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Anime fans fornever

The state of Noitamina and Thermae Romae

It’s fair to say that, critically, 2011 was a poor year for Noitamina and (with Guilty Crown in tow) is currently at its lowest ebb. It’s now suffering from an identity crisis, no longer the bastion of josei anime it once was. Chihayafuru is a good example of what’s meant by that; a series that would be a shoe-in for the old Noitamina, but that now, especially in comparison to Guilty Crown, just underlines the confusion one feels about its current state.

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The eyes of a wolf: Ben-To’s awesome

There’s a few different tactics one can employ when approaching a new season of anime. You can either jump straight in during the first week or wait a while longer for the dust to settle; neither choice is perfect, but for this season at least, I decided to wait for 3 episodes to be released before getting my hands dirty with any new series.

If 3 episodes seems an arbitrary amount, that’s because it is. My only logic here is that since I want a decently informed opinion on anime, 3 episodes are better than 1. Any given episode of a series can be misleading, but 3 are more likely to betray a consistent sense of story-telling and quality. Alas, they also take more time to watch, but for the most part, I enjoy watching anime, so that’s not such a drag!

(I say for the most part because Guilty Crown proved so atrocious that I had to quit barely 5 minutes into the 3rd episode amidst a growing sense of vertigo. So, this is what passes for noitaminA now?)

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The sunset of Astro Fighter Sunred

Even whilst it was airing, Astro Fighter Sunred seemed like a pretty obscure series. Indeed, I often felt like I was one of the few people watching it. It’s a hard sell, I guess, because it’s not only a visibly low budget production, but also a parody of Japan’s sentai genre. Apparently people don’t watch parodies of genres they are unfamiliar with, but since I’ve never seen an authentic Japanese sentai series (all of my experience with it consists of a brief (albeit passionate) fling with none other than Power Rangers,) I’m hardly an expert either! Basically, let’s just get this straight right now: ignoring it because you know nothing about sentai is no god damn excuse.

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Low-brow good times [Occult Academy first impressions]

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about anime over the past year, it’s that these Anime no Chikara projects start out strong, only to have me lose interest after four episodes.

When faced with the latest offering in the project, Occult Academy, I was determined not to be sucked in. I would watch it, but the cool-looking opening wouldn’t sway me, nor would the conversation with the cab driver in its opening minutes pique my interest. I was a woman not scorned, but bored – and I would not have it happen again. I sat on my throne of good taste, and prepared to get back to waxing poetic about The Tatami Galaxy.

Then the female lead decked her father’s corpse with a chair, wrestler-style, and all of a sudden, I was more than willing to give things a second chance.
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The curious case of Kannagi

Watching anime for a long time (I’m talking years, really,) one can fall into certain patterns of viewing. I’ve grown accustomed to knowing what I like, and what I don’t, and picking the anime I watch according to my own tastes. There’s nothing wrong with this, it fundamentally makes sense, but it also leads one to miss out on certain shows that don’t immediately conform to my personal set of ‘requirements’; not every series is as easy to dismiss as I would like to believe (thank god,) therefore, I have devised a cunning plan.

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Injections of fun / Trapeze and episodic anime

"noitaminA rocks!"

At the moment, I’m probably more satisfied with the anime I’m following than I have been for a long time. Whenever a new season begins there’s always the temptation to try to see as much as possible, particularly as an anime blogger with the self-inflicted responsibility to talk about this stuff ad nauseum, but for the autumn at least, I resolved to take things at a slightly slower pace.

The truth is that I’m not good at following anime week-in, week-out anyway, and quite frankly, I’d much rather enjoy the anime I’m watching than to make some token effort just to keep up with everyone else. There’s definitely some new series that I’m really itching to see, but it can all wait until it’s finished.

Well, there is but one exception. I mentioned before that I’m watching Trapeze (also known as Kuchu Buranko.)

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One does not care to acknowledge the mistakes of one’s youth

‘Mockumentary’ Otaku no Video is one of those anime that, even within the anime community itself, is fairly obscure, but every now and then, someone will reference it, often as a comparison to nu-otaku champion Genshiken; for example, the first time I heard about it was when Anime World Order posted a review back in 2006, and considering it was created by animation studio Gainax in 1991, that fans are still talking about it some 15+ years later is surely a good sign, right? Indeed. Here is a fair warning; if you have issues with self-loathing, save yourself the agony and don’t watch Otaku no Video. It will depress you.

As alluded to above, Otaku no Video is a mockumentary of otaku culture. Pasted inside a Genshiken-style anime about a bunch of geeks coming together through their passions for all things, well, geeky is a series of painfully realistic (live action) interviews with real Japanese otaku, all of whom are middle-aged men. Its Wikipedia article suggests that while the anime segment was intended to emphasize the more positive aspects of Japan’s geek fandom (like comradery and friendship), the live action interviews depict the otaku’s lonely reality; several of the interviewees were Gainax employees at the time (though, to protect their identities, their names and voices are changed, while their faces are either unseen or blurred), and because this whole production was helmed by Gainax themselves, their deft, autobiographical understanding of “the truth” cuts right to the bone, so much so this isn’t as much a satirical comedy as a scientific study of the otaku sub-species. They even interview an American anime fan. It’s all in good fun, but a touch evocative too.

One interview in-particular struck me as incredibly depressing; this otaku, sitting in a darkened room, specialises in pornography, and to work around the Japanese government’s censorship of genitalia (they pixelate those areas), he has adapted a pair of glasses to decode the image. It’s just shocking to see that this guy has such talent for electronics, yet uses it in pursuit of… masturbation. They actually show him ‘pulling one off’ by the way! Another interviewee is hunched over his small computer screen, drawing nude images of a character that looks a lot like Noriko from Gunbuster. Again, the art itself is technically brilliant, but it remains a self-fellating fantasy. They ask him “how do you take care of your sexual needs?” Otaku responds “Well, I like computer games.”

The anime itself is up-beat and fun in a style that’s very reminiscent of the likes of Genshiken. One scene I really liked involves fans queuing up for the late-night theatrical premiere of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. A drunk guy, probably just kicked out of a local bar, passes by them in the street and tries to work out why they are all so excited about seeing a “cartoon”, they respond that they aren’t waiting for a “cartoon”, but “animation” (Hayao Miyazaki‘s big break-through, no less). And I agree – there is totally a difference between cartoons and anime.

You know, Otaku no Video is surely worth watching, just don’t be expecting a romanticisation of otaku culture. It swings from pathetic to funny to nostalgic in a matter of minutes and as long as you’re prepared for some soul-destroying satire, it’s a really ‘interesting’ watch.

Animated eye candy, courtesy of Kazuto Nakazawa

Over the last few weeks, I’ve started subscribing to some French anime blogs. I can’t speak a word of the language, but I know good taste, and more to the point, just how priceless it is. On the front page of Manganimation.net, there are burgeoning articles on ‘The Sky Crawlers‘, ‘Kaiba’ and Kazuto Nakazawa. Basically, the French anime fans are awesome, and just because he’s such a wonderful artist, I want to post up some clips showcasing Nakazawa‘s beautiful animation.

The 10 minute short story ‘Comedy’ was the first time I noticed Nakazawa and it remains his best work to date. Ostensibly about a young girl desperate to repel English invaders from Ireland, it’s a Tim Burton-esque gothic fairy-tale; dark, atmospheric and elegant. The brooding bishonen vampire at the centre of this plot, known only as the black swordsman, rarely cracks a smile; despite his fearsome reputation, he will only help the girl if she can find him a comedy book to laugh at. Make sure you stream this on YouTube, download it with as high a quality as possible and store it forever.

Although I don’t have much of an opinion on the show itself (having only seen the first few episodes), ‘Blood+’ offers two excellent opening sequences, the second of which was directed by our man Nakazawa. The song immediately recalls Monorol‘s swooning rock opening for Ergo Proxy, while the animation slips between sequences of ‘Comedy’-style gothic posturing and a wistful nostalgia for bright, easy going suburban life. Repeating this video a few times over, I’m reminded how just how much I loved that same feeling of ‘romance with nostalgia’ in ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time‘.

I’m assured “hair is the heart of a woman”, and after seeing Nakazawa‘s ‘Hairy Tale’, I’m inclined to believe it. This was actually a Japanese TV ad. for ‘Asinence’ shampoo, but regardless of its commercial intent, it’s an undeniably stunning work of art. I suppose there’s only so many adjectives I can throw at one minute’s worth of animation without coming off as horribly pretentious (as if I haven’t already), so just watch it, please.

Nakazawa‘s latest effort is a music video for the song ‘Atarashii Sekai’ by Asian Kung-Fu Generation, and I’ve somehow got through this post without even mentioning his most famous contributions to the mainstream consciousness, namely the ‘fun‘ (warning: heavy violence) animation sequence in ‘Kill Bill’ and his scratchy, dystopian music video for Linkin Park‘s ‘Breaking The Habbit’.

Digging up backlogged gems, like Great Teacher Onizuka

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If MyAnimeList has taught me anything, it’s that for every merely-good new anime series airing right now, there are many more excellent but old (and therefore, forgotten) gems just waiting to be found. Since I joined that site, I’ve spent countless hours trawling through their hefty archives of anime, trying to build up a well-structured list of everything I’ve ever wanted to see. And now, as of speaking, there are 87 TV series, movies or OVAs on my official back-log; scary, but as long as I’m an anime fan, the list will never drain.

Building such a resource is a daunting task, but at the same time, it provides me with a useful reference for the future. If I’m looking for some comedy, or action, or drama, all I need to do is consult my list. For example, I doubt I’d even think to watch something as obscure as “Animation Runner Kuromi” had I never bothered to note it down on MAL, but I’m glad I did, because it turned out to be an entertaining little comedy about the anime industry, helmed by one of my absolute favourite directors, Akitaro Daichi, he of “Fruits Basket” and “Now and Then, Here and There” fame. Discovering that, amidst everything else that’s supposedly vying for mine anime-viewing attentions, was well worth the effort.

I found the anime of this blog-post, a certain Great Teacher Onizuka, for the same reasons. I’ve often read mentions of GTO, but up until the end of 2007, I’d always ignored it. However, since the dawn of the new year, I’ve been feeling tired after work and regularly struggle to keep my eyes open long enough to get through even one episode of so-called thinking-man’s anime (because, you see, thinking is too much effort). I suppose big, dumb Great Teacher Onizuka looked like the perfect antidote, and indeed, I was right; light entertainment for the win.

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Great Teacher Onizuka’s real name is Eikichi Onizuka. He often introduces himself as a 22 year-old bachelor looking for lurrrv, but his blonde hair (quite rare in Asia, apparently!) and hot-blooded, aggressive attitude fails to conceal his history as the legendary leader of one of Japan’s most violent motorcycle gangs. Indeed, he only starts teaching because of the many “hot girls” at school, but quickly realizes his passion for setting straight an abusive class of misfits; themselves more than willing to squish his fledgling career.

That’s all you need to know about the plot of GTO, it’s that simple. Onizuka isn’t like other teachers; he isn’t up-tight, strict or serious, he’s the opposite. He’s a punk, irresponsible, easy-going and up for laugh; consider that he wins the admiration of one student by asking him for porn, while he punishes bullies by hanging them upside-down from trees.

So much of the fun is in seeing how Onizuka’s lack of regard for social boundaries (e.g. spanking a female student) knows no limits; the bemused reactions he forces from parents, teachers and students alike are priceless. You know they’ll never defeat Onizuka, but the bigger the bastard, the harder they fall. Of course, there are the obligatory slips into serious drama too, but it’s apt, and in some cases, heart-rending. In one particular arc, there is a rather-weak boy that’s being bullied by a group of girls; he considers suicide. It ends when he strips down naked in front of a packed hall of PTA members to reveal the extent to which his body has been battered and bruised.

With the animation from Studio Pierrot, the studio behind the likes of Bleach and Naruto, GTO is a fairly standard looking anime from 1999, but some of Onizuka’s facial expressions are hilarious; it’s like he suddenly tenses every muscle on his face to emphasize the sense of embarrassment or confusion he’s started feeling. It’s really unique and amusing to see, and was apparently based on the actor who played Onizuka in the live action drama.

Talking of Pierrot, they also curse GTO with their other major affliction, ridiculous random filler episodes. It’s not as bad as Naruto though, well, not as obvious, anyway, considering Onizuka proves himself capable of sitting an exam with a gun-shot wound to the stomach; no-one even notices until he passes out! You can’t really get more ridiculous than that, right? Besides, GTO has no plot to speak of, it’s just Onizuka rescuing the hearts and minds of a group of kids who, at some point or another, lost faith in school.

Though it’s low-brow and stupid, Great Teacher Onizuka is entertaining and likeable. Sometimes, that’s all I need; nothing too intelligent or opaque, but just wholesome, good-hearted fun. I doubt I’ll ever watch it again, but I’m glad I did. Now, back to the back-log, any suggestions?

Naruto – 186 – The episode where Shino laughs

This episode makes a mockery of everything Naruto stands for and as a hardcore fan, there is a guilty voice saying I should be completely offended by it, but honestly, this episode was so off the wall and slapstick funny that I could not help but love every minute of it.

The premise is brilliant. Naruto and Shino are asked to attend a funeral on behalf of a “client”, the catch is that if the other guests at the funeral can make Naruto or Shino laugh, they will get a cut of the deceased’s fortune; cue some of the most surreal, weirdest attempts at humour seen this side of Cromartie High School. Given how serious this show usually is, it makes a nice refreshing change (especially within the confines of such endless, empty filler) to see the likes of Shino and Naruto just cut loose and laugh their heads off.

Episode 186 will not go down as the finest example of the Naruto anime, but right here, right now, I have to admit this is the most fun I have salvaged from Naruto for what feels like years.

Kogepan – Living the life of a burnt piece of bread

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, a show like Kogepan comes along. This short series follows the everyday adventures of the titular Kogepan, a burnt piece bread that no one wants to buy. Try as he might to be sold, he’s destined to live out his life unwanted, unsold, uneaten.

Each episode of Kogepan is only 4 minutes long and there are 10 episodes, so I was able to find my way through this series in a record time of a measly 40 minutes. For shame. Kogepan is a hidden gem.

Playing out as a high spirited moral allegory, Kogepan is all about learning to accept yourself, warts and all, and enjoying life. It may look like an innocent kid’s anime, but behind each bready character are personalities infected with such a loveable kind of vicious sarcasm, innocence and humour. The laughs are often wry and pessimistic but this is a show that has real heart.

The way Kogepan has been drawn is wonderful. It’s very surreal and innocent looking, yet matches the witty dialogue perfectly. There are some very cute, innocent baby breads that will make your heart melt, yet this is offset by the group of ugly burnt breads who are so down beat and confused that it’s both funny and slightly heart breaking; they get drunk on milk and roll around trying to cheer each other up.

If you’re in the mood for something different, something surreal or something offbeat, Kogepan is worth looking out for. Just like the message that pervades this entire show, don’t judge Kogepan based on how it looks, behind the odd visual style burns a particularly tasty slice of warm bread (.. I mean anime).

Studio 4C’s Comedy – Medieval fable set in Ireland

Story so far
Set during Ireland’s War of Independence, a young Irish lass, besieged by the merciless English soldiers, seeks the help of a legendary swordsman who is rumoured to have supernatural powers.

My impressions
Studio 4C’s Comedy is a gripping 10 minute OAV from Kazuto Nakazawa; the main creative force behind Kill Bill’s ultra-violent anime sequence. This is a dark, gothic tale with no real historical significance, a vehicle for Nakazawa’s undoubted sense of style. His scratchy, sleek character designs are distinctive and attractive here, as is the hyper stylised violence. The compelling soundtrack is basically one song, but what a song; operatic classic Ave Maria.

It all adds up to be a really quite outstanding OAV, bleeding with moody landscapes and vivid characters no doubt inspired by an old European picture-book aesthetic. Comedy may only be 10 minutes long, but it works perfectly; both as a experiment in surreal atmospherics and an entertaining snapshot of Britain’s bloody history.