Soul and style: Toradora and Michiko e Hatchin

Cool afro

It’s the eve of the latest spring season, but I’m still playing catch up with a lot of last year’s finest. Last week it was Xam’d, and this week it’s Michiko e Hatchin and Toradora.

I’m only too aware that the anime community is driven by an insatiable desire for ‘newness’, and I’m really excited by some of this new anime too, but there has always been a feeling that a more considered, ‘concentrated’ and, dare I say it, slower viewing style is the ideal way to go. It’s true that sometimes a good series is impossible to resist, but I’m also thinking that there is so much more to gain from taking in only one series at a time.

Such is the way I’m approaching most anime these days. If nothing else, at least I’ll have the opportunity to write about something different each week, and this time, one of those things happens to be Michiko e Hatchin.

Hatchin

Since Shinichiro Watanabe was attached to it, this was one of my most anticipated anime of last year, but generally speaking, I would have watched it anyway, because, basically, Michiko e Hatchin looks really cool. It has a punk rock style, with a strong emphasis on things like fashion; the clothes are ever changing, the hair is messy and the voices are lazy. As if to suggest it couldn’t give two shits about whether you like it or not, it’s like the perpetually sneering, Johnny Rotten of anime.

If style was all that mattered, then this would be perfect, but to really admire something, I need characters to care about and a story to be fascinated by, too. Michiko e Hatchin has none of these things and as such, it ends up feeling ever so empty and aimless. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, because I was able to watch all 22 episodes in one week, so, obviously, I found it entertaining and beautiful to look at, but reflecting on it now, it just feels like there is nothing left to say. The fusion of anime and South American culture is a cool idea, but may be too much emphasis was placed on recreating the visual style and tropes of, for example, Brazilian cinema, to the detriment of a good story.

Looks like FLCL?

Then we have Toradora. I watched the final four episodes this morning and not expecting much at all, I was surprised by the impact it wrought on me. I’ve been back and forth with my opinion of Toradora for a while now, but, undeniably, the finale was hugely involving. We had the soulful dreaming of characters like Ryuuji and Taiga, Minorin’s conflicted smile and Ami’s desperate loneliness, each of them contemplating the state of their lives, while searching for happiness in indirect and painful directions. I lost a lot of faith in the series when it descended into cheesy Christmas songs and illogical plot twists, but the finale won me back over. It may be a generic set-up, but, in the end, Toradora was an honest and heartfelt drama. I couldn’t ask for any more.

Free skies, and endless land

Akiyuki facing off against a Humanform hundreds of miles in the air

The problem with writing an anime blog for any length of time is that I’m prone to repeating myself. I’ve had this ache to write about something, anything, over the last month or so, but there are only so many times I can say “this is good, that is bad” without feeling as though I’m running in circles, writing about anime for the sake of being an anime blogger. I don’t want to go down that road, I want this to be like a natural impulse, something that I’m compelled to do by an honest desire to share my enthusiasm with you. Nothing else.

That is why this post exists. I haven’t stopped watching anime, or anything as dramatic as that, it’s just that my mind has been blank. I’ve been waiting for something to shake me out of that apathy, and it turns out that that something is Xam’d: Lost Memories.

Nakiami

It’s not just that the animation is superb, or that the soundtrack is evocative, or even that the characters are great. It’s everything. The world-building, the whimsical adventure, the sudden bursts of brutality. I adore it because it reminds me of Eureka Seven and Nausicaa, that it makes clear nods towards Miyazaki’s synthesis of nature and fantasy, the sweeping landscapes and complex technologies of a strange new world. It’s so nostalgic for me; a story I can’t help but treasure dearly.

I’ve spent this last week navigating my way through all 26 episodes, and even then, I must admit, it has been difficult to follow. Considering its strange terminologies and complex foreign cultures, this has to be the hardest fantasy anime I’ve seen since Seirei no Moribito, and without ever pausing for reflection, it forges ahead breathlessly with the story. There is little time wasted on explanation or flashback, we’re just dropped right in to the centre of a world war and expected to keep up. In its slower moments, characters dream of their past adventures, regret old battles and wistfully sigh over lost loves, but all we have to go on are painful scars, a name or a place. That’s the thing about Xam’d, really, almost as if it has invented its own language, it speaks in riddles and poetry, and like the best of fantasies, it feels deep. One might compare it to a glass of vintage wine, a subtle taste nurtured over years of careful fermentation. Xam’d is a story in a bottle, a history fermented over thousands of years, a bitter-sweet taste.

It’s bitter because there is no easy way to save the world. Things like religion get in the way. Racism, child soldiers and suicide bombings. All of these things lead to tragedy. There is no escaping the fact that a lot of people die in this show; they inflict horrible wounds on each other and die in gruesome ways, and for 26 episodes straight, there is no end to it. Friends become enemies for stupid, petty reasons. Resentment and hatred boil to the surface. There is no logical reason for it, and only chaos that follows it.

Yet, it’s sweet because there are still people around with the heart to smile. Against all the odds, Akiyuki and Haru fall in love and are reunited, while, time and time again, Nakiami throws herself in harms way so that others may live. This one particular scene is stunning; Akiyuki’s mother runs and runs down the street, scraping her bare feet on the pavement, desperate to catch one last glimpse of her departing son.

Akiyuki and Haru: a fairy tale

There’s so much hatred in Xam’d, but so much love too. It’s vibrant and full of life, just look at how it has been drawn, it’s beautiful. Pretty like a fairy tale.