Unspeakably beautiful

A belated new year’s resolution for me is to publish more posts this year than last, but rather than try to come up with a bunch of boring editorials, I went through MyAnimeList and picked out twelve anime that I want to try and write about, bringing me first to Devilman (both The Birth (1987) and The Demon Bird (1990) episodes,) the closest that anime has come to replicating the feel of an H.P. Lovecraft story, that of aeons-old demons and lost civilisations.

Like one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories, it even begins with an ill-fated scientific expedition into a distant mountain range. The children of those scientists, Akira and (the totally insane) Ryou, are the protagonists, with Ryou leading Akira towards his fate as Devilman, mankind’s only opposition to the hordes of demons hell-bent on reclaiming Earth for their own. There’s nothing remarkable about that premise and there are dozens of other stories just like it, but Devilman has some fascinating, deeper hues to it than most.

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Ghosts in their own ghost stories: Shokuzai

“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.

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The anime-fication of Attack on Titan

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.

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The shrinking of Attack on Titan

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.

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Broken Apple: Shin Sekai Yori

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.

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Liking Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse? See also…

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?

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The girl who became a zombie

I’m utterly torn by Sankarea. It has beautiful art direction and some fascinating ideas, but it’s also about as exploitative as anime gets. There’s just so much to like about it though, starting with the girl who became a zombie.

Of course, to become a zombie, one must first die. Sanka commits suicide because her father is a massive creep (and, I would argue, a moe otaku,) so obsessed his daughter’s innocence that he’s stopping her from setting foot in the outside world.

There’s a twisted logic to the metaphors being spun here, where a decaying body and spilt guts is symbolic of a girl’s coming of age. She’s happy to be damaged and sew-up the gaping tear across her stomach if it means being able to live a normal life.

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We offer up our heart’s blood: Courage and spirit in Shingeki no Kyojin

Since writing my first post on the manga series Shingeki no Kyojin (the official English title is apparently Attack on Titan,) it’s been licensed for an English-language release by Kodansha USA, whilst a Japanese live-action movie has also been announced for 2013. With the inevitably small film-budget it’ll receive, I’m not convinced it’ll look good enough , but then again, it still sounds better than the forthcoming Akira film!

Last night I finally caught up to volume 5 of the series and, man, I just want to keep going. For those that haven’t read my first post on it, Shingeki no Kyojin is a large-scale survival-horror manga about a future-Earth dominated by man-eating giants (known in the series as Titans.) With humanity on the brink and walled up in one last city, the series begins as the Titans break through the city’s first line of defence.

Imagine any zombie film you’ve ever seen, and then replace the zombies with giants. Mankind’s fucked, right? It’s lucky then that the main character, Eren, can transform into a Titan, too!

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Blood-C: one long descent into chaos

Series like Blood-C catch my eye. At some point during its airing, I got the impression it was bad: the weekly reviews at Sea Slugs and Moe Sucks say as much and more, but since finishing, I’ve also read takes at chaostangent and S01E01 that say the opposite. Having now seen it for myself over the last week, I agree more with the latter blogs. Like all series that seem to require a little patience, Blood-C has ended up being quite underrated.

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Eaten by giants!!

Apparently, Shingeki no Kyojin can be translated to ‘Advancing Giants’. It’s a new-ish, still on-going manga (began serialisation in 2009) that I started reading at the weekend. In it, humanity has been brought to the brink of extinction by an unstoppable wave of man-eating giants. Where did they come from? Nobody knows! And why do they eat only humans? Again, nobody knows! The giants don’t feed on us for sustinance, they do it because they can!

Mankind somehow survives by sealing itself within a city, surrounded by 50 metre-high walls to keep everything else out. 100 years later, it’s an era of relative peace, but suddenly, this guy appears… More than double the size of any giant ever seen before, he (literally) kicks a hole in the city’s previously impregnable defences and unleashes the horrors outside waiting to get in.

And so, the real story of (the award-winning) Shingeki no Kyojin begins.

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Feel like being scared?

I’ve been going through a lull in blogging lately. Although I’ve been trying hard (and succeeding, surprisingly!) to keep up with a certain trio of currently airing series, I’ve also been feeling quite passive, too. Even still, the desire to trudge on with this whole writing thing has never left me, so, thank you if you’ve been persevering with me for a few years now. I honestly wish I could be a more consistent blogger for you, but let’s forget all that for now, for I have finally found something ‘new’ to write about!

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Horrible fun / Exhuming Ga-Rei -Zero-

If just because there’s something exciting about proving yourself wrong every now and then, I’m trying to watch a bunch of recent series that I’ve snubbed or otherwise ignored in past. This all started when, on a whim, I began watching the kendo anime Bamboo Blade and felt stupid for ignoring it for so long.

Ga-Rei -Zero- is another amongst those I’d passed over in recent years, and, well, it’s a violent story about monsters and stuff, too! If nothing else, I knew I’d get to see some weird creatures breathing fire and crushing people underfoot!

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The harsh beauty of Tsutomu Nihei’s Biomega

Looking out on Tsutomu Nihei's new world

Happy new year, everyone! Time sure flies and it’s now looking likely that this blog will live to see it’s fourth anniversary on the 4th of March, which is just… surreal!

This time of year also provides me with the rare opportunity to immerse in some new worlds of fiction. Last year I fell under the spell of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, but this time it was to be Tsutomu Nihei and his six volume Biomega that caught my eye.

Nihei is probably my favourite mangaka. It’s not like I’ve read a lot of manga, but this guy has held my admiration for a long time, ever since I stumbled over his first series, Blame!, where the dialogue is sparse, action is rapid and landscapes are wide, sprawling stretches of textured emptiness.

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When all that’s left is dust

Boogiepop Phantom

When I think about Boogiepop Phantom, I’m also reminded of other recent Madhouse anime, like Shigurui and Casshern Sins. Each has a strange aesthetic; seductive yet tinged by an under-lying sense of sadness and desolation.

It would be easy to categorise them as dark and depressing, but they are more complex than that. It’s not horror merely for the sake of mindless chills; it’s horror to serve a purpose, to weave a spell. Boogiepop Phantom is disorientating, Shigurui is grotesque and Casshern Sins is desolate, but each conjures an atmosphere potent enough to provoke difficult questions.

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Why Boogiepop? You wouldn’t willingly escape into a nightmare, right?

Haunting darkness in Boogiepop Phantom

The coolest thing about Boogiepop Phantom is that it’s just really fucked up. Too often in anime are teenagers romanticised. Everything’s so sweet, so melodramatic; no permanent damage. It’s just easier to watch something like Toradora, where everyone’s so cheerful, ready to communicate and fix their problems.

Nothing festers in your typical anime high-school; feelings, conflicts are all out in the open, ready to be tended. It’s false bullshit, but we watch it because it’s happy and safe, because there’s always an answer, and the characters will always turn out okay, smiling in the end. We know it’s coming and that’s fine, but it lacks an edge; seems to be more like a dream than reality.

And you wouldn’t willingly escape into a nightmare, right?

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Fullmetal Alchemist is overlooked as horror

Something that ‘outsiders’ probably don’t realise about Fullmetal Alchemist is just how grotesque and disturbing it can be for mainstream shonen; it has never been a story that shys away from death, even when the victims are cute little girls and their pet dogs!

This lurched back into focus during episode 20 of Brotherhood, when Ed, in-between bouts of throwing up, exhumes the remains of what was supposed to be his half-transmuted mother. While the act of digging up a long-buried grave is, in itself, a stomach-turning thing to do, after Ed looks at the remains, a plot twist even more disturbing is revealed, that the body they pulled back from ‘the other side’ wasn’t their mother’s at all!

Who’s body was it? And why did it appear in place of his mother’s? The story continues to raise these dark questions, and with no comforting, morally-sound answer in sight, I really think that FMA is overlooked as horror. Scenes like these, as well as the twisted fate of characters like Martel, are as cruel and disturbing as anything I’ve seen in anime.

When eternal love goes wrong [Kurozuka]


I had high hopes for Kurozuka, because it is a genre of anime I tend to enjoy, that being stylish, far-fetched, visually-intoxicating science fiction.

It is a beautifully drawn journey, in-which 1,000 years of vampiric romance sweeps across the Heian period of Japan to the bombing of Japanese cities during World War 2 to a post-apocalyptic future, but as the constant streams of action rush over the despairing atmosphere of the first half, it’s just a shame that the story’s poignancy seems to fade. That is not to say that Kurozuka isn’t good, because it is; it has some moments, and they are great.


Particularly disquieting is the image of Kuromitsu’s naked body wrapped around her lover Kuro’s severed head. Tortured by his eternal life, he wants to die, but loathe to be alone, she won’t ever allow it. Kuro’s life has been utterly consumed by Kuromitsu; forever trapped within her serpentine embrace, subjected to her every whim. One can only conclude that if love is a scary thing, then eternal love is positively chilling.


I also want to note that the first half has a particularly industrial and dystopian feel. Much like the quiet wanderings in Texhnolyze, Ergo Proxy and Blame!, Kuro’s many urban sojourns are quiet and contemplative affairs. The cities of the future have fallen into decay. Neon lights, concrete bricks and rusting steel grids scythe through murky buildings and even murkier corners. Their peoples are starved of hope, laying the streets, waiting to die. In such a scene, one can observe every tiny little detail of the city and sample the deep-fried life that courses through its veins.


There is a style to Kurozuka, an unabashedly violent streak, a harsh, cold beauty, that I admire. Most of all, it is a visual experience, and there’s not much else to it than that, but I’ve always found it enough to see something beautiful, or something provocative, twisted and weird, and wonder.



















Delighted with some devilishly delicious horror

Never one to refuse an opportunity to read some delicious horror manga, I’ve whiled away these last couple of weeks plunging my eyes into the many dark crevasses of the internet, hoping in vain to uncover another crawling Enigma of Japanese terror. Forget about all this torture porn nonsense, forget about reality, for me, Halloween is about monsters and ghosts; weird, gross, malevolent abominations of nature inconceivably twisted by a mysterious ill-intent. Until last night, this hunt was rapidly failing. I had resigned myself to a Halloween of ghastly nothingness, but alas, at this most hopeless of hours, my damned savoir and his demented smile lurked forth from the shadows. His name was none other than Go Nagai and his bloody offering was Devilman. And it was perfect. Perfectly and utterly disturbing.

I mean that. When I’d finally finished reading Devilman, I was left in a state of genuine unease. This 5 volume manga series begins in a relatively innocuous fashion when, much like Batman, our anti-hero Akira Fudo agrees to merge his body with a super-powered demon in order to prevent those very same beasts from feasting on the powerless herds of mankind. This half of the story is typically episodic, with him fighting off any number of ghoulish imps. It’s certainly not scary, but contains a strange charm; monsters aren’t supposed to have feelings, they aren’t supposed to love each other, and yet, in Devilman, they do, and for their mystical, twisted romances, they will sacrifice everything.

A brutal devil, a frightening devil. However, a form that should have been ugly and frightening, was beautiful to me. Unspeakably beautiful.

What happens next can only be described as Armageddon.

After being profoundly frightened by an invasion of horrible demons, the world’s human populace is sent crawling back into the dark ages. Fearful of the monsters hiding amongst them, cowardly, heartless people incite impromptu witch-hunts and the executions of those randomly suspected to be the enemy, including Devilman and his friends. In this purge, no-one is spared; women, children, even babies are slaughtered. Every time you expect someone to be saved, it doesn’t happen. Everyone dies.

Early into the last volume, this ever spiraling sense of hopelessness deeply affected me. There is no escape from such chilling logic and these last two volumes contain some of the most shocking horror I’ve ever read. Go Nagai refuses to compromise on any level and forges ahead, determined to capture man’s self-inflicted and shameful end.

After everything that has happened, after Devilman has lost all that was dear to him, he understandably realizes that the human race isn’t worth saving, but he fights Satan anyway. The outcome is sad but that is fine, for this is real horror. It has monsters, violence, mythology, and, just as important, it has a point, a blunt, painful, affecting stab to the heart.

A tribute to Soul Eater 18

It’s been a long time since my last foray into Soul Eater. Too long, really. And it’s easy to forget just how fun it is, how exciting, how damn awesome.

I mean, there are certain things that will always stick out, launch it above other series, and these two episodes were no different. Consider the dark, gothic architecture of Shibusen. The landscape has a palpable character, the shade and colour emphasizing a constant, lively feeling. An emotional container for these bizarre eccentrics, this is a world I can feel a part of, along with these characters and their adventures, so colourful and thrilling.

I suppose I’m really just in awe of this show, as the bright sparks fly and the awkwardly dressed kids dance. In that moment. Memories. These episodes, in particular, just really capture that feeling for me, that transient, simple, joyful sense of being young and stupid. If just for a dozen or so minutes, it’s fun, and happy, and perfect.

Then Medusa attacks.

Sometimes it’s easy to take Soul Eater for granted because every episode is so consistently and stylishly animated. But like I said above, I’ve been away from this series for too long. When I finished these two episodes, I really had the urge to just race through the rest right there and then. But you see, I want to savour it, this feeling, this excitement. It’s wonderful, and rare.

Actually, Blassreiter is quite good

When Blassreiter started airing in April, I suppose I wasn’t the only one to ignore it, but why is that? Wait, isn’t it obvious? Just two damn words are all it takes.

Studio Gonzo.

In recent years, despite the odd exception, their name has become synonymous with bland, conventional, boring anime. Hence, somewhat unfairly, I had Blassreiter pegged from the start as one to avoid, as a dumb, generic action series. For a while, that seemed to be working just fine, no-one was talking about it, really, especially as The Tower of Druaga, Blassreiter‘s video streaming partner on the likes of YouTube and Crunchyroll, was attracting the admiration of many. Alas, everything changed when I read this timely review at Sea Slugs!; according to them, Blassreiter wasn’t as bad as first thought. It was a surprise for them, and that was enough for me, the mere idea of someone actually enjoying Blassreiter was sufficient enough reason to intrigue, especially as I had expected nothing less than abject failure. Suddenly, excitement had gripped me. This was a new series to watch, a series I knew nothing about, another obscure little adventure.

[12 episodes later.]

I expected a dumb, generic action series, and there is no denying it, Blassreiter is stupid, unoriginal and adrenaline-fuelled. Yet I loved it, because it is fun, exciting and compelling, a kind of back to basics, refreshingly straight-forward action anime that is stylish, well animated and thoroughly well crafted. It harkens back to something like Gungrave, an unashamedly action-packed story that mixes tried-and-tested themes of science-fiction and horror with melodramatic, serious characters. Like Gerd Frentzen.

Note that Blassreiter is set in Germany. Not that this is important, but that’s a relatively exotic locale for anime, right? Anyway, the square-jawed Gerd Frentzen is a champion motorcycle racer who, in the very first episode, has a terrible crash on the circuit and is paralyzed from the waist down. His career is finished in an instant, his life left in tatters, but just as all hope seems lost, a voluptuous scientist, having mysteriously lurked forth from the shadows, springs our vulnerable Gerd in the throes of absolute despair to offer him a delicious reprieve; “Swallow this pill and you’ll be healed!” Suffice to say, she is not exactly telling the truth.

In any other series, Gerd might be the (anti) hero, but six episodes in, he dies. It’s the first in a long line of surprising deaths, but this illustrates an important point, that no-one is safe in Blassreiter. Rather, this is apocalyptic science fiction in the vein of another personal favorite, Wolf’s Rain. The first half of the series concludes at the end of episode 12, an iconic, exhilarating episode, but true to form, this isn’t a happy end. In fact, when a bomb is literally dropped on top of our escaping heroes, via a tearful old comrade no less, such is the sense of hopelessness that one suspects that the end of their world might not be such a remote possibility after all.

Blassreiter is the kind of series where, when a character dies, he has just enough energy left to offer one last, melodramatic speech. I know you might be rolling your eyes, I suppose it is a tad cliche, but regardless, it’s a nice touch, I think, and lends some meaning to that end, conjuring a really quite potent pathos with a sense of tragic beauty. This is a show with colorful motorcycles, huge guns, hulking monsters and military maneuvers, it is stylish, macho and serious, but without that pathos, the rest is merely superficial. I never anticipated caring this much about the characters in Blassreiter, but I do, undeniably, I do. It won’t win awards, but it is solid, exciting and compelling, and that is so much more than I dared hope for.

When bunny boilers attack

Ahh, my saviour is the weekend! I know my last post wasn’t exactly beaming with enthusiasm for all things animated, but with two more weeks under my belt, the gloom has lifted and I’m now tucking into tasty helpings of spring stuff on an almost daily basis. Surprisingly, there’s a lot of new series I’m feeling; in particular, Kure-nai and Macross Frontier, both of which I wasn’t expecting to enjoy quite as much as I am, while the likes of Soul Eater and Kaiba remain, as ever, firm favourites.

Anyway, this weekend is special in that it’s an extended one. Come Monday morning, I won’t be dragging myself out of bed for another draining shift at work, but instead, will be feasting on the varied fruits of Japan’s lovely pop culture. Sorry, that’s probably gloating, but the thing is, whenever I get the time to relax for much longer than a few days, I often gravitate towards manga. I’ve never been much of a manga reader, but every now and then, usually during extended, lazy weekends, I get an urge to read something. Like how this morning, I woke up with a vague interest in tracking down the nice looking (in a weird way), post-apocalyptic Dragon Head, but once that proved a little too hard to find, I turned to ZashikiOnna instead, “Regularly chosen as “the scariest manga ever” in magazine horror specials.

ZashikiOnna, creepy girl

ZashikiOnna is definitely chilling. It’s not scary in a violent or supernatural way, but it’s realistic, believable horror. The story revolves around college ‘player’ Hiroshi, a relatively normal, love-sick young man living a regular student’s life. One evening, he wakes to the sound of someone banging loudly on his neighbour’s door. It’s clear he isn’t in, but the loud knocking continues for a long time. Hiroshi pops his head outside, into the hallway, to find that the knocker is this rather odd-looking girl; messy hair, dirty clothes, tall and thin, she sees him too, her gaze is strange, intense. Saying nothing, he retreats, but suddenly, the banging starts on his door too. It’s the beginning of her deadly obsession with Hiroshi.

It’s a creepy situation to be in, to have someone you don’t know, have never seen before and looks a little unhinged, invade your life. The darkness, ambiguity and mystery surrounding the girl’s fascination with Hiroshi is chilling, there’s no logic or no past connection, she’s an absolute stranger, no life of her own and hell-bent on his constant attention. The worst thing is that, despite being only 1 volume in length, ZashikiOnna is unreleased outside of Japan and only partially scanslated, hence, we’re left hanging in the midst of terror with no end in sight.

If you’re looking for some atmospheric and imaginative scares, I have to recommend ZashikiOnna. It’s the kind of horror best read on your own in a darkened, silent room with nothing but shadows and street-lights for company. For my part, I’d love it if you could recommend to me some one-shot/short manga (of any genre), I’ve got a lot of time to waste over the next few days and I’d love to fill it with some unique reading.

Basking in the inferno of Cloverfield, remembering Blue Gender


Head-spinning, stomach-turning and mind-racing are a few of the adjectives I’d choose to describe how I felt when I stumbled out of the cinema last night, having just suffered through Cloverfield. To say I’d been looking forward to this film would be an understatement, and even though I’d only discovered its baffling trailer in early January, the anxious wait until February the 1st (its official UK release) was incredibly frustrating. I mean, considering its earlier premiere in the US and the relative secrecy surrounding the central “creature” itself, I just desperately wanted to see this film for myself, and now that I have, here I am.

I loved Cloverfield, motion sickness and all! Even before setting foot at the cinema, I knew I’d love it. Giant monsters, ambiguous origins, unfathomable means. It’s all good. The complete destruction of New York City, depicted in an ultra-realistic style; seeing the Big Apple’s sky-scrapers gradually tumble like a pack of dominos in an inferno of reverberating, twisted metal. Suffice to say, it’s an awesome spectacle, but I digress, this is an anime blog. Must talk about anime.

When one thinks of monster flicks, Godzilla, Japan’s bastion of pop culture, is a behemoth of the genre and yet, for every man-in-a-suit movie, there’s few traditional giant monster/disaster stories in anime. Sure, we have the likes of Evangelion, but even then, that’s much more of a character study than anything else. What I’m thinking of is a pulpy, survival-based story in which humanity is pushed to its very limits of endurance and forced to fend off the constant attacks of an unknown enemy. Having wracked my memory for hours, one TV series crawls to mind; 1999’s Blue Gender.

blue_gender_blog_2.jpgWhen Yuji Kaido, Blue Gender’s young protagonist, is diagnosed with a baffling new illness, he is shelved in cryogenic stasis for an indefinite period of time, comforted only by the promise that he’ll be woken the very moment doctors develop a cure, something that’s currently beyond medical science. Years, maybe even decades, later, Yuji stirs from his great long slumber, though the world he wakes in isn’t exactly the modern paradise he left behind. Earth’s been overrun with giant insect-like creatures called the “Blue”, and of course, they feed on humans. Any semblance of government and army has withdrawn to “Second Earth”; a large space station housing the last remnants of modern civilisation. The few people remaining on Earth, starving and hiding in the rubble of destroyed cities, are being picked off, one by one, by the man-eating monsters, as humanity formulates its last shot at survival.

Blue Gender, much like Cloverfield, doesn’t take prisoners. Life is cheap and of the dozen or so soldiers who come to rescue Yuji from his “forever dream”, only one survives to see him safely back to “Second Earth”. In this series, man’s absolutely lost his place at the top of the food chain and he’s left, like the rest of nature, to live in the constant fear of being hunted. One of the things I loved about the first half of Blue Gender was this strong sense of hopelessness clinging to the characters as they travel across barren wastelands and empty cities, not knowing how or when the next attack will commence. It makes for riveting viewing because, in this world, there is no sentiment, no rules about who dies or when, everyone is constantly haunted by the spectre of death, almost driven insane with fear, no doubt imaging just how it’ll be when their time comes. I first watched Blue Gender on the Sci-Fi channel around about 2001/2; I still remember how, every Thursday evening at mid-night, there it was, another episode to devour. We never missed an episode (much to lament of our father, who’d rather be watching fishing programs) and that’s a tribute to the quality of this series and indeed, some day, I’m hoping to see it again (preferably not dubbed this time). It’s most definitely horror in the vein of “Aliens“, but if you loved Cloverfield, I’m quite certain you’ll find yourself hooked on Blue Gender too. I mean, everyone loves an apocalypse every now and then, right?

Spiralling into insanity, looking at Junji Ito’s horror manga Uzumaki


I’ve been reading a lot of manga lately. In the past, I’d go through brief fits of reading the stuff, but it always felt temporary, like a fling while my romance with anime hit the buffers. This time, it’s totally different; I’m ready to devour as much as I can find.
By and large, anime is defined by its limitations; it only looks as good as the money spent on it, but manga is typically drawn by one talented artist; someone with a consistent vision, capable of imagining a fantastic landscape without ever needing to worry about budgets and frame-rates. It’s an untainted, purer style of story-telling, burdened only by the singular abilities of its author.

With my above enthusiasm in-tow, the first stopping point on this fresh journey into the black/white country of comics was always clear; Uzumaki by horror maven Junji Ito. Given I’m still reeling in claustrophobia thanks to his deliciously weird short-story “The Enigma of Amigara Fault“, the idea of slipping into his most acclaimed work to date was an ambition I’ve held for many months.

Uzumaki is the Japanese word for “spiral”. If you know your anime, it will immediately conjure up two obvious references; the main character of Naruto is named “Uzumaki Naruto” and, of course, spirals (and anti-spirals) represent living energy, perhaps even the soul itself, in the excellent Gurren Lagann. I’m not sure why this symbol in particular seems so prevalent in Japanese culture, but Ito’s sinister ideas are quite persuasive. Spirals are obsession.

The dread conjured by completing Uzumaki was similar to the fright I felt when reading of Africa’s army ants. These aggressive colonies, which number in the millions, are constantly on the move. They form a “living architecture”, using their own bodies to build bridges and protective walls against the ravages of the African climate. They feed on almost anything by hunting en-mass, crawling over their prey in their millions and stripping it to the bone; even animals as big as horses have fell victim. Just reading about them, I’m disturbed by their unrelenting aggression and ambiguous intelligence. There is no point in trying to understand their intentions, it’s simply a case of running for your dear life, and that’s Uzumaki in a nut-shell too. A town haunted by a faceless, creeping, crawling malevolence, an unfathomable, undiscriminating curse hell-bent on the total destruction of every man, woman and child.

Beginning in a fine fashion then, the first chapter is brilliantly weird. To the utter bemusement of his relatively normal family, a typical Japanese salary-man is suddenly obsessed with spirals; at first he’s satisfied by merely staring into a snail’s shell, but as his mind gradually unhinges, he starts experimenting with his body too. He doesn’t simply admire the spiral, he wants to become one.

The first two volumes (out of three) are fairly episodic, making up a series of bizarre encounters with the spiral obsession, most of which range from the darkly comic to out-right disgusting. When I say the latter, I’m talking about cannibalistic pregnant women and insane doctors feeding their hungry patients umbilical cords and placenta that, for whatever reason, take root and grow when chopped from newly-born babies; and there’s more, but I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. All of the horror in Uzumaki is, as is Ito’s signature style, sticky and organic; we’re supposed to be sickened, disturbed and freaked by the way he twists and contorts the apparently flexible human body to new extremes.

uzumaki_350.jpgIt would be fair to say that I enjoyed the first two volumes, but they were merely fun for the sake of horror; I felt nothing for the characters, and the thread-bare plot offered little more than an uneven patch-work of horrific adventures. That is to say, I wasn’t heading into the third (and final) volume over-flowing with enthusiasm, yet it’s a quite remarkable end.

The entire town, now well beyond rescue, has been completely smashed by the dreaded curse. The last few survivors are starved and confused, tightly grouped together in small wooden huts, hiding from the many terrors roaming the streets outside, including tribes of cruel children capable of riding giant twisters through the wretched remains of modern civilisation. These last few chapters are post-apocalyptic, bereft of hope and beautiful; the landscape is desolate and open, forcing a real fear of loneliness on this reader that’s far more potent than the cheap thrills of earlier volumes.

Ito’s true strength isn’t necessarily his detailed depictions of gore, but his manipulation of human nature, the way he exploits our physical relationship with life and our worries of the unknown; he knows what’s lurking in the darkest caverns of reality, willing to fathom the moon-lit shadows being cast across our bedroom walls.

Creepy horror manga? The Enigma of Amigara Fault is the answer

fault.jpgHalloween is fast approaching and it’s time to indulge in some frightful Japanese horror. Sadly, it’s not a genre that translates well to anime and manga, but having recently discovered the abnormal works of manga-ka Junji Ito, there may well be hope for us yet. This time I’m talking about the claustrophobic “Enigma of Amigara Fault”; a remarkable 30-page short that has abducted my thoughts since falling victim to its spell last night.

The ambiguous story begins as an earthquake scythes open the titular Amigara Fault; a gigantic rock riddled with human shaped caves. Nervous people from all over Japan are inexplicably drawn to the landmark, haunted by nightmares and convinced they have recognized individual caverns that perfectly match their own unique body shapes. Continue reading

The hyperbole of Mononoke

“Specter; spirit; ghost. Mononoke is a very old word, now rarely used, that describes spirits who actively haunt or pursue a person or place. Though the spirit need not be evil, it does have somewhat of a dangerous connotation.”


Though it borders on pretentious, I’ve always wanted to kick-off an article with a word definition. Aside from its traditional Japanese meaning, "Mononoke” is a word synomonous with a certain Hayao Miyazaki blockbuster from 1997; immediately it recalls images of feudal Japan – an era when a fading mother nature was still capable of retaining her sense of mystery and magic. And so begins the 2007 series “Mononoke” with its distinctively Japanese take on supernatural folk-law.

For those who don’t read Wikipedia, “Mononoke” is a spin-off from the self-contained “Bake Neko” segment of 2006’s 11-episode 3-story anthology “Ayakashi”. Though I started watching fansubs of Ayakashi, the prolonged melodramatics and thick cultural references of the first segment (“Yotsuya Kaidan”) wrought such a soul-destroying apathy on my enthusiasm for the series that by the time I was aware of the striking visual style of “Bake Neko”; my fleeting interest in “Ayakashi” had all but expired. Jump forward to July 2007 and “Mononoke” started its run on Japanese TV. Having been seduced by its eccentric visual style and the positive word-of-mouth, this past weekend was spent haplessly indulging in seven episodes of Mononoke’s surreal feast. To you, I present these humble findings. Continue reading

Demonic rumbles as claymores get squished in episode 21


I’m really digging Claymore at the moment and each episode is ending on the kind of gut-wrenching cliff hanger that so tempts me to gorge on manga spoilers. Episode 21 is no different; Ligardes is one of the coolest awakened beings yet — his intimidating part-lion transformation perfectly emphasizes his quite unfathomable strength and speed; he radiates killer-instinct and I haven’t a clue how anyone, including Claire, can escape his relentless lust for blood.

My main problem with the series is that it hasn’t been great at building sympathetic characters but after episode 20, I was totally rooting for Undine; at first she seemed like a heartless bitch, but it turned out her abrasive personality and pumped up muscles were all superficial fronts. The scene of her cowering in the corner; shivering, crying and completely exposed immediately transformed her personality. That she dies in episode 21; killed so quickly, no fan-fare, just death, felt shocking and disappointing, but also made it clear that this ain’t no picnic. How can anyone beat Ligardes?

I must be one of the few people to like Raki. I like that he’s weak, but willing to learn. I hope he becomes strong or at least capable of cutting down the generic yoma. I’m not sure what to make of his contact with Isely and Pricilla; why haven’t they killed him? I sense they are more than just superficial bad guys and knowing what monsterous power lurks beneath their skin, I’m quite fascinated by their passive attitudes towards him.

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I loved the build up to the second wave of attacks on Pieta. The silence of the Claymores as they sensed demonic energy on the horizon; the sound of the wind and the blizzard while the awakened beings howl in excitement of battle and then the reverberating bass of their gigantic foot-steps as they near their prey — it’s almost Lords of the Rings-esque, such is the tension in the air. In this moment you can’t help but pity Claire and co., they may well be doomed.

The end of Death Note: a poison, creating wicked hearts

Death Note is a “… poison, creating wicked hearts”, said the concerned prudes at Chinese schools after some ‘corrupted’ kids were discovered to be using their home-made murder pages to curse fellow students. This was back in 2005; the first time I’d heard of the now famous Death Note. Since then, I’ve always been interested in the franchise (anything with the power to blacken young hearts must be worth something), and last night, much to my dismay, I watched the final episode of the anime. I’ll miss it.

One thing we can say for certain is that by the end, Light was spiked with ‘poison’ and without a shred of mercy in his ‘wicked heart’. Power, it seems, corrupts. It’s a rather tired sentiment, and yet, Light’s abrupt fall from grace was a painful and disturbing sight to behold. Actually, I couldn’t care less about how he was defeated, it was all about that desperate reaction, the sudden loss of composure when he realizes he has been bested.

Unveiled for the first time, we see that disgusting thirst for power lurking beneath the front of sophisticated cool; a self-proclaimed god suddenly realizing he is but one man, all alone, and about to die. He gets what he deserves, but in his lonely demise, you can’t help but pity him. Suddenly you understand Ryuk’s amused indifference to Light’s lofty ambitions. People die and nothing changes, that’s it, Light-o.

To be frank, Light’s seiyuu Mamoru Miyano turns in an amazing performance for this final episode. Usually, I’m not one to pick out acting, but I must admit to being bowled over by the visceral power and epic range of Miyano’s voice. Similar to Romi Paku’s Edward Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist), Miyano violently swings between polar emotional extremes, perfectly capturing the character’s frantic and desperate state of mind leading up to his sad end.

As befitting of such an excellent finale, Madhouse up the ante in terms of animation. One especially vivid moment sticks in my mind. Mikami stabbing himself in the heart (with a pen! Ouch!), causing his sparkling red blood to explode forth like some sick human fountain overflowing with fluid.
And I can only commend Takeshi Obata too; I’ve really fallen for the appealing gothic look of Death Note – especially the freaky Shinigami, whose odd proportions and bizarre colours capture a genuine horror aesthetic, echoing the demonic Cenobites from the creepy Hellraiser. I wanted to see more of the barren Shinigami world!

It’s amusing to think that Death Note began life in Shonen Jump, so standing alongside the ever-smiling trio of Naruto, Luffy and Ichigo was an evil bastard like Yagami Light. Moral ambiguity isn’t something we expect from our squeaky clean SJ heroes, but in Light we had a refreshingly ruthless anti-hero. You can’t blame him for wanting to change the world.

Claymore – Searching for humanity in a violent world

I’m really enjoying watching Claymore at the moment (as of episode 4), yet oddly, I’m finding it hard to pin down exactly what I like about it. It’s probably the setting; I just really like the European medieval period — a time when any person; strong in arm and sword in hand, could conquer and control his own patch of land. Everything from that era feels tangibly real; the swords, the armour, the clothes, even the architecture — it’s easy to imagine how life was, or felt, back in those days. I suppose that’s why I’m immediately attracted to Claymore; I understand the gravity and the colour of its environment. Indeed, I’m a part of that world rather than just observing it.

“If you stare into the Abyss long enough, the Abyss stares back at you.”
(Friedrich Nietzsche)

Nietzsche’s famous philosophical phrase must be carved into Clare’s heart. Half human and half demon, every time a Claymore dips into her power, the closer she lurches towards losing control; indeed, perhaps the most thrilling scenes so far have involved Clare wrestling against her demonic side, trying to retain her humanity despite an existence that’s so clearly lead devoid of whatever she is afraid of losing.

Does she willingly dye herself in blood and enjoy the thrill of the hunt? Kentaro Miura’s Berserk has obviously influenced Claymore; both stories are sprawling medieval adventures that effectively explore how one’s personality can be affected by one’s environment — just as Guts struggles against his destiny to avenge old friends, Clare struggles to retain her sane personality in a violent world, to hunt demons is to become a demon. Ambition bleeds into humanity, and like Guts has his love, Clare just needs a reason to hold on, an anchor for her spirit. That’s where Raki comes in.

Death Note – 15 – It’s been all sorts of fun, L

It’s around about now that we realise Death Note is becoming more than a very good anime series. It’s becoming one of those “OMFG-WTF-CLIFFHANGER!?!” types. I can feel the hysteria surging within me. 15 episodes in and the twists and turns of the story are still as unpredictable as ever. Watching it makes me a frustrated anime fan. More, more, more, I feel like I need to consume it all at once, knowing full well its immediate beauty is the element of surprise. I have to ask questions, but don’t want the answers.

Episode 15 was a brilliant tease, much like a game of tennis – it swings one way then the next, the crowd silent in awe of the battle, the point eventually won with a deft touch from L, the ingenius bastard having risked it all on pure instinct alone – he who dares wins, or so they say?

L has been a loveable oddity up until now, but his heartless interrogation of Misa introduces shades of grey to his personality. Despite being the supposedly good guy, that he’s willing to squash others if it means getting to Kira leads us to question the value of his crusade to halt "evil", given his own methods can be as barbaric as his prey. This scene was outstanding; it instantly subverts everything we assumed was good or noble about Death Note’s police, any concept of moral favouritism goes out the window along with Misa’s innocence as we watch the naïve become degraded and exploited.

The intricacy of the scheming in Death Note never lets up, at one point in this episode I was ready to witness the death of L, and moments later I’m grinning ear to ear as he’s somehow turned it all around and virtually caught Light. It’s been absolutely thrilling so far, I’m surely addicted.

Berserk – 3 – The Hawk that soars ever higher

The moustache twiddling decadence caused by extended aristocracy is an issue central to the narrative of Berserk. Regardless of social standing, we all like to dream that we are destined for greatness, to achieve something worthwhile. Aristocracy exists to elongate wealth and protect respect no matter what the cost, and that often includes suppressing the common mans talent to protect one’s position.

The beauty of Berserk, and especially the Band of the Hawk, is that these are classic underdogs who dare to have ideas above their stations, chasing their dreams, doing something important with their lives. The truth, as Berserk is clearly documenting, is that anyone can do anything with their lives provided the right amount of skill and desire. It’s such a romantic concept.

Griffith, the symbolic wings of the Band’s hawk, is talented and has an unquenchable desire to conquer. Despite his peasant roots, he is the future, he is brave enough to fight for his dreams, and others are attracted to that, feel inspired by it or fear it. Most are just content to jump on his back and enjoy the flight; the Hawk that soars ever higher, the view from up there is beautiful, but Guts is different, even now it’s clear that he is a punk, and like Griffith, can never be tamed.

Guts and Griffith are at once the same and totally different, they enjoy true social freedom and unerring self belief, but Guts is a blood thirsty warrior, only looking at what stands in front of his sword, while the elegant Griffith conducts his army like one would a game of chess, his mind calculating ten moves ahead. The early fight in episode 3 between these two is particularly revealing, especially in Guts case – he is completely direct, willing to throw mud, bite, kick and punch his way to victory. He refuses to give up, and in the end Griffith is forced to dislocate Guts shoulder to win the fight, Guts could have surrendered, but replies “Go to hell”. Win or bust.

Episode three marks the end of the beginning, Guts finally joins the Hawks and we are treated to their comradery. The Band of Hawk isn’t simply a group of mercenaries looking for a quick buck; they are friends fighting for each other, dreaming of a better future, this all comes across really well in episode three. As does Susumu Hirasawa’s excellent score, combining his surreal industrial style with authentic medieval instruments and chants – the tracks “Forces”, “Guts” and “Earth” are all used during the episode, and all are essentially brilliant tunes, ever complimenting the poignancy of experiencing the journey of a lifetime.

Red Garden – Only in death do they find true happiness

I’ve been an advocate of Red Garden since the first episode, but until this past weekend I hadn’t seen beyond episode three. Red Garden isn’t easy to watch – if the characters aren’t paralysing my brain with screaming, tearful grief, they start singing instead. I like that the show is trying something different with the insert songs, but put simply, it doesn’t sound good, it feels awkward and out of place.

Regrettably the horror element is fairly dull too – the episodic monsters are just bland zombies, minus the gore. The girls fight them off with wooden sticks and baseball bats; what happened to the samurai swords? This is Japan after all. We want severed limbs, decapitations, blood squirting from major veins, all that good stuff. If GANTZ has three good things going for it, it is imaginative monsters, big guns and exploding heads. Red Garden could be cooler with a little bit more of the old ultra-violence.

That said I’ve now caught all the way up to episode 12. I’m watching for bald sensation Dr. Bender (nice name), only kidding – but the characters, and especially the four central girls, are interesting personalities showing some important social development. Kate was hopelessly isolated by her own perfection, Rachel consumed by a superficial life of fashion and parties, Claire needlessly pushing others away to prove she can live on her own terms and Rose was locked down by a broken home. In each of their own ways they were lonely and ironically, only in death have they found the true friendship they so desperately needed. Their apparent misfortune has become an escape from the prison of their regular lives. To see them change over the first half of the series has been a worthwhile journey, sometimes hard-going and slow, but none the less heart warming. The real test will be when they have to choose whether or not to return to their old bodies. Red Garden excels outside of the horror angle, and is just much more riveting as character drama. The character designs are still as beautiful as ever (I love how they change costume from episode to episode too, every episode is refreshingly different; this is a rare thing for a viewer as entrenched in Naruto style same-clothes-every-day-every-year as myself).

So despite the singing sucking, the horror being dull, Red Garden is proving itself a brazen, involving character drama. And the yuri fans have GRACE.