Snapshot: The Case of Alice and Totoro

Topics: , ,

I've got a relatively short and simple Snapshot this month, and unfortunately I don't have any pictures of the scene in question since the film I'm talking about was just recently released and isn't available streaming.

The Case of Hana and Alice is an animated film from live-action director Shunji Iwai that serves as a prequel to his teen drama Hana and Alice. It's an interesting case (heh), because, despite Iwai's choice of 3-D models and rotoscoped animation, it's very much a live-action film in terms of shot composition, pacing, and acting. The question, then, is, "Why make an animated film at all?" I might argue that there isn't much of a compelling reason, but there is at least one small scene that benefits from the animated medium.

Alice is a free-spirited middle-schooler who just moved out to a new town in the countryside. As she's sitting in bed contemplating her new, slightly woodsier environment, she imagines meeting a monster in the forest. "Maybe I'll even meet Totoro," she exclaims. In a live-action movie, this would be nothing but a cute little pop culture callback, but animation provides an extra layer of comedy. As Alice mentions the famous character, her face briefly mimics Totoro's iconic grin. This illustrates an important benefit of animation.

Because animation allows the abstraction of human features into more "cartoony" versions, it's possible to deform a character design in order to show the inner thoughts of a character. This can be used for very serious purposes, as Satoshi Kon often did in his surreal, sometimes disturbing films, but it can also make for a quick one-off gag in an otherwise fairly realistic film like The Case of Hana and Alice.


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.

Continue Reading...

Drunken Otaku: Talk to the Face (Campione!)

The value of misdirection

Topics: , ,

For three and half years, I’ve been having fun pointing out great drinkers and great moments in drinking as well as picking apart depictions thereof in print and animation, but only once did I ever allude to a not-so-great moment. That is this month’s moment, because I’m sick of suppressing it, because its faults need to be explored to right the reputation of the effects of fermented grapes, and because the scene’s execution (at least) has some merit. So without further ado, I present to you a (not so) great moment in drinking from the very first episode of (insert sigh here) Campione!.

First off, I’ll fully acknowledge the photorealistic, Drops of God-esque strength with which this scene begins. To fully understand the competency behind the juxtaposition, however, requires, of course, some context. Erica Blandelli, a knight of the black copper cross (no, you don’t need to know), discovers an inexperienced (with magic) young man — Godou Kusanagi — in possession of a very powerful stone. He’s naught but a naïve courier at the time, but when he espies a rogue god in the shape of a giant flaming boar that’s wrecking the city, Erica knows he’s got that something special worth clinging to. (Saving her from possibly falling to her death at the last minute doesn’t hurt either.)

It’s no wonder then, after an adrenalin-rousing bit of battle and one indebting instance, Erica decides to be Kusanagi’s escort to his destination: a rendezvous with a scantily clad enchantress. No-one should have been able to predict that said witch would be lazing around in lingerie, but Godou’s reaction is as transparent as the aforementioned unmentionables. Add to this the fact that the witch gives the powerful stone back to Godou despite Erica’s protests, and the stage is set for a great(ly exaggerated) moment in drinking.

Smote by both the older woman’s authority and allure before the boy, Erica Blandelli (seriously, I never even noticed that flavorless family name until now) returns to her mansion with Kusanagi and drowns her frustrations in bottle after bottle of vino as evidenced by the empties in the first shot after the break and Erica’s ever-beckoning glass. To both aspects, I will yield the scene’s competency; I have seen many a drinker fall into a bottle after losing a competition for attention, and so long as a true drinker is conscious, their empty glass is always one in want of filling. My objection is to the idiocy that follows.

“A drunken stupor” is probably the phrase most often associated with the condition of those who over-imbibe, but depictions in media of the degree to which drunkards lose their individual wits whilst wasted are grossly exaggerated. Erica Blandelli, case in point, carries on a conversation with a suspended mask sitting atop a table despite the projected voice coming from behind her. No matter how drunk a person may be, their ears will effectively triangulate the origin of sounds. Depending on the degree of intoxication, however, eyesight’s whacked horizontal/vertical hold could cause confusion once the audio is taken into account. But in this scene, Erica sits perfectly still, insusceptible to the wobbles nominally associated with alcohol poisoning, and insists the inanimate object before her is the origin of the voice actually speaking to her. In other words, the setup is completely wrong.

Unapologetic, the anime tries to convince viewers of this idiocy by employing different cameras dedicated to each of the speaking parties … and succeeds. One camera focuses solely on Erica while she speaks, and another camera is trained on Kusanagi as he replies. Switching between cameras adeptly represents an established conversation. But when one camera pulls back and reveals the staging, comedy ensues. At least it should according to theory. (Police Squad! used the same technique all the time and to great comedic effect for its trick framing). Instead, because of the gratuitous follow through, the audience will be taken aback not by how silly Erica is being but by how moronic the situation is. (This, I believe, is supposed to be offset by the enthusiastic manner in which Erica energetically bounces in her chair like a child mid-tantrum.)

Erica is so adamant in accusing the inanimate figure before her, which she thinks is Kusanagi, of not replying to her that she actually flicks the metal mask , injures her finger, and STILL carries on a vehement interrogation. At the very least, a real drunk would recoil from the pain and reassess. Erica, however, just keeps going at it. It’s a chuckle's worth of a gag negated by the ignorance of basic human senses. It's like someone who's never gotten drunk or been amidst drunks decided to write a drunk gag. Still, there is legitimate humor here.

Kusanagi’s discontented calls of “Ericaaaaaaaaaa,” aimed at snapping her back to reality, go unheeded and instead attract another drunken reveler: the maid! Flopped back and to the side from futility, Kusanagi’s capitulated cabeza unwittingly directs his repeated addresses to the third party, but she's so blasted that she mistakes Kusanagi’s calls as directed towards her and makes fun of him for confusing her with her mistress. It's a silly gag, but it's the most believable thing in the entire scenario. And after the disappointment of the previous joke's failure, the maid's line, with its delivery and parallel but more apt execution, is the scene's only redeeming value.

Continue Reading...

Three-Episode Test: Jared's Summer 2015

A season of conditional devotion.

Topics: , , , , ,

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


Aquarion Logos (sequel)
Streaming on FUNimation

I’m a sucker for Shoji Kawamori, so I find myself watching the latest entry in the Aquarion franchise: Aquarion Logos. The eponymous mecha remains a fixture of the show, as does the concept of pilots merging together, but otherwise there's nothing that ties Logos back to the earlier Aquarion series. Instead, modern-day Earth serves as the backdrop for this super robot mecha show where the staff of an otaku-themed cafe use combining aircraft to battle monsters derived from corrupted kanji. No, I’m not making that up. Did I mention that the cafe is called Shirobaco and also serves as a front for a secret organization? Did I mention the main bad guy throws drug-filled syringes at kanji that turn them into literal mojibake (word monsters)? As you may have guessed, Logos takes it to 11 and rips off the dial in terms of raw wackiness. Logos’ characters have outsized versions of their own personalities, from the protagonist with an almost meta messiah complex, to the cripplingly shy love interest. One of the more interesting aspects of this show is how the heroes defeat the mojibake: by adding strokes to them to create a new kanji. In effect, the heroes provide a response to the problem posed by each monster of the week by solving each of the monsters as if it was a puzzle. It remains to be seen if Logos will have the legs to keep its theme interesting, but I’ll be sticking with it for now.

Food Wars (continuation)
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Against all hope and reason, I stuck with Food Wars, and I haven’t been disappointed. Once the show got past (most of) its gratuitous pandering and focused on the shonen battle aspects of the story, Food Wars became much more palatable. To recap: Soma Yukihira is sent by his father to enroll in the most elite culinary high school in Japan, Toutsuki Gakuen. Toutsuki is basically like Hogwarts for food, with a sprawling, over-the-top campus that seems almost like a country unto itself. By the start of this second season, Soma and the gang have returned from a greuling cooking camp where they learned a great deal about cooking under pressure in a short time. Now the residents of the Polar Star Dormitory must prepare themselves for the upcoming student council elections and almost inevitably more culinary hijinks. With most of the worldbuilding out of the way, the second season has begun laying the groundwork for a larger storyline, and I’m hopeful the show continues to focus less on flesh and more on zany food battles. If you haven’t seen Food Wars yet because of the fan service, I’d suggest you give it a try. The fan service dies down in the later episodes, and underneath it all is a show that really could just stand on the shonen battle-with-food premise.

Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace
Streaming on FUNimation

Let me start by saying I’ve not read any of Rampo Edogawa’s works, so I’m not sure how this adaptation measures up to the source material. So far, this isn’t appointment television for me, but it is interesting enough not to drop all together. The series setup begins when Kobayashi, a young boy who could easily pass for a girl, is framed for the murder of his homeroom teacher. A specially appointed teenage detective named Akechi offers Kobayashi the chance to become his apprentice if he can unmask the true killer. Kobayashi’s pal Hashiba warns him against the idea but decides to support him in his efforts. Kobayashi comes across as almost completely desensitized to his own mortality, allowing himself to be put into situations that would make most rational people panicked if not terrified. Combined with his powers of observation, Kobayashi appears to be emerging as a formidable investigator on par with his mentor Akechi. The first case does a serviceable job of establishing the characters and the macabre, twisted tone of the show, but I didn’t come away from it feeling like I had seen anything that I hadn’t seen in your average episode of the BBC’s Sherlock. My snap reaction immediately brought to mind the Sherlock Holmes reboot, and I can’t help but feel that it inspired the vibe of Rampo Kitan on some level. At any rate, it will be interesting to see how the relationship between Kobayashi, Akechi, and Hashiba develops. That dynamic, combined with the twisted scenarios week to week will keep me watching … at least for now.

Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist
Streaming on FUNimation

It’s like Footloose, but with porn and di*k jokes. OK, so there’s no Kevin Bacon, but otherwise that isn’t too far off. In a not too distant future, Japan’s Diet approves a law that bans anything that could be even mildly construed as sexually explicit or titillating. To enforce the law and ensure upstanding morals, the government outfits the entire populace with collars that monitor speech for foul or sexual language. Ten years after the passage of the law, a terrorist organization named SOX aims to spread sexual freedom by fighting from the shadows to liberate young minds. A young man named Tanukichi becomes swept up in the struggle when he encounters SOX’s leader, a charismatic young female terrorist codenamed Blue Snow. I know it sounds like bad Randian fan fiction, but thankfully it doesn’t take itself seriously. And despite the fact that the humor seems aimed at one’s inner tweenager, the show manages to be genuinely funny at times. Part of what makes it funny, at least to me, is the heavy amount of censoring that takes place in the show. It happens so often that it must be a deliberate attempt to be meta. It’s hard to watch this show and not immediately think of the infamous Bill 156 passed by Tokyo’s Metropolitan Assembly several years ago. Bill 156 imposed strict regulations around what kind of content could be shown in anime and manga, and while its efficacy may be debatable, it’s hard to imagine a work like Shimoneta coming about without its passage. Political origins aside, Shimoneta is fun if you like crude humor censored for comedic effect. I'm sticking with this for now, but if it becomes too pandering for me I'll drop it.

Ushio and Tora
Streaming on Crunchyroll

This reboot of Ushio and Tora will most likely be a source of nostaliga for some older fans, because it’s such an exemplar of what was good (and bad) about 1990s anime. For that reason alone, I’ll be sticking with it. Based on the '90s era manga of the same name, Ushio and Tora is the story of a boy and his demon. After discovering a secret basement in his family’s shrine, Ushio Aotsuki unseals the power of a tiger-esque demon, whom he names Tora, after 500 years of imprisonment. To save the lives of his friends, Ushio frees Tora from being pinned to a rock by a cursed weapon called the Beast Spear. Together they destroy yokai and begin to form an unconventional, adversarial friendship. By evoking the style of the 1990s, this series focuses purely on being a shonen battle show. There's no extraneous fanservice (at least so far) or a checklist of token trope characters to make character goods for. On the other hand, the downside of being such a product of the 1990s is that it suffers from some of the not-so-great parts of that time. So far the female characters of the show are objects to be rescued or to proclaim their affection for the protagonist. There's no attempt to really provide them (or other supporting cast members) with any real depth. Despite its shortcomings, Ushio and Tora is worth at least checking out if you’re nostalgic for the bygone era of the '90s or if you’re just looking for a no-frills shonen fighting show.

Continue Reading...

Three-Episode Test: Phillip's Summer 2015

Battles of Food and Fantasy

Topics: , , , ,

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


Food Wars (continuation)
Streaming on Crunchyroll

I’ve written before about Food Wars!, but to recap: Soma Yukihira, a sous chef working in his family's restaurant in Japan, is sent by his father to learn culinary skills at the famous Totsuki Academy. Unlike the real world, Totsuki settles all disputes with cook-offs that resemble a Dragonball fight. In the latest rounds of the show, Soma and crew have settled into the Polar Star dorm, and he’s starting to get his bearings. What is keeping me in the show are the ridiculous fights Soma keeps getting into. He’s not in the dorm five minutes and he’s already challenging one of this dorm mates, Satoshi (one of the elite ten at Totsuki Academy), to a friendly fight. From there, he challenges another of Erina Nakiri’s attack dogs, Ikumi Mito. Where the show excels in these episodes is in the way Soma learns from his mistakes. After tackling Satoshi, he learns the way he should challenge other people in the school. Simply put, he needs something to lose in order to fight someone. So using that, he challenges Mito to save a new friend in the school. Cue lots of shouting, people looking furious as they cook, and Soma’s friends looking dumbfounded as he literally flies through with nary a care in the world. Meanwhile, we learn that Erina might not be the driven, cruel taskmaster that everyone thinks she is. Her world would be perfect if not for that infuriating Soma kid who gets under her skin. You know where this is going. I do too but I’m still having fun. More, Garçon! More, I say!

Rokka - Braves of the Six Flowers
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Mixing Tolkien, Journey to the West, and South/Mesoamerican culture is not a concept that immediately lends itself to an exciting show, but Takeo Takahashi’s adaption of the light novel series of the same name more than proves itself in the first episode. Well, insofar as that it knows what it wants to be. Adlet Mayer is the world’s strongest man. We know this because he defeats two champions in the kingdom of Piena who were already fighting each other. Of course, the authorities don’t take kindly to that and promptly throw him in the clink. There, he’s left to rot while a demon lord rises in the west and can only be stopped by six saints. These warriors, skilled in a power or ability chosen by a mark they acquire in proving themselves, can call together upon the power of a goddess who protects the land to defeat the demon. Naturally, Adlet Mayer is one of the saints, as is the Princess of Pienna, Nasshetania (spelled differently in the anime), who busts him out of prison and goes with him to the West to find the other saints and stop the demon lord. The show itself is quick, airy, and full of chances to explore the alternative New World it’s created. I like the characters and especially Adlet, who seems to veer between bragard and skilled swordsman. The mixture of swords and guns, Old World and New World fantasy and adventure, is exciting, and I can only hope the show capitalises on this setting and doesn’t fall back into tired anime high school and fantasy tropes to fill in the gaps.

Saint Seiya - Soul of Gold
Streaming on
Crunchyroll

I won’t even pretend to know where to begin with Saint Seiya. A group of people in every generation are chosen by the goddess Athena to defend the world from the evil that men do. These chosen few can call on magical armor and powerful attacks to defeat evil and defend the innocent. Named after the signs of the Zodiac, Seiya is the best kind of shonen fighting manga and anime around. Every hero is heroic, every villain twirls a mustache, and so on. Point is, you can start anywhere, and if you like what you see, you’ll be able to watch any Saint Seiya show. I didn’t say you’d enjoy every one of them, but you won’t be confused. In this version, which is listed as being an internet animation show, the saints find themselves in a Scandinavian setting. Some of the crew are aware of where they are, and others are unable to initially remember. Aiolia, having just sacrificed himself and others to destroy a previous evil, awakens in a land that is not his own. (This is after being rescued by a young woman who needs his help to stop a local prince/wizard from using the Norse mythological tree Yggdrasil to destroy the world.) So far, so Saint Seiya. What has me hooked is the mashing of Greek and Norse gods and stories in an all-out fight to decide who lives and dies. The saints are cool, sure, but they’re also now fractured — some by obligation and others by reluctance to return to fighting. The early episodes start laying the groundwork for this conflict within the saints' ranks. This could all go south in an episode or two, so I’ll simply say I am enjoying it so far and will keep you informed.

Continue Reading...

Three-Episode Test: David's Summer 2015

Idols ruin everything.

Topics: , , ,

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


The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls (continuation)
Streaming on Daisuki

This is actually the second half of the Cinderella Girls anime, which began airing this past Winter and now resumes in the Summer 2015 season. I didn’t cover the first half on Ani-Gamers, so to summarize the premise and where the show currently stands: a producer collects a bunch of girls off the street to form an idol group and runs into setback after setback as this group of highly incompatible girls struggles to get it together behind the scenes before inevitably dazzling everyone on the stage. Unfortunately this is no longer a hot and fresh concept in the year 2015, and despite being a spinoff of the series that really elevated the whole mixed-media 2D idol girlfriend-surrogate thing to the height that it’s at now, Cinderella Girls drags its glass slippers through the mud, unaware of what made the property so powerful in the first place. Whereas the original iDOLM@STER animation had passion behind it, Cinderella Girls feels like a project that just had to get made regardless of whether anyone cared. The writing veers between infantile and dramatic, with drama arguably being the thing iDOLM@STER has historically done worst. The framing is uninteresting, the animation is sparse, and the characters never cohere into a strong unit — a weakness that sinks the whole show when a supporting character like Kaede Takagaki comes along to make you wonder why the show can’t just be about her.

 

 

Death Note (Drama)
Streaming on Crunchyroll

While Ink exercises his good judgment by watching the Akagi live-action adaptation this summer, I’m taking one for the team by watching the other high-profile manga-turned-drama airing this season. Remember the Death Note movies that came out in 2006? While they didn’t exactly set a high bar, the Death Note TV series fails even to reach that lowered expectation of almost ten years ago. The concept remains the same — an unassuming young man discovers a notebook that has the power to bring certain death to anyone whose name is written in its pages, but the main draw for this particular adaptation has been the promise of a reworked storyline. And while there have been a few surprises in these first episodes, I can’t say yet whether they’ve been for the better or worse. I could talk about the cheap feeling of the production or the gaps in logic in the pursuit of drama, but the worst part so far is perhaps the part the show sold itself on. Light Yagami, once a genius high schooler with a clear objective to bring about a new world order in the name of justice in the anime, is reduced to a meek schmuck with no sense of purpose. He scrapes by in college and life, with the only thing keeping him going being his interest in a local idol group. To be honest, the setup sounded like it could have gone somewhere: to rewrite Light as a regular guy slowly consumed by a terrible power. The problem is that the new story stills follows the same beats as the old story and underutilizes the changes that have been put into play. When L confronts Light for the first time, the impact from the original is missing since we’ve arrived there without establishing Light as a convincing force to contend with. Right now, he’s a character who is propped up with old motivations unchanged from the original and lacks the charisma and two-facedness needed to make the character come to life. Despite everything this show has going against it, I feel myself compelled to keep on watching — hoping that maybe the next episode will make a clear break from the familiar storyline.

Continue Reading...

Three-Episode Test: Ink's Summer 2015

I'm boycotting anime until Wakako-Zake streams.

Topics: , , , , , , , , ,

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


Akagi (Drama)
Streaming on Crunchyroll.

Based on Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s manga of the same name, this live-action drama sure picked one hell of an arc to adapt: the Akagi vs. Washizu mahjong match. Each hour-long episode is chuck full of visualizations of tiles and strategies, explanations of hands, and pondering … lots of pondering. The only drawbacks to not being animated are the lack of Madhouse finesse regarding through-the-floor camera work and the shakiness of whatever handheld camcorder was used to shoot this series. (I seriously felt ill at moments from motion sickness.) Otherwise, the lighting, costumes, staging, sets, and filming all remind me of ’80s soap opera melodrama, which is perfect for a show centered around a competitive game. I also love the soundtrack, which is all over the place from beatnik jazz to Psycho screeching strings backed by Fantasia trumpets, and electric/metal guitar. Masahiko Tsugawa as Washizu is a great choice, pulling off early some of the underlying conceit and madness, while Kanata Hongo as Akagi is appropriately cold if only appearing too young and not reckless/mad genius enough. The latter may be the fault of starting in on this arc instead of taking the time to develop atmosphere and Akagi’s history of derring-do. Oh yeah, I'm watching this.

Aquarion Logos (sequel)
Streaming on FUNimation

Mechs combining with magical girl-esque pilot transformation sequences and a “was it good for you” afterwards, parallel universe theory, Pokémon-speak mojibake of the week, Wittgensteinian philosophy … what’s not to love in this show where employees at an anime café are actually a super-secret sentai team devoted to saving the world from a madman hell-bent on destroying its language? Well, a lot’s wrong with it actually, but there’s a lot to appreciate as well: mostly the sense of parody that saturates each episode without pointing itself out as such. The series is also melodramatilicious™, which is often part of the parody for its use of over-exaggerated tropes. Most notably, I’d point out the linguistic propaganda focus — kanji that come to life and wreak havoc on the general populace — and how that panders to word nerds like myself. A direct quote from the second episode: “The voice infused with spirit bestows power and meaning upon words. Is this the true power of verbalism?” “Verbalism,” by the way, is how the sentai team fights the word monsters. Think Phantom Tollbooth but with giant CG robots instead of a dog with a clock in its chest. It’s kinda perfect(ly crazy) and very watchable for being so.

Gangsta.
Streaming on FUNimation

A street action/drama series directed by Ergo Proxy’s Shukou Murase? Sold! Handymen Worick and Nicolas settle disputes, one way or another, for anyone able to pay. Nicholas is a Tag, an ex-military super soldier type, who also happens to be deaf. His partner, Worick, is a gigolo and more adept at the more nuanced aspects of negotiation. While the initial episode hooked me conceptually, it wasn’t until episode 3 that I was hooked visually. That’s a lie, but this series’ sense of style certainly reveals itself little by little. From the camerawork and color palate to the choreography, Gangsta is a stunning watch. The pacing of the storytelling is fluid, gripping, like being swept away by a strong current (whether for action or emotion). As soon as you start watching, the episode seems like it’s over! I’d like to validate claims of grittiness laid by others, but while the toon is violent, hosts some seedy situations, and isn't set in the most wholesome of environments, the streets look far too clean to be Roanapur. I’m in it for the run, and Alex’s white dress has nothing to do with it.

My LOVE Story!! – Ore Monogatari!! (continuation)
Streaming on Crunchyroll

After my previous Three Episode Test entry for this series, I was curious to see how long My Love Story!! (Ore Monogatari!!) could stay fresh and sustain my interest given that each episode is comprised of two people in love getting to know each other better and falling all the more in love for it. Normally, I’d say that’s sickeningly sweet, but for some reason, whether it’s all the laughter stemming from the absurd physical, emotional, and audio contrasts or the awws evoked from how wonderfully the couple’s devotion comes across, week after week makes me grin like an idiot. I really couldn’t ask for more, but this season gave it to me with a renewed focus on what was an ancillary character and a new character. The whole deal still reeks of relentless pandering to those who want to place themselves in the humongous, incorruptible shoes of a modest, patient, even-tempered, invincible misfit, treasured by everyone who gets to know him, and walk a mile in his squeaky clean relationship. But, yeah, I’m up for that. Every. Single. Week.

Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace
Streaming on FUNimation

As this season’s noitaminA installment, Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace frames adapted murder mysteries from acclaimed novelist Rampo Edogawa within the life of a bored young man who excitedly comes to work on cases brought to another bored young man (who happens to also be a super-detective ). The first episode nicely contextualizes the main character’s incentive for becoming involved in such work. But as of episode 2 (that’s one mystery in), things are trending towards wrapping up a little too cleanly and much too quickly, with much too much exposition. Never having read the source material, I’m not sure if this is reflective of Edogawa’s writings or if the anime is just not taking the time needed to tell each tale properly. This is the show’s greatest shame. Anything not run over by narration is enthralling in both mood and visuals, which makes me sad that this isn’t a Fall 2015 show, but it slows to a slog any time exposition is allowed to run rampant. As Episode 3 showed great improvement, I’ll definitely be watching and hoping for a more lips-off approach down the line.

Ushio and Tora
Streaming on Crunchyroll

A property revival of a ‘90s shonen manga previously only graced with a handful of OVA episodes, this MAPPA x VOLN co-production very intentionally features throwback animation, a throwback plotline, a throwback protagonist, a throw… you get the idea. So long as you watched anime in the ‘90s, you know Ushio and Tora’s gist, gags, and story even if you’re not familiar with the original material. To quote Ani-Gamers Editor-In-Chief Evan Minto, “Yup, this sure is shonen action.” Even so, this series about a temple keeper’s goofball son who unleashes the greatest evil ever known and then works with it in an antagonistic relationship (reminiscent of the friendship among young boys) to fend off lesser evils is a fun watch. The voice acting is the staple of the series; the two main characters exude a whimsical chemistry that’s simultaneously hokey and endearing. Visually, the series does a great job of recreating the ‘90s while upping production quality to today’s standards. (Thanks, MAPPA!) This is one of those titles I could see myself initially dropping without regret but scolding myself for doing so every time someone mentions it thereafter. I’ll be watching, but it’s not a must-catch week-to-week deal.

Wakako-Zake
Streaming on…

Picture courtesy of Kory Cerjak

Working!!! (sequel)
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Working!! (Wagnaria) is one of those comedies that’s far better than it has any right to be, and I was so ecstatic over the simulcasting of its third season that I even volunteered to write episode reviews over at The Fandom Post. Seasons 1 and 2 largely built up Inami’s budding feelings towards Takanashi, who has taken on the task of trying to alleviate her androphobia. Surrounding those two are a cast of fellow employees at Wagnaria Family Restaurant so foiled by each other that the relationship strings sew some fabulous comedic setups. This season, which starts off with a new director, is going in new directions with darker tones, a focus on a new couple’s romantic inclinations, tender drama, and even realistic perceptions about existing gag characters. (Leave my poor Kozue alone, damnit!) Of course there’s still plenty of Working!!’s trademark timing that makes the funny go ‘round (even if some jokes are in unforgivably poor taste). The source manga finally ended, so I wonder if this will be the last season or if there’s one more waiting in the wings. Either way, I have to watch weekly to find out what happens and bust my gut while doing so!

Continue Reading...

The Trap Door: The Alpha and the Omega

Akira (1988)

Topics: , ,

When I started the Trap Door column a few years ago, I wanted to shine a spotlight on forgotten titles — titles that, maybe, deserve another look. Along the way, I’ve rediscovered some gems and uncovered some manure. But in this installment, I want to celebrate a title that is evergreen, that every fan knows, and yet we seem to have forgotten how we came to see, the context in which we saw it, and our feelings about the title. As part of our Akira Yearbook project, I’ll be contributing an interpretation piece. But here, I just want to give a review (if such a thing is possible) of the massively influential, often copied, but never equalled: Akira.

Please be advised: a spoiler warning is now in effect.

Set in the year 2019, 31 years after the destruction of Tokyo in an explosion and 30-plus years after the start of World War III, our story takes place in the rebuilt "Neo-Tokyo." The city lurches along, growing and expanding like a futuristic city should. There’s the usual strife that goes with that, but as the moment, there’s a particular problem with bōsōzoku gangs: gangs of young turks causing mayhem and destruction while fighting for their turf. The Capsules are led by Shotaro Kaneda, and they rule their roost. The gang also includes Tetsuo Shima, Kaneda’s buddy and childhood friend. One night while racing through the streets, they cross swords with the Clowns in a bloody encounter. In the melee, Tetsuo is injured while swerving to avoid Takashi, an escapee from a government lab. The military turns up, recaptures Takashi, and brings Tetsuo to one of their hospitals. The whole gang gets arrested. This might have been the end of it, and everyone would have been bailed out the next day, if not for the fact that the military doctors discover that Tetsuo has latent psychic powers similar to another of their previous test subjects. This sets off a conflict that will kill hundreds of people, rewrite reality, and drive two best friends apart. It's also one of the greatest science fiction films ever made.

Part of the appeal of Akira after 25 years of English-speaking fans knowing of it is that it transcends cultural barriers while concurrently encompassing Japanese concepts like karmic retribution, buddhist resurrection theory, and Shinto equilibrium with the forces of nature. There is no other film that can dump that much theory on you and still hold your attention with the possible exception of the original Matrix (The Wachowski’s have both said Akira was an inspiration to them making The Matrix). It sets out to be the best head trip possible while still hefting a fairly heavy action hammer. Of course, it doesn’t seem like that when the film first starts. The world itself that Kaneda and Tetsuo comes from is all spit and attitude. Kaneda sits atop his Honda bike while draped in the red leather armour of his biker forebearers, snarling at society and daring it to bark back. He and Tetsuo are the forgotten children of the post-atomic age, and they don’t want the world that the adults say they should have to carry. It’s the adults’ world, so it’s their problem. But like every group of outcasts, the world in which they live is the world on which they must depend. When it gets threatened, even the most standoffish of punks will consider their options.

After some necessary exposition in the beginning and hints of a bigger mystery, director Katsuhiro Otomo builds on his original manga and starts digging out the plot. He changes his lead character from an anti-social punk into a warrior soldier for the people, one that will save them from the hellfire of oblivion that walks in the wake of his out-of-control and powerful best friend. Otomo fuses the mad science of Frankenstein with the Japanese pathological fear of nuclear fire. Tetsuo, awakened to his powers, becomes an analogue to the bombing of Japan in WWII. While cursed with this power, its awesome energy is slowly driving him insane. And when he thinks that the remains of the previous test subject who achieved Godhood (the titular Akira) are being kept from him, he goes on a rampage. In his mind, not realising that Akira became non-corporeal before he left his remains behind, the military are stopping him from being complete. While trying to free his friend from the military’s experiments, Tetsuo crosses a line and kills some of the old gang. Kaneda realises Tetsuo isn’t sick, that he’s gone mad, and teams up with the General (who despite being part of the experiment that created Tetsuo doesn’t want another Akira to happen) to try and stop his old friend. There’s a tragic element to that, knowing that the next time you see your friend, you’re going to have to kill him. Again, I can’t help but feel the parallel of war here, mirroring the insanity of killing your fellow brother or sister because opposing forces will it so.

Another great aspect of the film is that there’s no concrete notion as to what happened to Akira, the previous subject, despite there being multiple explanations (some of which are fairly accurate). While the other children became espers, their powers remained localized. None of them came close to Akira’s level, and we are left with scant information as to what he became. Did he move to a higher plane of existence? Did he move into another dimension? Was he, for all intents and purposes, a God? We’re not told about that, but we are told that he regards his old friends with affection and aids them in their quest to save the world from Tetsuo’s rampage. While the last vestiges of humanity are still there, they are enough to make Akira intervene while Tetsuo still craves human frailties like power and respect. These questions push the audience to consider what exactly is the nature of the thing we call reality? Is it just the daily struggle to survive and carry on the rat race of life, or can we really evolve to see the universe with new, less petty eyes? If reality is just what we see, hear, touch and feel, then what is the place where Akira resides and where Tetsuo wants to be actually made of? “I think, therefore I am” presupposes that reality is only there because you can fathom it. Holding to that truth, is there any difference to our version of reality and Akira’s reality?

The animation on display builds a world unlike any before it: the metropolis of Neo-Tokyo in all its wonder and horror. From the glass towers to the streets overrun with biker gangs below, the city is alive and pulses with its own heartbeat. It’s a science fiction fan’s earnest dream. Massive towers of concrete and glass, filled with all kinds of technological wonder, tapering down to district-sized undergrounds and mezzanines connected by hundreds of concrete veins along which cars and goods move. Everyone is connected to the network and everyone believes in the network. All around, this is the shiny and squalid future that we’re all going to get, because that’s progress dammit. So many stories have been crafted on the back of Neo-Tokyo and its fatal cycle of death and rebirth since the film’s release that it’s hard to think further back and realise that Metropolis by Fritz Lang promised the same kind of future. Is it just me or do we seem destined to dream the future as this vast, monolithic landscape of oneness and conformity? It’s almost as if we know this is the best kind of future we can craft, because nobody’s going to accept either a utopia or a complete dystopia? The citizens of the city live in this future because this is the one they inherited and are either too blind or too apathetic to change it. But Neo-Tokyo is built on a lie and possibly multiple lies. If people knew that the military were still trying to perfect the process that led to the first city’s destruction, would they be so complacent? The revolutionary group that freed Takashi and is trying to stop the military know but they don’t want to tell people. That makes them as complicit as the people they oppose by reason of not wanting to cause a panic. If that was their game, then by freeing the esper from his captivity, they triggered the very thing they were trying to prevent. Otomo shines in the script showing that the only people who are not doomed by their fate are the espers who can stand outside the fight between man and superman and see the bigger picture. They seem like they’re prisoners, but that is not the truth — just a version of the truth. When they connect with Tetsuo, they can see the maelstrom at his centre; they know this can only end one way.

For a film theory fan, another great thing to consider about Akira is the timelessness of the story and its characters. Harking back to part of Campbell’s hero of a thousand faces theory, a young boy craves acceptance from his peers and society. In a horrible moment, he is used by a group of power mad sorcerers to tap into an unlimited power. He cannot control the power and begins to lose all grip on reality. After much sacrifice on the side of the people of the land, one person stands up to defeat the boy. Our hero, a former friend of the boy, acquires ancient knowledge from a group of wizards and goes to storm the antagonists lair with this knowledge. At the same time, behind the scenes, the wizards band together and call onto a higher power to intercede. By levelling the playing field, the hero and the antagonist square off in combat and while the hero stands his ground, the day is won by the manifestation of the power calling the boy back and calming the waters around the land. The day is saved, and the sorcerers are destroyed in the process, leaving the evil in the ground until it can be safely used for good.

And you thought it was just a good sci-fi movie, huh?

The dubs from Akira over the years have extended its longevity. Older fans (for the most part) like the Streamline dub, and younger fans like the Animaze dub that Geneon used in their releases in North America and that Funimation and Manga UK currently use. (For the record, the Funimation disc has both dubs and the original Japanese to choose from.) I love Mitsuo Iwata as Kaneda and Nozomu Sasaki as Tetsuo as they shout, roar, scream and smirk their way through the destruction of Neo-Tokyo. To this day, I just have to mock shout “KANEDA!!!” and my older brother will retort with “TETSUO!!!” This film is that engrained in our shared pop culture experience. The English dubs have their pluses and minuses, but both have lent toward the spread of the film on mainstream TV over the years, helping to push the film beyond the realm of anime fans’ consciousnesses alone. The fact that hollywood has been trying to make a live action Akira for over 13 consecutive years is met with both admiration and derision by fans. No other project, other than the long awaited Ghost in the Shell live action film, has tested American studios in their quest in its adaption for English speaking markets. They can’t get it wrong, because the only core audience that they can bank on right now are the fans of the original. But the same fans claim that no studio can hope to get it right, so the original still retains its luster for a little while longer. I should also mention that you can complement your Akira experience with the English language versions of Otomo’s original manga, which can be found in all good retailers.

Akira is a title that rises above the banner of “Anime you need to see before you die.” It’s a title that needs to be seen before you die if you’re a fan of films. Period. The crowning achievement of Otomo’s career, Akira sets the standard by which all other claimants to the throne must pass. Every English-speaking anime company forever chases “the next Akira,” much like Kaneda on his bike chasing his enemies. Unlike Kaneda, however, anime companies will continue the chase not knowing that there is only one Akira and there will only ever be one.

Continue Reading...

Snapshot: Inside the Eye of the Storm (Flowers of Evil)

Topics: ,

While Kasuga’s classmates sleep peacefully, warm in their beds, a storm of guilt roils his soul with a slow, rolling rumble. Saeki, the girl with whom he’s smitten, is singing Kasuga’s praises, while he tears himself apart over how unworthy he is of such a hymn. So as an act of contrition, Kasuga asks for help from the only person who can — the very force that’s been exacerbating the situation that’s tortured him so.

Spoilers:
Kasuga wants Nakamura to air his dirty laundry for him right in front of Saeki, and Nakamura, devil that she is, helps him. In a sentence brought down upon Kasuga more cutting than Kafka’s for those In The Penal Colony, Nakamura forces Kasuga to confess his sins, in writing, on the blackboard a la an elementary school student’s punishment. After Kasuga’s last bit of pride breaks, he fills the blackboard with the chalk outline of the full truth about his self, revealing a true pervert that “stole Saeki Nanako’s gym uniform, rubbed it all over [his] body, wore it on a date with her, and even asked her out while wearing it.”

Seeing in Kasuga a cloud whose bursting bladder has been wrung only of its potential excess in order to allow continued drifting, Nakamura pushes, “Is that it?” Breaking boundaries, Kasuga upsets a chalk drawer and, with its scattered contents, condemns the floor and all who will walk upon it with “shit” and “shit-faces" while howling on his hands and knees. And then the thunderclap: ink, like a blood-let stream black with a starless night, splashes across Kasuga’s hands. “More!” cries Nakamura. Officially sullied and removed of his last vestige of restraint, Kauga runs amok in a tornado around the classroom bloodying everything while Nakamura dances with delight for the chaos of the storm and makes sure nothing is left standing.

Kasuga and Nakamura appear more defiled by ink as the scene flows, so it’s easy to parallel the increasing vandalism with an expression of Nakamura’s corruptive influence on Kasuga. A little more interesting, however, is viewing the stains in the light as an erosion of masks and the appearance of Kasuga’s true skin. In that vein, I’ll reiterate (and rearrange) what I said when I first wrote about this scene: “Is it a celebration of youth? a mating dance? a ritual sacrifice? a rebirth? Yes. All of those things, in slow motion, backed by a bongo-rific version of ASA-CHANG & JUNRAY’s ‘A Last Flower,’ come together for an utterly amazing climax of reckless abandon.”

If this scene is to be looked at as a mating ritual or outright sexual gratification, the composition of the shot (above) is very important. Kasuga’s venting has left him panting, breathless, with his hand Saeki’s soiled uniform (specifically on Saeiki’s invisible thigh). Nakamura, also breathless and panting, is separated by physical distance and the lighter color of the floor from both the uniform and Kasuga, meaning she has no connection with his euphoria. She’s still inside the bulb of the same flower with Kasuga, however, which points to a shared experience. More importantly, one of her legs lies in the flower’s eye — the very symbol of awakening that runs throughout this series. She has managed to corrupt or free Kasuga (depending on your reading), and taking delight in this end result as an almost sexual conquest, she turns to Kasuga and calls him “Pervert” as if a pet name while wearing a huge grin of satisfaction.

Continue Reading...

Drunken Otaku: Drinkin' Buddies – Tiffany Dawn Soto

Topics: , , ,

As a master sommelier, Tiffany Dawn Soto may soon be one of as many as 200 or so, but she’s one in a billion to me. I first encountered Ms. Soto at Otakon 2013. She was co-presenting a Sake 101 panel that was anything but dry. The more I explore sake and try to talk to friends about it, the more it becomes apparent that many haven’t ventured to try the tasty libation — either due to misconceptions, bad experiences with hot "sake," or for want of accessibility and guidance. So I thought, who better to provide the latter than a sommelier, and what better sommelier than one who speaks from a genuine passion for sake with genuine reverence, enthusiasm, humor, and warmth? I heartily thank Ms. Soto for taking the time out of her hectic drinking schedule to speak with me. After listening, I hope you, like me, will be edified, inspired, and very, very thirsty. Embedded audio (~30 min), show notes, and an invitation to the Otakon 2015 after party are after the break!

[0:00] Opening Song: "Ponzi's Theme" by Firewater.
[1:00] What are you drinking?
[1:30] Sommelier history.
[3:26] Competitive nature of being a sommelier.
[5:45] Origin story, or How I Came to Preach the Sake Gospel.
[8:19] Sake misconceptions: a history and rebuttal.
[13:16] Soto's amazing palate and prectural tasting notes.
[14:30] Interactions in Japan: faux pas, bonds, trust, and unicorns.
[17:43] What's a sake safari? A cause of great jealousy.
[20:39] Panels, people, and after-parties: Otakon.
[25:48] Sake recommendations for beginners.
[28:50] Ending Song: "Come Along" by Morphine.


As she said in the interview, Tiffany Dawn Soto is looking for a couple ambassadors who will be compensated in sake to help out with the Otakon 2015 after party, details for which are directly below. Contact info [at] sake2you [dot] com if you're interested!

Otakon Afterparty
Saturday night 11p-2 am
Azumi Baltimore
Free Sake Tasting, Japanese Craft Beer Specials, Japanese Whisky and Cocktail Specials

Meeting to caravan over on the first floor of the Hilton at 10:15 pm - Departing at 10:30
Looking for a couple ambassadors I'm paying in Sake

Because names can be a bit difficult to discern for Googling, I’ve done the legwork and provided a full transcription, complete with links to specific breweries and brands, to further facilitate your entry into the world of sake drinking. Kanpai!

Ani-Gamers (AG): Usually, my first question would be, in these kinds of segments, “what are you drinking.” But we’re talking in mid-morning, so what’s the last liquid your tongue remembers from your yester-night?

Tiffant Dawn Soto (TDS): Actually, I have a glass of riesling in front of me right now. I’m horrible. I am drinking Unckrich Kallstadter Saumagen Kabinett. And it’s the 2012 label, which is one of my favorite vintages.

AG: Now, for those who may have not read the manga Drops of God or seen the movie Sideways and are not too good at spelling French words in the Google search bar, could you explain what a sommelier is and entails and how being a master sommelier differs?

TDS: Sommelier has taken on sort of a rock star connotation in the food and beverage world, but the reality is that sommelier is a word that derives from the meaning of the word steward or servant. And I think a lot of that’s gotten lost, which some sommeliers might get mad at me for saying that, but a lot of that’s gotten lost in the last few decades. Originally, the sommelier was a person in France who didn’t make it in the kitchen. Everyone wanted to be a chef back in the day, and if you didn’t make it in the kitchen, you were relegated to serving the wine. And that was what the sommelier was: the steward or the servant of the wine. And you were there to create or to round out the experience of dining. Today, there are classes everywhere and there are certifications everywhere and pins that everyone brags about, but at the end of the day, at least for myself and quite a few other people I think, what it gets back to is helping people round out an experience by creating a beverage experience they haven’t had before or is complementary to what they are trying to achieve with their meal.

So it requires training … a lot of training, and there are different levels of certifications for sommeliers. There are different ways to get certified. There’s the Court of Master Sommeliers, which is sort of where the rock star status tends to come in. There’s the Guild of Somms, which anyone who’s a sommelier can be a member of. When it comes to Japanese beverages, there are different schools you can go through in Japan. And there are a few that come here to America and pseudo-certify you … for lack of a better way of putting it.

AG: You mention pins and certifications. Is being a sake sommelier, or being a sommelier in general, competitive? And how so?

TDS: That’s a difficult question. The reality is, yes, it’s competitive. It didn’t used to be so competitive. I’ve been a sommelier for about 12 years now, and when I first came on the scene, there were 75 master sommeliers in the world for wine. And there weren’t really any sake master sommeliers in the U.S. Since that time, and since the movie Somm came out, it’s gotten increasingly competitive, because people want that coveted pin, that exclusivity. The reality is that now that number has doubled. It’s on its way to tripling probably, but that’s still a very small fraction of the human race. You’re talking 150 or 200 of something; that’s a small club. So yes, it is competitive, and the tests are excruciating. People study for years and try over and over again and never achieve that status sometimes. That’s just the way of the program, and the way of the testing mechanisms that are built in. Because if it weren’t that competitive, then it wouldn’t be exclusive. That being said, again, nobody has to have their master sommelier pin to serve. I mean, we’re servants. That’s what we’re for. So while the Court of Master Sommeliers certainly likes for everybody to want their pin, and I have pins from the Court of Master Sommeliers, it’s not mandatory to do our job. All you really have to do is love wine, understand it, and know how to implement it in a way that makes sense for a guest.

Sake’s a little bit different, I guess, for me, because I studied wine and then I studied sake. So I had to do both. The one’s in Japanese, so that’s difficult (laughs). That’s a bit competitive I guess in that you have to learn Japanese. But I would say that it doesn’t have to be competitive, though it certainly seems it has been increasingly so as of late.

AG: And what was the moment that made you decide to dedicate your life to drinking alcohol professionally and preaching the sake gospel specifically?

TDS: Funny I get asked that at least ten times a night when I’m in a restaurant, and I always say the same thing. I say, “You know, I about six years old and I woke up from a dream and I ran to my mommy and I said, ‘Mommy, mommy, mommy, I’m going to be an alcoholic when I grow up!’” And everybody looks at me, shocked, and I say, “No, that’s not really what happened. I’m sorry. I was kidding.” The reality is, I don’t know anybody… Until the last two to three years, nobody ever thought, “I’m going to be a sommelier.” That wasn’t anybody’s life plan. Like I said, even when sommeliers began, it was the backup plan because you couldn’t work in the kitchen. That was always the backup plan, and I think that kind of continued through until just this recent rock star push for master somms.

What started it for me was… I was in school. I was at UNLV. I was an advertising major studying journalism and media studies and philosophy. And I happened to sign up for alcohol classes on Sunday. I happened to be quite good, we found out, at tasting alcohol, and I only signed up for those classes so I could get drunk before my sorority meetings. Which is horrible, I know. And we found out I was good; I had a strong palate. And they made me their teaching assistant. My professor did. And he taught me. He got injured at a certain point when he was teaching in the year that followed, and I had to take over teaching a lot of his classes. He would teach me, and I would go and teach the class. And it gave me a lot of one-on-one instruction with a really great teacher, which was lucky for me. At the end of all that, I got offered a job. They offered to pay for my certification, and I got to go study with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Then I came back, and there were all these Japanese kids asking me about sake. And I didn’t know the answers. So I started studying for them, thinking, “Well I’ll just learn enough to pacify or to fill that need” — not thinking I was gonna like it, not thinking much of it, and totally fell in love with it. And while I started liking wine, I finished liking sake and Japanese whisky and all things Japanese really. Now I do both, but sake’s definitely my baby.

AG: While I was Googling around, I actually noticed you and fellow sommelier Beau Timken referred to sake as the red-headed stepchild of the libation world.

TDS: Beau and I both do use that. Absolutely. We both say that. That’s because it’s true. (laughs) Being a redhead, I know something of that.

AG: What kinds of aspersions have been cast upon sake, and why do you feel the need to defend it?

TDS: So many misconceptions that exist. It dates back at least to the 1940s. The big misconceptions about sake are that it’s this hot battery acid you drink at 3 in the morning with bad sushi. I say 3 in the morning, because I’m from Las Vegas, and you can drink at 3 in the morning. So I apologize to anyone listening in a curfewed city, because … that sucks. (laughs) But it’s not that, and that’s a big misconception. During WWII, there were rice shortages, and the agricultural workers were drafted into the military. Women took to the fields; they hadn’t had a lot of experience growing rice. The rice shortages were vast. They didn’t have enough rice to feed their people let alone to make alcohol, so the government instituted a prohibition. And that prohibition devastated the sake industry because they couldn’t make sake. As the war waged on, three back-to-back really cold winters, two atomic bombs later, the morale of the country was decimated. What resulted was a people that were talking of overthrowing an imperial, which was unheard of in Japan. The government said, “We have to do something.” So the sake research institute outside of Tokyo came up with a plan to make something called sanzou shu, which was part sake part grain alcohol. Now almost 40% of the population of Japan has trouble processing alcohol — they turn bright red, they get feverish, they get hot and sweaty. So giving them something with that high of an alcohol content, cut with grain alcohol, could’ve been very devastating to their health, to their livers in particular. So what the government said, “With an alcohol content this high, and it tasting so bad, we’ll just heat it up. People are already freezing, it’ll cook the alcohol off, and it’ll hide how bad it tastes.” So that was sanzou shu. And sanzou shu was the norm for about a decade until the industry started to recover. And when our soldiers occupied Japan after the emperor surrendered, they would ask for sake, and that’s [sanzou shu] what they were given. They were never the wiser — that it wasn’t sake. And they came back to the U.S. asking for sake, and that’s what they shipped us. It’s still shipped. All the time. It created this myth, that hot sake was sake, and unfortunately hot sake bring with it a lot of things. For starters, it brings a wicked hangover and a horrible palatability. And as it cool in the glass, if people don’t shoot it, it starts to taste really bitter. So people envision sake bombs and other ways to manage to choke it down, and all the while they’ve never tasted real sake.

AG: Which is a shame.

TDS: It is a shame! So it gets relegated to the corners of seedy, dive, all-you-can-eat sushi bars and people drinking it as a last resort or on a dare. Versus when they experience premium and super premium sakes, with 18,000 labels of those made every year. People don’t know the options they have out there and beautiful they are. Sake’s great for a hundred reasons. For starters, it’s only 35 calories per serving. That’s an extremely low number, which is great for me because I have to drink a lot. It’s gluten-free. It’s vegan and vegetarian almost always, which wine is neither of those most of the time. And it has no sulfites and very little residual sugar, which means it’s nearly impossible to give you a hangover with premium or super premium sake. It can certainly give you a dehydration headache the next day if you really go to town, but if you have a glass of water before bed, you’ll feel great the day after. Always. Now, if you mix that with Japanese whisky, two shots of Jager, and three beers, I can’t save you. I mean it’s good. It’s really good, and it’s got everything going for it. It’s grown in 47 prefectures in Japan — 47 regional styles to choose from, all of them so different — and 102 rice varietal currently in use that make them different and hundreds of yeast strains that make them different. There’s so many options, there really is a sake for everyone shy of wearing an AA pin. You’re not wearing an AA pin or you don’t have a token in your pocket, you’re probably gonna find a sake that’s great for you.

AG: Now with your sensitive palate, are you able to distinguish, just by taste, the area from which the sake was produced?

TDS: Definitely. At least from about 20 prefectures. At least for 20 that have very unique microclimates, and there are thousands of microclimates in Japan. Obviously some are similar to others. Ibaraki and Shizuoka, for instance, are somewhat similar in that they both tend to present as very fruitful with florals. The difference is that Shizuoka always presents with sea salty salinity. So you can distinguish between the two. Nigata’s always very very light, very clean, very crisp, usually some white flower and sometimes a touch of pear or honeydew, but very very crisp and clean. It’s definitely my crowd-pleasing, vodka drinker-loving sake go-to. And Nagano, you can always taste the Nagano sake, because they have a richness and a depth of flavor but a really light cold climate elegant style that makes them sort of ideal for proteins and rich dishes. Because they’re up in the mountains where it’s cold, and that’s the kind of food they eat.

AG: You go over to Japan a lot, I’m gonna take a wild guess, and you have to interact with, I’m guessing, brewers and distributors and izakaya owners. I was just wondering if you, being an American and a woman, have experienced any sort of prejudice while doing your job?

TDS: Always a favorite question people ask me. People say, “What was it like for you?” And the reality is that, yes and no. But I’m going to say that any prejudice I experienced I deserved, because the Japanese culture that I’ve come to love is one of earning your way and earning your keep through years and decades of apprenticeship and study and not asking to move forward. And I didn’t do any of that. And so when I kind of arrived in Japan, and I sort of went there and said, “I’m here to study sake,” and people there had been studying for decades and not asked to move up through the ranks and not ask for more education and just waited to be told it was their turn, that was a pretty abrasive American thing for me to do. So, yes, there was pushback sometimes. And there were stares. But there was also clear appreciation, at a certain point, for the love I had for sake and a level of trust that came with it that they believed I was gonna do right by it. And I was grateful for that. There are people in Japan right now that have been studying for 20 years that aren’t allowed to teach about sake like I am, and I was able to do it after six years? … seven years? That doesn’t seem fair, right? So I can understand some of that pushback, because that’s not the Japanese way. That was an American way, and I attacked it maybe too competitively, like we talked about earlier, not because I wanted to compete but because I really wanted it. It mattered to me. And there wasn’t really anyone for me to compete with, so it wasn’t a competition thing, but that is how I went after it.

That being said, I’m always treated really well. Regardless of how they felt, regardless of how they took my forcefulness or my eagerness, I was always treated incredibly well. And for what it’s worth, in Japan, I’m usually treated well just for the red hair. I’m like a unicorn over there. People ask to take pictures of me on the street. They’ve never seen one. (laughs) There were ups and downs in my training, but for the most part, the sake brewing community was very good to me. And they continue to be very good to me. There’s a trust built between a lot of them and me, and we work together on all kinds of projects. And when I go there, I’m always treated amazingly and so are my guests. I mean, we get to experience things that nobody gets to experience in Japan, because they trust me to present it the right way. They trust me to bring the right types of people to see it. They trust me to do right by them when I come back to the U.S. and talk about it. So it’s good. It’s good. No, I wouldn’t say there was prejudice, but I would say there were bumps.

AG: You also run sake safaris, where you take people over to Japan, and what does that usually involve?

TDS: They change every year. For instance, the one we have coming up this year, we always start in Tokyo. But for what it’s worth, I can’t stand Tokyo. I’m from Las Vegas, and Tokyo is Las Vegas on steroids … especially in the areas that are very American-centric, like Roppongi. That being said, a lot of people love to go there. It’s just not my thing. So we land in Tokyo. We stay two days to get acclimated. We have some great sake at a couple bars there I have good acquaintance with, and then we leave, as fast as we can, on a shinkansen.  We jump in a first-class green car ‘cause I’m spoiled rotten (laughs), and head off. This trip, we’re going to Nagano first. We’re gonna visit some breweries and a winery and some snow monkeys, and then we are going to Niigata … for the March trip anyway. At Niigata, we’re stopping at the Sake no Jin festival, which is the largest sake festival in Japan. The trip was actually planned around that date. And from there, we are heading down the Western coast of Honshu Island towards Hiroshima and Kyoto. We’re going to stop in Nagoya for a Chunichi Dragons baseball game. Along the way, we’re going to stop at the Yamazaki distillery to taste some Japanese whisky. And we’re going to have some pretty great cultural experiences in Kyoto that are kind of must-tries for your first time in Japan. We’re gonna head to Shizuoka, which I’m really excited about, because Shizuoka is one of the most beautiful places in Japan and one of the most understated. It’s coastal, it’s stunning, and from the coast there are these great, fantastic views. You can sit in hot springs and overlook water. It’s amazing: natural hot springs just overlooking the ocean. From there, we’re gonna move inland to this ryokan, which is a very traditional hotel built around a hot spring. That’s what that means. Onsen is the word for hot spring, and the ryokan is the hotel that accompanies it. And we’re gonna stay at Asaba, which is one of the oldest and hardest to grab reservations in Japan. It’s amazing. It’s built into the landscape, with hot springs and streams coming down out of the mountain and gorgeous scenery. I’m really excited to take everyone there. We’re gonna enjoy ten-course meals. And everywhere we go, we’re going to eat a lot. (laughs) There’s no question. We’re going to eat and drink a lot, visit one of my favorite breweries in Shizuoka, and then we’re gonna head back to Tokyo, relax for a day, and head home.

AG: That sounds absolutely amazing.

TDS: That’s how it goes. It’s a good time. We do have fun!

AG: Another good time, at least one I enjoy, is down at Otakon, where you’ve done a couple panels in previous years. You do a panel on sake, a panel on whisky, and a panel on drinking culture. (At least as far as I’ve seen.) How did you come to learn about Otakon, and why did you decide to start submitting panels to it?

TDS: There’s a Baltimore native named Rob Perry, who loves Otakon and loves sake. He was doing tea panels at Otakon for … four years I guess. And he came and saw me at my restaurant and he said, “Tiffany, I really want you to try and do a sake panel with me or an overview panel. I’d really like to do this. Would you consider it?” And I thought about it, and I wasn’t really sure. I didn’t understand Otakon at that point. I didn’t really understand what it was or the culture of the attendees or how family-like or family-oriented it was … how much fun it was! And I was so busy with all my travel that I was hesitant at first. But he convinced me. He was very convincing. And we submitted panels together a couple years ago, and three of my panels were picked up? Two or three the first year were picked up. I think it was two: I did an overview of Japanese beverage and I did Sake 101. It was great. It was so much fun. And then last year, I submitted six, and I think three were picked up. I had Sake 101, Japanese Whisky 101, and Japanese Drinking Culture, which was really a class aimed at teaching people how to act in their cosplay — to know the right hierarchy for drinking: who pours for who, who sits where, in different drinking environments. It was a really, really neat session. I didn’t expect it to be so popular, but it was really popular. I mean that room held … I think it was 900 people, and it was sold out. And obviously Japanese Whisky 101 was sold out; we had to turn a lot of people away. Sake 101 was way more than sold out; we had to turn tons of people away from that too. I really fell in love with everyone. They didn’t just welcome me with open arms, they hugged me and begged me to come back and followed me to after-parties and followed me on Instgram and started emailing me about next year. I mean, I … I love it. They’re amazing. I love everyone there. Everybody’s so great; they’re such a big family. And I didn’t know it, so it’s been really great for me.

AG: You definitely earned their love with some fantastic panels. You mentioned the after-parties though, and I wanted to bring that up because you usually an event at a restaurant either directly after the panel or after the con ends that night. What’s in store for those who attend, and is that going to happen again this year?

TDS: So the folks at Otakon did not want my panels this year.

AG: Boo! Let’s all boo Otakon. BOO!!!

TDS: I did submit 7 panels. They decided to go in a different direction with their 18+ this year. I’m not sure what that means or who’s competing for the 18+ panels. Hopefully they’re great. But I have experienced a lot of pushback from the people that came in the last couple of years. I am going to host one after-party on Saturday night. And what will end up happening is we will end up meeting at 10:30 downstairs at the Hilton. And I’m working with a bunch of ambassadors — I’m still looking for five more ambassadors actually to come and help me with the party, and I’m gonna thank them in sake. And we’re going to move everyone over to Azumi, and the after-party will start at Azumi restaurant at 11 pm and go until two in the morning. …or later, if people want to stay later, but probably until two in the morning. We’re going to have free sake tastings again, like last year, sponsored by Sidney Frank and Gekkeikan, and we are going to have bento boxes and sushi plates and all the things we’ve always had. It’s all going to be really great, so that everybody can get together and have some fun in the afterhours. Because when I told people I wasn’t going to do it, they were so disappointed I just couldn’t handle it actually. I felt guilt. So we’re gonna one. We’re gonna do it on Saturday night, and it’s gonna be great.

AG: Awesome. I really hope I can make it. I know I’ve kept you for a good half hour now, but would you be so kind as to rattle off a short sake list for those who want to try domestically available sake but don’t know where to start?

TDS: Absolutely! For starters, the sake that’s available is different in every area. But if you can’t find the sakes I mention, you can always email me or tweet me or Instagram me and I’m happy to respond. I’m really good at responding actually with recommendations for people. But let’s just say an intro sake drinker’s guide would start with Ichishima. That’s readily available in most major cities, especially cities that hug the outside of the United States. It’s not as available in the Midwest. Ichishima’s a really great choice; there are five options usually available. I prefer the tokubetsu honjozo for new drinkers of sake. Dewazakura dewasansan is a very nice intro sake for people who like white wine. It’s very bright. It’s got juicy green apple and pear on the nose and it’s got good acidity, so wine drinkers tend to love it. Almost everywhere has access to Gekkeikan, and their Suzaku label is one of my favorites. It’s from Kyoto, and it’s a very traditional Kyoto style. So it’s got a lot of flowers, some fruit, and a little bit of earthiness to it. That’s a really nice option. You can get that almost anywhere. It’s a black bottle with a red firebird on the front of it. …which is called a suzaku coincidentally. It looks like a phoenix. And let’s pick one more: we’ll say … Masumi! Masumi is readily available in most major markets, and Masumi makes some pretty diverse labels, everything from bright juicy namas that are really great for not just white wine drinkers but people who like juicy, acidic cocktails with fruit juice in them, and really dark, rich Yamahai style sakes, like their Nanago or their Okuden is really great for whisky or rum drinkers. Those would be a really nice place to start.

AG: Excellent. Thank you so very much! Is there anything you’d like to plug before we wrap this all up?

TDS: If you want more information about sake, you can go to my website sake2you.com, and I’m HeySakeLady everywhere. So if you need to find me on Instagram or Twitter to ask me a question, HeySakeLady is where you can find me. And you can contact me through my website.

Continue Reading...

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

AD Police (1990)

Topics: , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading...

Snapshot: Giving Up (Aldnoah Zero)

Topics: , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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


Aldnoah Zero is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Daisuki.


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

Continue Reading...

Drunken Otaku: Great Drinker – Misato Katsuragi

O, Captain!

Topics: , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Continue Reading...

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

New Dominion Tank Police (1993/1995)

Topics: , , , , ,

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

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

Lt. Brenten

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

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

The Chief

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

Puma Sisters

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

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

Continue Reading...

Snapshot: I, for One, Welcome Our Kawaii Overlord

Topics: ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Continue Reading...

Drunken Otaku: Great Drinker - Mudokons

Drinkin' Buddies

Topics: , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading...

Three-Episode Test: Jared's Spring 2015

Arslan Arslan ARSLAN!

Topics:

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


Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches

Streaming on Crunchyroll

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

My Love Story
Streaming on Crunchyroll

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

Show By Rock!!
Streaming on FUNimation

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

Food Wars
Streaming on Crunchyroll

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

Sound! Euphonium
Streaming on Crunchyroll

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

Heroic Legend of Arslan
Streaming on FUNimation

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

Ninja Slayer From Animation
Streaming on FUNimation

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

Continue Reading...

Three-Episode Test: Evan's Spring 2015

30 Minutes Is Too Much

Topics:

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


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

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

Ninja Slayer FROM Animation
Streaming on FUNimation

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

 

Teekyu (Season 4)
Streaming on Crunchyroll

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

 

Takamiya Nasuno Desu
Streaming on Crunchyroll

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

Continue Reading...

Three-Episode Test: Ink's Spring 2015

High School Drama Slayer

Topics: , , , , , , , ,

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


My Love Story!!
Streaming on Crunchyroll

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

 

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

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

 

Ninja Slayer
Streaming on FUNimation

TRIGGER

Ninjas! (violence)

Dizzying blend of Inferno Cop and other animation styles

Ninja slayer (more violence)

Hilarity

Twelve minute long episodes.

What's not to watch?

 

 

Plastic Memories
Streaming on Crunchyroll

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

 

 

Punch Line
Streaming on Crunchyroll

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

 

Re-Kan!
Streaming on Crunchyroll

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

 

 

Sound! Euphonium
Streaming on Crunchyroll

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

 

Yamada-Kun and the Seven Witches
Streaming on Crunchyroll

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

Continue Reading...

Three-Episode Test: Phillip's Spring 2015

Delicious Fanservice

Topics:

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


Food Wars!
Streaming on Crunchyroll

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

Punch Line
Streaming on Crunchyroll

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

Continue Reading...

Snapshot: Pineapple Slice of Life (Only Yesterday)

Topics: , , ,

Taeko smells the pineapple

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

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

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

Taeko's sister cuts the pineapple's skin off

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

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

The family reacts.

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

Taeko munches away in disappoinment

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


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


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

Continue Reading...

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

Sea Prince and the Fire Child (1981)

Topics: , , , , , ,

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


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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Continue Reading...

Drunken Otaku: Bartender (Anime)

A love letter to liquor and those who serve.

Topics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading...

Snapshot: Temporal Culture Clash (The Rolling Girls)

Topics: ,

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.

 

Continue Reading...

Snapshot: Synchronicity (Kokoro Connect)

Topics: ,

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.

Continue Reading...

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

Otaku No Video (1991)

Topics: , , ,

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.

Continue Reading...