There’s a beautiful scene at the end of episode seven of Aku no Hana (Flowers of Evil.) Finally overcome with the guilt of stealing Saeki’s gym clothes, Kasuga asks Nakamura to help him confess and in the dead of night they head to their classroom to do just that. She forces him to write his confession on the blackboard but along the way something snaps in them both and they fucking trash the classroom instead. Paint and chalk goes everywhere, desks are overturned and they lay there in the middle of it all, exhausted and happy. It’s a moment of total anarchy, like a flash of lightning, equal parts beautiful and scary, and the anime captures it wonderfully.
“If it cannot break out of its shell, the chick will die without ever being born. We are the chick-The world is our egg. If we don’t crack the world’s shell, we will die without ever truly being born. Smash the world’s shell. FOR THE REVOLUTION OF THE WORLD!”
–Revolutionary Girl Utena
Shokuzai (Penance) is a story of people dying without ever being born. Exposed to a tragedy at a young age, it’s like they were frozen in time and encased within a shell of adolescence as they grew into adulthood. They were five girls in their school’s playground when one of them was abducted right in front of their eyes and murdered. 15 years later, we return to their lives and find them still struggling to come to terms with what happened. Stunted, empty, cursed; they could never break out of their shells. Thus began the 5 episode series Shokuzai, a 2012 Japanese TV drama directed by the horror maestro Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure, Pulse, Tokyo Sonata.)
When I began investigating Japanese film in 2008, Kurosawa fast became a favourite of mine. Like a Japanese Tarkovsky, his style is calm and atmospheric, using background noise and image to convey a strong feeling of alienation and disquiet. If you’ve ever seen anything from the anime directors Ryutaro Nakamura (Serial Experiments Lain, Ghost Hound) or Hiroshi Hamasaki (Texhnolyze, Shigurui,) you’ll know what to expect. Kurosawa’s made a lot of horror, but in a genre renowned for its visceral qualities, his films are unusually meditative and artful nightmares that play with the strange and surreal to emphasise an ugly and desperate reality. When even Martin Scorsese is a fan (the excellent Shutter Island owes a lot to Kurosawa,) you realise this is a filmmaker worthy of note.
Every season has its dark horses and this one is no different. I’ve been excited about Flowers of Evil, Attack on Titan and Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet since the offset, but I ignored Majestic Prince, which I figured would be as cliché as it looked. I don’t know if it’s just Hisashi Hirai’s dated character designs or the general vibe of nostalgia that permeates its whole production, but Majestic Prince feels old. For example, I’ll always remember Hirai’s drawing style for his work on 1999’s Infinite Ryvius (and later, 2002’s Gundam SEED,) but there’s other points of reference, too, like how it has an ending theme by Chiaki Ishikawa of Bokurano’s great Uninstall OP. It all just feeds into that datedness that has seen many dismiss it with barely a second glance. Like I did, sadly. It has a score of 6.77 (from 3001 users) on MyAnimeList, which is notably low for what’s fast becoming a very decent series, but is also revealing in how far out of sync it seems to be with the fans of today.
There’s something of a power struggle going on in Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet. Although he doesn’t seem to want it, Ledo could easily become a tyrant. His robot is so powerful that the sheer disparity in strength between him and everyone else is frightening. What will he do next?
When I think about Free!, known and loved by all of tumblr and the internet as Swimming Anime, I find myself in a bit of a dreamlike haze.
Mamoru Oshii doesn’t make forgettable anime. Be it Ghost in the Shell or Patlabor 2, the man injects so much personality into his films that it’s impossible not to recognise his touch. There is, of course, his famous basset hound, but there’s also a poetic side that transports this viewer into the ether. I can’t tell if it’s just that his films are ageing like fine wine, or if I’m now of an age where I’m better able to appreciate what he’s trying to say, but whatever the case, he’s now one of my favourite film directors.
I watched The Sky Crawlers for the first time last night. With Kenji Kawai and Production IG alongside him, it’s a film as thoughtful as it is beautiful. Set on an alternate Earth, the ageless Kildren (“kill-dolls”) are fighter pilots forever clashing amidst the clouds in a war that is at best extremely vague and at worst totally pointless. The story exists in a place that’s like Neverland gone bad, where the children’s only escape from the endless cycles of war is heavy drinking, sex and suicide: the sheer monotony of their lives is reflected in the film’s subdued colour palette, everything is so hazy and drained: an apt worldview for a doll. A doll isn’t alive. A doll doesn’t have memories. A doll is content with its place in the world because it knows no better.
All these years, I wanted K-On! to prove me right. I wanted it to be a shitty anime about cute girls doing cute things. I wanted to hold myself above it and I wanted you all to point and look and say “Look at those folks over at Bateszi Anime Blog, they have such good fucking taste, they’d never blog about K-On! because it’s moe-moe shit!”
This season, I’ve found myself in the fun position of having two of my favourite manga series adapted into anime. We already know how things went with Flowers of Evil, but there’s still the case of Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) to consider. Produced at Wit Studio and directed by Tetsurō Araki (of Death Note and Kurozuka, amongst others,) it’s the adaptation I was hoping for back in 2011. So, is it any good? Going by this first episode: hell yes.
Before you decide to watch Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana,) please ask yourself these questions: do I purely want bishounen, or bishoujo, characters in my anime? Am I always looking for attractive characters? Should anime always look the same? If you’ve answered in the affirmative to any of these questions, forget about Flowers of Evil and watch something else. The sheer amount of invective aimed at its first episode is evidence enough that many aren’t able to see this series as anything other than ugly. I didn’t realise there was an objective example of ugliness, but apparently, Flowers of Evil is it. Thanks, anime fans.
One wouldn’t think it to look at them, but Shin Sekai Yori and Psycho-Pass were like two peas in a pod. Both deal in dystopian futures, social commentary and rebellion, both attempt to obfuscate their commentary by presenting it through morally-questionable speakers, and both refuse to end with everything neatly resolved. Suffice to say, I really enjoyed both series, but I’ve already had my say on Shin Sekai Yori. Now it’s time to write about Psycho-Pass, too.
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.
The end of a season is a bittersweet time for anime fans, as the joy of seeing a series reach its climax is undercut by the knowledge that this is the last hurrah for a story we’ve grown attached to over time. Such is the case with Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World,) a series that had me under its spell from the first episode on. Unpredictable, challenging and artistic are but three ways to describe the experience of watching it. Indeed, it has all the things that critics like me love to see in anime, but more importantly, this isn’t merely a cold essay on human nature, it’s emotive, and ends beautifully, with a trademark mix of the horrifying and hopeful.
Back in 2011, I wrote two posts about the manga series Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) and since then, it’s only grown in popularity, and in addition to a live-action movie, now has an anime series starting in April, too. I can’t wait to see how it turns out, but in the meantime, I figured I’d catch up with the latest chapters, and, man, is it still good or what? But there’s something else I have to note too, in that by beginning to explain many of its mysteries, Attack on Titan is shrinking.
Her hand bloodied and blistered, she bandages it up, ties it to her racket and keeps going. Giving up isn’t an option. This is her moment! Her chance! Her dream! This is Aim for the Ace!.
Hiromi Oka has spent her youth idolising Reika Ryūzaki, known otherwise as the beautiful Madame Butterfly (Ochōfujin,) a formidable, undefeated tennis player. But Hiromi has trained hard for this match, sacrificed her love, even, to reach this point, and now she’s here, a little bit of blood and pain isn’t like to stop her.
By all means, Oniisama E, translating as Dear Brother, is unassuming in its premise. However, pegging Oniisama E as anything other than a landmark production would be short-sighted. Ikeda Rioyko’s original manga was penned in the 1970s, and yet the series moves through triggering subjects like terminal illness, suicide, incest, homosexuality, and drug use without batting an eyelid.
Lately, I’ve felt a little empty. Waiting for something to spark a little inspiration in me. So, as I often do, I ended-up on YouTube, listening to music, when The Blue Hearts appeared with their song, Linda Linda. It’s a Japanese punk-rock song that you’ll have heard before if you’ve seen the film Linda Linda Linda (which I reviewed years ago.) Anyway, I’ve always liked punk music, aesthetics and all, and it’s interesting to see such a Japanese take on it. Ripped jeans, snarling faces and funny dancing.
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.
The last time I wrote a list like this was back in 2007. Can you believe it’s been 5 years since then? 5 years since Gurren Lagann? I don’t know how I’ve lasted this long. The pace of my blogging has slowed since then, too. In 2007, I made 82 posts; in 2012, this will make it 24. I’ve often thought about stopping, but, in the end, something always drags me back, and when it does, I’m glad I’ve made my home here. Here, more than 6 years in the making. This is an anime blog filled with contradiction, error and inconsistency. Maybe you’ve been reading us for that long, maybe this is your first time? But whatever the case, welcome! This review of 2012 begins now.
Being an anime fan at the moment is fun. The Autumn season has really upped the ante, with two series in Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) and Psycho-Pass proving fascinating in different ways.
I’ve already written about Shin Sekai Yori. It’s a series that stole my heart almost as soon as it appeared, through its dark narrative and shifting visuals. A few years ago, I wrote a couple of emotive posts about Casshern Sins: the director of that series, Shigeyasu Yamauchi, has a very distinctive and surreal style, and he’s now directing episodes (5 & 10) of Shin Sekai Yori. While many may have been disappointed by his efforts, personally, I love them.
First, imagine an alternate version of FLCL, where Naoto hooks up with the loose-canon Mamimi and revels in her pyromania, falling ever deeper into her psychosis, burning away their boring world together. This is The Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana,) a manga series (and soon to be anime) that begins like any of the other thousands of stories written about teenagers. Bored, disillusioned and harbouring a secret crush, our main character is the whimpering Kasuga, the archetypal, spineless harem lead without a shred of pride. When he steals his crush’s gym clothes, a vortex opens through which the trouble-making Nakamura steps. She spied him stealing the clothes and blackmails him into becoming her slave.
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 read quite a bit of shoujo manga. As such, I was quite pleased to see that Sukitte Ii Na Yo received an anime adaption this fall. It’s an interesting one, because, while stubbornly about teenagers’ romantic involvements, it really isn’t. If you’re watching Sukitte Ii Na Yo, or if you’ve written it off as ‘just another shoujo show’, you’re missing the point. Sukitte Ii Na Yo is an examination of sexual capital, disguised as a shoujo series.
Many of us are optimists and like to think there’s an innate sense of goodness within us all, but given a God’s power, how would we react? Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) answers that question within its first 3 minutes: upon the discovery of psychokinesis, civilisation regresses into a thousand year-long dark age, where Man is subjugated by an immense, supernatural power.
One such power, the Emperor of Great Joy, marks his coronation by burning to death the first 500 people to stop clapping. It’s said they clapped for 3 days and nights.
There’s no denying that I adore survivalist fiction. For example, I love Romero’s zombie films because they are all about surviving (and inevitably failing in) an impossible situation: a world overrun with violent madness. In terms of anime, I’ve often talked up Blue Gender, but there’s also Gantz, Infinite Ryvius and Highschool of the Dead: none of them perfect, but all four intense and absorbing. Recently, I blogged about Muv Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse. This I now regret because the series wasn’t good at all, but those first two episodes nailed that old weakness of mine all the same. What I’m trying to say is, I’m a slave to this genre and therefore, I’m a slave to Btooom!.
Somewhere between its Autumn lights and shifting leaves, there’s a warmth in Hyouka. Warm is a good way of describing the series, emotional is another. Not emotional in a melodramatic sense, but rather, one feels a liveliness coursing through every table leg and dusty bookshelf in the series. It has the sense of a story lived in.
In a somewhat odd series of events, the TED prize (associated with the eponymous talk-producing website, naturally) – normally $100,000 USD has increased to a total sum of $1,000,000. Moreover, the process by which the prize is awarded has changed slightly. To quote the organization’s blog post:
“But, while historically the prize has been awarded to individuals who then made a wish, this year articulating the big wish is done up front, with the idea getting heavy weight in the selection process.”
Remind you of anything? It’s is eerily close to the premise of Eden of the East.
For a while there, I stopped believing that the anime industry was capable of crafting shows like Space Brothers (Uchū Kyōdai.) When I seriously started getting into anime, there were series like Planetes, Gankutsuou, Monster and Mushishi all being released in and around the same time. These were series not influenced by other anime and not trying to pander to an existing fan-base. At the time, I seriously thought anime would take over the world.
At some point, though, the bubble burst, and suddenly the idea of a 74 episode murder mystery set not in a Japanese high school, but in mid-Nineties Germany with barely a teenager in sight, seems more like a joke. It’s all the more remarkable, then, that a series like Space Brothers is actually being made right now: the story of a bunch of middle-aged adults chasing their dreams of becoming astronauts.
Have you ever travelled, my friends? Have you ever packed your bags, left home, returning months later? Or not at all? With a nervousness that travels from the soles of your feet to the soles of your feet to the whites of your eyes, borded a plane, feeling as if every atom in your body was quivering? I have. Tsuruta Kenji’s protagonists – wandering girls – have as well.
“There is no doubt that this is a virtual world, that everything we see and touch is an imitation created from data. But to us, our hearts do exist within this reality. If that’s true, then everything we’re experiencing here should also be true.” Asuna, Sword Art Online
I’ve never played an MMO, but I’ve always enjoyed listening to the stories of friends who have. Particularly in the case of games like World of Warcraft, where users have invested months of their lives into their characters. There’s drama amongst teams, scandals, heroes and villains. People can become renowned for their talents, make friends and hang-out all week-long. As such, can we really say that these experiences are so trivial as to be “just games?”
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’ve long been a fan of Taiyo Matsumoto, a guy who for years has ranked amongst my favourite mangaka. Hopefully you’ll know him as the author of Tekkonkinkreet (Black & White,) or GoGo Monster, or perhaps even Ping Pong? If not, you really should, because he’s a genius.
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.
One of the biggest surprises of the summer season has been Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse. A name as bad as that is enough to scare away most, but that this is both a mecha anime and a bloody brutal one at that is stranger still. Whether it can live up to the intensity of these first two episodes is another question entirely, but right now, it’s just nice to reflect on a job well massacred! The root cause of it all? Aliens, of course! Earth’s invaded, humanity’s out-matched and Japan’s moe legions are our first line of defence. Would you feel confident?