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Anime fans fornever

The state of Noitamina and Thermae Romae

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

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The eyes of a wolf: Ben-To’s awesome

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

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

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

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After Life, Angel Beats! and anime blogging

After Life, directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, is one of most interesting films I’ve seen. Set in an (unspecified) purgatory, it’s about dead people choosing one memory (and one memory only, the rest fades) to carry with them into (an also unspecified) eternity. Upon choosing, that memory will be recreated on a film-set and recorded with you as the star. You take the resulting VHS with you. The recreation is a massive team effort, with actors, props and all kinds of film-making devices.

If you can’t choose a memory, or simply refuse to, you become a part of the staff at purgatory, helping others to move on. One man has trouble choosing his memory, and so is given a big box of VHS tapes (containing his entire life) that he spends his time pouring over, trying to remember the things he did in his lifetime. Searching for something big and meaningful, eventually, he just chooses a memory with his wife and him; an old couple, sitting on a park bench, talking. The small things can mean so much.

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Am I looking at the sky, or the sea?

Though it borrows from the mythos of the (very real) city of Venice, there’s something pleasantly unreal about Aria. Rather, not unreal so much as there is a disregard for the idea and constraints of reality. Perhaps Aria seeks not to undermine reality as we know it, but in its ‘New Venice’, create its own sense of reality.

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The candy-colored afterlife

Occult Academy, you’ve made a fan out of me.

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Why you should care about The Tatami Galaxy

I’m totally hyped about seeing the first episode of The Tatami Galaxy (Yojohan Shinwa Taikei). It finally aired this evening in the beloved noitaminA block and is already streaming on Funimation‘s video site, but… I’m region blocked! It’s been a while since I’ve been excited enough about a series to feel as frustrated as this, but, alas, rather than implode, I’ve decided to start writing this post instead! (However, if you’re based in North America, you can stream The Tatami Galaxy for free, like, right now! You guys are so lucky!)

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Injections of fun / Trapeze and episodic anime

"noitaminA rocks!"

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

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

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

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Kemonozume – 10 – Sex-starved monkeys and eating fish with giant detectives

Since we’re now hitting the final couple of episodes, Kemonozume is building up to an action packed climax. The villain, or “big boss”, has turned out to be the fat Ohba – I liken his bizarre appearance to that of a clown, and deep down, we’re all scared of clowns – their smiley made-up faces covering a deeply seeded malevolence. Just ask Stephen King! Ohba wields a double “Kemonozume” too; both his arms are transplanted claws ripped from innocent young flesh eaters – so no doubt, he will prove a fearsome opponent for Toshihiko. He is a vile and nasty piece of work.

As for Toshihiko, he’s off training with sex-starved monkeys and eating fish with giant detectives. When I’m watching Kemonozume, I hardly noticed how fucking strange this series is. Yuka has been abducted by Ohba, so he’ll need to power up if he’s going to get her back.

Artistic and mad is a word I’d use to describe Kemonozume’s typically staggering opening few seconds – this time, I imagine it could be a tripped out dream sequence seen through the warped perspective of an insane and drunk Adolf Hitler. It’s like watching a fragmented, dizzy replay of a drunken memory.

To honest there’s no easy way to sum up Kemonozume’s visual epilepsy. You really have to see it to understand how damn colourful it is; so do that. Go and watch Kemonozume.

Kemonozume – 9 – Old habits die hard

Still on the run from the Kifuuken, we join the love birds Yuka and Toshihiko aimlessly wandering down vast and empty roads when they are offered a lift by an old married couple. Their journey (squeezed inside a white van) is a chance for them to reflect on their young relationship, inspired by the beautiful and reflective scenery, and of course they can’t help but stare at the old couple still head-over-heals in love with each other after decades of marriage.

Later that evening, Yuka and Toshihiko take a walk down by a rocky beach but return to find tragedy; the old couple, having taken some strange medicine, have transformed into grotesque monsters and are biting chunks out of each other. Toshihiko tries to stop them, but Yuka is attacked and this in turn triggers her own transformation. The old couple end up dead, the medicine sold to them by the Kifuuken. Utterly horrified at having feasted on the old lady, Yuka leaves Toshihiko and runs crying into a near-by forest. Here she bumps into the frog like old man from the Kifuuken. He has a sick, greedy look on his face; grinning widely as if to suggest he has finally found his prey.

There is a lot of talk here about love and what it means to love someone regardless of their physicality. Subverting and repressing your nature, attempting to become something you’re not, this inevitably leads to heart break. Yuka is a flesh eater and she must accept this fact if she is ever to become happy.

This was another fine episode – noted for a particularly symbolic and beautiful scene where the characters find themselves walking on blue sky and fluffy clouds; a completely flat, shallow river that reflects the sky above. The novelty of a 60+ year old woman dreamily discussing sex not withstanding.

Kemonozume – 8 – Hard violence, hard sex, hard feelings

At the beginning of this episode a boy student is excitedly kissing his innocent girlfriend for the first time. They hold each other in an emotional embrace, it is a pivotal moment in their lives, “Ah the day has finally come, Takako-Chan’s warm, soft, slippery thing is in my mouth…”. But the boy gets too excited, “What’s this?” he wonders aloud, sensing something wet and sticky. He opens his eyes to realize he has accidentally bitten Takako-Chan in half. Whoops. Turns out he was a flesh eater, and along with a bucket load of her blood, the top half of Takako-Chan’s corpse dribbles from his fanged jaws. “What’s this?”

Kemonozume is the coolest show airing right now. It’s an adult anime, it has sex, it has attitude and it looks so completely different to everything else. With that said, it clearly isn’t for hard-line anime fans; the art is simply too eclectic and weird for most – fluid and evocative, it lacks the mundane and familiar beauty of typical anime, yet bursts with a free wheeling and fun loving spirit.

I have my doubts about the durability of the story – namely Romeo (Toshihiko – human) and Juliet (Yuka – flesh eating monster) are still on the run from their hunters – these characters, for all their swagger, feel as though they lack a compelling substance. I love that they are eccentric, passionate and unpredictable. All the characters in Kemonozume are fun to watch, but something still feels hollow; a gaping sense of empathy I’m still to locate.

Though these are just nagging doubts; so far Kemonozume has been a fiendishly successful experiment in dripping, post-noir style. Hard violence, hard sex, hard feelings. This is the bleeding edge of modern anime.

Mushishi – 26 – And so ends a landmark anime production

As if to confirm its audacious brilliance, central character Ginko hardly even appears in this final episode and it was still one of the highlights of the Mushishi TV series.

Again bursting with its trademark melancholic tone, this was yet another natural blend of touching storytelling that mixes a retrospective and sad human drama with symbolic and vibrant art. An episode that is not so much about achieving an end, but rather growing to accept our roles in life, learning to move on and trust in our friends – an ultimately a positive and beautiful way to send off this most outstanding of series.

I would dearly love to see Mushishi remembered as a landmark anime production, a series that fans of all generations will come to cherish. Minute by minute, episode by episode, it rarely lost my attention. The art, and particularly the beautiful country-side landscapes, were a joy to behold; the lush details and attractive seasonal shades of spring, summer, autumn and winter were all illustrated to great atmospheric effect, allowing the characters and ghosts of Mushishi to grace a stage fit for a dream.

Mushishi is much like watching a dream really, a plain of human imagination where everything has meaning and symbolism, but often sparkles with an odd flourish of unbelievable supernatural vision. The mushi look like faded ghosts, mysterious apparitions wandering, shuddering, gliding through the world bent on purposes we never truly understand. Ginko is by default the “main” character of this series, but like the mushi he hunts, he often wanders through these episodes as a neutral bystander, interfering with characters and using just enough wit to force them into making life changing decisions. Sometimes it ends well, other times it’s quite nasty, but then so is life. If I had one regret about Mushishi, it would be that we still know little to nothing about Ginko. I crave more information about him, how he feels and if he is happy.

We all have our favourites, our guilty pleasures, but this isn’t like that. Mushishi had no faults, it’s not about being a fanboy or obsessing over certain characters, you don’t need to be an anime fan to enjoy Mushishi, it was just a brilliant and magical TV series. A pleasure to watch.

Mushishi – 25 – Even without eyeballs, tears run

Although it would be harsh to say Mushishi had been in the doldrums of late, I must admit that the episodes succeeding number 20 have often flattered to deceive. It still looks as gob-smackingly beautiful as ever, but feels like more of a remote beauty, something I can admire but hardly love. I’m rejoicing then that the penultimate fable of Episode 25 is a warm and melancholy return to form.

Mushishi often specialises in a creepy skin crawling kind of horror and 25 plays out as a grotesque and symbolic reminder that our faliure to see into the future — past and present, is a gift, not a curse.

"Even without eyeballs, tears run" utters the female victim of this episode when an eyeball dwelling mushi literally leaps out of her face and into the safe hands of Ginko. I can’t imagine how it must feel to have two gaping holes in place of your eyes, but given our heroine is pleased, one must assume that her powerful ability to see into the future and a hawk-like gift to gaze for miles ahead — even through mountains and trees, yet unable to alter fate, even to avert predicted death, is a painful and chaotic mess to live with. Faced with seeing everything or nothing, she chooses the latter, because with nothing comes freedom.

Kemonozume – 1 – Delicious gut-munching innovation

The moment I clapped eyes on its highly evocative promo art, I knew I’d love Kemonozume. It just looks so damn cool, completely in another league to the typical “doll face” anime style; here characters look and move like real people, the fluidity of movement and facial expression oddly fascinating. Forget following the narrative- simply watching Kemonozume in full flow is enough of an immersive experience, the animation is wonderful. Like Noein, where the sheer visceral speed of the moving characters somewhat deforms their cliche anime “beauty”, Kemonozume plays with some raw but undeniably vivid art to evoke a thick, gritty atmosphere, sparkling with gems of fleeting beauty amidst an other wise grimy, street-wise setting.

I’ve said a lot about the art of Kemonozume because it is that important. The story is interesting if a little predictable- a male demon hunter falls in love with his beautiful “prey” and they have passionate forbidden sex (yes, actual sex in modern anime, who would have thought it?!)- tragedy surely awaits them. I hope I’m not the only one to notice how similar the premise is to Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s erotic horror Wicked City. Masaaki Yuasa’s colourful, hyperactive and quirky directing style elevates Kemonozume above mere gothic territory and offers up some truly (monkey loving) zany moments, offsetting the grim horror with important touches of light (offbeat) humour.

Though its unique style won’t be for everyone, Kemonozume is an experimental horrific delight that completely shuns the contemporary anime style in favour of delicious gut-munching innovation.

Mushishi – 24 – Bound for Bonfire Field

Another episode that was only average in comparison with Mushishi’s previously sky-is-the-limit standards, “Bound for Bonfire Field” showcased one of the more deadly mushi Ginko has come across but failed to deliver the profound human empathy I’ve come to expect of this magical series.

The main problem is this episode’s frustrating central figure; a female mushishi who arrogantly spurns Ginko’s advice in favour of brashly burning down a field to kill a poisonous mushi, there by destroying countless trees and massacring the surrounding wild life too. Inevitably she (and her misguided neighbours) pay the price for her ignorance, but her evident lack of emotion by the time the credits roll left me feeling somewhat dissatisfied. The allegory of this episode; that fear can drive people to self destruction and that in acting rashly, you end up doing more harm than good, was an underplayed and subtle theme. Many allusions could be made to the real world’s current political climate.

As ever the art direction was fantastic and revelled in some beautiful (albeit short) glimpses of wild animals. Just as impressive was the sad yet alluring sight of a burning field, an entire night time landscape enveloped in flame and ash.

Mushishi – 23 – The Sound of Rust

In a village where humans are literally rusting away and being physically covered in (ever worsening) scabby brown marks, only this one girl (Shigure) appears to be immune from the disease. The bitter villagers blame Shigure for their ill-health, curse her existence and treat her as an outcast, and for her part, racked with the guilt of causing such misery, Shigure stopped speaking (to anyone) years ago. As ever, it’s down to Ginko to get the bottom of the mystery of the “Sound of Rust”.

Despite being a relatively straight forward episode by Mushishi’s standards, I still enjoyed the Sound of Rust for its typically emotive human drama. I liked how despite living years of her life in the shadows, ridiculed and insulted, Shigure wants for nothing but to attone for her vindictive neighbours suffering, granting them happiness and peace. It’s often the people who are constantly savaged by such strong hatred that turn out to be the thoroughly good hearted ones. I suppose when you have nothing left to lose, you have nothing left to cry about either.

Sound (as the title of this episode suggests) plays a big part here and Shigure’s voice; or more specifically- her multilayered scream, is suitably creepy and disquieting. Given this spooky sensation, the ending is almost too happy to believe; everything turns out okay (even the villagers are cured) and frankly I’m shocked by just how positively down-the-middle Ginko fixes it all. A refreshing change to get a traditional Hollywood ending for once! Unpredictable as ever, Mushishi.

Welcome to the NHK! – 1 – Salvation lies within

I admit I was initially turned off by the pretty poster girl heavily pasted all over the promo art (much like Black Lagoon) and yet still, my interest in NHK has rapidly grown over the last 4-5 weeks. Being an anime fan it’s always fun seeing otaku culture lampooned by the big screen; but unlike say Genshiken or Densha Otoko where the so-called geeks actually come off as sub-urban heroes, the acclaimed NHK was said to depict a more detestable, depressing side of otaku life.

NHK goes beyond simply ripping it out of otaku though; I’d go so far to say that the main character (Tatsuhiro Sato) has a mental illness. Paranoid, unconfident, afraid, lazy, whatever; Tatsuhiro (young 20s, I guess) is an anime fan who never leaves his apartment – the Japanese word for this kind of person is ‘hikomori’. Basically he has spent the last few years doing nothing but watching anime, smoking and wanking, and until now, he has been too scared to even talk to his neighbours.

I see great potential in NHK; the soundtrack is outstanding, running non-stop through-out the first episode and featuring a wide selection of rocky and indie tunes. The animation and general mood is really damn surreal; being as he is isolated from society, Tatsuhiro spends a lot of his time sleeping and day dreaming. The viewer regularly slips in and out of his sometimes fun and exciting, sometimes leery fantasies, and it quickly becomes obvious that here is a boy entrenched firmly within his escapist hobbies.

The characterisation is vivid and pulls no punches, and yet Tatsuhiro comes off as neither a good nor bad person, rather just a completely flawed, worryingly paranoid young man in serious need of help. We can laugh at him floundering through conversations, but there is also a twinge of sympathy in there too. I believe (or is it that I hope?) that he can be saved, and feel strongly compelled to watch more.

Mushishi – 22 – The essence of individuality

By following the mysterious legend of the Uminaoshi, Ginko finds himself on a secluded island. Here it is said that when people die, if they so wish it, they can be born again; in a certain part of the sea, where the light shines even at night, the Uminaoshi mushi lives.

What in essence defines the individuality of a person? Are we all destined to become the people we are today, or are our personalities shaped over time, chiselled and refined by life experience? In a fantasy world where the basic building blocks of life can be reincarnated- a dying mother is reborn within her young daughter- the characters of episode 22 are forced to ask themselves these questions. The resolution, at least as far as our protagonists are concerned, is that individuality is as much defined by memory as by sheer physicality, and hence a young woman eventually sees her offspring not as a living, breathing avatar of her dead mother, but as her true child.

Just like episode 21, the new OVA format of Mushishi appears to mean that the animation has gone up a notch, adding an even finer detail to an already magnificent production. The blood-red sunset shading and sombre colour scheme are wonderfully moody, and the new found rapid fluidity of movement generates an extra sense of electric excitement when the episode climax hits its supernatural crescendo.

Mushishi – 21 – Animalistic tragedy

Since the last few episodes of Mushishi left us in upbeat and melancholy moods, this was a timely reminder as to just how heartless a series it can be. I don’t mean heartless in a sadistic sense, rather how a mushi can cause such great tragedy to a couple of people who are quite clearly already at their lowest ebbs.

On its own child birth is hardly a pleasant spectacle, but to give birth to a glob of green goo would be utterly horrifying. Mushishi is filled with this kind of grotesque horror, but within the context of each episode (and as it is here) it’s usually a tragic, sad sight.

In many episodes previous we have seen that Ginko has an underlying passion for his patients; those usually stricken with life-threatening mushi, but here he is almost too clinical. When he tells a couple of budding parents that they will have to murder their mushi-infected kids, you can’t help but feel sorry for them, but Ginko comes across as a bit too detached from their peril and it’s no wonder that he ends up getting stabbed by “their” desperate mother.

Episode 21 of Mushishi is a sad, cautionary tale though this time there is no strong underlying moral. Instead we are again shown the darker side of Ginko’s travels and meet a animalistic mushi that will do anything to survive.