Arjuna – episodes 6 to 13

August 28, 2004 on 6:39 pm | In Arjuna | Comments Off on Arjuna – episodes 6 to 13

Arjuna cleans up its act for the second part of the series, with only one horrid episode. And it’s a really big one, with an issue that really shouldn’t be dealt with in anime – it’s episodes like this one that make Arjuna so damned unpopular, a real pity considering what it actually has going for it.

Episodes six and nine are the preachy episodes that were so prevalent in the first five. The isolation of these to two specific episodes softens the blow, as does the lack of multiple cases of Cindy and Chris harrassing Juna. The first preaching episode is actually fine, and could be considered “Juna versus the education system”. Juna protests the manufactured state of modern education, and argues that teachers should give their own voice to their lessons and students should learn at their own pace, and all sorts of other impractical ideas.
Two very good points are raised by the episode, however: firstly “The easy thing and happiness aren’t necessarily the same thing” and secondly “Once someone changes, then everyone will change – but what if you’re the first to change?”. Kawamori answers this question both in the script, and with the whole series: you become a social outcast.
The other episode fares less well. I’m fairly mild mannered, and even I found it offensive. It comes off very much as a “pro-life” episode, which we here in anime town have no place for. I think anime is an effective way to tackle social change both in Japan and the world at large, but I found this theme entirely inappropriate. A lot of the episode feels made up, and it also gives Juna the advice “if you’re worried about the state of your relationship, consummate it!” which hardly seems progressive. The one thing that it has going for it is that it makes Cindy just the slightest bit sympathetic. Just the slightest.

Quite a few of these episodes are quiet, thoughtful pieces about communication and connection, and the action is pared down to a more emotional level. These are quite good. The highlight of the entire series comes with the production of one of the best apocalypses ever. The power of these scenes is unquestionable, and because this is largely conjecture there’s very little to take issue with. The only problem is that Sayuri should have been more sympathetic given all of the horrible things that she had to endure. As it was, however, it was more realistic and probably the “gritty world view” that Kawamori was probably going for – which jarred with his fantasy ideals.
The final arc is all quite heavy, but it’s also quiet. The dark oranges and browns suit the feel of a place that has exhausted its sunshine, and there’s very little action because almost all that could have happened already has. This sort of low key ending is charged with emotion and is rather like the “anti-climactic” post war scenarios.
Strong themes of nationalism arise, but not from the country itself. Onizuka argues that even if the people of Japan cease to exist, the country will live on through its strong sense of national identity grown into the land. Juna argues that such patriotic thought means nothing to the people of now, and by this point she has thoroughly learned to challenge authority and standard thinking patterns. It has been argued that the view of Japan offered is “anti-American”. That kind of sentiment is usually very obvious in anime, and this is not the case here. The situation is a case of humanity versus practicality, and is in no way a divide of the ideals of any countries.
Some ideas have finally got through to Juna, and the ending is one of the kind of hope that can spring only from world’s end.

Kawamori Shoji hit a few bumps in making Earth Maiden Arjuna; sometimes it felt too “educational”, others it felt annoying, and on one occasion it was mildly offensive. There’s some great stuff in here that’s harder to express beyond the merely cosmetic decoration of anime. It’s just a shame that you have to dig so deep to get past the make-up and the made up.

Arjuna – episodes 1 to 5

July 20, 2004 on 11:12 am | In Arjuna | Comments Off on Arjuna – episodes 1 to 5

In Japan, you graduate from science fiction and transforming fighter planes to environmentalism. Or at least, that’s what Macross creator Kawamori Shoji has done with Earth Maiden Arjuna. Despite drowning in symbolism and metaphor, and going on to present five minute seminars on the proper way of treating soil, Arjuna still has something going for it.

One day, high school student Ariyoshi Juna dies in a motorcycle. Chris, the avatar of time, shows her a horrible vision of the dead and dying Earth. He tells her that if she becomes the new avatar of time, he will let her live again. The nature of her accident is highly suspicious, and hopefully some sort of truth will come up later.

These first episodes are frustrating (in so far as a thirteen episode series can even have first episodes), because Chris expects Juna to act as the avatar of time without any sort of advice, and simply insults her when she makes mistakes. It’s hard to feel sympathy for him, even if he is in a wheelchair and is physically incapable of speech (when communicating to the non telepathic, he has to go through his ten year old nursemaid who is even ruder than him). Arjuna is just a teenaged girl who doesn’t know much about feeling for the Earth and certainly can’t be expected to know the secrets of looking after the soil.
When Arjuna is left to “discover” herself in the wilds and ends up working for an old man who explains that humans are killing the soil and progressively weakening the gene pool, one has to wonder exactly what is going on here. It’s not one of the philosophical attempts that anime gets at so often: it’s just an odd collection of preaching. This is the director’s cut edition, which means that some episodes have intermissions and epilogues, allowing for five minutes of no animation and explanations of exactly what we should do to the soil and how worms eat and so on, accompanied by the occasional live action piece of footage showing humans doing exactly what they shouldn’t be to the land. This is just agriculture now – it could get worse!

Visually, Arjuna is quite an attractive project: the characters are simple, but they live in a complex world (just like humans, perhaps). The digital animation is used quite well. The environmental hazards and that which Arjuna uses to fight them (infuriatingly prompting Chris to say “Why kill?” and “Why fight?” every single time) are made with CG, which stands out but is actually quite jerky. Ashura is the angry thing that Arjuna summons, that shows that environmental agression isn’t always the best option. Its multiple limbs are quite stiff.
Still, for the most part, this series is beautiful and unsurprisingly tinged with green.

The characters are actually all fairly annoying, but they at least have some nice voices. As Tokio, Tomokazu Seki does his usual good job as the slightly abrasive but ultimately good character. He seems to deliberately feign ignorance at times, and there’s no clue as to why he’s still with Arjuna because she’s such a tease. As Arjuna, Higashiyama Mami is fairly good because there’s a nasal quality to her voice that fits such a reluctant hero, along the lines of “I don’t want to know these things!” Funny, nor do we.
Ueda Yuji as Chris sounds like he never has before: Spiritually strong but physically weak. It’s just a shame that the character is so uncharismatic, even when he gets out of his wheelchair to hug Arjuna. Hisakawa Aya, who is now impossible to imagine without some sort of Osaka-ben, is also loyal as Sayuri, who seems a bit too hands on with Tokio.

The music is by Kanno Yoko, and is naturally superlative. There is no ED, as Kawamori has opted for an effective dramatic story opening each time, that shows a varying amount of recaps and new stuff. The insert songs are particularly superb and catch the atmosphere (as in the environment, not the heavy handed moralising). The ending song is an especially enjoyable Sakamoto Maaya piece but then, she can do very little wrong.

Arjuna is infuriating precisely because it’s impossible to pinpoint what makes it compelling. To explain it to someone when you’re not watching it, it just sounds heavy and weird. I deliberately turned off my “judgemental images” detector when I went in, so the impact was lessened: get past that, and the mean characters, and you’ll find something you might just want to watch – but you’ll be hard pressed to know why.

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