A timely message

I can't believe I found such a relevant image.

There’s no specific point to this post, but for a few days now, I’ve wanted to write something for my blog, and thus, here we are, dear reader. It’s just that time of the year, I guess; a blank page and hours to spare. Themes or no, after nearly three years of doing this, I can’t help but feel a tug at my heart to say at least something before this year’s end. So, here we go.

Perhaps the logical thing for me to do would be to write a year-in-review list or some other vague spin on that lovable tradition of anime blogging? But I don’t feel like doing that this time around, I’m more concentrated on what I’m watching right now, like Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It’s perfectly apt that the last anime I’ll finish in 2008 will be the one I’ve been locked in battle with since March. I’ll probably be relieved once it’s finally over, but probably a tad nostalgic too, because it’s always with such a bitter-sweet feeling that I let go of a story after such a long journey.

Another of those bitter-sweet journeys was Toward the Terra, which, I’m excited to note, I’ll (hopefully) be revisiting over Christmas via the original three-volume manga series, To Terra. I’m finding that my fascination with this story is an odd thing, really. It’s not easy for me to pin down either, but considering my feelings for a while, it may have something to do with the flow of time within the story.

Like in Gurren Lagann, where the characters seem to visibly age, grow into better people or terrible villains, but always changing. The same can be said of the thousands of years that pass between the stars in Gunbuster, or in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Such a clear and inevitable sense of flowing time, the characters’ lives, their dreams and ambitions, as brilliant as they may be, are so immensely small and ephemeral when set against the sheer magnitude of space and time. In such obscurity, it would be easy to give up, but these characters never do, they keep on going.

For me, that’s such a comforting sentiment, especially at the close of another year, where the subject of time progressing is literally the reason to party. So, if you celebrate it, I hope you have a great Christmas and, of course, a happy new year too. Ah, go on then, what did you get for Christmas? I hope you gave some awesome gifts, too?

Let’s cancel Christmas

This is Guin, from Guin Saga. I'm reading the light novels at the moment, but an anime series is coming in the spring. It should be epic fantasy. In the first chapter, Guin wakes with no memories of his life and this horrific leopard mask magically fixed to his face. It won't come off. Guin's destiny is to become a king.

I can’t believe we’re half way through December already. Another long year has nearly passed and, without so much as a chance to catch my breath, the new winter anime season will begin in January, including no less than 23 new series! My god, I’m not sure I can keep up with it all. I’m supposed to be following 15 different anime series at the moment and that’s too much already, but the idea of adding yet more to that number is, at this point, nauseating.

By the way, I’m still watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes. I’ve been watching it since March of this year. 78 episodes in, 32 left to go. My intention is to have it completed by December 31st, but it shouldn’t have taken this long anyway. I’m dozens of episodes behind on some big personal favorites like One Piece and Soul Eater too, and that gap is obviously increasing with each passing week. Something needs to happen.

Being active in the (online) anime community is fun, but if one wants to keep up with the most relevant news and discussions around, watching a lot of the currently airing anime is a requisite. Soon enough, you will be sucked into the hype and drama that surrounds each new season and, when that one ends with a teary farewell, another new one begins days later, with just as much promise and hype too. This is the never-ending cycle of new anime, and the pressure to keep up has probably jaded many an anime fan over the years. I’m on the very brink at the moment, so I think it’s time to break the cycle.

I’m determined to ignore the forthcoming winter season. I’ll never say never, but unless something truly exceptional pops up, I hope to surrender these coming months to viewing anime from my ever-expanding plan-to-watch list. That is how things were for me when I first started watching anime too, when I was hungry to find anime to watch. I would read reviews, search high and low, trawl the internet for hours doing research. Cowboy Bebop, Berserk, Escaflowne, Rurouni Kenshin. I found all of them in my first year as an anime fan, but I think I’ve somehow lost touch with that enthusiasm in the years since.

This isn’t about old anime being better than new anime, or anything that stupid. It’s just about discovering wonderful anime, regardless of when it was made. I’m in this situation now where I’m probably watching far too much new anime because it is new, which is such superficial reasoning. Much of it is entertaining enough, but I can’t help but feel like I’m wasting my time. For example, I still haven’t seen The Twelve Kingdoms, and I suspect it’s probably better than Kurozuka, so, I should be watching the former instead, then?

It’s a philosophical question and the answer will be rooted in what defines you as a person, and, ultimately, as an anime fan. Why do you watch anime? Right now, I’m feeling like I can’t see the forest for the trees. Watching too much, swept away by what is new and exciting, but I just want to discover and enjoy great anime, and I’ve remembered I don’t have to wait to do that, new or old, there is so much great anime out there already.

Why I’m enjoying Toradora

I am enjoying Toradora, or rather, it’s something more like tainted enjoyment. The show is marked by several moments of evocative character insight, like eloquent sparks of light that flicker briefly across some hidden depths. They are such brief vignettes, beautiful, but they aren’t really enough for me to say that this is excellent anime. The characters spend the majority of every episode playing dumb, acting up to their generic archetypes, only to suddenly pull back, to reveal something different, a moment of insecurity, doubt or confusion. Then, just as rapidly, everything switches back to the same old stupid jokes and harem routine.

With this vague sense that something is desperately trying to break free, I keep on watching. Toradora could quite easily pass for harem anime, with the overriding emphasis on the female characters and their attachment to lead-boy Ryuuji, but it isn’t quite that generic. I suppose I like the characters, I like how they seem to be, on the one hand, so archetypal and monotone, but on the other, so clearly fraught with emotion. In that way, Toradora can be a really sweet story.

Saying something, but meaning the exact opposite, all to avoid being hurt. Minori and Ami are particularly interesting, since both go to such great lengths to conceal their true feelings. The former tries to avoid feeling anything at all by being so energetic and competitive, while the latter’s superficial facade is too nice and cute. Ami sits in-between the vending machines at her school, cramped and alone, but able to drop her facade for a precious few minutes. Gazing into the starry night, Minori tries to conceal the loneliness that forever tugs at her heart. Both seem to be struggling with life, insecure around others, just wanting to fit in, to live a normal life, have a normal love, but what is normal, anyway? Societal expectations can be a bitch.

I still feel like I can’t completely give myself to Toradora, but, in an emotional sense, I think I understand the characters. At times, they are funny and superficial, at others, serious and deep. I want them to be happy, to feel better about themselves. Their whole situation may be a little contrived, but that’s alright. I suppose every story is contrived anyway, all that should matter is empathy, and I get that from Toradora.