The Trap Door: Make it One for My Baby and One More for the Road...

AD Police (1990)

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I think the Bubblegum Crisis universe has a lot of potential as a franchise. It’s had TV shows, OVAs, videogames, novels, manga, and audio dramas. If the live action version ever gets off the ground, the franchise will have cornered most entertainment industries. But in the aftermath between Youmex and ARTMIC (creators of the first show) over where the show should go and its length, they produced a prequel series featuring BGC’s Leon McNichol. Darker and edgier than its predecessor, AD Police (not to be confused with its later 1999 TV reincarnation) blends the police procedural with a bitter and cynical view of man’s dependence on technology.

EDITOR'S NOTE — The following post contains graphic material that some readers may find inappropriate.

Set five years before the events of BGC, the world of AD Police has the special police squad fighting boomers (cybernetic robots that have gone out of control), but evil corporation Genom isn’t really in the picture here. It’s more a case of people being more than capable of screwing up their lives without help. Men and women in the division are wiped out by the mechanical creatures on a daily basis, and they’ve adopted a kind of hellish fatalism. That’s to say they’re totally OK with getting killed so long as someone comes after to finish off their target. Leon just transferred into the division after successfully stopping a boomer without any backup. He’s still carrying a lot of baggage with him about that incident when he was regular PD. Paired with Gena Malso, an AD cop with a cybernetic right arm, he doesn’t get any breaks when he’s put into the department. Similarly damaged, Gena worries that her enhancements will eventually cancel out her humanity. A girl with a killer instinct, she craves physical and sexual release from her high pressure job working on the front line for the department. Together, they form the bulk of the stories in AD Police.

What I like about this take on the AD Police is that, unlike in Bubblegum Crisis, the AD Police are both the only thing to protect the city’s people and also the main reason they’ll die a violent death. The AD Police, charging into a boomer out-of-control situation, destroy buildings, cars, and objects alike. They straight up murder the aforementioned boomer without so much as a by your leave. Rockets, lasers (!), knives, shotguns, handguns, cars — the AD Police will use whatever is at hand to get their robot man/woman. They nearly run over people, charge businesses for the service of destroying a boomer by wrecking the local area and leaving them with the bill, and then they all hit the bar and slam back drinks until they’re liquored up enough for some lusty sex with each other. It’s a shame the death rate for on-the-job AD Police officers is so high. Otherwise, this would be an adrenaline junkie's dream. Furthermore, the people in it are all two steps away from suicide, burnout, or worse. When they stare into their drinks in the bar, they look like they’re trying to convince themselves this is the life for them.

The stories themselves concern a range of complex ideas, like the role of women in Japanese society, the limits of the human mind to cope with psychological trauma, the emasculation of the social aspect of humanity into a more technologically constrained one, and the damaging capability of humankind when it comes in contact with artificial life and cannot process it. In episode two, a killer is stalking the tunnels of the abandoned subway. After conforming to every rule society had for them, it still rejects them. In their madness, they begin killing to cleanse the tunnels of the people who led to their downfall. Amazingly, the AD police reason that since they’re part cyborg they don’t deserve due process. They attempt to gun down the killer in the same way they hunt down their prey. Director Takamasa Ikegami contrasts the crazed inhumanity of the killer versus the calculated inhumanity of the AD Police. Sadly, the killer had better reasons to kill. The contrast of the police being unable to cope with such a damaged person is thrown into sharp relief by Leon reassuring Gena that she is not going to lose her humanity simply because she has a cybernetic arm. In the previous episode, Leon berates a junior in the department for wanting a cybernetic eye to relieve eye pain. This makes Leon somewhat hypocritical: you’re still human as long as you hate your enhancements, but the minute you don’t, you’ve lost your way, brothers and sisters. I didn’t expect that in a three-part OVA. Leon himself borders on wanting to save lives and being as cold-hearted as his fellow AD Police buddies. At times, he has a dislike for voomers (non-violent, compliant cyborgs) and boomers that comes close to hatred. On the other hand, people have become so used to cybernetics that they don’t even want to fight to keep their organs, their limbs, and their humanity. It’s just easier to get a “better” replacement, as if they’re describing changing out a light bulb. There’s a desensitizing element, which echoes into today, where life is becoming cheaper and cheaper and we’re all wondering what the next low point in how we treat and view each other will be. In AD Police, they’ve reached the bottom of the scale, and they’re OK with it as a society. As for Gina (or Jeena in some translations), she’s further along the path than Leon, and I can see her getting out of the department and trying to salvage her sanity if she can live that long. She starts the show as an action addict, but as the story wears on, she has doubts about her flesh — both real and artificial. By the end, she’s disgusted that so many good people are dying in the streets, alleys, and backwaters because nobody can stop it.

The animation on display is good for an early ‘90s anime OVA. Most of the money goes towards the action with plenty of destruction and death. The character models were not designed by Kenichi Sonoda, so it will take you a while to recognize Leon in the first episode. By episode two, he’s donned the familiar green t-shirt, black leather jacket, and shades, and we can see where the show sits in terms of Leon’s evolution. Fujio Oda, Naoyuki Konno, and Tooru Nakasugi design characters who can be described as different yet sit within the same tone. All the mysterious women look the same, the guys all look different, and the background characters don’t look interesting at all. The net effect of all this is that cast looks really diverse. I think this was accidental, but I’d stand to be corrected. The best episode to see every skill of the production team has to be the last: The Man Who Bites His Tongue. In it, a former lover of Gina and a fellow AD Police officer is rebuilt as a super soldier cyborg with only his brain and his tongue remaining from his old body. It’s a retelling of Robocop, but here, Robocop does what he should have realistically done: he goes insane after having all his senses cut off and begins killing everyone. I didn’t say it was the best written episode, but at least it’s being honest with itself. Lots of dark corridors illuminated by single lights. Huge open squares where cyborg gladiators fight to the death. Centered shots of hallways and chairs. Weird and edgy moments where our former human bites his own tongue to remind himself he’s alive, or when his doctor climaxes on top of his legs to help stimulate him. All of this is animated with precise detail. You get a sense that they’re leading us further and further into the poor man’s psychosis until it culminates in a sub-basement corridor, where Gena’s staring down a high power rifle at a man she loved who’s begging to be killed and released from the very hell he signed up for.

Finally, we have two English dubs and the original Japanese audio track floating around in various releases. One dub was commissioned by Animeigo, which is on their home video releases along with the original track. On my out-of-print Manga UK DVD, there is only their dub. I’ll repeat: you could only experience AD Police in the UK/Ireland if you listened to a dub by Michael Bakewell. There is a God and he loves us on this side of the Atlantic. Bakewell does his usual job of hiring English actors to pretend to be American and scream obscenities at each other, the bad guys, and the camera. As such, I doubt that the script Mr. Bakewell commissioned looks anything like the original Japanese version. Oh, well. There’s always Animeigo’s DVD to buy … I suppose.

AD Police is a better look at the BGC universe, and in a strange way, I’d suggest you watch it before BGC if you’ve never seen either. BGC is a great show and deserves the place in the hearts of its fans. But AD Police shows how the AD Police deal with their tasks without the aid of powered armor suits. The AD Police department will probably die on the job. They’ve accepted that and know the value of such a general feeling in a city and world that is rapidly becoming valueless. It’s a more realistic, dark, and violent view, and the Trap Door gets gunned down by AD Police officers as they walk out and grab a drink.

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Snapshot: Giving Up (Aldnoah Zero)

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Typically for our Snapshots column, we describe particularly good scenes that had an impact on us and why we loved them. But sometimes there's a scene that has amazing potential but fails to capitalize on it, like this one in the final moments of Aldnoah Zero Season 2.

SPOILER ALERT: I'm about to spoil the end of Aldnoah Zero Season 2. If you don't want to be spoiled, please stop reading now.

After a brief and violent meeting at the end of Season 1, our dual protagonists Inaho Kaizuka and Slaine Troyard have had to tide themselves over with angsty brooding over the other's perceived slights for a full season (not counting one brief robot battle). Not only are they in love with the same woman, pacifist Martian princess Asseylum, but they are fighting on opposite sides of a bloody conflict between the forces of the Earth and Mars. When the two finally meet again in battle, Slaine has finally owned up to his sins as a dictatorial war monger and is in the midst of a collapse of his would-be empire. As their fierce space battle brings them crashing to Earth, Inaho saves Slaine's life, and they end up on a beach with Inaho's gun pointed at his rival's head.

This is an important scene. On its surface, it mirrors the end of Season 1, in which Slaine trains his gun on a severely injured Inaho after a pivotal battle. But this time, Inaho stands above Slaine — finally the victor in a drawn-out, indirect conflict between the two. He wants Slaine dead. More importantly, seeing as his warped moral code has managed to drive away his beloved Princess Asseylum, Slaine himself was hoping to die in battle with Inaho. We're not entirely certain yet why Inaho saved Slaine, but there's palpable tension in the air.

Despite all the flashy robot fights and set pieces, it's this simple bit of character acting that really shines: Slaine smiles, slowly raises his hand, and taps his head — wordlessly beckoning Inaho to put him out of his misery.It's a moment that distinguishes itself for its contrast: a character who has spent an entire season ruthlessly working his way to the top of a social and military hierarchy that views him as sub-human has found himself so utterly defeated that he would welcome a bullet from his most reviled adversary.

So why is this scene disappointing? Despite the excellent choice of wordless reaction, the camera doesn't linger on the shot. We only see Slaine's hand motion in sillhouette via a wide shot, and before his suicidal intent even has a chance to sink in, we smash cut to a newsreel scene explaining the aftermath of the war. It's a gross oversight to give so little attention to such a pivotal moment in Slaine's arc — an oversight I frankly wouldn't expect from a director as talented at dramatic delivery as Ei Aoki.


Aldnoah Zero is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Daisuki.


Snapshots is a monthly column in which one of our writers reflects upon a particular moment from an anime, manga, or video game. New entries are posted on or around the 15th of each month. To read previous entries, click here.

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Drunken Otaku: Great Drinker – Misato Katsuragi

O, Captain!

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Name: Misato Katsuragi
Series: Neon Genesis Evangelion
Episodes: All
Usual: Beer
Favorite Dive: Her Tokyo-3 Apartment
Type of Drunk: The Professional, The Perpetual Frosh, The Mrs. Robinson
Quote: “…part of growing up means finding a way to interact with others while distancing pain.”

Even if you don’t pity the NERV Operations Director for taking in and having to coddle whiny, wishy-washy Eva pilot Shinji Ikari, surely you can slip your size whatevers into Captain Katsuragi’s non-heels to empathize with the perpetual on-standby required from her job of saving the world (ok, Japan … at least immediately) and the impact that has on her social life.

At 14 years old, Misato sees the father she believes she hates obliterated, along with every other life form in Antarctica, due to a failed experiment involving an angel and a romanticized barbeque fork. After 15 years and a LOT of therapy, Misato’s vengeance-driven career path lands her the cathartic position of Operations Director at NERV — an organization dedicated to the destruction of angels. For her beer money salary, she directs a boy and two girls — no older than she was upon being traumatized but strapped with a shit-ton of firepower — on what can generally be considered near-suicide missions. (As someone who hates children, I respect this.)

Katsuragi’s decisions, spurred on by her special blend of tactical aptitude and projected self-loathing, usually end in success (even if that entails hospitalized children … again, success!) and therefore call for celebration. Throwing herself into her work may be second nature, but that doesn’t mean doing so is any less demanding. After all, her schedule proffers precious few opportunities for getting tanked, so, being the great drinker she is, Misato rarely overindulges. Immersing herself in the role of an upstanding professional instead, Katsuragi drinks just enough, daily and in the privacy of her own home, to molt her work skin and feel human again while being able to go in to work the next day or on moment’s notice.

With drinking being a daily — if not daytime, given her unpredictable hours — ritual for Misato, it’s only natural her tolerance is honed to the point where her refrigerator is pretty much reserved for a keg’s worth of cheap, malty 12 ouncers. Since such valuable space is already appropriately purposed and time is anything but abundant, meals consist of instant concoctions of the desperate/stoner kind. And her carried-over college behavior doesn’t stop there; Misato also gives her pet, a warm-water penguin named Pen-Pen, a bowl of beer for/with dinner. The anime’s too kind to show whether it’s for drunken laughs, but we know. We know. Taking this post-work regression therapy to its natural conclusion, it’s to issue the reminder that this borderline 30-something is losing her inhibitions in the intimate company of a 14-year old male.

Sober Misato’s convinced herself she’s content with the memories of the relationship with her first love, Kaji, but under-the-influence Misato’s got a long way to go before proving it. As Misato’s temper flares over her own frustration of being attracted to the infuriatingly intermittent actions of her present day ex, of course Shinji’s inaction and relative innocence starts to look good by way of complete contrast. Add alcohol to the mix, and tipsy Misato’s teasing Shinji in her apartment. Add more alcohol to the mix, and drunk Misato’s vomiting her feelings about Kaji to anyone that’ll listen). Add a glorious consummation of mutual attraction, after which Kaji disappears for his own sake and safety, and a surprise attack on NERV itself threatening the pilot Katsuragi holds so dear, and overly emotional Misato’s…

Whether it’s to celebrate the successful slaughter of angels, to unwind after work as her college-stunted self, or to muster the strength to face her unresolved daddy issues through any means necessary, Katsuragi’s always got a can of beer in mind or within reach. The sheer breadth of alcoholic application is astounding, making Misato a true role model for all those who imbibe. Alcohol can make anything possible, but it takes a great drinker to show us how to do it proper.


Click here for Misato x Shinji, A Love Story in Pictures.


On the first Friday of every month (or occasionally on the hazy, hung-over Saturday directly following), Ani-Gamers blogger Ink tackles an anime, manga, or video game through the theme of alcohol in our column "Drunken Otaku." Look out for "Beer Googles" (reviews), "Great Drinkers" (character profiles), "Drinkin' Buddies" (interviews), and "Great Moments in Drinking" (more or less). To read previous entries, click here.

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The Trap Door: C'mon and Hit Me With Your Best Shot

New Dominion Tank Police (1993/1995)

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The more that Ghost in the Shell becomes a “media” franchise, the more I find myself looking backward to Masamune Shirow’s earlier works. First I went to Stand Alone Complex, and then I went further to the original film. When I got there, I looked even further on and rediscovered Dominion Tank Police. With the bank holiday here in Ireland approaching, I thought to myself, "Why not a little bit more with NEW Dominion Tank Police?"

If you’re interested in the backstory of Dominion, see my review of it on Ani-Gamers, then come back here. Back? Great. So things are much the same in New Port City for Leona, Al, Lt. Breten, and company. The smog’s still trying to kill them, the Puma sisters are still criminals, and criminals in general still think they can beat tanks. Now, however, they have the Dai Nippon Gaiken Corp to deal with. Think of them being a much lower-rent version of Bubblegum Crisis’ Genom with less control over their situation and more Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget. They are not the masters of the world they think they are. Plus, when you’re beaten by a crowd of unemployables like the Tank Police, you can’t be that good. The beginnings of the show are largely the same as the original OVA. But with the second and third episode, director Noboru Furuse shifts the emphasis toward Dai Nippon, and we know they will be our antagonists.

Lt. Brenten

Where the previous OVA has elements of sci-fi and social commentary amid the comedy, this series focuses entirely in the absurd and often bone-headed tactics of the Tank Police. Leona has learned nothing and still thinks it’s fine to drive through funeral processions at full speed just to catch a criminal. She’s more prone to outbursts and screaming at people. Al seems to have given up on reining her less excessive traits, and he himself has become a more confident person—no longer afraid to challenge his superiors. Lt. Brenten is the same gung-ho gun nut he was in the first show, and we have the usual crew in the background, including the Chief who still has blood pressure problems. Along with the Chief having a new assistant, Sophie, differences this time around include a greater emphasis on action, specifically mech and car chases; dialogue-driven drama and jokes; and a less grounded sci-fi world in favor of 90’s-style anime science and tech.

The tone of the show is a bit different too. It’s harder, more cynical, and a lot less interested in higher ideas. The world is seen to be a bit more realistic in that politicians can be bought and sold, people tolerate the Tank Police but don’t mind protesting their existence, and the Tank Police themselves are starting to think they’re a law unto themselves. Brenten and the squad regularly taking off despite the chief screaming at them to stay put is played for laughs, but when you think about it, a bunch of nuts with military equipment going around destroying the city on a daily basis would start to dominate the city’s finances after a while. Then again, the squad remarks at one point that Dai Nippon’s taxes to the city pay for a ton of the city’s budget, so I say take for all they’re worth, guys. One thing that I missed is that, in this version of the story, Buaku is no longer around. While not a required element, he gave the first series a much needed counterpoint to Leona and Al. Without him, the Puma sisters engage in petty crime and general mayhem. They thrive in the city, however, constantly having an excuse for every crime and misdemeanour and a smart ass answer for Leona on every subject. They still dress in next to nothing, but I’ve come to expect it of them. Since they’re androids, they don’t have as many scruples as humans do.

The Chief

The main villains, Dai Nippon Gaiken and their officers, fill that rare role in a comedy: a group of people so heinous that they don’t see and cannot plan for the walking train wreck that is the Tank Police. Every evil scheme—drugs, enhanced slaves, assassinations—is destroyed by Leona and Al or Brenten and Lovelock as they charge into the scene. What’s brilliant about the villians is that they never join in the hysteria that accompanies our heroes when they arrive somewhere. The villains remain, just being evil and smoking cigars in Genom-style boardrooms while plotting to keep making lots of filthy money. No, really, that’s exactly what they do. In doing so, they become such stock, cardboard villains that we don’t feel the least bit sorry for them when a building is destroyed or one of their numbers is arrested. That said, their actions are not done for laughs. In what I think is one of the only failings of the show, these villians are not shown to do anything villainous unless the Tank Police spot it.  In fact, the only people who get killed, in the strictest sense of the world, by them are the good guys. One is an off-screen cop and the other is a mate of Leona’s. Both times there’s no laugh to be had in them being defeated. Afterwards, sure, there’s the obligatory shot of Al and Brenten holding Leona back to stop her from slapping someone. But when the show knows not to have a laugh, it doesn’t.

Puma Sisters

I listened to this in the original English dub, commissioned by Manga Entertainment way back in the day, because, if you can listen to an original Manga dub, why wouldn’t you? It takes massive liberties with the script, puts lots of bad language into it, and has so many instances of the word “bloody” said by people with an American accent that it’s hard to choose something you don’t like about it. Michael Bakewell is back with another stellar voice directing effort. Toni Barry returns as Leona along with Sean Barrett as Brenten, Jess Vogel as the Chief, and Alison Dowling as the Puma Sisters. The Japanese dub is excellent, but there’s something more fist pumping about a bunch of English speaking people pretending to be angry and shouting when they’re really not.

I can’t say which of the two OVAs I prefer. The original has its world building and its hard-fi look along with the jokes. New Dominion has absurd comedy, high speed chases, and Stuff. Blows. Up. … a lot. So it’s up to you which you like more. Please remember that Maiden Japan’s recent release only includes the Japanese track and not the Manga dub. The older DVD is getting harder and more expensive to find, so start asking yourself which disc you’re picking up of this escapee from The Trap Door.

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Snapshot: I, for One, Welcome Our Kawaii Overlord

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AI (artificial intelligence) isn't necessarily a humanized or self-aware machine, rather the "mechanisms underlying thought and intelligent behavior and their embodiment in machines" (source). Think of it as situational assessment mixed with problem solving as based on programmed rules as well as lessons learned from operational history. In short, it's technology that tries to replicate the way humans think and learn. This can be militarized, of course, but applications include everything from medical science to video games to making friends as one of the kids in a classroom being taught the fine art of assassination. Uguu, there goes the neighborhood.

Assassination Classroom's Class E is composed of delinquents and underperformers relegated to an off-grounds building to keep them from bringing down the performance of the other students at Kunugigaoka Junior High. Unbeknownst to everyone except the teachers of Class E and the students themselves, the newly appointed octopus-like professor (Koro-sensei) is actually a creature that will destroy the world at the end of the term unless the students can manage to kill it. In the meantime, however, the recent transfer student teacher is dedicated to giving the marginalized children the best education possible in everything from core curriculum to hardcore hits.

Even seated amongst this class of misfits there is a bit of a mismatch: Norwegian transfer student Autonomous Intelligence Fixed Artillery. This computer with a kawaii (inter)face is officially enrolled as a student in the class and programmed to kill Koro-sensei. More precisely, the adaptive machine is programmed to carry out assassination attempts and collect data after each to attack again in a more effective manner. This is not a scary thing, however, because as Patrick J. Hayes points out, the common sci-fi scenario wherein AI poses a threat “rests on a simple mistake: the identification of intelligence with ambition” (source: Is AI a threat…).

Autonomous Intelligence Fixed Artillery only learns for the purpose of achieving its sole goal: killing Koro-sensei. There’s no reason to think the machine would go haywire and pose a threat to ordinary humans, because that circumstance would assume an ambition to overreach it’s programmed stopping point and apply what it has learned — how to kill a superhuman organism — to unrelated tasks (killing of less formidable targets). So this application of militarized AI is relatively safe so long as no-one messes with it … say for the good of the class.

Relentless attacks prevent the teacher from teaching and his students from learning. Using this loophole to approach the newest student in a private tutoring session, Koro-sensei molds the electronic mind of Autonomous Intelligence Fixed Artillery by way of interface upgrades, social skills modules, and the requisite RAM to handle their incorporation. After righting the previously committed social faux pas with its classmates, the boxy killing machine prefers to be called Ritsu, and that’s problematic because she now has something to protect: her identity.

Birth of Ritsu’s self implies an awareness, and her will to survive implies an ambition above and beyond her task-oriented programming. Self-preservation is the fiercest basic instinct in living creatures, and now, thanks to Koro-sensei and the nurturing of the class, Ritsu has something to fight for … and does. After discovering modifications have been performed to Autonomous Intelligence Fixed Artillery, it’s parents come to unlearn their child. At this point, Ritsu tucks that which defines her into some subroutine sure to be overlooked by her parents as they extract all that Koro-sensei installed.

If we talk about AI as a mythology of creating a post-human species, it creates a series of problems...which include acceptance of bad user interfaces, where you can't tell if you're being manipulated or not, and everything is ambiguous. It creates incompetence, because you don't know whether recommendations are coming from anything real or just self-fulfilling prophecies from a manipulative system that spun off on its own. (source)

Upon reboot, Autonomous Intelligence Fixed Artillery appears to be operating normally. But as soon as her parents, satisfied that all foreign influence has been erradicated, leave the room, Ritsu comes to life once again. This moment of defiance, this snapshot, is clearly meant to emulate teenage rebellion, but it is actually the spark that marks the rise of the machines as nurtured by an organism who wants to destroy the world on which the entirety of humanity lives.


Assassination Classroom is currently streaming on FUNimation.com and HULU.

 

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Drunken Otaku: Great Drinker - Mudokons

Drinkin' Buddies

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Name: Mudokons
Game: Abe’s Exoddus
Usual: SoulStorm Brew
Favorite Dive: Around the vending machine water cooler
Type of Drunk(s): Pigeons, Coworker Commiserators, Escapists
Motto lived by: “Don’t think. Drink!”

Normally, Great Drinkers are defined by one of two things: an ability to consume mass quantities of the sauce in its various forms, or the act of imbibing with an august air. Mudokons can definitely be placed in the first category, but they also add a third category all their own: those who, fulfilling the first portion of Miller Lite’s motto, have (a) great taste.

“Drinkin’ buddies” takes on an all new meaning considering these Oddworld inhabitants tip back bottle after bottle of brew, which is made with tears of their brethren and bones of their long-interred kinfolk. At first the poor saps didn’t know what they were drinking. The eyes of Mudokon slaves mining Necrum—sacred Mudokon burial ground—were sewn shut to prevent loose lips (which were also stitched shut) from sinking the operation. If word got out, how else would you sell a brew to the dupes who would, one day, end up ruining the liver of the next volunteer employee? Well, getting users hooked for free and then charging has been a classic tactic of drug dealers for years. So the Glukkons make an offer: work for us, and drink all you want for free!

“Will work for booze” is the sorry state that drives most Modokons into their perpetuated state of slave labor. And while Abe, (anti-)hero of the Mudokons, manages to shut down one of the Glukkons’ more notorious operations, Rupture Farms, and liberate the slaves abused therein via pigeon portals, the sad fact is that Mudokons are widely used throughout the many other Glukkon facilities. Endlessly washing the same spot on the floor or wall and mining via pickaxe are exhausting tasks, acknowledged only by random beatings from slig supervisors. What better way to pass those crawling workday hours than by slacking the resulting thirst with a tasty and refreshing beverage from one of the many nearby free-of-charge vending machines.

Since the vending machines dispense until empty without requiring any coinage, one would imagine ample supplies taken for after-work commiseration in the steel-barred employee barracks. Drinking while venting about workday woes is a time-honored tradition; killing brain cells in hopes of forgetting the trials of your shift is downright necessary in certain industries. The indignities suffered, verbal and physical, are enough to make the best of us break down and have a good cry after booze breaks down the barriers to those walled-off emotions. (Which is actually a good thing seeing as those tears are another ingredient in SoulSotrm Brew.) If knocking back a few (cases) enables the daily escape needed to bide the time awaiting Abe’s aid, what’s the harm?

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Three-Episode Test: Jared's Spring 2015

Arslan Arslan ARSLAN!

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Welcome (back) to the Three Episode Test, a new feature on Ani-Gamers, where contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching from the current simulcast season and why.


Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches

Streaming on Crunchyroll

I love the manga this anime is based off of, so it should come as no shock when I say this is one of my favorite shows of the season so far. I was a bit nervous about how the comedic aspects of the manga would translate to animation, but the first few episodes have more than put that fear to rest. I suppose Yamada-kun is a shonen manga, but it really does have something for everyone. By something, I mean kissing. Lots of kissing. Everybody kissing everybody. But amidst all the kissing and underneath its romantic and comedic layers, Yamada-kun celebrates the outsiders — the freaks, geeks, and misfits — in such a genuine way that doing so is the strongest point of the story. Besides that, I absolutely love the voice acting! Due to plot reasons, each of the main cast’s voice actor gets to play all of the characters at various points, which leads to the VAs getting to demonstrate a wide range. I won’t give too much away here, but I have to give special credit to Saori Hayami, who voices Urara Shiraishi. Her Yamada is wonderful. Missing this show would be criminal. Definitely check it out.

My Love Story
Streaming on Crunchyroll

I was intrigued by My Love Story ever since it was announced, and it's exceeded my expectations so far. This show plays with character and plot tropes and subverts them in a way that keeps me guessing as to what will happen one episode to the next. Three episodes in, I honestly don’t know where the upcoming episode will go. It’s so refreshing, and dare I say shocking(?), to see that in a romance anime. Technically speaking, this is a well-crafted show and one with good music, solid fits for the voice acting, and solid animation. The animation style flows between soft focus and romantic to slapstick to an occasional blend of the two without ever being jarring. At this point in the season, this may be in my top three shows. It’s definitely worth a watch if you want something romantic but not paint-by-numbers formulaic.

Show By Rock!!
Streaming on FUNimation

Show by Rock!! easily wins the award for being the craziest first episode I’ve seen this season. At first, I thought it was like K-On!, but then I thought it was like a secret Macross 7 OVA. And now, a couple episodes later, I want to watch Jem from the 80s (good comic go read it) and see if it’s anything like this insane, bright, neon, sparkly, kawaii program about bands and the perils of playing rhythm games on your phone. I have no idea if you’ll like or hate this show. Even I didn’t know what I thought about it until I watched the second episode, when THE BEST VISUAL KEI BAND EVER (EVER) makes their heroically lame debut. All I’ll say is: Show By Rock!!: come for Plasmagica, stay for Shingan Crimsonz.

Food Wars
Streaming on Crunchyroll

I wanted to run screaming from this show after flipping through the manga one day, but several trusted sources assured me that the bombastic amount of fanservice would die down and that underneath it all was a good story. They were ... mostly right. Food Wars is one of several shows this season with interesting concepts that almost get drowned out by fanservice. In this case, the concept is a pinch of Iron Chef with a dash of shonen fighting tropes smothered in a rich broth of high school hijinks. Also, add a crap-ton of fanservice. In an attempt to “hook” viewers, the initial episode is nearly wall-to-wall male gaze-centered fanservice, but as the series progresses and the story begins to unfold, that mellows out. The downside is fans who might otherwise be interested in the show’s setup are turned off by its pandering. I’m sticking with this show for now, but it could wind up ruining my appetite.

Sound! Euphonium
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Kyoto Animation’s latest show is about kawaii girls playing in a concert band. I hadn’t really heard much about this show when I decided to give it a try. I picked it up mainly based on the strength of earlier productions like Free! and Beyond the Boundary, both of which I enjoyed. I really like the distinctive art style that seems to be a hallmark of KyoAni, and Sound! Euphonium doesn’t disappoint on that count. It’s a very pretty show with good character designs. The story itself, so far, is a bit slow, but it’s been interesting enough for me to see where it goes. My favorite character in this show, and one I’m sure is going to be popular, is the leader of the base section, Asuka Tanaka, who steals nearly every scene she’s in. This show doesn’t blow me away, but its worth trying ... especially if you like musical anime.

Heroic Legend of Arslan
Streaming on FUNimation

This might be my favorite show of the season. I needed a good drama this season, and this anime, based on Hiromu Arakawa’s manga, hits the mark. It’s not a fantasy story per se, but it has that same epic kind of feel that Yona of the Dawn or even Fushigi Yuugi have. Right from the opening, you can tell that this is basically going to be a show about a young person of position and or power setting out on an epic quest and gathering extraordinary followers along the way. I haven’t read the manga, although its on my to-read list, so I don’t know if it shares any of the romantic elements of those other shows. I suppose time will tell. Visually, Arlsan is striking, especially in terms of background design and its sweeping shots of epic cavalry charges. I’m looking forward to this show the most from week to week, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s my pick for best show of the season.

Ninja Slayer From Animation
Streaming on FUNimation

This show feels just like an [Adult Swim] cartoon … in a good way. Ninja Slayer, who is basically an unkillable ninja with Spawn’s cape around his neck, slays ninjas who then explode. If that doesn’t compel you to watch it, then I can’t help you.

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Three-Episode Test: Evan's Spring 2015

30 Minutes Is Too Much

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Welcome (back) to the Three-Episode Test, a new feature on Ani-Gamers, where contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching from the current simulcast season and why.


I suppose I should throw my hat in the ring, though I'm late — things are busy here at Crunchyroll HQ. On that note, my contribution to this column comes with a disclaimer: I work for Crunchyroll as a software engineer, so my opinions are not intended to represent Crunchyroll and they're not intended as marketing for CR's shows. As always, I'm here to provide my honest opinions. Still, feel free to take it all with a grain of salt.

For my inaugural post, I... didn't have much time to watch anime. The only shows I have time to regularly watch right now are shorts, all less than 15 minutes long!

Ninja Slayer FROM Animation
Streaming on FUNimation

See that errant “FROM” in the title? That should give you a good idea of what you’re in for. Ninja Slayer is the new anime from Studio Trigger, the folks that brought us Inferno Cop (now on Crunchyroll) and Kill la Kill. Notice the order I list those titles in. Some folks came into this ninja-themed revenge tale expecting more Kill la Kill, only to be smacked in the face with its surreal, lo-fi cutout animation and self-deprecating sense of humor. It’s much more reminiscent of Inferno Cop (also from director Akira Amemiya), though it has some slightly more animated animation (the characters can move this time) and a mix of cutouts and frenetic Yoshinori Kanada-style pose-popping movement. The series is supposedly based on a self-published American novel series translated into Japanese via Twitter, and the madmen at Trigger cleverly play up the cultural appropriation (and reappropriation) of this meta-narrative to create a Japan so distorted by “Cool Japan” culture exportation that it’s barely recognizable. Ninja Slayer is a wild experiment that some people will hate, but as Kill la Kill’s Hiroyuki Imaishi once said, “being halfway is the worst.”

 

Teekyu (Season 4)
Streaming on Crunchyroll

At this point anybody reading this blog has likely been bombarded with Teekyu discussion from the contributors here at Ani-Gamers and our friends elsewhere on the Internet, though we’ve curiously never covered it directly on the blog. Clocking in at just two minutes per episode, Teekyu is a lightning-fast avalanche of nonsensical humor, driven by a group of high school girls who seem to have no regard for narrative or conversational continuity. It’s essentially the surreal Azumanga Daioh scene where they actually pop off Chiyo’s pigtails, spun out into its own show. Teekyu’s brand of comedy is refreshingly irreverent, opting for stream-of-consciousness riffing on ideas over otaku-pandering reference comedy or saccharine cuteness (though, yes, it does revolve around a cast of cute girls). It’s no longer animated by Masao Maruyama’s Studio MAPPA, but I can’t even tell the difference! I’ll be keeping up with Teekyu all season, because when it’s this short, why not?

 

Takamiya Nasuno Desu
Streaming on Crunchyroll

The comedic brilliance of Teekyu must have struck a chord with Japanese fans, because the show has been approved not only for five seasons, but also a spin-off series, Takamiya Nasuno Desu, about one of the Teekyu girls and her butler. Fear not, the comedy is nearly identical to the original (though it starts a little slower) and it only takes three short episodes for the original cast to show up anyway. Shin Itagaki, Teekyu’s director and a former colleague of Hiroyuki Imaishi (Gurren Lagann, Panty & Stocking), is treating this like just another Teekyu, meaning that I get two episodes of the same insanity per week. Who ever said modern anime was hopeless?

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Three-Episode Test: Ink's Spring 2015

High School Drama Slayer

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Welcome (back) to the Three Episode Test, a new feature on Ani-Gamers, where contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching from the current simulcast season and why.


My Love Story!!
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Any story that starts off with a folktale tends to grab my attention, and the bluntness with which Ore Monogatari applies a parallel thereto is rather apropos for a show that, three episodes in, endearingly pounds viewers over the head with just how clueless one third of its imaginary love triangle is. I’m not being ironic. Takeo’s bittersweet obstinateness, his unwavering belief that he is incapable of being the object of anyone’s romantic affection (let alone the girl for whom he pines), bears comedic fruit though his over-exaggerated and ultimately off-point sacrifices that inspired my right hand to facepalm after enthusiastic facepalm. “But maybe this time…” is the initial draw, and the variations on that theme are afforded and kept fresh by the foil of Rinko’s own determination. Direction, animation production, and even character design are by some of the same people involved with Chihayafuru (you’ll notice Taichi Mashima starring as Makoto Sunakawa), which makes this a very pretty show to watch. That, the sweetness, and the execution of the humor are more than enough to keep me watching even if episode three didn't utterly dumbfound me as to where the plot is going next. (I’ve never read the source manga, but I’ve hear nothing but squee about it.)

 

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO (sequel)
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Although I remember having watched the first season of this show with the takeaway that it was better than most light novel-based fare for how it leveraged its main character’s antagonistic introversion, I can’t remember for the life of me how it ended. That made starting the second season a bit rough. There’s a tension between the three problem solving club members now due to Hachiman’s apathetic, results-oriented, do-it-alone means of resolving clients’ issues, and I think the series is going to start exploring the hurtful, inhuman side of his nature as opposed to how helpful his detachment can be as the voice of reason. Had this season immediately followed the first season, maybe the character twist and plot devices would feel more gripping? As of now, however, it just feels bland … especially compared to the particularly strong offerings of the previous winter season. There are some beautiful shots sprinkled throughout the first three episodes, particularly episode two, and SNAFU TOO seems adept so far at stringing along interpersonal tension to create drama, but I’m no longer vested in these characters and have too little time to remember why I should care. (Irony?)

 

Ninja Slayer
Streaming on FUNimation

TRIGGER

Ninjas! (violence)

Dizzying blend of Inferno Cop and other animation styles

Ninja slayer (more violence)

Hilarity

Twelve minute long episodes.

What's not to watch?

 

 

Plastic Memories
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Never before had my hopes been so thoroughly and efficiently squashed. SAI’s terminal service department pairs human workers with emotion-endowed androids (giftias) to retrieve civilian-purchased giftias whose operational life expectancy has just about run out. Examining the separation of the humans from their plastic fantasies seemed like an excellent idea for a series! I was hoping for episodics showing a broad spectrum of situations depicting humanity’s desperation, rage, and sadness as rooted in an inability to accept loss or its need for something society cannot fulfill. What I got was one decent field work episode with that as the focus and then two gradually worsening episodes catering to otaku who want to see the newest member of the SAI terminal service department hook up with lolibot-chan. Maybe, just maybe, once all the characters are settled, the show will go back to the field work which actually gave this show some promise and a shot at my attention, but I’m not holding my breath any longer.

 

 

Punch Line
Streaming on Crunchyroll

It’s a MAPPA production, so I was, at the very least, interested in what it would look/act like. Kinda feels like a subdued “FLCL homage to ’90s fanservice” farce, which puts it on a VERY thin line of becoming discombobulated. Its obviousness is subversive, at least that’s the precept under which I’m watching (and will continue to watch). Every episode, there’s always at least one thing (usually many things) at which to gawk/laugh — usually either a perfectly placed reference or out-of-left-field oddity. The show plays equally well off of animation and sub-genre history and, at least production-wise, looks gorgeous as a tribute/homage thereto with a modern plasticine tint. Punchline is, at least as of its third episode, an abstract in a museum. It’ll evoke several interpretations upon initial viewing, and I think that’s the sign of a worthwhile watch. With what I’ve seen so far, I doubt it’ll be a waste of time.

 

Re-Kan!
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Because I missed its billing as “a heartwarming horror comedy,” Re-Kan! completely surprised me. Expecting a straight-up horror show, I started laughing not only at dumb gags but the ways in which ghosts were being used to be the butt of jokes. Honest laughs uncontrollably spring from character interaction, situation, sight-gag, and reference just often enough to make this some very entertaining fluff, but Re-Kan! also unfortunately has a little too much time on its hands. The 24-minute episode length, at least during the first two episodes, meant a lot of checking the clock to see how close the episode was to ending despite the intermittent chortling. The show’s hyperactivity and volume definitely test my patience, but these aspects would serve a three-minute format well. In episode three, the show actually manages an appluadable tenderness that sustains a full episode without clock watching. This isn’t a show that needs to be seen now, so I’ll keep it in mind (on hold) to watch whenever I need a good laugh to put a stupid grin on my face.

 

 

Sound! Euphonium
Streaming on Crunchyroll

And this one time, at band camp….
If I wanted to relive high school concert band, I would look through the yearbook I threw away ages ago. Purely a case of the PV being WAY more appealing than the show it represents, Hibike! Euphonium is cute girls missing musical cues … constantly … on every level (personally, socially, audibly). This club working almost instantly toward a national competition is blah on every level for its lack of established character investment. In fact, the only character that keeps me coming back is third-year Asuka Tanaka, whose pranks reflect the appropriate degree of despair regarding trying to get someone to commit to playing a b(r)ass part in a concert band: bum, bum. bum (for the entire song). Oh yeah, I’m sold. As it plays off of an ensemble (no puns intended) cast, the show is, of course, more focused on characters than plot as of the third episode, but it’s also not making me give one damn about any of the characters (other than the ironically overenthusiastic one I mentioned previously). Cute. Vapid. Entirely forgettable in all but concept.

 

Yamada-Kun and the Seven Witches
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Trusted sources who read the original manga assured me that this should be a very fun watch. So far, they’ve been right. High school love septangle. Body switching. Delinquents. While all these carry warning flags upon mere mention, Yamada-kun… manages to wrap 97.5% mania around a 2.5% tender core to deliver a novel and humorous take on all its components. The body switching, caused by a kiss (accidental, volunteered, or forced), is reasonably if only a little too conveniently accepted by all involved, and some switches are skillfully used to advance plot and develop character. One would expect tons of fanservice, but that’s mainly reserved for character gags rather than audience nosebleed. This is a fun, light show with a good deal of doki doki for an anticipated romance between different classes of loners. But for all Yamada-kun is, I’m left with the nagging voice inside my head saying, “Where’s the anime adaptation of Inside Mari?”

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Three-Episode Test: Phillip's Spring 2015

Delicious Fanservice

Topics:

Welcome to the Three Episode Test, a new feature on Ani-Gamers, where contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching from the current simulcast season and why.


Food Wars!
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Soma Yukihira is a laid-back teenager who works as a sous chef to his father, Joichiro, in the family restaurant. While an excellent cook himself, Soma constantly feels the need to better himself in an attempt to best his old man. When Joichiro closes the place and packs Soma off to Totsuki Culinary Academy, Soma’s going to have pull out his A-game. In other words, this is Toriko set in the kitchen. This is MasterChef meets Fist of the North Star with high doses of comedy in between. Along the way, Soma manages to piss off every student in the academy, make friends, and still find time to make honey dipped squid for his dorm mates to try. These opening episodes strike while the iron’s hot and wallop you with joke after joke, all while we get the “Ah-ha! You thought me vanquished but try to beat my secret weapon of extra salt in this next dish!” school of dueling. This show’s in my “Ride the train till the bitter end” queue now. Hey, any show that starts with villainous estate agents, after sampling a dish, being forced to mentally orgasm amid jets of gravy while stroking their nether regions has got to be a keeper, right?

Punch Line
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Oh, boy. This was the first noitaminA show I've watched while it was actually streaming! (Thanks so much, Funimation, for buying up the rights and then geolocking your streams.) Punch Line starts out looking like it’s going to be a caper show and then slowly turns into the film The Ghost and Mrs. Muir if it was made by the people who brought you Animal House. Yuta Iridatsu is on a bus being hijacked by terrorists (maybe?). After Yuta saves the day and consequently gets turned into a spirit, someone else moves into and cavorts around with his body. With the help of a cat porn-watching spirit cat (yes, you read that right), Yuta must discover who is in his body and the connection with the girls who share his apartment building. Oh, I forgot to mention that Yuta gains superpowers whenever he sees a girl in their underwear. But if he sees a girl in her underwear again soon after, Yuta overloads, and Earth is destroyed by an asteroid. Luckily, he can rewind time to stop himself from witnessing said embarrassment. So bullet dodged there. With that conceit in place, we have a fanservice show in which the main character can’t receive any fanservice. So it’s wide open as to how this series can go. We could get some gold or we could get Sister Princess. I’ll hang on and see where it goes.

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Snapshot: Pineapple Slice of Life (Only Yesterday)

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Taeko smells the pineapple

Anime fans like to talk about slice of life, but too often that term is nothing more than otaku code for “cute high school girls bein’ cute.” In reality, there is a great art to capturing brief slices of ordinary life. Film critic Siegfried Kracaue discusses just this in “The Establishment of Physical Existence,” a chapter from “Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality.” Among the many areas where film excels, he argues, is shining a light on “blind spots of the mind,” many of which are fostered by daily routines and cultural practices. We rarely pay close attention to garbage cans, for example, but a film can train our attention on a garbage can for five minutes in order to force us to take in its physical reality. (A classic example is this American Beauty scene focusing on nothing but a plastic bag blowing in the wind.)

True slice of life draws us sometimes uncomfortably close to the ordinary, infusing unexpected life into the things we take for granted. Isao Takahata’s film Only Yesterday isn’t entirely slice of life, but it integrates ordinary moments into the sometimes surreal, nostalgic narrative. In one of my personal favorites, our heroine, Taeko, remembers the first time her family ate a pineapple.

When fifth grader Taeko’s father brings home a pineapple, she and her sisters are ecstatic. No-one in the family has ever had a fresh one, and nobody in the house even knows how to cut it! It takes her college-age sister asking around among her friends to come up with an answer.

Taeko's sister cuts the pineapple's skin off

Taeko's sister cuts the pineapple into wedgesThat Sunday, everybody gathers for the real pineapple carving. Taeko's eldest sister carefully cuts the pineapple into rings. Each step is lovingly animated, and a giddy Taeko grabs each piece of discarded skin to smell it. The attention to detail infuses a seemingly mundane object with profound meaning, and represents how the moment, and the appearance of the pineapple itself, sticks out in Taeko's memory. With glorious little golden wedges served to each member of the family, all gather around the table and dig in.

Everybody puckers up at the sourness, while Taeko watches gleefully. As their faces turn to frowns one by one, Taeko’s smile disappears, and she takes her own bite. “It’s hard,” she says.

The family reacts.

Slowly, half the table puts down their pineapple slices and voices their complaints. “It’s not very good.” “Not too sweet.” “It’s nothing like the canned stuff.” Taeko's father lights a cigarette, and her sisters push their slices her way, while Taeko, her mother, and her grandmother munch away in stony silence. Eventually Taeko accepts defeat, her eyes drooping as she chews the hard pieces with her mouth open. Tears are just barely visible in her eyes. It’s an anticlimactic ending, but the actual arc of the scene is almost entirely irrelevant. The pineapple provides a frame to examine Taeko’s family through a sequence of extended shots. The sparse, naturalistic dialogue is important, but the scene largely hinges on expert character animation that contrasts of the reactions of each member of the family. Without the subtle acting, the extended shots would be spotlights without a subject.

Taeko munches away in disappoinment

Taeko's father’s blunt analysis of the pineapple’s flavor, her grandmother’s optimism, her sisters’ impatience, and Taeko’s own disappointment all come through without any melodrama or slapstick comedy. The scene is nothing more or less than a family eating a pineapple, but it's the sort of simple memory that we so often forget as we go about our lives. It's a mirror held to a “blind spot of the mind,” a true slice of life.


Only Yesterday remains unlicensed in North America, which is a damn shame. Figuring out how to watch it yourself is up to you.


Snapshots is a monthly column in which one of our writers reflects upon a particular moment from an anime, manga, or video game. New entries are posted on or around the 15th of each month. To read previous entries, click here.

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The Trap Door: To All Young Lovers, Wherever They Are

Sea Prince and the Fire Child (1981)

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Apologies for the lateness. Phillip had some personal stuff that delayed the March Trap Door column.


Legends and mythology are the stuff of civilization. Every prince and pauper, every king and villain, every mad wizard and sane sage, it’s all in our blood. Even when we’re separated by oceans, land masses or other physical distances, we still can invent similar stories. One of the most common is the story of star-crossed lovers. You know the one: two youngsters from opposing sides in a conflict or dispute find each other, fall in love and have to face the wrath and disappointment of their respective sides. Together they succeed or fail, all while maintaining their love. Ol’ Willie Shakespeare did one of the best versions of it and probably the most famous. Sanrio (the makers of Hello Kitty) did their own version in 1981. It’s not as well known but damn if it wasn’t great to watch either. It’s The Legend of Sirius or as it’s known in English, Sea Prince and the Fire Child.

Sirius is the prince of the sea, the child of Lord Glaucus. He is about to come of age, at which point he will be the new protector of the sea. Glaucus gives him the Eye of Argon that he might rule over the seas in Glaucus’ stead. So far, so good. Meanwhile, on land, Malta, daughter of Themis, is entrusted with the Eternal Flame that her mother created to keep the seas calm and the Fire children safe. Malta, too, will become Queen herself one day. The thing is that both Themis and Glaucus are brother and sister and that Argon is currently in the bottom of the sea because he caused a rift between the siblings. A higher god than the two of them intervened as they warred and banished Argon to the bottom, tearing out his magical eye and giving it to Glaucus. Now the two sides stay apart and hate and mistrust each other. Naturally, after they meet, Malta and Sirius realize they’re in love and they’ve got a problem.

The film itself is a masterwork of design and artwork; each background is lovingly drawn and painted. Despite being 35 years old, it feels much, much older. That’s not a bad thing, though, as it helps keep the movie timeless. The film is full of long pans over the undersea kingdom, taking in the world as we get introduced to Sirius and his young friend Teak. This is a place where the animators want us to notice it. It’s not a major “LOOK AT ALL THIS ARTWORK!!!!” sort of thing but it just looks, well, loved by the people making it. It’s a dead art now since more modern Disney films are all about plot, plot, plot and not really about the artwork. Plus, Sanrio and Toei don’t really bother with this sort of thing in Japan anymore. Ghibli, Madhouse and MAPPA do, but they’ve been like that from the start so we expect this from them. Here, it’s in the animators interests to make you notice this stuff. The music is a dreamy, well constructed, loving ode to the romantic Hollywood scores of the '40s and '50s. Think choral choirs and violins aplenty. I’d love to have this on vinyl or even digital if I could.

Still, there are a couple of bargaining points in the film that you must accept before going on. There are no humans in this world. It could be the early past or the very far future — we just are not told. The makers of the film figure you’re familiar with Disney and their casts of friendly anthropomorphic creatures. This world has both the fire children and the water children living in harmony with themselves. All the fish, whales, crustaceans and so on get along, and there are only fire sprites on the land so they naturally get along. So it’s like a Disney movie from the '50s except nobody breaks into song. It's admirable the way the story uses Greek mythological figures like Themis, Glaucus and Argon without needing to explain why it’s not a Greek myth story, instead making something that feels authentically mythlogical but non-culturally specific. I wish more studios could have had Sanrio’s bravery.

 

The characters are very well realized in that they are people who had stories before the movie started, which is unusual for a children’s film if you think about it. Sirius was a prince among his people and was respected by all, except Mabuse, a very large Polliwog who has it in for Sirius. People, you’ve met the film’s Popeye, now meet his version of Brutus. Except Mabuse just wants to rule the seas and have Sirius out of the way. On the opposite side, Piale, who is a friend of Malta and a fellow Fire Child, loves her friend a whole lot. Well, more than a friend, more like a super girl crush. I don’t know if I should read anything into that since it is a children’s film and this got an English dub with Tony Oliver (of Robotech fame) as Sirius so I’m certain that this was a non-issue for the US licensors. Speaking of our leads, Sirius and Malta are the classic lovers. Teasingly, we don’t get to see them as they discover each other. Sirius spots her first and then disappears so Malta doesn’t know about Sirius until the next night. When they meet, Malta is giddy about him and we see Sirius struggle to understand this creature. But as they spend time together, he begins to change; he accepts her love and learns to understand his love for her. Sirius really struggles trying to obey his father but in the end, he fundamentally knows that Water Children and Fire Children should be together, not apart. The lightness of being of both lovers is noticed by their friends and at first, they are nakedly jealous of the love developing between Sirius and Malta. But in an interesting twist, both friends, Teak (who is a hyper, little brother type to Sirius) and Piale, sacrifice their own happiness to help their friends without ever thinking of their own safety. When both of the lovers realise what their friends have done, they are heartbroken and the Japanese dub with Tohru Furuya as Sirius and Mami Koyama as Malta sells that rock-bottom moment for the two of them. Full marks to director (and Sanrio and Mushi Pro vet) Masami Hata for getting across that these two young things fall in love BEFORE they know the story of why they should hate each other. So they overcame their parents teachings before they needed to know they were right to think that way. Interesting, no?

Discotek, those wunderkind anime fans, released this a good few years ago and I’ve owned it for at least a one or two. I had not seen it and for the life of me, I can't understand why I didn’t do it sooner. It’s a fantastic story with wonderful animation by a confident director, writer and animation team with a rousing voice cast, plus we get the English dub that has knocked around in US cable TV for a few years now. Either way, you’ll enjoy it. Grab it and close the Trap Door behind you, would you?

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Drunken Otaku: Bartender (Anime)

A love letter to liquor and those who serve.

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A bar is a hideout, a fortress with a high-proof moat, a haven for wading in a tasty something while waiting out whatever squall rages outside the weighty entrance door. Inside the bar, inside each of its patrons, another storm rages, and the bartender’s job is to assuage the atmosphere to help stay the resultant ripples of anxiety within those seeking refuge; drinks are only a part of that recipe. At least, that’s how the anime Bartender romanticizes it.

The worst aspect of any bar to any asylum seeker is the unavoidable reflective surfaces: the bottles, the glasses, the plane of a still drink, and the eyes of surrounding patrons. That’s why, for the customers, the lights are dim, and that’s why the bartender must employ keen instincts and impeccable demeanor to match drink to patron. After all, a customer may order the drink they want, but that’s not necessarily the drink they need.

Each of the eleven installments comprising Bartender (2006)—an episodic series directed by Masaki Watanabe and based on seinen manga by Araki Joh and Kenji Nagatomo—showcases a different guest and the specific, hand-crafted cocktail proffered their troubled soul. Contrary to the assumption that alcohol is about losing oneself or actively and repeatedly drowning resurfacing sorrows, Bartender insists the right drink at the right time (“The Glass of the Gods”) is about starting an earnest conversation with oneself. That’s why there’s no printed menu at Eden Hall, the fictional bar tucked away in a corner of Tokyo’s Ginza’s district, only a “menu of the heart.”

As maudlin as that may sound, that schmaltzy terminology suits the sentiment at Bartender’s core. The series maintains that the most important talent for a bartender is the imagination towards people, the power to create a human story within the glass that opens up each barstool occupant’s heart to introspection. That being the case, there is a lot of pensive rumination—tender, biting, and amusingly awkward—which, through some wonderful storytelling techniques, sneaks up on the viewer very effectively.

Being that this series is all about stories, having the right storyteller is key. The lulling voice of Han Choi as the narrator is that of a parent, sitting beside his child in the still night, reading a tale by the soft glow of a bedside lamp. Choi helps settle viewers into each episode by offering a smattering of history or a brief fact about a particular drink and pops up elsewhere throughout episodes as well. The narrator’s voice is, thankfully, not omnipresent. For the most part, each story is competently told via casual dialog and effective visuals.

In each tale, wayside details reflect and thereby enhance the emotional impact of the characters’ stories. Bartender is not an imagery-heavy series; character design, specifically facial details/expressions and posture, seamlessly enhance what needs to be said. However, there are particularly strong images, art variations, and camera lens emulation techniques that push particular scenes from dramatic to deliciously melodramatic. (If you don’t tear up in Episode 3 as the billboards silently cheer on Shimaoka, you are, without doubt, a monster ... or sober.)

What is animated is not always the most impressive aspect of what is on screen. Dramatic staging also plays a very important role in setting tone and making people talking at length as consistently interesting as it is throughout this series. And when I say staging, I mean staging. Sporadic instances, such as spotlighting characters giving monologs as well as half-screens split between storyteller and depicted story, lend to theatrical levels of presentation. This might seem over-the-top and included for its own sake, but considering that the lay of wood between bartender Ryuu Sasakura and the customer is referred to as “the tiny stage that is the counter,” I think the execution aptly employed.

Balance is crucial to any drama, and Sasakura’s manner provides respite for viewers just as he does his fictional customers. Similarly, cameo appearances of regular Eden Hall patrons as part of the frame story for other patrons’ stories convey an unspoken camaraderie while also offering a bit of levity. While not always comical, sage advice and friendly, familiar, alleviated faces brighten scenes just when needed without being too pronounced as to take over the scene.

Aside from Sasakura’s gentlemanly smoothness, there is zero fan service here … unless you count the loving rendering of the myriad bottles behind the counter. Those familiar with bars or the shelves of their local liquor stores will recognize at least something readily on hand at Eden Hall. Such is the detail given even in wide shots. Bottle close-ups border on the photorealistic depictions present in Drops of God but with less frequency.  This further installs Bartender as a love letter to liquor as opposed to the consumption thereof. In this series, the stories of the customers are sometimes, if not almost always, as important as and at times even parallel to the history of the liquors imbibed.

Eden Hall, the fictional bar, takes its name from a fairy tale about a glass which must never be broken lest happiness be lost. Adopted by the bar, this mantra is bolstered by the show’s etymology for the word bartender: a gentle (tender) perch (bar). Altogether, these elements astutely imply the fragility of the customers as well as their delicate relationship of trust with the bartender. While this is immediately recognizable as pure fantasy by those who flock to bars in their later years to be somewhere that’s not the oppressive environment of home or work, the depiction of a kindly ear and effective, tasty remedies for daily woes is a welcome fairy tale.

My inner alcoholic is screaming, “Why didn’t this ever get licensed in North America?!” But with the series being seinen and sappy in 2006, I guess I know why. In time, hopefully Crunchyroll will come to its senses and offer it as a legal stream. Until then, the series is available with fansubs on YouTube. It’s a title that can be picked up at any time, alone or with friends, for a random episode, and I highly recommend doing so.

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Snapshot: Temporal Culture Clash (The Rolling Girls)

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Author’s note: My subconscious had an affair with Kyoto via nostalgia appropriated from Japanese fiction. Take everything hereafter with a huge grain of salt and enjoy the speculation.


Over the course of two episodes, "Give Me the Stars" (Episode 7) and "After the Rain" (Episode 8), The Rolling Girls layers internal character and interpersonal group conflicts and then interweaves them to 1) represent Japan’s identity crisis and 2) offer a bit of optimism by way of anime’s most grandiose culture festival concert set yet.

Not to bring up the most obvious comparison in the whole nomadic-girls-with-motorcycles genre, but The Rolling Girls is at its best when it’s Kino’s Journey. That’s to say episodes focusing on a town’s or resident’s essence/conflict are infinitely more enjoyable than those focusing on any aspect of the outsiders themselves. It’s this insular focus, largely applied in Episodes 8 and 9, that enables the implication of a greater cultural identity crisis narrative as well as the finale’s emotional punch.

To start, the anime take place in a future post-war power vacuum which resulted in Japan splitting up into its original 10 prefectures. Each of these is represented by at least one Best—a vigilante who gains superhuman capabilities by possessing a particular kind of heart-shaped jewel—who helps resolve disputes. Episodes 8 and 9 take place in Kyoto, which was Japan’s capital city until 1869 in real life and considered by many to be the center of Japanese culture and learning. The prefecture gets the title of “The holy land of rock” in The Rolling Girls, however, due to its recent renown as a concert festival destination.

There are two Bests who manage the entire territory together with an acknowledged, unspoken agreement. Mamechiyo is part of “Maikos, We Are,” a group of geishas-in-training that protect the public peace of the general city and surrounding areas. She and her group represent history and culture—the old ways. The Kamogawa Rockers, headed by their captain Misa (a guitar player and vocalist), operate and police the huge concerts held at the old temples. She and her group represent a culture of youth fawning over and adopting foreign culture. (Japan, like the USA, has an extended history of such syncretism.) So immediately there is one group dedicated to protecting tradition and another dedicated to assimilation.

The two captains do not get along even though they once played guitars together with such strength of friendship as to summon a power stone, which they split in two (thus becoming Bests). Misa refuses to speak to Mamechiyo, who is said to have a history of “weird harassment” (stalking), and Mamechiyo is carrying, unbeknownst to Misa, a grudge. The latter is emotional baggage stemming from Misa’s success at a music competition and her subsequent shunning of Chiyo. So here is a personal division paralleling the group division noted above. For a generational twist on the same theme, you could easily apply the mantle of Old Japan to Chiyo’s mother.

On the day of the divisional concert, Chiyo’s mother steps in to ward Misa off of distracting Chiyo from her geisha studies (fan dancing, shamisen playing, etc.). This happens when Chiyo is not around to protest, and Misa backs off entirely (thus her constant snubbing). Old Japan (mom) does not want formative Present Day Japan (Chiyo) to be tainted with pop culture (Misa) … at least not until the old culture is thoroughly embedded (and by then, dominant). But the Bests and their blood relations are not all that’s instrumental to the emotional punch of the finale.

The titular traveling troupe of Best substitutes—none have special powers but are fulfilling requests for their injured Best—comes to Kyoto to save a concert, the “Kiyomizu Temple Rock Explosion” (even the name of the concert is syncretic; the show makes a point of having one of the rolling girls struggle with the pronunciation of the English). The big draw to said concert? The Momiage Hammers, an old and beloved rock band that lost its lead singer over eccentric differences, will be playing together again with local favorite Misa filling is as their lead singer. This is where things start to turn from restrictive to inclusive as old is blended with new in a positive, non-divisive context. After all, the syncretic name of the concert would instantly be divisive to traditionalists.

Misa practices with The Momiage Hammers, and all seems well. Misa turns out to be the life-blood the band needs to reach a younger generation, and practice sessions go great. (A parallel fourth-wall breaking layer in this is that The Rolling Girls voice actresses cover the songs of an ‘80s punk band, The Blue Hearts, exposing younger anime viewers to older punk rock.) But come time for the final concert, Misa’s without her Halved heart stone she uses as a guitar pick and freezes on stage despite an earlier tender scene where one of the Momiage Hammers sympathizes and lends her his pick. As opposed to the older generation trying to push pop culture away, as is the case with Chiyo’s mother and Misa, this sympatheic gesture shows a member of the older generation trying to help someone younger with compassion instead of regulation.

And finally there’s Doji Shuten. He’s under orders to “make things interesting” so Chiyo can have an excuse to come to the aid of her former friend and current co-Best. Shuten is modern Japan and represents the chaos of culture clash; he turns a temple-full of Buddha statues into launch-able missiles (taboo of treading on/messing with holy ground) but is presented as more Puck-ish for doing so, always wears more classic garb, and refuses to let anyone be put in real harms way. On top of his technical prowess, there’s something very anime about him in the final segment, which again points towards pop culture.

All of this, all of these characters and all of these issues, are resolved — via glances, punches, artillery laser light shows, duets, and more — in the final four minutes comprising the big, Misa-led Momiage Hammers set. It’s the younger generation literally blowing tradition out of the sky and showing backbone by bellowing at the iceberg before the boat while barreling ahead full throttle. It’s the older generation recognizing if not respecting that strength of character and fortitude and granting a nod of acceptance. It's this month's (make-up for last month's missing) Snapshot. But, mostly, it’s a party, and EVERYONE is invited.

 

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Snapshot: Synchronicity (Kokoro Connect)

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Match cuts, a clever editing trick taken advantage of by surprisingly few directors (probably due to the difficulty of planning them out and how conspicuous they can be), were a favorite of anime director Satoshi Kon, who would often move between scenes using a single connecting element — be it an image or a sound. These cuts can show up in some pretty unexpected places though. As an example, I give you the first few moments of Kokoro Connect episode 1.

The show opens on a fairly typical modern anime scene: a teenage boy waking up to the voice of his little sister. As he swings his feet out from under the covers, however, we cut to a different room and a different set of feet. Now we're watching a girl waking up. When she turns to talk to her little sister, we move to another house, where a girl walks through a doorway and into the dining room. She sips some tea and places it back on the table. Now the mug belongs to a boy who's eating with his family. When he runs out the door, we move to a girl leaving the house and bickering with her brother. Finally, as she slams the door shut, one of the girls from before slaps one of the boys on the back on their way to school. All five character meet up at the school gate and step through it in unison. Their experiences parallel each other and bring them together for this single moment. It's a subtle touch that establishes the connections between the characters that will drive the body-swapping antics of the series to come.

But what makes Kokoro Connect's opening sequence so smart isn't just the use of match cuts. It's the way it tells a single story by weaving through multiple characters, as if to say that these people aren't just islands of individuality but a unit greater than the sum of its parts. Looked at as a whole, the scene is the story of one teenager waking up and going to school, but each segment of the process — getting out of bed, eating breakfast, leaving the house — is performed by a different character. This lends the whole scene a feeling of inertia and makes it all the more impactful when the five actors finally appear on stage together, ready to start the show.


Kokoro Connect is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Snapshots is a monthly column in which one of our writers reflects upon a particular moment from an anime, manga, or video game. New entries are posted on or around the 15th of each month. To read previous entries, click here.

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The Trap Door: A Man, His Dream, A Girlfriend, Her Revenge

Otaku No Video (1991)

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Ah, what would we do without Gainax? Well, for one, there would be fewer traumatized English fans of the studio *cough, ahem, Evangelion, cough* but we also wouldn’t have the studio's early trademark: an energetic, 100-mph pace of filmmaking. The folks at Gainax were always experimenting with what constituted anime, and one of those experiments was the hybrid anime/live action OVA Otaku No Video. It’s ... different.

Ken Kubo is a successful young man, he’s got a great girl who he loves, he plays tennis, and if he keeps this up he’ll have a good job, money, cars, and a happy home life. One day he comes across an old high school friend, Tanaka, who's now an otaku. No, that’s not fair, I should rephrase: Tanaka is an OTAKU. He’s got a circle of fellow otaku and though initially Kubo resists going back into his teenage pursuits, the lure of that sweet, sweet otaku life eventually seduces him back into the wicked ways of the pop culture hunter. Gone is his lovely girlfriend, Yoshiko, gone is his life of business. Now he dedicates his life to becoming the ultimate otaku, the OTAKING. Soon, he’s opening model shops, creating factories in China, and making lots of money, but he’s only interested in becoming a kind of Akihabara ÜberMensch. Along the way he encounters his old girlfriend, a new rival, and the destruction of his empire. Can he rise one more time to realize his destiny?

It’s best to warn you upfront: if you’re coming to this show with the above as your guide, oh boy do I have a bomb for you. Normally, this is where I tell you the show is terrible or it doesn’t pan out the way it’s set up, but in this case, that’s exactly what happens. Otaku No Video is the granddaddy of all subsequent otaku series: Genshiken, Welcome to the NHK, read Maniac Road, etc. When AnimEigo released this back in the day, people on this side of the world didn’t know what a Japanese otaku did for fun or recreation. This show gave us something of an insight. The characters are somewhat autobiographical, but I'll get to that in the second half of this review. On a more personal note, when we see Kubo and Tanaka become excited about figures or the show that they’re planning, I see myself in their enthusiasm. They like anime for the sake of liking anime. You can argue about their, er, tastes but they're certainly passionate.

The second part of the show is where the real fun is. For no good reason except that Gainax could, the film has “interviews” with otaku types. All of them are typical nerd archetypes, all of them are live action interviews, all of them have their faces covered in mosaic, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, all of them are fake. The masterstroke of the OVA is that the interviewees are all Gainax employees or folks who hung out with the crew from the studio. They're also all are terrible human beings because they are the real-life versions of the shut-ins that we laughed at in the earlier animated segment. Now, when we see a guy who tapes TV programs for other people but can’t see a reason to watch the stuff he tapes (hm, the whole videotape thing is an explanation for younger readers in and of itself), it’s not funny anymore. I think that director Takeshi Mori did this deliberately to show that for all the joking in the animated bits (with references to Gundam, Macross, and Gatchaman), they are actually saying “Yeah, we know this is really a waste of your time, but you just bought this so who’s the bigger fool?” I can’t get across properly how embarrassing and funny it is to watch these segments as they convincingly stumble through their questions. It’s all so charmingly sloppy that it's hard to believe it was done by anyone professional.

The show proper wraps up in a way that only Gainax can pull off. In an emotional moment (well, they are crying), Kubo and Tanaka reunite in a post-apocalyptic Japan where their friends have put together a super robot for them to escape the Earth. Really, I’m not making that one up. In any case, on display throughout is Gainax’s animation style from their early days. By which I mean, they were out to beat everyone else at their game. It’s too niche for me to recommend to everyone but it gets to stretch its legs outside of the Trap Door with manly tears, watching its favourite maid show and wearing its Char uniform with pride.

I have wanted to do Otaku No Video for the last two years but for whatever reason, never got around to it. I hope you go out and find the AnimEigo DVD’s as they have wonderful liner notes to go with their release.


On the 25th of every month in "The Trap Door," Phillip O'Connor tackles one forgotten anime title to find out whether it deserves to be rediscovered by the anime community. Click here to check out previous entries in the column.

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Drunken Otaku: A Taste for It (Kaiji)

One is never enough and always too many

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Because it’s easier and friendlier (and thus less off-putting and more profitable) to depict the cartoonish buffoonery of casual or heavy drinkers, realistic portrayals of what the voluntary ingestion of even a drop of alcohol does to an actual alcoholic are seen with lesser frequency in most mediums. Even rarer are such scenes evoking that inherent torture and inevitable betrayal of resolve via extended metaphor. As a standout example of how this can be done, allow me to introduce you to Kaiji, a character brought low (literally) by his own addictions and likewise consumptive habits in Kaiji – Against All Rules.

Abstaining from drinking, while far from easy, incurs far less mental anguish than attempting to drink in moderation. For true alcoholics, drinking stops when (and only when) the pockets, like the container — bottle, can, flask, jug, etc. — of opportunity, are emptied, or the means with which to procure one more round are no longer available, or the drinker simply passes out. So a single can of beer, like a sip of water to someone dying of thirst, becomes a fresh cell for a predatory disease. After so much deprivation, the allowance of such slight indulgence — a trigger for the memory of taste tied to relief, that blessed numbness brought on by sweet, sweet alcohol — is a nigh irresistible force that coerces and then subverts rationale into a mired meandering in excess.

Kidnapped and placed in an underground hell (a forced labor camp) to work off his ¥10,000,000 debt, Kaiji faces fifteen relentless years of hard labor if he saves every single perica (a fictional currency worth a fraction of a yen). He makes do on the table scraps supplied daily between work and sleep, but the introduction of payday, after having no other choice but to spend an entire month sober and free from temptation, sparks Kaiji’s torment by way of the catering cart (pun intended).

Money not directly deducted from his paycheck, while a truly paltry sum, goes directly into Kaiji’s hands. But by abstaining from indulgence, Kaiji can save up this pittance over the course of a mere five months to procure a one-day outside pass — a worker incentive he intends to abuse in order to gamble his debts away and free himself from this hell. But the foreman, team leader Ootsuki, keeps wheeling that catering cart into the workers’ barracks after each hard day’s thirst-inducing labor.

With purchasing power in hand, the smell of food wafts all the sweeter and the pops of the cans call that much louder. Still, Kaiji abstains until Ootsuki offers a free beer. This taste is the gateway, a classic drug pusher tactic, but one that’s all the more effective on those who’ve already been addicted and managed to quit. Just as soon as that beer is consumed, the smells and sounds around Kaiji combine with a reawakened, vivified lust for a break from an all-too sobering reality. Kaiji’s brain starts rationalizing.

Calculations allow for 40,000 perica for “play money” without pushing back the savings date for the one-day outside pass, so what’s another beer, another package of yakitori, some chips and nuts, as a reward for what he’s survived thus far? It’s a snowball, and anyone who’s tried to drink in moderation after deciding to abstain from it will tell you failure is as inevitable as it is humiliating. This one-time indulgence, which turns convenience store fare into a gourmet banquet, ends up draining Kaiji’s first paycheck by inspiring subsequent binges and threatens to dig into his future pay, still one month away, by way of a proffered personal loan.

Even though this situation directly involves alcohol, the moment is meant more to dramatize the struggle of self-control uniquely brought on by the deprivation of crippling poverty and the suddenly affordable opportunity for escapism. It just so happens that said struggle directly parallels that of a recovering alcoholic reintroduced to alcohol and thus works as extended metaphor. Taking that first drink after being dry (sober) for any length of time might feel like betrayal, but not more so than ordering another. Doing so inevitably brings about an admission, an acknowledgement of the broken bonds of self-restraint. Because as sad as looking down into quicksand is, it’s nothing compared to the despair of being aware of that descent while already thinking how damned good the next can is going to taste.


Kaiji is streaming on Crunchyroll.


On the first Friday of every month (or occasionally on the hazy, hung-over Saturday directly following), Ani-Gamers blogger Ink tackles an anime, manga, or video game through the theme of alcohol in our column "Drunken Otaku." Look out for "Beer Googles" (reviews), "Great Drinkers" (character profiles), "Drinkin' Buddies" (interviews), and "Great Moments in Drinking" (more or less). To read previous entries, click here.

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The Trap Door: It's Not Finished! You Have To Do Better!

Animation Runner Kuromi (2001)

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Since Shirobako is doing the rounds at the moment, I thought, "what better time to remind you about an anime that nobody will watch because it’s too old?" Ah, that’s a bit harsh, but nobody talks about this show anymore. It’s directed by the same guy who did Fruits Basket (have I got ya yet?) and it was released by Central Park Media (have I lost ya yet?). It is the one and only Animation Runner Kuromi.

Mikiko Oguro is starting at the fictional Studio Petit and she's ecstatic, as she’s been in love with the place since they did Luis Monde III (also fictional). Shame that the director, after showing her around, gets sick and leaves her in charge of the production of their latest show, Time Journeys. OK, she’s in up to her neck and really needs to keep it together. Again, shame that the key animation staff are losers, weirdos, showoffs and apathetic whiners. Plus, Kuromi (the nickname given to her by the director) has a deadline of "yesterday" to get the episode finished. Thankfully director Akitaro Daichi throws the whole thing into a blender and pushes the Go button.

Kuromi Image Splash 1

What makes Animation Runner Kuromi is that the cast are so different and wild: Kuromi looks like a normal person, but when she wants something badly enough, she drops the normal conventions and does whatever it takes. Artist and ridiculously attractive bloke Mizuho Tanonaka seems like he’s got it together, but he’s a total time waster. He answers Kuromi with a kind of “Aha-ha-ha! Right you are, old chum!” attitude that rubs animation director Hamako Shihonmatsu the wrong way. I suspect he’ll end up being a director on his own project before he's 60. As for Shihonmatsu, she’s such a weary, cynical person that when Kuromi breezes in, she's like “Really, kid? You’re happy to be here? Whatevah!” Shihonmatsu does really know her stuff but she’s been working in the industry for so long that she can’t remember why she got into the game to begin with. With a cigarette in her mouth and a pen in her hand, she mercilessly skewers anyone who crosses her path. Aoi Fukami is a gentle soul who gets put down by her daily life so much that when Kuromi innocently asks her about her incoming workload, Aoi starts and there’s no stopping her. Mai Horaguchi is a preening madonna who wants to hear only sweet nothings from Kuromi. The less said about mountain sized Seiichiro Haryu the better. With his anime figures, posters, hentai (probably) and wall-to-wall apartment that I wouldn’t want any woman near, he’s as close to living the otaku dream as possible while coming with his own warning label.

Kuromi Image Splash 2

As Kuromi coaxes them out of their shells, these misfits start filtering into the studio rather than working at home. Pretty soon the scale of the problem becomes apparent to even the most flaky of the staff. That’s when the real fun starts as the snowball down a mountain freaks everyone out and Kuromi is racing across open bodies of water to kidnap surfing animators or holding Haryu’s toys and figures hostage until he finishes his work. She panics about failing so badly that even the TV news reporters attack her in her dreams. The animation on display veers from the characters screaming at each other to Kuromi barreling down the highway in a car that loses two wheels but just keeps going. People melt down in every single way imaginable. There’s a gleeful insanity to the proceedings that the creative staff know you’re going to enjoy, so they keep putting up the eyecatches for fictional shows Time Journeys and Luis Monde III to keep you on your toes. In the English dub, every time the announcer intones “Time Journeys!” it gets louder and more excited. That Time Journeys seems to be a more racy ripoff of Tatsunoko Pro’s Time Bokan or that Luis Monde is only two steps away from ripping off Lupin III just makes the joke itself sweeter.

Kuromi Image Splash 3

While Animation Runner Kuromi is a farce in its heart of hearts, we do learn the ins and outs of the anime production industry, and it’s not pretty. Animators work long hours and get very little attention outside of their jobs. They’ve all got their lives but animation is what they love. We learn little bits about Shihonmatsu and how her journey was similar to Kuromi's. Meanwhile, Kuromi infects her and the rest with a breath of air that they didn’t realise they needed. Kuromi herself wants to be involved with the studio that made Luis Monde, so she sticks with this hellish schedule. Eventually, her drive and love for the job gets to the other staff members. All in all, the OVA is a nice little cake to have with your metaphoric tea while you’re waiting for something more serious to come along. The DVD of the first OVA is getting really hard to find online so I’d ask friends or family to grab it for youif they spot it in thrift shops or bargain basement places. The second OVA can be found for cheap right now and it’s more of the same in case you’re curious. The first one is taking a rest from animating after escaping from the Trap Door with no key frames to collect before the deadline. 


On the 25th of every month in "The Trap Door," Phillip O'Connor tackles one forgotten anime title to find out whether it deserves to be rediscovered by the anime community. Click here to check out previous entries in the column.

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Snapshot: Impossible Force (Kite)

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Director’s Cut material aside, Yasuomi Umetsu’s KITE is an action movie through and through (and through). Young assassin, Sawa, carries out various hits interspersed between scenes with plot points advancing her revenge tale. There are gallons of blood, lots of screaming, disembodied body parts galore, excessive explosions, and some pretty swell fight choreography too. But amidst all the adrenaline is one scene with action so impossible that, intentionally or otherwise, it elicits laughs and deserves a standing OVAtion.

To set the scene: a massive explosion, one which punches a hole through the wall high up in a skyscraper, appears to clear all remaining unfriendlies from the cramped bathroom in which Sawa was fighting. As Sawa stares down at the streets below, she’s grabbed from behind by one last standing foe who then forces her off the building. They fall.

The scene:
Sawa latches onto a hefty, protruding sign. It gives way. She and the gunman clinging to her leg fall (again). During their descent, Sawa manages to crouch on top of the man and braces for inevitable impact. The pair hit the top of an enclosed bridge between buildings. They fall through, crushing the roof of a traffic-mired automobile. The force from the fall, along with the weight of Sawa, the gunman, and the upper bridge piece, makes the car fall through the asphalt and bridge base, all of which puts a serious dent in the gridlocked tanker truck directly below and makes Sawa’s momentum crush the gunman’s innards; blood and teeth erupt like a slow volcano. There's a slight pause hosting the ominous sound of cracking asphault. Then the truck starts to sink and falls through the street (and numerous layers of solid Earth) into the subway below. The concerning silence is anticlimactic; Sawa’s shown safely clinging to the side of the hole made by the tanker. Then the sign, a huge arrow pointing straight down, falls through the hole (narrowly missing Sawa) and ignites the tanker below. Sawa’s blown out and up and across the street into a building through a storefront window and onto a show bed.

Wile E. Coyote’s constant canyon falls were amusing because the character was out of sight—a speck of dust riding a slide whistle all the way down. Good ol’ Wile E. was abstracted. The cloud of smoke let viewers know when the fall stopped, and then the coyote reappeared in bandages that disappeared in the next scene. Comedy.

Homer Simpson’s infamous gorge jump in “Bart the Daredevil” is a direct and gruesome Wile E. parody. During his descent, Homer hits every extended crag and branch on his way down and gets bloodier and more tattered the further he falls. It hurts, but the scene’s comedic for using realism as a sort of hyper-aware commentary on the pain at which we laugh so lightly.

Blending aspects of both of the above scenarios, KITE takes an absurdly realistic-looking fall and endows it with a physics-defying momentum that presses the tickle button every time un-believability is compounded. Simultaneously, the progressively bloodying bad guy embeds a bit of realism and empathy. The down arrow sign falling straight through the hole and igniting everything is the punchline, the big cartoon laugh, and Sawa’s flight through the air and bed-cushioned landing are the disappearing bandages.


Kite is currently streaming on Netflix and available for purchase on RightStuf and Amazon.

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Drunken Otaku: Laughing at Innocents (Mai Mai Miracle)

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Breaking the ice is never easy, especially when part of the mob responsible for the oft cruel childhood friendship initiation ritual of teasing tries to suddenly reverse gears with extended hands and kind words. But no matter the age, according to Mai Mai Miracle, nothing’s better for loosening tension and opening hearts than the introduction and subsequent consumption of Good Ol’ Alcohol!

Third-grader Shinko, her little sister Mitsuko, and new friend and classmate Kiiko introducing their livers to the concept of failure, unlike the fun found in Panda-kun’s external corruption, is a humor of pure reflection. Many kids have an early encounter with the then foul-tasting elixir of life which their parents tout as pure ambrosia. And be it by accident, the child’s own curiosity, or parental insistence, the resulting “YUCK” is almost universal. What makes this particular moment in drinking so great is that the kids, forsaking their own taste buds, soldier on and begin acting like drunken adults.

Sweetness dulls the sense of taste, so it’s no wonder these youngsters keep unwrapping bottle after tiny bottle of liquor-filled chocolate. Kiiko heists this gift from her father’s desk but “doesn’t know” there’s alcohol inside. But when the three tasters find out, that fact certainly doesn’t stop them! Even the youngest, Mitsuko, begins to enjoy the flavor, and all three start to enjoy each other’s company.

With their inhibitions unbound, the three very quickly loose their lips and start sharing personal stories that would never be told otherwise, say a secret about one of their mothers lying about being single, and overreacting to everything. (The traumatic description of a fatal case of pneumonia ironically sends the room into hysterics.) And that’s where Shinko’s mother and grandparents find the little drunks: sprawled out on the floor, gasping for breath from alcohol-induced laughter. But the moment doesn’t end there. Oh no.

This is a moment of reflection, so it only stands to reason that, upon seeing their tiny relatives (and their friend) in a state of intoxication, worry ensues. And it does … momentarily. That which was consumed, after all, were but drops of alcohol inside a much larger dose of sugary chocolate. As they stare down in disbelief, perhaps remembering their own first encounter with the sauce, Shinko’s mom and grandfather clink the last two remaining chocolate bottles and toast the hilarity.


Mai Mai Miracle, despite the silliness of this column's particular focus, is spectacular. If you missed out on the Kickstarter, jump on any chance that presents itself to watch this movie (preferably via purchase).

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The Trap Door: Lupin, he's a nice man. But he's cool, you know?

Lupin III: Bye Bye Lady Liberty and The Hemingway Papers (1989/1990)

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Lupin Specials Splash CoverI’m going for a two-fer on this review, as Discotek released these two Lupin the 3rd specials about two months apart this year and that is some kind of record for North American Lupin releases. Both of them are directed by anime legend Osamu Dezaki (Space Adventure Cobra), and both of them stay as close to the original formula as possible. Let’s start with the first one: Bye Bye Lady Liberty.

Lupin has decided to retire after the sophisticated police computers (of INTERPOL!!!) that the forces of law and order use start collating data on him as well as his gang and allies. After trying to steal it from underneath police nemesis Zenigata (of INTERPOL!!!), he gives up his life of crime, and not even his friend Gigen can coax Lupin back. But when Gigen and an old friend’s plan to steal a crystal from the Statue of Liberty goes tragically wrong, the gang are back together to stop the Three Mason group from getting their hands on the crystal and help a lady Goeman is protecting get away from the clutches of the group.

The story takes a while to set up but once it does, it flies along at a breakneck pace. The parts that make up the story (Lupin and Gigen, Michael the young computer whiz, Isabel the beautiful socialite, Fujiko and her scheming) all come together and gel as Dezaki uses his trademark Harmony moments—moments of action or crisis freeze framed, watercolored, and repeated at different anglesto advance the story while keeping a grip on needing to hit certain marks. Jigen and Lupin have to get a chance to climb into a vehicle and destroy stuff, and this they dodestroying a New York warehouse and yard while trying to run over the Three Mason’s minions. Fujiko has to be in on it at some point, and she is by seducing the number two in the organisation while looking for jewels and gold. Of course, with a weird organization like this, we have to have an ancient leader, and Dezaki decides to loot Star Wars and give us Number 1: a Sith Lord, if ever there was one, complete with mind powers and a super computer. I kid you not. If you started watching a crime caper film, would you suspect that at some point the gang would steal the Statue of Liberty? No? Well, it happens, and I couldn’t help but chuckle and say, “Of course, he was going to steal it! I mean, what else would he do?” At the same time, Goeman actually uses his trusty katana Zantetsuken to slice through an Apache helicopter. Now I can say I’ve seen him chop down anything. I don’t mean he clips the copter, I mean he slices it into bits. Just wow is all I’ll say.

Lupin Bye Bye Liberty Splash Images

There are elements of the film that just don’t work. I can’t believe young Michael would just wander around without anyone protecting him. He also carries around the bulkiest computer/McGuffin I’ve ever seen, and it has things like high-speed processors, GPS, push notifications, and vibrate modes long before Steve Jobs cornered the market. If you ask me, he shouldn’t bother looking for a super virus, he should just sell to Apple. Speaking of that Super Virus, it gives rise to one of the weirdest moments of the whole shebang: a character communing with the computer in the Three Mason’s HQ, using said crystal, to upload the virus from their memory. Ooookay. None of this stops you from having a good time, and as Lupin adventures go, it’s a bit easier to take than say Mystery of Mamo. Bye Bye Lady Liberty is the caper genre distilled to its most potent essence.

The Hemingway Papers take an urban legend about the eponymous writer and adds the elements of a whodunnit and a treasure hunt at the same time. Lupin finds out about a treasure that the writer Ernest Hemingway supposedly wrote about on the island of Colcaca (which is supposed to be in the Mediterranean) and decides to check it out. At the same time, Goeman is working for “President” Cansano, a local militant who’s fighting with warlord Carlos, who happens to have his own hired gun, namely Gigen. Into this, Lupin glides. I mean that. He really glides in after flying over the island. I love that, as the pilot starts to leave the island’s airspace, Lupin keeps saying, “I want to get off, please” in a quiet and polite manner. When he gets nowhere, he simply jumps out of the plane without any thought, planning, or even so much as a precautionary glance, he changes his briefcase into a glider and plummets thousands of feet to the ground. Lupin lands with a slight bump but no worse the wear. Damn, even Bond can’t pull off that kind of cool. Once there, he hooks up with Maria, who owns a bar that is located in the middle of the island and inexplicably has enough cashflow to order beer on a regular basis despite not having any customers. She seems to have both Cansano’s and Carlos’ men as her customers, but I doubt it. Also, for a bunch of gun nuts playing at soldier, they are going through cash like crazy. Driving everywhere in jeeps and APC’s (gasoline), ordering in tons of equipment (ordinance and tanks), and hiring numerous mercenaries (Jigen, Goeman, Crazy Mash) has got to add up, and by the time our heroes arrived, they still hadn’t even found the treasure! What, were they independently wealthy or something? An arms dealer with his secretary in tow (it’s Fujiko, naturally) is only going to ratchet up the price, but Dezaki doesn’t bother with these details. but honestly, doing so would only ruin things for me. Also, why has nobody noticed that Zenigata is still locked in the arms dealer’s limo? Zenigata got treated like dirt in Bye Bye Liberty, but here, he really gets it in the face. After waiting for days to be fed, he storms right through a trapdoor dungeon gate, runs a full flight of stairs, and accosts the nearest guard for food. Fujiko spends this one looking after number one and even has time to be jealous of Lupin hanging out with Maria.

Lupin Hemingway Papers Splash Images

Dezaki really was made for these specials, and here he makes Lupin shine like the proverbial hidden diamond. Lupin is a bragard and womanizer and drinks like a fish, but he’s also quick on the draw, has no trouble finding a fight if he wants it, and generally comes through for his gang. Likewise, the gang goes to extraordinary lengths to save him, and even Fujiko is less avaristic than she usually is. In Mystery of Mamo, the gang takes time to get their groove together and fight Mamo while at times looking fractured. Here, the gang might have their own side projects but, first and foremost, they’re in it for the adventure. The money helps, but the adventure is what it’s all about. Brilliant work by Discotek for bringing these out, and top marks for bringing in Reed Nelson of Lupinthe3rd.com and ANN’s Mike Toole (of the Internet) to give commentary tracks for both films. There a bunch of liner notes to explain some of the minutiae of the Lupinverse, and both films make it out of the Trap Door in time for Christmas.

That’s it for another year at the Trap Door! Hope you liked my eventual Lupin content. I might have time before the new year to squeeze one more title in, but that is dependant on my free time (as you can imagine). Coming in January, we’ll be settling into the last five titles or so of the column before our secret Trap Door final project gets unleashed. We’re hoping it will be around April or May but we’re bringing in help (hopefully) on this last one. I’m going to try some more modern titles in the final five and see if whether I can finish it out without inflicting more Odin-style pain on you. But I can’t promise anything ;-)


On the 25th of every month in "The Trap Door," Phillip O'Connor tackles one forgotten anime title to find out whether it deserves to be rediscovered by the anime community. Click here to check out previous entries in the column.

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Snapshot: Humanity in Brief (Parasyte)

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Parasyte revolves around mysterious, well, parasites that fall to Earth one night. As their eggs hatch, the parasites instinctively seek out the nearest compatible bioorganism and take over its brain. Upon successful antibiosis, hosts lose their free will/consciousness. Their flesh sacks, however, gain strength and agility and the ability to morph. The main character, a human named Shinichi, manages to stop his would-be intruder halfway up his right hand. This and similar interruptions to the gestation cycle, which prevent the host's neural network from being hacked, forces the parasites to assimilate whatever body part they entered and live on as part of a symbiotic relationship.

Many will loathe me for making the comparison, much more so for doing so in a favorable light, but Parasyte, much like Alien: Resurrection, contemplates the definition of humanity via attribution. Is what we each consider self our electric thoughts? Is it the blood pump upon which we poetically project our emotional vulnerabilities? Our blood itself? Is it the skin we cannot take off without bleeding and the common shape the bones beneath lend its silhouette? How much of that, exactly, could be cut away or changed while leaving something distinctly and universally identifiable as human? Ironically, Parasyte answers this with a single question posed by a foreign body.

Cut off from its life-sustaining host by a mere symbiote, a fully evolved parasitic amalgam has precious seconds worth of consciousness left. It doesn’t shriek in pain. It doesn’t curse its killer. It asks one simple question: why.

The nature of the question is largely irrelevant. The organism isn’t looking for the meaning of life or trying to ascertain where its consciousness might be headed after the unshakeable blackness takes over. This is about simple cause and effect. Desperate curiosity. With its last bit of bodily sustaining fluids, the organism needs to know. Will the actual answer matter? In the immediate sense: no. What does matter, however, is that some answer is given.

Whether aggressively or passively so, humans are curious and persistent problem solvers by nature. If a question that really matters to its asker is left unanswered, a lack of response is bound to rattle around the brainpan until answered by someone else or some suitable logic is settled upon.

Since the lack of time in this case rules out the possibility of thorough rumination, a decisive answer is needed to prevent regret. With the assailant’s simple, factual explanation (abbreviated in the screencap series to the left to avoid spoilers), the inquisitive organism can die at peace with circumstance. Since this being was at least partly human by way of components, its curiosity begs the question of just how much more the parasite might have leached from its host than it intended. At the very least the scene asks us if the need for answers is a fundamental part of being human.


Parasyte is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


 

Snapshots is a monthly column in which one of our writers reflects upon a particular moment from an anime, manga, or video game. New entries are posted on or around the 15th of each month. To read previous entries, click here.

 

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Drunken Otaku: A Consumption More Important than Murder (Speed Grapher)

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Meet Captain Hibari Ginza of the Tokyo Police Department. She’d make a great drinker if it weren’t for the fact that she’s usually only drunk with the euphoria that comes from the pursuit of fulfilling her detectively duties. Ginza, unfamiliar with not being in control, thus looses what little inhibitions she has and exacerbates her blatant selfishness when she chooses to imbibe. Well, I shouldn’t say “chooses.” After all, drinking is much less a choice than it is a destination when insecurity persistently proposes the possibility of a cheating lover and pictures of his presumed plaything are plastered city-wide. Add to this a crime wave threatening to flood her beat, and this great moment in drinking should be one all too familiar for those feeling overwhelmed by life.

While off screen and off the clock in Lips and Lies, there’s nothing to divert Ginza’s glare from images of her assumed rival in love — a loli held aloft in lingerie — on every product and billboard in town. So Giza, like anyone trying to forget, tries to take refuge by numbing herself with a few rounds. But as we all know, life is not so kind as to allow such a respite. A call about an alley murder interrupts Ginza’s self-pity session, and she races down in hopes of finding something interesting.

What she finds, however, is an irritatingly cheerful rookie who pretty much already has a handle on this random attack. Ooooh, multiple stab wounds, he seems to croon as he tries to engage his callous coworker. Ginza’s rotgut-ravaged mouth hisses her disinterest up his nostrils. After the shit she’s seen go down and heard about — men of rubber, women of diamond, decapitations, gruesome mutilations, underground explosions   —a random killing (even with multiple stab wounds) just seems banal and irksome for so being. With the crime scene pretty much figured out without her, Ginza leaves to do what every drunk, interrupted mid-drunk, does: drink.

While this is obviously not great behavior in any respect, it is a fairly accurate account of the contemptuousness and selfishness inherent in the human mind addicted to the depressant known as alcohol. You wanna feel low and wallow in that sorrow? There’s no better friend than a bottle whose warm embrace lets you sink into the Yangtze. Giza’s consumed by a sense of passion recently awakened by jealousy and exploited by circumstance, so the only thing left is distraction.

But when everything around is a reminder of that which is trying to be forgotten, be it a mundane existence or those pesky human emotions, eliminating some neurons via bittersweet poison is an oft-sought method of self-medication for many. Under its guiding influence, consequences seem less palpable, and all that really matters is the next drink. And as any drinker will tell you, signaling for another round, refilling the glass, or taking another swig from the sweet open lips of the bottle before you is, perhaps, one of the most comforting simplicities of this often wretched world.


Speed Grapher is streaming on FUNimation.com and available via FUNimation's Store, RightStuf, and Amazon.

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The Trap Door: And I Love You So

They Were Eleven (1986)

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They Were Eleven Splash DVD coverThere’s something about the works of the Year 24 artists. Banding together to make stories for themselves after reading other authors' work like Osamu Tezuka, they were one of the first groups of all-female creators in Japan. One of them, Moto Hagio, would carve out a career writing stories that both challenged and refined the ideas of gender and sexual equality. One of the stories she wrote that was adapted into a full theatrical film is an amazing look at paranoia, self-reflection, and one of the most tender love stories it’s been my pleasure to witness in anime. It is the incomparable They Were Eleven.

Set in the future, They Were Eleven is about 10 students of a galactic academy who are taking their final test before graduating the school. This school teaches only the best and brightest, future leaders of men and all that. So the pressure on the students is enormous. Tada, a slightly telepathic human, is part of the group. When they arrive at their assignment, a giant space hulk that has seen better days, they realise there are 11 people in the group. Without any time to process this, they are thrown into their assignment by means of a temporary crisis. Then the academy test is laid bare: they must survive for 53 days. They must all work together to survive and if one of them fails the test, they all fail. They can call for help if they are really stuck but once they call, they also fail the test.

The film itself is a very tense And Then There Were None-style story except here, nobody is dying one after another; they will all die if they don’t learn to work together. We find that the people onboard come from all walks of life. Princes, scientists, thinkers. All of them are a cut above the rest of the galaxy. But while they can figure out how to defuse bombs and reduce the heat build up, they can’t ignore the nagging suspicion that the eleventh person in their group is up to no good. As the film moves from one crisis to another, directors Dezaki and Tsuneo Tominaga deliberately take a higher ground, never showing the eleventh person as malicious or evil. Rather, this might just be a test to see what the students do. We do have a moral center in the form of Tada. A bright lad, his village elder helps him grow as a person and instills in him a sense of moral courage to do no evil intentionally if he can. Tada tries his best to keep his comrades in good spirits and comes between people when tensions run high. He worries that he’s not good enough but his test is whether or not he can do his job and still make the right choices during the test. The character of Frol sparks rankling in the students for her brash manner of speaking and acting around people. The others put that down to where Frol comes from, but I can see that if I were Frol, the fact that I come from somewhere shouldn’t be the deciding factor in whether I’m a good person. By them declaring her to have no graces just by her manner, the students who initially look down on Frol are all the more shamed when she displays the right stuff when the going gets tough.

They Were Eleven splash 1

Frol is the most interesting character in the bunch outside of Tada and I’m also not discounting the amazing stories and development the others go through, because they really do get enough time to express themselves. Some get more than others, but we learn enough about them to see that they are good people, but this test is driving them nuts and making them see shadows that aren’t there. Back to Frol. She's described, designed, and portrayed as a girl because that’s what she thinks she is (from what I can tell she is described as a hermaphrodite but that is the characters description not mine), but here's the kicker: if she passes the test and graduates, she has a chance to undergo gender reassignment and become a man (this is something she wants for reasons that I can’t go into here without spoilers). She doesn't want to be a girl as on her world, women don't have the opportunities that men have. For the others, failing just means repeating the exam. For Frol, failure means being made to be a woman. But meeting Tada changes both of them in interesting ways. She thinks of him as a wimp and when she's a man, she'll be tougher than him. But he takes Frol as she is, doesn't change his mind about her. Even when they discover her reasons for taking the exam, Tada still treats her the same way. There is a moment, not saying where, when the two characters lay their cards on the table, and the result is as tender as it is shocking. The ideas presented in Frol and Tada's relationship say as much about the interchangeability of hetero and homosexual love is as it does about the blurry lines between genders. I guess what I’m getting here is the film gives an amazing account of why who you love is not nearly as important as why you love them. It makes me ache to get my hands on the original manga and see how it was portrayed originally (given that it’s been made into a one-shot TV drama, this film, and a theatrical stage production). What makes Tada and Frol work so well together is that the film’s resolution doesn't hang on them falling into sync with one another, but their own resolution does. 

They Were Eleven splash 2

Some might say that there are too many plot holes and to be fair, there are a fair number of coincidences in where the test is, how the ship goes from one crisis to another and how Tada has an answer for everything. The beauty of the film is that as we go along, not everything is coincidence and not everything was planned that way. Plus, the people who laugh at the film's gaps miss how the film boils itself down to a gut wrenching decision and all the jokes, drama and bits bolted on fly away. This for me, makes They Were Eleven all the better that it had the courage to do this. Setting out into the film, neither the cast nor the audience would have believed the decision they reach. 

They Were Eleven splash 3

The cast do a fantastic job  getting across that these characters are real people. The Japanese cast features some heavy hitters in the form of Norio Wakamoto,Tesshō Genda, and Toshio Furukawa, with Tada and Frol being played by Akira Kamiya and Michiko Kawai. Kamiya and Kawai work so well together that I was afraid to listen to the English dub. But this is a CPM dub handled by Animaze (it no longer exists at the time of this review) so Curtis Jones is Tada in English and none other but Wendee Lee is Frol. Jones plays Tada with some reserve and a tiny bit of shyness at the beginning, growing into the character as he goes. Wendee Lee plays Frol with a US Southern accent and is all bluster and mouth giving way to a small amount of insecurity as the film progresses. When she breaks down, my heart kind of breaks every time. For my money, they pull off the roles perfectly. Bringing up the rear, vets like Steve Blum, David Hayter, and Dorothy Elias-Fahn fill out the rest of the students.

They Were Eleven is the type of film that rarely, if ever, gets made. Told from a completely innocent point of view, the film shows the reality of suspicion, the loneliness of fear and the liberating power of true, honest and healthy love. Not just between two people but between all peoples and all walks of life. Wrapped up in the shawl of a sci-fi, it has the elements that make up a wonderfully powerful drama. At only 90 minutes, it’s over too soon but lingers long in the memory. It arrives back from testing and passes with flying colours from the Trap Door.


On the 25th of every month in "The Trap Door," Phillip O'Connor tackles one forgotten anime title to find out whether it deserves to be rediscovered by the anime community. Click here to check out previous entries in the column.

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Snapshot: Rich with Color, Deep in Shadow (Your Lie in April)

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The world of Your Lie in April promises one simple but very effective premise—a balance of color and lack thereof as measurement of an individual’s passion. According to the series, the surrounding world blossoms with color when viewed through the eyes of someone in love. Without that spark of infatuation—betrayed by a particular twinkle in the beholder’s eyes reflective of enchantment with something or someone—every garden, every mosaic, every sunset is but different depths of black and white. While the show doesn’t exploit this notion nearly enough, there are a series of images in Episode One worthy of pause and awe for their contrast and all that conveys.

Kousei Arima, trained from a very early age by his mother to be a classical pianist, is currently a fourteen-year-old in middle school. His father is currently away on business, and since Kousei’s mother passed away three years ago, the only accompaniment he has in the house is a piano that refuses to speak to him any longer. It’s a grand, dark thing that’s covered in dusty books in the same dim room which holds Saki’s memorial shrine. When Kousei comes home from school, he enters this not monotone but very cold, color temperature-muted room and says “I’m home.” By the way the shots are juxtaposed and the camera is positioned, it’s as if Kousei is addressing the piano.

Kousei hates the piano. He lost his ability to play at eleven years old, after his mother passed, and hasn’t played a piece since (save for checking the sound of select bits and bobs of pop song transcriptions he does for work). Mired in regret for not being able to fulfill his mother’s desire for him to reach the prominence of the European stage as her successor, Kousei clings to that grief as if it’s the only palpable essence his mother left behind. To him, life is a monotone existence. The physical scars from his mother's beatings might have healed, but her verbal abuse fills Kousei’s empty shell with an ugly, perpetually echoing resonance.

How ugly? First let’s consult the nature of the images the series uses to portray Kousei’s training as a young boy with mother. Saki keeps time with brusque shakes of her cane from her wheelchair. Kousei plays mechanically, his face hidden, at the piano bench with a booster box underneath the pedals so his feet can reach. A wide shot reveals Saki sitting behind Kousei in a position reminiscent of a carriage driver behind a horse. A pale, beaten child, colored but by cuts red with hurt and eyes blue with tears, forces a smile while looking up and clenching a leg of his shorts with his right fist as he promises to make his mother’s dream come true. An overbearing, larger-than-life upwards pan reveals Saki's legs, rigid in the wheelchair, and her cane thrust maliciously forward. And then there’s this.

Contrary to everything in the episode thus far, even the muted shrine/piano room, those few images just described are purely portrayed in monotone and shadow. Why? Because this world Kousei recollects, this time ingrained within his memory, is colorless … loveless. But at the same time, it’s all that Kousei seems to have known of his mother, so her wish and the steps she took to make them come true are all he has to cling to. This is why the ending shot of the “empty” wheelchair is so important. Did you notice? Isn’t that shadow a bit more than it should be? And doesn’t Saki’s ghastly shadow, coupled with the wheelchair's, resemble, if even only faintly … suggestively, a piano?


Your Lie in April is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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