Yokohama Shopping Trip – 1

My fascination with the weird, coupled with an obtuse interest in searching out the obscure has led me down the path of downloading the kind of anime people forgot about many moons ago- and so here I am to introduce you to Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou; talked up a wandering traveller anime in the spirit of say Kino no Tabi (Kino’s Journey), I must admit this sounded right up my ally.

Straight from the off, it’s clear that Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou has some interesting ideas to convey. I had been made aware that it’s a show with some strong yuri overtones and consdiering the way the lead characters commincate “messages” to each other, such themes have all the sublety of a sledgehammer.

To set the scene, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is based in a post-apocalyptic but decidely rural future- the vast open landscape is lush with grass, trees and bushes. The old human cities are under water, rusted away, dead. Population is sparse and cute looking robots are everywhere- they could be human except for a few eccentric features; to communicate private messages with one another, the cute robots must kiss; how the programmers got away with that feature…, I suppose I’m not supposed to ask.

By now I’m sure I’m making Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou sound like a seedy case of yuri exploitation but based on this first episode, such comments are merely knee-jerk reaction. The anime is essentially about a female robot called Alpha who one day gets a camera and decides wander about, discover the profound and snap the beautiful. A lot of time is spent silently gazing at blood red sunsets, free flying birds and meeting new friends. It’s very atmospheric and laid back, but rather than attempting to drive into us a code of morals, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is content to allow the viewer to follow Alpha on her aimless trips, looking for something worth capturing in her camera. I feel interested enough to want to watch more of this, though clearly the lack of story and drama mean that it is best suited loose end on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Mushishi – 20

Looking back on Mushishi, I suspect that this episode (episode 20) will rank as one of my favourites. Every episode has had that unique air of mystisism; a beautiful sense of magic that I have come to love, but still, rarely have a felt so attached to the characters as I did in this episode.

It begins with Ginko paying a visit to an old friend called Tanyu; this young woman (who I guess is around the same age as Ginko) suffers from a curse brought down on her family by a particularly strong, and frankly evil sounding mushi. The curse means that from birth, her right leg is paralyzed and covered with a pitch black birthmark, and the only way she can lift the curse is by listening to and then writing down the tales of the various Mushishi that pass through her part of the world. By means of flashback, we discover this is how Tanyu first meets Ginko.

Despite being one of the slower episodes, the unsettling world of Mushishi is presented here in a striking and magical way; mirroring the first episode, here written words literally jump off pages and fly about rooms- essentially, we are overcome by the simple notion of taking something we all assume is a static, never changing medium and injecting it with life.

Stunning aethetics aside, I loved this episode because of the underplayed friendship between Ginko and Tanyu- and indeed, Tanyu herself. Far from getting down about her disability, she is a notably strong willed and good natured person who’s boundless optimism bounces off of Ginko’s sarcastic wit like sunshine. The way they interact and talk to each other shows us they have an undoubtedly warm friendship (and forgive me for getting ahead of myself here- potential romance) and rather than let themselves be overcome with sadness, the characters here are full of life and a joy to watch.

A lot of Mushishi is about conveying a moral, or an idea concerning as vast a subject as spirituality, but episode 20 deals not with such an overbearing sense of responsibly as the simple friendship between two friends. It was a great episode.

Mushishi – 19

Despite displaying none of the euphoric highs and gut wrenching lows of previous episodes, Mushishi 19 was an uplifting way to while away 23 minutes. The concept here is really quite profound- consider that without someone to love you, you disappear. Fuki, the lead character of this story, gets “infected” by a Mushi that will slowly but surely fade her into nothingness- romantically, she can only recover her physical self if she truely wants to remain human.

Amidst much soul searching, Fuki thankfully has a happy ending, though it’s here that Mushishi makes some interesting spiritual commentary; symbolically it is remarked that whether you see a person or not, your love will always keep them close; that although the body may die, such strong emotion will never fade. Of course in the romantic and magical world of Mushishi, love has the power resurrect- but how should we, the viewers, interpret this theme? I suppose we all have our own definitions of faith, understandings of what many call the “human soul” but no matter how I look at this episode, it still reenforces the nice, warm and fuzzy sentiment that emotion can transcend the physical plain.

I’m sorry if I’ve gone overly philosophical in the above paragraph, I’m not a particularly religious or spiritual person (consider me neutral for now, cop-out, I know), I just admire the way Mushishi gets these kinds of theological thoughts twisting through my mind.

One Piece – My Love Lorn Introduction

When it comes to swash-buckling Shounen Jump fun, the winky smiley face of One Piece stands proud. It took me a while to catch onto this show- I only started watching in January 2006, but spurred on by what has to be the most unique character designs I’ve come across in a mainstream anime series, I found myself in love with the adventures of Luffy and the Straw Hat Crew.

Aside from the ultra-cool artwork, what perhaps seperates One Piece from the likes of Naruto and Bleach is that the storyline is first and foremost all about adventure. Luffy sets off on his journey to become the Pirate King and along the way forms a crew of loyal friends, each with their own dreams and ambitions, ambitions that run parrell to each other. Imagine Berserk’s “Band of the Hawk” and to quote Caska (of Berserk), here we have a “bonfire of dreams”; each personality carries a small flame, it flickers in the wind, but put them together and you have a roaring fire. It’s just that Luffy’s flame is bigger than most.

Comradery, friendship and trust are the underlying messages of this show- through light and dark, we see the Straw Hat crew fighting for themselves and each other. It’s so far (I’m up to episode 54 now) been a heart warming, fun journey through groups of blood thirsty pirates and corrupt naval marines. And I get the feeling the story is just warming up too.

Of course this wouldn’t be a Shounen Jump anime without massive set-piece battles and One Piece has it’s fair share of bare fisted knuckle fights but (as if you couldn’t tell by now) what I love most about this show is these wide-eyed characters and their adventures and for what it’s worth, I can’t wait to watch more.

Mushishi – 18

This episode is imediately notable for a distinct change of direction. Mushishi usually begins with Ginko wandering about beautiful landscapes, finding his next job and meeting new people, here the first 13 minutes are told as a flashback, in which tragedy inevitably occurs. The latter half of the episode is all about finding true emotional redemption.

Indeed this was hardly a typical Mushishi episode at all since the actual mushi creatures play what amounts to a very insignificant part (though as ever, it’s symbolic of the emotion felt by this week’s main character- a mushi that yearns for it’s homeland). That said, Mushishi’s strength lies in compelling human drama and yet again, it delivers with an emotional and heartfelt payoff. It wasn’t as flashy, or as shocking as this series has been in the past but still, the way this episode glided through such tricky issues as depression and guilt was nothing less than outstanding.

I know full well that I haven’t sufficiently provided you with a plot synopsis for this episode but frankly, it isn’t needed; just understand that this was a brilliant episode of anime and another series highpoint for me.

Mushishi – 17

Again dealing with the pain felt at the loss of a loved one, episode 17 at least concludes with a ray of hope after 20-odd minutes of forecasted gloom. I’m not saying it’s bad that Mushishi sometimes portrays hopeless situations, it’s just nice when someone’s dreams are fulfilled and we leave the show in an upbeat mood.

This episode features a pair of sisters who are seperated when bad fortune happens to see them stray into path of a dangerous mushi. One of the girls is vanished into thin air, and as legend has it, she can never again return to our plain of existence- essentially, she has entered the domain of the mushi, doomed to exile for what could well be eternity. Irregardless, for years on end her isolated sister continues to hope, to dream about their reunion.

There is a nice poetic flow to this story, it feels magical and myterious, and still the human emotions are as subdued and compelling as ever; Mushishi doesn’t do soapy melodrama. I wasn’t as emotionally shaken as this series has had me in the past, but still, this was a pleasant fairy tale resolved in as best a fashion as possible- the sisters are again reunited because they never let their relationship fade, their hope never dies.

Mushishi – 16

There is no skirting around the fact that episode 16 of Mushishi is a thoroughly depressing affair.

Every day a woman loses fragments of her memory, whether it be the definition of a sneeze or the identity of her sister, it’s a mysterious problem that only someone like Ginko can solve.

There are some things she never forgets though; the most profound things. Like her worried son, or how to cook, or to be sure to lay out a meal for her husband despite knowing full well that he will never return.

By now it should be clear that every episode of Mushishi begins and ends with a clear purpose, this one is a characterization of human despair. No matter how hard she tries to put her husband out of her mind, this broken wife has been cut deeply by her lover’s betrayal and even a mushi that eats memories can not erase her unwanted echoes of love. The saddest part is not so much how it affects the forgetful mum, more how it clearly depresses her gutted son. He has seen her go through it all and still, despite what his father has done, his mother still lays out a plate of food; a dinner never to be eaten, a broken memory of the saddest times.

Mushishi – 15

Having suffered through some heavy tragedy in the last few episodes of Mushishi, it was nice to see the show returning to it’s well established style of surreal, metaphorical story telling this time around.

Here we meet a chirpy young boy who like Ginko can not only see Mushi but takes an active interest in them too. Though upon talking with his older sister, it turns out that the kid is using some mushi magical powers to fall into hibernation every winter- he does this to releave the stress of back breaking house keeping on his only sister (their parents are long gone).

As is the case with most of Mushishi, this episode portrays a beautiful world. Snow flakes drop from blanket white skies and mountain tops punctuate the lonely background. Ginko discovers a hidden spring garden in the middle of a snow covered valley and it’s a wonderful sight- vibrant with butterflies, lush green grass and violet flowers.

Furthermore, this episode is notable for being one of the few that could possibly spark a Ginko romance. He pushes the woman’s advances aside with subtle grace, worried about her welfare given mushi have a tendancy to follow him around. Apparently, too many mushi in one place is never a good thing.

Of course, this is a fine episode, but not one that strikes me on such a compelling human level as the previous. Playing out more like a mythical piece of advice, we leave our snowy surroundings being told by our gravely narrator that in cold situations, warm shelter will always tempt us into quiting our journies. Naturally, Ginko keeps on walking. Mushishi is as philosophical ever. This was an episode about Ginko being tempted by love.

Mushishi – 14

It seems almost ridiculous to say, but every episode of Mushishi I see is my new favourite episode. Number 14 is an outstanding piece of story telling, possibly the most heart breaking yet and still, an ultimately uplifting and optimistic masterpiece.

Shades of green fill the screen as Ginko stumbles about a forrest. He bumps into a strange man who hasn’t been able to escape the forrest for years (possibly even decades). I won’t ruin anything for you, this episode is too good to let slip anything else but what transpires is both grotesque horror and a terrible tradegy, poetic in it’s hopeful conclusion.

Unlike episode 13, where romance is destoryed by mere accident, here it is a premeditated sacrifice in the name pure love that heart breakingly backfires thanks to some typically despicable human nature.

For those who have a sense for anime that tugs at our heart strings, Mushishi episode 14 is by far and away the most outstanding, understated love story I’ve come across this year. Recommended. If you aren’t watching this, you’re an idiot.

Mushishi – 13

As the is the norm for Mushishi, I left episode 13 with a mixture of emotion and intrigue. The two lead characters for this week are obviously in love but one of histories worst traditions, that of arranged marriages, again causes the kind of intense termoil that can only result in tragedy.

These kinds of episodes usually end optimistically. The soulless girl, having been possessed by a mushi, you expect would return to her usual self once vacated (ala The Exorcist). This doesn’t happen, but still her lover awaits her return for years in the blind hope that one day she will return as the girl he loves. When she dies, a part of him disappears too, perhaps he loses hope.

Needless to say, this was a darker than usual episode of Mushishi. I wasn’t gripped by the tragedy of it all; the murky atmosphere of this episode long seemed to suggest that bad things were lurking in the woods, but still- this is another comendable 23 minutes of Mushishi that look, sound and even feel as immersive as ever.