Friday, July 31, 2009

Me? I'll tell you. My name is...


And thus, episode 16 concludes, having brought Shin Mazinger a much needed injection of energy and complication. I'm on board again. And I said I had this basically dropped earlier...

Episode 15 introduces one gigantic plot twist that I somehow did not see coming. I should've known that Imagawa still had one of those in him. Then 16 really returns some spice to the series. We start with Baron Ashura giving a silly fourth wall-breaking monologue proclaiming to the viewers that this show will be different from this episode onwards. And different this is - we get a new opening sequence, one that actually has some non-stock, OP-exclusive footage! Some awkward romantic development between Kouji and Sayaka threatens to derail the episode, but we get the entrance of Mechanical Lifeform Kedora, the civilization destroying brains to put this transgression to a halt. The Kedora are fucking ugly looking, resembling mutated, tentacled cyclops vaginas.

A Kedora takes over Mazinger, which requires joint badassery on the part of Nishikiori and Kouji to recapture. Our favorite fighting brains unfortunately seem to be in dire straits when a frustrated Dr. Hell begins stepping on them, only to be interrupted by Gorgon. The addition of a third party excites me. Here's to Duke Gorgon fucking some things up!

The Hurt Locker



Unlike any other war movie I've ever seen. I think Roger Ebert puts it very well when he suggests that while we look for explosions in other standard war movies, The Hurt Locker (directed by Kathryn Bigelow) is atypical in the sense that we absolutely hope "none will happen." Anyway, one fuck of an amazing film. I'll slightly hesitate to call it generational or one of the greatest films I've ever seen for the time being, but there is no doubt that at the very least, this is the best thing I've seen this year. For sure, The Hurt Locker wont fade from my memory for a long long time.

In case you aren't familiar with the plot, it revolves around the exploits of a team consisting of a bomb tech and his two man support group. Staff Sergeant James, the bomb tech, is the prime protagonist, though the two supporting characters, Sergeant Sanborn and Specialist Eldridge receive so much coverage that they don't even seem like mere "support." By the end of the film, one of the primary reasons while each bomb confrontation is so tense and suspenseful is because you actually give a damn about those three characters. From the first five minutes of the film, it is made clear that any character is fair game to be killed. And throughout the movie, whether by a spontaneous IED detonation, or a shot from an invisible sniper, this notion is reinforced so that viewers remain stressed and paranoid throughout the two and a half hour long run time. Additionally, the editing and camerawork does a masterful job in helping keep viewers on their toes.

Direction, writing, and acting are fantastic. There's an unfocused, confused, something-about-nothing feel around the characters' words, dialog, and actions that make things really emotionally realistic. You can't describe many of the characters, even the minor Iraqi ones, with only one word. There are people who complain that this randomness and disorganization is messy, but in my mind, its this "messiness" that make these characters relatable to actual people.

Unfortunately, there is one significant blemish marring this film. For how realistic it is usually, there are transgressions at times that will leave even those of us without any exposure to the military and combat whatsoever dumbfounded. In one particular scene, one sniping soldier manages to miss all of his stationary targets, only to finally hit a moving target without a sweat. The insurgents apparently can snipe with AKs without a scope. Ranks and orders are apparently easily disregarded with little consequence. In some situations, soldiers would have obviously shot instead of standing by. However, I suppose some liberties had to be taken for the cause of dramatic license, and for something funded solely by Kathryn Bigelow and a partner, realism could not always be afforded, as it comes at a premium.

Anyway, the The Hurt Locker (as well as the fact that the director is a woman, props props props to Bigelow) surprised the hell out of me. I had no clue that this was going to be one of those movies from which I would come out a slightly different person. If it's playing in your area, definitely watch this thing.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Invertebrates are the new moe




I suppose it was inevitable for moe characters to literally become spineless.

(Incidentally, Karas was better than I expected, considering it's about a comatose animist Power Ranger who can transform into the Batmobile)

Anyway. Bakemonogatari seems pretty good so far, through episode 4. SHAFT is a very hit-and-miss studio for me, but so far Shinbo's visual tics remain in the "stylish" zone, as opposed to Soultaker Incoherence. It's kind of coming off like a remake of Mushishi in contemporary drag, with more T&A, but maybe that's because the main dude's hair keeps blocking one of his eyes. I am sort of wondering if the whole series is just going to be "semi-hapless dude exorcises cursee of the week, adds to harem"; I'd like to know just how low I should be setting my expectations.


Also, did they get Hajime "Invader Q-Ko, FLCL manga" Ueda to do the art for ep 4's ending? That's random.

Summer Wars - Mamoru Hosoda's next film

Despite the wholly generic and unflattering title, I'm still eager anticipating the August 1st premiere of Summer Wars. Why? Because Mamoru Hosoda also happens to be the director of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and the first Digimon movie, two things that rank highly on my list of favorite animated films. One of my favorite aspects of Hosoda's films is the delightful touch of homely, slice-of-life-ish, cynicism-destroying humor that is so refreshing when compared to the hyperactive rapid-fire humor style that is the norm in anime. Anyway, the fact that Summer Wars features a lot of the staff who previously worked on The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (including the scriptwriter Satoko Okudera, also credited with writing Andrew Cunningham favorite Miyori no Mori), is nothing but good news. Crossing my fingers for something damn good. 

By the way, Yahoo! Movies Japan has a stream up of the first 5 minutes of the film, though it's been working inconsistently for the people who've tried it out. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Baccano! 1705 The Ironic Light Orchestra

Echoes of Baccano 2002 here; definitely a Baccano novel but far removed from the main thrust of the series in time and tone.
And like Baccano 2002, that makes it all the stronger. The story of Hughie and Elmer's first encounter, back when they were both around fourteen or fifteen, The Ironic Light Orchestra quickly spirals outwards into a really fucked up mystery novel. While unpredictability has always been one of Narita's strong suits, he really topped himself here. With Elmer and Hughie's personalities not yet fully formed, their energies still raw from their horrible, horrible creation...myths, almost -- the focus initially seems to be on them, and the supporting cast just foils to illustrate that. But Narita's characters have a way of exploding in ways you don't see coming. One character here makes such an impact I'm seriously thinking about reading back through the series to see if she's been mentioned before.
Along the sidelines, the infamous samurai, Denkuro, mentioned in passing in any number of novels but never actually a main cast member, finally shows up; a few other major characters make brief appearances or are mentioned in passing, indications of the network that will eventually draw together and summon a demon. Although perhaps the most astonishing twist in this sucker was the minor bad ass who abruptly -- in the epilogue! -- turns out to be Maizer...which is apparently intended as an aural pun on Miser. Argh.
I sort of trapped myself here by not wanting to actually talk about the plot -- it was a bit too good to spoil even if the chances of many people other than me reading the series any time soon are super slim. So this ended up more incoherent than usual.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ghost Hound licensed by Sentai Filmworks (Cough *ADV Cough)

ANN link

I'm not pleased it's ADV (probably no Blu-Ray), so I wont use an emphatic "FUCK YES!", but this is very very good news nonetheless for something I'd never thought would see the light of day here. Buy this mofo when it comes out in October. Awesome, enjoyable series.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hariyama-san, Center of the World

Far and away Narita Ryohgo's best series, the Hariyama-san series -- of which there are exactly two books, so far -- effectively consists of short stories in whatever genre he damn well feels like. Hariyama-san himself is an eternal supporting character -- never integral to the action, he is often simply mentioned in passing. He's just in all the stories.
Each volume also has a fourth story that ties all the previous stories together into one big mash-up climax.
The first volume kicked off with a girl spying an axe murdered under her boyfriend's bed and trying gently to ease him out of the place, while he desperately tries to keep her there because he just saw a man running around with an axe outside his apartment. That man had actually being trying to kill the girl, but snuck into a yakuza's apartment across the way by mistake.
Then we get an INSANE magical girl -- she's from the kingdom of magic, but has watched too much anime and is constantly breaking the law and going to Japan to fight evil. But when she attempts to take down some yakuza, they take pity on her, promise her she'll never be made to fight for anyone again, and adopt her.
And then fuck up the magic police who come chasing after her.
Meanwhile, on a distant island, a boy discovers that he's actually the evil overlord, and everyone else on the island is a hero destined to kill him.
Even his girlfriend.

Hariyama-san, Center of the World 2, which I just read, is even more awesome.
Kicks off with a horror story about a taxi driver who picks up the ghost of a murdered girl; she's just about to kill him when she realizes his taxi is from another dimension.

Then we get the tragedy of No. 37564, an ordinary minion in an evil organization...for the fifth time running. Every single time he gets captured and mad scientists finish altering his body, the organization winds up getting destroyed by heroes. Before he gets brainwashed. Consequently he has become the strongest man in the history of time. Fortunately, he has absolutely no ambition, and is content to serve the twelve year old boy who runs the evil organization just like evil organizations are run on TV because he's suicidal and wants to be killed by the heroes. Who No. 37564 keeps fucking terrorizing.

The Don't of the Dead
A hitwoman with a pathological aversion to human body temperature has her dream come true when she finds herself mixed up in a war between Science Zombies and Magic Zombies. The two children controlling the armies turn out be zombies themselves, and totally running the whole thing as a game because they plan to kill her and turn her into a zombie slave. She sort of turns the tables on them, has them make her into a zombie, and adopts them.

The Red Death of Kashiwagi Cross
Opens with a hero No. 37564 beat up cheerily explaining how great heroes are to a totally unimpressed policeman, who eventually points out that this really isn't going to help him plead insanity. Fortunately, Hariyama-san doesn't press charges. (When No. 37564 punched him, he landed on the roof of Hariyama-san's car.)
The heroic chant he constantly repeats turns out to be a product of his brainwashing; the awesomely named Genociders turn out to be working for a mad scientist who betrayed the evil organization No. 37564 worked for (they briefly had a giant robot named Big Massacre, but No. 37564 kicked it. Once.) and when he tries to rejoin them they kill him.
And then he gets turned into a zombie.
And then he gets possessed by the little dead girl from the first story.
And then everyone has a barbeque at Hariyama-san's house.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

So is this a thing now?

I can live with that. Sushi Western, Sukiyaki Western, it's all good.

Faust 7

Or, the problem with Faust. Japanese edition.
This sucker is 1800 yen, and well over 1200 pages.
I read two stories in it.
Nisioisin's Risuka finally resolved a cliffhanger set up three fucking years ago, when Faust 6 came out. It did so in characteristically disturbing fashion, and was well worth the wait.
Kadono Kouhei's short story is a beautiful piece of fan service, spinning of a minor character from Jagdtiger into a thin story of her own that mostly exists as an excuse to include a series of flashbacks - an encounter with Eugene, who has pretty much only shown up in Boogiepop in the Mirror: Pandora, but who I have long wanted to see reappear; a bit involving the origins of Spooky Electric; the moment Pearl first left the Towa Organization; and concludes with an appearance by Asukai Jin, now apparently working with the Towa Organization. The end title reveals that this story is VS Imaginator Part V. While I appreciated the fanservice immensely, the fucking thing is utterly incomprehensible without having read all of Boogiepop, and the actual story involved is largely opaque - hell, I didn't even cotton on that Katyusha was from Jagdtiger until the last fucking sentence. There's pretty much no meaningful resolution of anything contained here, and it winds up demonstrating both the weaknesses and strengths of Kadano's penchant for interlocking narratives through all his books. Which is probably why his strongest books are the ones that have the least to do with the others.

But two stories is uh, a very small percentage of this book. While I've spoken glowingly of the five really great writers involved with Faust, three of them are missing in action (seriously, they couldn't get Maijo Otaro to do anything?) and beyond those five, Faust's line up is pretty thin. I initially started reading Faust to find more writers like those five, and instead I've mostly found writers who wannabe like those five, but fucking suck. There's actually several new writers in this volume, some of whom might well be reasonably readable, but I've been burned enough by Faust that at this point I'm probably not going to actually take the time to read a bit of their stories and see. I'm just reading the bits I know to be good, and bunging the rest on the shelf. Which suggests Faust has failed it's function as an anthology; perhaps it's time to lay the thing to rest and let Risuka finish up in a reasonable god damn time frame.
Which might be my real point. With Faust unable to maintain even an annual schedule, Risuka's gradually building tension just becomes a stutter.

And on a lighter note

I can't even begin to comprehend the existence of this object.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Recycled Youth, Part 1: Let's Go Bowling

Looks like Wally stole some of my thunder before I got around to posting this, but I haven't read his take yet. Let's see if we agree or not.


Mamoru Oshii is one of those directors I want to like a lot more than I do. The first Patlabor movie is the film that convinced me anime was worth watching at all, but as time goes on I can't help but think that Oshii really needs the rest of Headgear to stop his depressive tendencies from drowning out all other nuance. He basically ruined Ghost in the Shell until Kenji Kamiyama came along, and Avalon proved he can depict shellshocked emotional numbness in live-action just as well as with cartoons. Tachigui was amusing, if slight, but Sky Crawlers once again finds him burying the needle on his emotional range.

Quick summary: In a European never-never-land where people read the Daily Yomiuri but watch Brit-accented television and occasionally speak passable English, air war has been reduced to a ritualized bloodsport between two rival military companies. Our main character, Yuichi Kannami, is a newly arrived replacement pilot for Rostock Corporation, but he quickly fits into the base's routine, if you ignore all the weird looks and trailed-off comments everyone on staff keeps throwing his way. Which Yuichi more than manages, a lackadaisal approach to plot progression that his director seems to share. A lesser talent might explain their film's central premise earlier than an hour and a half in, but not Oshii.

I should mention that I'm not a big dogfight fan, so pretty much none of the movie's action scenes did anything for me. On the other hand, the relative scarcity of such scenes tells me that's not where Oshii's main interest lies either, so I don't think I'm really misjudging the film by ignoring them.

In fact, Oshii's main interest seems to lie (as usual) in a militaristic, emotionally reserved, doll-like woman, hilariously once again named Kusanagi. And frankly, this time I share his interest; she's much more compelling than the male lead, in that she actually seems to have opinions about things. And likes to bowl.


Yuichi is really worryingly passive, which might be a comment on the placidity and lack of ambition of (Japanese?) youth, if pretty much everyone else in the film didn't act in the exact same beaten-down manner. In fact, he doesn't seem all that young, despite the occasional bit of dialogue assuring us that he and his fellow pilots all look like children. I'd assume this just an artifact of the anime tendency to draw everyone young (which this movie does deliberately avert for most of the bit characters), if there weren't another two characters that are exactly the same age visually, who are definitely not part of the whole Kildren thing. Then again, those two characters are whores, which might be meant to be part of the whole "youth as expendable commodity" subtext of the film.

And speaking of subtexts, I'm not convinced of Justin Sevakis' metatextual reading, but if true, I think this alleged hate-letter to consumerism having a tie-in video game is a blacker irony than anything in the actual film.

I'm having a hard time deciding what to think of Sky Crawlers. It's not a bad movie exactly, but it doesn't really seem fully baked. I think a large part of that has to do with Yuichi's failure as a lead character. He is such a passive, empty shell that I find it very hard to empathize with or find interest in him. It's a good thing his callsign is "Cairn", because for most of the movie he may as well just be a big pile of rocks. He does eventually start showing signs of life about an hour in, once another new arrival starts acting as a catalyst, and I did genuinely enjoy the movie after that, but it was kind of a hard slog getting there. There are some nice bits, and it's a reasonably affecting tone poem, but Catch-22 this is not.

Ultimately, I'm just tired of all of Oshii's characters being so one-dimensionally numb and mopey. Real life is plenty depressing and pointless-- the point of art is to synthesize that raw dross into something meaningful. Oshii just seems to throw his hands up, more often than not. I thought being a pet owner was supposed to improve your mood.

The Sky Crawlers



In classic Oshii fashion, the basset hound is arguably the most vibrant, dynamic, and interesting character in this entire film. I dearly hope that one day, Oshii will decide to take a break from his usual fare and make an entire batshit movie centered on the awesome dog. When we see the basset hound, we know that it is clearly alive. The same cannot be said of the human characters. Going along with another Oshii trademark, there are often times when the characters seem to more closely resemble puppets spouting off Oshii's agenda than realistic approximations of people. Rarely do I see anyone speak in long, expository sentences approaching monologues. The dialog sounds like a resolution of Oshii's own thoughts and opinions (though the screenplay was apparently written by someone else). This is not necessarily bad. Oshii's films have never been very character-centric, but more thematically-centric. It's part of his signature stylistic imprint. At its best, (see Patlabor 2, Ghost in the Shell, Jin-Roh), the "Oshii style" prompts some profound contemplation when kept to moderation. At its worst (see Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence), the writing can get tedious, winded, and heavy-handed. Instead of giving viewers ample room to ponder things on their own, themes and messages are beaten over their hands as Oshii masturbates to philosophy. Showing and suggesting is more engaging than telling. Unfortunately in the Sky Crawlers, the writing tilts more towards the excessive, heavy-handed side. With the bullshittery not being engaging enough, the characters are nowhere near interesting enough to carry the show.

The art doesn't really help to make this thing any more interesting. The character designs are bland as hell. This reflects the fact that the characters themselves are living in a purgatory of sorts and are leading very pointless existences, but I can't help but feel that they could have been more distinct and still would have accomplished that aim. By the way, Kusanagi, the lead female character looks fucking scary, reminiscent of those pale sex dolls from Ghost in the Shell. Creepy eyes, man. Character animation was rather disappointing for a film, by the way. As for the score, it''ll remind you of Seirei no Moribito, if you've seen that before. Kenji Kawai utilizes many of the same instruments and sounds that he's used before. The music won't blow your mind and make you drool for the soundtrack, but it's pleasant and unobtrusive, if not entirely memorable. As a positive, the CG air combat sequences are awesome, and the planes look pretty sick. The backgrounds are definitely nice on the eyes, lots of sky, ocean, and green land. Again though, don't be expecting anything absolutely jaw-dropping. For orgasmic eye-candy, watch Innocence on Blu-Ray.

At this point, I may be sounding like an absolute hater of The Sky Crawlers, but really, I didn't hate it. Granted, I wouldn't have minded putting those two hours I spent watching this film towards something else, but I don't regret watching it. Oshii has some interesting things to say, especially regarding the concept of status quo, even if he gets his themes across in a tedious manner (I still do not get where the hell Justin Sevakis gets it that this movie is specifically directed at otaku tastes in Japan in his ANN Review). You also get a couple of those signature appreciable Oshii musical interludes. And honestly, the only truly cringeworthy moments are the instances when the characters converse exclusively in engrish during aerial combat. Overall, I'm just pretty indifferent and ambivalent to the whole experience. So, for now, I'll give a cautious, weak recommendation, but by no means should this be required viewing. Definitely not Oshii's best.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Retrospective on the 2008 Mumbai Incident



It may be frowned upon to introduce political matters to this site, but I found this documentary too visceral to ignore, even if it is a bit one-sided in its depiction of the terrorists. Some amazing, graphic footage in there.

Viz Sig Ikki snapshots

As David Goodwin has recently posted, Viz has loaded some new stuff onto its Sig Ikki site, namely Bokurano, Dorohedoro, Saturn Apartments, and I'll Give It My All...Tomorrow. Bokurano needs no introduction. Stephen Paul did some great work back in the day, translating many chapters of the series for his site Manga Screener, which has since unfortunately become inactive (along with many of its seinen-scanlating cousins, though Kotonoha appears to have experienced a slight revival). However, the other things were entirely new to me:

Saturn Apartments-
The least interesting first chapter of the group for me. The premise was somewhat hard for me to accept. Humans leaving Earth for a stratospheric halo after agreeing that the planet should be made into a giant nature preserve? Hmmm...that's likely. Something about "window cleaners in space" rubbed me off the wrong way too. I know utter realism is neither possible nore particularly appealing in fiction, but when something is going for a "harder," more realistic sci-fi edge, I find certain features of debatable, dubious realism to be quite distracting and jarring. Another quibbling point for me was the art style, which I found to be somewhat forgettable and nondescript. However, I realize I might be being unfairly harsh. First chapters are rather inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, and I find the class conflict to be rather interesting, so I am going to keep on reading.

Dorohedoro-
Engaging beginning with some nice messy and grimey art. Magic, amnesia, and a dystopian city, of-used manga devices all appear, but Dorohedoro features some odd little things in its first chapter that separate it enough from the rest of the crowd that I'm in for the ride. The protagonist, Caiman, is a man with a reptile head who was transformed from an ordinary man. But inside him is an ordinary man who may or may not be his previous ordinary self. We first see him with some helpless dude trapped between his jaws, quite the striking introduction. The dystopian city is called The Hole, where the non-magic-wielding masses have consolidated. The magic users apparently live in a different dimension, and come to The Hole to sadistically practice their magic on the poor city commonfolk.

Bring on the next few chapters, and I'm not sure how book releases will work for these Ikki series, but if Dorohedoro stays consistently good, I'm all for buying a print edition.

I'll Give It My All...Tomorrow-
Not much to say. Pathetic, fat, jobless, single man with a disappointed elderly father and a daughter who is secretly working as an escort gets a new bearing on life when he decides to take on the unrealistic dream of becoming a mangaka at 40 years of age. Simple premise, simple art style, and simply a pleasant read. It's got my favorite opening chapter of this bunch so far and I'm eagerly looking forward to more. I'd love a print edition for this one, as well.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ikki site is live

Viz has finally updated their Ikki online magazine site, posting the first chapters of Bokurano, Dorohedoro, I'll Give It My All... Tomorrow and Saturn Apartments, in addition to their usual update of Children of the Sea; a week from now they'll include Afterschool Charisma, House of Five Leaves, Kingyo Used Books and Tokyo Flow Charts. Each month they'll update the series with a new chapter, posting them individually once every week.

It'll be interesting to see how this works out for the already "established" series -- will Viz only published the first few volumes of them online? Bokurano is already familiar to fans through the usual means, and I wouldn't be surprised if Dorohedoro has grabbed enough of a following, as well.

Regardless, it's great that we're finally seeing these kind of titles gain further ground in North America.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We already had an Alan Moore tag anyway

Came across this page from one of Rick Veitch's famously bizarresome dream comics while cleaning out my hard drive. Never fails to crack me up.

Blade of the Immortal, Volume 21


The Prison arc is over.

FINALLY.

The last two volumes have gone a good way in redeeming the tedium. After tracing the manga's "horror" roots from the beginning, Samura also recalls one of his greatest strengths, delivering one cinematic action sequence after another. The most desperate confrontation -- against a seemingly perfected immortal as the greatest results of Brando's experiments -- ends in one of Samura's trademark two-page spreads. And the epilogue provides a fitting, almost feel-good wind down as characters reunite, stronger than before.

That is, if anything, the strongest argument in favor of the arc. While having the main character stuck in a cell for months doesn't allow any excitement, Rin sees a massive growth during these volumes that shows the kind of indepedence and convinction that many readers would think impossible of her at the start of the story. Doa and Isaku also gradually become very human characters, and the backbone for plot development; even Hyakurin and Giichi find internal resolutions before the end.

Outside of the likely involvement of Ittō-ryū and the ever-psychotic Shira, I've no idea where Samura has taken Blade of the Immortal in Japan. Still, for the first time in years for English readers, the narrative is wide open again.

Pop Quiz

Does this redesigned outfit from Evangelion 2.0 best express

A) Hideaki Anno pandering to his audience

B) Hideaki Anno's contempt for his audience

C) Gainax's desire to refresh their merchandise lines

D) All of the above

Monday, July 20, 2009

Kazuo Umezu introduces Chicken George


Kazuo Umezu is a god among men. This is not up for argument. The seventy-two year old manga-ka has his own brand of sneakers, his own YouTube channel, had an award named after him, makes guest appearances on Japanese shows singing Paul Anka songs in English, won a suit against some fussy middle-aged women to construct his red-and-white-striped Makoto-chan house, and much more. His highly-acclaimed 70s horror comic, The Drifting Classroom, can be accurately described as certifiably insane.

It is then no surprise that his 90s horror epic, Fourteen, is even more deranged than the aforementioned award-winning manga. The setting is an apocalyptic Earth circa 2118, a time and place that shows humanity has not learned from the lesson of environmental destruction Umezu warns of in The Drifting Classroom. Domed cities with long, interconnecting walkways and multiple levels are transplanted right out of the heart of sci-fi. Numerous animals have gone extinct, and problems of food and resources need to be addressed. Luckily, the Chicken Company, set in the Tokyo Pyramid, aids the ailing population by producing bio-chicken. But such experiments give rise to monstrous discoveries and curiosities, and our anti-hero, Chicken George, is born.

The process is a gradual one -- first, an eye; next, a heart; then a torso with organs and non-functioning limbs, and at last full awareness and intelligence. And Chicken George is a damn smart bird, much to the shock of his creator, whom is tied up by the man-chicken, watching as the creation immerses himself in total knowledge (calculus, chemistry, physics, linguistics, cosmology, geophysics, zoology, et cetera). His initial actions are one of survival, wordlessly ripping a hidden microphone off his creator, and then killing off vicious, hungry dogs as a he lumbers to find creator's apartment as the latter struggles in the hospital. Emotional development comes quickly, lamenting the dogs' deaths with a cross and crying A RIVER OF TEARS as he learns of the untimely fates of other animals, courtesy of the cruelty of humans. But it does not end there, as his epiphany of vengeance comes at a trip to the zoo, where he discovers a new breed of animals formed from "gene recombination" -- spider-tigers, human-dogs, lizard-praying mantises and donkey-elephants. The small communities of rabbits, frogs, snakes and chickens are a calming revelation, but not enough to relinquish his anger. Chicken George lets loose these demon-animals, allowing them to kill all zoo visitors -- male and female, young and old -- in their sights.
Umezu's timelessly dated art is even more effective and consistent here than in The Drifting Classroom, going even further to grasp a stiff claustrophobia with character movement and shadows. His pacing also allows the more routine bits of horror -- like a woman looking through a window to find Chicken George in a bath tub, then glancing back to see him gone -- to ratchet the terror up higher. Make no mistake, this is a constantly tense work; I can only imagine how effective it must have been in serialized form, with each chapter pushing the plot forward just enough, but always ending on a palm-tightening cliffhanger.

However, Umezu knows when to pull back, relenting as we transition towards the end of volume one to a few years later, set in the United States of America. With a JFK-esque president prepared to lead the way in expanding humanity's reach towards the stars -- partially due to searching for resources on moons and planets -- his son, whom he hopes to name "America Young," is born. But news breaks out that there is an alarming trend around the globe where babies are being born with green hair -- the president's child is no exception! What could be behind this?! A scholar suggests that this is a curse from the plants and the animal kingdom! Who is this scholar?! Dr. Chicken George of Cambridge University!

Fucking amazing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Random Notes (Army of Shadows)



It's not exactly a light summer movie, but do yourself a favor and watch Army of Shadows if you have the time. Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and originally released in 1969, Army of Shadows looks at a microcosm of the French Resistance in 1943, during the midst of World War II.

Despite being an ample 145 minutes long, Army of Shadows manages to stay consistently tense throughout its runtime, culminating in an ambiguous concluding sequence that should linger for a while in your mind. The protagonist, an electrical engineer who goes by Gebier, is tubby and soft-spoken, not exactly the most physically imposing presence ever. However, he manages to be quite the badass (though he does have some moments of weakness) and a memorable character overall. My main issue with this film lies with some of its substandard "special" effects and production design. I'm sure I come across as a superficial dick by making that statement, but I found some of the more blatant moments of cheapness to be really distracting, bad even by 1969 standards. In the beginning, rain is scratched onto the film. Then when water is actually available, we see rain only pouring locally on a car in the shot, This "rain" promptly subsides as the car departs the screen and stops before the shot even ends. Bombs apparently do not implode buildings. Apparently, they just light the roof of a building on fire. A plane flying at night is depicted as a white cut-out on a
black screen. In a pivotal scene, a machine-gun crew responsible for an execution disappear in and out of the shot. So, the film was clearly lacking on the budgetary end. But still, those budgetary defects are only temporary distractions, not enough, by far, to cripple this film from greatness. Definitely give this one a watch. I'd go as far as to say it's one of the finest works in Criterion Collection's catalog of gems.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Katanagatari, shit till the bitter end

I always had a suspicion that when Nisioisin stopped being brilliant and did something bad that it would at least be spectacularly bad.
Part of the reason I got so far into Katanagatari in the first place was because it was so boringly bad. I was simply indifferent to it, so I focused on the odd bit that did work, and didn't quite work out that I genuinely hated it.
By then I owned the whole damn thing, and gradually obstinance set in. I struggled valiantly forward through the tenth volume, to no one's benefit, including my own.
I literally do not remember a god damn thing about volume ten.
I barely remember most of volume eleven, and I read the fucking thing earlier this week.
Took advantage of particularly hideous traffic on the bus route home to plow through the last two volumes and kill the fucker from my to read pile.
I think Katanagatari failed for three primary reasons - the schedule, which was a stunt thing involving churning out a book a month for an entire year (and seems to have encouraged him to pad the fuck out of the books with 30 page recaps and write books even when he clearly didn't have a good idea); the structure, where each book has them up against a new sword, and basically locked him into a structure of long on the road conversation followed by introduction of the new sword wielder and sword and then a brief action scene to recover it; and the two lead characters, who have to be the two most boring people he's ever created, and who have absolutely no chemistry whatsoever.
The volume that entirely takes place somewhere else with the main guy's sister fighting ninja is easily the best volume in the series for a reason.
If there was a reward for my pathological need to force my way through books I do not like, it was that the last volume brought an end to the failure of mediocrity; at long last, the colossal failure I had been searching for appeared.
There follow spoilers. I assume some people intend to watch the anime; I do myself, in the hopes that they can distill something watchable without the burden of his prose tics (which are deeply irritating on material this flimsy.)
The volume kicks off with the tragic death of the heroine. It felt like killing her off was the only way to bring some sort of emotional foundation to events, and effectively admitted that the character and her relationship with his bog standard lead had utterly failed to amount to anything. Reducing her to a stock cliche was the only way he could replace her with something that could actually induce momentum.
Bringing in some hastily conceived bullshit about changing history was merely embarrassing; having the hero fight through all the swords and destroy them in some sort of Capcom boss battle riff was actually pretty entertaining, and sending him off in a self-indulgent epilogue, traveling with the god damn villain (admittedly, the most interesting character in the book) was just the final admission of absolute failure.
Bakemonogatari episode three was really good.

A new Raging Phoenix trailer already

Significantly crazier than the first.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fastest license-to-available turnaround ever?

Apparently Bandai not only just announced that it licensed the anime Kannagi, but the episodes are streaming and the DVDs are available to purchase now/this weekend. What's more, it's apparently going to be exclusive to Right Stuf and Amazon.

This is rather interesting for a few different reasons, but really just leaves me puzzled.

Speedy to Market

Bandai's messed around with quick anime releases in the past (like the infamous Blue Submarine No. 6 release format of an expensive one episode a disc so they could match the Japanese release schedule) but I can't recall such a short period between license announcement and availability before.

Why would they delay the license announcement for so long? Are they hoping that the surprise alone will generate enough buzz to hype up the property?

Exclusive to Online Retailers

While the speed may be puzzling, the exclusivity for online retailers (outside of potential convention sales) is a bit puzzling and worrying. What is the benefit to Bandai for limiting sales? Unless Right Stuf and Amazon paid for the exclusivity (which would be another puzzling surprise), it doesn't seem like it would help anyone - even if Best Buy is pulling back from retail presence for anime, there are plenty of other brick & mortar stores that are struggling along.

Online retailers are great, but they are better suited for buyers who already know what they want. Is Bandai not expecting any casual fans to pick up the series and instead focusing on hardcore fans who already know about everything before it comes out?

Interesting Indeed

It's clearly an indication of a new direction or business model for anime sales. The continued commitment to streaming is welcome news, but the rest of the announcement suggests that something is changing.
via Anime on DVD

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Parasyte, Volume 07


This is truly the penultimate volume, the high tension stretching as far as possible as the Japanese government moves towards the eradication of the parasites. For the majority of this volume Shinichi maintains the distance of an observer, caught in predicament of inaction -- which, as will haunt him later, may well lead to an unnecessary massacre of citizens and soldiers.

Despite the pauses in procedure, this is also probably the most action-oriented volume of the series thus far. Humans and parasites are both killed with little discretion, the army failing to keep their trap under control as they surround and systematically kill suspected parasites in their once-veiled headquarters (or "nest"). Hitoshi Iwaaki is frank as always about death, even if some of the revelations and proclamations -- particularly those of Mayor Hirokawa -- lead to a perception of damnation of human arrogance. Iwaaki himself admits that he attempted to portray those involved as acting as they naturally would, affirming that he doesn't "spend a lot of time deploring [his] own species." Further questions are raised about the development of the parasites themselves, as Iwaaki also notes his responses that Migi, Reiko and Goto are no longer acting with practical interests -- perhaps a suggestion of communities "corrupting" rational thought?

The art also continues to improve and move further away from the charmingly dated 80s styles found in the first volumes. The opening chapter title page immediately stands out, depicting Uragami -- the killer introduced in the prior volume -- with a sadistic gaze strikingly portrayed by bold lines that is helped by the effectively minimal shading. Iwaaki's empty space is used more sparsely and successfully, as well, with a greater use of backgrounds and more appropriated examples of the aforementioned technique applied to emphasize the threat that Goto poses as he clinically manipulates and murders the ignorant soldiers in his path.

Emma, Volume 09


This round of side story collections of Emma provides a more consistent output than the previous volume. Half of the material here consists of various events surrounding the Merediths, the German family that took in Emma. Concerning Dorothea and Wilhelm, Kaoru Mori pays careful attention once more to subtle hand gestures, and perfectly injects the minimum requirement of flashbacks for humor and nostalgia. Personality contrasts also play an important role in the third Meredith story, surrounding the maids and butlers; Polly's mischievous, frank attitude serves as a perfect foil for Alma's stoic observations as the latter joins the former spending their free day about town, buying various things for the others and themselves.

The story of William and Hakim's first meeting also contains allusions to a later departure of Britain from India, but, as Mori somewhat laments in her always humorous afterword, isn't examined too extensively. It primarily serves as a vehicle for an amusing background to the two characters, particularly the always-charismatic and curious Hakim.

Bookending the volume are two tonally opposite stories, the first a feel-good plot of Erich temporarily losing his squirrel, Theo, to the woods; the second involves an tale of three opera singers and their efforts to adjust to their careers. The Boy and His Lost Pet serves as a vehicle for Mori to show of her visual storytelling power in isolation, much of the chapter bearing a less mean-spirited resemblance to Gon. The last story reaches an anti-climax involving the maturation as the lead comes to terms with his love life and career prospects. The low-key acceptance is a simple reminder of how far ahead Emma is in romance from every other manga out there on the English market.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The World is Mine, Volumes 01-07

This is an awful and inadequate review, especially considering how this manga deserves the best review ever.

But, honestly, how the fuck do you describe this?

Little has been said in English about The World is Mine, a series as bombastic as its declarative title suggests. Translator Stephen Paul did a review a couple years back, and our own Andrew Cunningham provided his own thoughts last year. The only other mention has apparently been in an old Pulp magazine article that includes it in a list of the least-likely manga to be licensed and translated into English. In its opening chapters, the reason for this becomes evident: two would-be terrorists, Toshi and Mon, find themselves in a series of routine events that end in brief explosions of violence (courtesy of the more ego-driven Mon, seemingly disregarding the immediate consequences of those around him).

What makes the first volume and a half of the original fourteen series print run (halfway through the first volume of the five volume reprint) a difficult read is that these personal stories are interrupted and impersonally destroyed. The Toshi-Mon duo are not the only ones responsible for these early depictions of carnage; an enormous, Godzilla-sized brown bear, soon dubbed Higumadon, traverses through mountainous terrain, slowly creating its own myths as the monster kills the people it finds in its way. Eventually the attention of the media settles upon Toshi and Mon through an escalation of bombing incidents -- first in a policeman's car, then at a pachinko parlor, and finally at a police station. It is here where Arai seems content to invite readers in, as the focus becomes more committed and Very Big Questions are addressed from Toshi to the Japanese government -- all, of course, a mere diversion. Just as Arai hooks the audience in with this horrifying hostage exhibition, the situation's resolution gives way to another story where an oddly gifted, confident hunter and a meek, secretly juvenile newspaper writer track down reports about and evidence of Higumadon.

Arai gracefully juggles these different plotlines, freely moving back and forth between the two parallel stories. The pacing is just as fluid, with a range of multiple days being summed up over a few chapters to devoting an entire chapter to eight seconds. This movement creates an incredibly dynamic narrative that allows tension to build when appropriate -- such as the aforementioned bombings and hostage situation -- to a graceful slide back as Arai examines the media and political reactions to both Toshi-Mon's escapades and Higumadon, as well as the supporting characters' observations and actions.

It is, in fact, these very same characters that also provide some of the most compelling tales. Idiosyncratic traits are applied to every named-character -- including the aforementioned hunter and reporter, as well a deranged police commander and a rebellious, perverted prime minister -- making them instantly recognizable even after separation of reading the series for nearly a year. The main female character, Maria (the counterpoint to the pettiness of Toshi and the viciousness of Mon), is reintroduced after a seemingly throwaway encounter, becoming as tangibly real as a fictional character can as Arai sets his panels amidst her daily life before literally abducting the girl back into the plot. If these snapshots provide an uplifting and admirable life, then Arai's readiness to acknowledge the more sordid and depressing side of humanity must be equally respected. As news breaks out about the killer's identities, the contented lull of Toshi's parents is stolen from them. Toshi's mother, in particular, provides an utterly devastating account as the media entrenches itself into every aspect of her life, ruining and ultimately extinguishing it. Even the incidental characters, such as the couple taken into the mountains by Toshi and Mon after the police station incident, are given very human faces before they meet an ill fate as Toshi desperately tries to kill the woman as Mon watches on, laughing at his partner's struggle to finish the job.

Beyond any doubt, the violence is intensely visceral, toeing a line of sensational but never crossing it into glorification. This is primarily due to Arai's compositions and art, frequently breaking the process down to where there is only pain on the page.

This is not to say that Arai never permits a spectacle to unfold, whether it's a portrait of the fight for survival or senseless destruction of a city.



Still, where the strength of Arai's art lay at its greatest -- though likely least-appreciated by the average reader -- is the sheer range of emotion and facial structure of his characters. No one design looks like another, completely rejecting an all-too common truism in manga and anime where the Big Eyes, Small Mouths run dominant with only different hair styles and clothing to differentiate between them.

Mon especially embodies this, displaying excitement, boredom, amusement, fear, contemplation, et cetera, within one volume. Through his charisma Arai captures all moods, pivoting the narrative around his mystifying development between two extremisms as those surrounding him attempt to manipulate, destroy or curb his abrasive tendencies.

Halfway through the story, I have absolutely no idea where the end point might be, or what it will involve. What little I've read of indicates a type of large scope that defines epics, with other countries becoming involved. That a more mythical bent also is more evident comes as no surprise, either; even as obvious as Higumadon is, the first half of the series has scattered scenes of surrealism, supported by a reinterpreted mythos that Arai establishes as his own.

Yet is there an all-encompassing Message from the Author? I can only guess for now. Despite how upfront a lot of the immediate issues are, Arai is very careful of placing particular judgment or signs to help readers grasp themes too simply. Throughout these first seven volumes, loss of life occurs, as is common in real life, with no easily suggested reason. The audience is left alone to assign their own meanings to the proceedings as Arai's humanity edges closer to the edge, prepared to plunge deep into immovable and ever-present violence.

A petty rant involving Black Jack

As the English market for seinen series continues to grow, so do the expected names move out of their scanlation-favored beginnings into the lexicon for would-be manga critics. Naoki Urasawa is one such manga-ka, a passionate following amassing itself even further now that he has two more of his famous series being released side-by-side. This is important to note in this coverage of Black Jack because while Urasawa utterly adores and worships Osamu Tezuka, the former's approach is so radically different that it comes as little surprise for why the criticisms come more quickly for the late god of manga by specific reviewers.

As I read Pluto alongside Black Jack, what is the most obvious aesthetic difference is the handling of melodrama. Tezuka can be targeted for his ham-fisted ways, where Serious Messages are delivered in a tone not far removed from the late Will Eisner: distanced, alienated male characters crying out, defiant at the people, ideology, system and even divinity that steal away fairness and justice in this world. But, like Eisner, there's little doubt that Tezuka completely means every single speech bubble, constantly seeking answers for the betterment of humankind. Self-awareness isn't out of the question, either, considering the amount of fourth-wall-breaking scenes and general absurdities Tezuka throws at the reader.

Urasawa also never shies away from prodding sentimentality into the picture, but his motivations are arguably suspect -- particularly considering these almost always involve elongated sub-plots consisting of characters offering feel-good platitudes, while repetitive panels emphasize just how miserable they all really are. When the story of North No. 2 reaches its "emotional climax," finally succeeding at aiding the blind, bitter old man to open his heart upon the songs and revelations of his homeland, it stumbles past a line of acceptability into self-parody for cheap manipulation of the audience. When, in volume five of Black Jack, Tezuka focuses on Black Jack desperately fighting with Dr. Kiriko attempting to kill his apparently tragically-fated father, or his indifference upon a former "wolf girl" dancing into dangerous territory, it reveals more questions about the characters and Tezuka's own moral questions.

Undoubtedly there are those who won't find themselves attached to the admittedly inconsistent storytelling found in Black Jack. Instead they are more comfortable with Urasawa's thriller, questions always dancing around the answers until the narrative compulsion nearly grinds to a halt. Personally, I'm coming back and away with higher and more fulfilled expectations with Tezuka's insanity-filled honesty.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness (aka Yami no Moribito)

"Back under the mountain, when the Herders had finished their sacred hymn, they made the warriors vow to keep silent, and the warriors had agreed, knowing that words could never adequately describe what they had just seen or experienced."

One of my favorite lines from the book, and one that aptly encapsulates my feelings about it. Guardian of the Darkness is something I can praise, but not really something I can describe too well.

Anyway, fucking sensational read. Guardian of the Darkness is beautiful, badass, dazzling from its awesome cover to its last page. The penultimate section of the book is a spectacle to visualize and behold in your mind, a smorgasbord of imagery. If anything, read this book for the most glorious physical/metaphysical spear fight ever featured in any literary work.

Buy/read/love this thing now if you enjoyed watching/reading Seirei no Moribito. I loved this continuation even more than its predecessor. I hope Scholastic keeps on releasing more volumes by the way and keeps Cathy Hirano at the translating helm. She's once again put out some fantastic work. Andrew any little tidbits on what happens in the later volumes of Moribito, if you've happened to read them?


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Raging Phoenix trailer


New movie with the girl from Chocolate, however she's spelling her name this time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Obligatory Bakemonogatari 2 episode

Not sure I have a lot to add to last week's comments, but they're really capturing something that just feels right to me, even when it diverges wildly from what I'd experienced reading the book.
Meme in particular is absolutely not the paunchy goofball I'd imagined, but a much more dangerous seeming lunatic - and they pretty much sold me on it instantly.
I also really appreciated the way they chose to underplay the bulk of the first half; while the novel version was a lot more raucously funny, playing it like a comedy would probably have combined poorly with Hitagi's lack of clothes and sent the whole thing spiraling downwards into some sort of harem show vibe. Keeping the line readings (mostly) to a more conversational tone managed to make the entire scene feel oddly mature, even with a few obligatory jokes, and eased the transition into the more serious climax.
Masterful.

Random Notes (Dimension Bomb and Alive in Joberg)



Part of Studio 4C's Genius Party Anthology, Dimension Bomb is a neat 20-minute short directed by Koji Morimoto, who also directed the Magnetic Rose segment of Memories, among other things. Visually, this thing is absolutely fantastic, a feast for the eyes. The soundtrack, contributed by Juno Reactor, is awesome, too. Dimension Bomb also happens to be the only thing that Yoko Kanno has voice acted in. Honestly, story-wise, I didn't know what the hell as going on, though admittedly, I was too enamoured by the visuals and the soundtrack to bother trying to put anything together. There's some sort of thing going on between a boy and girl. The nonsensical dialog did little to shed light into the plot. I think the short would have been fine as simply a music video for the Juno Reactor soundtrack without any of the voice acting. Anyway, Dimension Bomb is well worth a quick watch.

On an entirely different non-Eastern, non-animated note, District 9, directed by Neill Blomkamp, is coming out on August 14th, 2009, and I am fucking jazzed for that. The trailer is loaded with sweetness and has me high on expectations. Look it up ASAP if you haven't seen it. I was surprised to find out that District 9 is an elaboration of an earlier short faux documentary from the same director called Alive in Joberg. Alive in Joberg is centered around the struggle of some alien refugees who have been confined to a ghetto in Johannesburg, South Africa, and how discrimination and segregation from humans have driven them to rise up. Check it out:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Phantasm Phenomenon of Memoria-Noise

Somewhat unnoticed beneath the sheer popularity of Boogiepop and the flashy fantasy trappings of the Jiken series, Kouhei Kadano has been quietly working on the Soul Drop series, producing volumes at a significantly faster rate than either of his other ongoing works.
It's not a series that draws attention to itself; published by Non Magazine's novel line (Non is a women's magazine, I think) it boasts bland illustrations (that, to their credit, capture the personalities well) and stock cover dress, and back cover copy that somehow fails to mention what I'd consider the fucking hook.
The covers do vaguely mention that it involves two insurance agents chasing a mysterious man known only as Papercut - a man who steals seemingly insignificant items that are, unbeknownst to the owners, of equal value to their lives.
What the covers fail to mention is that one of the agents IS A ROBOT.
How you can have a god damn robot detective in your book and not god damn mention it is fucking beyond me. I suppose they wish to avoid distorting expectations - this is a book that thrives on ensemble casts, with an intangible villain who never actually meets the supposed main characters, and whose actual motives remain something of a mystery to everyone but himself.
Hell, this volume, the second one, complicates describing things dramatically by adding a new character into the mix, one who manages to be instantly so compelling he effectively feels like the actual main character of the series, one who simply was too busy to show up for the first volume.
I think there was a mystery in here, and it worked reasonably well, without ever getting bogged down in tedious deduction; but Kadano has the sense to make his mystery play thematically into what we're learning about the central characters.
I've written often about Kadano's unique grasp of character, and the refreshingly subdued narrative neatly puts this skill out front, allowing it to carry the book. At least, carry it up until the robot starts punching grenades back at people.
Nothing ever works on only one level, and nothing is ever spelled out for us completely; a scene where one character describes her brother ostensibly exists to sketch in their relationship, but the responses of the characters around her tell us something about each of them, her own response tells us something about her brother, and the brief description of her behavior: '"I hate him," she said, quickly. Too quickly,' is a glancing blow that tells you a lot without ever really giving you the truth.
The first two books here have effectively crystallized what I like about Kouhei Kadano; they may well be his best work.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why Faust is worth calling "cutting edge"

There's an immense gulf between how Japanese is spoken, and how it's written.
While I'm not going to go write a thesis on it, it often feels like each major literary revolution in Japan has been accompanied by a group of writers who have taken their writing one step closer to the colloquial speech they and their peers use.
Haruki Murakami owes the bulk of his success to this; his writing cut through the calcified formalism of Noble Prize winning pretense with stories that evaded literary importance by not really being about fucking anything in particular, written in a jazzy conversational tone that felt and still feels like a breath of fresh air to anyone who's struggled through a recognized literary masterpiece. (Not to knock those masterpieces unduly; some of them are genuinely worth the slog.)
But Murakami is an old man. He's my parents' age. He stays relevant, but there is a generation gap there, and he doesn't sound like people my age talk.
Light novels are more colloquial, yeah, but often with an artificial anime filter; the gap between anime voice acting and actual acting, if you will.
It often felt like the writers in Faust were the only people writing in modern voices, in the language as it was lived and used. There may have been others, but I never found them, and these guys banded together and put out a magazine that effectively is the voice of their generation. It may lack the literary pretensions of two generations ago, and it may not have the polite disdain to be about nothing at all, but to these writers, genre writing feels more relevant.
Full House probably didn't turn every Japanese man into a pedophile the way Nisioisin claims, but he's also admitted Eva single handedly ruined him for life, and there are probably a dozen other writers and manga artists who bear equal responsibility. He's a writer who reaches through truth by exaggerating it, the magnifying glass of his ornate writing style, bizarre plots, and deranged characters letting him capture something about the collective imagination of his generation that is fucking important. The instinctive grasp of character nuance in Kadono Kouhei's character-study-as-action-horror body of work; the incisive way Otsu Ichi reaches out and places his finger right on an emotional tremor; Tatsuhiko Takimoto's desperate attempts to keep himself from going insane on page; and Maijo Otaro, sadly left out of Faust 2, whose single-minded pursuit of reckless rage-fueled surrealism makes him a literary movement in himself...
Each approaches their work in a different fashion, each reads and feeds off the others voices, and without them, Japanese literature would be dead in the water.

Bakemonogatari special

Why kind of line fails to make it into the anime?
"Araragi, let me just say this - if you rape me, I will do everything in my power to exact a Boy's Love revenge upon you."
In the anime, all that was left of it was the lead in line, "It might be hard to tell with my clothes on, but my body simply isn't worth breaking the law to get your hands on."

Large chunks of Bakemonogatari consisted of dirty jokes run through a nerd filter; I note the nerdy aspect of the joke was removed in the process of TV filtering this line, and dozens of others with it.

Would be a shame if Suruga Monkey gets hit too hard with the TV stick; her entire character is based on constantly propositioning the main characters.

Corrected, based on asute comment observations.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Descent to mediocrity

I'm guessing that Andrew has stopped watching Mazinger. It's been a while since he last posted about its "manly Jovian pride." Well, if he has stopped, it's for the better. What started out as a fun, badass ride reminiscent of the masterful Giant Robo has since somewhat stagnated in the last few episodes. In fact, I wasn't even able to make it through episode 13, which without spoiling much, revolves around the unfortunate predicament of Shiro and his naive love for Lorelei, who is actually an enemy weapon, making for a fairly lame plot point.

There's just not enough tension and chaos right now to ramp up anticipation. Everything has settled down from the beginning. There's not enough of the Random Epic Entrances and ridiculous Greek backstory, too much of Mazinger Z trashing yet another poor mechanical beast. Mazinger Z is too fucking invincible by the way. The sheer power of Breast Fire, Rust Breath, Koshiryoku Beam and Rocket Punch were delightful at the beginning, but there is now never a time when I have to worry about how Koji and his robot get out of their latest conundrum. Spamming some combination of those attacks usually provides a solution eventually, and if not, some other new addition or feature is introduced.

In addition, the attempts at comedy fall short. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Imagawa isn't an excellent writer of comedy based on the Gin Rei OAVs and what's been shown so far in Mazinger. It's a wonder then that Imagawa incorporates as much attempted humor as he does into the show. It's going to take more than drunk and/or horny men stumbling into awkward peeping situations to make me laugh nowadays.

Part of the failure of Shin Mazinger to sustain its craziness and spontaneity may lie in the show's structure as a 26 episode series. Giant Robo may have had longer episodes, but there were only seven of them. When you gotta stretch out something that long, it's pretty damn hard to keep coming up with fresh ideas and avoid reptition. Stuff that was initially batshit loses its luster over the time. For instance, it's now going to take one hell of a Random Epic Entrance to impress me. Also, the obvious lack of a loaded budget cannot be understated...I'm still waiting for a real opening sequence without recycled footage...

Of course, the saving grace that may get me to eventually come back to Shin Mazinger, in its current mediocrity, may be the booming narrator. It's amazing how 15 seconds of his voice can make an episode worth watching. Life is not the same without a weekly dosage of his enthusiasm. Then again, I still have an urge to watch those fighting, civilization-destroying brains in action too...

Friday, July 3, 2009

Dulalala!! anime -- from the same staff as Baccano!

So fuck yes.

And the award for most misleading opening credits goes to

Bakemonogatari!

I'm not even sure they're going to get around to the prequel. Although making the credits all about it is probably a good sign.
So yeah, this was pretty much everything I'd hoped it would be. Slapping a healthy dose of Utena-tastic architectural shenanigans helps keep the intense dialogue focus visually stimulating.

As I suspected, this material is pretty much a perfect match for Shinbo's stylistic excess; he'd far rather depict the characters wandering through a flickering film frame as hand written keywords dance beside them than waste his time trying to oversell the humor. The constant rapid fire patter is still there, and delivered in with an understated confidence virtually no other anime director has the sense to use.

Plus, we know exactly what the main lead's brain is made of.
It remains to be seen if there's an fansubbers - or professional translators - up to the staggering amount of work involved in translating both Shinbo's word on screen spam and NisiOisin's bracing word play deluge, but even raw this sucker's a visual tour de force, and an absolute must see.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

When They Fail

I actually have a healthy amount of respect for Ryukishi07's operatically batshit horror; the anime versions have generally failed to capture the necessary balance between the deeply unhinged core and the otaku pandering that makes them financially viable in the niche market he writes for, but I genuinely adored the first four novels when he got around to adapting his own games for a format that inherently fails to support his worst instincts very well. It was a lot easier to ignore his unfortunate fascination with irritating vocal tics.
While I'm sure Umineko ni Naku Koro ni does as poor a job at grasping the work's potential as the Higurashi anime did, the first episode of the anime is simply astonishingly bad. So bad I am utterly unable to perceive what little hint of quality that actually made me bother pursing Higurashi to the novel format.
First of all, just because you set your story in the 80s does not mean you can do tit-grabbing lech jokes, which haven't been acceptable since then, and weren't funny at the time either.

Indeed, the tone of this fucker lurches so wildly I expected the cast of Torchwood to put in an appearance. Some bullshit about a witch is clearly the driving force behind the plot, but a good chunk of the episode is devoted to psycho rich adults snarling at each other in soap operatic displays that reminded me eerily of that flash game about rich women slapping each other.
The hilariously odd clothing designs and suitably fucked-up-sounding opening and ending songs are probably the high points of this first episode.
The low points - or rather, the cratering-thundering-inescapable-pits-of-pain points - entirely derive from Ryukishi07's aforementioned unfortunate predilection for bizarre vocal tics, which here manifests itself in the show's one obvious moe bait, a goth loli yandere (I think she's yandere, but forgive me for not keeping up on my bullshit trends) who spends the bulk of the episode making the most annoying sound in the universe over and over until not only are you ready to kick the little shit in the face, at least one other character ACTUALLY DOES, and you feel fucking happy about it.
When the high point of your episode involves you cheering on child abuse, it's a good sign your show is a worthless piece of shit. Unless you meant it to play like that, but that only happens in Jason Statham movies.

Evangelion 1.0 hitting theaters

Sure, the dub kinda sucks (it sounds like some Saturday morning cartoon desperately trying to be serious), but part of me is just happy to see a trailer for an anime movie go up for general consumption on Apple's trailer site.

It's also nice to actually be able to see some of those scenes in decent quality. Cannot wait for the later films.
official Evangelion 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone web site

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Not really missing out on Missing

I've written a good deal about Missing, going so far as to translate four volumes of the series for Tokyopop's ill fated novel line.
The first two volumes - the only two ever published in English - are nice stand alone volumes that skillfully blend J-horror tropes with actual research into folklore and the occult.
Then an arc plot enters the picture, and volumes three through eight are absolutely fantastic stuff.
I finally finished the series a few minutes ago, and I regret to inform you it ends with a limp flop.
After volume eight he clearly makes a conscious decision to head for an ending. Instead of being carried along by a wave of good ideas, he methodically attempts to manipulate his already dangerously immobile characters into the positions he has decided they should be.
One of the more obviously flaws throughout the series was the somewhat shallow characterization, and the obvious inertia all these characters present when attempting to give them arcs, or get the plot moving; each of them is essentially complete and has nothing built into their being that makes them actually do anything proactively.
It takes him five volumes to force them into place. The result is simply tedious. And the places he forces them into are frequently simply not that interesting or satisfying; he gives you a plot element you knew was coming, and zero payoff on it, so you're left wishing he hadn't bothered.

Things He-Man Was Not Meant to Know

I was suitably chastised the last time I emailed around something like this instead of posting it, so here it is:

Apparently He-Man fell on hard times and had to work in a skeevy strip club in India, judging from this clip from a purported musical.



As he says, he is He-Man.
via io9