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Just use "that".
When I’d started this little blog two years ago, I had aimed to write about the interesting things in the world of anime and manga regularly–which I think I’ve managed to do successfully, though I turned sporadic near the end–but I’d never expected that I would actually stop. But life happened, as it always did, which made me quit even watching anime altogether (I wasn’t even able to finish Apollon). Reviving this blog never entered my mind until fairly recently, thanks to some anime I watched again, and others I managed to sneak some peeks of.
For one, I re-watched Mind Game, which really never gets old: truly, Masaaki Yuasa is one of the industry’s most talented creators, and I look forward to getting a chance to watch his new production, Kick-Heart (Mamoru Oshii is involved as creative consultant, too, which is a rather puzzling situation). It is also interesting to note that the project was crowd-funded–via the Kickstarter website–almost making me wonder whether the team had really been so strapped for resources that they had to resort to such a maneuver. Still, a new Yuasa project is a new Yuasa project, and based on what I’ve seen from the previews, it looks to be a return to his patented Mind Game aesthetic, which is a more-than-welcome sight.
A couple months ago, I’ve also had the occasion to watch three shows from past seasons: namely, Koji Masunari’s Magi (A-1 Pictures), Masashi Ishihama’s Shin Sekai Yori (A-1 Pictures), and Masahiro Ando’s Zetsuen no Tempest (Bones). I was able to watch two eps of Masunari’s series, which were lighthearted and entertaining affairs peppered with snatches of great animation here and there–especially episode 2, I recall–while the leader episode of Ishihama’s TV directorial debut was a visually interesting outing going by the flattened color palette blended with his penchant for cool and stylish angles, with the directing successfully evoking the tension from the typically slight and vague sci-fi story. I had no problems with Ando’s show, but since I had expected a more manic action-based show from the skilled action animator, I was a bit let down when the frankly uninteresting and frustratingly flimsy narrative replaced the exciting action on episode 3. But I would like to continue the three series and see what they’d done with them. (Magi is set to have a second season later this year.)
WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 (HEADGEAR, Madhouse)
There are a lot of examples in anime, I’m positive, of directors leaving in the middle of continuing a series–be they TV series, movies, franchise projects–and as a consequence changing the style and challenging the identity already established in prior outings. Of course many of the substitute directors would try to follow the original spirit and to transfer the hallmarks of what made the preceding endeavors what they were, but the resulting product, in most cases, won’t be as charming or as interesting. Especially if the ex-director follows a flavorful style all his own. The biggest example of this I know would probably be Hideaki Anno and Kare Kano, where following a reported dispute with the original manga artist regarding the show’s creative direction, the director left production and wound up sending the rest of the series down the stinker (but not before giving Hiroyuki Imaishi his first chance to shine–his episode 19, to me, still is one of the greatest episodes of TV anime I have ever seen). I find that this is the case for the final installment of the Patlabor movie series–possibly the whole franchise itself–which in turn prompted me to type out my thoughts after an otherwise humdrum session of anime viewing.
Some of the shows in the upcoming seasons look interesting on paper, but soon taper off after a third of the episodes begin airing. Things that appear neat and entertaining soon devolve into boring and tedious fare, which leaves a bad taste in the mouth–which is why I don’t really try my hand at investigating whatever comes next in the world of anime and just take whatever they put out and see if I like them after actually trying them. But still there are shows which I can’t help but keep an eye out for, because there’s something in it that catches my attention or something like that. Which is the case, I would say, for that new Production IG show Guilty Crown, slated to air in the fall of this year.
Why I happen to be cautiously expectant for that show boils down to one thing, really: it’s the director, Tetsuro Araki. After doing some jobs directing TV anime (Death Note, 4 eps of Blue Literature [No Longer Human], Highschool of the Dead) over at Madhouse, he’d apparently gone freelance together with some other talented TV directors (Ryosuke Nakamura, Hiroshi Hamasaki) at the studio, last I heard. Hamasaki has since then worked on Steins;Gate, while Nakamura is supposedly doing work on a new project, studio as of yet unknown. Anyway, Araki’s presence on the aforementioned show gives me reason to expect good things because I like how he handles the material handed to him. He’s got this keen eye for theatrics, as he gives generous doses of intensely exaggerated orchestrations to certain scenes almost to the point of comedy, but still he manages to avoid getting too obnoxious in doing so. The scenes are inherently serious, but he adds another personalized dimension to them, thus making them stick and stand out. There are many scenes that benefited from that approach: from the potato-chip eating scene to Light’s death scene in DN to the bullet-dodging breasts in HSotD. Understandably, he toned it down in the arc of Blue Lit he was in charge of, but even then he showed his ability of manipulating the mood and tone of a scene through the capable use of color and layout. Araki strikes me as being somewhat similar in style to Nakamura, though the latter is more rhythmical, even melodic, in how he plays his scenes out. It’s also nice to know that Araki is aided by quite like-minded people in this new original show (a noitaminA show at that), so it would be quite a treat finding out what kind of shenanigans he’s going to pull next.
Colorful (Keiichi Hara, Sunrise)
Back to blogging about cartoons I am after what felt like an eternity without internet access (that and other business). As such the backlog I’ve acquired is tremendous, and I think I may even have some of the shows I picked up, and now I’m also way out of the loop when it comes to anime…but anyway, I digress. Two weeks ago (or was it three?) I finally had the chance to watch this film, which I’ve been keeping an eye out on for quite some time (also after I watched Coo). Since I watched Coo, I’ve already taken a liking to the director, for his stubborn and almost methodical approach to his work, not only in terms of the framing and some such technical stuff, but also in terms of the content, like the dramatic aspect. And he does it while still maintaining a high degree of visual interest for the two hours or more his films run. 2010 saw Hara’s return to movies with Colorful, a film which more or less continues in the trend I’ve seen set in 2007’s Coo.
Talking about the terrible disaster that struck Japan only a week ago is something I’d rather not do. It just depresses me, and I don’t feel right just commenting about it. Leave it to the pros, I say (only the reliable ones, that is). I just hope that the victims keep safe and stay hopeful. The world is behind them right now, and I believe they can bounce back from it.
Anyway, the third episode of Gundam Unicorn came out some time ago, and once again it proved to be worth the long wait. The original UC universe of the franchise has made its transition to the world of HD in a big way. I’m not one to think that the OVA is good merely because of the universe it’s part of, but I guess it is kind of ironic that it is the return to the original UC time-line which takes the spotlight in the Gundam revisits in recent years. Episode 3 of Unicorn stays true to the style of the previous two episodes: a smooth, streamlined flow of information balanced with enough bits of glorious HD mecha action to keep robot buffs happy. The latest episode, however, has a few climactic and emotional moments that strongly cap off the first half of the OVA series. Kazuhiro Furuhashi (Le Chevalier D’eon, Real Drive, Kenshin) is no stranger to franchise projects, but his work on Unicorn is impressive. I assume this must be his first foray into Sunrise’s signature franchise, and I’m impressed at how he’s handled the proceedings so far. The next episode should come later this year, promising more excitement. The OVA series itself will end in 2012, and I expect the rest of the episodes to be worth the long wait, as well. I think I can now understand how the people who kept up with Giant Robo many moons ago must have felt.
Miyamoto Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai (Mizuho Nishikubo, Production I.G)
I’ve only heard of this film two years ago when I was lazily browsing through the internet, and I remember being impressed by what I saw. The trailer did a good job at misleading people into thinking that it was going to be yet another action-packed animated period film like Bones’ 2007 film Stranger , and I admit being one of those guys. However, those thoughts were soon quashed when the familiar name Mamoru Oshii flashed through the screen. Now I dreaded the end result of the film. I feared it was going to be yet another droning, needlessly philosophical and meandering piece of animation–his recent mode of operation. Since the 1995 Ghost in the Shell film, he’s gone increasingly more brooding, capping off with 2004’s sequel Innocence. It was a technically superb film (as expected), but I felt it was bogged down with deliberately obtuse dialogue and emotionally distant presentation. But, that’s only speaking of his work as a director. He’s still an incredibly capable writer, as seen in 2000’s Jin-Roh. That facet of his talents as a creator should prove to be a consolation for some, for in this 2009 IG feature, Mamoru Oshii is again credited as the writer (aside from being the original creator).
One of the things that made Production I.G’s 2000 feature film Jin – Roh the most successful realistic anime in the past decade is indeed the unflinching approach to detail combined with the painstakingly methodical direction and production. Add to that Mamoru Oshii’s gritty and hard-hitting script which set the basis for the rest of the staff to work with, and the result is something special which admittedly, not a whole lot of anime directors can pull off. The type of film Jin – Roh was could only have been handled by someone who himself has an eye and a thing for the details within animation, and who also is capable enough of taking that focus and stretching that into an hour-long feature. It turns out that the man for the job was Hiroyuki Okiura, who as an animator was well-known for his insanely detailed and finely worked pieces of animation (an example of which would be the crowd scene in Akira). His directorial work for Jin – Roh saw his signature style in animation ported off into direction. Jin – Roh wouldn’t have been Jin – Roh without Okiura.
So you could just imagine the approach he must have taken during the seven years of production for his latest film, Momo e no Tegami, which is slated to open for next year. This time, Okiura took control of the important parts of production (direction, script/screenplay, storyboarding) of the film which appears to be a departure from the brooding, gritty, and heavy atmospheric presence of his 2000 anime. The staff of his latest feature are a few of the foremost feature animators still active in Japan today. Masashi Ando (character designer for Satoshi Kon’s Paprika and Paranoia Agent) directs the animation for Momo, and he is accompanied by no less than Toshiyuki Inoue (Tree of Palme, Peek the Whale), Takeshi Honda (Dennou Coil, Millennium Actress), IG regular Tetsuya Nishio (Naruto character designer, Innocence), and Hiroyuki Aoyama (Summer Wars, Kemonozume). What’s also interesting is that this is going to be Okiura’s first true solo job. Momo promises to be one of the highlight movies of 2012, and thus is worth looking forward to.
PS: The fabulously fabulous director of Utena, Kunihiko Ikuhara, returns to TV anime this year. Yet another return we all should prepare ourselves for.
Summer Days with Coo (Shin – Ei Animation, Keiichi Hara)
As far as realism in animation goes, there have been a few such films to be released in the past decade. Surely, they were hardly the technically sound and detail-oriented films that was Jin – Roh (which is kind of expected, anyway), but they still followed the realistic mold as far as characterization and direction goes. Their character acting was not as methodical as Jin – Roh, instead opting for the more natural approach, grounding them in the everyday scenery of life amid the far-reaching premises they worked with. The directing is also hardly flashy. I’d say Mamoru Hosoda is one of the proponents of the said style, which itself was mastered by a certain Isao Takahata (whose work on Grave of the Fireflies remains one of the best instances of realistically rendered and directed anime). There also exists one such director who may not be as well known to the overseas fandom as the former two, but regardless is one of the major movie directors active in Japan today: Keiichi Hara.
Two of the many high-profile anime movies released last year in Japan are due for release on DVD/BD this month (as of this writing, one has just been released), which give this otherwise dull month a reason for excitement. Incidentally, the two films were part of those films that I’ve been looking forward to since first hearing about them, not because they both looked like intricately realized thought-provoking masterpieces of art, but more so due to the way the two looked and felt: fun. It has long been said that anime is great because it is “more mature” and “more intelligent” than ordinary cartoons, but that kind of thinking unfairly categorizes the medium in a narrow-minded way. Sure, anime can be a vehicle of social commentary (some of which succeed at this) and philosophical discourse (while most have failed at this), but if it doesn’t meet a certain degree of fun and entertainment first of all, then it won’t be as effective as a whole. It becomes boring, and at times even unwatchable. Mamoru Oshii’s 1989 OVA series Gosenzosama Banbanzai is an example I can name off the top of my head which capably combines fun and lively directing and animation with socially relevant scripting and content. It’s a bit of a shame now to find what the director has come to these days, come to think of it.
While the first 2010 film has been released just recently, the other film–Takeshi Koike’s Redline–should come in two weeks (if I remember correctly). If anything, that film should be one of the most jaw-dropping spectacles of pure animation in years, and should be a welcome watch to anyone–animation geek you may be or not. Not a lot of anime films have achieved a very high level of supreme catharsis and electrifying entertainment since 2004’s Mind Game, but Redline promises to deliver, at least for the second part.
And sure enough, the anime film released just recently has become one of the highlights of my February.
Welcome to the Space Show (Koji Masunari, A – 1 Pictures)
One of the two films of 2010 I’ve watched which focused on children (the other being Mai Mai Miracle), Space Show flies high, even reaching the far reaches of deep space. It succeeds at achieving a full sense of scale and scope, endowing the film with light-hearted humor and heartfelt emotion through its simple characters. Even though the movie is spotted with pacing issues which take away from the flow of the film in exchange for immersion, but for what it’s worth, the film as a whole is very strongly directed with interesting and full animation work. What’s great about films like this is its ability to reach beyond ages, to be fun for kids and even adults alike. It’s a strong, simple work, something that I would even put alongside Mamoru Hosoda’s films in terms of appeal.
It’s always a treat seeing an anime or a manga do the low-key character drama every once in a while. Most of the time both media involve fantastic adventures derived from the realm of the imagination, and the most by-the-book of them almost always involve magical beings–girls–suddenly appearing from the sky and falling onto our high-school aged protagonist’s lap. Add in a few archetypes–tsundere, kuudere, or whatever–and you have your basic outline. It soon will be smooth-sailing from there, as it doesn’t really need a large effort from the creators. Those kinds of stories basically write themselves. Of course, some stories are much more imaginative than that, and even if they don’t really succeed most of the time, they are commendable nevertheless.
The slow-burn nuanced character-oriented anime have been done before, and some of them have been hailed as classics of Japanese animation, with Isao Takahata’s Toei Doga/Studio Ghibli works and the early NHK World Masterpiece Theater shows by Nippon Animation (some of them were done by Takahata at that) coming to mind. Let’s not forget manga too, as it has produced its own formidable line-up of the stuff, with Fumiyo Kouno’s Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms and Asano Inio’s Solanin as a few examples. Inio’s stuff tend to have a darker, more psychological slant to them (Nijigahara Holograph, Oyasumi Punpun), but it’s in Solanin where we see his skill at character drama. As for this season’s anime, there is AIC’s Wandering Son (Hourou Musuko), which should be another treat for me.
Mai Mai Miracle (Madhouse, Sunao Katabuchi, original novel: Nobuko Takagi)
This was one of the movies I was looking forward to watching, along with Redline, Colorful, Space Show and the rest of the stuff. I’ve been thoroughly disappointed with King of Thorn and unconvinced at Loups=Garous, but I have had higher hopes for Mai Mai since it apparently received rave reviews from most people. However, with my lousy Japanese, I was forced to wait for a whole year just to watch this one with subs, and if that’s not bad enough, the subbed version that eventually came out was filled with almost incomprehensible gibberish that looked like it was machine-translated. I shouldn’t be one to say something about it, but movies like this getting unjustly overlooked is an injustice. Rintaro’s Yona Yona Penguin was also supposedly released back in 2009 too, and I’ve heard nothing about it since. Learning Japanese just to watch anime/read manga may not be that bad of an idea now.
As I was looking through the list of anime last year for my recap post a few days back, I noticed there were a number of titles that flew under the radar throughout the duration of the year. There were a few TV anime, and also a few OVAs/specials/movies. Some of those titles sounded like throwaway animated fluff (like video game/card game adaptations) but the rest actually seemed interesting.The movies were of particular interest. Obviously the means of obtaining these are different from that of normal TV anime and I felt then that it was regrettable not to be able to watch these movies due to over-reliance on fansubbers and such. Fortunately some of them eventually got released–though I wasn’t really that overjoyed after watching.
I have pretty high expectations of the other yet-unreleased films (Space Show, Redline, Colorful, Mai Mai) and I hope they deliver when they finally get out on the DVD/BD market. Mai Mai Miracle was shown on theaters way back in 2009, but I still don’t see any decent release yet, which is a travesty.