“If it cannot break out of its shell, the chick will die without ever being born. We are the chick-The world is our egg. If we don’t crack the world’s shell, we will die without ever truly being born. Smash the world’s shell. FOR THE REVOLUTION OF THE WORLD!”
–Revolutionary Girl Utena
Shokuzai (Penance) is a story of people dying without ever being born. Exposed to a tragedy at a young age, it’s like they were frozen in time and encased within a shell of adolescence as they grew into adulthood. They were five girls in their school’s playground when one of them was abducted right in front of their eyes and murdered. 15 years later, we return to their lives and find them still struggling to come to terms with what happened. Stunted, empty, cursed; they could never break out of their shells. Thus began the 5 episode series Shokuzai, a 2012 Japanese TV drama directed by the horror maestro Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure, Pulse, Tokyo Sonata.)
When I began investigating Japanese film in 2008, Kurosawa fast became a favourite of mine. Like a Japanese Tarkovsky, his style is calm and atmospheric, using background noise and image to convey a strong feeling of alienation and disquiet. If you’ve ever seen anything from the anime directors Ryutaro Nakamura (Serial Experiments Lain, Ghost Hound) or Hiroshi Hamasaki (Texhnolyze, Shigurui,) you’ll know what to expect. Kurosawa’s made a lot of horror, but in a genre renowned for its visceral qualities, his films are unusually meditative and artful nightmares that play with the strange and surreal to emphasise an ugly and desperate reality. When even Martin Scorsese is a fan (the excellent Shutter Island owes a lot to Kurosawa,) you realise this is a filmmaker worthy of note.
Every season has its dark horses and this one is no different. I’ve been excited about Flowers of Evil, Attack on Titan and Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet since the offset, but I ignored Majestic Prince, which I figured would be as cliché as it looked. I don’t know if it’s just Hisashi Hirai’s dated character designs or the general vibe of nostalgia that permeates its whole production, but Majestic Prince feels old. For example, I’ll always remember Hirai’s drawing style for his work on 1999’s Infinite Ryvius (and later, 2002’s Gundam SEED,) but there’s other points of reference, too, like how it has an ending theme by Chiaki Ishikawa of Bokurano’s great Uninstall OP. It all just feeds into that datedness that has seen many dismiss it with barely a second glance. Like I did, sadly. It has a score of 6.77 (from 3001 users) on MyAnimeList, which is notably low for what’s fast becoming a very decent series, but is also revealing in how far out of sync it seems to be with the fans of today.
There’s something of a power struggle going on in Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet. Although he doesn’t seem to want it, Ledo could easily become a tyrant. His robot is so powerful that the sheer disparity in strength between him and everyone else is frightening. What will he do next?
When I think about Free!, known and loved by all of tumblr and the internet as Swimming Anime, I find myself in a bit of a dreamlike haze.
Mamoru Oshii doesn’t make forgettable anime. Be it Ghost in the Shell or Patlabor 2, the man injects so much personality into his films that it’s impossible not to recognise his touch. There is, of course, his famous basset hound, but there’s also a poetic side that transports this viewer into the ether. I can’t tell if it’s just that his films are ageing like fine wine, or if I’m now of an age where I’m better able to appreciate what he’s trying to say, but whatever the case, he’s now one of my favourite film directors.
I watched The Sky Crawlers for the first time last night. With Kenji Kawai and Production IG alongside him, it’s a film as thoughtful as it is beautiful. Set on an alternate Earth, the ageless Kildren (“kill-dolls”) are fighter pilots forever clashing amidst the clouds in a war that is at best extremely vague and at worst totally pointless. The story exists in a place that’s like Neverland gone bad, where the children’s only escape from the endless cycles of war is heavy drinking, sex and suicide: the sheer monotony of their lives is reflected in the film’s subdued colour palette, everything is so hazy and drained: an apt worldview for a doll. A doll isn’t alive. A doll doesn’t have memories. A doll is content with its place in the world because it knows no better.
All these years, I wanted K-On! to prove me right. I wanted it to be a shitty anime about cute girls doing cute things. I wanted to hold myself above it and I wanted you all to point and look and say “Look at those folks over at Bateszi Anime Blog, they have such good fucking taste, they’d never blog about K-On! because it’s moe-moe shit!”
This season, I’ve found myself in the fun position of having two of my favourite manga series adapted into anime. We already know how things went with Flowers of Evil, but there’s still the case of Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) to consider. Produced at Wit Studio and directed by Tetsurō Araki (of Death Note and Kurozuka, amongst others,) it’s the adaptation I was hoping for back in 2011. So, is it any good? Going by this first episode: hell yes.