when considering such a huge heritage inheritance, this in many ways feels very appropriate. And even if the rest of the series won’t be seeing TV screens until next year sometime, there is no shortage of high hopes for what could very well be a stellar reinterpretation of one of anime’s greatest sagas. Among the recently developing news regarding the project continues to come in, noted fans like Tim (www.starblazers.com) Eldred , and August Ragone have been doing a bang-up job keeping English speaking fans up-to-date. Most recently through the pipeline is an announcement that the upcoming Blu-ray release of the first two episodes will be coming complete with English subs!
Yamato remains to many as one of the medium’s most heralded mythologies, and it looks like no expense will be spared in the months to come—all in hopes of bringing such a universal story to an entirely new audience while being deeply reverent to fans of the past.
2. Sakamichi No Apollon
A long injustice seems primed to come to an end. Despite a few scattered projects where his hand could only be seen in select areas (Star Driver, Michiko To Hatchin), director Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo) returns with a secret weapon for this period series centering on young jazz lovers during the 1960s.
There isn’t a whole lot to report regarding this at the moment, but mere words cannot express just how long the medium has felt something wholly missing. And while the criminally underseen Hatchin contained a great deal of Watanabe’s signature touch, there simply hasn’t been much of a truly international flavor to anime in a while. Budget concerns from studios aside, a void has certainly been there without Watanabe’s knowing, confident vibe permeating through a television work. Not to mention that his last big series, Samurai Champloo, despite its deserved place in the pantheon of wildly original pieces of “ought” anime shows, was also missing an element that made Bebop such an iconic achievement: Yoko Kanno. The very idea that Kanno is hard at work complimenting the aural space of Apollon is reason enough to celebrate. But to consider that they haven’t worked on a major project since Cowboy Bebop: Knocking On Heaven’s Door (2001), is just plain perplexing as their styles feel synergistic to a fault (even going back to their mutual work on the OVA favorite, Macross Plus), and considering the source material in Yuki Kodama’s manga. It’s very possible that we’ll be witnessing something of a mutual labor of love, which can translate into some truly unique, personal work.
3.) Feature Films
There’s also feature films waiting in the wings, such as the latest from Mamoru Hosoda, as well as the return of a massive revival which seems primed to delve into uncharted territory.
Well, the early teaser pretty much confirms it; Hosoda is ready to assume the populist throne from Miyazaki with his latest movie effort, The Wolf Children Ame And Yuki, a lushly animated tale that takes place largely in the countryside, centering on a single-parent family with a pair of wolf-children. It’s really hard to say where it will be going, but there is definitely a Tonari No Totoro vibe going on here, which is interesting. Being almost completely bereft of technological imagery does give off a feeling of newness to Hosoda’s usual repertoire, so it can go either way quite easily.
And we don’t really have to spend too much time left speculating what Studio Khara has in store for Evangelion fans when the third Rebuild film, Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo comes this Fall. And in lieu of very real disaster, it will be truly fascinating to see where this rendition of the mecha classic will go. Having pretty much obliterated the original story with the finale of 2.0, we(and the creators) will now be in completely virgin territory which can only remind one like me of the days between episodes of the original series, which seemed like a painful eternity. So, magnify that by a couple of years…I’ll wait..
Is the stunning, hint-laden bombshell that was shared over at ANNCast last week. It was dropped by anime simulcast translator & subtitler Sam Pinansky, who also shared quite a bit regarding the process of keeping up to speed with bringing anime to streaming screens. But what he could only talk around at the moment hints at a future of not only anime, but media in general that could very well take a large, positive leap for a more democratized media sphere.
For those looking for the jist? (Skip to 31:00 minute mark!)
Mr. Pinansky is hard at work preparing for an ambitious undertaking that is happening via Yomiuri and several other media entities. This group of companies are looking to take a giant step forward by creating a one-stop streaming/Kickstarter business for not only recent, but classic anime, as well as television shows and movies! Pretty much open to redefining what we know as the classic distribution model, fans from all over will be allowed to put their money where their mouths are, even going so far as to allowing more independent artists and personalities to be supported for potential projects. And as mentioned at the beginning, a streaming home for many an older series that had yet to ever see the light of day in subtitled form. A hybrid site akin to Youtube and Kickstarter sounds like an idea too ambitious to be true, but it seems ready to roll out come late summer/early fall.
Think of it: all content, all directly supported, and zero middle-entity. This is the kind of thing that many have long feared that the Japanese networks and studios were completely unwilling to venture into, and it suddenly seems near time when the other shoe finally up and drops. If this risky gamble works, it could help rewrite the media market narrative, and that is simply thrilling.
So that’s what I’m most eager for this year thus far. How about you? Anything on the path in the anime/manga worlds that has you owned for the year?
It’s an amazing thing, to be able to watch such a subculture-centric form of entertainment like anime at the instant click of a mouse. It’s so easy to lose grasp of just how wild this very concept is, not merely to industry, but to those long in the fandom. The very idea of streaming video has been with us long enough to make this a possibility, but to consider anime as an accepted staple of it continues to blow my mind a least. The far reaching effects of something like this bringing an all-encompassing end to flawed business models, forcing companies long dependent on physical media to survive has been both an painful, yet exciting ride to witness. So when it has come to pass that anime studios/producers find themselves late to the party, but more than welcome to the sphere, it also comes to bear that it affects more than merely their bottom line. It can also be said to affect the very nature of not only how we watch our favorite shows, but how often as well.
When one considers a time when waiting & access was the greatest barrier between fans and their next fix, the very idea that being able to watch a recently released series mere days (or sometimes hours)post release has been something of an impossible dream realized. In a bold progression, legitimate entities can now beat out an often outmodded fansub model to present high quality translation and treatment, which can be upgraded for a small subscription fee. This is something that had long eluded fans not only here, but in so many other fan communities. So much so that it renders so many of the more DIY elements fandom used to comprise of. And as it becomes such a direct line between creators and fans, one can almost say that the gap is indeed closing to those originating parties most willing to work with their viewers. It cuts out the old network TV model that anime had long been a part of. Opportunities lie to those willing to open up to the possibilities. And what this means to us, is more content, better treatment, and possibly..some semblance of crossover potential.
What this promotes, is an olive branch to a global viewing audience that may force the industry to better consider what will be watched, let alone purchased. To think that audiences outside of Japan had that kind of impact before can be debated, but more than ever, this makes for an important moment between the viewer/potential consumer, and those that purvey the medium. The long term effects is something that continues to concern many, but the potential is certainly there. Especially when considering that until this point, file sharing was the de-facto alternative to purchasing, and before that it was tape trading. And then before that, it was purchasing of old 16-35mm printed film of shows and movies without subtitles, often with a need for a friend or “source” to interpret the scenes out loud to a roomful of con-goers, watching the movie years after release. One had to know the lingo, the secret handshake, or have the friend or relative in the military to even have access to shows which had zero chance of ever seeing light in the states in any legitimate manner. Which is why the previous trade models were in place. But where we are now is at a point that virtually negates this as long as the studios are willing to play ball.
On the flip side, there are also plenty of pratfalls to all of this that continue to concern not only the studios looking for new ways to turn a profit, but me as well. If there is any possible major drawback to the streaming anime, it lies in the new reality that once we become inundated with anything, as people, we have a tendency to filter out what we don’t either like or care for. The novelty of anime was something the Japanese had depended on for sales. This is something so many have neglected to consider. The allure of pretty girls, machines, magic & monsters can in fact become boring if one delves into the medium a bit more than most. Burnout is not only the concern, but the general attitude of an industry obsessed with cornering increasingly trope-based stories and concepts runs potentially against those looking for something new and fresh. Crossover potential has been a growing concern with anime for the last several years, and fewer general interest shows have been produced. The loss of shows that can garner a constant stream of new, fresh-minded fans is a deeply concerning one if one wishes for the medium to survive beyond a niche audience. Too much access, and having little in the way of choice is something both sides have to contend with today, as it can also turn away potential converts, as well as turn off older fans with a hankering for those types of shows from the past that saw potential in anime as a wide –reaching artform, with less restrictions as to story. In essence, streaming becomes the new TV, and anime just becomes another part of the background, much like in Japan. Which brings the challenge to an even greater plateau; the shows need to be more than self-serving to survive. This is a global audience to consider now, and to assume that a self-cannibalizing creative pool will keep it alive for long is worth questioning. Novelty is dead, and with that, comes a need for clarity of vision.
So when it comes to our habits, and what it is we do with this wild new world we continue to see develop, It’s well worth considering what it is we consume, and how we do it. A personal favorite benefit of all this, is a big one-up from broadcast/simulcast, and that’s the ability to sample shows whenever I like. And taking this into account, one does not have to watch every new episode the moment it is released. As a kid who is only used to marathoning shows depending on their strengths, I personally enjoy the option of pacing myself with a series. Sometimes waiting several weeks to pass, in order to catch up with them in several hour bricks at a time. And since so many shows are released per season, it also helps to be a little more responsible with what one is more willing to dedicate time to. Unlike many bloggers, I don’t see the potential in perusing so many shows just to make burst reviews. As a general rule, it simply isn’t my cup of tea, and it often only works if the series starts off incredibly strong. (which rarely if ever happens) Which brings us back to the notion of novelty, and how we are now in an era where anime doesn’t have to be on par with dangling a flashlight in front of us to be amusing. There is actual content to be considered now, and analysis can happen truthfully, and without some kind of cloud of freakishness to make it seem more vital than it is. Because much like Japan, we have the potential to clock the changes that come, and how they affect us in the grander scheme. Our anime diet can in fact be a healthy one, representing what it is that drew us to the show, rather than the mere idea of its origins. It’s all a big conversation that just continues to get bigger, so let’s live it up and act, shall we?
So as for the moment, what excites me about where we are? The shows that continue to dominate my time continue to be Moretsu Space Pirates, and Chihayafuru. Both series that continue to live up to what I prefer to see in my occasional intake. And the recent classic Hulu acquisitions by way of Tokyo Movie Shinsha have been great to share and talk about. Having Space Adventure Cobra and Lupin III: Mystery Of Mamo within instant reach keeps me hopeful that more films like these will continue to have a home for more movie and animation fans to discover. In fact, that’s pretty much my biggest pie in the streaming sky at the moment. I’d love to see more classic shows to pull a Captain Harlock, or Galaxy Express 999-style presence here. Licenses of many older, lesser known series would be the most exciting next step these studios could possibly take. In lieu of decades of fighting to have many of these shows even considered for VHS, I’d be over the moon for an “anime classics” line, myself.
Being that post-quake industry has chosen to stagger out a number of titles over the course of several weeks, and because a bigger post is still in the works, I figured it time to actually strap in and share some blurbs regarding the Fall 2011 season.
Now as basis for what comes is largely based on what I shared via my Twitter feed(Here).
First off is what came to mind when watching Persona 4 The Animation
Synopsis: Newly moved from the city to the country town of Inaba, Yu Narukami quickly adjusts to living with his uncle and six year old cousin. But it is once after he makes friends at school that he begins to fall deep into a surreal mystery involving local murders, alternate dimensions within television space, and a troubling power that begins to appear within him.
Upon being initially unsure of how much I was actually ready to watch this, as I had never seen any of the anime made for this franchise prior, along with having a mild interest in the Digital Devil Saga game series oh so many years ago, there was more than a bit of hesitance on my part. And sure enough, after viewing these first few episodes, it is clearly not a show designed for me. And by that, we are speaking from nearly every approach, what we have here is a show so modeled after the often choppy, broken up nature of the games, that it becomes much more like watching a game, rather than experiencing a story unfold. Hence..
It’s true. Characters instigate beats with little reason, layers are planted in an almost random, inconsistent fashion, and dialogue comes from the way a game triggers them.(Things that simply do not work in regards to how a mystery tale functions) Overall, it’s a garish, headache-inducing ball of nonsense that will likely be more interesting to those invested in games of this style than not.
Next came the much-anticipated follow-up to one of my favorite realized worlds in anime history, Last Exile-Fam, The Silver Wing.
Synopsis: Once again, in an alternate world where flight is achieved by way of alien technology, and yet alliances remain unstable, a cadre of neutral-leaning sky pirates are pitted between two core powers; the peaceful Turan, and the traitorous Ades Federation. After an audacious assault on Turan, young harpoon-master, Fam & her partner Giselle task themselves with bringing the nation’s princesses to safety, with Ades in close pursuit.
All things being honest, as much as I lament Gonzo for their shows that start strong, and often crumble over time, I was more than happy to see more stories take place in this world that first appeared in 2003, featuring stunning concepts and character work by the one Range Murata. Even when the story delved into archetypal territory, the style was the star of the show, and much in the way Gainax inspired fans with its unique vision with Royal Space Force, there was a certain amount of history and mystery that made this such an ideal world to explore further. And now that we finally have another chance to drink it all in, there is still a deeper need for story and character to rise beyond what has already been established. Which isn’t to say that Fam suffers in this department, but it does feel like a leaner, more fun tale than the previous. THAT SAID- There are elements early on that border on hurting the show as it goes on. Most notably, the return of Junko Noda as a character that in many ways, doesn’t need to be there. Even if it carries some familiarity for fans, it’s simply grating to witness. There is also the element of “service” that invades the initial episode, something that runs heavily counter to the world presented. All in all, a decent start to what is at least to me, a welcome return to a potential-packed creation. Could this become Gonzo’s Blue Uru? We can only wait and see.
Next up, is Studio BONES’s big entry for the noitaminA block, featuring the direction of Seiji Mizushima, and words of the legendary anime writer Shou Aikawa, Un-Go!
Synopsis: In a post-war future Japan, the reconstruction moves ahead, but not without it’s share of cover-ups, and deepening mysteries. Shunjuro Yuki, and his assistant, Inga, are often called into investigating many of these cases, but often at the cost of their very reputations. Yuki is more often known as The Defeated Detective, his and his partner’s unique insight often help crack difficult cases, but are often in the shadow of computer-bound Rinroku Kaisho, a legendary detective with a penchant for secrets.
I understand that much of this show is aimed at a certain audience, but it does require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief before any of the mystery established begins to see like our hero is the only one who could figure it out. It also doesn’t help that having a secret weapon in your assistant that can squeeze the truth out of suspects with little problem at all. In many ways, these rarely seem like mysteries so much as another onslaught of messages by way of the author, who BY THE WAY…
For those unfamiliar with the inimitable Shou Aikawa, he is a writer best known for his work on Fullmetal Alchemist, but for many of us older fans, he is also known for helping with some of the medium’s most infamous works including the anime versions of Urotsukidoji, and the unforgettable (although not for reasons expected) ANGEL COP. A man with no qualms about his politics, or emotionally hysterical screeds against certain ideas, his works can range from modestly entertaining to appallingly bad without a second thought.
Either way, while mildly entertaining, it still remains a little puzzling that this show wound up on this block. There is little in the way of the material presented to be anything more than another alternate future vision complete with fantasy technology, character types, and a weird kid wearing animal ears and paws. Take that away, and Aikawa’s horns start to show. While there is definitely something interesting brewing here, there is also a silly approach being made here regarding characters that are poised to take the fall for the peace of a nation’s ideology- Methinks someone’s been watching The Dark Knight a bit too much.
Thoughts regarding the anime version of Yuki Suetsugu’s Chihayafuru!
Synopsis: After entering high school, Chihaya Ayase’s life has reached something of an impasse. Growing up deeply supportive of her older sister’s success as a model, her longing for her own dream has hit a roadblock as she was once inspired by a classmate to become a world class karuta player. Not long after this, do her old friends come out of the woodwork, and old friendships and rivalries(as well as new ones) resurface.
Seriously, I didn’t see this one coming. So far, Chihayafuru is a handsomely produced hybrid of shoujo romance & almost sports drama regarding a love of traditional japanese amidst a world increasingly mired in the superficial. With the reliable hands of Madhouse, and stalwart Morio Asaka ( Card Captor Sakura, etc) at the helm, this is a truly sweet, earnest, albeit unsubtle little show. And when I say little, I mean it in the best, most stealth manner possible. Featuring a likeable heroine, a unique visual palette, and some great insight, this may very well become my show to watch this season.
So perhaps this is as far opposite as the anime timbre needle can reach? Could Usagi Drop be the penultimate symbol of a medium reaching the end of the reflex line in regards to how it is presented, and sells itself to the masses? Admittedly, not having not spent a lot of time with the Summer anime season, a part of me was ambivalent at best by considering even watching my way through an entire series. As much as the studios have been racing to seek out new conceptual niche(Ie- giving Shinbo more work), and otherwise spinning away at their remix machine(Shinbo, again..), it is telling that Production IG opted to adapt Yumi Unita ‘s popular manga for the animated screen. In many ways, to envision anime as a place where we could be host to a world, and situation not unlike those in real life, where single-parent living is a large functional reality in the lives of so many is something that not only tells us how strange a zeitgeist we are currently within, but also of very real dreams, concerns, and perhaps even laments that a modern urban Japan is going through. If so, the anime version of Usagi Drop is something of an effective, yet doubly melalcholic yearning for a new breed of beginning in a landscape awash with change.
When Daikichi and family make the bombshell discovery of a six-year old daughter left behind after his grandfather’s death, the 30 year old salaryman eventually takes to the unusually independent, yet alone Rin Kaga, and begins a journey that will likely change both forever. Of the many new life choices Daikichi must make in order for his transformation to begin; including a new commute habit, watching his health, and downgrading his sales job for the sake of Rin’s schooling, we are witness to a man who having grown up the only boy among sisters , is unexpectedly adept at being what could very well be akin to an adoptive father. There are many challenges, and speedbumps natural to assuming this role without having known this little girl through her earliest years, many of which involve his need to better understand Rin’s role, and her regards toward her new circumstances. The ways in which both characters shape and alter one another’s lives is at the core of Usagi Drop, noItaminA’s summer offering that serves as an exciting respite from the all-too-familiar barrage of tropes for their own sake tv anime culture one expects from the season. A few episodes in, and it becomes clear that the source of such excitement comes from characters played with the right pitch, and storytelling with unerring patience, and faith in the sublime.
Upon reflection, the show’s initial episodes do a pretty solid job of establishing the domestic world as something rife with moments worth illustrating, all the while whisking us through a universal tale of single-parenthood. There are nearly entire episodes that eschew the all-too convenient cliche of voice over in order to inundate us with often confusing and superfluous musing. While voice-over eventually does happen, it tends to carry a more utilitarian function. But when this isn’t so much in need, there are sections that actually show rather than tell, which is going to sound strange, but refreshingly retro. As Daikichi’s life begins to crystallize into something more than that of a mildly successful trader, we are privy to his world prior, his relationships with co-workers and family, and even his own personal quirks before facing one new facet of the guardian life after another. We even witness Rin’s contrasting nature to that of other children her age(most telling, is by watching Daikichi’s niece, who in many ways resembles a 1970s comic brat, exaggerated mouth, twin-tails and all). There are touches that are directed, rather than spoken away in a confusing line or two. For the show to take the time to visualize what far too many anime skip with voice over, creates an environment that trusts the audience and it’s ability to relate, instead of giving in to short cut solutions. So when he has to contend with co-workers & family members agape at this very sudden lifestyle shift, as well as simpler day-to-day concerns such as school admissions & potential bed-wetting, Daikichi’s life has become an endless trial by fire that he seems to have been born to brave. The show’s first half leads us to the revelation of Rin’s up til now unseen mother, and Daikichi’s burning concerns regarding the future of Rin’s name. Along with his meeting of the unexpectedly young Masako(played by-SURPRISE. Maaya Sakamoto), and his understandable frustration at the young mother for seemingly abandoning her daughter for the sake of her career, it is made clear that her role has only begun to reveal itself. With all the hints that episode 5 leaves for us, there is room to understand that even her character will receive a decent amount of humanization before the 11 episode run comes to an end. All the while, Rin’s growing affection for Daikichi, and yet noble nature are having a profound effect on both leads.
Now having read the previous, it is clear that I have a certain affection for this series, and what it has offered thus far. And while I am aware of where the story goes in the manga version of events, I hardly see what comes next as any kind of trouble, lest the storytelling takes some kind of unforseen nosedive. The animation’s novel watercolor teaser sections are reminiscent of Horuou Musuko, and grant the show a classically unique flavor that accents its modern world encompassing nature. The aural/visuals of the series are quite lovely in places, and often feel more like a live action film mix than an anime one. Performances have been quite effective thus far, with Hiroshi Tsuchida’s performance driving the piece as a man, seemingly facing what seems to be his lifelong destiny, joy and pain in a beautiful package. So much sensitivity is granted in the writing, the requirement that his range be quite wide, yet real is high priority, and it comes together quite well here. Matsuura’s a great Rin, but also falters due to obviously having a register much older than the character. That said, she is up to the task. Much of Unita’s visual humor, and attention to daily minutae is terrific without seeming typical of what many have dubbed Slice Of Life anime. There are so many warning signs that could allow Usagi Drop to become just another animated drama from Japan. But as of this point, this is a solidly written and directed series that stands nicely apart, true to the classic noitaminA thrust. If this is where anime reaches the apex of its more domestic side, I’m more than willing to explore it as long as there are stories worth telling, and characters worth following in the name of something new & sincere with our animated entertainment. And much like our two leads, I’m apprehensive, yet eager to see what happens next.
Figured it’d be good to go ahead and share some words regarding the recent simulcast/streaming pull-out over the piracy of Yamakan’s latest series, Fractale. A series which only premiered last week, has experienced what has slowly become a popular occurrence. Bringing to mind the Oreimo pull that occurred via ANN late last year, this strange practice of supposedly having all ramparts covered for a legal means of display on screens nationwide, only to become threatened by a minority of eager folks seems less like a precautionary measure, and more a case of not understanding how the streaming model works.
Because on one hand, we have the system in place where the series can be shown in specified regions, all the while paid for by the use of online ads to pay for the space. Not unlike the way television had long done so. This is something that has been in the works for some time it seems, and yet perhaps frightens some due to it not making anywhere near the numbers some are used to with this type of entertainment. And on the other, as mentioned, this is a young system, filled with perilous gaps, and prone to wavering amounts of doubt as to whether this actually assures anyone on both sides of the Atlantic any real profitability. This is still very much Frontierland as far as many have seen, and has been a point of debate since legal streaming has become mainstream.
Or could it perhaps mean something more fundamentally basic than merely not understanding this young means of anime distribution? Again, one should not merely look at the recent Asahi Shinbun article as a point to contest as Yamamoto is merely a head staffer on the artist side of matters. (But the article should provide some good hint of what was to come) In the end, this is an issue decided by his producers, folks who for one reason or another saw a leak, and reacted in an overwrought, yet predictable fashion. Their onus for sure is to protect their investment, but to not consider the dangers inherent in online distribution seems more than a little retroactive, and not to mention silly for a society once known as a technological powerhouse. Now the details of the alleged act of piracy are sketchy at best, but to not consider the always present danger amidst the internet seems insulting, so in the name of giving the benefit of the doubt, perhaps there is another reason for this. A new development in the history of this show’s production/promotion?
Again, this is all speculation, but could it be a combination of a growing lack of faith in the streaming model,coupled with a more old-school way of looking at a valued product? Even Gundam 0079 was a long-prized title that asked for wildly high amounts before a distribution deal was ever made. As silly as this may sound, perhaps members of the Fractale Production Committee see something we don’t, and have taken it upon themselves to rethink the entire deal. (possibly only seeing salvation in physical sales?) Stranger things have, and can happen. Again, I’m not beyond them merely being reactionary, and desperate to save what they see as a potentially expensive project from being pillaged. But it does stand to reason that many in Japan still hold tight to older models of selling their product, and feel compelled to keep it this way.
Does it still make sense? Not really. Does this move truly combat piracy? Nope. But when a business is unable to see the possibilities, and remain unwilling to discuss it with progress in mind, events like this may continue to cut artists & writers off at the knees. It is this, coupled with a growing dearth of talent in Japan that will kill anime as we know it. But sometimes, it feels like impatient ones, as well as producers wear similar blindfolds to what can potentially save it.
Yamakan may wish to consider the globe with Fractale, but his investors may feel fiscally otherwise.
For many, it’s all about the holiday rush, and all it entails, but for some of us, it’s time to bundle up and perhaps catch something cool to watch at home. Which is likely the reason why I felt it time to seek out some favorite anime series that are now out there, and worth checking out. And also, perhaps as an entirely new generation of US fans takes to the bandwidth like mad, it might be good to shed some light on some notable favorites that we can sample online for free, and support US & Japanese anime companies while we’re at it. It’s time to embrace both past & future, so let’s go!