Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sabu is a name you should probably know

For years he was quietly one of Japan's best directors, somehow evading much international recognition while producing consistently astounding films. His first five movies all featured the same lead actor, Tsutsumi Shin'ichi, and are pretty much exactly the kind of thing I'd like to see Eclipse do box sets of.

Dangan Runner, his first film, is the simplest to explain -- three men are chasing each other, on foot, for the entire movie. Pretty much the entire thing is constructed of their respective reactions to things they all three pass. Enjoyable, but definitely a low budget stunt, and more of a promise than a success.

Postman Blues followed, and is still his finest film. A black comedy about a simple postman mistaken for a serial killer by the police, it cross cuts between events as the appear to the postman, and how they appear to the police, manufacturing humor from Sabu's fascination with coincidence and misunderstanding.

Unlucky Monkey is the only one of his films released in the US, as far as I know...and I only know because I randomly found it on the shelf a year ago. Animeigo has released a number of titles that really deserve to be seen, and has simply not managed to get any buzz going on them. Unlucky Monkey is certainly worth picking up, but it was also my least favorite of Sabu's early films; I can't specifically remember why, but I think it just didn't pay off as well. Despite the US release, I can't even find a trailer on Youtube.

Monday was the first one that actually grabbed any international press. This time, Tsutsumi Shin'ichi plays an ordinary salaryman waking up in a hotel room with no memory of the night before. As he ransacks his pockets, slowly piecing together the events, he realizes the police surrounding the building are there for him. It also has the best trailer by far.

Drive was Sabu's final collaboration with Tsutsumi Shin'ichi, and their biggest hit. Tsutsumi had been a stage actor who rarely made movies, but he pretty much used Drive as a springboard into film, and has become one of the more reliable leading men in Japanese film. Drive's success owed a lot to Shibasaki Kou, who had filmed her small role in this just before Battle Royale made her a star. But in many ways it represents the culmination of the themes that ran through all of Sabu's early films. Tsutsumi plays an uptight salaryman in love with a girl he's never spoken to; when three bank robbers jump into his car and order him to follow their driver, who's made off with the cash, he does so...but never above the speed limit.

Sabu seems to have had trouble adjusting to Tsutsumi's departure. Blessing Bell was an interesting movie, with Teramachi Susumu walking for a really long time in one direction, then running back the other way, encountering each of the same places in a different light, but more of an experiment than an actual movie, and one that dragged considerably in the early going.

Hard Luck Hero is a project I'm sure he would rather forget, a vanity picture for a boy band that has a few Sabu trademarks, but with no leads who can act, and a script clearly knocked up in no time at all, it was an unwatchable mess.

He's made three films since, but the only one I've even seen coverage of was his most recent film, a literary adaption. I can't tell if there's no buzz because his slump has continued, or because there's just not enough people really paying attention to Japanese film.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bakemonogatari 8

Shaft saw Mononoke, I see. The opening bit was a direct visual reference.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The cover of Del Rey's first Moyasimon volume is...

... quite different compared to its Japanese edition.

It comes out next month; don't miss it.

Viz is a giant

A search for upcoming Viz Media titles on Amazon reveals a number of surprises -- specifically, every single title that's on their SigIkki website, save for Tokyo Flowchart, Afterschool Charisma and I Am a Turtle, have their first volumes available for pre-order. (Whatever vague standards they're using to determine print publication is working, I guess?)

The manga industry in North America isn't facing its best times right now. Del Rey is stretching their release of one quarterly volume to every six months for certain series (Alive, Mushi-shi, Nodame). Dark Horse has either put off or outright cancelled various titles (and upping the price while decreasing the book quality of Berserk isn't helpful). Tokyopop maintains near-irrelevancy and degrades their titles more in production.

Considering this, it's either genius or suicidal for Viz to expand their Signature line with continuing premium presentation, along with the already announced thirty volumes of One Piece in six months. Even with well-established and loved titles/creators -- Children of the Sea, Bokurano, Inio Asano, Taiyo Matsumoto, Fumi Yoshinaga, Tsutomu Nihei; One Piece selling consistently well -- this is a big fucking gamble.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Z! episodes 19 and 20: The Longest Day at the Kurogane House parts 1 and 2

Shit, I'm loving this arc. What did I like about these two episodes? Randomness, reversals, and one-upping are abound. Grandpa Kabuto has several scenes. There's lots of barrel-chested, desperate shouting. Zeus' giant green arm is amazing. The flashbacks are extremely badass. Nishikiori has one explosively badass moment, in addition to some more subdued character-developing ones. The animation is at the best it's been in this series. These episodes were so sensational that the lull preceding it seems like a distant memory. Imagawa has been saving his punches for an absolute flurry. Thank you Imagawa. I don't remember the last time I was excited for a subsequent episode.

On a separate note, another commercial for Cencoroll has been released. I love the rave-y music they've used so far. I'm looking forward to the soundtrack as much as the thing itself.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wally is an idiot, never listen to him again

Ponyo is easily the best thing Miyazaki's done since Porco Rosso, largely because it, like Porco Rosso, completely can't be fucked with having a plot. The weight of his story threatened to crush both Mononoke and Kamikakushi, and absolutely ruined Howl's Moving Clusterfuck; Ponyo represents a welcome return to form.
The dub is beautiful done; were it not for a few obvious greetings and utterly arbitrary honorifics, you'd think it was always in English. The two kids get a bit shrill at times, but we had actual five year olds in the theater to compare them to, and they came off well. (These kids were never inappropriately vocal, and one of them happily declared this the best movie ever, so we're cool.)
I do advise you to leave before the end credits song slides horrifyingly into a techno remix from hell - zombie Disney couldn't resist rising from the grave to assfuck Miyazaki's movie at the last possible second.
While I doubt Miyazaki will ever be able to surpass Porco Rosso, I do have to say the scene with Ponyo running along the backs of the giant fish as the kid's mom drives frantically along the winding road is possibly the finest thing he's ever directed.

I just like typing "The Most Emo Man in Japan"

Not the first time I've heard of this guy, but the first time I've actually become interested in his work.

And in other news, this is why I love the Internet.

Interview with the editor-in-chief of Ikki

ICv2 has an interview with Hideki Egami, the editor-in-chief of Ikki.

It's brief and not particularly shocking, but a quick little read with at least one interesting/amusing/vague metaphor:
At the time I founded Ikki, my boss said, ‘For Spirits, you have to see the ocean to see the audience and readers, and so capture the needs of the audience, but for Ikki you have to see the spring where the river originates,’ meaning that you have to look at the creators and then capture the creators’ passion. You know, don’t look at readers, but start from the creators. So that’s probably the key point, the focal point of Ikki and that’s really the uniqueness of Ikki: it focuses on the passion of the creators.
Worth checking out for the couple minutes it takes to read.

Assault Girls: Oshii should stick to live action

Avalon was actually watchable, and I hear good things about the Tachigui films. Given how relentlessly boring his anime has been, maybe Oshii should stick to this kind of live action lunacy. He seems to have more fun with it.
I imagine it will have only a a faint resemblance to the original short:

Monday, August 24, 2009


I've maintained for several years now that Yoshiyuki Nishi has the single best creature design in all of manga. Kekkaishi is the closest, but Kekkaishi is resoundingly sane, and Nishi is BAT SHIT. The US version of Muhyo and Roji is neck deep in prime material, the most astounding chunk of the series...and has no buzz at all. Likewise, Bokke-san, his follow up, lasted two volumes, a victim of Jump's ruthless chopping block.
Boy, does it kick off fantastically, though. Nishi jumps right into this one with a mythology that is instantly as fully realized as Muhyo's became, and grounds it all in a story of a boy discovering his true nature that works so ridiculously well it makes everyone else who tries that shit look hamfisted. He succeeds partly by refusing to write the emotions on the nose, partly by constantly undercutting them (the Rock and Roll librarian who gives them key information could undercut fucking anything) and partly by immediately twisting key emotional moments into something else entirely.
It chugs nicely along for a while with a neat urban fantasy vibe, and a few nicely timed fireworks to demonstrate Nishi's flair for spectacle.
But it starts to slip off the rails a little in the second volume. The story accelerates to the point where it just falls apart. You can see his editors pointing at the unspectacular poll results and forcing him to throw in things the story is not yet ready to handle. Things get way too big, way too fast, and the first arc's climax abruptly hits halfway through the second volume. And then it really gets bad.
I've been nursing a theory for a while that a surefire way to get a book canceled even if it is genuinely great is to have too much plot too fast. We saw this with Takei's follow up to Shaman King as well, and a lot of what makes the first volume of Bokke-san so ridiculously strong also makes it very hard for new readers to jump on board as their friends who actually enjoy trying new things recommend it. Muhyo's opening volumes are kind of obviously flawed, but the short story structure allowed him to keep accumulating fans of his fucked up creature design and the book's skewed world view, and kept the book afloat long enough to pull off the epic midsection. Bokke-san's more polished, mature delivery leaves only Nishi's die hard fans reading, and as he starts doing desperate shit like retconning an absent brother in as one of the previously introduced villains, he even lost those.
There's always a lesson to be learned in a canceled manga, but sometimes the only lesson is that people are stupid and don't deserve nice things. In this case, I think we can also say that Jump needs to learn to trust the few artists they have left who have original voices. Jump hasn't had a breakout hit in quite a while, and losing confidence in their second tier oddball books is not an encouraging sign for the overall quality of their line up.

Random Notes again (The Cove + More Sig Ikki impressions)

I came into The Cove somewhat skeptical of the film, despite its positive critical reception. I’m a fan of documentaries that give voices to multiple sides of an argument. The Cove doesn’t even pretend to give the pretense of being balanced as it explores the dolphin killing in Japan. It’s ruthlessly one-sided, never ceasing to press its audience to question the humanity of the dolphin-slaughtering fishermen. The thing doesn’t even faze from approaching racism when leveling its critique against the Japanese whaling industry. The editing is blatantly manipulative and dastardly. Some dirty B-roll is used, particularly when trying to lend characterizations to certain people. Yet despite coming in skeptical and aware of possible underhanded, manipulative techniques from the filmmakers, I still ate all of this shit up. The filmmakers know that it’s hard to hate on dolphins with their naturally cute looks, and they absolutely exploit that with numerous numerous shots that really get you to empathize with the plight of the poor creatures. Honestly, I’m even hard-pressed to call this thing a documentary. It’s more like a movie that just happens to use some “real” footage. And it’s a good thing in this case. With a group of likeable protagonists in the activists that seek to capture the footage at Taiji, an accumulation of antagonists that we come to despise through all too effective usage of B-roll, and an engrossing plot reminiscent of espionage and spy films, it’s not hard to become emotionally invested. Simply a effective piece. The Cove worked well enough that I canceled my plans to eat sushi for dinner.

In terms of Sig Ikki stuff, some new chapters have systematically popped up.

Chapter 2 of Dorohedoro left me somewhat disappointed after an interesting introduction, but it’s not surprising for manga to have throwaway chapters at the beginning while authors get warmed up. Works similarly for any medium.

I’m done with House of Five Leaves. I want to like the art, and indeed, the style is fairly distinctive, but there’s something off about the paneling that confuses and annoys me. More importantly, the writing just hasn’t really captured me. To use two vague words because I am a crappy writer myself who can’t specifically word anything, the writing is overly “muted” as opposed to “edgy.” Simply not really grabbing, though it is far from repulsive.

A new 4-panel manga, I am a Turtle, has popped up for the first time. I get the feeling it’s not really chuckle-funny in the way that the author wants it to be, but I do have a massive soft spot for turtles, so I’ll go ahead and say it’s cute and charming.

I’ll Give It My All...Tomorrow seems to be a keeper. It’s not overly optimistic, or abjectly pessimistic. Instead, it’s one of those rare things that’s really realist, carefully trekking through a tempered middle path that makes the protagonist as perceivable as the average underachieving guy down the street. At this point, despite having read only two chapters, I’m oddly confident that the author, Shunju Aono, won’t resort to cheap, Fuck My Life depths. Can’t wait for the first volume.

That's a bingo

So with Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino delivers another flawed, enjoyable and morally skewed movie. It's a bit controversial. There are also plenty of allusions to other movies -- whether it's an obvious homage to Leone in the opening, or namedropping left and right as the plot eventually revolves around and climaxes in a cinema. But is it actually good?

The much-advertised violence is rather spare throughout film, awkwardly flicking back and forth between over-the-top and restrained; it may be no coincidence that the latter style is found in the two most successful scenes. The first chapter and a later bar scene work as build-ups to more cleverly-defined tensions between Nazis and those who conspire in against them (here, it is simply hiding Jews and plans of Hitler's assassination, respectively). Both scenes involve language (and even cultural) differences that ultimately result in massacres, and contain some of the best sequences Tarantino has ever filmed.

The rest of the movie is decidedly less consistent. Whenever Mélanie Laurent or Christoph Waltz is on-screen -- especially the latter, who will undoubtedly receive an Oscar nomination for his charismatic handling of a Nazi fluent in multiple languages -- the movie unquestionably works. Their one scene alone together unintentionally makes their superiority to the rest of the cast even more obvious. It is the Basterds themselves and their isolated moments that deflate the pacing; Brad Pitt's accent and generally flat position as the leader exists for some amusing lines, while Eli Roth is just... there, much like the other members.

But, at its heart, this is a revenge fantasy. The immorality of the Basterds with the head-scalping and bat-beating isn't going to win over people who already feel that they have enough justification to label Tarantino tasteless (as if that were a bad thing). With this theme there is a dangerous implication that one could take about the justification of war crimes, but this isn't on the crews' minds -- they just care about destroying the inadvertent glorification the Third Reich has been given by filmmakers. Historical accuracy isn't a concern here; Tarantino wants Hitler, Goebbels and all the Nazis to be blown apart and burn in the hell they deserve.

Inglourious Basterds is by no measure anything approaching a masterpiece -- despite what Pitt's last line alludes to -- but it succeeds in delivering a visceral satisfaction long overdue.

(There's also a trailer for Christopher Nolan's Inception before the film -- still criminally short and vague.)

Nisemonogatari - Karen Bee

You know how to tell the difference between an adult and a child, right? Children have only see the Nausicaa movie. Adults have read the manga.
As if two volumes of Bakemonogatari and the Kizumonogatari prequel weren't enough proof, Nisioisin is always at his best when he's allowed to write whatever the hell he wants to. This volume is, in theory, focused on the elder of Araragi's two Fire Sisters, Karen, who always wears her school track suit, has become an exceptionally accomplished martial artist, and to Araragi's horror, is now taller than him. Hot headed, she is always ready to fight for someone in need...much like Araragi, although he refuses to admit it. She acts before she thinks, and this eventually gets her in trouble with the apparition of the week, a bee with a sting that infects with a terrible fever.
I say eventually because this happens fully halfway through the book. It opens with Araragi handcuffed to a post, and then proceeds to backtrack through the day as he attempts to figure out which of the many, many reasons Senjogahara would have decided such drastic measures were appropriate. All members of his harem get their chance to boldly cross lines he never quite crossed before.
One big question here involves the departure of Oshino Meme. It looks like his role is going to be filled by Shinobu. Despite not saying a word throughout Bakemonogatari, she abruptly begins speaking again here, her personality completely unchanged from Kizumonogatari. This is cheerily explained as her being bored, and Araragi consistently failing to buy enough Golden Chocolate at Mister Donuts.
There is an actual plot of some kind, which feels like an afterthought. The actual resolution to this plot comes in a brief conversation that essentially serves as an extended epilogue - the real climax to the book comes in the thirty page long fight scene between Karen and Araragi, as he tries to convince her to let him handle things. Fight scenes were initially one of the Nisioisin's biggest weaknesses; his ornate, roundabout style doesn't really lend itself to the direct precision required to effectively communicate action, and the pacing often shuddered to a half. If nothing else came out of Katanagatari, it seems to have at least helped him work through this issue; the fight in Nisemonogatari is long as hell, and involves quite a lot of seriously complicated descriptions of capoeira style bodies twisting through the air that I honestly couldn't be arsed to completely follow, but he managed to keep the tension going even with only a hazy grasp of the action, and for the first time, really managed to apply the structural confidence of his conversations to his action. It winds up being pretty powerful stuff.
Looking forward to the second volume.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ponyo - All cute. No bite.

All in all, an unremarkable experience. It was a cute diversion with lots of pretty colors and fishies, but nothing I wouldn't have been worse off for missing. The English dub likely contributed to my lack of enjoyment. Some really stilted and wooden delivery from the voice actors. Frankie Jonas and Noah Cyrus, younger siblings of our favorite Disney Channel gremlins, give cringeworthy and ear-grating performances. I love Tina Fey, but her performance was also god-awful and inconsistent. The one saving grace to the English cast is Liam Neeson, the one person who delivers his lines in a believable manner and seems to give a damn about his role.

Acting aside, the characters and plot didn't help either. Just a bit too simple and dumbed down for children for my tastes. I'll go ahead and spoil the ending the movie. For those of you who still want to see this, don't worry. There's nothing you can't see coming as long as you have the capacity for sentient thought. Anyway, the climax with the Earth facing certain destruction from a falling moon, ends with the protagonist kid, Sousuke, briefly swearing that he will love Ponyo whether she is fish or girl. The intended demographic of this film may be young, but you gotta have something more intense than that. Additionally, I admit I was bothered by the fact that the kid falls "in love" with a fish. Yeah, I know Ponyo ultimately turns into a girl, but Christ, she still used to be a fish. Love can go ahead and blast through many boundaries, but interspecies walls should not be one of them. Speaking of love, why the hell is Sousuke talking about loving somebody romantically for the rest of his life when he is only 5? Way to paint a realistic picture for kids. The more realistic relationship between Sousuke's mother and father is brushed aside far too quickly.

I feel like a child-hating bastard for saying this, but I wish I spent my money for Inglorious Basterds instead. Less adorable, but likely more entertaining. I may rewatch Ponyo when it gets issued on DVD just to see if the Japanese dub elevates the film.

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Our senseless wars have given extraterrestrials an irresistible opportunity to attack our planet."

So, it turns out Goke, Bodysnatcher From Hell just about lives up to the lurid name, being just the right combination of kitschy and actually good. Admittedly, you sort of need the proper mindset going in, but if you can't find something to enjoy in this stew of Technicolor sets, suicidal birds, nihilistic art-bombers, classic Adamski UFOs, and mind-controlling plates of liver, well, I'm just not sure we can be friends. I particularly love the random American who apparently understands Japanese fluently, but only ever speaks in English. Doesn't look like this is on R1 DVD yet, but there's always this suspiciously awesome-looking VHS version. I'm totally naming my band "Space Age Bloodsuckers".

Criterion's Eclipse line does Nikkatsu Noir

In college I'd have been all over the relative obscurities Eclipse has been spotlighting over the years - I even took a class devoted exclusively to Ozu. Haven't been buying any of them, since I'm sadly past the omnivorous stage of my film career.
But even in college I was heavily focused on Asian action of all kinds, and would have been annoyed that Eclipse never found a way to treat that stuff right. You know, the way Dragon Dynasty was until they decided to pee in our faces and stop including the original language tracks.
So it's pretty damn cool that they're doing a set of old Japanese noir flicks. Including a Seijun Suzuki. No idea whether these are worth catching or not, but hopefully we'll have someone on staff willing to take a chance and tell us how they are.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Black Lightning

One of the fun things about District 9 is that the origins of it basically boil down to Peter Jackson using his success to get shit done for talented people he knows. Luc Besson and Guillermo del Toro have been doing similar projects for a while now, more or less successfully. And now Timur Bekmambetov, a name I assume you all have the sense to recognize by now, is doing the same thing.

It involves an awesome flying car.

Can you tell that I love this?

God. Damn.

Disasters in fiction are, with little exception, treated in such a detached manner that at the best they simply become a catalyst for the plot or rush to the climax, or at worst become a footnote to more fantastical proceedings. Yet in our day-to-day lives, what else is a more mystical, more unifying event that can grasp our attention and concern when it involves People Like Us? It is this tragic spectacle and its consequent schism -- those that a society can identify with and stir up the most passionate of emotions, and those that maintain a distance of privilege, only seeing it as another human interest story or political opportunity -- that Hideki Arai fights with in volumes eight and nine of The World is Mine.

At the cliff-hanger of volume seven, the six principal characters had gathered in Odate, surprised by an appearance of Higumadon. The beast blazes through the city in a straight line, destroying anything that moves and in his way. And the results are devastating. Both of these volumes are entirely concerned with the giant brown bear's destruction -- both the event itself, and the reactions to it. Arai slips back and forth through the morning hours of the catastrophe, shifting viewpoint from the streets, hospitals, media, local and federal government and, eventually, to the rest of the world. The coverage is so personal, so wide-scale and so detailed that it attains a type of authenticity that's rarely seen in comics, film or television. Arai leads us through every angle and interpretation, emphasizing a sense of impact and importance that would be utterly lost with nearly any other writer.

With this scope enhanced, Arai flashes to various locations -- New York, Beijing, Kautokeino, Vancouver, Cairo, Berlin, Rome, London, Paris -- but none more important than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC. We are introduced to this universe's President of the United States of America, Dogwood Hayes (and various staff and cabinet members, one of whom is African-American and quite admirably devoid of the blackface). After a brief overview of the war in the fictional country of Aldonia (an allusion to Albania) and making a brief arrangement to announce the end of the war in time for Christmas, the Odate disaster is brought into focus. Hayes gets Japan's Prime Minister, Kanpei Yuri, on the phone, leading to the greatest conversation between two nation's leaders outside of Dr. Strangelove. The discussion starts absurdly enough, with Hayes remarking about his hot milk curdling while waiting for Yuri's call, then moving on to how the prime minister will have to perform a strip tease on live television on demands on the Toshi-Mon duo back in volume three. But this humorous exchange provokes the ire of the president, degenerating the talk to an arrogant war of words between the two. Yuri laments his lack of resources to deal with Higumadon's and Toshi-Mon's endless destruction (which has become more complicated as imitators have begun to use their own bombs), while Hayes is unrelenting about the notion of ever ceding to terrorists; both continue to express snide criticisms of the opposing nation's narrowed cultural outlooks and military might.

Then, as the surreal conversation ends, Arai smoothly brings us back to Odate. Iijima, the hunter, contends with dragging the reporter, Hoshino, to the hospital after the latter had been hit by one of Toshi's bombs during the confusion of Higumadon's rampage. While there, he reaches the attention of two police chiefs (one a deputy, the other recently demoted), Yoshiharu Yakushiji and Junichi Shiomi -- both having given extensive building by Arai previously in this volume, complete with exaggerated tics of the former's slobber and the latter's fidgety hands. While being questioned about what he saw when face-to-face with not only Higumadon, but also with the terrorists, Iijima notes that he saw a girl with them, being forced to a photo of their triumph of survival and proof of their prophecy. When asked why he didn't save her from them, he casually remarks that it's none of his business, invoking the follow scene:

One particular dilemma addressed in volume eight is moral judgment of and even loyalty to criminals. Having followed two terrorists for half of the series, Arai has humanized them near to the point of sympathy. Almost as if recognizing this, Arai breaks this down. Mon becomes an even grander specter in his meeting with Higumadon in Odate. Iijima watches the two otherworldly beasts collide and further confirms what the narrative has hinted previously. The other half of the duo, Toshi, shows no detached transcendence as he falls into an even deeper range of psychosis. Gone are the nervous tics of inexperience and overwhelming fear of being apprehended: Toshi kills as he sees fit, manipulating whomever he pleases with no regard to anyone's life but his own.

Even having shifted the character into a darker light, the complexity never wavers. After escaping the aforementioned Higumadon rampage, there is a brief struggle involving him, Mon and Maria -- the girl they had met once before, and have now kidnapped upon a second encounter. Facing potential death at having lost his gun to the girl, with Mon impassively observing, Toshi panics. He rambles on not just about the choice of killing himself, but also of Maria choosing to spare Mon for the fact that he has saved her due to a vague kinship that has grown during their brief encounters. Both decisions become problematic for the young woman, realizing that her principle of valuing life to the utmost degree would be compromised for killing Toshi, yet would also fall apart should she let him life because there is no question that his plans still involve murdering countless more lives; this is compounded even further by the fact that Mon has been directly response for far, far more humans than Toshi has. Amidst her deliberation Toshi prods her further, ranting about the system of law and killing numerous people both in and out of prison. His solution to cleansing this public image by winning the hearts of the media and society by becoming a bestseller with his memoirs and speculations, then donating any money earned to the victims' families.

Like anything else in the series, the scene is bleak, hilarious, over-the-top, gripping and just fucking insane.

Of course, there's all sorts of personal stories here, such as a man struggling to help another get out of their car which has fallen through his home's roof, his family watching aghast at his potentially suicidal actions; or a helicopter pilot recalling and regretting his inability to do anything during the Kobe earthquake, hoping to perform better for others this time; or a young woman filling in for a reporter that had been crushed by Higumadon, fumbling as she finds herself unable to genuinely report the horrors she's witnessed. Although they don't advance the plot, they emphasize the range and humanity Arai strives for, never dipping too far into sentimentality but consistently providing the different reactions to the violence and chaos that has fallen upon them all.

There's so much more that can be covered -- for instance, the narrative break to the life and history of Maria's friend, Junko, who becomes pivotal to the plot by the end of volume nine -- but little justice can be done by descriptions alone. The World is Mine has become even more socially, politically and philosophically relevant since its publication as terrorism continues to evolve in various incarnations, addling us with paranoia, distrust and division on a larger scale than anything before. It's an overwhelming work with an uncompromised ambition and vision with a story lurching on to something ultimately indefinable, but undeniably powerful.

Friday, August 14, 2009

District 9 - I now love South African accents

Was everything I hoped for. This blows everything else I've seen this year out of the water. One of those things that I just can't write that much about because I enjoyed it so much. A number of small touches here and there, whether it was having the aliens being labeled under "white" aliases like "Christopher Johnson" by the MNU, or having Wikus, the protagonist, be able to perfectly comprehend the alien language but not understand a lick of a Nigerian dialect, or even having the aliens being gypped by Nigerian scams, just made the film seem so...real and raw for lack of better, more specific words. Some, particularly Roger Ebert, have complained about a rather "disappointing" third act that involves a lot of "standard shoot-out action," but I could not disagree more about that. The action is fucking badass, adding a dimension of viscerality and fist-pumping fun that makes this film all the more captivating and memorable. Go see this thing as soon as possible.

The Pillows - An appreciation

I been in a musical-state-of-mind lately. After coming back from an exhilarating Sunday at Lollapalooza, I've gone through my two hard drives' worth of tracks I've randomly disproportionately torrented collected over the years, discovering gems I somehow never bothered to click on while going through things I haven't heard in a while. Somehow I hadn't listened to anything by The Pillows in two months, two months in which I've failed as a human being. I've promptly put Little Busters, Runners High, Happy Bivouac, and My Foot on loop over the last few days.

Additionally, I checked today to make sure that The Pillows haven't released anything new, because they're so damn prolific. Indeed, no albums with exclusively new material have been released, but two twentieth Anniversary albums were recently put out, titled Once upon a time in the pillows, and Rock Stock & Too Smoking the pillows that equally draw from their entire career, including their older, pre-1997 stuff that often goes unmentioned here by their Stateside fans. These two collections themselves don't amount to anything much. One thing I've always found about The Pillows is the all-around strength of their albums from song to song. These two collections are but a trivial sampling of some of their singles. Frankly, no "Greatest Hits" collection can do The Pillows justice, because you just gotta listen to all of their albums to get a full experience. However, what Once Upon and Rock Stock mark is absolutely huge. The Pillows have been together for twenty years since their inception in 1989. Twenty fucking years, a stretch that is not marred by a single temporary breakup or hiatus. And not only have they been able to enviably stay together for so long, they've been consistent the whole way through. I'm not saying that everything they turn out is always balls-to-the-walls awesome, now. In my opinion, they've never been able to match their brilliant output from 1998 to 1999. My Foot is flanked on either side by some less than imperative albums. But, they've never turned out anything truly substandard. Yes, their sound may stay stagnant at times, and the criticism that they do some "recycling" is valid, but every single one of their albums, without fail, has left me in a cheery, optimistic mood by the end of a listen. So long live The Pillows. I'm truly happy they exist, and I hope I get to see them live once before the day I die.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nisemonogatari kicks off with a bang

"What's wrong?" Hachikuji asked. "You look like someone who made a lot of self-deprecating jokes about how his work would never be animated and then discovers that, by some freak accident, a deal has actually been made. But don't worry, it's not like you're being forced to write a sequel to an already completed work just because it's being animated. Personally, I'm looking forward to it. I wonder what kind of dance we'll be doing over the end credits."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Baccano 2002

Jesus Christ, this could not have been worse if he had been actively trying to torpedo his career.
The basic idea - Firo and Ennis on their honeymoon aboard a ship with the great grandkids of Jacuzzi Splot and Vino, while Elmer and the other surviving immortals are on a different ship going the other way as terrorists take over both ships - sounds awesome. Indeed, the first volume, Bullet Garden, is a blast - the movie loving chatty mask wearing villains, the Banderas style bad ass gunman, the hilarious goth-loli with a worryingly dark backstory...all great additions, and the the leader of the kids from the original novels framing sequence getting retconned as Jacuzzi's descendant while Vino and Chane are handily replaced by their own great-grandkids, a psychotic child star and her nearly mute stunt actor brother...not really all the far off the original characters, but still promising.
Blood Sabbath, however, is a nightmare.
The leader of the masked men is bad enough - a kid magician, he's Hughie and Monica's descendant, and trying to get revenge on Hughie who he believes killed Monica. Narita never once manages to make it remotely convincing that this is actually what happened, and without us buying that, his character is just obnoxious and emo. He's somewhat balanced by the awesome muscle bound crazy woman who talks like a dirty old man.
The book runs into serious trouble when it tries to bring the religion Elmer was rescued from out of a footnote in his back history and into a role as the central villains of the book. The idea of a religion that worships the pain of abused children and hauls around a group of blindfolded, handcuffed children chanting the writs of their order as they listen to the sounds of their own screams is a BIT too fucking dark for ANY book, and spending the first THREE HUNDRED FUCKING PAGES almost entirely on exhaustively explaining this shit to the hapless undercover woman they've brainwashed and 'married' to the cult leader basically is simply unfathomable. Why did he think this shit would work? Why didn't any of his editors stop him?
Possible scheduling. These two volumes came out just as the anime was ending, and by his own admission the second volume was originally supposed to be TWO volumes, which probably explains why three of the four hundred pages are devoted to meandering unfocused set up and then it abruptly lurches into a cliffnotes clipshow version of the climax, completely destroying the effect of any and all twists and neutering all the new characters added to the first volume, who now get only token, unsatisfying pay offs that entirely get lost in the horrible shuffle.
AS IF THIS WAS NOT BAD ENOUGH, the mother fucking epilogue tries to pull some sort of fucking M. Night twist and resurrect the motherfucker who tortured Chez all those years and who Chez supposedly ATE...but who Szilard ALSO apparently ate, and who is all through this book working for the masked men AND the cult AND fucking orchestrating the entire thing like a fucking puppet master JUST TO FUCKING WITH PEOPLE.
He clearly has ambitious plans to spin this plotline out into several other epoch hopping novels, and I suddenly have absolutely no faith in his ability to do so.

Time waits for no one

(Even as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is light on plot, I've no interest in spoiling the film, so you'll have to excuse a few ambiguous statements. If anyone has a request for spoiler-filled clarifications, I'll give them in the comments section.)

Before 2006, Mamoru Hosoda was only on the radar of a select few who were not close-minded enough to dismiss the possibility that two short Digimon films and one One Piece could actually be worthwhile. (Although they'll be forgiven for not knowing that Hosoda used the pseudonym Katsuyo Hashimoto as he worked on multiple episodes of Revolutionary Girl Utena.) I'll cover those at a later time, but as curious anime critics will attest to, those works are not only good, but excellent. They float with an air of whimsy and appreciation for the minutiae of everyday life, even if their plots go far above the fascinatingly trivial characteristics that are so perfectly captured in the better Ghibli films. It should then be no surprise that Hosoda himself is a Ghibli alumnus. The man was poised to ascend as a spiritual successor to Hayao Miyazaki, but some apparent studio politicking forced him from his duty's as director as Howl's Moving Castle (even after having storyboarded more than a third of the movie!). His exit, along with Yoshifumi Kondo's (Whisper of the Heart) tragic passing in 1998, has left us with a Ghibli that seems to have been in a struggle to continue its legacy of excellence that Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata had established and maintained for decades.

But this is not to bog ourselves down as we look over our shoulder into a past that can and should have been better. Hosoda himself recognizes this (and will be explained later), and this virtue is what led him to create his critically-acclaimed piece that finally put him on the map: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

High school student Makoto Konno, after slogging through one of the worst days of her life -- waking up late, utterly failing a quiz, scalding herself when cooking and starting a fire, getting inadvertently hit as some boys goofily play around, and nearly (!) killing herself at a train crossing -- manages to survive and go through the past thanks to an accidental event that allows her to leap through time. From this contrivance Hosoda shows a montage of hilarious situations where Makoto milks this gift, such as getting to the pudding before her sister does, working in ten hours of karaoke in one day, or besting her friends in baseball. The prevailing strengths of the Digmon and One Piece are on full display as Hosoda effortlessly shows through understated character animation the comical stumbles and triumphs that Makoto encounters in her pursuit of, what she feels, wrongs that need to be righted. However, it is when the potential love lives and interests of and from two of her closest friends, Chiaki Mamiya and Kousuke Tsuda, where short-term plans are shelved. Amidst confessions and confusions, Makoto avoids and pushes other characters, but never gets it right through incidental complications she's created. Her situation becomes more serious as a boy she had switched places with in order to avoid the cooking burn and fire is now bullied by others; he eventually responds to even more radical degrees to his assailants. Even when Makoto time leaps to save one of her friends, another is still hurt, establishing the fact that things have gone wildly out of control with the young girl's self-indulgent meddling.

At last, as the final third of the film begins, the story turns a notch darker, back to the roots of the original novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui (Paprika). This pseudo-sequel to the aforementioned book (which has been adapted numerous times into live-action) does gradually grip its science-fiction trappings. After an hour of sharp comedy, showing just how important these small-scale and throwaway incidents are to teenagers, Hosoda and screenwriter Satoko Okudera throw in a morbid though retrospectively fittingly planned twist. It is a literally time-stopping event, one that reveals not only the origin for Makoto's sudden powers, but allusions to a larger history -- all beautifully edited and assisted by Kiyoshi Yoshida's (Kaiba, Shigurui) excellent musical score.

Undoubtedly this shift to a more dramatic tone and an ambitious, dark scope can be unsettling for viewers. As the film is from Makoto's perspective from start to finish, the transition is unexpectedly jarring. This can be seen and argued as a negative, though given Makoto's previous value on ridding herself of perceivable regrets while ignoring the consequences and big picture, it is less a drawback than a logical thematic development in a story of a girl who struggles with the consequences of her actions.

Still, even with an acceptance of how Hosoda leads into the third act, the climax itself obviously invites some well-considered criticism. A certain promise on the surface may fly in the face of logic, though isn't necessarily meant to be taken literally -- rather, it is an affirmation from one to the other about their relationship. (Though, of course, there is a rational explanation for literalists that satisfies a romantic's interpretation.) The film is one of growth by building upon all experiences -- as the song, "Garnet," for the movie's credits points out -- regardless if they were good or bad. All promises are not or even cannot be kept, but some are, and those can be the ones that truly matter for you and your loved ones. It's best not to be consumed by what could have been; instead, take your opportunities and run towards what can be achieved. This truth is the promise Makoto can make, and is what she learns and accepts by the film's end.

The recently released Summer Wars might well be a more tonally consistent work -- given the possibility that it may be a refinement of Hosoda's old ideas, I expect it to be -- yet that does not diminish the appeal and power of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Its optimism goes beyond placating the audience to become a very real message of coming to terms with the regrets and what-ifs of our lives to become better people. Mamoru Hosoda has plenty of years of greatness ahead of him, and I look forward to see where that ideal and passion takes him.

Eve no Jikan, Episode 05

After the epileptic-pacing of episode four, Yoshiura calms the story down. In this low-key episode, two plots run astride each other: the mystery of Chie's family situation and Rikuo's struggle with artistic creativity by machines. The latter is specifically highlighted as robots and androids further involve themselves into society by way of music, art and family substitutes. Of course, there are some brief hints dropped by Masaki that a larger conspiracy may be abound, but such matters take a back seat to Rikuo attempting to come to terms with the fact that a robot played a piano well enough to meet critical approval and move the audience.

And, after all is said and done, it is what is not spoken that remains some of the more effective scenes, such as Rikuo attempting to maintain face by not sharing an umbrella with the family's android, Sammy.

It's hard to imagine that the series might end next month. Here's hoping that it's just an end to season one, with two soon to follow.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Parasyte, Volume 08

It's characteristic of anime and manga to fumble their endings in some way. Even if ultimately pleasing, some aspect of the ending -- not properly clarifying on a narrative point that really needs to be addressed; prolonging the story and losing authorial purpose and motivation; overstuffing plotlines and ideas to only dull the impact of the main story point; realizing that The End is Nigh and rushing to pull everything together; et cetera -- frequently shows up to remind us of both the limited creative capabilities of most human beings and the production deadlines that animation studios and manga-ka alike contend with. Fans accept this, and as long as an ending delivers on their interests, they couldn't care less about the series' shortcomings.

Yet there are such things as finite stories, and Hitoshi Iwaaki's Parasyte is one such example. In spite of its rather straightforward beginning, giving the distinct impression that this is Shinichi's story alone, Iwaaki illustrates other characters' growth. Some, such as Shinichi and Reiko, take longer than others to respect what and who they are, and what sort of value we should place on life. Others, like Murano, seem to have unconsciously grasped What's Important from near the beginning. Some, as we see with many of the parasites and Uragami, never come to terms with them. All of these paths allow Iwaaki to create multifaceted and believable individuals, each with their own philosophies and quirks, to come into the story for however long is needed.

Also, as if to further emphasize the importance of each characters' developments, as well as the nature of Parasyte's story, there are multiple Q&A letters and Iwaaki's humorous and insightful reflections printed at the end of this volume. These anecdotes give a further sense of finality, driving home how the outlook of the manga has matured to a more balanced, stoic-like position by the end. Somewhat surprisingly, this change is a result from Iwaaki being dissatisfied with humanity's self-loathing that was becoming more common as environmental awareness set in, which he himself had shared early in the series' serialization. Creating a more nuanced viewpoint, he manages to go beyond self-defeating ideology to recognize the humanity of the monsters within us. There is no more fitting resolution to this deeply human work.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Recycled Youth Part 2: Loop-de-Loop

I got kind of blindsided by this one; I knew Viz was launching a new prose imprint, but the minimal buzz since the initial announcement meant I just randomly bumped into this one day in the bookstore. Interestingly, Viz's own branding is nowhere to be seen on the covers; perhaps this is to keep it out of the manga section and racked in the science fiction where I found it.

Anyway, KILL is a pretty good read, and an interesting contrast to Sky Crawlers' version of expendable soldiery. Whereas Oshii's Kannami only seems to be repeating the same day, Sakurazaka's Kiriya is in a more literal rerun.

I hesitate to say too much about the plot, because frankly, it's not that original. It wears its influences on its sleeve, and if you have even a passing interest in SF lit you'll probably share a bit of Kiriya's deja vu (in fact, this book's power-armored infantry and Western-named, green-eyed ethnic Japanese made me realize how much the generic anime future owes to Heinlein).

Where it shines is in the execution. This book is meticulously well-crafted, in an Alan Moore kinda way-- Sakurazaka has a knack for introducing an idea, wringing just the right amount of juice out of it, then kicking it loose and changing the game with another one. Kiriya is also a very easy guy to like, which is much appreciated if I'm going to be reading almost 200 pages of his internal monologue. Of course, part of the credit must go to the translator, the mighty Alexander O. Smith (and an apparently uncredited Joseph Reeder), once again showing why he's one of the best in the biz.

Bottom line, it's good breezy pulp, vividly written and engrossing. I had a great time.

Better late than never

A lot has already been said about Daisuke Igarashi's Children of the Sea, so there's not much for me to add. I deeply encourage everyone to check the book out, because it's one of the best manga out there, available in North America or not. While not as dense of Witches, it's a well-researched, accessible work that reads so quickly (due in part by not just Igarashi's lyrical decompression, but also by the translation) that you'll be aching for more when you reach the final page.

I'll depart with the link to read the series on Viz's Ikki and two examples of Igarashi's captivating two-page spreads:

Six Organs of Admittance's Luminous Night

After having spent the better half of this decade pumping out consistently great albums, culminating in his arguable masterwork, 2005's School of the Flower, folk/American Primitivist guitarist Ben Chasny seemed to have hit a creative roadblock. The past few years have only produced reductive works, comprised of more standard songs rather than the impressionistic touches of past efforts (the latter indebted to John Fahey but having Chasny's unique voice and tone).

Chasny seems to have set out to correcting this with this year's Luminous Night. Achieving a new, more fuller sound with various instruments such as the flute and violin, he regains his more atmospheric use of raga modes and drones. "Bar-Nasha" is a perfect representation of this almagamation, and the track "Ursa Minor" provides an even more mature take on the droning textures the guitarist has always been fond of. The near-eight minute "The River of Heaven" stands as the epic of the album, building to a bliss of familiary exotic beauty that Chasny has always been recognized for.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Why Bakemonogatari keeps reminding me of Utena

Or, I haven't been posting much about it and was pretty sure I was going to, what with this being the arc that introduces my favorite character Nisioisin has ever done, but she got a fucking minute of screen time and made little to know impression if you don't already know why you should care, so I guess I'll be waiting two weeks till they stop wasting their time on fucking sports and get back to broadcasting it.

Exhibit A: Senjogahara's house is a set, with cut away walls to film through. METAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAPOCALYPTIC.

Exhibit B: Ordinary conversations are underscored by a series of metaphorically surrealistic stock imagery. Why exactly the world is filled with identical cars that have the old kanji for 5 on the side of them I do not know, but the pacing and rhythm with which these elements are included is extremely Ikuhara. (Although I could do with less live action elements.)

Exhibit C: The threat of domestic violence is never very far away.
On an unrelated note:

This bit of violence was ridiculous (and by ridiculous I mean AWESOME) in motion, but when I went to capture a frame of it I discovered that she has literally punched all the way through his skull. This is not particularly Utena-esque, but it is worth cackling about.

Shin Mazinger Z! episodes 17 and 18

One of the things I've always appreciated about Imagawa is his ability to maintain an air of whimsicality amidst apparent seriousness. He doesn't take things too seriously, but doesn't resort to cheese that can compromise badassery. Episodes 17 and 18 are vintage Imagawa in that regard. Giggles and fist pumps aplenty.

Episode 17 begins with Koji and Nishikiori's pursuit of an escaped Kedora and Dr. Hell and friends' attempt to quell Duke Gorgon. Duke Gorgon prompts a gigantic Greek column to shoot out of the earth, but then meets a quick and easy demise, promising however that he will return. The Kedora escapes into the column, prompting some gigantic roots to sprout out of the column and rush into the power plant. A lot of unfortunate workers are crushed. Koji and Nishikiori unexpectedly join forces with Dr. Hell to find and destroy the Kedora. Baron Ashura is sent to help them out. Upon entering the column, they find that the Kedora has hidden itself in an alternate-reality dream world replicating the past. The Kedora hopes to buy itself enough time to launch the column and itself into space.

By the end of episode 18, Baron Ashura has come away with some great character development, Duke Gorgon dies once more, some other key characters are killed in the process, and Zeus and Hades clash in a dazzling titanic battle that is the absolute highlight of the two episodes, which features Zeus doing his own rendition of the Rocket Punch.

Indeed, episodes 17 and 18 are neither short on activity nor entertainment. Unfortunately, despite the fun, there was still some disappointment to be had. First, these episodes do have their moments of nice-looking action, but it's obvious that production values are being limited by an anemic budget. The animation is horribly inconsistent, especially when it comes to matters of scale. Mazinger Z can approach the size of a mechanical beast in one scene, and then be small enough to stand as a tiny speck on a Mycenean warrior's shoulder the next. In terms of plot, I was really disappointed at how early and non-epically some of the characters died after the setup they'd been given. Then again, who knows. This is Imagawa after all, and he may very well be bringing these characters back in great fanfare later on. Or he may just have something else up his sleeve that will once more make me eat my words. Perhaps we can expect a possible entrance from Poseidon?

Friday, August 7, 2009

It's not Mononoke, but who cares

I'd missed this when it was announced a month ago: Kenji Nakamura and other Mononoke staff are coming together again at Toei. This time they're adapting a short story collection by Hideo Okuda, titled Kuchu Buranko (Trapeze), set to air this fall season. One summary of the novel I've found online: "In modern Japan, people visit 'doctors of neurology' rather than therapists. Dr. Ichiro Irabu is an eccentric neurologist with an injection fetish, an Oedipus complex and a green Porsche, known for making patients much worse before they get better."

I'm sold.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A remake of Enter the Dragon?

...Starring Korean pop-star Rain?!
As if the remake by itself was not bad enough news.
Fuck you Warner. Fuck you for shitting all over Bruce Lee's grave.
I was going to refrain from making another post and go to bed quietly, but now I'm up in arms.
It's going to be called "Awaken the Dragon." And it's supposed to be a "noir-ish" reboot. Who the fuck gave this project the go-ahead? The writer, some nincompoop named Kurt Sutter, has the balls to say that "This will be more ‘Raging Bull’ than ‘Crouching Tiger’ in its viciousness,” in regards to the project.
Again, why Rain for the love of God? Great, not a white guy, but at least get somebody with a lick of martial arts experience.
Christ, I hope I wake up tomorrow and find that this was a prank.

Until then, motherfucking shit.


The Power of Cliche, or, Value in Simplicity

In a preemptive strike on the teetering stacks of manga waiting to crush me, I've finally tossed out the first 18 volumes of Bleach. I really enjoyed the light-hearted ghostbusting action of the first, what, 8 books or so, but then Soul Society happened, and basically threw away everything I liked in favor of some half-assed mash-up of Agatha Christie and Dragon Ball. I could have handled the sudden shift to murder mystery if it actually involved the original cast, but this arc suddenly bloated the roster to over six times normal size, all tied up in tons of interpersonal drama we joined in progress. It took entirely too long for something important to happen to a character I cared about, and by the time it did, I realized I no longer cared about them. So off the buy list it went, and at last out of my house it goes.

Like any breakup, getting rid of the mementos brought everything back to mind, and thinking about it, sheer cast size can't be the real problem; Eyeshield 21 has even more recurring characters, literally enough to fill a football stadium, most of whom vanish for several volumes at a time, and I never have problems keeping them straight-- in fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of one I don't even like. I have to put this down to Riichiro Inagaki just having better writing chops. Bleach ventured into more conceptually challenging material than "students play football; win", but ultimately overreached Tite Kubo's ability to tell that story. Eyeshield's massive cast has basically one character trait apiece (Hiruma is an extortionist, Taki is a doof), but each of them is tuned to express that trait with maximum efficiency, right on the edge of annoyance, and the narrative's focus jumps around often enough to prevent them from going over that edge, just in time to remind you why you liked the next character in line. It's really amazing; on paper it sounds like it should be the most cliched, cynical writing-by-the-numbers hack job ever, and it kind of is, but somehow it all just WORKS.

Of course, this probably wouldn't reach that level without Yusuke Murata on art, who is the Clark Kent of manga artists, constantly deploying superhuman skills and making it all look so easy you barely even notice. Every single one of his character designs could be the star of some other series, and the art effortlessly flips between cartoony caricature and heroic action, complementing and illuminating the writing the way every good comic should but too few actually do. Forget football-- Eyeshield 21 is easily the best superhero comic book being published today, and if Stan Lee were paying attention he'd have hooked up with Murata instead of Takei.

So, uh, go read Eyeshield 21. It really just is that good.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

More Viz Sig Ikki snapshots

"Viz Sig Ikki"
What a weird sounding phrase.

Anyway, another batch of first chapters has been uploaded in the last few days. This crop consists of Afterschool Charisma, House of Five Leaves, Kingyo Used Books, and Tokyo Flow Chart.

Afterschool Charisma-
There's some cute, clean artwork, but the concept is far too cooky for my liking. It's a take on the familiar elite, segregated high school academy formula, with the students all supposedly being clones of famous historical figures, like Napoleon, Freud, and Madam Curie, even fucking Clone Kennedy. Then there's some random "ordinary" Japanese kid named Shiro who's thrown into the mix as the protagonist. Having only read so much, I have no solid idea as to the direction in which this series is heading. As I try to look past the concept, I see traces of seriousness, with the talk about free will, destiny, and what not. Uh oh. Even if this does turn out to be a comedy though, I'm still going to have trouble swallowing this. There's just something disgraceful about associating those prominent figures that have had such a huge impact on history to these flustered high-school kids featured in the manga.

House of Five Leaves-
Another samurai/ronin story about a bodyguard who makes a contract and must protect somebody. The twist is that this time, the bodyguard is protecting a criminal outlaw and his operations. I liked how, instead of being a badass, the yojimbo in this story is a timid, modest individual who's just trying to stay afloat in tough financial times and find a job that can prevent him from starving. I was somewhat irked then when I found out that this painfully normal person has Inherent Fighting Talent. Again, I liked the atypical art with its gaunty, alien-looking characters, but overall, Five Leaves wasn't a very captivating read.

Kingyo Used Books-
The standalone episodic narratives revolve around a used manga bookstore that gets people in tune with their soul with the power of nostalgia and memory. First story is about this nondescript man who comes to the titular store, Kingyo Used Books, to get rid of his manga collection. However, at an evening middle-school reunion party, he meets all of his old buddies, who start reminiscing about manga, tear up, and get all chummy as they talk about stuff they read when they were little kids. Then in his happy drunken state, he leads the entire party to Kingyo (which is miraculously still open at that hour), where everybody temporarily forgets the pains of adulthood and employment to buy manga. Not horrible, but just too simple and sappy for my tastes, if the first chapter is any indication. Or I'm too damn cynical. I kept on waiting for a panel to pop up showing that the store had abruptly gone out of business. Is it even possible for a used book store to stay in business nowadays, much less operate on a 24/7 schedule?

Tokyo Flow Chart-
What is this mess?

Overall, a disappointing set this time around, though I suppose I've been a bit spoiled by the preceding material.

(Off-topic burst of excitement - Something by Usamaru Furuya has been licensed?!)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Things I Hate About Anime

I began watching anime in 2004. For the first three years of my hobbydom, my viewing habits consisted of marathoning series over weekends and breaks. Watching on an episode by episode basis was unheard of. There were a crapload of older series I had to catch up on, and for the longest time, I didn't know what the hell fansubs were. It's now been a couple years since I've last marathoned a series I haven't seen before (though I still marathon older favorites like Giant Robo and FLCL all the time whenever I'm back home from college). So, for nostalgia and laziness' sake, I decided to try and get through Eureka 7, seeing as its episodes are streaming through ANN right now.

It was a fucking struggle, I tell ya. Getting through those episodes was more grueling than a workout, except a workout would've actually been helpful. What a goddamn waste of time. Despite all of its eminent audience acclaim, dazzling animation, and sky-surfing robots, my experience was derailed by the fact that Eureka 7 contains or has reminded of some of the cliches/devices/tendencies from the medium I abhor the most. These include:

The Getting Caught Fantasizing/Daydreaming LOL moment-
A classic, tired attempt to elicit some laughs, or maybe even some pity for a particular character. Not funny. Just pathetic. Yes, people fantasize/daydream all the time while talking to themselves, but we usually notice it when somebody, especially when the person of interest we are fantasizing/daydreaming about moves right in front of us. I know animation, hell, film period, is a medium of exaggeration, and there's suspense of disbelief and all that crap, but with how often it's used, I've had enough of this "human awareness fail"-dependent humor.

The Incredibly Forced Crying/Tearing Up moment-
Happens in anime like it does with kids. You see it coming from a mile away. It's telegraphed by every movement...and yet you can't stop it! Shit, people cry, but they stay silent a lot of the time too. It also would help if the voice actors didn't sound like whimpering goats every time they did it. Then again, I would sound like one too if I was told to cry on the spot for something I don't really care about. The Incredibly Forced Crying/Tearing Up moment is closely related to...

The Deeply Emotional Pan To the Sky Visceral Scream moment-
To write the perfectly generic Deeply Emotional moment, follow these steps:
1) Supporting character is mortally wounded after a Heroic Sacrificial Action.
2) Protagonist rushes to character's side.
3) Supporting character utters Last Words.
4) Supporting character coughs up blood and dies.
5) Protagonist remains in disbelief and begins crying.
6) Pan to the sky for the Visceral Scream of dead character's name.

Props to Kenji Kamiyama and his fellow writers for making fun of this pattern in the first season of Stand Alone Complex.
The end of Gurren Lagann's eighth episode is one of the more tolerable and effective death scenes that I've seen because the Last Words and Visceral Scream have been removed. Why can't other folks follow suit?

Saying a Person's Name During Conversation moment-
"I...I just don't understand anything anymore. Life...has become so confusing."

Awkward as hell. Doesn't help when the names are really strange. But hey, for all I know, maybe this is normal and I'm outta the loop. Enlighten me here.

Not endemic to anime by any means, but it appears all too often to rob our poor little 2-d constructs of more relevant and valuable dialog. I cannot count how many times in Eureka 7 people started going off about trapars, skyfish, and coral. Look, they're trippy and colorful and that's nice, but when the concepts are horribly inconsistent and can be surmounted by the Power of Love, there is no need for that much time to be spent on establishing them. Keep the concepts consistent, or better yet, keep it in the hard sci-fi world where this shit is actually paramount and belongs. The only anime "technobabble" I've genuinely found interesting, so interesting in fact that I hesitate use that ugly word in association, is from the Ghost in the Shell-verse.

I hope to dear god that these things eventually die out. What was once barely palatable has become vomit-inducing. In a nutshell,

P.S: If any of these have some more properly accepted names besides the random nonsensical jumbles I came up with, definitely let me know.

Can I Take Nothing for Granted, Dragon Dynasty?

So much for the Criterion of Asian film.
Cheerily awesome two films a month initial schedule quickly gives way to one a season; promises of never before seen quality soon turn out to be piss poor transfers and frequently unintelligible subtitles, but fuck it, you were putting out a bunch of movies that made a big impact on me for cheap, and I was happy to go back and collect them.
At least they were uncut and had the original language tracks, right?
Apparently not any more.
Finally got around to watching the DVD of Jet Li's THE ENFORCER (My Father is a Hero, possibly his best work) and...there's only the fucking shitty English dub they did several years back.
While I'm not surprised they'd suddenly stop bothering - Weinstein has film blood on his hands the way Kissinger does political - I am surprised to have discovered this on my own, several months after release.
Twitch, at the least, should have been in an uproar. But I guess nobody really gives a flying fuck about old kung fu movies, which is probably why they never get treated the way they should be.
I hate the world, and I'm going to bed.

Katsuhiro Otomo's Tokyo Metro Explorers

The lightest thing by Katsuhiro Otomo I've ever read. Tokyo Metro Explorers is a short, inconsequential read that wont launch you into profound thought or change your mind. Nonetheless, this is not a mark against its quality. Indeed, it's a fun, enjoyable read, one of those things that can get you to briefly view the world through the curious eyes of a child. It'll take less than twenty minutes to read this thing and it'll make your day a slightly happier one.

By the way,
...I never cease to love Otomo's paneling.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New trailer for Symbol is so much more informative

Much like the teaser, the full trailer remains fascinatingly bizarre.

I's just the teaser with one other bit cross cut.
So it would be just as enigmatic.
But I admire the way it flaunts it's obtuseness.