December 31, 2004 on 10:44 pm | In Kite | Comments Off on Kite

When the price of creative control is that you have to incorporate “X rated material”, you come up with something like Kite.

Kite (named for the flying devices controlled by strings) is about Sawa, a young girl of indeterminate age (she goes to college, but that may be a symptom of this anime featuring sex). When Sawa was
younger still, she arrived home to find her parents dead. Akai, a crooked policeman, takes Sawa in and trains her to become a killer. He also promises to find the murderers. It doesn’t take very long for Sawa to figure out that it was actually Akai who killed her parents, and so she plans her revenge over many years. Meeting Oburi, a fellow assassin, she sees her chance to avenge her parents and the sexual abuse that she has endured.

From that description, it’s quite clear that Akai is not a nice person. Nor, for that matter, is his partner Kanie. Sawa’s only real
personality trait is that burning desire for revenge, but she can have a couple of jokes at the expense of Oburi. Oburi has not had terrible things happen to him, short of being trained as a killer, but he is a directionless squatter. Apparently he lives only to do jobs for Akai, and to work in a convenience store. Unsurprisingly, he too would like to break free to a life of something more than squatting with cats. The two of them bond quite effectively, making for some of this two part OVA’s nicer, warmer moments.

The ending of Kite is a little confusing as it sends extremely mixed messages; the final minute could be read two ways, and director Umetsu Yasuomi’s interview suggests that something good happens but it is hard to see. Whatever the actual outcome, it is certainly abrupt.

The action in Kite, for this was produced as “ultra-violent pornography” (great for the image of anime, although Kite is never cited as a bad example), is hyper to the point of ridiculousness. The weapons that Sawa and Oburi use are not the sort that would be found on the police force. These guns boast delayed explosive shells that simply penetrate. Give them a few seconds and bam, they explode from the inside. What this amounts to is an excuse for a lot of blood. The violence does not feel particularly realistic, as skin probably should not move the way it does here. That said, a
lot of it is wince-inducing, such as a double stab to the foot. Some of the sequences are hilarious, probably intentionally, with the best falling pile-up ever animated on offer here. Certainly, Umetsu should be commended for the beginning of the second episode.

Umetsu has an interesting visual style; bleak, and dark. The violence is nowhere near believable, but his world has that special dull, real sheen about it that draws a viewer in. There are some nice touches, like the best ever fast food outlet name: Make Fat. Also of note is the fact that Oburi works at the convenience store “8”. Not 7-11, just 8.
But the scenery is nothing compared to the character design. Sawa looks dead-eyed when she’s killing, but there’s something about her smile that infuses her with warmth. Similarly, Oburi looks like there’s still some hope in his life. Unsurprisingly, Kanie and Akai look exactly like the evil bastards that they are. Kanie’s eyes are literally dead, bugged out like a chameleon’s. His facial features do not move at all.
In what is perhaps the most offensive aspect of Kite, even if unintentionally, Akai has the most sacrilegious character design ever (well, probably not ever, this is anime). The stretchy skin in the violence may be off-putting, but there’s something right on about the character design that matches the characterisation right down to the ground.

The uncensored version of Kite may be released through Kitty Media, Media Blasters’ hentai label but, despite its Green Bunny production, it is not hentai. There is some near-explicit sex, but these scenes total less than two minutes of the fifty minute running time. Also, while it may be true that some people get off on bad, depraved things (not that I’m editorialising, oh no), the sex is not in the slightest erotic to most sensible tastes. The sex is definitely unpleasant, but it is difficult to imagine Kite without it. That would be rather like missing the point. Without the harsh realities of Sawa’s world, Kite falls apart into generic, silly action anime. The history of abuse is really what grounds this and makes all of the characters’ actions more believable. Obviously this is with the exception of Akai and Kanie, but people who commit such horrible crimes are pretty well beyond explanation anyway.

Kite is good to watch, but it’s about as sexy as Futurama‘s Zapp Brannigan. The fact that the promotional material shouts “EROTIC!” is about as accurate as that captain’s claim. With the exception of the second episode’s set piece, Kite is not enjoyable – it’s a very human piece, with the few joys and all of the depravity that entails.

Lupin III: The Secret of Mamo

December 26, 2004 on 11:05 pm | In Secret of Mamo | Comments Off on Lupin III: The Secret of Mamo

Lupin III, the world’s greatest thief, is an obnoxious, lascivious, lovable rogue. The Secret of Mamo captures the true essence of Lupin. This, the first and possibly most accurate, Lupin III movie is excellent as a result.

One must admire a film that is totally cool despite not even revealing its true plot until past half way through. This is because Lupin always has something to occupy his time. In a vampiric country, Lupin is executed. And yet, the master thief lives! Zenigata, the INTERPOL detective assigned to Lupin’s Case, does not believe this for a second.
Meanwhile Fujiko, the object of Lupin’s lust and another thief, uses the master to retrieve a series of obscure artefacts which leads to Lupin’s partners, Jigen and Goemon, abandoning him in disgust.
Lupin is eventually kidnapped by the mysterious Mamo, an egocentric midget who claims to be immortal and to have had a hand in all of history’s major events.
Lupin therefore must survive his predicament, rescue Fujiko from the seduction of eternal life and stop Mamo from ending the Cold War the hard way. All of this is punctuated by helicopter chases (in sewers, no less), run-ins with monster trucks, and a whip-fast tour through art history.

The Secret of Mamo is a fun movie because of its grasp on the absurd, emphasised by its chunky, cool-as-all-get out animation design.
The flow is amazing, never letting up. This film is literally packed, with Lupin heiling Hitler, Jigen being interrogated by a man who may as well be Henry Kissinger, and Goemon performing an amazing triple cut. Beneath this, there’s a surprising amount of substance. The Secret of Mamo is actually quite literate, a philosophy film before philosophy in anime was fashionable. This ranges from the silly, such as an examination of Lupin’s mind that reveals that his only thoughts are of naked women, Zenigata and orange candy, to the serious, like the idea that gods are created through the manipulation of history.

The film implores us to consider also the implications of friendship; Jigen and Goemon abandon Lupin for his remorseless, relentless womanising. They are a trio that should not be broken! The consequences are grievous, forcing the characters to renounce their loves of Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart.
Yes, indeed, a great deal of this film is random – frequently to the point of confusion. Fujiko’s behaviour seems entirely inconsistent, but it is not if the viewer goes in knowing one thing about her character explicitly: she is permanently stringing Lupin along. Do not take any of her confessions of love seriously lest you want your head to explode!

The production is obviously not modern in the slightest. This sort of animation would not fly nowadays, yet it is some of the most ingenusly stylised animation there is. Lupin is thin and gangly, possibly for sneaking purposes. His insubstantial physique makes his seduction technique all the funnier. Also, for whatever reason, all of the men are incredibly hairy.
There’s something earthy and organic about the animation, as if every little action has been considered. In the car chase scenes the cars may be rough but there is no illusion that the whole thing is moving.

The animators cheat with techniques along the lines of Fujiko’s endless drive through the fields at sunset, and millions of other hard to describe shortcuts. The animation is smooth, no matter how rough the design, and one of the joys of the film is wondering what random event will be thrown in next: the sheer imagination utilised in conveying this film is epic in scale.

Back in the day, the Lupin III ensemble stayed static, but since then there have been many changes to the line-up. The Secret of Mamo boasts the original, traditional cast. Yamada Yasuo charms the pants off of his contemporaries as Lupin and sings the ending themesong – which has something to do with being a master thief and getting girls, but by this point I had switched to VHS and had no translation. It was quite jolly. The opening song is the excellent “Lupin III ’77” (also known as “Dance Mix for Lupin”) which, if you get really confused, sounds like “Eye of the Tiger”.

The Secret of Mamo somehow manages to be a challenging, intellectual film and a base festival of crudities simultaneously. This masterful example of the animated form is a true delight.

No images this time around because I have a defective copy of this DVD that cuts out for the last ten minutes; I had to watch the finale on my old Manga Entertainment UK 1996 dub VHS. That version is a bit suss – Mamo’s voice is ridiculous – but still fun.

Studio Ghibli Collection: Only Yesterday

December 20, 2004 on 9:25 pm | In Only Yesterday | Comments Off on Studio Ghibli Collection: Only Yesterday

Takahata Isao made a very quiet film in 1991. It was called Only Yesterday, a flawed yet beautiful look at a sixties childhood and life thereafter.

Okajima Taeko takes time off from her office job to visit the countryside of Japan and work on a farm. She remembers the time that she last visited the country, at ten years old. This initial reminiscence leads to Taeko reflecting on how little she has achieved in her life. Interspersed with Taeko’s growing understanding of her potential paths are further stand out events in her young life.
Taeko is concerned about her future. She feels that, at 27, in an office job and unmarried she has achieved very little in her life. She is invigorated by her visit to the countryside, and by her contact with Toshio, a boundlessly enthusiastic farmer. Perhaps the farm life would suit her best, but she feels like a fake to claim to love the country based on ten days there in a year.
The younger Taeko is an odd girl, who lives a family life where her older sisters are too old to accomodate her, her father is never around and her mother thinks that she’s a bit “challenged”. These segments are not linear at all, probably promoting the random nature of memory. Taeko is not trying to tell a story; she scarcely knows just why she has brought up the memories of her childhood and so there is no order. The film’s comedy comes from these scenes, such as the bizarre “period” craze that overtook Taeko’s school and her experiments with romance.

Only Yesterday is a strange beast indeed. A good deal of the time, it is unclear just how the past and the present of Taeko are linked. The device of 27 year old Taeko was Takahata’s own idea, and the film’s true story – the past is simple vignettes put together to show nostalgic feeling. Only occasionally does Takahata even attempt to bring the two together, and there are long stretches of film where one is uncertain as to where either the past or present has gone.
All is forgiven, however, at the end. Only Yesterday boasts one of the finest endings in an anime film. To watch it is just a little awe-inspiring. It’s happy, but not in a tearful way, and really quite ingeniusly done. Somehow it brings the prior two hours into perfect focus and is a plum note to leave on.

Takahata’s job of direction is generally excellent, with the present full of natural, earthy colours and the sixties muted and white. Almost no background is completely, fading to white around the edges. There is no blue sky, and the outdoor grounds are largely white as well. This is a nice visual trick to set the two eras apart. A lot of the time the ten year old Taeko spaces out into fantasy or terminally cheerful pragmatism, and these sequences are fun to behold. In other areas Takahata is slightly lacking – one conversation between Toshio and Taeko in a car is remarkably unimaginatively storyboarded, and there are two totally bizarre subliminal images: product placement and an E.T. reference that are purely what?.

Only Yesterday is a nostalgic film that is oddly paced, and a bit heavy on a environmental monologues. It would speak most to Japanese people who are now over the age of forty, but it’s a kind of delayed “coming of age” story worthy of anyone with a little patience to watch.

City Hunter 2 – episodes 1 to 7

December 19, 2004 on 8:23 pm | In City Hunter | Comments Off on City Hunter 2 – episodes 1 to 7

City Hunter with a 2 on it is the same loveable City Hunter, but with new songs and sharper comedy.

The same deal of Saeba Ryo working as City Hunter, king of the underworld, remains. Because of his fondness for Kaori, he’s still too soft to land himself some real jobs. However, danger still finds him, so now he does all sorts of call things like shooting people’s fingers off! But only when they deserve it.

Ryo gets to do some more outlandish stuff, including one scene in which he sexually harrasses male punks in an alleyway, and Kamiya Akira truly makes this series. His performance in the pratfalling sequences is simply hilarious, and I suppose that he’s cool when he’s playing it smooth and straight. But that scarcely seems to matter. Of course, the truly great comedic moments are when he goes between the two in the space of a second. It seems hard to believe but Kamiya somehow manages to seriously accuse Kaori of “molesting men and stealing their underwear”. Sometimes this series is pure farcical genius.

Some of the themes are amazingly pertinent even to this day: the first episode of the series is about a model whose company wants to turn her into an idol. Problem is, she can’t sing. They record her anyway. Manufacturing idols is something even more controversial today, proof that some things never change and in fact are liable to get worse.
Ryo’s greatest grace is that he refuses to do lolicon, because rightly so it freaks him out. Ryo may well be a pervert, but he’s a very direct, unkinky pervert. That’s the sort of thing people should be looking for in a man.
The other big issue covered is that of what is called the jiageya – people who put pressure on home-owners to sell their houses against their will. This is not particularly hard hitting, but it was topical back in 1988. City Hunter 2 was with the times, which is one of its appeals – almost all of the story lines were based on trends or scandals of the eighties.

The music is almost exactly the same as the first series, but with less repetition and at least one more new, cool Japanese insert song. The OP is way romantic – because they want to show some sort of niceness between Kaori and Ryo. Everyone knows that the two of them can never be together, so witness the tragedy! The ED is one of the greatest ever, largely due to its excellent English (including such phrases as “Faye Dunawaye” and “Diet Food”). It makes one want to dance, and truly that is what one wants from the songs of City Hunter.

Finally, there was an M&M’s soft drink can featured prominently in a dramatic scene.
City Hunter is definitely back. With a 2. Watch it or you’ll get the hammer!

The Irresponsible Captain Tylor TV

December 16, 2004 on 8:46 pm | In Irresponsible Captain Tylor | 2 Comments

The Irresponsible Captain Tylor shows the universe’s most incompetent captain who is fortunate enough to have the devil’s own luck. He may be a loveable fellow, but as a result of his antics this series is probably the worst space opera I’ve ever seen – a truly squandered effort.

Justy Ueki Tylor, age 20. Tylor joins the United Planets Space Force to live an easy life: free food, free clothes, free rent. Upon accidentally foiling a hostage situation, Tylor is instantly promoted from the pensions department to become captain of a ship, the Soyokaze. The reasoning behind this is that the generals hope Tylor will disgrace himself and earn a dishonorable discharge. His recklessness is too much of a liability to the whole war effort.
After the emperor of the Raalgon empire is assassinated a war breaks out, ostensibly endorsed by their new empress, Azalyn.
Due to sheer stupidity, Tylor becomes one of the most formidable captains in the force – despite not actually doing anything.

While enjoyable on a light level, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor ultimately seems a waste. Very soon into the series, the Soyokaze receives a demotion. this lasts several long episodes in which we learn that the last crew placed under such conditions committed suicide. This receives a definite “HMMM” from the audience, and the writers really should have known better. Loath as I am to make comparisons, an infinitely better space opera than this is Nadesico – which dedicated only one episode to long, uneventful space travel.

The interesting plot points are intermittent – space opera anime has great scope for giving the motives of the other side consideration. As such, the first two episodes feature extensive scenes with the Raalgon, their power struggle, and their all too “human” empress. This quickly falls to the wayside and we instead receive lazy antics aboard the Soyokaze – such as Tylor being such a great captain that he instructs his crew to mutiny!

The only real potential plot point granted in any significant capacity is the Raalgon spy Harumi, who gradually warms to Tylor. The plotting is so clumsy that, apropos of nothing, Haruka thinks to herself “I am an android, and can not understand their human feelings.” This is a big moment of what? because until this time Harumi had only been established as a Raalgon. It wasn’t even geared as a revelation, but rather simply tossed in as part of an internal monologue. Such club-footed plotting is really a huge black cloud over this series.

Part of the alleged “lore” of criticism is to analyse something by how well it exemplifies the genre it represents. Now, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is a terrible space opera – with what amounts to two battles and incredibly befuddling politics. It doesn’t even have the saving grace of being a subversive example of space opera. No, it’s just a rather pointless example of whatever the heck it’s supposed to be.
Quite simply, the war sucks. Azalyn quickly falls in love with Tylor, whom she infuriatingly refers to as “Paco-Paco”. So, while it’s clear why the UPSF is fighting a war, there’s no real motives behind the Raalgon short of the fact that their prime minister is a bastard.
War anime should include at least some sort of comment on militarism, and there’s a little of that here – presented in a way that you might expect to be interesting. Mifune and Fuji are the two characters representing the UPSF, and Mifune is seen everywhere with a katana. He always tries to use it against Tylor or anyone who crosses him. This is good. This should have been explored more! Yet these two characters are just angry ciphers. Their opposite number has no real reason for any of his actions other than, as Terry Pratchett might well say, the fact that he has “Grand Vizier” stamped all over him.

More’s the pity, because the characters of this series are quite a likeable bunch. Tylor, despite the huge irritation factor, is actually quite likeable. With a touch more competence, he would be excellent. Thing is, Tylor has no clue about what’s going on: at one point he is actually heard to remark “What’s an asteroid?”. The obtuseness of this character is quite frequently enough to make a perfectly sensible person bang their head against a wall. In the 23rd episode, Tylor displays a lot of guts; the 26th episode is, on the whole, a near masterstroke. Yet these two episodes which show all of the characters acting their best do not make up for the pointlessness of the other 24.

Not surprisingly, First Officer Yamamoto is disheartened by the captain who was promoted ahead of him; the totally excellent Sho Hayami plays against type as an insecure, out of control man who never seems to win. When Yamamoto sees the true genius of Tylor at work, some quite funny stuff is invoked. However, all too often, Yamamoto is overcome when he realises that Tylor has no idea what he’s doing. His other true highlight is the time when he’s allowed to show no tact (although, given other plot points at the time, it makes no sense that he would be able to say such things).
Lieutenant Yuriko Star is the third main member of the bridge crew. Her reasons for joining the military are actually quite interesting, although the phrase “stuck up” comes to mind far too often. The most disappointing part of the series comes when there is an episode where literally every woman aboard the Soyokaze comes to Tylor’s quarters to confess their love. This was purely tasteless harem work, and not funny in the slightest.

The other important main character is Harumi. If it were not for the whole stupid “I’m an android!” thing just popping up, her development would have sat rather better. All of the support crew on the Soyokaze receive very little to do; the marines are despatched once, and what’s the point of a ship that has only one fighter? It’s expanded later on to three overall, but they don’t do a thing! Not a thing in the course of a whole war!
Of the Raalgon, only Dom and Azalyn get any real screen time; Dom is admirable in his own way, and Azalyn does not understand what’s going on around her. She’s far too impressionable. And if you’re friends with the enemy fleet, why have a war, huh?! Why have a war?! At this point, you really get the impression that The Irresponsible Captain Tylor should really be something else – like the corporate comedy it homages.

Production wise, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor was really ahead of the game for 1993. The character designs are generally high on the polish, although sometimes Yuriko looks a bit like a bird. Azalyn succumbs to the traditional headdress to suggest her alien nature, and for whatever reason the rest of the Raalgon don vaguely middle-Eastern garb. The animation would be impressive if it were that there was anything impressive to animate. As it is, it simply looks nice without much meaning. You would expect that a series beginning with fan service enticing people to join the army would be more enjoyable, but alas! The initial Macross feel is explained by the fact that this is a Big West and Tatsunoko production, but that mood fades very quickly.
The OP and ED are by Sasaki Mari. They’re very nice songs that set a nicer tone for the series than what it it ended up with, even though for whatever bizarre reason Sasaki is actually digitised into the OP animation singing along. The body of the series’ music is by Kawai Kenji, though you could hardly tell it. There’s some good stuff here, particularly Yamamoto’s theme, but it’s largely unmemorable and not some of Kawai’s better work.

The Irresponsible Captain Tylor isn’t terrible anime, it just seems largely irrelevant. It does not work as either an episodic or serial program. It is inoffensive to watch but, dependent on your train of thought, it does not really stand up to criticism. There’s enough here that would charm the heck out of many a viewer, but this was definitely not my style. My problem is largely that The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is not near that which it could have been – it simply does not add up.

Blue Gender

December 13, 2004 on 9:15 am | In Blue Gender | Comments Off on Blue Gender

The future is an awful, bleak and horrible place. That’s what people who go to sleep learn upon waking up some years later. Unfortunately for them, they can’t turn over and say “I couldn’t eat another thing” and have to face up to reality. Kaido Yuji learns just that in the 2031 offered in Blue Gender.

In 2009, a new disease is starting to break out on Earth. Because this disease is incurable by modern scientific technology, those infected are put into stasis. In 2031, Kaido Yuji is accidentally wakened at his medical facility to find that horrible bug like creatures, known as blue, have taken over the planet. The blue can eat any matter, organic or inorganic and they roll humans up into green dumplings. Needless to say, Yuji isn’t happy at this turn of events. The marines have come to take the “Sleepers” to Second Earth, the space station that is the only place truly safe from the blue.
Yuji accompanies Marlene Angel and a crew of largely expendable marines on their quest to get back into space – but he might not like what’s waiting for him there either.

Blue Gender is, quite simply, brutal. Some of the time it’s hard to believe that this was shown on Japanese television. The sheer amount of bloody deaths alone would never have made it past the censor in the good old days. The substantially high sexual content is also an eye opener – they showed nipples on TV, damnit! But Blue Gender is brutal in its story telling, as well. The characters who die, they’re kind of important characters. With two obvious exceptions, anyone in Blue Gender can, and almost certainly will, not live until the end – so don’t get too attached to them.

The attitude of the future, not surprisingly, stinks. When Yuji meets Marlene, she is cold, dedicated only to the mission. Yuji is a terrible soldier, because he does not want to put the people grounded on Earth in danger. However, they come to learn from their survival on a planet gone mad!â„¢ that they need to rely on each other and that empathy is not a sign of weakness. The biggest problem in the series is when the couple seem to undergo a character transfusion, with Yuji becoming blood thirsty and Marlene becoming excessively gentle. This is an extremely frustrating problem but is satisfactorily explained by story developments. It just takes a while to get there, in which time hopefully the show has not lost viewers.

Never before has there been a series with such blunt, emotionless sexuality. The characters take an almost Brave New World type approach to sex, just as something to do. In the second episode, before their gruesome deaths, one of Marlene’s unit is giving a report, when a male staff member comes up from behind, feels her up and starts undressing her. This, and further sexual activity on Earth, makes sense amongst the dead-eyed hopelessness of the environment. Then you get to space and there’s what amounts to a “sex factory” – the pipe systems of Second Earth are literally infested with couples going at it. You would think this is a district, but then there’s a lounge where people are publicly fornicating and popping small pills, like soma, to enhance the experience. For this reason it is very important to track the development of the relationship of Marlene and Yuji. This is the series’ gentle point: hard romance is never emphasised, and the bond between the two develops almost naturally. While this series has an extensive amount of sexual content, there is no way it could be described as sexually charged. This is pure anti-service, and is actually quite commendable.

The suspense and thrill could have been saved more effectively had Blue Gender been given a 13 episode season – because it is Marlene and Yuji’s time on Earth that makes it so captivating. Anything after that really can’t hope to compare, but it remains eminently watchable regardless. Admittedly, the shift in storyline also leads to the inclusion of the stupidest looking creature ever, and that might have something to do with feelings of increased sourness.

This anime is from 1999, and is another early AIC foray into digital animation. While it is clear that they improved in the year since the near-unwatchable Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, this anime still suffers some weird off-model shots and a general lack of diversity in colour. The dull, uniform shades used for the blue give the project rather less of the gritty feel that everything else about this series gives off. Marlene is generally attractive, but … look at Yuji’s hair. He has monstrous sideburns, which must be because 2009 will have tasteless fashions. Otherwise, the series leans towards being attractive and the action frequently takes place at literally break-neck speeds.

Kuwashima Houko proves her excellent, diverse abilities once more in her performance as Marlene (suspiciously credited in the first six episodes as Kuwashima Norika). It is increasingly difficult to believe that Kuwashima began her career as the superbly bubbly Yurika in Nadesico. Somehow she has become shoe-horned into the sullen, untalkative girl role, but she can play so many different sorts of characters, and Marlene is a strong example.
Nojima Kenji performs well as the terrified Yuji of the early days, and less so as the arrogant bastard Yuji that springs up later. For obvious reasons, of course.
Kuwashima also performs the OP and ED, and what a rocking OP “Tokihanate!” turned out to be. It sets a perfect standard for the series, and just quietly, a perfect ending. “Tokihanate!” embodies the spirit of Blue Gender.

Blue Gender is strong anime that completely rocks in its initial story arc, and entertains consistently thereafter. The series is not so much about character as it is about human nature, and it tackles this issue very well. The digital animation may be dodgy at times, but the theory and execution are sound – and the ending is a killer. The graphic frankness of Blue Gender sets it apart from many others and makes it well worth watching.


December 12, 2004 on 5:22 pm | In FLCL | Comments Off on FLCL

Nowadays an OVA has to either be whacked out or part of an established franchise to make it in the world.

The seminal digital work of GAiNAX, FLCL is director Tsurumaki Kazuya’s disturbed brain child. Naota lives in the small town of Mabase, where nothing ever happens. One quiet day Haruko, an alien on a vespa, hits him with a bass guitar, causing robots to spring forth from his head.
Despite Haruko moving in as his housekeeper, despite living with a robot named for the god of fire and destruction, despite having to destroy those loathsome robots … Naota is still convinced that nothing ever happens in his town.

FLCL is guaranteed to make its audiences either cackle with glee or scream “Argh! My brain!”
Naota’s family life is taken up largely by obscure cultural references, dialogue obtuse even for anime. Compared to the manic dining room sequences the rest of the series seems remarkably placid by comparison. That’s really saying something.
Over six episodes, Naota plays baseball, cracks an arson mystery and resists portraying Puss in Boots while helping the class president come to terms with her parent’s impending divorce. All the while, he grows up, and everything proceeds to wrap quickly in the last ten minutes.

Being as the stories could be said to not make a lot of sense on the whole, Tsurumaki has placed a lot of importance on character. The four leads are excellent characters, although Canti never speaks. Most of the other characters simply spout whatever comes to mind – with one of Naota’s friends immortalised by his inane “chuu!” chatter – but the four leads are linked perfectly to one another.

Naota is about twelve years old, and underneath his blue parka it is revealed that his cynicism masks his insecurity: no mother; his brother gone to America – which may as well be another planet; and a weird as all get out father. Naota professes to be bored by all that befalls him, and annoyed by Haruko.
That’s the thing about Haruko; behind that nasal voice she is immensely likeable. Detective Amarao warns that she is intensely selfish, but it is hard to hold this against her. The only real problem Haruko brings to Naota’s life is her displacement of Mamimi.
Mamimi, allegedly the girlfriend of Naota’s brother before his departure, turns to Naota because she has no one else. Mamimi is a drifter, a fire starter who worships the dark gods made popular by modern culture. She is what society might dub a “trouble teen”. Mamimi is always looking for a way to fill the void in her life. More than Naota, more than the cat Takkun, she relies on Canti.
Canti is silent for the duration of FLCL, yet he has an incredible amount of character. Adding to this craftiness is the fact that he doesn’t even have a face. The question is, is Cantido-sama a doll for the characters to project their desires onto or a compassionate, caring, understanding being? One needs only see the second episode to understand the Christ-like imagery he is endowed with – yet “real” religions never get a say in this series.

So, behind the artifice (of which there is quite a lot), FLCL is about human nature and the desire not to be left alone. The changes undergone by Naota are an excellent selling point for the series; the character he has become by episode five is particularly compelling: he has become more human, more caring, but he is still twelve years old and has some wrong ideas about what is right. Yet, despite all of Naota’s development, very little seems to change around him. With the possible exception of Mamimi, everyone else retains character for a full six episodes.
People are fundamentally people (or aliens, who are the same as people but dress a little differently), and so they shall remain in FLCL.

The animation in FLCL is noteworthy because it takes the hallmarks of bad digital animation – inconsistent character models, dull and flat colours – and wears them as a badge of pride. Tsurumaki sometimes sees to it that he doesn’t so uch animate as he creates a series of furiously moving scribbles.
The colour design matches Naota’s mood: Mabase is rendered in muted shades of yellow by daylight, creating the illusion of a quiet town untouched by interesting events. The giant metal on the hill blends in perfectly, as if it would not be an unusual or unwelcome sight.
The characters are similarly designed. By rights Haruko really should have blazing pink hair, but she has a much softer shade than one might expect. Her pale yellow eyes are also quite reserved. Combine this with the very soft lines used to render the characters and you get something ethereal and not near as vibrant as should be the case.
The only vibrancy comes from the transformed Canti – it seems counter intuitive, but the washed out pallet of FLCL somehow works perfectly.

The music is another stand out aspect of the FLCL experience. All of it is taken from the band the pillows, who sing excellent songs about grungy hamsters. While some of their songs are overplayed (“Little Busters” springs immediately to mind), there are some true J-rock classics here. The “Hybrid Rainbow” sequence is good enough to send a shiver down anyone’s spine.
The actors are almost uniformly from stage backgrounds, and are really quite subversive for anime. Mamimi and Haruko both boast incredibly nasal voices that you would never normally associate with Japanese animation. However, they do quite a good job of it. The cast may not be “classically trained” for voice acting, but they succeed in bringing their characters to life – especially with the speeds they sometimes have to accomplish these feats in.

FLCL is hard work, and one could not be blamed for expecting more drama, but it’s well worth it.

Puni Puni Poemy

December 4, 2004 on 11:17 am | In Puni Puni Poemy | Comments Off on Puni Puni Poemy

Director Watanabe Shinichi, more commonly known as Nabeshin, created the ultimate mixed bag in 1999’s Excel Saga. More often shrill than hilarious, it was a frequently wearying series. Two years afterwards, Nabeshin followed up on the threat that he made in the series and spun Excel Saga off into the two part OVA Puni Puni Poemy.
In some ways, he’s more successful.

Aspiring seiyuu Watanabe Poemi, daughter of Excel Saga‘s Nabeshin and Kumikumi, returns from school one day to find her parents have been killed by aliens or something. She then throws herself on the mercy of the Aasu sisters, and through an amazing twist of fate (a man tuning a shamisen) Poemi is given a fish that can be gutted in order to transform herself into magical girl Puni Puni Poemy!
… right.

Puni Puni Poemy is full of randomness, but it generally makes some sort of sense. I believe that it works better than Excel Saga because it has focus and it doesn’t have a main character who just says random things. Poemy does spout many things out of her mouth, but they almost always have to do with the situation at hand. Now, this style of show could not be kept up for 26 episodes – lord knows Nabeshin has tried before – but at a lean two there are very few problems. Kuroda and the characters acknowledge that they’re not going for anything serious or with real meaning behind it.

In addition to the “subtle” lesbian subtext between Poemy and Futaba, there is an abundance of side characters who probably have something to do with some obsession but it’s not entirely clear. The Aasu sisters are a family of seven, between the ages of 28 and three, and they have no parents to speak of.
The purpose of having seven support characters is made clear in the second episode, when they’re all used for the purposes of exploiting pretty much every fetish prevalent in anime and hentai back in 2001. Of course, huge boobs are universal, but characters being too stupid to realise that they should wear a bra and button their shirt to relieve the pain caused is not.

Puni Puni Poemy is an ADV property, and they’ve done something quite similar to their treatment of Excel Saga. While generally there’s little to complain about in regards to ADV, they sometimes have a tendency to go for overly crass translations, possibly in order to convey attitude. Some of the crudities and vulgarities that Poemy spouts courtesy of them are really too much and not even real words. Has anyone outside of Beavis & Butthead ever actually used the word “bunghole” in conversation? It is not a cool word to translate from ketsu, when there are so many other nicer, more acceptable words for the posterior. Stuff like this puts a little bit of a damper on the whole experience.

Perhaps some of Puni Puni Poemy‘s success is grounded in the work of screenwriter Kuroda Yosuke, who also wrote the totally excellent Pretty Sammy OVA and TV series. Writing magical girl parody clearly comes naturally to him, and he’s got everything downpat, as well as throwing in some extraneous things for the hell of it.
Now, the cynic’s corner: Masuda Toshio’s music is entirely lifted from Excel Saga, with the exception of a new OP and ED and two sequences which directly cloned Macross‘ march of war and Star Wars‘ imperial death march. This comes across as incredibly lazy.

The second act of cynicism is that there’s only one real reason to have so many damned characters: to bring in the seiyuu as drawcards. Poemy is played by Kobayashi Yumiko, who sang the OP & ED for Excel Saga, but the Aasu sisters are a galaxy of stars from Mitsuishi “Feel the pain” Kotono to Hisakawa “Why do I have an accent?” Aya. So the first cynical act is to save money and the second is to make money. At least it’s not the sort of thing that Nabeshin would lie about; the characters frequently acknowledge the constant pandering of the camera.
Too bad, then, that the fan service sucks overall. It’s a wasted opportunity for an OVA – mass bathing scenes wherein nothing is revealed. That sort of fan service is really losing its lustre in this day and age, wherein nipples are now visible on TV anime. What a strange and exotic world we live in.

Puni Puni Poemy is largely pointless, but it’s also a bit of fun. Perhaps the reason it is more enjoyable than Excel Saga is simply because it’s one thirteenth the length.

GTO – episodes 29 to 43

December 2, 2004 on 1:46 pm | In GTO | 1 Comment

GTO has the perfect ending; that is, one that makes you miss the series afterwards.

Onizuka is truly an amazing character in the degree that he cares for his students. Even when one extorts him, he simply will not have them punished but rather take responsibility and solve everything. Somehow, when this blonde 22 year old does it, it does not seem like stupid pride. Onizuka has luck on his side, but not dumb luck, and although he quite clearly does not know what he’s doing a lot of the time he’s good at pretending he does.
So, ultimately, Onizuka made the series. This sort of character can be frustrating, but remarkably the teacher was not. His refusal to sell out anyone, and to gain their trust was admirable. He was in many ways Fujisawa’s antidote for the education system: tired teachers who resent their students.

As the students get closer to their trip to Okinawa, there’s another abhorrent episode in which Fuyutsuki tries to make herself over and ends up ganguro. During it, and at the end, the only response it provokes is “why?”. Normally I’d be all for an episode devoted almost exclusively to breasts, but not here.
Another episode that’s silly, but still works, is the one in which Onizuka takes on the “yakuza”. What makes it really funny, though, is that the contraband gold in this episode has “gold” written on it, and likewise the bomb. At the time I thought it was an over the top “realistic” episode, and I took the bait totally. GTO is probably custom made for these sorts of moments.

Uehara, the first female student to cause trouble for Onizuka, returns to the stories and at first she’s so different that I didn’t actually recognise her. When Miyabi does not go to Okinawa, it initially feels like the writers are disappointingly using Uehara as a substitute. Fortunately enough, she gets to come into herself, and Onizuka turns her heart. He’s so damned good at that it’s surprising that he doesn’t have his own nude transformation sequence (surprising? Yes. Unfortunate? … not in the slightest).

The character afforded the most growth, particularly by comparison to her late arrival, is Kanzaki. She teamed up with Kikuchi, and they made for a dynamic pair. Kanzaki is also notable because over the course of twenty episodes, she incited not one but two snakes to bite Onizuka’s crotch. It’s this sort of material that makes for big insane comedy, and it works because it is so very base. GTO aims for the higher brow some of the time, but it is quite happy at home among the jokes that get laughs based on universality.
Fujiyoshi, one of Murai’s two friends, is actually allowed his own drama, which comes on very strong. For so long he had been just a fellow to talk to Onizuka and not do much else, but when he was involved in a plot he became much more engaging – one of the few characters to show their home life. Yoshikawa is also allowed back into the fold after many episodes wherein he was in the background, not quite shunned but no longer important. When Onizuka assembled his ultimate team of student friends, the dynamic was really quite enjoyable to watch.

And, while for the most part this anime deals with realistic if exaggerated situations (although Onizuka does survive a nuclear blast – “it’s called an unexploded bomb because it doesn’t explode), there’s one episode which ends with total nonsense: damn near the funniest thing of the year. Finally, any anime that recreates, frame for frame, Sadako’s video from Ring has to be a surefire winner.

The final story arc is told efficiently in two episodes, and Onizuka proves himself to be the greatest man alive – and even Uchiyamada begins to see the true values of teaching once more. The actual incident that the episode is based around is actually quite disturbing if you consider the ages of the characters involved, but the story doesn’t dwell on it and so the viewer does not really get the chance either. It provides a nice close to the series, and lets Onizuka play it cool.

True, there’s unfinished storylines; the stalker still has an obsession with Fuyutsuki, for instance – but Onizuka can’t solve all of the world’s problems. GTO was frequently hilarious, with only one real dud storyline and genuinely lovable characters. It’s a beautiful journey, really.

Teacher … banzai.

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