Welcome to the NHK! – 16 – The Ultimate NEET

There was always going to be a twist behind the real world identity of Mia. “She” was too perfect, Satou loved her too much, and NHK! isn’t about Satou being in love. I certainly didn’t see it being Yamazaki though – jeez, that was cruel of him. And then there is the flash-forward to Satou’s soon to be 50-year-old fat balding old man still leaching off his parents. Brutal and depressing – basically I’m glad this arc looks to be ending soon.

Satou’s melodramatic over reactions to the in-game chats are darkly funny; especially when he can hear the bishoujo Mia creeping towards his apartment, the dumbstruck “oh no! my hikkimori is revealed!” expression slapped across his face is priceless – but where is the series going with this MMORPG arc?

I suppose the problem is that I can’t really see what the story is building towards; we’re now over half way through and it would be a shame for it all to just suddenly end in one episode with Satou walking outside, smiling and ready to take on the world. For all this damn depressing mental torture, I demand payment in smiles and happiness! Obviously the manga is still on-going – so this is a real concern.

The animation was pretty bad too. NHK! is hardly ever good looking, more mediocre, but it bothers me when the character designs are clearly misshapen, rushed and lacking in essential detail – like faces. Come on Gonzo, I thought you were supposed to be good? Give poor Satou back his face.

Red Garden – 3 – Theatrical heart break

Episode 3 of Red Garden is the best yet; the viewer leaves this instalment drenched in suspense, mystery and blood, and all the while we’re slowly beginning to understand what’s happened to the girls – or rather, how they died! There are still big question marks hanging over why they were all together on *that* night (since they were never friends before all this), and why must they fight the “dog men”? I’m desperate to know the answers.

This is a show that looks absolutely ravishing, but it can be absolutely brutal too. The death scenes in this episode are especially harrowing because of the voice acting – the way the victims scream; they sound genuinely terrified and desperate. We glimpse at another group of girls who, just like the main characters, have to fight the monsters to live – but they have given up hope and die in the throws of painful physical violence; we hear strangled throats buckle and bones break. I’m getting frustrated with characters running scared now though – the girls need to bring weapons. Swords. Anything!

I’ve also realised that Red Garden has a brilliant soundtrack. Composed by Akira Senju, the music in this episode was particularly compelling; full of dread, sadness and realisation. The style suggests a very emotional and sweeping opera, a worthy match for such an elegant series.

Having now taken in three episodes, I don’t hesitate to say that Red Garden is my favourite show of the season. Death Note is suspenseful and thrilling, but Red Garden combines such a theatrical and stylish art direction with a heart breakingly mysterious story that just begs to be watched. I need more!

Kemonozume – 9 – Old habits die hard

Still on the run from the Kifuuken, we join the love birds Yuka and Toshihiko aimlessly wandering down vast and empty roads when they are offered a lift by an old married couple. Their journey (squeezed inside a white van) is a chance for them to reflect on their young relationship, inspired by the beautiful and reflective scenery, and of course they can’t help but stare at the old couple still head-over-heals in love with each other after decades of marriage.

Later that evening, Yuka and Toshihiko take a walk down by a rocky beach but return to find tragedy; the old couple, having taken some strange medicine, have transformed into grotesque monsters and are biting chunks out of each other. Toshihiko tries to stop them, but Yuka is attacked and this in turn triggers her own transformation. The old couple end up dead, the medicine sold to them by the Kifuuken. Utterly horrified at having feasted on the old lady, Yuka leaves Toshihiko and runs crying into a near-by forest. Here she bumps into the frog like old man from the Kifuuken. He has a sick, greedy look on his face; grinning widely as if to suggest he has finally found his prey.

There is a lot of talk here about love and what it means to love someone regardless of their physicality. Subverting and repressing your nature, attempting to become something you’re not, this inevitably leads to heart break. Yuka is a flesh eater and she must accept this fact if she is ever to become happy.

This was another fine episode – noted for a particularly symbolic and beautiful scene where the characters find themselves walking on blue sky and fluffy clouds; a completely flat, shallow river that reflects the sky above. The novelty of a 60+ year old woman dreamily discussing sex not withstanding.

Kemonozume – 8 – Hard violence, hard sex, hard feelings

At the beginning of this episode a boy student is excitedly kissing his innocent girlfriend for the first time. They hold each other in an emotional embrace, it is a pivotal moment in their lives, “Ah the day has finally come, Takako-Chan’s warm, soft, slippery thing is in my mouth…”. But the boy gets too excited, “What’s this?” he wonders aloud, sensing something wet and sticky. He opens his eyes to realize he has accidentally bitten Takako-Chan in half. Whoops. Turns out he was a flesh eater, and along with a bucket load of her blood, the top half of Takako-Chan’s corpse dribbles from his fanged jaws. “What’s this?”

Kemonozume is the coolest show airing right now. It’s an adult anime, it has sex, it has attitude and it looks so completely different to everything else. With that said, it clearly isn’t for hard-line anime fans; the art is simply too eclectic and weird for most – fluid and evocative, it lacks the mundane and familiar beauty of typical anime, yet bursts with a free wheeling and fun loving spirit.

I have my doubts about the durability of the story – namely Romeo (Toshihiko – human) and Juliet (Yuka – flesh eating monster) are still on the run from their hunters – these characters, for all their swagger, feel as though they lack a compelling substance. I love that they are eccentric, passionate and unpredictable. All the characters in Kemonozume are fun to watch, but something still feels hollow; a gaping sense of empathy I’m still to locate.

Though these are just nagging doubts; so far Kemonozume has been a fiendishly successful experiment in dripping, post-noir style. Hard violence, hard sex, hard feelings. This is the bleeding edge of modern anime.

Red Garden – 2 – Expensive shirts and werewolves

I do love mysterious horror stories, especially when the viewer is as much at a loss as to what is going on as the characters themselves. The supernatural Red Garden is growing with this creeping intrigue, it’s bizarre and confusing and a lot of my interest is now centred on eventually finding answers.

In some quarters it is being compared with Gantz, though beyond the familiar premise of confused teenagers fighting off an unknown enemy, it’s a misleading reference. Where Gantz was extremely cold, violent and absolutely cynical, Red Garden has fluffy hair cuts, scared girls breaking out into theatrical song and air-heads more worried about ripping their expensive shirts than being eaten by werewolves. It’s a completely feminine anime, where fashion sense collides with survival. Elegant and extremely self conscious.

The characterisation feels very American, drawing on stereotypical high school cliques to bring together four distinct personality types, but it works quite well in the heat of battle with the girls forced to put aside their superficial differences and fight to survive. The constant crying and self pity can be tiresome, but it makes a refreshing change to see people who are genuinely too scared to move when faced with a razor toothed terror.

Welcome to the NHK! – 14 to 15 – MMORPGs destroy lives… mmmk?

The relentless waves of depression continue unabated with these two episodes as Satou (hardly recovered from his suicidal exploits) stupidly falls foul to the life sucking world of MMORPGs. These highly addictive and never ending online games are undoubtedly one of the major forces behind what is becoming a worldwide epidemic of hikkimori, but what if, like Satou, you’re a hikkimori before even signing in? You already have no work and no responsibilities – so there is no reason for a break, you can just play the game all day and all night without a worry in the world.

The end of episode 15 was a harrowing and unhinged sight. Satou’s suicide attempts felt like melodramatic entertainment, as if he was looking for (and found) a reason to survive, but now he appears to be a lost cause, detached from reality and convinced he has somehow improved his life style. MMORPG’s offer a gradual yet hollow sense of achievement, making it seem as if going up a few power levels was worth the weeks of effort.
Like most entertainment mediums, MMORPG’s are an easy escape from reality, but where movies usually finish after 2 hours; these games can essentially run forever. For an amusing but ultimately just as depressing satire of MMORPGs, take a look at South Park episode 147.

Satou is lucky to have Misaki and even Yamazaki checking up on him. In reality a cute girl does not knock on the door of a hikkimori. Then again perhaps their concerned interference is harming his progress. If Satou is ever going to change, he has to want to do it. No matter how much Yamazaki bugs him about their gal-game or Misaki lectures him about recovering, Satou has to hit rock bottom to decide how he wants to live. Misaki, Yamazaki and even his parents are dragging him on, allowing him to quietly trudge through life, when all he needs is a bit of tough love.

Mushishi – 26 – And so ends a landmark anime production

As if to confirm its audacious brilliance, central character Ginko hardly even appears in this final episode and it was still one of the highlights of the Mushishi TV series.

Again bursting with its trademark melancholic tone, this was yet another natural blend of touching storytelling that mixes a retrospective and sad human drama with symbolic and vibrant art. An episode that is not so much about achieving an end, but rather growing to accept our roles in life, learning to move on and trust in our friends – an ultimately a positive and beautiful way to send off this most outstanding of series.

I would dearly love to see Mushishi remembered as a landmark anime production, a series that fans of all generations will come to cherish. Minute by minute, episode by episode, it rarely lost my attention. The art, and particularly the beautiful country-side landscapes, were a joy to behold; the lush details and attractive seasonal shades of spring, summer, autumn and winter were all illustrated to great atmospheric effect, allowing the characters and ghosts of Mushishi to grace a stage fit for a dream.

Mushishi is much like watching a dream really, a plain of human imagination where everything has meaning and symbolism, but often sparkles with an odd flourish of unbelievable supernatural vision. The mushi look like faded ghosts, mysterious apparitions wandering, shuddering, gliding through the world bent on purposes we never truly understand. Ginko is by default the “main” character of this series, but like the mushi he hunts, he often wanders through these episodes as a neutral bystander, interfering with characters and using just enough wit to force them into making life changing decisions. Sometimes it ends well, other times it’s quite nasty, but then so is life. If I had one regret about Mushishi, it would be that we still know little to nothing about Ginko. I crave more information about him, how he feels and if he is happy.

We all have our favourites, our guilty pleasures, but this isn’t like that. Mushishi had no faults, it’s not about being a fanboy or obsessing over certain characters, you don’t need to be an anime fan to enjoy Mushishi, it was just a brilliant and magical TV series. A pleasure to watch.