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Holiday Firecrackers

I haven’t been able to put up an obligatory Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays post like all the other bloggers seem to like doing on the day itself, but at least let me be the last to greet a Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas to all of you who took the time to look at this blog. I don’t have much confidence in most of my posts, but I’m glad that people read them at least. The blog is still in its infancy, so to speak, but I hope you could still look at this blog in the future. Things like this are useless without people to read them, after all.

And to celebrate the occasion, I’ve gotten gifts for myself a few days ago and watched some stuff on the big day. The gifts were virtual ones, but I’ve been having fun with them. I’ve actually been looking for one of them for quite a while now on the web, but I only found it a few days ago (either proof of its rarity or proof of my still inept googling skills). Anyway, one of the said gifts was the Evangelion Symphony record. It was a recording of a live performance (from an Eva event?) of orchestral renditions of a few classical pieces of music, and a few signature tracks from the Eva series itself. Needless to say, it was incredible–even non-fans of the series would appreciate what they did here. The copies I’ve found were divided into two parts, and they’re admittedly low-quality, but at least it’s better than nothing, right? I would appreciate a higher quality version, but that’s the least I can do for now (hit me up if you find one, okay?).

 

 

I also watched Satoshi Kon’s movie Tokyo Godfathers on Christmas Eve, and it was great. I first watched the film a few years ago way way before Christmas, and ever since then I’ve sort of sworn to myself to make it a yearly tradition to watch it on the eve. The first time I watched the film was quite surprising, since I’ve never seen any Japanese anime feature to be set on Christmas, considering that they really aren’t as attached to any religion as other people. Of course there are those special episodes of TV anime set on holidays, aside from hot springs and beaches, but they’re throwaway stuff from series I don’t especially care about, anyway. I guess what’s good about the film was that it managed to convey the meaningful aspects of the holiday without beating audiences over the head with Christmas symbols or whatnot. Most other Christmas specials feel the need to flash an image of Santa Claus once every few seconds, or a Christmas Tree in every frame just to emphasize “the spirit of Christmas” in a very lazy and uninspired way. Godfathers manages to be endearing without those–the film itself could be set in whatever holiday or world and it would retain its endearing and quirky feeling, plus I would like it just the same. The other good thing would be the late great Satoshi Kon himself. His masterful touch gives the film its smooth yet bending direction. His work is often categorized as “weird”, or “hard to understand”, but actually all his works are very simple and down-to-earth, with Godfathers being the simplest. Kon doesn’t employ the incredibly virtuosic editing he does to Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress to give the effects of constantly shifting perspectives in the former, and the amazingly smooth transitions from one time period to the next in the latter, but Godfathers relies on his smart ideas nonetheless, in laying down the plot threads and their resolution at the end. What’s also great about the film was the convincing character animation that gave the characters a believable human characteristic, and fleshes them out very well. You can identify with the various characters, relate with their various emotions, and understand their motivations, all because of the incredibly nuanced and weighty character acting. Kon has had great staff in his films prior to this, but Godfathers had them all working together in perfect harmony (it’s been said that the film was meant to be a showcase for animator Shinji Otsuka‘s talents, and it shows, since he’s listed first in the genga list–not to mention the film has names like Toshiyuki Inoue, Takeshi Honda, Shinji Hashimoto, and the like). I guess all that’s lacking was Susumu Hirasawa’s musical score, but putting him in every production would have been dull and repetitive. Anime will have a hard time filling in Satoshi Kon’s shoes.

A few of the series I’ve been keeping up with have ended, but frankly I haven’t gotten any inspiration to go and type out a few words about them. Ika Musume, for one, ended on a positive note and I enjoyed it, but ultimately it brought nothing new to the table. It was just a conventional ending for a conventional series–though I admit enjoying it while it ran. As if by coincidence, however, I felt a heavy punch from an anime ending last night. That was the first time in a while that a finale of a TV anime had an effect on me and I was left staring at the screen in awe after it had faded to black. Good thing it happened too, since I was having trouble deciding what else to put in the obligatory Christmas blog post.

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt was a controversial roller-coaster ride through Gainax–or more particularly Hiroyuki Imaishi‘s–hilarious insanity (Go check out aniDB, MAL, or anime-planet for the complete description–not that it matters). Ever since hearing the first news about it months back, I knew it was going to be something else. The guys at Gainax hatched another bold and crazy idea in their lairs and put it to good use, much to the division of the fandom. It was a first in Japanese anime. Taking the design sensibility of western cartoons and transplanting them into anime is a bold plan, and Gainax made it work. There have been anime tie-ins with popular cartoons, like Powerpuff Girls Z, plus western cartoons taking the design sensibility of anime in the hopes of cashing in on the emerging popularity of the medium, but PSG is original high-proof Gainax. It didn’t have an ounce of genuine originality, but there is a definite Gainax touch in every inch of it–Imaishi’s fingerprints in particular. And the best thing is, the show polarized the fandom in a way only those crazy fellows can do.

*Apparently the series was conceived while Imaishi and co. were all drunk on a beach. I’m not really sure if that’s true, but considering this is Imaishi we’re talking about, that story is plausible…and hilarious.

As one esteemed blogger put it, the series felt like an unholy mix of Powerpuff Girls, Dead Leaves, and Ebichu. The episode format also hearkens to the old cartoons, with its 3 episode skits in a single 24-minute show. Every minute of an episode is filled to the brim with sex jokes, shit jokes and various references to any symbol in popular culture (every episode title is a reference to a Hollywood movie). The show was the embodiment of everything crass and bad on TV, and this time I mean that as a compliment. I actually enjoy Imaishi‘s tasteless humor, and I’ve felt that since Dead Leaves. He just puts in that much energy and excitement into every single shot, that I find myself absorbing and being taken wholly into whatever it is he’s doing. He’s already been known for his hyper-kinetic directing and animating style (he’s one of the most famous proponents of the Kanada-style of animation) since his coming-out party which was the infamous Kare Kano #19. Hideaki Anno passed the directing torch to Kazuya Tsurumaki as he was leaving the show, but it was Hiroyuki Imaishi who signaled the changing of the guard. And what a signal it was; the episode remains one of the most iconic anime episodes today for its fiery humor and rebelliously creative visual motif. It turns out that this episode would presage what was to come in the future.

And fast-forward to the fall season of 2010, and Imaishi is just as wild as ever before. Panty and Stocking episode 13 was airing, and there I was watching it. The episode came off the heels of the powerful set-up episode in #12,where the heroine (haha) Panty has just lost her angelic powers. She’s thrown out of Garterbelt’s church, and wanders into a mountain village, in a not-so-subtle reference to Anne of Green Gables. Hilarity ensues, and in the end the titular duo Panty and Stocking manage to save the day, in the midst of terrific animation from the likes of Sushio and Yoh Yoshinari. It all seems like everything is over, the closure has been achieved, and there’s no more ghosts to fight, right? Wrong. It’s after the ED credits that Imaishi and co. proceed to punch every viewer they’ve had in the gut.

Bam. The sequence before this one was the actual punch, and this one is the viewer falling to the mat, knocked out. I had expected Gainax to do something crazy again for the finale, but I thought I’d already be in the safe zone once the ED credits started rolling. I thought wrong. After watching this, I had no choice but to stay still for a while. It wasn’t this obvious bait that was shocking, but the timing and delivery. The show lulls you in a false sense of security during the closure sequence, and then here comes a sucker punch out of nowhere. I had mixed reactions to the ending, but when I thought about it, I realized that it’s not supposed to make sense. This is Hiroyuki Imaishi poking fun at the audience in his own way, and in a sense also poking fun at themselves.

For a long time now, Gainax shows have been much maligned because of their endings, so much so that the fans have come up with their own term for it: the so-called “Gainax End”. Anno’s Evangelion was the most infamous example, with the intentional vague ending (which I thought wasn’t that vague at all), Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi with its terrible cop-out (which was one of the worst endings in anime I’ve seen) and more recently there was Imaishi’s own Gurren Lagann, which sent fans into an uproar about the abrupt twist at the end (which, again, was actually consistent with the themes and messages that the show was screaming from the start). This time, it’s already widely expected among the fans that they will undoubtedly try something wacky too. And the guys delivered.  It wouldn’t be impossible for Imaishi and co. to be unaware of the stigma attached to their shows, and PSG #13 is him making fun of that fact. It seems as if they were telling the audience, “You want your Gainax End? Here you go, suckers!” and it was hilarious. I can almost see his wide smile from here, reveling in the many conflicted reactions among the fans about this finale. For that reason alone, Hiroyuki Imaishi is one of the most awesome people in the industry today. He does stuff for fun’s sake, and he isn’t afraid of anything.

*But of course, there could be a real second season to come in the future, but I wouldn’t really bet on it.

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt was a very fun show to watch from beginning to end, even if it wasn’t 100% pure undistilled Imaishi (that would belong to Dead Leaves). The staff tried everything they could think of and put it in this show. Nothing revolutionary, but as usual it was Gainax writing another love letter–this time to western cartoons. Watching an episode really tells you that they had fun doing it, and it’s infectious. I also had fun watching the series in full. Fans call this as Gainax’s supposed middle-finger to the “moe” phenomenon (which is absurd), but actually I’d call this one as “fun guys having fun at doing a fun little show”. It wasn’t meant to be anything deeper than that. I have much respect for those guys for just having the balls to try something new and (t)roll with it, consequences be damned. Gainax has always been known for doing anime for fun’s sake, and it’s nice to see that they haven’t lost that, even after 25 or so years.

Understandably, however, not all anime fans have warmed up to it. In more than one way, it is a divisive little beast. Most people who switch over to anime watch it because of its exotic art and design sensibilities, but a return trip to those supposedly “inferior” cartoons isn’t welcome to them. Personally, I find that kind of thinking needlessly elitist and stupid, but to each their own. The jokes themselves are rude, crass, and immoral. I found them refreshingly sassy (normal anime humor can be too bland and repetitive), but I can understand people not liking them. Witty humor and wry jokes are superior to toilet humor, but still there’s room to appreciate PSG’s approach to humor for me at least.

The first few episodes were up-and-down, with some episodes more enjoyable and inspired than others, but come episode 5, Osamu Kobayashi’s episode, the show ratcheted up in the enjoyment scale. It was the sign that the staff really did want to try to cram in as much crazy ideas as possible in the show. Episode 6 was the highlight episode, with stupendous animation and the introduction of the most endearing characters in the show, the Demon Sisters Scanty and Kneesocks. After which the show returned to its up-and-down nature for a few episodes, where the staff threw as much stuff into the dartboard as possible, but with only a few actually hitting the mark. Episode 10 part B, Kazuya Tsurumaki‘s episode, was incredible. It was almost a diametrical opposite to the tone of the rest of the show, but something in it tells you that it was still vintage Panty and Stocking. Panty and Stocking’s idea of romance was translated well through that episode. Cleverly dissonant, but still wonderful to watch. There was also the music video at the end of the otherwise humdrum episode 11, “D-City Rock”, which is full of references enough to give a music geek a hundred nerdgasms. I found myself wanting whatever the hell Gainax was smoking throughout the whole series.

Few people nowadays have the guts to try and excite people with anime anymore, and Panty and Stocking provides an injection of vitality and perhaps an inspiration for other creators to just do their own thing and have fun with it. The type of unhinged execution and lively yet crude humor in the show was a sassy break from all the other cookie-cutter shows airing. Call me an unreasonable Gainax fantard if you want, but honestly I’d take this show over most bland harem and uninspired action anime that litter the airwaves during the season. Animation was designed for the audience to revel and have fun in the things only animation can do, and Imaishi shows are proof of that. If he and the usual suspects do produce another season or even a completely different product, I’d be one of the first to sign up. He’s one of the few people in anime who can exhilarate and excite viewers with his own fiery brand of dynamic and kinetic animation and over-the-top directing.

Well, that turned out to be a lot longer than I thought. I wanted to keep it brief, but whatever.

Again, Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays.

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