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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I have many a faint and fond memory of Eureka Seven, but wasn’t sure how to feel about news of its sequel. It ended with a quite profound sense of finality, after all. Everything that needed to be said, was, and underscored with probably the finest insert song ever used in anime, too. I’m using a lot of absolutes in this post because that’s just how I feel about Eureka Seven. Holland, Talho, Dai Sato, Supercar and Denki Groove. It was a great series.
It’s been a while since my last post. Around a month, in fact. Through-out February, I took something of a break from anime. I’ve been keeping up with One Piece, but that’s about it. This wasn’t a planned thing, either. I just stopped watching anime.
Winter hasn’t helped, either. Although a notoriously poor time for anime anyway, there’s usually something to keep me ticking over until April. Last year, it was Madoka, this year so far, there’s simply nothing of that calibre (a high bar, admittedly.) I’m vaguely interested in Nisemonogatari, but until I’ve seen Bakemongatari, I’m stuck.
All I’ve been left with, then, is long-shots. I’ve heard a lot about how Mouretsu Pirates is decent, but nothing about it so far has caught my eye. And with Noitamina continuing to shit the bed, that was me done with anime in February.
I’m sitting here today, though, intending to write about Rinne no Lagrange. Not exactly the season’s critical darling, but then, I’m quite liking it.
So, old friend, let’s get started, shall we?
One thing we may deduce about author Mohiro Kitoh from Bokurano and Narutaru is that he probably had a few bad experiences growing up.
It’s otherwise very difficult to understand why his stories about children are quite so fucked-up. Case in post, Narutaru, of which I just finished watching the anime adaptation.
I first watched Wolf’s Rain in 2003, just as I was beginning to ramp up my interest in anime. I remember a few things about it: being absolutely traumatised by its ending and being spell-bound by Yoko Kanno’s music. Following on from the similarly fondly remembered RahXephon, it made a fan of Studio Bones out of me, too. Which is to say, Wolf’s Rain became one of my favourites and just last week, nearly 10 years on(!), I finally re-watched it.
.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.
Time travel always seemed like a cool concept to me. I could go back in time, make some money and live an easy life. That’s just an immature way of looking at things, though. When I imagine going back, I’m not thinking about the people around me. I’m being selfish, just thinking about material things.
In 12 episodes, Puella Magi Madoka Magica convinced me that there’s more to Akiyuki Shinbo than otaku-pandering. The director has increasingly been held in high regard, but until Madoka, I’d not taken any substantial steps into his oeuvre. Not even Bakemonogatari coaxed me in, but post-Madoka, I’ve found a lot of new respect for the man.
Experimental and fearless is how I’d describe the series, as not only does it impose a very specific, artsy aesthetic on a subject matter reserved for the hardcore, it also takes a hard-line with its young characters. Much like Bokurano, it never backs down, or allows for an easy way out.
What is the ending of Cowboy Bebop trying to say? It feels like such a waste. Spike doesn’t have to face Vicious, he could just stay with Faye and Jet, leave Mars and fly away, but he doesn’t. Continue reading
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.
If I had to condense my love for anime into one single moment, I’d choose the scene when `Space Lion` begins playing in the 13th episode of Cowboy Bebop (Jupiter Jazz.) It is one of the first times I can remember feeling a pang of bitter-sweetness whilst watching anime: the sadness of Gren’s passing tempered by Spike’s and Faye’s return to the Bebop; that Jet can’t really hide the fact that he truly gives a shit about them but, like a grumpy Dad, is too up-tight to admit it, and Gren’s death-wish to be cut adrift amongst the stars and sent drifting towards Titan. Alone.
“I see. You are Spike. Julia was always talking about you… That your two eyes were of different colours… That’s what she said… That you get a strange feeling when you look into his eyes.” — Gren
A strange romance springs forth from the snow-capped streets and cold, gray clouds, and from the elegant, softly-voiced Gren himself, an angelic hermaphrodite in love with Vicious, yet broken by the betrayal of their friendship. His sad, tired eyes and knowing smile are captured and carried beautifully by `Space Lion`’s warm tone of resignation. It’s a spine-tingling moment.
Hiroki Endo calling his manga ‘Eden‘ is a hint. Eden is supposed to be a paradise on Earth, but Endo‘s version is more like Hell. It’s sarcasm on his part, I think, because this is a contrary and brutal series, where anything that’s good is crushed and anything that’s innocent is (often literally) raped. For the last few days I’ve hardly been able to believe my eyes whilst reading this; everyone keeps dying, and even those who do survive, do so minus their humanity, or, even worse, minus their eye-balls. Continue reading
It’s interesting how Darker than Black never explained what has ‘sealed’ the Earth’s sky, caused Hell and Heaven’s Gate to appear and triggered the world’s first generation of contractors; and quite frankly, if it turns out to be aliens from the Moon, I’d rather not know, but my point is, ambiguity is exciting, and yet like everyone else watching Ryuusei no Gemini, I was confused by its last episode, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing either.
Immediately after seeing it, for the first time in years, I went looking for interpretations on every forum and blog I could find. Did the lack of a ‘conventional’ end ruin the series, or merely add to its mystique? Does the ambiguity equate to bad writing, or is it intentional?
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.
In the four weeks since this blog was last updated, I’ve seen at least 80 episodes of anime! Not bad, eh? But to write anything of decent length, more than ever, I need to feel like what I’m writing about is really worth your time.
That isn’t to say everything airing right now is poor, but how much of it is good enough to be remembered in years to come, particularly outside of their respective genres?
For example, I love every minute of Cross Game, while the recently finished Shin Mazinger Shougeki! Z-Hen was fun and exciting, but what else is there that’s left to say about them? The former is sports anime, the latter is super-robot/mecha; there is literally nothing left to add that hasn’t already been written a million times over. If you’ve seen Touch, you’ve basically seen Cross Game.
Anime sticks so rigidly to its genre tropes that after a few years of watching, it feels ever so slightly repetitive; not that these series aren’t fun to watch, because they are, but to think about? To write about? Not so much. Not after 3 years of blogging.
To be honest, I doubt there is much I can say that will convince you to take a look at Armored Trooper Votoms. It’s an old series, with a heavy emphasis on war. Chirico is no Kamina. The characters are gritty and unrefined. When it can be hard to sit through just the 1 episode, 52 feels impossible, so I couldn’t blame anyone for not seeing in this series what I do, because it is most definitely an acquired taste; it’s just that I have acquired it.
I’ve seen Ghost in the Shell many times; the most recent happened to be Friday night. It is a beautiful film, both beautifully animated and beautifully directed, only 80 minutes long too, and just as importantly, every time I watch it, I feel like I’m interpreting it in a slightly different way.
I first stumbled across Ghost in the Shell as a young teenager and was almost exclusively interested in the film’s iconic visuals. You know, like Batou pulling his gun in the crowded market-place and the abrasive sound of the gun fire, the Major’s brief yet brutal kung-fu fight in the midst of that shallow river; only her shadow visible against the calm water. The list goes on, yet with each new viewing, it is the film’s more introspective moments that continue to haunt me.
Mecha anime has always been a bit hit or miss for me. I’ll often find that I’m not as attracted to the mecha as I am to the science fiction stories they inhabit. That is to say, I enjoy a lot of good mecha anime because I enjoy a lot of good science fiction. I suppose it was inevitable, then, that I would eventually stumble over the works of a certain Ryosuke Takahashi, one of the founding fathers of the ‘real robot’ genre. In recent times, he has directed the likes of Blue Gender and Flag, but the majority of his most influential anime was created during the Eighties, one of which happens to be ‘Blue Comet SPT Layzner‘ (1985).
As of this post, only 9 episodes have been fansubbed, but I liked it enough to have watched them all this past weekend. I wish I could say that I’d always planned to watch Layzner, but the truth is that the recent batch torrent attracted my attention because the series has a cool name. The same thing happened with ‘Legend of the Galactic Heroes,’ too, for shame!
Knowing that some day you will die is not a prospect that one’s thoughts tend to dwell on, but in Casshern Sins, when death is everywhere and the land is ravaged with decay, that your life will some day end is impossible to ignore. It’s a feeling that I often get from this show, but far from ever seeming hopeless, each episode has an ephemeral, poetic warmth; refusing to linger in depression, it cherishes life, with color, and beauty, and sound. It is a joy to watch.
Flowing in this vein of hope, Margo’s own obscure achievements in episode 12 are typical of that irreplaceable essence of life. Just like any other robot in Casshern’s world, elegant Margo is slowly dying of the ruin, but instead of quietly accepting his fate, he keeps on going. In the throes of death, his elegiac last words reveal his heart’s truest motivation, “I wanted to leave my colour on my city”. It’s inspiring to think that he just wanted to be remembered, to leave a mark that proves that he was alive.
This was such a heartfelt parting sentiment, that honestly chimes with my heart, and exactly the kind of pathos that has me convinced that Casshern Sins is great.
When I finished watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes late last year, I felt like I’d had my fill of sprawling eighties anime series for a fair old time to come, but fate, it seems, has long been conspiring against me.
My destiny had seven scars on his chest. A mere swipe of his hand could (and invariably, will) render his enemies violently exploded! His name is Kenshiro, Fist of the North Star!
Firstly, I must admit, catching up with Hokuto no Ken has always been a secret ambition of mine. The 1986 “manga video” was a tangible part of my early years as an anime fan and exploring this whole, bloody story for the first time is akin to understanding that cliche feeling of a ‘child-like sense of wonder’.
Let’s face it, there’s no point in even trying to be objective about this, Hokuto no Ken is far, far, far from perfect. The story is predictable, the characters’ motivations are laughably ‘basic’ (‘without wit’ may be a better description) and the aesthetic is like some inbred, mutant offspring of Viking culture and Mad Max 2. So far, so flippin’ weird, but that’s why I love it, too!
People often forget anime; time always has the last word, but it seems many still remember Hokuto no Ken, which is ironic, as it’s probably the antithesis of what many fans would today describe as good anime; the manly ying to the moe yang, perhaps.
A subtle, beautiful and moving observation of life; Kenshiro’s journey is none of these things.
In 199X, the world is decimated by nuclear war. In-lieu of modern civilization, the strongest warriors have risen up to build vast armies of mohawked thugs and conquer the world. One of the few men brave enough to retain his honor and decency in this harsh new world (as evidenced by the fact that he wears denim jeans) is our hero Kenshiro, successor to the deadly martial arts style of Hokuto Shinken. He faces many fierce adversaries on his road to nowhere, including none other than his best friend, the blonde bombshell Shin.
Before abducting Ken’s fiancee Yuria, dragging her off to his castle and basically destroying Ken’s entire life up until that point, Shin was a good old boy, really. He just had some bad ideas about love, is all, but that will hardly stop Ken from sweeping across thousands of miles of broken cities and bitter deserts in search of delicious revenge.
The thing is, Kenshiro is a vigilante. He and his friends rarely live to fight another day; each battle is to the death and the so-called hero of this story could aptly be described as a mass-murderer too, which is, I think, why Hokuto no Ken has managed to retain its edge to this very day. It’s such an extreme and morally irresponsible show that one gets a giddy, visceral thrill from watching episode after episode of brutal, bloody death. That, and I think the art (particularly the character design) is great fun.
There are many square jawed, horse riding, really tall, massively fat and fundamentally odd-looking people in this. The facial expressions are often very funny and the voice acting is so melodramatic that I can’t help but be swept away by the sheer enthusiasm of it all. Logic be damned, then, I’m really enjoying Hokuto no Ken.
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.
During the very last scene of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, baby Felix gazes up at the night sky and grasps at the stars. “That might be an action that’s been repeated endlessly in any era, in any world,” the narrator poetically explains, adding that “Humans always pursue things that they can’t reach”, yet the knowing expression on Mittermeyer’s face is almost heart-breaking, “Felix, you too…?” This is, perhaps, the most emotional moment of the entire series, expressing everything that there is to love about Legend of the Galactic Heroes in a matter of seconds.
Alas, that isn’t enough. There is still so much more to say, so much more to explore. Hoping that more people may discover this fine series, and, perhaps, to dip myself into this story for one last time, I have carefully composed this (chronological) list of highlights from the series, but be warned, it contains massive spoilers.
1. Fall of Marquise Benemunde
As the Goldenbaum imperial court looks on with heartless disdain, the screaming Marquise Benemunde is restrained by the Emperor’s guard and forced to drink from a glass of deadly poison. Her bitter end was the result of her desperation to reclaim the love of the Emperor, which she had lost forever to the beautiful (and much younger) Annerose, Reinhard’s beloved older sister.
The sheer indignity of this scene, combined with the casual formality of the court’s impeccably dressed on-lookers, is so pointlessly cruel and chillingly orchestrated that one is left in little doubt as to the morality lurking within the aging Goldenbaum ranks.
2. Westerland nuke
Due to a small rebel uprising, Prince Braunschweig launches a massive nuclear strike at planet Westerland, intending to incinerate millions of innocent people. Reinhard’s immediate response is to intercept it, but his war-time adviser, Oberstein, suggests that he should just let it happen, as the public’s reaction to such an atrocity will swing the empire’s popular support in Reinhard’s favor, exposing the Prince and his allies as irredeemable villains. Reluctantly, Reinhard agrees and Westerland is decimated. Millions die as a means to an end.
This is the kind of political versus moral quandary that has no right answer. If Reinhard had stopped the strike, he could be dragged into a war of attrition which could claim millions of soldiers over a period of months (and even years, perhaps), but by allowing it, his rise to power is swift, albeit, forever tainted with the blood of Westerland. Neither is an easy choice to make, and for exactly that reason, we have a thrilling tÃƒÂªte ÃƒÂ tÃƒÂªte between leaders, who, very literally, can forsake or save the lives of millions with one word.
3. Kircheis’ death
One of most shocking moments in Legend of the Galactic Heroes is the sudden death of Siegfried Kircheis, Reinhard’s dearest (and perhaps, only) friend. Up until this moment, he was one of the main characters, an uncommonly benevolent military commander who had spent his childhood with Reinhard. They dreamt of a better future together and were devoted to toppling the corrupt Goldenbaum dynasty, so his demise is tragic and ill-timed.
He is killed by Prince Braunschweig’s chief retainer, Ansbach, who pulls a giant weapon from within the Prince’s dead body but misses his main target, Reinhard. Kircheis tries to restrain Ansbach and is mortally wounded by the assassin’s then-concealed laser ring. Within minutes, he has bled to death. A stunned Reinhard is unable to accept what has just happened, and it scars him for life, as well as delivering a massive blow to his sister, Annerose, who had been secretly in-love with Kircheis this whole time. It’s a moment that Reinhard regrets for the rest of his life and drastically alters the complexion of the story.
4. Geiersburg fortress vs Iserlohn fortress
There is something innately thrilling within the sheer spectacle of seeing two planet-sized, Death Star-esque fortresses, Geiersburg and Iserlohn, do battle. Credit is due for the audacious imagination required to even consider moving Geiersburg within seeing-distance of Iserlohn, while the battle itself is gob-smacking. Between the tomahawk-wielding Rosen-Ritter skiing across Iserlohn’s liquid surface, ripping apart Imperial soldiers as they do, and tactician Yang Wen-li’s brilliant trump card, leading to the destruction of Geiersburg via Iserlohn’s lightning strike, a.k.a Thor hammer, one can only conclude that this is epic anime, and it is awesome. Just think, this is what Star Wars could have been.
5. The Battle of Vermillion
The defining moment between Reinhard’s Imperial rise and Yang Wen-li’s democratic Alliance is in the Battle of Vermillion.
Having blasted his way though line after line of Imperial defenses, Yang’s fleet has finally trapped Reinhard’s ship, the Brunhilde, but at this most critical of moments, Yang receives an order from his superiors (millions of miles away on his home planet of Heinessen) to surrender and, to the horror of many, he calmly acquiesces.
Thus, despite everything that he (and his Alliance) stands to gain from killing Reinhard, he won’t allow his command to override his government’s order. Walter Von Schenkopp urges him to fire and think later, to consider the history of the universe, Yang could even pretend to not have received the message in time, but he steadfastly refuses because to create such a precedent in history would forever undermine the strength of democracy in the future. Hence, many more lives are lost because Reinhard survives, but Yang’s loyalty to his political system is admirable. He isn’t at fault; it’s just bad luck that his government happens to be incompetent.
6. The Battle of Marr-Adetta: Bucock’s end
At the Battle of Marr-Adetta, Old Admiral Bucock meets his maker. Battle-weary, yet too old to do anything but fight, he evacuates his remaining soldiers before rejecting Reinhard’s offer of mercy, instead choosing to go down with his ship. His final speech to Reinhard blazes with the kind-of respect and pride one can only feel for a man who has seen it all. He closes with a toast to democracy, composed as he tastes the last wine of his life, completely and utterly unshakable in his belief. It is a brave man’s end.
7. Miracle Yang became Bloody Yang
For such an influential person, the irony of Miracle Yang’s death is that it’s not glamorous in the slightest. His luck merely runs out, as, having been shot through the leg by an unnamed terrorist, he bleeds to death in some dark corridor, alone. This is such a tragic and lonely way to die, but even still, his last words are an apology; all this time he has carried guilt for every life lost under his command.
His departure affects friends and enemies alike. Reinhard loses his last reason to fight and decides to retreat from battle, while Julian Minci, Yang’s dearest student, flies into a bloody rage before eventually helping to establish the Iserlohn Republic Government, leading their military in The Magician’s shadow.
Yang Wen-li’s presence constituted one half this story, his life, his love and his brilliance is documented through out the first three seasons and, like Kircheis’ sudden death, his shocking exit monumentally shifts the tone and direction of Legend of the Galactic Heroes.
8. Reuental’s rebellion
In the words of his best friend, Wolfgang Mittermeyer, Oskar von Reuenthal was “drunk with blood-colored dreams”. Somewhat carelessly, he rebels against Reinhard as if it was always his destiny, the very purpose of his life, but he loses the battle and dies.
Reuenthal was born with a rare eye condition called heterochromia iridum (both eyes are a different colour), which was used as proof that his mother was an adulterer. She committed suicide, but not before attempting to violently gauge out one of her son’s eyes! His father started drinking and blamed the young boy for everything that had transpired. Reuenthal never escaped this past and developed a taste for self-loathing; particularly strange was his relationship with Elfriede von Kohlrausch, who superficially hated him, despite carrying his child. His rebellion, and ultimately, his death, were all linked to this sad story. Reuenthal always wanted to be loathed, to be the villain.
9. One final battle
Many great characters die in this final battle, Merkatz and Schenkopp amongst them. They sacrifice everything to create such a tiny opportunity for Julian to meet with Kaiser Reinhard face to face. Overwhelmingly, this feels like a battle of despair and hopelessness, with an almost suicidal agenda, every passing minute heaping on yet more death and grief, but finally, his moment arrives. Julian staggers forth into Reinhard’s quarters, barely able to stand from fatigue, covered with the blood of dear friends and hated enemies alike. And then they talk. This is a scene of quiet wonder.
10. Reinhard’s death; a sword has no reason to exist but as a sword?
Reinhard von Lohengramm is the Edmond DantÃƒÂ¨s of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, a peerless avenger and prideful leader of men. He dies from a terminal illness, just two years into his reign as Kaiser, aged 25, said to have burnt away his life to fight. The end of his life marks the end of this great story.
Joined at his death bed by his beloved sister Annerose, she whispers “You haven’t had your fill of dreams, Reinhard?” “No,” he replies, “I had plenty that no one had ever seen before.” One can’t help but wonder, what could they possibly contain?
Reinhard’s greatness lies in the guilt he feels over Westerland, the regret that marks his every move after the death of his dearest friend, Kircheis, and the loneliness and vulnerability that eventually sweeps him into the arms of Hilda Mariendorf, with all the delightful romantic naivety that follows. He is a great character and, more importantly, a likable person.
There’s no specific point to this post, but for a few days now, I’ve wanted to write something for my blog, and thus, here we are, dear reader. It’s just that time of the year, I guess; a blank page and hours to spare. Themes or no, after nearly three years of doing this, I can’t help but feel a tug at my heart to say at least something before this year’s end. So, here we go.
Perhaps the logical thing for me to do would be to write a year-in-review list or some other vague spin on that lovable tradition of anime blogging? But I don’t feel like doing that this time around, I’m more concentrated on what I’m watching right now, like Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It’s perfectly apt that the last anime I’ll finish in 2008 will be the one I’ve been locked in battle with since March. I’ll probably be relieved once it’s finally over, but probably a tad nostalgic too, because it’s always with such a bitter-sweet feeling that I let go of a story after such a long journey.
Another of those bitter-sweet journeys was Toward the Terra, which, I’m excited to note, I’ll (hopefully) be revisiting over Christmas via the original three-volume manga series, To Terra. I’m finding that my fascination with this story is an odd thing, really. It’s not easy for me to pin down either, but considering my feelings for a while, it may have something to do with the flow of time within the story.
Like in Gurren Lagann, where the characters seem to visibly age, grow into better people or terrible villains, but always changing. The same can be said of the thousands of years that pass between the stars in Gunbuster, or in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Such a clear and inevitable sense of flowing time, the characters’ lives, their dreams and ambitions, as brilliant as they may be, are so immensely small and ephemeral when set against the sheer magnitude of space and time. In such obscurity, it would be easy to give up, but these characters never do, they keep on going.
For me, that’s such a comforting sentiment, especially at the close of another year, where the subject of time progressing is literally the reason to party. So, if you celebrate it, I hope you have a great Christmas and, of course, a happy new year too. Ah, go on then, what did you get for Christmas? I hope you gave some awesome gifts, too?
It’s hard to explain how I feel about Casshern Sins. It’s way beyond anything else I’ve seen this year. More than just another good anime series, more than just entertainment, I find it is engaging, evocative and inspiring, perched somewhere in-between the surreal, fable-like quality of Kino’s Journey and the philosophical melancholy of Mushishi. After every episode, I’m excited, my mind is filled with possibilities and ideas, and I really feel like I’ve just seen something wonderful. I can only hope that I’m capable of relaying those feelings to you. For over two years I’ve been writing on this anime blog, all for anime like Casshern Sins.
Thoughts after: Episode 6
Venturing deeper into the dystopian, decaying depression of Casshern’s strange situation, those that surround him are petrified of dying, but without knowing death, can one ever feel truly alive? Just like how a flower so pretty can only be that way in comparison to an ugly weed, one can only grasp the value of his life after realizing that, some day, he will die. After all, without death, life has no meaning, thus, regardless of Luna’s end, and whether or not it was against her will at all, by dying, she has seemingly graced her people with a gift so precious, mortality. Suddenly, the immortal feel a thirst for life and a desperation to live, and this, I think, is the point of Casshern Sins. It can be so sombre and nostalgic, but it’s hard to deny that the end of the world has rarely looked as beautiful. Ironic, really.
Somewhere in-between this endless expanse of desert and open blue sky is a place without rules and purpose, it is where we find the woman of the tall tower. She wants to think that in this place, in this dying world, her aimless life is still worth living. She rings her bell, where the view is wonderful and the Earth is really pretty, and it resounds with her will to live, as if screaming, “Look at me! I am alive!” Like an artist, she has built this expression of her spirit on the horizon, it’s her tower, the proof of her existence for all to see, and it’s wonderful that people may finally understand that feeling, that this dying world is still beautiful.
When life is tough, to hope and dream can be the hardest thing, yet all it takes is a passage of writing, an episode of anime or a two-minute song; such a tiny moment in our lives, so fleeting, yet it can unleash such a potent feeling. Do we all have a reason to live? And a dream to follow? Like a theatrical performer, Casshern elegantly runs, jumps and dives through an army of hopeless fiends, inspired to protect someone precious, the singer Janis. People wait in the music hall to be inspired, for just a few minutes, to escape into imagination and to dream of an exciting future. Her performance is art at its most vital, more than mere entertainment, to be inspired is to find nothing less than a reason to live.
Some times, you need not say anything. Merely the way you move, a seemingly insignificant, deft touch, can betray your heart, because context is everything; words have no meaning without it. Your context is your smile, those tears, that sky. It’s a visual thing. When all that you can see might provoke such a strong sensation, words are an almost tragic nuisance, forever contradicting the simplicity of the moment. Episode four of Casshern Sins is visual poetry; evocative; melancholy; beautiful. This is when words are insufficient, it simply must be seen. Like ballet or wuxia, as if on stage, these characters spin, twist and jump, towards and around each other, every movement an indirect, evocative step forward, like feathers carried by winds of fate, blown across red pools and rocky desolation, secretly dancing to the soundtrack, transfixed by an insatiable desire to understand the other. It is emotion in action, confused, joyful, elegant. Have you ever done something, yet felt the exact opposite? That is episode four of Casshern Sins, an animated, beautiful contradiction. Perfectly flawed, just the way I like it.
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.
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.
I was always going to like Kaiba. Even before it started airing, I had, somewhat dangerously, convinced myself that it would be good. After all, with someone like Masaaki Yuasa directing, I had to expect it would special and well, some five months later, here we are again, I just finished Kaiba this weekend.
Lets allay some fears right now. Despite its polarizing visual style and artsy pedigree, Kaiba absolutely isn’t high falutin or pretentious, it is heartfelt and emotional, exciting and twisted, and most of all, character driven. It’s true that Yuasa occasionally indulges in daunting surrealism, no doubt the last episode is a testament to that, but I really hope that you watch Kaiba, because it is lovely.
Well, that’s a half truth. Kaiba is lovely, and sweet, and romantic, but it’s also tragic, and sad, and harsh. I’m recalling a line from Kino’s Journey that comes to mind, that “The world is not beautiful, therefore it is”. This is Kaiba, I think. An idealistic, almost child-like search for some meaning in life within a universe where human memory, the very essence of individuality, is ephemeral, readily transferred into tiny, fragile metal chips and where dreams are copied, fabricated and deleted.
People are weak little things, really. Our dreams are many, and many of them are impossible, but we strive on anyway. One watches Kaiba and feels this romantic melancholy for life, that every person, all of us, might as well be reduced to a grain of sand on a golden beach, one of countless millions, yet we all keep on believing that we can make a difference, or do something important. Sometimes we find happiness, other times not. Kaiba is beautiful for allowing a human life to blossom, like how a flower might sneak through the cracks of a concrete road, only to then be crushed underfoot. A life that was once so hopeful can be extinguished in an instant, lost forever, just another grain of sand. But if life is so insignificant, what is the point of living? Why not just give up?
Above all else, Kaiba is a love story. When Warp and Neiro fall from their lost palace and slip into the amnesia cloud below, Warp’s only concern is for his beloved Neiro’s memories, even at the cost of his own. They roll around in Neiro’s room, drunk, happy, absolutely content within the intimacy of the other’s company, they remain scared, fragile and lost, but they have each other, and that’s enough, I think. Likewise, Popo only realizes the hollowness of his rise to power after his last remaining friend has had her memories erased, “Don’t forget me!” he screams, but it’s too late, everything he strived for has been forgotten. We live for each other, a mother for her son, a boy for his friend, one lover for another. That’s why giving up isn’t an option, our dreams might be hopeless, but they keep us alive long enough to find a friend, a kindred spirit.