Magic User’s Club OVA

November 28, 2004 on 11:47 am | In Magic Users' Club | Comments Off on Magic User’s Club OVA

Nosebleeds and magic finally join forces to create 1996’s six episode OVA Magic User’s Club.

Magic User’s Club is about a “Bell” that descends from space. Earth attacks it, so it decimates their forces. As long as Earth does nothing, the Bell will conquer the planet without hurting anyone. Things continue like this until Takakura Takeo, president of the Magic Users’ Club at his high school, decides to take action. He’s just blustering to impress the girls, but they take him seriously. However, because of the club’s opening gambit, the agents of the Bell take an interest in magic and set out to analyse it. Therefore, the Magic Users’ Club actually does have to stand up and face the alien threat. What is really surprising is the ability of director Sato Junichi to balance the plot perfectly with the characters.

The Bell threat is a definite source of confusion; these aliens don’t say anything, and it is uncertain whether they are actual aliens because their designs are as far from organic as you can get. The silence that accompanies these creatures, whatever they may be, gives a different feel to the science fiction in which aliens discuss what they’re doing to humans. Sato’s approach is to sometimes show what the Bell’s eyes see. While this shows their calculating way and provides some insight into what they are, it also gives a little bit of service because it strips the characters of the clothes. Basically, something for everyone.

As president, Takakura has to face up to many things; Miyama, the girl who made his life hell in childhood is president of the much more successful manga club, and has grown up to have ample cleavage and a team of servants. Try as he might, he is still under her thumb. Takakura’s desire to make something of the club is almost certainly a direct result of all of Miyama’s bullying, as is his lack of self esteem. However, Takakura refuses to live completely in her shadow and has an active fantasy life that is provoked by any little bit of service that he sees. Takakura is a very frequent nosebleeder, and is nowhere near as pathetic as he might sound. His dedication to the club and its members, and his gentle humour of Aburatsubo makes him a very nice character.

Sae is the true heroine of this anime, because it has always got to be a girl in these things. Sae has no self confidence, which is a great pity, because she is the most magically talented of all of the characters. This is just how these things go. One of the series highlights is watching Sae trying to come to terms with her ability and trying to rely less upon her magic bear, Jeff-kun. The sweetest moment comes at the end of the beach episode (because, yes, there is indeed a beach episode on offer here), which almost brought a tear to the eye.

Magic User’s Club is anime that has a fair amount of focus, that doubles as a romance in which everyone except the club’s ko-gal is in love with everyone else.
This romance would be fairly standard were it not for Aburatsubo. Aburatsubo is the club’s vice president and only gay member. He has romantic designs on Takakura, who is aware of the advances but ignores them. Outside of yaoi, homosexual characters are relatively silent or make a couple of cute remarks about one of the other men and not much else. A large problem with writing homosexual characters is that their sexuality can come dangerously close to being their only personality trait. While this is something very strong in Aburatsubo, he is written with actual emotions. Some analyses of Japanese life see something tragic about the pursuit of yaoi, and while Aburatsubo does have a doomed love he is strong enough to overcome it. Consequently, Aburatsubo is more than just a cheap laugh and brings something fresh to a love story between two shy magicians.

The character design and general animation are very nice to look at, but this was made in 1995 and there are a few failed experiments in CG – this is some of the ugliest computer generated stuff ever included in anime. It takes up only the tiniest portion of screen time and so is forgiveable, but it’s interesting to note that GONZO’s Maeda Mahiro was behind the mechanical designs.
Impressively the space scene plays without any sound at at all; because this isn’t anime crammed with dogfights, the scenes outside of the atmosphere can afford to be physically accurate. Of course, because it’s unexpected and the first thing featured, viewers may fear that their sound equipment has imploded.
Voice acting is of a very high standard, with tragic beauty of the nineties Konishi Hiroko providing brilliant work as Sae and Onosaka Masaya putting in one of his marvellously flustered performances as Takakura. The support cast is also very strong, with Koyasu Takehito in the part he was born to play as Aburatsubo, and other sweet young things of the era Iizuka Mayumi and Iwao Junko lending their talents as Nanaka and Akane respectively.

This is a nice, sweet OVA. Despite its godawful CG, it has some very attractive cell work. Gently romantic, with many fantasy sequences, a little bit of fan service and a character whose boobs precede her, Magic User’s Club is a lot of fun to watch.

Tokyo Babylon

November 25, 2004 on 11:00 pm | In Tokyo Babylon | 2 Comments

Tokyo Babylon is what I call “anime without a net”. In Japan, these sorts of OVA are supported by long running manga, and fans need little or no explanation of who the characters are or just what’s going on. The problem with this, of course, is that the related properties are not necessarily available in other countries. In the case of Tokyo Babylon, people who stick almost exclusively to anime can glean more from X – but it took eight years to get that far.

Sumeragi Subaru is a medium. Occasionally he is hired by people to “psychically investigate” various cases, be they helping widows come to terms with their loss or, in the case of these OVAs, working with the police to assist with their inquries.
In the first episode, Subaru is asked to look into a curse and if it is possible that a man could be blessed with such luck that he could deliberately insert himself into life threatening situations, leaving all but him dead. In the second, Subaru is witness to a murder on a train. Involved in the case is a post-cognitive woman who can see the past through touch. Feeling sympathy for her, he can’t help coming to know her personally as well as professionally.

Tokyo Babylon has interesting ideas, post-cognition in particular, but it suffers through a lack of any real context. Subaru lives by himself, but he frequently visits his friend Seishiro another psychic who doubles as a vet. His sister, Hokuto, doesn’t live with him but is always at his house. She doesn’t get up to much other than wearing some creative clothes.
Who are these characters and what are they doing here? This stuff is probably great for a pre-existing fan base, but well, it’s a void for those not in the know.
Subaru is one of those weak characters who equates misplaced mercy with strength. Someone who has killed so many people over a ten year period does not deserve to be attacked less than wholeheartedly, yet Subaru refuses to cut loose. The real reason that Seishiro is included appears to be to bail Subaru out through his use of amazing cryptic powers. Again, this is material that might make more sense in the context of X – perhaps seeing Subaru optimistic and relatively happy is good for contrasting. Only time will tell in this case.

On reflection, the stories are told in a rather disjointed fashion – seemingly unrelated scenes are simply thrown in so that later on they can be tied to the main plot. While in mysteries it’s expected to turn minor points into integral parts of the whole, here they’re inserted with very little coherence. When scenes are just laid upon scenes, it seems more than a little lazy. The way that these scenes here were integrated was also a “spoiler”, which although obvious ruined a lot of potential tension.
However the theories are sound, despite the backgrounds and characters they are painted upon being less well realised.

This is a fairly drab production. The music is sparse, and there is a truly horrible Engrish song by Matsuoka Yoshiaki. Two, in fact, but they sound so terribly alike that there’s no way to distinguish between them. Matsuoka, in an amazing coup, wrote, composed and sang both Kiss Kiss and Strawberry Kiss Kiss. Whatever there is good about this anime is almost cancelled out by this train wreck of a song, way out of date in 1994.
Takahashi Kumiko converted the character designs for animation, but not as successfully as she did later for Cardcaptor Sakura. Subaru looks almost exactly the same as Hokuto and wears some highly questionable tight clothes. In the second episode, two other characters are nearly indistinguishable, which becomes quite confusing.
That said, Tokyo Babylon is not entirely without visual flair. The showdown between Subaru and Nagumo in the first episode has some innovative action ideas, and the second is definitely more polished. The colour scheme is fairly uninspired, however, and it’s not as nice to watch as it could be.
Yamaguchi Kappei is uncharacteristically placid as Subaru, Takehito Koyasu his usual smooth self as Seishiro and Itou Miki loud and embarrassing (accurately so) as Hokuto.

Tokyo Babylon by itself is cryptic on a not quite impenetrable level. Watching X might shed some light on this as an interesting character study, but this anime is not recommended as stand-alone viewing.

GTO – episodes 7 to 29

November 23, 2004 on 6:30 pm | In GTO | Comments Off on GTO – episodes 7 to 29

Great Teacher Onizuka takes some decidedly interesting turns through these episodes. There are a few story arcs, and there’s plenty of room for disturbances – and also quite a few abandonments of ideas.

The first important thing to note is that the majority of Onizuka’s class don’t mind him. In fact, once he gets the ones that matter onside, he doesn’t mind anymore either. With the exception of Mitsuishi Kotono’s insufferable genius character Kanzaki later on, Onizuka stops at winning over Murai, the blonde with a mother-complex.
Onizuka knows how to get along with his students because, as bed & breakfast owner Kizaki tells fellow teacher Fuyutsuki, he approaches them on their own level. This way of interaction is a large part of what makes the series so enjoyable, but sometimes Onizuka definitely overdoes it. There are so many times when he kind-of-but-not-really encourages people to give up living. Damn him and his reverse psychology!
This sometimes works cool, but other times works against him. With a forty strong class, Onizuka seems to have a rotating system of students who hang out with him. Murai is always about but his original friend, Yoshikawa, is largely relegated to the curb. It seems a little unfair.

There are events in episodes that don’t always make sense, chief among them being the time when police with nets chased down Uchiyamada in a gorilla suit. This was a good dramatic scene, but it simply lacked coherence. Uchiyamada is such a tragic character. All of his problems clearly spring from his home life, where he is so outmoded in his treatment of his family that they refuse to respect or obey him. I hope that Onizuka’s way will eventually reform the man, because he needs to become motivated in life and learn what it is to be a teacher. Uchiyamada must have had a reason to become an educator, but it appears that he has lost sight of just exactly what it was.

Among the best new characters is Kanzaki Urumi, the blonde genius with multicoloured eyes. She’s voiced by Mitsuishi Kotono, a performance that is sometimes a bit too sharp but others right on. She probably should have aimed at her softer voice for this character. The scenes of her past were amongst the highest drama that GTO has produced so far, and her reform was Onizuka’s most ambitious yet. This sort of character, being allowed to cut a bit loose, is the sort of inspirational stuff people like to see in anime. Better still is the way that Kanzaki stands up to the irredeemable bitches of the school.

They certainly are irredeemable, with Aizawa Miyabi (and her two sidekicks) featured prominently as the only students against Onizuka. In the episode where Onizuka believes he has cancer, pulled off well dramatically despite the knowledge that he obviously isn’t cancerous, she laughs at his impending death. This seems really, really petty and mean and it’s hard to believe that they could do that. You would have thought that from Onizuka’s idol making efforts with Tomoko that Miyabi would have learned – because that was another well produced scene – but Fujisawa was probably being a little pragmatic and realised that not everyone could change their character.

The worst part of all of these episodes is undoubtedly the stalker storyline. This features a pyschotic maths teacher who is obsessed with Fuyutsuki, and is made to lick the feet of the student he tutors. The scenes here are not laughable at all – although that’s dependent on who’s watching. Four episodes of disturbance is what this amounts to. While it’s funny that Onizuka attempts to steal the G3 that I had before this G4 I’m typing on, Teshigawara’s rampage is decidedly not. Terrible taste in the mouth, and it’s not helped by the fact that when Onizuka overcomes the challenges of this arc, no resolution is given to this maths teacher.

Artistically, there are moments when cheap digital animation is substituted for cels. These scenes are really quite ugly, and they crop up every few episodes. Five years ago, digital animation wasn’t exactly inspired, and this really hurts GTO‘s real work appeal. The second OP is entirely digital and it doesn’t look as cool as the first – Onizuka seeming slightly off model. This is unfortunate, as it’s a nice sentiment expressed.

Still, GTO is highly watchable. I just wish they’d make Engrish teacher Sakurada shut up.

GTO – episodes 1 to 6

November 16, 2004 on 6:34 pm | In GTO | 1 Comment

Comedy is funny. This is the lesson that GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka teaches us. There are some other things that can be learned about society and schools, but comedy is the key.

Onizuka Eikichi, 22 years old, is an ex-biker who wishes to be a high-school teacher. After passing the student-teaching period, he goes on to win a place at a private school teaching the biggest problem class in its history. Over the course of these six episodes, Onizuka reacts to blackmail, foils two suicide attempts, uncovers a photoshopping circle and is called before the PTA. That’s not even counting all of the Crestas he goes through.

GTO is a comedy about one man who wants to come good, and also to marry a sixteen year old at age forty. These two objectives seem to clash initially, and soon enough Onizuka realises that his second plan is not entirely practical. Thereafter he aims to make school fun, but not in any lousy patronising way: despite his class being full of delinquents, Onizuka takes it in his stride, and vows never to tell his students that they are no good. Basically Onizuka had a rough time of it in high school and does not want it to be the same for anyone else.
So while Onizuka has his comedic moments with night-time exorcisms and bathing in hallway sinks, he also deals with very serious issues such as bullying and sexual blackmail and Playstation games. Onizuka is an excellent character because he makes hilarious faces with great frequency, as well as knowing exactly what to do … eventually.

Onizuka even has a nemesis, Vice Principal Uchiyamada – whom he met in a lecherous incident on the bus. Uchiyamada is a fantastic character for laughing at, and his constant failures are the source of much levity. However, the writers have made none of this cruel. Somehow, despite his homicidal wishes towards Onizuka’s career, the Vice Principal is sympathetic. His home life is shown from time to time, and all of his actions can be seen to spring from there. This adds an extra depth to what would have been pretty damned funny itself gains another layer because it can be understood.

This series is full of vital social issues, and Onizuka is a reformed character who won’t doubt the power of redemption. The problem here is that some of these characters do things so bad that they don’t seem redeemable – perhaps this is proof that Onizuka is a better man than I. The school life is shown as a scene that does indeed have a darker side, including the rarely discussed notion of female bullies (as in girls that actually beat up guys). GTO is definitely interesting for anyone who has recently been through the school system. Or maybe it’s always been like this and will have universal appeal. That’s entirely possible. Whether funny or ponderous, this series is always worth watching.

The cast is great, with Takagi Wataru kicking total arse as Onizuka. The ultimate proof of this is his “Terror Shumai” story delivery, which shows beyond doubt that he is perfect for the role. Nagashima Yuichi is marvellous as the eternally-suffering Uchiyamada, bringing a boundless vitality and an unequalled energy for meaningless rambling. The rest of the cast is filled out by some fairly big names and some obscure ones as well, but they are all enjoying their work and bring Holy Forest Academy to life.
Onizuka refers to himself always in the third person: “Onizuka Eikichi, 22 years old”. This is not quite translated in TOKYOPOP’s subtitles, and the dub changes Uchiyamada’s motives to something more selfish. It’s a pity, but everything else is good.
The production is cheap, but not in a bad way. From 1999, GTO was made at the turning point from celwork to digital. The OP is digital with some CG thrown in along the way, but the body of the episodes is made up almost entirely of cels. The traditional money saving techniques of sweat drops and stupid faces are all over the place, and bring a lot of character to proceedings. The general energy of the production makes any poor animation unnoticeable and ultimately negligible.

GTO is great – it’s episodic yet each episode leads into the next. It’s one big story of excellent school life. Onizuka definitely makes school fun. By not actually seeing what he teaches, you can’t judge him by his technique in that regard. But to make his students laugh with him and respect him Onizuka Eikichi, 22 years old, is doing a great job.

Kurogane Communication – episodes 17 to 24

November 15, 2004 on 8:48 pm | In Kurogane Communication | Comments Off on Kurogane Communication – episodes 17 to 24

Kurogane Communication pulls it all off for the grand finale and even promotes a few tears.

These eight episodes feature with the other “only human left on Earth” at the fore. While Haruka is a good character, Kanato has had a much harder life. This makes it excellent for the two of them to interact. Kanato is not simply a character whose rude exterior hides a heart of gold, but rather a character who has had his heart of gold tarnished and needs to understand many things that have not been available to him due to his different, cold upbringing.
So the last third of the series is about their relationship and coming to some sort of agreement about choosing to accept others. There are some great cliffhangers, some good feelings of pain, and a couple more of the really creepy scenes driven by literal thinking.
To say much more would be spoiling, and that wouldn’t be fun – this is a very well developed series that eventually got to use all of its characters and more.

The artistry involved in the making of this show was quite amazing. There are moments of fluidity where one might not have expected them, and there is some creative visualisation. Kanato’s nightmare is particularly impressive, particularly with its contrasts to reality, and so too is one of the most emotional monologues in the series (delivered by Sakuma Rei) conveyed perfectly.
There are a few low-budget gags along the lines of sweatdrops, that are kind of out of place among the general straight nature of the rest of the material, but they do not detract from any enjoyment.

Kurogane Communication is a big surprise of an anime, and that is a huge part of its appeal – coming into it, it still feels like something you’ve not seen before, even if you think you know what to expect.

Kurogane Communication – episodes 9 to 16

November 14, 2004 on 11:38 am | In Kurogane Communication | Comments Off on Kurogane Communication – episodes 9 to 16

The best kind of anime is the sort that starts off nice but then, around the halfway point, starts kicking some serious arse. You may not have expected it, but Kurogane Communication does precisely that.

After the whole “holiday at the beach” thing has been exhausted, the robots learn that their area is in danger of being hit by a tsunami, while Haruka learns of her past. Regardless of any misgivings, they have to escape before disaster strikes, so they hijack an old warship and find new land.

The layers upon layers of drama here are fairly impressive. The ten minute episode thing makes for many surprise endings and, now that there’s very little slice of life material, a cracking pace. Brevity is key in making Kurogane Communication compelling.
Haruka’s character drama hits its peak when she learns the horrifying truth of her past. When it’s foreshadowed, it’s horrible enough – however, Haruka actually witnessed it and learns that perhaps there was a reason she didn’t have a memory. These scenes were really quite distressing, and even provoked the “you’re a robot, you wouldn’t understand” argument. Considering how much Haruka loves her surrogate family, you would have to imagine that she’s been pushed pretty horribly. The performances of Horie Yui and Ishikawa Hiromi in this episode were fantastic – although it is beginning to come clear that synch was sacrificed as a result.

Angela, the duelling robot reformed from hating humans, is clearly warming to Haruka – even to the point of bathing with her. Being the only female influence that Haruka has around, it’s natural that she would want to be friendly. By opening her own heart to Angela, Haruka is making Angela more open and caring herself. Angela would even kill a man who threatens Haruka in any way, which is really saying quite a lot. Any of Angela’s scenes are guaranteed to be interesting. Gruff characters can stay gruff forever, but Angela is not like that. She’s even willing to be violent against Trigger for saying stupid things. The ultimate sign of her “humanity” as a robot is that she blushes. Fantastic.

The incredible theory of a warship that is sick of war, having seen its fellow warship brethren die for humanity, is seen here – and while robots with individual wills is nothing new, a sentient inorganic warship is certainly impressive. While such a life form may not want to hurt a human (being an “intelligence robot”), it certainly does not want to serve them. Humanity is to blame for a lot of things, but Haruka is an ultimately blameless character. What evil could a thirteen year old girl have possibly committed?

There’s even a new cast of characters around, but Haruka does not really understand them yet. The dramatic meeting of Haruka and Kanato was well done, moreso because of the inclusion of rain – but Kanato is deliberately closed off and confusing in the messages that he sends. He lives with robots, yet he takes apart all others. It looks like Lillith and Alice are kind of comedy robot twins, and Sone and Honi are designed specifically for mystery. Ohtsuka Akio lends his voice to the chief of defence, so things are looking up.

The writers even have a grasp on robot humour: if it makes no sense, it’s funnier. Take, for example, the scene where Trigger is stoking a fire by blowing through a tube. This robot has no mouth, yet breathing into the tube is making him dizzy. It’s just like a king non-sequitur. There’s not a lot of humour, since the service misunderstandings ended, but what there is is generally good.

Kurogane Communication is also remarkably visually rich. When Haruka gets a vision of war, it sends the blood cold. The action scenes, while sparing, are frequently amazing. To see Angela dodging lasers is genuinely exciting, and the new land is steeped in mysticism that is helped along by Kawai Kenji’s growing score. Watching these episodes, it’s clear that Kurogane Communication is not what it once was.

Kurogane Communication is an unassuming series that manages to be compelling and dramatic while trying to keep itself a secret. This anime offers a truly immersive world, and some great characters – and even a hot springs scene complete with actual nudity! Needless to say, Kurogane Communication has everything.


November 13, 2004 on 3:08 pm | In Ghost in the Shell | 1 Comment

Nine years since the release of his hit film Ghost in the Shell, Oshii Mamoru follows with Innocence, which is close to the perfect sequel: it’s the second half of a beautiful whole.

Three years after the events of Ghost in the Shell, Togusa has been assigned as Batou’s partner. Despite Togusa’s misgivings about working in Kusanagi’s shadow, they’re a strong pairing, and are placed exclusively on the case of a string of sexaroid cyborgs who have been malfunctioning, performing gruesome murders and then “committing suicide”.
The case takes them far up north, where they discover a ghost hacker who has abandoned his body …

Innocence is a mirror of Ghost in the Shell: it shows a different side of the world that is in many ways the opposite of the last. The infusion of technology into humanity and the blurring of the lines between artificial intelligence and genuine individuality was key to the first. Here it’s the other way around: the infusion of humanity into lifeless figures.
While a large part of the film is Batou and Togusa driving around, exchanging increasingly unlikely philosophical quotes, there are some incredibly crowd-pleasing moments that never degenerate into simple pandering. Innocence is not a film of “highlights”, nor is it one big highlight, but it has a couple of especially amazing scenes amongst all of the just standard great ones.

Despite the near total lack of Kusanagi, Innocence is more of a love film than the first – and because of that it strengthens the themes of its predecessor. Batou is an intensely lonely character. You can see this through his basset hound. The way that he dotes on the dog shows both his humanity and his lack of human contact. Togusa is the other character who is given depth. He fears that he can not live up to the high standards set by Major Kusanagi as Batou’s new partner – but this is simply because he underestimates the man. While Togusa is mainly human and Batou is mainly cybernetic physically, they are both very human. The way they play off each other is one of the joys of the film. The ending provides a strong sense of camaraderie and a very different feel to the first. It’s not a “buddy cop” movie, by any stretch of the imagination, but these partners are a great team – strengthened by the fact that they’re onto a tangible case here.

Technology has been kind in the creation of Innocence: a large part of it is CG work, which plays off the organic nature of Ghost in the Shell versus the more artificial, manufactured world of this film. As with Ghost in the Shell, there is a sequence of pans over the city where Solus Locus is located set to Kawai Kenji’s haunting score. The difference is that this sequence is quite clearly “faked”. Ghost in the Shell showed real city life, whereas this segment is a festival of make up, masks and illusion.
This scene illustrates the point of the film perfectly: it’s about forcing life into that which can only truly be described as humanoid. The characters remain true to their roots; perhaps too true, as Togusa’s mullet does him no favours. A perfect coup of design is that the suicide robots are modelled after geisha – a profession that even for humans is about knowing illusion and deception. The blending of CG and hand drawn digital animation is generally well done and the movie is a delight to watch even for those who don’t particularly enjoy computer generated work. It is uncertain whether Oshii would have used this much CG on the original film had the technology and budget existed, but it turned out to be very convenient in conveying the message.

Kawai Kenji’s score is similarly moody and atmospheric, and the opening music is a sequel in itself – the opening credits are one of the chief examples of polarity: the ancient Japanese song plays over the construction of an android – from the inside. It is important to note that androids and cyborgs are two entirely different things – they are built for opposite reasons and meet in the middle. This is why everything in this film is a twisted version of the first, including the music. Kawai allows some action music to shine through, but he keeps his general moody atmosphere intact.

Such interplay of films, such a contrast of themes, like two anime singing to each other across the void of years: Innocence is a brilliant film. At times it may be as pretentious as that last sentence, but deliberately so – Oshii’s characters are quite willing to make fun of themselves and their own eclectic knowledge. Despite one really trippy sequence, Innocence is a brilliant movie. Oshii used all of his skills in his production of this film, and it shows.

Images taken from GITS2, the official North American Innocence website.

Innocence Premiere Sydney

November 7, 2004 on 11:51 pm | In Ghost in the Shell | Comments Off on Innocence Premiere Sydney

Madman Director Tim Anderson with site author Alexander Doenau

Tonight at the Valhalla cinema in Glebe, there was a one night only showing of Innocence (Ghost in the Shell 2) at 7pm. This screening was presented by the Japan Foundation and Madman Entertainment, and introduced by director Oshii Mamoru and Production I.G. President Ishikawa Mitsuhisa.

Tim Anderson, director of Madman Entertainment, began by saying that Production I.G. had made many stunning anime that had brought the form to the fore in Australia and the world. While they are promoted chiefly as the animation studio that worked on Kill Bill, they have made many instantly recognisable landmark anime. Tim said that he was looking forward to seeing Innocence as he had yet to see it himself.

The director of the Japan Foundation came up yet and said that anime was a great way to spread awareness of “the contemporary way of Japanese thought” and hoped that the audience would find it enjoyable and a fine example of culture.

Oshii Mamoru himself came onto the stage, and with the aid of an interpreter told what he said the film was about. Oshii prefaced his speech by saying that he had planned to come to Australia around the Olympics in 2000, but his cat died and he could not come due to his sadness. For this he was truly sorry. However, the death of his pet was the catalyst for Innocence. When the cat died, he felt that a hole had opened in him, and that he had lost something. He still feels this way. It reminded Oshii of what his father had said when his mother died: that a hole had opened, and that he had lost half of himself. Oshii said that in Innocence, he wanted to portray a woman who has given much of herself to the net, to the point where she does not know what her “self” truly is. Oshii wished to show such loss in this film.
It had been suggested that animation was not the right form to tackle such issues as Oshii wished to take on. However, he felt that animation was an excellent form for his ideas as he could express them in as versatile a manner as he wished. Oshii feels that films are not to be “understood” or “interpreted”, but that they should produce a “vague feeling” in oneself. He hoped that the audience would be able to appreciate the “vague feeling” and watch the film as many times as they needed in order to fully absorb the messages.
Oshii said that the film had taken him three years to make (compared to Ghost in the Shell‘s one), and while he was not sure if he would make another animation, he had used all of his skills and efforts into making Innocence. He sincerely hoped that the audience would enjoy it. Oshii was a soft spoken man, but the audience listened with great intent to his words.

Finally, Ishikawa came on and said that because he wished to live in Australia soon, he would give his speech in English and keep it brief. Ishikawa lamented that there was not enough time in the country and that it was largely a business trip, but he would go to shops and buy many gifts for his wife. With that, he hoped that we would enjoy the movie and left the stage.

As for the film itself … it was excellent and well received by the audience. That will follow.

After the showing, Tim Anderson said that full licencing of Innocence was 90% done, and that Dreamworks was happy to licence out to them. If all goes to plan, a theatrical run can be expected around January or February, and a DVD release around the April mark. While this is conjecture on his part, it seems likely.

Look for more similar “Australian Anime News” articles when the opportunity arises.

Ghost in the Shell

November 7, 2004 on 1:52 pm | In Ghost in the Shell | Comments Off on Ghost in the Shell

1995’s Ghost in the Shell was a big film in anime history, and also symbolic of the time when Manga Entertainment held some swing. They co-produced this film and orchestrated close enough to a world premiere. And this was Manga Entertainment UK.

In the year 2029, human body parts are replaced with cybernetic components when necessary. Section 9 is part of the government that monitors technological crimes, particularly “ghost hacks” – hackers who break into the bodies of people and control their actions. One of the most charismatic members of Section 9 is the fully cybernetic Major Kusanagi Motoko, who is on the trail of the “Puppet Master” – a hacker who has been manipulating ghosts to his own ends. Government conspiracy abounds and, of course, so to do questions of what makes an individual.

Ghost in the Shell, at 82 minutes, is remarkably brief. Considering that for the past twenty years most of the “good” anime films have been at least 100 minutes (most tipping the scales at 120+), it’s refreshing to see such a compact, effectively told story. The characters are easily recognisable even if the viewer is not familiar with the manga (although this was likely not the case in Japan, where Masamune Shirow’s work is very popular), and the themes are easy to pick up because they’re oft repeated in anime. Any fan of Blade Runner is likely to find Ghost in the Shell an enjoyable film.

Oshii Mamoru hit all of the right spots when he directed this film; he never goes for the supremely obvious. The showdown between Kusanagi and a tank is not accompanied by strong action tunes, but rather a slow suspense filled score. Oshii lets the film pan the streets of Hong Kong for minutes at a time while the haunting theme of the film plays; a move that would be seen as indulgent in many other directors, but Oshii shrugs it off. He did this movie his way, and because of this attitude it works. There’s some graphic violence, but not a lot, and there’s a bit of nudity, but there’s not enough of this stuff to satiate those who came specifically to see those elements: people have to be interested in the brief moments that the characters spend waxing philosophical for this film to work.
It’s only a little bit heavy, and not really overbearing. Those who can bear ten plus hours of this stuff will have no problems with the roughly ten minutes it occupies here. The only real aspect of this film that seems outdated is that, despite promoting a society in which all of humanity is connected, the technology is not as wired as it could be expected; that is, of course, one of the best things about science-fiction films: they provide a vision of the future consistent with the time of their production.

Ghost in the Shell is a beautiful film, and this is never more obvious than in its invisible knife fights in shallow canals. That may sound weird, but any melée that occurs over a water lined surface is just that much more exciting. Hong Kong is beautifully realised, and is not weirdly desolate: it’s a largely bustling metropolis filled with the poor and the rich, and quite a bit of the action takes place during the day, which is nice and refreshing. Only in the last few minutes does Oshii resort to the cheap and static, which is a little disappointing but ultimately forgivable.
The use of early digital imagery is impressive, and the CG works are obvious yet functional: maps and such that would likely appear that way anyway.
For such an early application of the technology, Ghost in the Shell is surprisingly close to mastery.

The score is a large part of what makes the film, and is quite possibly the defining point of Kawai Kenji’s career: the theme is written in an ancient Japanese dialect and eerily fits with the opening sequence depicting the construction of a cyborg body. Kawai never sweeps, but rather feels the atmosphere, and plods around the landscape of Hong Kong in the nicest possible way. The tension inherent in the movie works much better than any crash bang opera could possibly do.

Voice work is good, and the seiyuu continued to portray the characters into the two recent sequel properties. Tanaka Atsuko is an excellent Kusanagi, who does not betray her origins as a woman and in one remarkable scene demonstrates her control. Ohtsuka Akio, who frequently rocks out, is excellent as Batou, the Section 9 agent who is allegedly in love with Kusanagi. This is one of the least played parts of the film, but he does a good job of the concern necessary. Beyond that, the rest of the cast are good, but these two make their characters and the film.

Ghost in the Shell is a quiet, contemplative science fiction film. It handles itself deftly and is not afraid to take a few minutes out. In many ways, it represents the end of an era. In others, it represents the beginning. This is a film that is frequently quoted as a keen way to get into anime, and that’s a fair analysis (although I hated it six years ago). Its appeal is a mystery: it’s a combination of many things, but not one stands out quite enough for a clear definition. Ghost in the Shell is an excellent whole, a deceptively simple mastery.

Cosplay Complex

November 7, 2004 on 1:42 pm | In Cosplay Complex | Comments Off on Cosplay Complex

Huh. If you take a group of cosplayers, add to them a magical transforming six inch-tall bunny girl and a pink owl, what do you get? You get the loli-fixated Cosplay Complex, a 2002 three-part OVA that resurrects the nineties OVA trademark of not actually ending.

Chako is a high school student and member of a cosplay club. Her dream is to compete in the Cosplay World Series because of all of the fun that the world of cosplay promises.
For reasons that fail to make any sense whatsoever, Chako is helped in her quest by a pink owl and a bunny girl from “the fairy world”. Ikebukuro the owl can sew, and Delmo the bunny girl can transform herself into a costume in exchange for sweets.
In the first episode, marvel at an Italian exchange student challenging the club for the right to join it! In the second episode, gaze in awe as the club goes to the beach to wear swimsuits and learn the true art of cosplay! In the third episode, watch in puzzlement as the club is challenged by the nation’s number one cosplay team in preparation for the World Series that are clearly never going to be!

Cosplay Complex is almost sub-standard fan service anime fare. It is not total dreck because it is capable of making fun of conventions in anime. The pep-talk given to Chako in the first episode about aiming for the ace is filled with great imagery and is made even better by the fact that practically anything the bald headed Gorou says is hilarious. The loli-con fascination is seen as hilarious by some, but for the most part it’s simply annoying and a little disturbing. Fortunately the writers managed to come up with a largely hilarious solution, and that’s where Cosplay Complex does its best: sometimes it throws something completely unexpected out.
For all of its pandering to fetishes (maids in swimsuits, nurses, wedding dresses), Cosplay Complex offers the occasional gem of true comedy that makes it somewhat worthwhile. The whole “mourning dress” thing is completely whacked, but is a prime example of this.
However, Ikebukuro and Delmo leave a bad taste in the mouth because what they do is awfully like cheating. However, the number one club in the country also does it, so … does this mean that all of the best cosplayers in Japan have their own six inch bunny girl? I don’t think so. They just want to go for the totally out there, when true cosplay anime should be about the real side of fandom, not this made up world with weird things in it: the random comedy always draws from something real, but these two are simply more pandering.

The fan service is of the weird “blank areas followed by frontal assault” variety, rather than a constant stream of dilligently spread images. It’s all remarkably self-conscious; Jenny is an exchange student so that the other characters can marvel at her huge boobs, and having a magical tit-enhancing bunny girl on board is just plain weird. There aren’t any panty shots that can be thought of as incidental – they’re all the result of falling or changing or what have you – and there’s one incredibly bizarre moment involving a tanuki. A lot of the time in Cosplay Complex when you’re not laughing is occupied by “why the hell am I watching this?” time. This carries on even to the rare nudity, where the girls have nipples that are mysteriously flesh coloured.

Initially the music is horrible synth, but after the first five minutes I stopped paying attention. The OP and ED songs do not really require six vocalists, but that’s what they’ve given us. On a design level, the characters are okay if a little standard. Chako’s sharp haircut would be okay were it not for the white light streaks, which always seem to form a perfect circle – looking more unnatural than it already would be. Likewise, there’s nothing very special about the voice acting, with Maria sounding particularly out of it.

Cosplay Complex is mildly entertaining and largely pointless anime. I wouldn’t recommend picking it up, but if it somehow comes your way, go for it. It may make you laugh, and is unlikely to cause any explosions.

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