Grave of the Fireflies

April 30, 2004 on 11:39 pm | In Grave of the Fireflies | 1 Comment

In Japan, Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbour Totoro were shown as a double bill. Children would go on school excursions to see the two of them, and they are both very important films.

Grave of the Fireflies is about Seita, a boy whose mother dies in an air raid towards the end of World War II. He goes to live with his aunt, who becomes increasingly cold towards him and his four year old sister, Setsuko because they are not “helping the country”. It becomes too difficult for him to continue living there and as a result he takes Setsuko and goes to live in an abandoned bomb shelter.
He struggles to keep Setsuko and himself healthy in an increasingly inhospitable country without compromising his morals or damaging his pride.

Generally films like this are supposed to show the good times before the war, so that one may see the horrors unleashed and what not. This film is ninety minutes of unrelenting wartime agony. However, it shows that the conclusion of a war does not mean the conclusion of suffering, and that frequently the aftermath is the worst part for the citizens of any country involved.

Grave of the Fireflies is semi-autobiographical; the obviously fictional parts can be read metaphorically. The hardness of the times, the light that they try to find; the meaning of the fireflies themselves.
It’s a powerful film, but it might be lost on warmongers. The militarism that people cling onto for comfort, which then turns to stoicism and then to simple rudeness … it’s important to see what war does to people. Although, admittedly, war was different sixty years ago.
Seita just tries so hard, but sadly it’s not hard enough.

This is a Studio Ghibli film, and in the designs it looks it, but the characters somehow seem more real. They’re ruddy, and not so defined by black lines. The colours of the ruined, fire-bombed villages blend and contrast with the untouched, green villages.
Its other contrast is with its sister film, My Neighbour Totoro. Not only were they shown together, they boast similar settings: traditional country villages, fifty years apart. The sad parts of Totoro were lightened by happiness; Grave of the Fireflies is essentially the opposite of that. Different views of fate.
They’re both simple, but Grave of the Fireflies is indeed more complex.
Watch them together; it is an excellent contrast. The light and dark balance each other, but it’s not so much white noise.

The translation is not perfect; the subtitles frequently don’t translate “niichan” (brother) as well as they should, stripping a way part of the relationship between Seita and Setsuko. She refers to him all throughout the film as “niichan”, but every time it is translated to Seita, which does not reconcile the visual with the audio – and Seita always refers to himself as “niichan” around Setsuko, in the context of “Now your brother’s going to do this for you”, which simply becomes “Now I’m.” It’s a subtle difference, but it gives a different feeling. (I know that “you’re not supposed to complain about translation unless you know both languages completely”, but the presentation of names is reasonable grounds for criticism to me).

It may polarise, but it’s an enormous film: the kind you leave to visit again in years to come. It’s an important lesson to learn with surprisingly little judgement offered for its subject matter.

Cardcaptor Sakura – episodes 13 to 20

April 28, 2004 on 10:27 pm | In Cardcaptor Sakura | Comments Off on Cardcaptor Sakura – episodes 13 to 20

Sakura gets up to all sorts of mischief in these episodes that feaure her summer holidays, framed by the ending and beginning of trimesters at school. These episodes allow Shaoran to grow some more. His density, his sensitivity and eventually even his sense of embarrassment come around; he is human after all!

Shaoran’s first act is that he starts to help Sakura without criticising her. To capture the POWER card, he interferes but lets her take the credit. This episode also crams in more penguins. Both the aquarium and the zoo stock live penguins, and they are a popular choice of decoration at the Penguin Park (with the King Penguin Slide) and also at Twin Bells, the cute store.

The gender questioning comes into place with the reverse gender Cinderella, featuring Toya as Cinderella and Yukito (inexplicably – it doesn’t seem to be a pun) as a magical can of mackerel. Shaoran and Sakura’s reactions from the audience are brilliant. The faces that these characters can pull are amazing. This episode also features the most blatantly obvious line so far: “It’s one of the seven most mysterious things about this school: that Kinomoto and Tsukishiro don’t have girlfriends.”

Following all of this, Kero-chan gets drunk and mouths off about Sakura to an alligator statue.

In Sakura’s holiday period, many good things happened, involving Sakura and character building. There’s also a “controversial” episode; controversial to stupid people. The idea that Fujitaka would let Sakura into such a dangerous situation is just moronic; he’s a generally good father, despite his failure to notice that he has an additional house guest (although possibly he’s too polite to pass comment). The elderly man who he is allowing Sakura to spend her days with is her great-grandfather, you idiots! Something like this would not happen without good reason! No one would let Sakura be lured into a pedophile’s lair!

Then, when Meilin comes in, a whole new side of Shaoran is shown; his embarrassment, his apologetic side. Something good has come of him, and more good will come of him yet. And Kero-chan’s maths homework – gold!

Subtitle complaint: they should not have used the term “Jell-O”. It is distracting, even if it is American brand recognition.

Leave it to Kero-chan changes appearance; the opening is not near as nice, because I liked Kero-chan’s “in your face reporter” appearance. The ending with the kotatsu is great, because Hisakawa’s “ona!” is almost violent in its delivery.
The segment now also encompasses book reviews.

Gundam Wing – Episodes 22 to 30

April 27, 2004 on 6:51 pm | In Gundam Wing | Comments Off on Gundam Wing – Episodes 22 to 30

Some of the best episodes so far! It took a while to get around to them. New music accentuated the dramas. Zechs reappears, but in a capacity that I am happy with. He mentions that he himself has a dual personality, but he is more conscious of it than Lady Une – who turns it on and off probably without realising (although understanding the triggers).
Her duality is such that she probably doesn’t even recognise her other self … and her dedication to Treize’s ideals, rather than any political faction, is admirable.

Seki Toshihiko’s performance when he thought he was dying was extremely well done, and the ambiguity of the scientists, and the ambiguity of now even Treize. The only person who seems to be a straight and clear character is Relena; her singlemindedness is actually admirable rather than annoying.

The rest of the story here is fairly interesting, with each of the pilots co-existing for purposes other than giant things.

After a ten episode absence, Relena makes her return to the stage. That translated to two and a half months without Relena, as the crow flies. Her return comes in the form of a recap episode. The episode after that was also a recap. The presentation made up for the shortage of new material. The first episode featured voice overs from Relena and Heero, which were nice reflections of the characters, and the second featured the same from Treize and Zechs. The new material is naturally the most interesting part, particularly Treize’s reflections on Lady Une, who became one of my favourite characters once promoted to diplomat status.

The Sanc Kingdom episodes introduce the most blatantly evil character in town, Dorothy. That’s the only problem with pacifists; they’re too trusting … and if they’re not they’re secretly building up armies of robots just in case. Old habits die hard, it would seem; although Noin would like to live in peace, she can’t see how that can happen without war.
Relena’s youth allows her to become the leader in world pacifism, because she has not been conditioned by years of politics; as it has been said, if one does not know that they are incapable of doing something, they may very well do it.

The meeting of Sally Po and Noin was also an excellent occasion; rallying the two strongest female characters together was a marvellous idea.

To write up Gundam Wing in such large quantities is difficult, espcially as among so many it means I’m writing without credibility. Gundam Wing constantly changes; its march of development and lack of stagnation makes it entirely worthwhile.

Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko II – Episodes 1 to 3

April 26, 2004 on 5:52 pm | In Yamamoto Yohko | Comments Off on Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko II – Episodes 1 to 3

I really did not like this more than the first series. I did not like it at all.
Despite its OP set in the wild west, and its first ten minutes at waterparks, this isn’t an alternate universe, it’s a direct sequel. Everything that was wrong with the first three episodes remains as such here, although if it was possible less happens in these episodes.
Madoka is just a vehicle for tired shiny forehead jokes, and Ayano and Momiji are just … there. Yohko is self assured to the point of infuriation … and then Lote-chan of the first series drops in for fun. In the place of characterisation there’s long stretches of nothingness, as is the case for action scenes.
The idea of space war, not addressed since the first episode of the first series, becomes even more clumsily addressed as the episodes wear on. The horror based second episode had a few moments of atmosphere, but a couple of moments can do nothing to save this.

For anime made as recently as 1997, Yamamoto Yohko is ugly. The colours are all washed out, and the action sequences (described by some as “exciting dog fights”) are nothing more than blue and red lines against a background of stars. The four moments of fan service in both series were disappointing and failed to serve their purpose.
It’s a pity that such a talented cast was wasted on this production. Hayashibara Megumi, for one, is worse than she has ever sounded. It’s not about casting against type – she can do agitated characters quite well – it’s just … this role sucked.
I fell in love with Okui Masami through Shake It, the original theme of Yamamoto Yohko. It was a huge betrayal of my trust.

Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko was definitely not to my taste. It’s one of the more loathsome things I’ve watched in my time. Its inconsequential nature leaves a terrible taste in the mouth, despite the distinct feeling that in the last 90 minutes you watched nothing whatsoever.
Although it’s very cheap, I’ll give it that.

Special Duty Combat Unit Shinesman

April 26, 2004 on 2:04 pm | In Shinesman | Comments Off on Special Duty Combat Unit Shinesman

Another in the long line of OVAs – and this time a corporate sentai parody!
Shinesman tells the story of a team of office workers who fight for justice and workplace contracts and whatnot. Actually, it’s never explained why such a force is necessary, or where the monsters come from.
But when the aliens from Planet Voice take on the guises of the heads of a rival organisation planning to merge with Right Trading, the Shinesman team’s company, they … It’s difficult to put this story into words, so I won’t bother.

Shinesman is a low key satirical affair, which hints at a deeper drama that never quite surfaces. The jokes are never explicitly played out, they’re simply there.
The voice casting was extremely deliberate, with each character’s surname matching that of their seiyuu. Let me tell you, they chose some pretty good surnames for these characters. The problem that the public has with the Shinesman team is that their colours are dull – salmon pink, moss green, sepia and grey? Those aren’t heroic colours at all! Only Shinesman Red makes an impression on the young audience, and Matsumoto tries his hardest to be a true office worker.

Good satire takes itself seriously while poking fun all the while. It’s a very fine line, and Shinesman walks it with style. It’s not the most uproarious thing ever, but the inspiration that the characters take from Yota when he says “It’s your job, and I respect you for that” is sweet and funny. It also plays against type, because children who are being deserted by those who have to go off for a higher cause are generally sad and disappointed.
It’s for this reason that the means that they use to defeat Princess Shiina’s first monster is both touching and hilarious – the highest point in the two episodes. These aren’t typical “reasons to fight”, and the “business card cutter” is not going to be defeating any monster any time soon.

The characters are attractive, the voices are nice, and the songs are great traditional hero pieces. The translation isn’t quite literal enough at times: “No no no tax!” becomes simply “no tax” and “Go, Shinesman! Shine, Shinesman!” is simply “Go, Shinesman, Go!”. But mostly it all makes sense.

Sadly, the interesting (and dramatic) storyline never reaches a conclusion, coming from the same school as Dragon Half: an incomplete OVA that lives on in (untranslated) manga form.
But if you can get it cheap, it’s probably worth the effort.

Cardcaptor Sakura – episodes 11 and 12

April 21, 2004 on 11:32 pm | In Cardcaptor Sakura | Comments Off on Cardcaptor Sakura – episodes 11 and 12

Two episodes featuring Tomoyo’s mother in a row. The way that she got around her hatred of Fujitaka to be nice to Sakura was a lovely gesture that shows that she’s not a completely imbalanced individual. The idea that Sakura’s family is quite isolated was odd; that they’re just three people who can not rely on anyone but each other (and, of course, Kero-chan).
Sakura feels loved but also that she doesn’t know much about her father, that Sonomi could actually tell her something was very nice indeed. Although it’s animated in quite a silly way, Sonomi is a pretty emotional character. Unfortunately, her daughter inherited her creepy stalker ways.

“Sakura’s Never Ending Day” was good because it taught children of the dangers of failing to save their role playing games. Kero-chan must have an awful lot of time on his hands. This episode showed the first card that Shaoran caught, but the reason for his ownership provided by the subtitles contradicted the animation. TIME was the most conventional card of them all, and Shaoran is still at the point where he condescends to Sakura with alarming frequency.
Still, enjoyable for all of its Kero-chan antics.

Also, Iwao Junko’s Tomoyo has the highest pitched voice of any character I’ve come across, I believe!

Cardcaptor Sakura – episodes 5 to 10

April 19, 2004 on 10:02 pm | In Cardcaptor Sakura | Comments Off on Cardcaptor Sakura – episodes 5 to 10

Sakura-chan kawaii!
Li-kun hidoi!
(these are the notes I took to jog my memory on these episodes)

The first thing I didn’t like about these DVDs came to light in “Sakura, Panda and the Cute Shop”. I had my suspicions that Mitsuishi Kotono guest starred, but the credits were only attributed to the prime cast. Much as I love my guest seiyuu, the DVDs are very nice otherwise – especially for a series released in the same year, and by the same company, as Battle Athletes Victory.
“Cute Shop” was otherwise a nice episode, although it raises questions about the time/space situation of the cards, and the shop owner’s story was perhaps a touch dramatic, but it had to be a situation that children would be interested in.

“Sakura and Memories of her Mother” was an episode that I contained myself for – and then burst into tears at the last minute. (As yet, however, nothing has matched the crying streak of the final three episodes of Fruits Basket). This episode also revealed more about Toya, who until now had been little more than a mean big brother … and suggested that perhaps magic runs in the family. “Sister complex” was also hilarious … and sweet in an odd way.

The important event was the introduction of Li Shaoran, Sakura’s slightly gay rival and love interest, who will be with the series until the end. At first, he’s an arrogant little sod, and Kero-chan hates him – hilarious finger biting comedy! He blushes around Yukito and loses his motor skills – hilarious vaguely suggestive comedy! He’s cruel to Sakura – that’s just mean.
With a character as surly as Shaoran, there’s only room to grow – and Sakura looks up to him despite himself, because she’s such a friendly character.
Also Shaoran’s introduction allowed the introduction of his foil, Yamazaki (until now you could be forgiven for thinking no boys went to Sakura’s school), who holds many hilarious scenes in future episodes. Compulsive liars are great, when they have someone as ignorant as Shaoran to lead.

Finally, “Sakura and the Sports Day of Flowers” suggests that the Daidouji family is just the slightest bit unhealthy. Despite the static nature of the important scenes in this episode, they translated into animation very well. I also got the feeling that any episode about Sakura’s mother will make me sad.
Leave it to Kero-chan is becoming an increasingly great outlet for Hisakawa Aya, with her breathless coverage of Li Shaoran’s traditional clothing a stand out.

Cardcaptor Sakura is amazing because it has so much unrealised potential but has already revealed amazing amounts of its quality. It’s a shining anime, full of levity but with just enough darkness to suggest that Sakura can’t cruise forever.

And I was right about Mitsuishi Kotono.

Gundam Wing – episodes 13 to 21

April 19, 2004 on 1:01 pm | In Gundam Wing | Comments Off on Gundam Wing – episodes 13 to 21

The Gundam pilots, and the story, have started their shift from Earth to space. These episodes become more focussed than any before, and for the most part are highly compelling.

In the earlier episodes, the writers compensated for the fact that the five pilots and their opposing factions weren’t really geographically or contextually placed near each other by writing in short scenes of exposition which did little other than to tell the viewer that that character was still there. Now the only characters featured are those relevant – so Relena can disappear for six episodes at a time, or there can be episodes almost entirely about her. It’s a much better way to approach the series because there’s a greater concentration – two or three character groups per episode, rather than five, six or seven.

As for the content of the episodes, the characters get to say more and are breaking out of their moulds as the dolls of Treize. Even Zechs, who actually works for Treize, is starting to act independently. The way that each of the five work both independently and as a group allows for many interesting dynamics, and the pairs are always shifting. Allies in one episode can be enemies for the greater good in the next, as not just
Zechs’ turns are great, as his own moral code is revealed, which is precisely what one likes to see in a “villainous” character. Zechs and Relena are two of the more interesting characters – they both have histories, which is more than can be said of the pilots, who chief appeal seems to have lied in their blank canvas nature.
Noin’s handling of a delicate issue between the two was rather awkward, and sadly Relena has not been seen since – and of all the characters, she has the most room to grow.
The symbolism in the Zechs scenes was meaningful without being cloying. His flight towards inevitability, perhaps freedom, was almost moving. I’m hoping that Zechs won’t be showing up again.

The best thing that has come out of space so far is Lady Une. When she first appeared, my first thought was ‘ooh, new character’. It was a total shock when she introduced herself as Lady Une. Instead of the vicious, singlemindedly loyal woman of Earth, she is attractive, kind, pacifistic and persuades with more than explosives and firearms.
The fact that she herself can’t reconcile her dual nature is sincere and perhaps the most compelling plot point so far. It’s difficult to see the resemblance between the two – Sayuri even altered her voice (Une is, they say, stronger in her uniform).
Lady Une is also the source of the series’ most confusing Japanese – it seems that Lady is actually part of her name, rather than a title. In the first episode featuring her, she was called “Miss Lady”, and later on she is referred to literally as “Colonel Lady Une”. The subtitles artfully dodge this issue, but it’s still audible.

Now that Heero is starting to voice opinions and act on his own initiative, Trowa is becoming more ambiguous, Duo becoming dangerously angry, Quatre becoming less pacifistic and Wu Fei … more without place, Gundam Wing obscures as it reveals, giving more reason to go boldly forward.

Cardcaptor Sakura – episodes 2 to 4

April 17, 2004 on 3:08 pm | In Cardcaptor Sakura | Comments Off on Cardcaptor Sakura – episodes 2 to 4

Well, I’m watching this and Gundam Wing concurrently, making for an interesting cocktail.

There is nothing to hate about this program. There is a remarkable amount of detail for a program made for a younger audience: of course, CLAMP has always made broad appeal manga, and they could have traded on their name to earn a budget this well used. CLAMP actually had an above average involvement in the project: Okawa Nanase actually wrote the scripts for at least the first four episodes, and Apapa Mokona’s costume and card designs are retained. One of their repeat anime liaisons, Takahashi Kumiko, adapted the characters from Igarishi Satsuki’s original designs, which made for something much cleaner. The manga was occasionally hard to follow because of the complicated line work.

Fortunately, by the end of the second episode Sakura seems to have been cured of her reluctance to capture cards, and her friendship with Kero-chan is not tenuous. Given more of an opportunity in these episodes is Tomoyo, whose fascination with Sakura would be unnerving if it wasn’t so hilarious.
When Tomoyo and Kero-chan team up to stalk Sakura, it’s the greatest thing ever!

One of the great aspects of the series is the constant changes of costumes. Other than the uniforms, the characters can be counted on to be wearing a vast array of clothing. It cuts down on stock footage and also gives each episode its own uniqueness. In fact, Cardcaptor Sakura actually gives more detail to its story than the manga, so it could be one of the best anime projects of recent years: there’s just so much going for it.

I’m looking forward to Shaoran coming in – his reactions around Yukito should be priceless!

Gundam Wing – Episodes 9 to 12

April 16, 2004 on 7:32 pm | In Gundam Wing | Comments Off on Gundam Wing – Episodes 9 to 12

These episodes are so far from my original take on the series that it’s very hard to finish the old words at all. I’ll just say that the first eight episodes were good enough to warrant pursuing the series to completion, and from then on it has become really enjoyable.

After all five Gundam pilots got to know each other, Gundam Wing found firmer footing. Until this time, it was a series of plot threads that were interesting and hinting at cohesion, but really the episodes had a distinct formula: the first half of the episode would be about Heero and Relena, and following the eye catch there would be short scenes for all of the other characters.

That Zechs actually got to fight the Gundams gave him more of a reason to be. And although soon thereafter the pilots disbanded again, there is more of a sense of unity about the thing.
The splinter factions continue to be interesting, and now it feels like the whole thing is going somewhere. The bishounen aren’t too broody, although Wu Fei’s philosophy makes little sense. Relena is also a much better character now that she has focus and doesn’t talk to herself all the time and demands that Heero come out and kill her.

The potential of the earlier episodes is starting to be realised. Before I couldn’t consider it as approaching a space opera. But now, it’s well on the way.

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