Never knows best; my ‘review’ of FLCL

Writing this now, I’m reminded of people (some of them anime fans) who will often say that watching these funny Japanese cartoons isn’t “hip”, isn’t something to be proud of, but watching this show, I’m ready to call that bull-****. Anime can be stylish, hip, cool, fun, trendy and everything else under the sun, and guess what, FLCL is my proof.

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When it comes to reviewing anime, one of the most frustrating tasks can be screen-capping. Sometimes you’ll remember the cool scenes, jump straight in and snap away. Job done. But with FLCL, it’s not that easy; everything looks cool. So, when I skipped through the first two episodes, I finished up with 89 separate images! Some heartless deleting later (with emphasis on heartless), the count is down to 24. Frankly, I can’t bear to discard any more than that. Writing this now, I’m reminded of people (some of them anime fans) who will often say that watching these funny Japanese cartoons isn’t “hip”, isn’t something to be proud of, but watching this show, I’m ready to call that bull-shit. Anime can be stylish, hip, cool, fun, trendy and everything else under the sun, and guess what, FLCL is my proof.

It’s FLIctonic KLIpple Waver Syndrome. An adolescent psychological skin hardening syndrome. A common affliction where children grow horns from trying too hard. Okay, I lied.” — Haruko.

This is the obligatory part of the review where I write a brief plot synopsis and you roll your eyes in boredom, but as FLCL is far too punk rock to bother with such standard fare, any attempt on my part to summarise the story would be utterly futile too. For what it’s worth, these few words might help: bored, head, rock, horn, girls, cigarettes, surreal, pain, mecha, pathos; repeat times infinity. If you really want to know what FLCL is, the above quote is the best possible explanation I can offer. It is an experience, on its surface illogical, yet subconsciously profound. Pure animation in the sense that, just like you can’t really relate to the pain of a gunshot wound until you’ve felt it yourself, you’ll never really understand the mad brilliance of hurricane FLCL unless you’ve seen it in motion for yourself.

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If we’re talking about motion, then we’re talking about animation. For me, this is GAINAX’s finest production, better than Evangelion, Gunbuster and even Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. No other animation studio in the world could come out with something like this, it’s so unique. Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s character design is simply wonderful, but then, the entire production aesthetic is too, which feels so seamlessly tied into the hormonal narrative themes that you might get more sense out of it by watching without the dialogue. I made a point there to specifically say ‘dialogue’ because I’d hate for you to miss out on the soundtrack. You see, the music is almost entirely composed of The Pillows grungy, delirious, hot-blooded rock sound that, again, is a perfectly fitting conveyance for FLCL’s rallying cry against bored, sub-urban apathy.

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A favourite scene of mine appears in episode 2. The air-headed, pink bomb-shell Mamimi is wasting time playing with a stray kitten when something catches her eye in the golden, grassy field ahead. It’s Canti the robot wandering around aimlessly. She follows “him” until they happen across a half burnt down, old elementary school. The sky darkens with black rain clouds and hungry crows perch on the surrounding landscape as Canti climbs onto the roof and, quite literally, takes flight. It’s an amazing, baffling moment. The sun shines through the clouds as Mamimi stares on, birds aflutter, wonderstruck. Through-out this sequence, The Pillows song, “Hybrid Rainbow”, is rising in the background, the chorus hits crescendo just as Canti flies away. It’s a spine-tingling, rousing scene, seemingly random and superfluous, but completely worthwhile.

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You could say FLCL depicts that painful transition between late adolescence and young adulthood; a time when you’re too old to do kid things and not old enough to do adult things. Characters, failing to understand or grasp new emotions and burgeoning sexuality, are confused and lost, as if unable to make sense of the reality that surrounds them. They can lash out, or retreat, and yet, back then, life was so colourful, new and exciting too, as if a sudden revelation could unlock a new, brilliant dimension of reality. That is, ultimately, FLCL’s crazy point of view, an unpredictable, wonderful stream of consciousness, so frenetic, surreal and fun, like stepping into a long forgotten, lost dream.

Kanpai! Two years on, still a fanboy

bateszi_3_s.jpgPlease forgive the self-serving nature of this post, but I just wanted to point out that on the 4th of March, Bateszi Anime Blog celebrated its second birthday, yes, I know I’m woefully late, the date just totally slipped my mind until yesterday. Anyway, with every new year that passes on the ‘net, the fact this blog continues to thrive surprises me enough to be worth celebrating. Kanpai!

bateszi_4_s.jpgI’ve spent the last couple of hours looking over my archives and it’s amusing to see just how much my style has changed over the years. For example, in May of 2006, I made 31 separate posts about anime, but as of 2008, I’ll be lucky if I can write 6. My style has evolved from a strictly episodic style of anime blogging to this now weird hybrid of reviews, editorials and reflection. Why do I keep going? The truth is that, and always has been, I’m so passionate about anime that when I see something which really captures my imagination, it’s like I’m fit to burst with enthusiasm and I need to share that with someone…, anyone, as if my life depended on it. It happened again last week when I saw the trailer for Soul Eater; as long as anime like this continues to be made, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to survive without blogging; I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Of course, another big reason is loyalty to the community, that being the awesome people who take their time out to write comments and share thoughts with me, and then, of course, there’s my fellow bloggers too.

bateszi_s.jpgYesterday, I got an e-mail from the Anonymous Commitee (SEELE) running the inaugural Anime Blog Awards and since then, I’m flattered to have been I’ve been nominated in a select few categories, those being “Best Editorial Blog” and “Most Thought-Provoking Blog”. You have to be a blogger to vote and the categories are well structured, so, while it’s still a popularity thing, the voters are bound to be more discerning in their choices. I think it’s a really nice idea, very much a community-driven initiative, and I’ll be voting too.

bateszi_2_s.jpgI suppose this caps off a fine second year for Bateszi Anime Blog, from fun interviews to emotionally wrought reviews and nostalgic reflections to controversial drama, it’s been fun. Since you’re reading this now, I’d love to know more about you, like how long you’ve been visiting and what your favourite anime is? Regardless, thanks for reading.

The light of dawn always comes right after the deepest darkness

Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire

Writing an anime blog is frustrating. Either through lack of time or energy, I just haven’t felt the inclination to set aside an afternoon to write about something. I guess that’s more a reflection on my recent viewing habits than anything else, because since finishing with February’s Ookiku Furikabutte, I’ve not been able to immerse myself in a series to the point where I could contribute any kind of worthwhile, extended writing. Indeed, I was hoping to uncover some inspiration after catching up with two long time favourites, Naruto and One Piece, but to be honest, neither are firing on all cylinders at the moment. So, I’m sorry, dear reader, if things have seemed on the short side of late, but that I’m here now is as sure a sign as any that I’ve found something new to light the night; it’s an old flame I’ve been sheltering for too long, Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

Reinhard von Lohengramm enters the Royal Chamber

There’s no easy way to describe Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It is, in many ways, the crowning achievement for an entire generation of anime creators, a nigh-on ten year production that ran from 1988 to 1997 and stretches across 110 episodes. Quite remarkably, it contains the largest voice cast for any known animated production. All these artists, directors and actors, they lived through (and even worked on) such influential space operas as Mobile Suit Gundam, Macross and Space Battleship Yamato, and before retiring, they created this as a tribute to, or culmination of, their beloved star-fairing era. Essentially, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is that generation’s parting sentiment, their last, glorious hurrah, its opulent texture and poetic scope sweeping through distant stars to study man’s political, historical, romantic lust for power.

Reinhard's best friend, Kircheis, and his sister, Annerose

We have two protagonists at the heart of this story; ambitious aryan Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire (based on 19th century Prussia, hence the German names) and reluctant tactician Yang Wen-li of the Free Planets Alliance. By the time both men, notably younger than their peers, come into power, their sides have been fighting a war of attrition for over 100 years. Lohengramm’s lofty ambitions were set in stone when his beautiful older sister, Annerose, was bought (as in, with money) by the Kaiser to be his concubine. Reinhard rises through the ranks of the Empire’s military, gaining more and more power with each success, striving for the ostensible goal of winning back her freedom, though, with every passing victory; one wonders if he’s not planning to control the galaxy itself. Yang Wen-li is the exact opposite, in the sense that he isn’t driven by any lofty ambition, he doesn’t want to fight, and only does so out of loyalty to his comrades and for the sake of forging a peaceful future. Right from the start, there’s no real enemy to speak of, simply these two men on opposite sides of the fence, arch-rivals, geniuses, as fate would have it, striving for a better tomorrow.

Iserlohn about to fire the Thor Hammer

Their characterisation sets in motion this massive struggle for power engulfing man’s last frontier. So far, I’ve only seen up to episode 10, but during the first two episodes alone, over one million lives are sacrificed in battle. Much like Word War I, people are lost in their thousands, like pawns on a chess board at the hands of incompetent, pig-headed commanders too proud to quit. Also, there is a big Star Wars vibe, not least of all from the Empire’s gigantic fortress Iserlohn and it’s likeliness to the Death Star; the structure’s super-weapon, aptly named the “Thor Hammer”, can scythe through surrounding space-fleets with lightning force.

Yang Wen-li

I don’t want to write much more for fear of never ending; ultimately, this is a mere introduction to a series that’s all about social and political commentary, it’s so thought provoking that only a detailed, blow-by-blow study would suffice. Maybe that sounds intense? You’d be quite right; Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a concentrated, hard science fiction story heavy on philosophical dialogue (though not exactly at the level of Mamoru Oshii), military tactics and political manoeuvring. It has a wonderful, emotional score; rousing, soul-searching theatrical orchestra, utterly befitting for a story set within the Sea of Stars, where the whims of a select few carry the ideals and hopes of an entire generation.

You get the feeling that this is it, this is why I watch anime.

Kaiba teaser online, dear anime fans, please value originality

we’re in this funny position where Kaiba’s being hotly anticipated on popular indie-film sites like Twitch, yet completely ignored by anime fandom itself. Something is seriously wrong with this; that the most talented directors working in anime aren’t being recognised within the community is both baffling and stupid.

Twitch has linked the Kaiba teaser. It’s only 15 seconds long, but already, I’m getting good feelings about this. It’s looking very dreamy, very surreal and very innocent. Just what I expected. The thing is, Masaaki Yuasa is such an auteur, and his style is so utterly foreign compared to the norm, that he’s regularly shunned by anime fans. The few spring previews I’ve read reveal as much. Ironically though, Yuasa and Kaiba represent everything that’s so great about Japanese animation, outsiders (as in, not die-hard anime fans) look at it and see quality, but the otaku are too caught up in aesthetic doubt, fawning over the same old and being flat out lazy in refusing to accept something that looks a little different. Therefore, we’re in this funny position where Kaiba’s being hotly anticipated on popular indie-film sites like Twitch, yet completely ignored by anime fandom itself. Something is seriously wrong with this; that the most talented directors working in anime aren’t being recognised within the so-called anime community itself is both baffling and stupid.

Animated eye candy, courtesy of Kazuto Nakazawa

Over the last few weeks, I’ve started subscribing to some French anime blogs. I can’t speak a word of the language, but I know good taste, and more to the point, just how priceless it is. On the front page of Manganimation.net, there are burgeoning articles on ‘The Sky Crawlers‘, ‘Kaiba’ and Kazuto Nakazawa. Basically, the French anime fans are awesome, and just because he’s such a wonderful artist, I want to post up some clips showcasing Nakazawa‘s beautiful animation.

The 10 minute short story ‘Comedy’ was the first time I noticed Nakazawa and it remains his best work to date. Ostensibly about a young girl desperate to repel English invaders from Ireland, it’s a Tim Burton-esque gothic fairy-tale; dark, atmospheric and elegant. The brooding bishonen vampire at the centre of this plot, known only as the black swordsman, rarely cracks a smile; despite his fearsome reputation, he will only help the girl if she can find him a comedy book to laugh at. Make sure you stream this on YouTube, download it with as high a quality as possible and store it forever.

Although I don’t have much of an opinion on the show itself (having only seen the first few episodes), ‘Blood+’ offers two excellent opening sequences, the second of which was directed by our man Nakazawa. The song immediately recalls Monorol‘s swooning rock opening for Ergo Proxy, while the animation slips between sequences of ‘Comedy’-style gothic posturing and a wistful nostalgia for bright, easy going suburban life. Repeating this video a few times over, I’m reminded how just how much I loved that same feeling of ‘romance with nostalgia’ in ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time‘.

I’m assured “hair is the heart of a woman”, and after seeing Nakazawa‘s ‘Hairy Tale’, I’m inclined to believe it. This was actually a Japanese TV ad. for ‘Asinence’ shampoo, but regardless of its commercial intent, it’s an undeniably stunning work of art. I suppose there’s only so many adjectives I can throw at one minute’s worth of animation without coming off as horribly pretentious (as if I haven’t already), so just watch it, please.

Nakazawa‘s latest effort is a music video for the song ‘Atarashii Sekai’ by Asian Kung-Fu Generation, and I’ve somehow got through this post without even mentioning his most famous contributions to the mainstream consciousness, namely the ‘fun‘ (warning: heavy violence) animation sequence in ‘Kill Bill’ and his scratchy, dystopian music video for Linkin Park‘s ‘Breaking The Habbit’.