Angel Cop – Repulsive, Uncomfortable, Anti-Semitic

Growing up as an impressionable teenager in the mid-90s meant that my first taste of anime came through Manga Entertainment’s infamous VHS releases; sex, violence and science fiction were the orders of the day and as cheap and nasty as this kind of anime often was, I must admit I still think back on that time of my life quite fondly.

Angel Cop is the epitome of everything Manga (at least in the UK) used to stand for; it’s sinister, bereft of moral fibre and overflowing with such uncompromising violence. And when I say violence, I’m not talking about your sweet Elfen Lied rag dolls. Here is a morbid attention to detail which often forces some quite repulsive and uncomfortable scenes of murder and mayhem. I can best describe it is truly visceral gore. The titular lead character is Angel; a harder, nastier version of Matoko Kunsagi with a hatred for terrorists so deep that she is willing to kill a young kid if it means taking down her unenviable target.

Reading up on Angel Cop shows that it caused quite the controversy when first released in the West due to (according to Anime News Network) “… a rather blatant anti-Semitic slant, however both the dub and the subtitles were altered to a certain degree to cover this”. I am yet to see anything approaching racism in these first couple of episodes, though such an offensive subtext would hardly surprise me given the director is Ichiro Itano, who has previously worked with such questionable content in Violence Jack and to a lesser extent, Gantz.

Based on these opening episodes, I must admit that I am quite enjoying my look back at Angel Cop. Nostalgia often has a way of making things seem better than they actually are (imagine my disappointment when I realized Transformers: The Movie actually wasn’t the greatest film of all time, for shame) but this is still holding up today, despite being produced as an OVA series way back in 1989. The action is fierce and shocking and the visuals are reassuringly striking, combining those wonderful (read: ugly, Brian May-esque) hair cuts from the 80s with an exciting science fiction plot involving special government agents fighting psychically-powered vigilantes and pumped up cyborgs. What more could an action junkie want?

The declining Western anime industry

The imminent bankrupsy of Central Park Media (CPM) forecasts a bleak year ahead for the US anime industry, but given there are more fans now than ever before, one would assume that the opposite should be true. The Anime Almanac has an answer, though I’m not sure whether they are right; it seems fansubs are to blame.

The internet is a great tool for sharing information and this is especially true for the anime community. People are now able to watch new series months (sometimes years) ahead of their local releases and later even share opinions with other like-minded fans (e.g. the anime blogsphere). From the fans’ perspective, this is great, though looking out from say ADV’s base in Houston, it must be frustrating.

ADV US recently licensed “This Ugly Yet Beautiful World” – a 13 episode TV series from none other than Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL maestro’s GAINAX. Coming from GAINAX, it should be a license to print money, but “This Ugly Yet Beautiful World” is actually a complete load of rubbish, and there-in lays the problem. Suffice to say had I not watched this show fansubbed a few years back, I would be a lot more interested in it than I am today.

For many of us newer fans, simply being anime is no longer good enough; in this rapidly maturing community, companies can not just go out and license everything under the sun because now the fans won’t have it; we now know what is good from what is bad.

The boom of the early 2000s has led to another problem too. The Japanese companies noticed how successful their anime was becoming in the international markets and decided to bump up the cost of licensing. Now we are in a situation where the US companies are less than willing to throw around their money and the Japanese are asking for too much anyway. Stalemate.

Fansubs are still at the forefront of a newer generation of fandom, while the DVD industry is stuck years behind floundering in the past. The music industry recovered from the MP3 revolution by embracing it; and if it wants to survive, sooner or later the anime industry will have to do the same thing.

Tobira O Akete (Open the Door)

Being a big fan of the works of Koji Morimoto (Memories: Magnetic Rose, Animatrix: Beyond), I was quite pleased when I managed to track down one of his lesser known shorts – Tobira O Akete (Open the Door).

Imagine a decidedly more colourful version of British animation classic The Snowman; a young girl is swept from her bedroom and taken on a magical flying journey through an amazing fantasy world of vivid colour and odd creatures.

The drawing style, as you would expect of these experimental OVAs, is quite unique. As if to mirror the imagination of a young kid, there is more emphasis put on shape and colour than strict detail, evoking a potent mixture of magic and wonder.

Given just how surreal and vivid Tobira O Akete is, it is hard to know whether or not everything that happens was just a dream. It is fun to watch though and took me back to a time when the world really was a kaleidoscope of wonderful colours and impossible shapes.

One Piece – Episodes 78 through 91 – The Chopper Arc

Much like a snowball rolling down a mountain, my outright love of One Piece is now out of control, ready to smash anything that dares stand in its way. I’d seen images of Chopper before this arc, but never did I expect his history to be so frightfully tear jerking, so utterly heart breaking and magical. This is no doubt a big reason why I so enjoy anime like One Piece; every character, even a talking reindeer with a blue nose like Chopper, is fleshed out as a brilliant, larger than life personality, dogged with tragedy yet still content, nay determined, to move on with life, to achieve his own personal dreams.

No doubt this will go down as my favourite story arc of One Piece (so far). When an endearing character like Doctor Hiruluk dies out to a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria, it’s hard not to get swept up in the moment, overcome with the tragedy Chopper’s loss yet filled with admiration for the deceased final words, a speech filled with the kind of optimistic philosophy that fills your heart with a such reassuring warmth and hope for life.

The idea that someone never dies if you inherit their memories and their will is a message that lies at the heart of One Piece. Gold Roger’s greatest achievement was in his final words, echoed at the beginning of every episode, the words that gave birth to a thousand dreams. Similarly, Doctor Hiruluk’s limitless passion and impossible ambition lives on through Chopper. This was anime at its best, at its most powerful and I love it (to pieces, one might say!).

Naruto – 186 – The episode where Shino laughs

This episode makes a mockery of everything Naruto stands for and as a hardcore fan, there is a guilty voice saying I should be completely offended by it, but honestly, this episode was so off the wall and slapstick funny that I could not help but love every minute of it.

The premise is brilliant. Naruto and Shino are asked to attend a funeral on behalf of a “client”, the catch is that if the other guests at the funeral can make Naruto or Shino laugh, they will get a cut of the deceased’s fortune; cue some of the most surreal, weirdest attempts at humour seen this side of Cromartie High School. Given how serious this show usually is, it makes a nice refreshing change (especially within the confines of such endless, empty filler) to see the likes of Shino and Naruto just cut loose and laugh their heads off.

Episode 186 will not go down as the finest example of the Naruto anime, but right here, right now, I have to admit this is the most fun I have salvaged from Naruto for what feels like years.

Jyu-Oh-Sei – 5 through 6 – Lost Love

To my frank and utter bemusement, we are now over half way through the 11 episodes of Jyu-Oh-Sei and although a part of me is glad to see every episode crammed full with so much story and character development, I can’t help but lament a narrative which is clearly moving a bit too fast for its own good, not least of all Thor’s transition from talented kid to Ochre Ring’s respected Top in a measly two episodes.

It is a shame because the rest of this show is outstanding. The planet of Chimera strikes me as a colourful, vast and dangerous place to live, the main characters convey and conceal their ambitions admirably and the story drives ever onwards with themes of love, betrayal, conspiracy and strength. Watching the likes of Thor and Tiz grow into adults adds a real sense of the depth to their personalities and if only we had 26 episodes to play with, the interwoven character relationships could have crushed us with their climaxes; in particular, it would have been great to see a few more scenes devoted to fleshing out such an inevitably tragic heroine like Chen.

Jyu-Oh-Sei is an exciting and immersive experience, but now I’m doubtful it can become a real classic.

Fan-girl translation of the above:

I love Jyu-Oh-Sei! Not that I seen all the episodes in the anime nor read the manga but it makes me really happy to watch how cute they all are 2gether! yay! And aww, Third are sooooo cute!!! Why aren’t boys in the “real” as cute as him? mwihihi ^^
well to everyone who reads this, just watch the anime it’s worth it!!!

Reigniting the flames of fansubs

In an interview with ActiveAnime, Viz Media’s director of PR Evelyn Dubocq slammed all forms of internet piracy. Despite the generic corporate style of her responses (which show little-to-no knowledge of the anime community as a whole), Dubocq’s remarks have inevitably reignited the flames of debate within the anime community.

On one side we have the hippy-like fansubbers who feel like everything should be free and on the other, there are the hard-line DVD fans, their motto is that “anime is a luxury, not a right”.

Now before we go any further into this entry, we may as well ascertain one simple fact; by downloading and watching anime fansubs, you are breaking the law; irregardless of if it’s “unlicensed” outside of Japan, you are infringing copyright law.

Now that you know this, whether or not you watch fansubs is, and always should be, a question of considered personal ethics. I can only speak for myself, but the reason I download anime is because I am a fan and to put it simply, I just want to watch the latest and greatest shows as soon as possible. I’m not patient enough to wait another year for the US DVD releases and heck, we live in modern times now; we shouldn’t have to wait so long anyway.

Now I’m aware no one is entitled to anime- after all, like the hardliners say, it is a luxury, but my love of anime knows no bounds. I’m not downloading fansubs because they are free, but rather, just because it is anime and I want to watch it now.

By picking up fansubs am I hurting the Western anime industries? No. Given how niche a genre this really is, anime has and always will survive through fan-driven word of mouth. Naruto is the most downloaded anime of all time; at it’s highest point over two hundred thousand people were downloading new episodes every week, has this detracted from it’s runaway success in the United States? Has it even affected DVD sales?

Of course there will always be leechers that only download anime and never buy the real thing, but then, if say fansubs magically disappeared tomorrow, would they suddenly begin investing their hard earned cash in official anime DVDs instead? Of course not, once a cheap skate, always a cheap skate. No money is lost or gained on these people.

The world of anime fansubs is not as black and white as some will have you believe; unless you are 4Kids (in which case; fuck you), they should never be considered a replacement for the official DVDs but similarly, unless a better- and legal- means of previewing subtitled anime becomes available, fansubs will always serve an absolutely vital service to anime fans, something I am very grateful for.