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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Drunken Otaku: Takumi of Hida (Folktales from Japan)

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Name: Takumi of Hida
Series: Folktales from Japan
Episode: 129 (The Box that Doesn’t Open)
Usual: Sake
Favorite Dive: His work tent
Type of Drunk: The Prestidigitator, The Vagrant, The Idiot Savant

A small, shrine-less village in-between two mountains wants to build a shrine, but no-one who lives there is capable of doing so. Rumors of a master craftsman, one who builds houses that never fall over no matter the storm’s strength, circulate among the proffered suggestions as to whom the village should contract. Thus the village headmaster leaves to retain the services of this famous architect, this Takumi of Hida. The villagers’ collective faith waivers, however, when the headmaster brings back a staggering, flush-faced, dancing drunkard.

Swearing off any offer for outside help and secluding himself beneath a gigantic work tent, Takumi gets to work after a brief rest from his journey and welcome feast prepared by the villagers. He starts by whittling dozens of little dolls from wood, who then end up doing all the shrine building for him as he snores through a series of sake-induced sleeps that last all atrocious Asuka- or heinous Heian-era workday long. The shrine gets completed in no time at all, the villagers celebrate, and Takumi of Hida wonders off — either back home or to the next village that will keep the sake flowing.

To those without any skill regarding architecture or woodworking, any inkling of competency can appear divine. So Takumi of Hida hides behind a tent whilst dolls imbued with the essence of the god in the wood from which they were carved do all the work, his efforts thus serving as a rabbit pulled by its ears out of an empty top hat, an eternal chain of handkerchiefs drawn from a 35 inch sleeve, a … you get the idea. The end effect is real, but the in-between is unseen. Therefore the shrine’s construction and strength are revered not just because of their timelessness but for the mystery inherent in the process behind its actualization. After all, Takumi of Hida is but a man for all his notoriety. How should he be capable of such marvels?

To comprehend “Takumi of Hida,” it must be first understood that the drunkard portrayed in this episode is a personification of a group of master woodworkers/builders/carpenters. The Hida region of Gifu Prefecture was originally a region poor in most resources but abundant with trees, its citizens—woodworkers, carpenters, and builders by trade—were regularly sent into the capital to offer their services. The skill for which they became known earned the laborers the collective title as “Hida no Takumi”1 or Hida’s Master Builders2. Due to demand, Hida’s talented masters were constantly on the move. Thus the rendering of one of the Hida no Takumi as a lush makes Takumi of Hida’s wanderings pure vagrancy.

Supposing God made man in his own image, let us consider this great drinker, Takumi of Hida, a reflection of said God. In so doing, we acknowledge that the entity known as God did not create the universe alone or firstly. Instead, this wanderer first molded helpers to manifest abstracts concocted from seeming omniscience. In this, God is both prestidigitator and savant to those created and, honestly, a little more realistic (read: human) for this delegation of effort and skill. So what’s wrong with knocking back a few and falling asleep with your head on a sake jug and a saucer at your feet, while trusted employees manipulated by divine essence carry out your bidding? As long as the shrine stands, nothing … nothing at all. Kanpai!


Folktales from Japan is currently 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: I Put Coins In and Stupid Fell Out

Sword For Truth (1990)

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Sword For Truth DVD CoverYou invest yourself in a lot of media based on what you read or see beforehand. "Oh, this film will be great because my favorite actor is in it." "This game will be amazing because this studio made it." Now, if you’ve ever liked Johnny Depp, you know Dark Shadows isn’t his greatest film. Likewise, you're well aware that 343 Industries is responsible for Halo Wars. So your wishes for a film/book/game/TV show don’t amount to a hill of beans in this world. So it is with me and Sword For Truth, a samurai adventure in which nobody acts like a samurai except the ones who end up dead and there really isn’t much adventure. I need a drink.

It is the era of the Tokugawa shogunate in Japan. People vie for power and influence amid armies killing each other in the name of their lords. Too bad that, in this world, we’re stuck with the crappiest fight for a virgin princess and a sacred sword. I don’t know where to begin, so let’s just start at the beginning and go from there. Shuranosuke Sakaki is a wandering samurai who kills for money and not much else. Just as a giant white tiger attacks the Nakura clan and their princess comes under separate attack, Sakaki happens to wander by and takes it upon himself to kill the tiger. In the confusion, however, Princess Mayu disappears. So the Nakura clan hires Sakaki to get her back. After having sex with a random stranger who tried to rob him, Sakaki heads off and starts slaughtering the Seki Ninja who took Princess Mayu. Of course, finding her doesn't stop Sakaki. He continues slaughtering Seki Ninja after he gets the princess back. If it sounds like I’m shortening the hell out of the movie, that’s because I am.

Sword For Truth 1

This film is the pits. I thought The Humanoid was bad. I thought Garaga was boring. I slept through Zeorymer. Sword For Truth features action that amounts to five frame panels and speed lines. I am not joking. The animation (and I’m insulting the medium by calling it that) for the Nakura clan charging at their enemies … is the same pan and speed lines. I couldn’t believe that someone had OK’d this as proper. It’s like they saw Fist of the North Star and said, “Yeah, we can do that, but we’ll use samurai!” When characters die, the animation shows them being cut in half … a whole lot. Plus entrails. Got to have entrails. The bloody tiger jumps in size from the length of a pagoda roof to the size of a large tank to normal—all in the same scene. All the character models are wild and varied, but, hey … wait a minute, every ninja and samurai has the same eyes. I’m not kidding you; they just copied and pasted the eyes. The only difference is when they get killed. THEN we see detail. When guns fire at the tiger, it’s a still drawing of a gun firing with the SFX of said weapon repeated over and over again. There is no known way for me to adequately prepare you for how crap everything looks. Think of all the amazing, dynamic scenes from Ninja Scroll. Now think of the scenes in Ninja Scroll where people were just walking. That’s what Sword looks like.  Sakaki goes through his trials at night. (What is with crappy anime and setting it at night!?) This means that while it might sound amazing that he kills people after we get to see him hate-screw the pickpocket (she tries to kill him mid intercourse, but he just loves her up until she cracks), it’s the murky, shadowy world of … oh god, I can’t keep talking about the animation. I might come back to it. Let’s move on.

Sword For Truth 2

The characters do things that make no sense. After finding out that he is a complete badass-supercop-samurai, the idea that Sakaki would wander into the attack on the Nakura compound by accident is bullshit. Yet every time he’s attacked or looks like he’ll be attacked, Sakaki’s always one step ahead of the game. So why does he take the job to begin with? He seems to know that he’ll be killed when he brings the Princess back, so why not let the clan get wiped out? Regarding the Nakura clan's chief retainer who hires Sakaki: if he couldn’t kill the tiger that wiped out his clan but Sakaki could, what makes the lieutenant think he’ll be able to kill Sakaki upon his return? Ugh. Princess Mayu. Ok, she's an interesting one. With our narrator gravely intoning, we watch as Mayu is pumped with opium and then loved up by a female Seki Ninja. They have sex until her mind breaks. (Really, Japan, you have to stop with this notion.) After this, Mayu agrees to help them get the Ginryu sword that belongs to the Nakura clan. Then, when she is being handed over to Sakaki in exchange for the sword, she doesn’t try to betray him at all. So what was the point of the lesbian mind break scene? Oh, I give up. Again, we go back to the chief retainer of the Nakura clan. He wants to protect the princess with his very life, but his retainers keep stopping him. Shame, because if he had thrown his life away, his men would run away and not stayed around to get ordered into battle against a furry killing machine. Okay. Oren, the pickpocket who tries to rob Sakaki and who loses her clothes in the process, is written as a quick bang and then never comes back. Sorry for being crude, but there you are. She tries to kill him because any man who would sleep with her must be cold hearted and therefore must die. What? She isn’t seen after this but, wow, what character development. There's also Dogen, leader of the Seki Ninja. He's a big man with a talent for survival who gets stabbed in the neck and a lot of other places. He likes to talk, which isn’t really a good trait for a ninja master (but there you go). There's also a government official and a professional assassin disguised as a messenger called Marouji. They engage in playful banter, until the official notices who "Marouji" really is. When they fight, the official is killed. I swear that this exchange is more skilled and even-tempered than any other scene in the film. It also has no bearing at all on the film’s “plot.” What the hell?!?

Sword For Truth 3

The film plays out like a undercooked trial by fire for Sakaki, who fights ninja, trained killers, the Creature From The Black Lagoon (not joking), a dead Seki female ninja, and then the whole of the Nakura clan. He never breaks a sweat, never looks worried, and gives some pithy remarks on the nature of existence and how much of a bastard he is. I knew he would survive the film after seeing him for two seconds. This wasn’t an exciting story, this was an excuse to sink someone’s tax write-off into an anime project. As I watched it, the other members of my audience stared on in silence. They kept waiting for something to happen other than what they saw and had a permanent scowl on their face. I suspect I might have had one too, but I know I have one on my face right now. Nothing in the plot looked even remotely exciting. I knew the princess would try and fall in love with our amazing swordfighter, the Seki Ninja were going to be mustache twirling monologuers, and Sakaki would eventually just walk off into the distance. I wish I had beaten him to it and run for the hills.

Sword For Truth 4

I swear to Jesus and all that's holy, the animation in this defies explanation. Men are shown running somewhere and speed in indicated by a triple dissolve zoom out. Want proof? The second image in the second lot of images in the review is the proof. When people talks, their lips move but nothing else does. Well, maybe an eyebrow. When people get stabbed, blood sprays out in areas that weren't even stabbed at! The blood seems to pass behind Sakaki and in front of him while this goes on. Look above at the third last image for the evidence. The only way this kind of painful animation could be improved is if they turned it into something like Inferno Cop, which, I hasten to add, is a better use of your time. There it's done for laughs. Here in Sword, it's just a joke. People change size all the time except the lead character. So Dogen looks seven feet tall in one shot, and in another, he looks thirteen or fourteen feet tall. Don't get me started again on that human munching moggie. Let's just call it Battle Cat and be done with it.

Sword For Truth 5 

I don’t have the Japanese dub on the disc I own, but the English dub is pure pain. Nobody, especially the actress playing Oren, can say Sakaki’s name properly. They keep saying Sa-khaki … as in the color. Princess Mayu is called May-Yu instead of Mai-yu or Mi-yu. Every actor sounds … like … they … ARE … reading … their … LINES … like … William … Shat-NER! and nobody tries to sound in the least bit excited. Again, the most stunning moment comes between the official and Marouji as everything slows to a crawl and offers up some amazing dialog … which doesn’t even impact the main story. I am informed that this was supposed to be a TV series and that Sword For Truth is the pilot. If that’s the case, with all the gore, decapitations, soft core sex and lesbianism, violence, and nudity, I want to see the channel that was going to pick this up. From its terrifying animation techniques to its crappy lines and its pointless ending, Sword For Truth is not getting out of the Trap Door at all and will now be killed with fire. Don’t watch this unless you genuinely hate yourself.

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Snapshot: E-Sports Bar (Nidhogg)

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I’ve never been one for so-called “e-sports,” the treatment of competitive video games like League of Legends and DOTA as a new class of sport, worthy of being placed alongside baseball, soccer, and the like. I think the whole concept is a little silly, especially since most of the game rules are far too labyrinthine to be accessible for anyone who doesn’t already play the game obsessively. Until very recently, I also couldn’t really wrap my head around the idea of watching a video game the way my dad watches baseball. It just didn’t make sense.

And yet I found myself at SF Game Night, a massive video gaming get-together organized by a San Francisco bar called the Folsom Street Foundry. With competitive DOTA and Super Smash Bros. matches playing out on giant projector screens, this was the closest thing I’d ever seen to an “e-sports bar.” It wasn’t all just passive, though — dozens of consoles and computers lined the walls, drawing crowds to play obscure SNES games and indie favorites like Towerfall Ascension. On the recommendation of Ani-Gamers’ David Estrella, I tried out Nidhogg (available on Steam or the official website), which had an enviable spot on one of the large projectors on the wall.

The game is simple: two side-scrolling fencers attempt to run toward their respective, opposing goal posts, and when one kills the other, they respawn after a short time, giving the killer a chance to gain ground. There are lots of little mechanics, like the ability to throw your sword and pick up dropped ones, but at it’s most basic level the game plays out like a demented, pixelated little game of football. After I gave it a try, I reluctantly relinquished the controller to my friend, who sat down for her first game. After she figured out the controls, she and her opponent started trading blows and moving back and forth across the field. But unlike most games of Nidhogg, this one just kept going. Every time it seemed like the yellow player would pull ahead, the orange one would ambush them and take control of the game. I and a few others started cheering my friend or her opponent on.

Before long, we had amassed a crowd of onlookers, all engrossed by this seemingly endless game of Nidhogg. People were picking sides and cheering at the top of their lungs when their chosen player scored a hit. When they would get taken down, you’d hear a dozen or so people groan in disappointment. Strangely, I found myself cheering along, screaming at my friend to come back from a shocking takedown. In a brief moment of clarity it hit me — here I was, in a bar, yelling at a TV in hopes that the yellow team would win the game. For all my disdain of e-sports, I was in the midst of something that could only be called a sport. Suddenly it wasn’t so hard to understand how a fan watching a video game could be screaming “hit him, hit him!” with the same fervor as a non-gamer might scream “get the ball!” I don’t remember who won the game, but the memory of cheering alongside an excited crowd, caught up in the energy of watching a virtual, pixel-art sport, sticks with me.

I maintain my stance on the sports-ification of MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arenas) like League of Legends and DOTA, but simple games like Nidhogg allow anybody to walk in and understand the basic mechanics, pick a side, and start the important part of sports fandom: enthusiastically shouting at players in the hopes that somehow it helps them win.


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 - Hakutaku (Hozuki no Reitetsu)

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Name: Hakutaku
Series: Hozuki no Reitetsu
Episode: 9
Usual: The kitchen sink
Favorite Dive: Mortal Hell
Type of Drunk: The Party Animal, The Excesser, The Soldier

All good great drinkers go to heaven, whether it’s by merit or liver failure or by merit of liver failure. And to prove drinking itself is not a sin, I'll cite Hakutaku: a holistic healer and herbal pharmacist currently livin' it up in Togenkyo at the Sentou Farm in the heaven created by Hozuki no Reitetsu. Far from a lightweight, though far less than a heavyweight, he's a seasoned contender with his heart liver in the right place.

How fitting that a sultry sax backing the interplay of an intimate celestial lightshow featuring the indulgent sounds of an amorous rendezvous serves as Hakutaku’s introduction. This party animal, literally a fantastic beast of Chinese (and Japanese) legend, is heard head-over-heels in debauchery at the very beginning of “The Ultimate Example of Ruin Through Wine and Women.” There’s talk of drink, flirtatious tones, begging for more drink, coy giggling, and declarations of intent to drink more! But for wild nights, there are even more wild consequences.

Hakutaku has a habit, during his drinking binges, of mixing all kinds of alcohol with Chinese rice wine. This kitchen sink aapproach to consumption is never without night-of and morning-after consequences. Luckily the more immediate ramifications from intoxication are enjoyed and, depending on personal tolerance levels, ultimately forgotten—the fleeting courtship with vise-induced frivolity called partying. The morning after, however…

Bowing to the porcelain god is common practice for those committed to the customs of the cocktail clergy. Penance is offered by bowl and oath, both usually in repetition. It’s via such repentance that morning’s vale becomes a bit thinner and hints of the previous night’s transgressions become visible—like, in Hakutaku’s case, inadvertently hiring the infamous Daiji as his courtesan. While there’s no quick cure for her bill, there’s at least a well-known cure for the more physical ailments of his hangover.

I’m not talkin’ about Hakutaku’s preferred order of orento, I’m talkin’ hair of the dog. If it’s one thing great drinkers know how to do despite circumstance, it’s how to soldier on. So when Hakutaku gets teased about being a lesser drinker than his sworn rival, Hozuki, Hakutaku swears to go to mortal hell for bottle or few of cure (despite Toro Wine Falls, a literal waterfall of top-quality sake, being around the corner from his house). Thus Hakutaku keeps drinking and never learns his lesson.  Hey, wait. What do I mean by lesson?! This is sacred ritual. The drinker’s duty! A soldier’s pride. The drunken otaku salute you, Hakutaku! After all, “A good liver is hardly worth bragging about.”


Hozuki no Reitetsu is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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The Trap Door: Shinji Ikari, why hast thou forsaken us!!!?

Zeoraima: Project Hades (1986)

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Zeorymer Splash pageGood God, why do I do this to myself? Some anime I watch leaves me wishing I'd never bothered. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that not much actually happens. When it’s a drama or a thriller, you tend not to notice. But when it’s a mecha show, the fact that the show can have a giant robot hitting something and still be boring seems hard to believe. But that’s what AIC achieved with a flawed adaption of what was already a weird manga. Meet Hades Project: Zeorymer or Zeoraima: Project Hades in the West. Manga Ent. is lying to you when they say it’s like Evangelion. You, Zeorymer, are no Evangelion, and you, Masato Akitsu, are no Shinji Ikari.

In future Japan, the national budget allows for hi-tech underground bases the size of aircraft carriers near Mount Fuji, kids can be locked up in jail Gitmo-style, and habeas corpus is gone, baby, gone. Masato Akitsu has just been arrested by the Japanese government. Not the police. Not the army. The Japanese government. But don’t worry, there’s a cute girl called Miku on hand to smile and say something before Masato passes out. Anyway, there’s this organization that wants to bring the underworld to life. They’re called the Hau Dragon, and they’ve made an evil version of Microsoft (called ICC here) as a shell corporation so they can control everyone’s computer and then rule the world. Then why I wonder, do they blow up the ICC headquarters in the first five minutes? Oh well. Long story short, the only way for the Hau Dragon to rule the universe from beyond the grave is to have the strongest warriors pilot massive mecha robots and enslave the world … maybe? In order for them to do this, they need a man called Masaki Kihara, who designed the robots, and the pilots. But he destroys the robots and flees with an embryo to the Japanese government, giving them the Zeorymer. After 15 years, the Hau Dragon are ready to move, but so is the government.

Zeorymer Splash Image 1

If I made the last few sentences seem exciting, don’t get your hopes up. This show is not. Soon after being arrested, Masato is given a chance to escape only to find his way into the secret base … which they could have driven him to anyway. Apparently, his minder, Mr. Oki, wanted to see if he had the Right Stuff or something. Because being able to escape from a bunch of guards in a van who know you’re going to try to escape is truly a benchmark to piloting a mecha. Oh, who am I kidding? The only benchmark to pilot a Gundam is to have a penis and to have had your family murdered in front of you. So Masato has his family taken away from him (or bought off) and has to pilot this robot. Turns out he also needs Miku to co-pilot with him, and she has to be naked while merged with Zeorymer to fight as one cohesive—oh my God, are you fecking kidding me!?! It’s bad enough that Masato has a winge and then climbs into the machine, but after showing how kick ass she is, Miku is reduced to being naked while tortured, and subsequently meek and mild when around abusive men. It’s like they make her out to be this amazing girl who can handle herself but who then gets scared and decides she needs to be loved up by Masato while he turns psychotic.

You see, soon after he climbs into the cockpit, the ghost (downloaded or otherwise) of Masaki starts controlling him and he begins to kill his own creations, the cloned warriors or Hakkeshu, as they challenge him in combat with their own robotic fighting units. At some point, Masaki takes complete control over Masato’s body, and Oki and Miku realise that he’s stalling for time—hoping the Hau Dragon will wipe out the world's population so that he can rule the world. We know this because Masaki starts acting liking emo Peter Parker from Spiderman III. OK, maybe not dancing or anything, but, Jesus, if you could clone a smirk, he’d be it. He threatens Oki, who suddenly turns into a mere paper pusher and not the no-nonsense military genius he’s been for the past twenty minutes. Also, Masaki keeps trying to rape Miku as soon as they’re alone together. Here’s another revelation: Miku is a robot herself, designed by Masaki to control the Zeorymer (as Masaki can’t control it all himself). So after he made her into a young girl robot, she was aged (can a robot age?) by the government into a nubile teenaged robot for some reason that’s never explained. Thank goodness she’s been aged up, because Masaki mauling her breasts and trying to kiss her would be SUPER AWKWARD if she was still a child.

Zeorymer Splash Image 2

At this point, I didn't even notice the amount of pilots on the bad guys' side dying because, if I’m being honest, I wanted all of them to die. The world goes to hell once Yuratei, the leader of the Hau Dragon, approves a scorched earth policy among her health care reforms and some badly needed educational programs. At the same time, Oki goes on bended knees and asks Masaki to fight the forces of evil. He says no but then has a massive headache. (God, can’t someone get this guy an aspirin?) Suddenly, Masaki’s back being Masato again and climbs into Zeorymer one last time, but not before having a tender moment with Miku as they ascend to confront Yuratei in her flying super fortress that she nicked from the Zetradi. There, Zeorymer destroys all the defenses of the fortress, and Yuratei stands waiting for the end. There’s a blinding white flash, a quick pan out from a fireball somewhere on Earth, and then…

Nothing. Cut to credits.

Ya know, if I hadn’t seen things like Mad Bull 34, The Humanoid and Garaga, I would be really, rreeallllly pissed right about now. But as it is, it’s a relief to be finished with this exercise. Almost merciful, I must say. For whatever reason, they didn’t bother to film an aftermath in a decade when OVAs fell over themselves to have aftermaths in their works. If it’s possible, this heap of rubbish has an equally bad manga version, which has far more nudity (!?!) and violence in it but a completely different storyline. It involves a Dimensional Joint or some such horsepoop but has a Masaki, Miku, and Zeorymer, which is all that's needed for an award-winning OVA series … right? As well as that, we get some well-earned sex scenes involving Yuratei and her favourite warrior, Taiha, who cannot speak of their love openly because she’s in charge, blah, blah, blah. Also, before you think me crass in stating that people gyrating over each other’s bodies is a point of excitement, let me share two facts with you. One, this is directed by Toshihiro Hirano, who’s done some ribald anime over the years (some of which we’ve covered before). In other words, he knows what he’s doing as a director … most of the time. Second, in a show with robots, sexy girls, planetary destruction, and more, the sex (and pillow talk) is the feckin’ high point of the show. Other shows can be a little stale in their setup but this is just plain boring and stupid. Who put their name to this rubbish or signed off on it? I mean who would…

Guyver info

Are you kidding me?!! The same bloke who wrote Guyver came up with this muck? Guyver isn’t Ibsen but, merciful hour, it isn’t this bad. There’s more dialogue in the original Guyver animation’s opening episode than in the entirety of this psycho-sexual robotic travelogue.  

Zeorymer Splash Image 3

The lead character spends the first five minutes screaming to be let out from prison, gets out, pilots a robot, gets taken over, swigs booze, molests an android girl, realises he shouldn’t help the Emperor hunt down the Jedi, makes up with his artificial girl, and saves the world by blowing himself up. The animation is quick and to the point but the whole thing takes place at night except for the last five minutes. (Hmm, there might be more to that.) None of the cast deserve life, except for maybe Oki and Miku, and she throws hers away at the end. The people below the action get wiped out, but I don’t care. Stuff gets blown up, but it’s more like trying to keep a drunk man’s attention half the time. This thing should be shown in the anime room of a con if only to provide cheap laughs to the doomed souls who happen to wander in. The dub is atrocious and should be considered a minor improvement on the whole. I really can’t believe I’m actually writing this review stating these things. It’s like I’m not here but observing. I first saw Zeorymer over ten years ago, back when Manga UK was still trying to push its bad catalog choices on us and before they saw sense and went with more modern choices. Not to say Naruto is much of an improvement, but, hey, at least it’s a living. The packaging even tries to make some slender link between this and Evangelion. Don’t. Stop. Don’t even go there. Nothing happens in this show that's even remotely like Eva. Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Zeorymer Splash Image 4

Don’t watch this. Please. I know I review this stuff so you don’t have to, and yes, I know I sometimes review stuff with a wink, wink, nudge, nudge attitude to some bad titles, but this one is terrible. No reward is worth watching this tripe. If you see in it in a bargin bin, pick the porn DVD or the instructional video about fixing T-joint water pipes instead. Even if you’re not into either subject, you’ll be better served and entertained. This is being held forever more in the Trap Door, staked down for the crows.

Next month, I try to counteract the bad by watching something equally bad. Lupin stuff should be here in time for the winter break. I know I said it would be summer but circumstances changed. Take it easy, my audience.


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: Portrait of Young Woman in Front of Mirror - or - Narcissism at Its Finest (Working!!)

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Although Wagnaria!! (Working!!) depends upon situational humor bolstered by writing that relies (in part) upon repetition of such shallowness as tropes and the interaction of caricatures for quick punchlines, the series is also aware of that fact and occasionally uses its self-actualized state to goad audience appreciation. Case in point: the first minute and seven seconds of the last episode in Season 1—more specifically the latter 37 seconds as compared to the first 30 seconds (which represent the animation of the series as a whole)—wherein a young man casually leaves his house and a young woman prepares for his arrival and their subsequent departure together.

After watching 12 episodes worth of standard animation, viewers think nothing of watching the succeeding 30 seconds of the next episode under the same conditions … until a camera hold and noticeably increased fluid motion buck complacency by reflecting just how manic and under-animated the series has been thus far by comparison. Defying the expected, the next 37 seconds not only stop pandering to the omniscient viewership norm (constant cuts focusing on whoever’s speaking) but also hone focus and seemingly slow time by increasing the level of detail given to Inami’s movements. The resulting fixed point of view and portrayal of smoother motion makes the scene stand out. But why here? Why now?

(Click on the above picture and watch until time stamp 01:07)

Well, this scene is the precursor to the season’s climax. Inami is about to go on what she perceives as her first date with Takanashi, the young man for whom she’s fallen and who is also her coworker and the one tasked with attempting to cure her downright dangerous androphobia (abnormal fear of men). While taught by her father to distrust men (with extreme prejudice), Inami has, for the first time in her life, become enamored of a male, and his importance to her is 3-fold: coworker, therapist, and love interest. So it’s easy to see why she’s stressed about the date. The preceding episode took care of all the cliché overexcited indecision regarding preparation and sleeplessness. What this particular moment in Episode 13 highlights, what this particular Snapshot focuses on, is the dedication to the ritual of mental preparation via physical assessment.

Who, whether male or female (regardless of which you identify with), hasn’t spent a few extra minutes in front of a mirror before a first date. The feeling of anxiety is nigh inescapable, and the only solace to be had before the doorbell ring is the confirmation via reflection that the image seen in the mirror is at least somewhat in line with one’s own self-image. The focus on self is acute. This is why Working!! effectively slows time by closely animating Inami’s subtle motions, which are, themselves, slowed down to a level uncharacteristic of any other animation within the series. This increased attention towards the constant movement of her entire physical self (as opposed to just an arm or a leg) as her body shifts to and fro in the mirror portrays Inami observing herself, judging herself, with a particular degree of self-awareness. She’s hyping herself up, and the close attention, the smoothness dedicated solely here to her swaying and primping, betrays that otherwise unspoken fact. These motions would mean nothing, after all, if only given the illusion of movement. The implementation of detail here adds time, in a sense, by taking the time to get everything just right.

Similarly, this is why the scene employs a fixed camera. To Inami, there is no-one else in the world right now. Only her image matters, because it must represent who she truly is as to ensure her date sees the same: her true self (no matter how untrue that sentiment actually is in real life). Even though her mother calls Inami out of her room for a brief moment, there isn’t any cut. Inami is, in her head, focused on primping; she’s still in front of that mirror, in front of the camera, no matter where she is. Thus when she steps away from the mirror, the camera stays there. Viewers stay in her mind, which is not on her mother’s advice but on the time she should be spending getting everything just perfect for the date. The level of concentration on her own absence from the mirror is illustrated in the thrice internally blown curtain, which is subject to the same detailed animation as Inami herself, in what was previously but a static background. The blowing curtain makes Inami’s absence all the more ostensible by implicating that vacuum of presence. When she returns, the curtain settles. What’s more, Inami closes that window before she leaves and takes the camera, her presence, with her as the scene ends with her exit. She’s now focused on what’s ahead, not what’s within.


Wagnaria!! is streaming on Cruchyroll and available via RightStuf and Amazon.

My thanks to Evan Minto for correcting me on the the specifics behind the effects I observed regarding the animation in this scene. What I originally thought was due to increased frame rate was actually just the depiction of slower movement and more intricate animation.

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Drunken Otaku: Tanto Cuore – Oktoberfest

Ach du lieber! (TAKE MY MONEY edition)

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Tanto Cuore, for those who (like me) don't know, is a deck-building (card) game for 2–4 players. What I surmise from the promo video is that the game revolves around purchasing various females to serve you (as master of the house), picking favorites, and playing the girls against themselves and your opponents to win love as materialized in point cards stuffed in your hand so much like green shame drooping with stripper sweat over panty lines and bra straps. However, Tanto Cuore: Oktoberfest, which is destined to become a reality upon crossing its Kickstarter campaign deadline (September 14, 2014 at 5:00 pm EDT), has something new and wonderful. This canon expansion, playable as a stand-alone game, comes with BEER! ...and barmaids! ...well, representative cards thereof anyway. And if I may be so bold as to quote the promo video: "The beer cards, like private maids, go directly into your private quarters." Whoa there, Kickstarter video narrator, you had me at your use of unfortunate phrasing. SOLD, I say. SOLD!

The defining elements of Japanime Games' Tanto Cuore: Oktoberfest include new buildings (beer stands and festivals), barmaids Gina and Nadja, and real German beer. In fact, there are something like 25 cards dedicated to specific German beer styles—weissbiers, altbiers, pilsners, und bocks (oh my). While this merely amounts to a facelift designed to sell the same product to suckers who'd already bought the original game (or any of its other supplemental editions), I'd be lying if I said I hadn't jokingly pitched an anthropomorphized beer moe anime during some previous drinking binge (if not on numerous such occasions). So I do find the realization of that notion in these cards cute as hell. And, hey, if this is a new thing that appeals to you, this can be the best/only edition!

Although criminally miscategorized, bad habits, "like getting drunk," are included amongst such other gameplay mechanics as stealing beer (yay!), having beer stolen from you (nooooo!), and protecting your beer (goddamned straight!). Speaking of criminal actions, winners win by objectifying women. The goal of the game, after all, is to collect the most points, which are assigned to such objects as women and beer. Who says you can't put a price on love? Not this game!

 

 

 

 

 




While I don't go for games like this, I can fully appreciate the superficially overlaid theme. It's otaku bait, specifically Drunken Otaku bait, but I ain't biting (especially not for $50.00). Now if someone else has a deck nearby and the alcohol is flowing, I would probably venture a round or few for kicks and giggles. It looks to be fun if played with the right people in the right environment (one with much beer and a sardonic air). At the very least, I'll bring the Kickstarter/promo video to parties. It's delightfully silly, especially the part with the three young ladies in traditional Bavarian garb brainstorming the game:

“I will bring the best beer." (Best girl)
"I will bring the most beer." (Second best girl)
"I will serve all the beer." (Kindest girl)
"I will drink all the beer." (MORTAL ENEMY/best drinking contest buddy)

Prost!
 
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The Trap Door: Once More Unto the Breach

Arcadia of My Youth (1988)

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Arcadia DVD cover

One of those guilty pleasures I have as I turn into an old fart is the standalone, unexplainable anime film. Leiji Matsumoto understands that. Why else would he have created such an amazing character in Space Pirate Captain Phantom F. Harlock? In a franchise that rewards itself with reinventing itself, Matsumoto, in handing over directing duties to Tomoharu Katsumata and writing to Yōichi Onaka, helped create what I feel is THE definitive Harlock story: Arcadia of My Youth.

Set in the far future, when Earth and its Solar Federation has been established and settled, Space Corp's Captain Harlock returns home to find his world conquered by the Illumidus Empire and totally subjugated. Harlock cannot accept this. Rather than submit to his new masters, Harlock bands together with a brilliant engineer, Tochiro Oyama, and some of the Illumidus’ slaves to lead an insurrection. Using the new starship, Arcadia, designed by Tochiro, Harlock and his crew decide to set off to find help from the homeworld of the slaves, known as Tokargans, and stop the occupation of Earth.

Arcadia of my Youth Splash 1

What makes Arcadia work as a Harlock story is that it exists as the most clean-cut version of his origin. How did Harlock become a space pirate? Why is he fast friends with Tochiro? How did he acquire the Arcadia? This movie answers all of these questions and more. Over the years, Harlock's origin has been told and retold, because Matsumoto doesn’t believe in dragging his franchise along with a convoluted timeline. Every time you sit down to a Harlock story, he is the same and different at the same time. Arcadia’s prime reason for existing is that it is a self-contained story that is told neatly and compactly. My favorite part is how Tochiro and Harlock are friends.

Meeting in World War II, their ancestors forge a bond that traverses the ages, and when they meet in the 2960’s, they already feel like they know each other. This is completely implausible, but it goes toward understanding the vibe of the movie. Matsumoto is on record as being, hmm, set in his ways. He strikes me as a Romantic, albeit a little too fatalistic for my tastes, who doesn’t seem to like that Japan lost the war against the Allies. All of his Harlock stories have a “Fighting against impossible odds” bent, and Harlock comes across like a defeated man even before the battle starts. Arcadia is a boys adventure in the mold of a World War II novel—"Won’t it be glorious to die in battle" (and that sort of thing), violence and warfare are not glamorized, and all fights end honorably. Harlock goes into the adventure feeling he can win, but as the film progresses, he gets dealt bad hand after bad hand. Ironically, and maybe this was a deliberate act on the writers part, the humans who the Illumidus’ appoint as overseers come across as even more dishonorable than the Illumidus’ themselves. Make no mistake, they are ruthless, but they at least treat Harlock’s code of honor with amusement whereas the human administrators are perplexed and confused by Harlock wanting to fight the good fight.

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All the characters have reasons for fighting. Harlock’s, I’ve already stated. Tochiro doesn’t want to live under the Illumidus. Esmeraldas (a fellow Space Corp captain turned fighter) has the same kind of code of honor as Harlock, but she is less harsh in her delivery. Maya, Harlock’s former lover, is the Voice of Free Arcadia and a symbol of human resistance. She’s a standard, and she knows it. Even the Tokargans know it’s only a matter of time before their bosses turn on them. I should probably warn you that if you’re going into this thinking it will be good triumphing over evil, you might want to skip this. Nothing is really resolved by the end, and Harlock himself gets more personal heartache than most heroes should. Onaka, Katsumata, and Matsumoto like ‘em really tragic, I guess. All along the way, we see bits and pieces from the ancestors of Harlock who overcame problems themselves but didn’t defeat them: a desperate flight over Papua New Guinea, a fight to the death over the skies in WWII Europe. All these things are leading up to the latest version of Harlock. He was always destined to find Tochiro, always destined for heartbreak and personal loss, and always going to face his demons. The most uplifting thing about Harlock and Arcadia is that you can, much like Kipling tells you that you can, meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same. Harlock isn’t trying to fight his destiny, he’s trying to be worthy of it. Whether you’re watching the previous TV show, the subsequent TV shows, or OVAs (including the follow-up series to this (SSX Endless Orbit), Arcadia is the most Harlock story possible. I do like the other versions (I’m partial to Harlock Saga for some reason), but Arcadia is my favorite.

Arcadia of My Youth Splash 3

While I've always liked the design work in Harlock, Arcadia has all the parts you'll recognize—from the Arcadia's layout to Harlock's dress sense. It's all high collars and huge goddamn boots for everyone. The Arcadia is one of my favorite fictional ships because it's so impossible as a design: a huge steel hull with a massive skull and crossbones on the front of the hull and a Spanish galleon's stern complete with wood finish and Jolly Roger that despite the laws of physics, somehow blows in space. While the animation could be described as perfunctory, where it really excels is in the nebula scenes as the Arcadia struggles to save itself from the ionized gases' vice-like grip. Energy wakes, plasma tails, and a multi-coloured background has the Arcadia set in stark contrast against the sky. It's a film in love with animation, and the animation is happy being in love with the film.

Arcadia of My Youth Splash 4

Sadly, this is one Trap Door title that is truly out of print. Animeigo put out a DVD in 2003 after Best Film and Video put a version on VHS entitled My Youth in Arcadia (the actual Japanese translated title), which ran uncut. Before that, Celebrity Home Entertainment put out a cut version called Vengeance of the Space Pirate. I’ve never seen the VHS versions, as the Animeigo DVD is complete with extensive liner notes. But as it is with Animeigo of late, it’s now out of print and running at forty-ish dollars on Amazon US. It’s up to you if you want to get it, but if you’re a Harlock fan, it is a good investment. Setting course across the cosmos, it’s leaving the Trap Door port with no bills to pay.

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Snapshot: Pregnant with Anime (Short Peace)

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"Opening," the first of five short animations comprising the Short Peace DVD/BD, has a running time of just three minutes, and yet I watched it continuously for near an hour and a half on repeat. In addition to getting lost in its engrossing mix of strange, beautiful art styles and animation, my awe was arrested at the climax upon recognizing the plot as a conceptual extension of the classic invocation of the muse. Whereas the typical invocation usually consists of a poet calling to the goddesses of creativity for their inspiration or aid in telling a tale, this introductory sequence portrays the allure of the resultant art to its audience as well as the transformational effects of that consummation.

The first scene begins with a shot of what seems to be an abandoned shrine or large compound rendered in a uniform style rich in color, deep with shadow, and filled with the sounds of nature. This is the “real world,” the aesthetic environment viewers assume nominal because it is the establishing shot. The point of focus is a young girl, whose design complements the environment perfectly to drive home the fact that she is obviously a part of that world. Covering her eyes with her hands while squatting beneath a torii, she seems to be playing hide-and-seek with someone not in the shot. “Are you ready,” the onscreen girl asks three times in between weighty intervals. Upon finally hearing, “Yes, I’m ready” from afar, she slowly swings wide her hands from her face, like petals opening to welcome the dawn, to find that everything around her has changed, including (and most notably) herself.

The girl, representing consumers of anime, is ready to find a familiar friend (a bunny) in a familiar environment, but what she finds is another world (art). The bunny, which can stand in for imagination or intrigue and most definitely safety in familiarity, is the girl’s guide. Initially, the scenery (animation) differing from that which the girl is used to only sporadically punctuates the surrounding environment. As she explores further, however, these instances of the unfamiliar become more common — morphing into entire landscapes with visual and audible inhabitants equally (if not increasingly) alien. But the girl does not get scared. Instead, she giggles and ventures onwards having found new things to enjoy in a place where she didn’t expect to (say, four short animated stories directed by as many relatively underappreciated talents).

After her unusual journey, a girl more like the one depicted in the very beginning is shown in a complementary, modern-looking hallway looking up at a glowing orb hovering like so much an oracle. It suddenly swoops down, flies up the girl's dress, becomes a tiny spec of light within the girl, lifts her up, and twirls her about. The girl has (literally) taken in the media. Again, she changes. This time, however, the change is via costume and not art style. The girl becomes anime stock character after anime stock character via rapid fire outfit changes. She’s become pregnant with and thereby possessed by stories. This is the depiction of catharsis itself. As the background dims and everything else quickly fades with it, all that’s left is that glimmer of light, the seed, the essence of the story, which then erupts into the title of the feature: Short Peace.

This is the media that the viewer is about to consume and by which be likewise changed. "Opening" is an amazing feat of (most likely unintentional) animated metaphor which readies its audince for the fantastic: that to which it has most likely not yet been exposed. This, after all, is the essence of Short Peace, which should be bought ASAP via TRSI or Amazon.


Ink’s review of the rest of Short Peace can be found over at The Fandom Post

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Drunken Otaku: Mi Cervesa es Su Cabeza (Natsuyuki Rendezvous)

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Nothing is more responsible for directing men and women to the bottle than love. In its name, alcohol is used—day in and day out—by the desperate for courage, by the libidinous to lubricate their carnal affairs, by happy couples for celebration and relaxation, by separate halves of frustrated pairs for mental escape, and by those who find themselves either recently or perpetually single for solace. But how often has alcohol been used by someone to sedate their warm body and anesthetize their reigning consciousness as to invite possession by a ghost who was also a romantic rival? Only once (that I have observed), which makes the following a truly great moment in drinking!

That scenario might sound far-fetched, but it’s an actual plot point in Natsuyuki Rendezvous. The best part is just how realistic the portrayal of humanity is, given the influence of overindulgence, in the situations leading up to said surrender. But first, some background:

Rokka is a 30-year-old florist who owns, manages, and lives above the shop that was previously her late husband’s (Atsushi). Hazuki’s been stalking Rokka for some time, stopping into the shop to buy plants he doesn’t need just to be able to get her fingers to grace his palm when she hands him change. Eventually he comes to work there, confesses to Rokka, and tenaciously tries to woo her. Atsushi’s been gone some 8 years (coincidentally the same age difference between Rokka and 22-year-old Hazuki), but he’s been invisibly hanging around Rokka the entire time and helplessly keeping watch over her. Needless to say Atsushi doesn’t appreciate Hazuki making moves on his former wife and does everything he can to dissuade him from disrupting their “life” together. This includes Atsushi repeatedly asking if he can “borrow” Hazuki’s body once it’s revelaed that Hazuki is the only one who has been able to see/hear Atsushi since his death.

With Atsushi’s proposal etching itself in the back of Hazuki’s mind via repetition like a penal colony sentence, he asks Rokka to Hanayashiki amusement park in a last ditch effort to nudge their relationship forward. He knows she’s been there with Atsushi before, but Hazuki hopes to scribble over that haunting memory by making Rokka smile himself in that same place. Hazuki’s a persistent lad, but Rokka wavers between wooed and woeful. Thus begins the drinking.

Both have a little beer before entering the park. Half a can ain’t much, but it’s just the confidence placebo Hazuki’s aggressiveness needs. After a forward advance in a private cabin in the clouds is thwarted by an all-too-abruptly ended ride, after a bridge crossing makes Hazuki into Eurydice, after hearing Rokka say she just can’t get over Atsushi, after being laughed at for bringing up sex, Hazuki snaps—his drive defeated, his ambition gone. Thus he accepts the final nail in the perceived coffin of this attempted manipulation of memory dressed up as a romantic outing: Rokka offering to end the date by showing Hazuki how to … open the shop (not a metaphor).

Before he can contemplate following Rokka into Atsushi’s old haunt, Hazuki opts for the sweet, emotionally numbing effects of beer. Using cigarettes as an excuse, Hazuki introduces his sorrow to a six-pack he downs in the park on the way back to the shop. Stumbling too slowly to avoid the poltergeist’s greeting, Hazuki near passes out from alcohol poisoning and, on the precipice of his inebriated slumber inspired by self-pity, agrees to let Atsushi borrow the flesh so recently rejected by his lady love.

If that situation ain’t enough to make ya wanna drink, what happens over the next seven episodes (let alone the very next episode) surely will. As for this great moment in drinking, there’s intentionally insensitive actions, rash decisions, emotional manipulation, finger sucking, the breaking of a soul’s resolve in the harsh face of honest laughter, and, ultimately, the transcendence of otherworldly boundaries via a staircase of beer cans reflecting the enlightenment of self-perceived failure. Thus a malty numbing of pain becomes the apathetic door through which Atsushi gains entry into Hazuki's head. What more could you want in a love drinking story?

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The Trap Door: Just my Mecha, Pony, and Me

Tenamonya Voyagers (1999)

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Tenamonya Voyagers DVD CoverWorking off the supposition that a nutty plotline is the basis for a good adventure, I like finding anime that has just enough wackiness to make me laugh but not so much that I’m left asking if there's some TV show or movie in Japan I should be watching in order to get the joke. If that’s true, then Tenamonya Voyagers has all the ingredients I’m looking for.

In the future, Earth stands on the edge of a galactic empire. Actually two in fact: the Central Democratic Planetary Federation and the Shinsei Greater Milky Way Empire. They have settled their differences and signed a few treaties. One byproduct of these treaties is that if a person inside either area is accused of a crime, they instantly are absolved of their crimes. Into this comes Ayako Hanabishi, a 20-something year old teacher, and Wakana Nanamiya, a sophomore high school student who is attending the same school in deep space, far from Earth, at which Ayako teaches. At least they would have been attending the same school if it hadn't closed after being declared bankrupt. Into their lives falls Paraila, a young girl who claims that she is a high schooler just like Wakana. Actually, she’s a member of the Jaoukai — a part of the Big 3 organisation (think space mafia and you’re not far off) — and she’s running to Earth because her rap sheet is a solar system long and the Space Federation Police is after her. So with no money, the girls pick up their stuff and decide to head to Earth. All the while, Space Police, former friends of Paraila, and others try and stop the girls from getting to their destination.

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For me, the show is a godsend for making me laugh when I really shouldn’t. Japanese humor is very hard to get straight off, but Tenamonya plays from the same sheet as Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, where the joke goes by so fast that the actual joke is the fact that it went past at warp speed. Lines are delivered super quick, Japanese texts are flashed on screen, gobbledygook is shown in odd places, things blow up frequently around the girls and Paraila, there are people shooting at them and screaming at them (usually it's Detective Yokoyama), and every crisis ends with a mech battle that racks up trillions of galactic credits in insurance claims. Paraila is a kleptomaniac who constantly steals ships, cruisers, space trains, and anything else that will get her one step closer to Earth. At first, the girls try and fight back and tell her its wrong. But when they discover her space crime history, they almost completely give up trying to correct her heinous acts. Oh, and an entire episode is devoted to them being naked except for a few strategically placed items on their body inside a boiling hot spaceship that will explode if they don’t play fantasy baseball with a star’s corona. There, I’ve blown your minds. You’re welcome.

Tenomonya Voyagers Splash 2

Throughout every adventure the girls face, they all try and do things in, if not an honest way, a way where the least amount of attention gets raised by them being there. Everything is going great until someone recognises Paraila, shooting occurs, and the gang have to run. Then Inspector Yokoyama bursts in and destroys the local countryside (and I’m not exaggerating here) and the whole thing starts all over again. Really, for only four episodes, the show’s creators really get their money's worth.

Tenomonya Voyagers Splash 3

The show doesn’t explain why we start the story almost in mid-flow; it just asks that we accept it. Paraila falls from the sky and destroys the calm that Ayako and Wakana were standing in (if only because they had been left without a paddle by their school closing). There’s a wonderful, gleeful, anarchic humor to the script. The three leads just punch out line after line, with Ayako mumbling her lines in a shy, squeamish manner while Wakana and Paraila go at each other. At first, Wakana is quiet too, but as she sees the danger Paraila puts them all in, she becomes more vocal. The final episode has the two of them pulling hair and pinching cheeks while screaming at each other. Along the way, the script writers drop title cards, stoic voice overs explains things like galactic politics, and characters who have no bearing on the plot (like space mafia goons) discuss how to deal with Paraila. The characters just go from one bad situation to the next with hopes that their position will improve. It never does, but then that’s the fun of it. They make good progress toward Earth but leave such a wake of destruction that it becomes moot if they ever reach human shores.

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Little by little, the story of how Paraila came to fall from the sky and why she’s tagging along with the two Earth girls is revealed. She comes across as selfish most of the time but stays with the girls because they fulfill two basic roles. One, they serve as a magnet for trouble, like Detective Yokoyama (who should have been Sonny Chiba if they had made the character male), and Paraila LOVES trouble. Secondly, Paraila’s life would be boring without them. Ayako seems to not have a brain cell in her head, but she’s a college graduate and laments that her teacher training is going to waste on a daily basis. Couple that with the fact that she has an almost unconscious ability to win at gambling and she is the surprise of the cast. Wakana has her moments, mostly in the third and fourth episode when her baseball skills both fail and save the gang. She is a model student but Paraila just brings out the worst in her. And if you’ve ever been curious, the show gives a breakdown of all the charges filed against the girls (well, Paraila) at the end of each episode.

I would like to say that Tenamonya has a resolution but it doesn’t. It simply ends, and it does so almost in mid sentence. I found myself giggling when I realised they had no intention of letting us know if they made it to Earth. It’s a fun little adventure with some amazing gags and, yes, some absurdist humour, but it gets to temporarily leave the Trap Door if only for good behavior.


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: Germany Annexes Japanese Lore (Folktales from Japan)

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Syncretism is a mainstay of Japanese culture. Movies, music, spirituality, and more from other countries are often adapted to complement modern life—the culmination of a long history rife with imagination and ingenuity. But Japan is certainly not alone in doing this. Folktales from cultures in every nook and cranny of the globe have been passed down for generations via oral tradition (and later in written collections). It's only natural that those same stories, upon spreading beyond their local and regional boarders via the likes of intrigued traders and passing travelers, change just as much due to the laws of a game of telephone as to adapt to slightly askew or dissimilar cultural value sets. Folktales from Japan (Furusato Saisei Nippon no Mukashi Banashi) is a series that focuses on folktales from Japan. While watching one such tale (“The Six Warriors”), my jaw dropped when I recognized parallels with a British movie about a certain German nobleman and infamous tall tale teller.

“The Six Warriors” (third tale, episode 114) involves a young warrior who wanders around inviting interesting people he meets en route to travel with him. He meets a man with superhuman strength, a man with superhuman speed, a man with superhuman eyesight, a man with a talent for blowing his nose, and a superb marksman. Separately, these types of characters are quite common in folktales. But the description of the young warrior as “a bit weird,” combined with the introduction of all of those types of characters, rang a bell.[1] Along their travels, this group comes upon a lord’s palace where a challenge is issued. Someone from the group must beat the lord’s daughter, the princess, in a race to a far-off spring, fetch some water, and bring it back. Again, whistles sounded in my head.[2] But when the man with superhuman speed fell asleep under a tree only to be espied by his travelling companion with superhuman sight and awoken by the effects of the superb marksman, I knew this was Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Münchausen.

Trouble is that I didn’t immediately have the historical background with which to discern which came first, “The Six Warriors” or an actual tale about the real-life baron that Gilliam wove in his movie. After all, Münchausen was a real man, a historical figure, who took part in the Russo-Turkish War. My head spun! The spread of his tales eastward or his absorption of tales heard from the west while fighting abroad were both plausible scenarios. A quick trip to Wikipedia town revealed that the first published stories collected about Münchausen (first by an anonymous third party and then translated into English and published by Rudolf Erich Raspe) “are based on folktales that had been in circulation for many centuries before Münchhausen's birth” (italics mine). So it looks like, in fact, one of the tales in Gilliam’s movie stems from a Japanese folktale! The differences[3] revealed by the East to West adaptation are pretty fun to examine; read on for the breakdown. Otherwise, marvel in the discovery of where one scene in a phenomenal British film indirectly gets its inspiration: a tale told to toddlers.


Although snapshots are generally brief affairs, and that "Ah-HA!" moment has already been described, I'd feel remiss if I didn't fully explain why my jaw dropped by examining all the differences between the tales. So please forgive the unusual length of this particular snapshot or just consider it a stitched-together, panoramic one.


[1] Characters

Baron Münchausen (Hieronymus Karl Friedrich Baron von Münchhausen) is ascribed to the role of the unnamed young warrior in the Japanese folktale. Both wield a sword as their primary weapon but seldom do any fighting themselves—commanding their companions’ talents instead.

Albrecht was the name given to the unnamed strong guy in the Japanese folktale. The only obvious change is cosmetic: Albrecht is played by Winston Dennis, a dark-skinned actor (African-English?), whereas the anime character is, most likely, Japanese.


Berthold was the equivalent of Idaten from the Japanese folktale. Both were super fast, but Berthold had the addition of self-applied ball chain shackles he wore when not running in order to slow himself down. (The implications on self restraint and lack thereof can be argued.)

 

 

 


Adolphus is an interesting amalgamation of the man with superhuman eyesight (Senrigan) and the rifleman ("straw hat") from the Japanese folktale.

 

 


Gustavus creates massive gusts of wind by blowing through his mouth, while Hanafuki (from the Japanese folktale) blew through his nose. Hey, ya gotta keep the children entertained. Also, Hanafuki gained two HUGE ears as Gustavus for feats of superhuman hearing in the Gilliam flick. I’m guessing this was done to compensate for the aforementioned amalgamation that subtracted an entire member with distinct capability from the cast.

Speaking of, that leaves five warriors on Gilliam’s Münchausen bill. Where’s the sixth? That’s the baron’s trusty steed, Bucephalus (not in the Japanese folktale), who comes at a whistle no matter what obstacles lie between him and Baron Münchausen.

[2] Plot

In The Adventures of Baron von Münchausen, the baron tells the tale of a wager he proposed while in the Sultan's palace. The wager was that the baron could procure, “within the hour,” a wine far superior to the sultan’s favorite directly from Vienna or else the Sultan could have the baron's head as a trophy.

In The Six Warriors, the young warrior and his group travel past a lord’s house. There is a mandatory challenge imposed upon all who pass: win a race or fork over all valuables. The race requires on challenger to beat the princess down to a spring three leagues away, fill a pitcher of water from that spring, and bring it back.

The baron sends for Berthold, who runs there, procures the bottle of wine, and sprints most of the way back but ends up falling asleep under a tree.

The young warrior sends Idaten, who runs there, fills the jug, and runs partly back but falls asleep under a tree after he sees what a huge lead he has on the princess.

Down to the last few minutes, the baron begins to worry and gets his team to use their distinct capabilities to find out what happened. Gustavus presses his large ears to the ground and hears Berthold’s snoring. Adolphus, boosted up on a rampart by Albrecht, espies the slumbering companion and shoots an apple off the branch under which he’s dosing. Awoken, Berthold makes it back in the nick of time.

Senrigan’s up in a tree or on a vine watching the race and alerts his friends to the fact that Idaten’s been overtaken by the princess, who also knocked over Idaten’s jug, while he was asleep. Straw Hat’s ordered to show his stuff. He shoots off the branch of the tree Idaten’s sleeping under and wakes him. Idaten goes back to the spring, refills the jug, and beats out the princess in a photo finish.

The sultan indeed finds the wine superior, and being a man of his word, lets the baron take “all the treasure the strongest man can carry.” Upon hearing that Albrecht hoisted the entire contents of the sultan’s treasury upon his massive back, however, the sultan sends forth an army to deal with the baron’s eclectic group. The troups are quickly defeated due to a few mighty blows by Gustavus and some minor contributions by the rest of the group.

Despite cheating, the lord concedes that Idaten won and allows the young warrior’s group to take all the treasure the strongest man can carry. Upon noticing the strong man in the group had lifted the all of the treasury, the lord orders his troops to attack the group of eclectics. The army, the sultan, and the princess are quickly defeated by a couple hefty blows from Hanafuki.

Later in the movie, upon catching up with Albrecht, it’s revealed that he alone kept the treasure and ended up giving it all away to charity.

After bankrupting the court, the young warrior’s team hands over the riches to the village that had suffered under the greedy lord.

[3] Themes

The challenge highlighted in The Adventures of Baron von Münchausen is one of man vs. time, which is a prevailing theme of the movie. (The baron’s constantly facing his own death.) When invigorated by such adventure, the baron takes on a visibly youthful appearance, and the tone of the action as well as the baron’s actions are those rooted in arrogance and selfishness. Neither of these are ever painted in a bad light.

The mandated challenge in the folktale is man vs. man—a representation of a prevailing moral of most of the tales in Folktales from Japan: the oppressive nature of the greedy vs. the selflessness of the just. Not only is the lord a deceiver by having a hidden ace up his sleeve (the princess is, like Idaten, endowed with superhuman speed), but his child also cheats during the contest. Deplorable actions meet a compounded just end: the rich lord loses all his wealth and is then for all intents and purposes banished from his land.

Whereas the Japanese folktale is about using everyone's special ability as a team to overcome the oppressive greed of the local lord in order to help his poor villagers, the movie is about the baron using the skills of each of his “servants” to acquire bragging rights and just for the general thrill of popping an inflated ego (be it general disbelief or classic narcissism). It should be noted that the sultan is portrayed as casually enjoying the suffering of his people, while the folktale casually implies the young warrior can’t resist besting someone at a challenge.

Both of the main protagonists are depicted as wandering adventurers. While the Japanese folk tale defines its protagonist, politely and reverently, not by name but as a ronin on "a journey to win fame and glory," Münchausen is depicted more or less as a fool—a child, a leaf amidst the winds of fantastic circumstances—whose fame is not so much sought but stumbled upon. This is a contrast of sense of duty towards self and others and the selfishness of Romanticism. Echoes of this contrast can be seen in all the above mentioned instances and descriptions.

The beauty of this bit of syncretism is that the not so opposite sides of the same coin (tale) complement each other so perfectly it's almost a divine balance.


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: Drinking is Bravo! (Girls Bravo)

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Even if they’re fun to laugh at, I’ll be the first to rail against the erroneous clichés pertaining to the effects of drunkenness as portrayed in and perpetuated by media. For instance: no amount of drink will make a person talk to a desk-mounted, suspended mask and think it’s a human being. Nor will being in such a state cause anyone to confuse the identities of people he or she knows; recently introduced strangers, however, are a different story (and maybe even then more of a light novel). Also, no cocktail, even if it’s not a cocktail and just straight up alcohol, will result in instantaneous cloning via involuntary spasmodic action (as with a sneeze or hiccup). Though, to cede the point, hiccups can be real. Thankfully, the effects we’ll be looking at in this particular great moment in drinking are not wrought by a human but a Seirenian … a Seirenese … a misplaced person. So anything goes.

Miharu is from the planet Seiren and makes a trip to Earth via bathtub portal. (Yuuuuuuup.) After magically traversing a dimensional barrier, Miharu ends up trapped with a blue-haired milquetoast boy who has an allergy to girls. Well that trip was certainly worth the effort! Small wonder Miharu seeks enjoyment at the bottom of a bottle beaker.

See, Miharu isn’t the brightest bulb in the box. She more akin to the bulb with the broken filament that comes in the pack of eight you can’t be arsed to return for the inconvenience of it all. Her end-of-bathtub-experience and host here on Earth, Yukinari, drags her along to his school to save his parents’ pantry from being ravaged and give Miharu something to do. What does Miharu do? Miharu drinks!

Things are all set up for an experiment in science class, but the teacher’s late. Returning to her ADD state after Yukinari stops talking to her for a few seconds, Miharu wanders over to some funny smelling pink liquid in a beaker and mumbles to herself something akin to Dee Dee’s maniacal “What does this button do?” and takes a sip. It’s delicious! She takes another sip, notices she feels pleasantly funny … and then chugs the rest of the alcohol which was intended for the class experiment.

Ultimately becoming the class experiment, Miharu blushes, becomes dizzy and hot, and then passes out. For her, the world’s spinning in circles, but she’s feelin’ REALLY good when she comes to … until the sneezing starts and glass starts to shatter. Evidently, according to anime, aliens cause sneezesplosions when they drink! But things don’t stop there. As the drunk settles in, Miharu sneezes more and more until, with one final sneezeplosion, she replicates herself into a swarm of clones that explode when touched by any human. I’ll spare you the “She’s da bomb” joke.

So what do we learn from this great moment in drinking? For one, aliens are bravo because inebriation turns them simultaneously clingy and volatile—like camouflaged magnetic boob mines. And two, the only way to abate the drunken threat posed by the popping of myriad airheads is to dress a lecherous pervert with an inexhaustible libido in a banana costume and let him loose to wear away the sheath, along with his pride, by sheer, unabashed friction.

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