Tag Archives: Streaming Anime

Bridging The Gap: The Anime Blurring Effect

Ever have the feeling that the modern Japanese Animation fan is missing out on what could be the coolest series you’ve ever seen? Has it ever felt like the fandom is so splintered now that there seems to be no singular hit to take the medium to the next level? How about that one unique, mind blowing work that seems to just float over the heads of all of your peers, leaving you the single fan of it in your anime club? When does it stop being exciting, and start becoming a chore? While it is true that there are many more shows out there vying for our attenion, that it feels as if the anime medium may cover more interests, and types, it’s important to consider the big names that achieved that magical pull on us. Much like classic rock, punk, or even garage, the gateway drugs haven’t been as out in force as they once where, and I for one am curious if it isn’t merely burnout that is enabling many of us to feel this way.

What if we have witnessed a game-changing title that has in fact the potential to alter the landscape, but many of us have accidentally tossed it aside, leaving the sponsors and studios little faith in the project to continue? Are we in fact punishing creativity & rewarding mediocrity? The last statement has always had some weight to it, but could it simply be something much more fundamental in how we consume anime in the post broadcast/OVA era? Some younger fans may initially look at us older fans and argue that we simply do not understand the timbre of the times, and have been missing out on what many consider to be personal favorites, or even classics. But we have indeed seen titles appear in the past that nearly had an all-encompassing love for them. The fandom hasn’t always been this compartmentalized, and yet this is what the anime studios seem to be attempting to do with increasing ferocity. Much like how mainstream films have been multiplexed, and oversimplified here in the states, it’s easy to see who these shows are made for, and are clearly not made with all audiences in mind. But could there in fact be such a thing as too much? So much in fact, that even a massively well done risk-taker with a real vision can get lost in an ocean of product?

And so the sweepstakes begin anew. Another season of anime offerings is now upon us, and as fun a year as it has been sharing thoughts, ideas, and qualms regarding the current state of the industry as a whole, it’s probably safe to say that as much as I tend to gripe, there are some cool things happening here, and there. The problem is whether it reaches the viewers or not. Looking at this year’s number of television-based anime, the numbers are still impressive given the state of media all over. According to sites like Moetron & Animeraku, we are looking at 20-30 new shows per-season leading to almost a full 100 new shows (including new seasons of continuing favorites) released annually. Doing the math, that is a LOT of material to choose from. And being perhaps a little more preferential with shows than the average anime fan, this coupled with our evolving online distribution system, we are looking at what the now-infamous Mr.Plinkett called a “Blurring Effect”, which essentially means that with the advent of new and changing methods with how we utilize media and entertainment, it becomes much more difficult to navigate toward shows that may actually break molds, and offer something new to the more discerning viewer.

Which leads to the panic of investors. Hence the often desperate acts of studios to remake classic shows, add another unnecessary sequel to a middle of the road favorite from last season, or stranger yet, imitate the animation of the west, with delusions that it’ll translate back to an already weaned western audience (Gainax, I’m looking at you!). It is understandable to wish to recoup on your investment, especially now. This is why one sees so many of the same character archetypes being reused so often.  Noone wants to be broke. But also, noone wishes to see panicked studios resort to animating shows like Hannah Montana with no contextural understanding of what it is. (“American moe” Are you serious?)

And as a result, it can be easy for so many to become discouraged by such a phenomenon. I have many friends who have in fact, given up completely on looking for something to recharge their love of anime, and have moved on. No harm done, it makes sense. The waters are thick, and choppy. And not everyone will be as patient, or even sure of what it was that had them coming back for another fix. As for the rest of us, we keep trucking forward with an endless hunger for the hunt. To share what we have found, in the hopes that someone else out in the ether sees what we do.

So now we have seen some pretty interesting genre-breaking titles come out of the woodwork from The Tatami GalaxyDurarara!!, to House Of Five Leaves. Even last year’s Higashi No Eden, and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 were valiant attempts to do something new & exciting from a story standpoint, and yet we still see many fans feeding off of splintered tendrils, unwilling to share in what could be a communal experience of a story. Perhaps when considering American fandom during th VHS days, it was easier to do so as we had less options as we do now. And when we had less, higher concentration was made upon the bigger hits of the day. So all we were exposed to outside of bootleg tapes were the heavy hitters, the anime equivalent to Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, or even a Smells Like Teen Spirit. With the anime bombarding us from all corners, and coming in ever more still with an increased number of productions, not including OADs & features, are the chances of an anime blockbuster continuing to tumble down? Or have we not experienced a show to that caliber just yet? If so, it is a lot like waiting for disco to end, lest we remain vigilant. And you know what had to happen there.

Entertainment Isn’t Always Pretty (Hetalia & Shiki!)

Guys,…I really tried.

Okay, so I decided to step a little outside of my usual milieu to see what was out there in the streaming ether, and chose two recent shows to see how things were going in regards to some highly spoken up shows licensed by Funimation. And this time, they seem to be more aimed at the ladies with one comedy hit that has engendered several spinoffs, sequels, and even a movie, as well as a supposedly edgy new addition to the noitaminA lineup. Figuring I had little to lose, I dove into them in earnest. How little was I to know that this would lead to one of the more challenging pieces I’ve yet to write on the Diet pages. Because as shows, the diet seems more than a little imbalanced. While many may not agree, a part of me now feels a need to stop by the dentist.(and not for reasons one may expect)


Upon my first notice of American fandom’s response to the web-comic sensation, turned anime hit, Hetalia Axis Powers with masses of cosplay groups  devoted fans, already I was under the impression that this was a series that spoke to a very specific contingent of fandom. Sadly so, I was right. The animated version of Hidekaz Himaruya‘s megapopular WWII-era allegorical comedy speaks less like a pointed satire of world affairs, and more of an aimless fluff piece for the fujoshi-esque. Helmed by Bob Shirohata of Gravitation fame, I suppose this should’ve been a no-brainer, but even if Himaruya’s knowledge of the events leading to the second World War are sound, there plain just isn’t enough here to substantiate a TV series.

In a grandiosely broad universe of anthropomorphic representations of the world’s nations, we bear witness to the days in which peaks of civilization borne from the leaps of Roman innovation, leading to the fateful meeting between ever burly/ramrod straight, Germany..& hopelessly aloof childman, Italy. No sooner does this happen, that petty fights have been overflowing on both sides of the globe, including the quiet, industrious little giant, Japan, and later America, have been reaching a boiling point. Now if only Italy could grow past innocent flirting with whoever crosses his path, with dreams of cuteness & pasta. It is in this chance encounter that the madness of Hetalia makes itself something of a minor phenomenon in it’s native country. With tall, blonde rulemonger strongman, Germany constantly in the role of would be great leader reduced often to babysitter, and Japan as the unwilling, stoic accomplice, are among the larger running gags that fuels much of the series.

Now while a part of me had a feeling that this was indeed a fan contingent that I had little in common with, I found it important to see exactly what it was that made the comedy work so well with Western viewers. And to be honest, after several episodes, I still am at a loss to understand it. There’s no pretending here of what this show is aimed for, and perhaps it comes required to come in with a certain attitude. From my view it’s like this; if you enjoy a growing bevy of attractive young men of varying archetypical dispositions & grossly generalized stereotypes in under five minute bursts of one-joke humor, then this show may be just what you’re looking for. And upon closer inspection, this series is another attempt to cash in on the success of a 4-koma style project. Problem is, that taken in the five minute format, the humor is so slight, and the animation so predictably in line with so many other bishi comedies over the last decade, that in the end, the series offers even less value in animated form than it perhaps does in panel form. Point being, for the near hours worth of programming I sacrificed to this show, I could count the number of times I actually laughed….on one hand. Not a good sign for what is obviously meant to be comedy.

It’s a shame, since a lot of potential feels wasted by this, the beginning of what many already know has become a multi-season affair. And again, this could very well be that my own take on World History runs counter to much of what many books often fog up rather than clarify. And bringing such events into such a format begs for something more akin to an actual sprawling narrative, something a 4-koma has little room for. And as a result, the shortened format works against much of the comedic possibilities, as well as my own patience. Oh, sure, we’ve had a fair share of these shows before, but many came in with a full understanding of the format. And unfortunately for Hetalia, it is a case of biting of more than the provided maw can chew.

And then on the other side of the pretty people river, comes Studio Daume’s TV version of Fuyumi Ono‘s vampire mystery, SHIKI that while on paper seems intriguing, but in belated (the original novel is well over a decade old) anime form, suffers from a myriad of stumbling blocks, again namely in execution.

The largely unseen village of Sotoba, a town more famous for the creation of burial stones & farmland than anything else becomes a surreal, isolated setting for some old school gothic horror when a bizarre family moves up the hill. Starting off the mysteries include the strange chain deaths of locals in neighboring towns, leading to the tale of young dreamer Megumi, who’s distaste of her quiet cow town leads her toward the exotic new folks moving into the european-style castle up the hill. Never one to listen to her elders, or ignore her wishes for a life more dreamlike & fulfilling, Megumi’s life soon spirals into the ever deepening conundrums regarding these newcomers who roam nocturnally, and remain eternally youthful. Caught in the maelstrom of questions regarding the strange crimes include newly transplanted recluse, Yuki Katsuno, as well as local doctor, Ozaki & inquisitive priest Muroi, as they are slowly enveloped by a creeping dread that these deaths aren’t the work of some airborne infection.

No mystery here, and yet the atmosphere comes at you from frame one. The disconnect between these polar opposite feelings is at the heart of the problems that burden this vision of Ono’s popular book. For as at times beautiful as the imagery can be (from lush valleys of green, surrounded by seemingly endless arrays of mountains, to some truly chilling animated bursts), there are far too many elements of the absurd that punctuate matters with a lack of subtlety more fitting of a campy live-action art film. Somehow, when one mixes would-be EGL cuties lacking the wit to avoid the creepy castle up the hill, one becomes cloudy as to whether we are to buy into the horror, or just laugh at its absurdity. The central characters, for all of their posturing seem to lack any common sense, which does little to help matters as the body count begins mounting. And it is here, where perhaps this again reaches into realms of taste in regards to horror execution. When dealing with a mystery involving a body count, it is vital to ground us with those looking to solve the mystery. But when the show attempts to dazzle, and ignore the characters beyond mere type, the package becomes a blurry bore.

If the rest of the series’ world had embraced itself as fundamentally not ours, and perhaps had some fun with the proceedings, then maybe excitement could have have been mined from this project, but as it stands, the disconnect is huge as we are expected to take the village’s illogically slow comprehension of events as reasonable. It isn’t, and as such, the series seems to want the cake of kitsch, as well as the bloody cherry cheesecake for dinner. It’s this greedy angle that in many ways hurts the show beyond a cult audience.

While it must be looking to satisfy fringe fans of gothic horror, SHIKI does little to ingratiate itself beyond mere aesthetics (the hairdos & the stunt casting of pop conundrum, Gackt should be enough of a clue), which is a mild tragedy since it seems to have all the literary cards necessary to create a work that functions beyond mere novelty. I’d totally be down for some truly serious anime horror these days, so I guess it’s time to keep shopping the old school.

Moments after finishing the last few sentences, I come to realize that the anime is largely based on the 2007 manga adaptation by Ryu Fujisaki of Hoshin Engi fame. (well..that explains that…)

Both Hetalia: Axis Powers & Shiki can be seen on Hulu courtesy of Funimation!

Sleeper File: Eve No Jikan – The Life Positronic

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

-Isaac Asimov, Runaround (from I.Robot 1942)

Having missed Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s indie production, Pale Cocoon upon its release in 2004, it was possibly intentional on my part to ignore the man’s works until I had a full on chance to see where he began. And to see that he had also been involved in numerous support roles in recent shows including Rebuild Of Evangelion, it only felt right to finally dive in, and see where he stood amongst other indie luminaries such as Makoto Shinkai. How little I knew how much I wold actually grow to admire his potential after finally seeing Pale Cocoon for myself. Even if it is a pretty scrappy piece of work, and offers little to grasp onto writing-wise, I was impressed by his visual style, and wish to tackle some heady science-fiction regarding human neglect and its will to better grasp the hows and whys. So finally, the chance came to explore his first full-blown series experiment in the form of a six episodes that were released as online only.(streaming for the series began with episode one in October of 2008, and streamed the finale in September of 2009)  Unsure of such a proposition, there indeed was a little worry on my part going in, but it can now be safely said that Yoshiura has himself a compelling creature in the form of Even No Jikan. And as of this writing, the series has not only completed its brief run, but has also experienced a theatrical version run earlier this year. And there are few shows today, so willing to merge the shell of anime & the thoughtfulness of good science fiction that this comes as a grand exhale of minty cool in an era bereft of anything but disparate gimmicks.

Rikuo Kikuhara is a high schooler, living with his often away from home parents, an older sister seemingly residing in the family living room, and with Sammy, dutiful home servant. Only it seems that her daily activities aside from the requisite cooking, cleaning, and shopping expected of androids of her type, has been found unaccountable over several instances of time outside the house. Shopping and errands are taking an unrealistic amount of time. No explanation forthcoming, and troubled by a bizarre message in the Sammy’s data logs, Rikuo takes it upon himself, along with mechanically prejudiced classmate Masaki to trace the servant’s steps to discover the truth behind her mysterious disappearances. No sooner do they come across a doorway in an undisclosed alley, leading the duo to Eve No Jikan (Time Of Eve) a hidden cafe especially designed for both robots and humans to co-exist calmly, welcoming new customers with a sign signifying the cafe’s singular rule: “There is to be no discrimination between robots and humans”

It is here that Rikuo & Masaki begin to meet the cafe’s few patrons, and within six brief episodes, explore their own feelings on a world populated by machines from those created by man, and those self-made by a society afraid of its own shadow. The social implications of a populace surrounded by subservient creations has been a staple of not merely anime, but of literate science fiction for well over several decades now, and Yoshiura’s short series is definitely another in this pantheon, but has an interesting distinction in how it treats the subject matter with an unexpected reverence for Asimov’s concerns, and places them in a more intimate setting. Watching the complete series, there are only five settings throughout the entire project, the majority of which takes place in Eve No Jikan as the undisclosed nation outside brims with a growing miasma of prejudice against the mechanical whom have comfortably nestled into every part of the societal body. Many stories have covered this material before, but to take the quiet , kuuki-kei approach is a novel one closer in tone to an episode of The Outer Limits than Blade Runner, that is, if TOL had an episode comfortable with a cup of coffee and good conversation.

Each episode centers on Rikuo’s reaction upon getting to know each patron on a new level, as the publicly mandated “haloes” are removed, and the machines take on a more relaxed, almost human form in the safety of the cafe. Among the unique visitors to the establishment are chatty Akiko, enigmatic couple Koji & Rina, playful child Chie and her elder guardian Shimei whom each bear a tale placing pre-established beliefs into question. All the while, a world less understanding in the form of the little known, but media strongarm movement known as The Ethics Committee is making moves against robot-safe regions known as Grey Zones in greater metropolitan areas. The contrast between Rikuo’s growing understanding of a changing world, as well as the building tension within the less-than receptive Masaki (who’s background makes for an interesting, albeit simplistic counterpoint) make for a quietly escalating war of notions on what it means to integrate our mecha brethren into our daily lives.

And even as these oft-told stories have indeed been a part of anime & manga for quite some time, Yoshiura’s take is a much more a thinly-veiled look at the modern japanese experience, than another robot parable for the ages. As Rikuo begins to peel past the layers of what he had once understood about his world, it is clear that he himself has long put away vital feelings in order to better align with the group dynamic. From seeing how Sammy regards her so-called owners with respect, and maybe even adoration, Rikuo starts to see the blurring of any lines that had once been placed there by a young public, unsure exactly why it felt so compelled to create simulacra capable of expressing what they themselves cannot. In the ideal eyes of cafe hostess Nagi,  empathy akin to hers  is something often placed aside in the outside world, and has helped fashion an environment where dependence on the indirect nature of the masses has no application. From the glowing haloes hovering over the heads of programmed servants outdoors in a grand means to delineate human from machine makes for an interesting look at aesthetic dependence in hopes of maintaining an image of order in a time where so many are in fact not on any grid whatsoever. The self-imposed denial of externalized feelings has been relegated to prime status, as progress marches on with a public trapped in an eternal adolescence, completely unsure of what to make of the new world they have created.

It is also telling in the series how machines are often treated with the stressful disdain of meaningless objects, while those closer with their mechanical counterparts are being seen as a social anomaly. Rikuo’s growing respect for the folks of Eve No Jikan runs counter to popular belief, and thus brings some burning dilemmas to light in what could easily have been another CG-laden blob of nonsense. Much like the id-pressure valves video games can offer us, it is easy to succumb toward objects with the same kind of general disregard, but as Eve No Jikan displays (as did sections of The Animatrix-most notably Mahiro Maeda’s The Second Renaissance), the treatment of those who share a resemblance toward their creators gives us a stark look into our disconnected natures. So just as the show helps us better see the robots as potentially sympathetic creatures with personalities & frailties of their own, it gives us a more contextural view of this dilemma than merely fiery violence, and robogore. More interested in the subtle, Yoshiura’s theme playfully shows us more than tells. Something that is also refreshing in anime series of this kind. There is even room for sly humor when an outdated pre-humanoid model shows up, demanding the treatment given to any patron, nasty glitches and all.

Despite the budget upgrade from Cocoon, the series is clearly done with limited means, and takes full advantage with some often lovely production savvy that can compete with some of tv’s strongest works over the last decade. At times it’s a lovely mix between 3D and 2D, and offers some lush images rife with a muted coffee color that invites a more relaxed atmo, perfect for the stories inherent. Also worth nothing are fine performances by Rie Tanaka, Kenji Nojima, & even Ritsuko Akagi herself, Yuriko Yamaguchi who bring an almost retro-feel to the proceedings. There are also weaknesses as the pacing at times feels a little unsure of itself early in the series, but soon after, it begins to pick up once the writing becomes a lot more comfortable with the setting. It becomes clear later on that there were characters they were much more interested in exploring come later episodes.

So all in all, the world of Eve No Jikan seems ready to expand into other areas as it all ends on an incomplete note. Whether or not this comes to pass, I personally am fine with brevity. But the series does offer enchantments few shows can with such a limited budget. There is truly a large scope outside the walls of this place, but perhaps it is up to us to fill in those gaps with what it is we intend to bring to the discussion.

Curious? Eve No Jikan can be caught on Crunchyroll!