Tag Archives: Takeshi Koike

The Fujiko Telegrams: Final Transmission

Originally discovered mid-summer 2012.

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.

Status Quo: Maintained

The Pure, Savage Fury Of REDLINE

 

There comes a time when it feels as if the things you liked have up and passed you by, or encompassed nowhere near the appeal that they once embraced, allowing you to be pulled in with insurmountable force. It could either be that a) one has outgrown these things, or b) trends & concepts have steered into territory that lack the attraction as previously mentioned. The thrill is gone, the experimentation, excitement, piss & vinegar, watered down into something non-resembling anything appealing. The end result is a feeling of scraping the ashen, desolate dregs of the former landscape for just about any remaining flints, or gobs of fuel capable of instilling the old, once-tangible high. Anything for that flame to begin again, no matter how brief.

Enter Takeshi Koike’s long-awaited REDLINE….

In Media Res, we are launched face-first into the final stretch of the Yellow Line, a legendary, yet horrifically dangerous all-terrain road race hosting a bevy of speed freaks from numerous planets. It is here that we are introduced to several racers, including humanoids, the amphibious Crab-driving Sonoshee McClaren & killer pompadour wearing Trans-Am longshot, JP, often known to the fans as “Sweet JP”. As wagers fly, coverage of the race spanning multiple networks, and nervous gangsters look on, it is looking like JP’s penchant for spectacularly rigged flameouts is about to be broken by an unexpected victory. It is mere seconds before this is rendered moot, however, as JP’s Trans-Am is partially detonated at the home stretch, leaving its driver in the hospital, and McClaren the winner, and lead qualifier for the most infamous of races, the REDLINE. A race so secret, even racers aren’t notified well into the last microsecond. A mild humiliation, and perhaps a quiet dream of  actually winning legitimately, JP’s role seems to be over – that is until he is slotted by default to be a replacement racer after several qualifiers suddenly drop out. Turns out that the location selected for this hallowed carnivale of speedy carnage is none other than the soverign rock known as Roboworld; a dangerous planet of metal titans, determined to quash any , and all entities looking to race within their atmo..But alas, the race is on..

Years of waiting, this has been the MADHOUSE production that I had been following on and off since peeps began floating around that Takeshi Koike, and Katsuhito Ishii(also responsible for Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl)  would be collaborating on a wholly original animated feature with something of a hefty budget. And in the years that followed, and the revelations that anime studios were beginning to shut down, and the essential climate for anything other than trope-heavy pep was to be something of a dying breed, my hopes had been beginning to fade that this, along with other projects, would never see the light of a projector, let alone the glow of an HD screen. And as the very concept of the full-length anime feature was beginning to look like a forgotten relic outside of Ghibli, and the Ghibli-inspired, tiny sparks of light began to appear in those neglected places. And it finally seemed like REDLINE was to actually become a completed work. Flash forward to May 2010, when Twitter buddy, and science fiction author, Tim Maughan shared his thoughts on the completed film after catching it across the Atlantic. And it all immediately came to mind that if anime was in need of anything vital, it is a wholly original, all-encompassing piece of work that could possibly speak within form, rather than through means most safe to the already initiated.

After a year-plus, I can say with utmost sincerity that REDLINE can very well be that film.

A boundary-ripping exercise in form, Koike’s movie is a ride for the ages that is pure sensory bliss from start to finish. Much more a testing ground for cinematic world-building than story, the tale of JP and his adventures toward reaching for the dream is more excuse to take us through the colorfully kinetic world & ecosystems that inhabit the piece. Part studio 4c-style experimental film, and part Heavy Metal comic gone berzerk, just about every corner of the frame is packed with business that is equally as fun and fascinating as what is happening in the foreground. From the diversity of alien, and machine species, to their mannerisms, as well as fashion and decorum do wonders to populate what is eaily one of the most insanely fun anime films to scope deep into since AKIRA. Even as the story grants us enough charm in the form of likeable loser (with an iffy past-of course..) JP, who longs to not only go the distance, but perhaps break free from shackles no doubt assisted by loyal-yet ultimately sold-out mechanic, Frisbee, the film find its way to keep matters fun without bogging the film down with stock cliches (something I can’t help but feel helped sink TEKKONKINKREET-  studio 4c film that fell victim to this to a certain extent). There is even an attempt to infuse a little drama in between the main characters that doesn’t amount to a great deal. But as mentioned before, if a story is light in places, it helps to compensate in other areas. And this film is stocked to the gills with more than enough to help it glide past.

Oh sure there are dozens of fun characters to witness here that warrant mention. One of the film’s more standout elements is how well it identifies each of the event’s main racers, along with their vehicles, and temperaments. Living up to the original teaser SuperBoin are especially ridiculous in their loyalty to their diminutive princess. There is also the frightening duo of bounty hunters who look like they ran off the set of yet another speedball-injected shonen series, and smack into matters. And another duo that look like a parody of every other comedy duo featured on weekly Nihon TV. There is a satirical edge to much of the TV spots featured in the film that feel lifted from Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop. A more than welcome piece of humor, and exposition that only raises the stakes as Day Zero for REDLINE approaches. (Wait, is that a Koroshiya Ichi gag? And wait, is that Zigorow??)

 

Even as the film occasionally diverts away from the core narrative to grant us looks into how the rogue’s gallery racers is preparing for the big event, as well as how the erm-citizens of Roboworld are taking all of this, there is a certain fluidity to matters that them feel more matter of course, rather than outright digressions. Koike and Ishii (along with contributions by anime surrealism scribe, Yoji Enokido) seem to have found a brilliant sandbox to work within, and all that extra time toward completing the production pays off by allowing the film room to breathe within the mad organics of the world, giving us just enough to laugh and gaze in wonder. There are slight flashes of atypical anime-ess, but one of REDLINE’s greatest strengths is that it is unlike any anime previously created in long form. Just as Koike’s previous works in the Wachowskis’ ANIMATRIX project (World Record), and in the quirky OVA, Trava: Fist Planet, we are looking into worlds beyond the safe and familiar, and personally speaking, this is truly exciting territory to explore. When it is made clear that Roboworld’s bio-engineered weapons are near-poised to be used on our unsuspecting racers and spectators, the film becomes a free-for-all that threatens to almost derail the film completely. And yet, despite all this, again, Koike’s direction, with an astounding amount of animation work, and artistry that is the medium’s equivalent to an extended FANTASIA sequence infused by a hard pounding techno soundtrack, and a penchant for the purely hallucinogenic, it’s all functionally alive in ways anime simply hasn’t been in years.

And we won’t go too much into what is perhaps the most obvious element of this near out-of-control interstellar racing opus, the racing. But this is truly where the film completely goes for broke with astonishing design, jaw-dropping choreography, and some seriously mind-boggling frame rates. If the wild universe Koike and staff have unleashed upon the world haven’t impressed enough already, the opener and closer for the film certainly will for years to come.

It has been a long, truly winding road to find anime that is capable of inspiring not only animators, and anime fans, but anyone truly appreciative of the power of cinema. There is something primal and exciting about works that not only offer fun and surprises, but brings with them a battery of passion & energy that can only be shared through experience. After years of merely adequate features that skirted familiar territory, it’s so refreshing to see such a classic metaphor interpreted with so much energy. This is a film that demands repeat viewings, and is as exciting to listen to as to watch. It is a thrilling gateway drug experience, as well as a bountiful sensory feast for lovers of wild cinema. Was well worth the wait, and essential to any connisseuer’s collection. But if it comes to your town for a theatrical run, get ready to bust down some doors. Ladies & gentlemen, welcome to pure anime.