After a long absence, it is time for me to officially step away from writing here (just me, not the site’s other writers). As a parting post, I would like to share my thoughts on anime that stand the test of time. Even older titles that were created with a Japanese audience in mind can still be relevant today. I was reminded of this recently when the real world seemed to imitate one of my favorite movies, Mamoru Oshii’s Patlabor 2.
A strong signal that a series is great is that you can easily summarize the concept and get someone to watch it based on that short description. Ben-To is just that kind of show. All you need to know is that it’s about fights for discount bento boxes. If you don’t get excited about fights for discount bento, I don’t want to be friends with you.
On the blu-ray packaging, Funimation trumpets the Eureka Seven television series as “The Greatest Love Story Ever Animated.” Where that series is centered around love, the movie re-imagination, Eureka Seven: Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers, is all about death. In particular, it is about the fear of death. Even the crew of the Gekko, an alternate universe version of the TV show crew, spends much of the film running from death using any means possible. Renton and Eureka are the only characters who aren’t defined by their fear of death and instead, focus on love.
Ghost in the Shell: Arise marks Production IG’s attempt to reboot the classic franchise. With multiple successful superhero and anime reboots out in the wild, it’s only a matter of time before others (certainly Dragonball) get remade. Movie and television producers reboot well loved shows to appeal to modern audiences. The story, the characters, and the special effects all get updated to how the show would have looked if it was made for the first time today. With Ghost in the Shell, a show already set in the future and one that has aged well visually, this standard formula wasn’t really necessary.
This article is my third attempt at writing a piece about crowd funding and anime, each time I’ve tried to do so another development forced me to re-write it, illustrating just how quickly crowdsourcing is reshaping the anime industry. Kick-Heart, the anime kickstarter by Production IG, was the first big crowd funding success. It proved the crowdfunding concept, where anyone can pledge from $1 to thousands of dollars to a project, generally in exchange for some type of reward, was workable for an anime project. Not only was it an effective means of funding anime, but it was something traditionally conservative Japanese companies could embrace under the right circumstances. Kick-Heart was followed by Pied Piper’s Time of Eve and Studio Trigger’s Little Witch Academia 2 projects, both of which met and exceeded their goals. Even Animesols, a crowdfunding site mostly for older anime, has found success, first with a campaign to make a DVD set of the magical girl show Creamy Mami and now hopefully (if enough of you pledge in the next day or so) with a campaign to release a DVD of the first season of Black Jack TV. Does that mean that the revolution has succeeded and the age of crowdfunding is nigh? Hardly. But with the success of the Kick-Heart, Time of Eve and Little Witch projects, it’s looking like crowdfunding is one of the best and most rewarding ways to get anime today.
Fractale premiered in January of 2011 as part of the noitaminA animation block on FujiTV. The series’ inclusion in noitaminA led to high expectations. The block, putting aside its lame name (animation spelled backwards), has a reputation for interesting and innovative shows, including Honey and Clover, Eden of the East, and House of Five Leaves. Fractale looked like it would fit that mold, as an original fantasy story with beautiful visuals. Unfortunately, while Fractale is set in an interesting world that is well animated, it doesn’t successfully address the interesting and timely problems posed by a world reliant on technology.
I’ve already reviewed Read or Die (aka R.O.D.), but wanted to provide an update now that Rightstuf is close to selling out of the Blu-Ray version. In my last review review I balked at the price of that edition, but this past December I broke down and bought it. For those on the fence I’ve included some DVD vs Blu-Ray comparison screenshots below. And for the R.O.D. obsessed, there’s a brief description of UDON’s new art book as well.
Rightstuf is on a streak of licensing critically-acclaimed, but undervalued, shows. They released Utena in 2011 and announced the future release of Rose of Versailles. My favorite recent Rightstuf release remains Nadesico. Unlike Utena, Nadesico has always been available used at an affordable price even after the ADV release went out of print, so I was surprised that Rightstuf chose to re-release it. I think it speaks to how relevant it remains, particularly with the resurgence of another giant robot show, Evangelion. Still, even standing alone, Nadesico remains an entertaining show because of its blend of comedy, science fiction and drama.
I attended Anime Expo for the first time, earlier this year. What struck me most at the convention was the number of fans and their high level of enthusiasm. Fans crowded in to see industry panels, but they also embraced fan-run presentations like the Old School Anime panel. Based on the enthusiasm I saw, I’m not surprised that anime conventions are thriving right now. For example, Japan Expo is starting a new convention in California next year. Meanwhile, the industry is stagnating. Bandai folded last year. Media Blasters has canceled releases. Sentai and Funimation are battling in Federal Court. Why the disconnect between the health of the conventions and the industry as a whole? A cynic might say that you can pirate a DVD, but not a convention ticket. The real answer is that anime conventions give fans what they want, at the right price. It’s time for anime companies to learn to do the same.
I had low expectations when I bought the Gunbuster movie on blu-ray. The visuals looked underwhelming, as did the plot summary. Still, I felt that as an anime fan I had an obligation to watch a Gainax classic, and I’m happy I did. Gainax could have created a forgettable story about girls battling aliens with giant robots. Throw in some fan service, and the show would have practically written itself. Instead, Gunbuster is a story that doesn’t pull any punches and explores deep, emotional issues. The only downside of watching Gunbuster on blu-ray was that the movie version left out a number of scenes that were included in the OVA. I enjoyed the movie, but I’m left wondering if the original version would have provided a better experience.
Time of Eve is about a Japanese society assisted by intelligent, human-form androids. It draws heavily from the robots of Isaac Asimov’s books. Asimov’s and Time of Eve‘s robots are bound by a set of three laws that prevent them from harming humans or allowing humans to come to harm. Both Asimov’s and Time of Eve’s stories illustrate how humans react when faced with superior machines: namely they react with alarm. Time of Eve explores this interaction from a Japanese perspective; ie the reaction is one part alarm, one part sexual attraction.
For a different perspective on Phantom see bateszi’s review here.
After eight years, three series, six girls, and lots of guns, Bee Train has revolutionized the girls with guns genre by adding… a guy. Men, you too can aspire to be a professional assassin, the last bastion of gender inequality has officially fallen. Joking aside, Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is a solid effort by Bee Train. Unlike Bee Train’s earlier series Noir and Madlax, Phantom is based on a visual novel. It lacks deep characters but the show was an enjoyable and action packed addition to the girls with guns genre.
Captain Harlock’s recent availability on Hulu and the release of OZMA highlights the career of Leiji Matsumoto. Matsumoto had a role in seminal 70s and 80s works like Captain Harlock, Starblazers, Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato. With OZMA, Matsumoto returns with a work that harks back to his earlier successes. The series is short (only 6 episodes) and lacks the depth necessary for a proper sci-fi opera, but it’s a trip back to an earlier style. While I enjoyed the show, its importance for anime at large is less about it being a brilliant product and more about it being a prominent example of a new business model. It marks the start of the latest disruptive technical trend to hit the anime industry: cloud sourced anime translation.
Remember when goth, and by extension Hot Topic, reigned supreme? Ergo Proxy is basically an anime peopled by fans of Hot Topic. The setting is gritty, and the main character wears black outfits, steal tipped boots and heavy mascara. The color palette skews towards grey and black, and even when the show uses other colors, they look muted. In the years since Ergo Proxy’s release, goth fans have moved toward the sparkly vampires in Twilight. That’s a shame because I found the ugly, dirty world of Ergo Proxy compelling. The show did not live up to the promise of its premise, but I much prefer the version of goth culture it embraces to the more recent version from Twilight.
When I first saw Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence I left the screening unimpressed. At the time, it felt like a confusing trip through a philosophical morass. I disliked the Major’s lack of screen time as I loved her central role in the associated TV series. Still, when I heard that Bandai planned to stop releasing material, I knew I should pick up the Ghost in the Shell movies I did not have, including Innocence. Shortly thereafter I had a long trip to take and decided to give Innocence another look.
Young women with gun skills? Check. Mysterious organization that runs the world? Check. Quasi-religious mysticism? Check. Noir only lasted one season, but if you started watching Madlax and thought it was Noir Season 2 I wouldn’t blame you. Madlax isn’t a complete copy of Noir, it does tread new ground after about 20 episodes or so. And the new material is innovative in its own way. What ultimately holds it back, what has held many other shows back over time, is that it still feels too much like a rehash of what came before, rather than something fresh and entertaining.
About a week ago I posted that 2011, for all its problems, was a stable year for anime. It turns out that stability was short lived. In an interview with Justin Sevakis and Chris Macdonald on AnimeNewsNetwork, Bandai Entertainment President and CEO Ken Iyadomi announced Bandai’s decision to stop licensing and releasing shows. Some bloggers (including Charlie Maib from Kotaku via Japanator) have suggested that piracy killed Bandai. But if you look at what Iyadomi said, I think it’s more likely that Bandai Japan is to blame. And not blame in a bad way, blame in the sense that Bandai Japan (full name: Namco Bandai Holdings) made a rational business decision. It decided, maybe prematurely, to protect its profits and let mainstream fans get anime digitally.
All told, 2011 was a stable year in the anime business. No anime company of any worth (so 4Kids doesn’t count) went bankrupt, although over in the manga world TokyoPop bit the bullet. The tsunami and resulting nuclear incident will unfortunately overshadow anything else that happened with anime this year. While there were no dramatic changes in the industry, a number of trends began or picked up steam in 2011. It is these trends, more than any anime production, that will be this year’s industry legacy.
Trend #1: Lawsuits
bateszi has already ruminated on the connection between Star Driver and Utena and while I’m a bit late to the party, I wanted to add my own reflections. Right now I’m watching Utena for the first time while finishing Star Driver on Crunchyroll. Fortuitously, I just finished Episode 4 of Utena a few hours after watching Episode 21 of Star Driver. The scenes below are from these episodes.
First in Utena:
Darker than Black is an enigma. The more I watch it, the less I understand how I feel about it. I wanted to write an article extolling its virtues, for example its deep characters and beautiful art. Then I went back and re-watched season 1 and did a double take, was this the same show I remembered? It was like I was back in the 90s when it was okay for a main character to waste half an episode being introspective instead of advancing the plot. I’d still recommend that people watch it, but be aware that this isn’t the second coming of Cowboy Bebop.
My name is Dengar and I have a problem. My problem has a name, Twitter. Ever since I joined, I’ve been addicted to getting rapid news updates. It’s particularly convenient as a way to track anime news from companies like Funimation, Aniplex and Viz. Most of the tweets from the companies are acceptable, if not exactly groundbreaking. But some (like the one pictured below) are blatantly commercial in a thoughtless way.
Why base your new show, video game, or movie on an innovative new idea when you can instead re-release a 10 year old one? That is the logic behind making endless sequels. It’s the thinking that brought us Call of Duty 8, Super Mario 10 and now a reboot of Hunter x Hunter.
The original Hunter x Hunter wasn’t awful. Overall, it was a bland action show (note: you can read bateszi’s more positive impression here) that surprised me at times. It had a number of dark and edgy scenes, like when out of nowhere a ten-year-old ripped out his enemy’s heart. The show’s blandness is understandable given that it came out in the late 90s. What is surprising is why Madhouse would decide, ten years later, to reboot a show that already ran 92 mediocre episodes.
I love when the mainstream media tackles anime. Tomorrow’s New York Times’ features a story about the business opportunities in streaming anime. In its discussion of what shows work, the articles drops this great quote: “The small but avid audience is made up of mostly male viewers aged 18 to 34. Distributors said comedies, sports shows and anything aimed at women tend to not work.”
Licensing agreements are usually kept top secret for business reasons. That is, until one company (allegedly) breaches the agreement and then goes bankrupt. At that point the court system takes over and the dirty laundry become public. That is exactly what happened when 4Kids got Yu-Gi-Oh! from TV Tokyo.
The upshot of the fighting is that anime fans get a backstage pass to see what an important license contract says. The language of this contract helps explain why, how, and in what form anime is released outside of Japan. Here I’ll discuss form, namely why 4Kids had the right to butcher Yu-Gi-Oh!. The short answer: TV Tokyo said they could.
.hack//SIGN was one of the first anime shown by Cartoon Network and it left a lasting, negative impression on me: an otherwise brilliant show with a plot that went nowhere. .Hack//Quantum is the latest iteration of the series. It is .hack//SIGN as it should have been. It’s not a remake, just a three episode version with a similar story. It’s not perfect, but if it had come out eight years ago it could have provided a foundation for subsequent stories. But this late in the game it is underwhelming.
Digital is the future of video media. Funimation’s announcement of a new premium streaming service this weekend shows that it recognizes what it needs to do to maximize its profits. Up until now, Funimation mostly used streaming to advertise its physical disc releases. I think this announcement reveals the company’s true online strategy, to use streaming as the primary source of Funimation’s profits.
New anime movies rarely come to southern California (they tend to go instead to Viz’s theater in San Francisco) so I jumped at the chance to see the Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood movie at the Burbank Film Festival. The movie, titled The Sacred Star of Milos, is the first Full Metal Alchemist movie set in the Brotherhood timeline. Unlike the original FMA movie, this one is set during, rather than after, the end of the show. While the producers managed to make a movie with an engaging plot and big budget visuals, they missed the chance to explore new themes.
(dengar) Our monthly (more like quarterly or semi-annual) anime feature continues with an update on several current series we’ve reviewed previously. Read on for a return look at Steins;Gate, Tiger & Bunny and Mawaru Penguindrum.
(bateszi) I hope you enjoy the lovely colours I’ve used to mark our names this time! …What was that you mumbled just there? Crimes against humanity you say? I’ll have you know I’m a professional! We know how websites should look!
September in the US means the end of summer vacation and the beginning of the school year. Kids spend more of their lives at school than anywhere else and I’d wager that more shows are set in schools than in any other setting. Even though school based shows have the same setting, some of them couldn’t be more different. I looked back at three such shows, Azumanga Daioh, His and Her Circumstances (Kare Kano) and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Each show could be described as a slice of life story about high school students, but each show is unique.
I saw Outlaw Star when it aired on Toonami back in 2001. I think I was attracted to it because it was a space based show that didn’t have Gundam in its name. What I found was an enjoyable space western that didn’t take itself too seriously. And once you accept that it’s not as good as Cowboy Bebop, you’ll enjoy it too.
Blood+ landed amidst a resurgence of the vampire genre. It came two years after the conclusion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and 3 days after the release of the first book in the Twilight series. It was beautifully animated and had a decent storyline, even if the pacing crawled at times. Today, almost 5 years after the show finished, CLAMP has re-imaged the story with Blood-C. The new version has character designs and a mood that will appeal to Clamp fans, even if Blood+ loyalists won’t be able to stomach more than a few episodes.
My love of anime means I spend a great deal of time watching it and a great deal of money buying it. But the price of anime can make buying it new difficult. My budget wouldn’t last long if I bought discs with 5 episodes for $30. Happily, the industry model shifted to a wallet friendly model where I can buy a season set for less than $50. Still, buying my favorite series or an anime classic used is more satisfying to me than picking up the same title new at Best Buy.
I’m a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being unhappy with your work when it isn’t. Sometimes you have to ignore that impulse and just release your creation to the world. Sometimes though, you get a second chance. George Lucas epitomises this phenomena. Audiences didn’t appreciate it when Lucas revised Star Wars. Long time fans lashed out at him when he released the special edition movies. Japanese fans of Dragon Ball Z had a similar reaction when the special edition version of the show, called Dragon Ball Z Kai came out. I haven’t watched the Japanese subtitled version of the shows so I can’t judge that version of Kai. But I did watch the English dub. And it is the best Dragon Ball Z to date.