Tag Archives: winter 2011 anime

Wintermuted’s 2011: Meeting Futures Halfway

 

 

2011; what it mean to me? Well to look back, dig deep, and investigate would mean having to consider something that wasn’t a list of some sort. And while something like a list surely would offer up some kind of marquee-type value to the  site, I find it much more important to point out what made the year stand out in regards to content.

With a year fraught with very real tragedy and fear when and after Japan was hit by one of the great natural disasters of our time, it is on the other hand encouraging that changes for the anime industry have indeed been in the chrysalis stages, and only seem to be accelerating again. It’s no accident that the concepts behind many of the year’s standouts seem to be coming from places not as often tread by the typical fan wank, and are edging to what is hopefully a positive new turn for the medium in regards to risk, which is something so many seem to have been dreadfully allergic to for years. While there was indeed more of the same bouts of helplessly pander-heavy shows, and milquetoast offerings, there were also some standouts that seem to indicate what I mean.

 

 

Early in the year, my initial reactions were that shows like Level E were looking toward manga’s past for potential answers, while Yamamoto’s ill-fated Fractale did the same whilst seeking a bold new bent on familiar themes. Right away the vibe was that the studios were actively looking for paths less familiar to the current generation of animators on a work level, possibly in hopes of creating a new language. And while both of these series diverge in regards to actual quality storywise, it was interesting to see this precedent so early on. Also highly worthy of note, was the inclusion of Horou Musuko, which not only offered a bold premise and story, but it also came with a rare visual palette that immediately sent me shivers. It was as if studios across the board were suddenly ready to play ball, and offer up not only something truly new, but almost completely out of the realm of anime familiarity, which is always a plus. Despite some minor story issues, it remains a standout and must-see. However, it took another show to unexpectedly take this lead further and do what few shows have in recent years. (Something I’ll get to in a bit, please be patient.)

 

 


Moving into Spring season, and with an entire world rattled by catastrophy that seemingly had no end, several shows offered up unique twists on what could otherwise be considered standard fare. The big surprise winner for me being the wildly fun and retro-tastic Tiger & Bunny, which offered up a dazzling mix of comedy, action, and drama that has been greatly missed for some time. By taking the american superhero subversion that has been occurring in the west, and giving it a Japanese consumer-satire sheen atop of it, it ends up being not only a fitting tribute to pop culture’s costumed cousins, it also grants them hearts in the best manner the Japanese can provide. It’s rare when such a reinterpretation works so well, and this is that moment where even new viewers can be allowed into a whole new world they have often felt left out of. Also standing out at this point was Hanasaku Iroha, which seemed ready to tackle not only a simple tale of familial strife, it also had cultural identity wholly on its sleeve. In a rare move for recent anime on tv, a call for balance was brought to the table. And while shows like Nichijou offered often beautifully animated absurdism ala Azumanga Daioh via David Lynch, there was still a hint of deeper concern happening within Iroha that left a lingering impression, even if the show didn’t always deliver what it set out to. Even Steins;Gate, while occasionally interesting, seemed ready to take its place alongside the ever growing pile of “cool idea that needs just a little more time to cook” shows that Nitroplus was involved with this year. Regardless, effort was seen shining in unexpected places, which was encouraging.

 


As summer came in, so did some great surprises in the form of a most unusual family drama, and the return of a long-missing master with a whopper to tell. Upon first hearing that the popular manga by Yumi Unita was to become a tv series, worry began to fill my heart, and not only for obvious reasons. Could a story this laid-back, and in the moment work even for a noItamina series? It’s great to be proven wrong sometimes, and Usagi Drop remains a heartfelt and often truthfully sweet testiment to the changing face of family. Featuring the second awkward dad this year (the first being Kotetsu T. Kaburagi of Tiger & Bunny, of course) to have not only a great handful to deal with, but also an unerring wish to be the best dad he can. He may not be the sharpest crayola in the box, but he’s doing his damndest. And it’s great to watch him try. It’s extremely rare to see such sincerity at work in anime, and the show’s 11 episodes often shine brightly because of it.

 

 
So what were my favorites overall? If I had to make a thoughtful decision, I suppose two won me over due to their audaciousness, while the third did by playing things straighter than most, with just enough contemporary thoughtfulness to make it count.

 

 


First has to go to Puella Magi Madoka Magica, an out-of-nowhere project that reminded of how much I’ve missed the full potential of anime. Confession time: coming from a very sincere place, I can’t say that I have ever truly enjoyed anything directed by Akiyuki Shinbo. Aside from being an efficient stylist with little to actually say, he has never come off as more than this, and had yet to do anything substantial on a story level. And yet it took collaborating with Gen Urobochi to rise to unheard of heights by doing his own tribute to the very best of 90s “edge anime”, and offering something that resembles an solid human theme, not to mention some vital life questions. (A fitting counterpoint to the often comfort-food territory of the Magical Girl show) Using the history of maho shoujo lore to tell what is essentially a treatise on female roles and the responsibility that lies ahead in an ever unpredictable new world. Somehow defies what I still find to be an unfocused story in the first half (populated mostly by types rather than characters). So when the footing is found, the wins often outnumber the losses despite a large need for some additonal characterization. It’s a bumpy ride, but I remain ultimately satisfied by what I see as one of the most visually haunting shows in years. Where Chihayafuru maintains a stalwart heart, and longing for simpler ideals, Madoka Magica reinstills an unyielding, provocatively forward mind.  Positing that the value of intention only goes as far as we are willing to see them through with clear eyes, and often not to what we imagine them to be. And yet, despite the false footing it starts on, it somehow eventually wields an immediacy that is sorely lacking right now. The packaging is striking, and the choices within are unrepentantly anti-fan. Simply put: the Blu-ray release can’t come soon enough.

 

A most welcome return..

 

When word came around that long out-of-action anime auteur, Kunihiko Ikuhara was to make his return with the series, Mawaru Penguindrum, I must admit that it was with a great deal of reservation. So many years had past since his work on 1997’s crossover hit Shoujo Kakumei Utena helped usher in an era of surreal, cerebral television anime, and I couldn’t help but be worried if the medium had long left his parade charge behind. Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong as Penguindrum remains as baffling, yet startlingly entertaining from start to just recent finish. Again tackling much of the same territory he did with Utena, albeit in a world outside of merely school, Ikuhara’s obsessions with multiplicity, and justification are in full force for a new generation to parse and muse over. Whether fate comes from without or within, it could also be considered another grand questioning of the things that the average person uses to account for their disposition and actions. Also in force is Ikuhara’s lampooning of old anime’s cost-saving techniques of stock footage, perhaps even commentating on anime’s often samey nature which is more than welcome. Overall, a strangely touching and occasionally frustrating series that’s never satisfied with being one thing. Well worth the trip.

 

Long Live The Queen..

Honestly, if you had told me that my favorite series of the year was to be an old-fashioned sports-anime mashup about competitive  karuta and ancient Japanese poetry directed by Madhouse regular, Morio Asaka, I would have called you straight up…well..mad. Chihayafuru makes no bones about what it is, and makes it’s strengths look so effortless. But it takes a great amount of craft to tell a tale like this, and not lose one’s way in the process. There are so many places this could have gone wrong, and somehow the series continued to warm the heart and challenge modern anime with its tale of a trio of young people captured by an affinity for the senses. As the game of karuta requires, it is all about attentiveness & impulse. And the expected shoujo elements somehow play quite beautifully with the game-centric elements of the plot, which like in all sports anime (or even movies), are more representative of where a character is at a certain point. A series like this could never work without a likeable lead, and Chihaya Ayase is as well-rounded and likeable as they come. She contains the beauty and spiritual shell of a typical heroine of this ilk, but she also has with her an enthusiasm that is often blinding to the point of clumsiness in terms of the closest things in her life. And in how the two young men in her life represent major parts in what has led her to a path away from a more manufactured existence is palpable. They both have their qualities, so none of that ever rings false. And as I just mentioned, through Chihaya, and a group of memorable characters, the series also wins where Hanasaku Iroha was merely scratching at; offering another look at a possible Japan with one eye toward the future, yet with a true sense of identity not wrapped in consumerist plastic. Intelligent and pleasing all around, Chihayafuru is my personal favorite for 2011.

Not such a bad year despite all that happened around it, which in itself is an awe inspiring testament. May inspiration & hope continue to spring forth.

 

Until Next Year..

Kara no Kyoukai Final Chapter AKA epilogue

WARNING: it’s much closer to a commenary and en editorial than a review. But you know me and the hell with it.

Empty, empty, it’s all empty.

Pointless, pointless, it’s all pointless.

And yet, throw it all away and it becomes so simple.

One of my complaints about the Garden of Sinners series of movies is that some details were left out. But you know, that can never be helped. I respect that. However, I honestly wished they animated the final important conversation between “Shiki” and Kuroto. It is a conversation that not so much reveals everything hidden underneath the words, the scenes, or the plots; it also doesn’t really solve everything or explains everything so clearly that everyone can understand. That’s fine; that’s what Kara no Kyoukai is suppose to be. You can understand it using your mood, your feelings and most of all, your instincts. You’d resonate with it if you were not ippanjin. That much I’m sure of. At the end of the day. Nasu, Otaku, and people like me are not ippanjin. However, and this is a personal reading into the novel and the last conversation, we all wished many times that we were.

The road of the Otaku is Shurado, which roughly means an excruciatingly painful road; it’s something akin to a path to hell.

Then again, perhaps I’m mentally broken in some ways and that’s why I feel this way about the novel. Maybe I’m the only person who feels that way.

Anyway, once again, the movie takes some liberty with the final conversation. The “Final Chapter” explains things and make them clear to us. It’s nice that it doesn’t dumb down everything, which I nearly accused the series of, but it certainly bares more than I’d liked. One thing I really love about Kara no Kyoukai, having read the novel 5 times (and still scratches my head sometimes when I read it), is the restraint its characters show. Sometimes, it feels like a lesser academic version of an emotional and philosophical exercise, compared with Ghost in the Shell. But overall, it is intense at times while interweaving the beauty of the “acceptence of it all” into everything. I’m biased because I really relate to some of the aura it eminates, which surrounds me in the form of floating gentle snowflakes. It’s an eternal silence that makes me recall times back in the late 90’s to early 00’s when I were alone at home on New Years Eve, when it snowed. I was there but I wasn’t; I was surrounded with silence and I was inside of it all and yet outside of everything at the exact same time.

Distance, solitude, with perhaps a dash of desolation. No, a lot of it. Beneath it all, there is an intense longing of not wanting to reject/deny/refuse, but after much pondering, the distance is kept. Perhaps Nasu walks even further away than I and possesses a much more mature emotion not to mention reacts in a mature way than I.

Let’s walk a little closer to the 30-minute exposition itself. It follows the silent tone of the quieter parts of the movie series closely. The animation is once again, top-notch. Things jump out at me that made me realize how much work was put in it. At least, the particles (pardon my novice 3D Max speak) for the snow that Shiki scrapes off as well as the float of her clothing in certain scenes must took a hell lot of work to get it right. Also, the vividness of the patterns on her kimono is fresh and lively, in a gentle contrast of the closed snowy world the Final Chapter is set in. And in strong contrast with Kuroto’s black coat and outfit.

The music adds that final touch that draws you in. None of it is meant for the action-lovers so they will probably stay away. All of it is meant to take us into the core of the philosophy of the movie; the real soul inside the empty shell. And the music does a perfect job helping with that.

Alas, I do have one complant.

The “Final Chapter” comes to a conclusion that states that (yes, it feels that clear) living a plain, normal, eventless life is a really fortunate thing. In addition, the accepting of how people are really just empty beings inside after all is treated as the right thing to do. If I trace the logic of what I read about Nasu, it almost feels like that he cannot do a thing about his rejection/refusal of others. Not a simple dislike, as his editor noted in the official Taiwanese translate version (Yes, they got the rights and for that edition, Nasu’s editor shared his thoughts about Nasu and his work), but a decision to reject. Now, I pretty much feels the same way most of the time. But something inside screams “objection” so vehemently that I cannot simply nod and say “yes, I utterly agree”. Not when the movie states it almost as if shouting quietly in broad daylight. The problem about having an exposition made into movie is that there can be too much exposure on top of explaining it all. There is also a danger to cave in to the need to having to have an easy (relatively speaking, of course) conclusion that’s reachable to more people. I think the movies falls victim to that. By the way, feel free to object my opinion.

At the end of the day, it’s probably my intellectuals pride (we’re known to exhibit the smartasshole syndrome at times) that feels strongly irritated, albeit unnecessarily. So let me go back to my normal self a little bit. Yes, I like the movies and yes, I’ve waiting for more bluray DVDs to become available either in Taiwan or the US. That means I really like this series of movies. I also think with what they modified, the movies are not as hard to get into as the novel can be. In fact, even ippanjin can appreciate the beauty and the fluid animation, not to mention the wonderful voice acting of the cast. The bottomline is the movie series is worth checking out and the DVDs/bluerays collection is worthy of a spot on your shelf of art movies, even next to your Miyazaki ones and probably best next to your Ghost in the Shell movies, but not the first one. Kara no Kyoukai movies will eventually come out in the US, I think starting February of this year (there is already a licensed Taiwanese version). Full disclosure: I bought movies one and two in Taiwan and got a poster. But I’m not in college anymore and don’t like posters, so I gave it to a brother from church; his daughter belongs to a college anime club in the poorer Taiwanese South.

Strongly recommended to folks who are patient enough to wait for the magnificent reward.