I really liked this one. Not action packed, but not a social tedium anime lithium hit, either. Robin manages to deftly evoke its understated urban magic world where "witches" threaten society and witch hunters keep them in check. If it sounds tired and recycled, it's not.

The characters are believable and all deep enough to be interesting. Some are even surprising ( Nagira adds a refreshing element to the show just as events begin to get heavier. ). Robin is mysterious 15 year old girl who is a "craft user", trained to use magic against those who would use the same magic to do harm. The show manages to support an ambiguity as to what separates a craft user from a Witch, beyond the acceptance of some far away authority.

One element in particular that struck me as well done was, of all things, set design. There was an unusual attention to detail with all the architecture. Harry's bar is an art deco dive that's practically a character in it's own right. You keep looking for the piano player and imagining an oversized cognac glass stuffed with yen. Nagira's law offices also have a deco thing going on, like they stole some windows from Harry's. The headquarters of the STN-J are have a particular feel, day and night. From slums to cars, everything has a very clear sense of place.

One more thing, if you watch the Scifi channel you may have seen this; the Painkiller Jane series has more than a passing resemblance to the Witch Hunter Robin series. Indeed, most of the original feeling elements in the forgettable Scifi series can be found here. Special guns, hunting people from a list who pose a threat, the main female character having more in common with the hunted than the hunters, a far away headquarters controlling an organization of specialists, the motives of said headquarters coming into question, the disposal of the captives being a mystery...

Happily, Robin is smooth and controlled in it's storytelling. It rarely takes the a painfully simple turn and avoids many possible pitfalls. Ok, the true nature and origin of the organization's anti witch drug, orbo, is pretty much telegraphed, but you can't have everything. The ending, and the show as a whole, is satisfying.

( I have a huge backlog of anime reviews, but I'm lazy. Hopefully more to come. Unfortunately, only one is maybe better than this one, but no magic. Lot's of stinkers. )
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This is a production that manages to somehow combine a number truly disparate elements into a vaguely cohesive whole. First, it's a period piece set in Louis XV's court. In most respects it does a pretty good job of this. In anime, extras and sets are cheap, so there are some inspired backgrounds and lots of little details to keep us grounded in the 16th century Europe.

In addition to Louis , there's a cast of historical personages that play strongly into the story lines, including Louis' wife, Maria Leszczyńska, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, Madame de Pompadour, Elizabeth of Russia, and the Comte de Saint-Germain.

Saint-Germain is a clue to one of the other forces at work here, mystical cabals with working magick. The characters, setting, and politics actually don't seem to require the occult elements. Though it does provide some nice story shortcuts and a little spice. The level of flash is subdued by the apparent desire of the story to stay in our universe and not some alternate sorcery laden one.

Well, there are some zombie critters, but the common folk are blissfully unaware. Here, again, bribed guards or other villain types would work just as well. Taken as a whole, the magic doesn't drive the story as much as the people, which makes it seem extra. If even more subdued, the more historically minded might have enjoyed this more. Well, maybe.

For a certain kind of anime, it's got the basics, power politics and some kind of fantasy. Round that all off with gender bending and you have a Japanese triumvirate. For some reason, gender confusion is an excessively common theme in anime, from complete magical transformation to more mundane questionable wardrobe choices. The number of examples of this probably make it the number two anime fetish, right after the undisputed number one; school girls. A quick search turned up this list.

The title character is also an historical figure; the wikipedia entry says it all: Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont (October 5, 1728 - May 21, 1810), usually known as the Chevalier d'Éon was a French diplomat, spy, soldier and Freemason who lived the first half of his life as a man and the second half as a woman.

D'Eon latter life gender role is uncertain, whether he really was a woman or merely asserted his belief he was. In the anime, his alternate lifestyle is brought on the channeling of the soul of his dead sister, who he's the spitting image of. The dead female sibling of course has all the answers, was a much better with the sword, and knew alchemy. You can pretty much see where this is going.

While not great, I can't heartily endorse it, on the whole it's good enough to be amusing. There's royal intrigue and a lot of musketeer style cloak and dagger. Lots of little historical tidbits and the expected liberties. With this caveat, the last few episodes are pretty awful, with the finale being absolutely horrid. Most of the loose ends do get tied up and you'll want to watch the end if you got that far. Just be aware that the final boat back to France heralds some kind of anime writer's strike for the show.
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baavgai: (anime)
( Dec. 31st, 2007 05:09 pm)
Anime de jour is Ergo PROXY. This is a nice, moody, post apocalyptic humanity living is a dome kind of thing. It is rife with sci-fi cliche and odes to dead philosophers. However, it's also has a number of clever ideas. It has a lot of potential. It fails.

Humans and androids (called autoreivs) live in harmony in a domed utopia, safe from the poisonous outer world. That is, until some of the autoreivs get infected with the "cogito" virus and start getting murderously violent with their former masters. Our hero, Lil (or Re-l) Mayer is an investigator, a babe with a black body suit, a gun, kung fu moves and the makeup sense of Tammy Fae. Your standard anime protagonist.

While the series has no intentional comic relief, there is some cute relieve if the form an infected, self aware autoreiv, surrogate daughter to the elite, Pino. Ironically, Pino is the closest thing to normal human emotion the entire show has. The third major player is a wishy washy Hamlet type who's somehow very important, named Vincent Law.

This is one of those overly self important messes that indulges in a large volume of classical references in the belief that this will offset it's lack of plot. Of course, the previously mentioned computer virus and the title come from Descartes' famous, "Cogito, ergo sum." While cogito does make sense in context, the ergo of the title is meaningless. There are ramblings taken from other Western philosophers, both modern and classical. How such senseless soliloquies advance or even deepen the plot is the true mystery.

There are lots of little homages to "deep thought." This is presumably to impress us and make us believe this is somehow intelligent. For a few episodes, all the big players wander about, musing about their "raison d'être" (which sounds kind of amusing in Japanese.) It's almost an unintentional running joke, by the end. If quoting and ripping off others was a sign of intelligence, parrots would be geniuses.

There is a character named Daedalus. I thought the inevitable appearance of some Icarus element might be subtle; I needn't have worried. The realization of Daedalus' Icarus is so contrived reduces this character to a painful one joke wonder. Perhaps the show is being very clever, emphasizing some Greek notion of fate and futility. I doubt it.

In the end, the story is lacking and not even as close to smart as it believes itself to be. It's not horrid. I've seen worse. I watched the first few, then shelved it. Later, by episode ten, I was interested again. However, the number of filler episodes increases toward the end, with one being particularly bad. The end, episode 23, was unsatisfying.

In spite of all it's flaws, there are many good little idea nuggets presented. It's just, every single one of them is left to wither on the vine. None is nurtured or given any kind of descent care. They're just thrown out, as if a good idea is enough in itself and needn't be cultivated. We see so many fulfilling paths that may have been taken, only to find the storyteller lacked the imagination to take us there.

Final verdict, not awful, but I would not go out of my way for it.
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baavgai: (anime)
( Dec. 29th, 2007 08:33 pm)
Mushi are things, entities of subtle substance that few people can even perceive. They are the often unseen catalyst for many of natural or supernatural phenomena. To those who can see them, they often look like little walking viruses, strands, amoeba, etc. Mushi can mean bug or insect.

Ginko is a Mushi-shi, or Mushi master, which led to a very unfortunate translation of the series into English as "bugmaster". Each episode stands on its own, a story of people touched by supernatural or inexplicable circumstance. Ginko, the only constant in the series, is our guide; offering solutions or advice for dealing with the mysterious Mushi.

This is, of all things, a gentle anime. At times frightening or disturbing, the tone soft, the visuals engaging, the stories often melancholy though generally affirmative. While not a swift moving, action packed affair, the stories are told well. It lack those long, useless, brooding pauses that plague most "psychological" anime. Or, rather, such pauses make sense rather than dissonance.

One curiosity of the show is the time and place. While taking place in latter day, feudal Japan, the when and where are never real specific. Almost all the players wear basic working kimono, with pattern and such showing up for emphasis. Ginko is the single anachronism, wearing wester style garb, shoes, pants, a collared shirt.

The first episode is out of time, a child in the woods, living away from cities, Ginko notes his (Meiji?) period house is very old. One gets the sense it's nearer modern times, maybe post WWII, but it's never confirmed. Ginko has white hair and a green eyes. I suspected he was supposed to be German; anime favors Germanic occultists. However, we later learn he once looked like all the other Japanese kids, until that Mushi... We never do learn were he got his shoes.

On a stranger note, many Mushi look a lot like floaters. This had struck me, I used to stare at the things for hours as a child. (Yes, I was easily amused. ) The wiki entry for the series even notes this, so it's not just me.

I don't want to reveal anymore. Please see this one. It's really the best anime series I've seen in years. It is poignant, insightful, and never looses it's way. Like the best of any genre, it's more about the people than action or effects. It will haunt you, in a good way.
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Miyazaki's Mononoke Hime aside, in anime I believe that anything mentioning the moon or princesses it probably best avoided. Alas, not following this insight, I was recently subjected to Lunar Legend Tsukihime. Sound bad? Tsukihime means Moon Princess. Yep, it's double bad. It was a video game first. Scared yet?

But, well, we were with friends, it promised vampires, and there were only 12 episodes. Little did we know that a twenty two minute episode of Tsukihime is like a three minute angsty music video at 1/8 speed slow motion.

I'm reasonably sure this must of been a straight to video two hour movie that someone used for mid season filler at Animax TV. Did I mention it was slow?

To be fair, the first few of episodes didn't suck, just enough to get you hanging in there. By episode eight or nine you realize they're just leading you on, but all things must end, right? It eventually does end, in our case with a DVD failure five minutes before the official curtain call. You realize, somehow, you've sat through that. There is a certain joy in having survived, after all.

I read some reviews on this train wreck. Some people actually liked it. Then again, some anime fans like a lot of unpleasant things.

I would heartily avoid this one. Seriously, don't do it. I felt the same way about .hack//SIGN. Curiously, some drive by blogger felt compelled to give that study in tedium their personal thumbs up. Hmm...

On the up side, I'd brought with me one of the best anime series I've ever seen and our guests didn't know it. I'll review that one later. I don't want to out it. I'll just say Ginko is my hero.
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baavgai: (Default)
( Sep. 30th, 2007 07:52 pm)
Like phases of the moon, I seem to run into vampire based entertainment. The modern vampire myth is simple, superhuman powers and an addiction to the always fashionable red stuff that runs through people's veins. Those are the only rules, really. Note, in the context of "good" vampires, blood is usually a little like spinach to Popeye.

As cheesy as all that innately is, I'm still a sucker for it. (Yeah, puns are mandatory.) First, the stupid. One of the stupidest vampire movies ever, based on a video game, is BloodRayne. Well, that's what I thought until I saw BloodRayne II: Deliverance. Note the cast in the original, a lot of recognizable names in there. With that, a scene very close to X rated, an off screen tryst between the two female leads, actresses later seen in Lost and Painkiller Jane, and a Meatloaf cameo, BloodRayne is a really entertaining bad movie. The "sequel" is bizarre, a basic spaghetti Western with vampires, very bad but nothing particularly redeeming.

In anime, the very short movie Blood: The Last Vampire is a stand out. Atmospheric, creepy, it runs against the all too real background of a US military base in Okinawa. It spawned a series that I'm currently watching, Blood +. While containing many anime cliches I'm not fond of, I still can't turn away. I'm on episode 40 or so. It's good, in spite of my reservations.

And now, the other night, on CBS, was Moonlight. It's been done, many times. One reviewer likened it to Angel, but he was wrong. This show is a near identical reprisal of Forever Knight. The pilot for which stared Rick "I love the 80's" Springfield.

I enjoyed Forever Knight and expected to hate Moonlight, but I didn't. The lead actually has a Rick Springfield thing going on. His voice is melodious and suited to the little Sam Spade style voice overs the pilot favors. There is a blond woman who "knows" his secret and an old friend (LaCroix?) who chides his mortal sensitivities. It's not inspired or original, but I'll probably watch the next installment.
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I know, I promised more Satoshi Kon stuff. I got busy / lazy. They'll all get done, eventually. ;)

Tokyo Godfathers is probably the least anime-like anime you're likely to find. Fantasy and SciFi devotees will find no joy here. On the other hand, it's probably one of the best introductions to Japanese animation for anyone prejudiced against the genre. It is simply a good movie and most unbiased observers will probably enjoy it.

In many ways, it could be Hollywood comedy. It's mostly light, with enough bitter sweet drama to keep the diabetic shock from setting in. Even violent incidents are couched in humor. It is driven by unlikely coincidence and serendipity that on it's own is fun to watch unfold. Most comedies rely on a few unlikely events, this has enough to make an 18th century novelist proud.

While it struck me as apropos for mainstream America, to the point of one commentator calling it "3 Bums and a Baby", it is still very Japanese. It does contains elements that might be a hard sell in Tinsel Town. Our main characters are three homeless people, a young girl, an old codger, and a very flamboyant transvestite.

Hana, or Uncle Bag as the girl calls her, is pretty much pure comic relief, but also the fearless leader of the trio. Everyone has a somewhat tragic back story, though Hana's not so much. We ultimately care about all these characters, they are real, warts and all.

A note about warts. This film could have been live action with zero script changes, maybe. The animation is superb and highly realistic. Perhaps too realistic. None of our actors are beautiful people. They run the gambit from average looking to downright homely. It's refreshing, in a way, and not something you could do with standard actor types.

This is a truly charming movie. As well as an honest, laugh out loud, romp. It takes place during xmas time, so you might want to hang onto it for December. Then again, you probably won't mind watching it more than once.
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baavgai: (anime)
( May. 23rd, 2007 10:22 pm)
Perfect Blue is the first feature film from Satoshi Kon. The original production was supposed to be live action, but found it's way to the animation studio instead. There is a strange irony here, since the plot revolves around a live action TV show production and partially with the blurring of realties in front of and behind the camera.

Mima Kirigoe is a pop idol who has quit the band to embark on a career as an actor. Mima quickly acquires a stalker and possibly a psychotic break. Being a novice actor prejudged by a pop career is stressful. Mima seems unsure of here choices. Bad things start to happen to the staff. She starts to talk to herself; we think.

Reality is constantly juggled for us as Mima tries to sort out what's happening around her. She seems to have blackouts. She's not sure how the tragedies surrounding her life involve her. We are constantly challenged to discern what is real. It's a balancing act that risks loosing us in the confusion, but always seems to adeptly draw us back.

On the sex and violence meter, this is a little high, about as much as most modern thrillers. Japanese are far more comfortable, way too comfortable, with rape on film. Our budding actress is asked to do the equivalent of a nude scene. You are warned.

Perfect Blue is a solid thriller that redefines the scope of storytelling that can be done with animation. It demands attention; intelligent and tense all the way.
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baavgai: (anime)
( May. 23rd, 2007 08:49 pm)
Satoshi Kon is the director / writer of a film that will be released to an embarrassingly small number of theaters this week, Paprika. If you've never heard of this guy, you're not alone. His work is not the mainstay of frothing American anime fandom, so he doesn't seem to have the attention he deserves. Let's hope this release changes that, because his stuff is amazing.

Satoshi Kon makes anime that, well, isn't. Perfect Blue is a psychological thriller to make Hitchcock proud. Millennium Actress is an artsy "life of" production that reminded me of Memoirs of a Geisha. Tokyo Godfathers is, quite simply, one of the best comedies I've seen in years.

These films are notable in their lack. They're not the fantasy / scifi genre that's the norm for our beloved Japanese imports. They're almost more suited for live action than animation. And none really would need a special FX department.

Ok, now that all the anime geeks have left in befuddlement... This is the material I always knew was out there, somewhere. Well told stories that I can show people who hate anime and say, look, here, it's just a good movie, you'll like it, really.

I'll try to review all three of the movies I've mentioned before Paprika comes out. Maybe some of the other stuff, too. I doubt the "limited" release will make it to anywhere I could get to or want to be, but we'll see.
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baavgai: (anime)
( May. 1st, 2007 09:20 pm)
After watching the first episode of "Desu Nōto", I thought it was a very cleaver premise, but not really complex or open enough to allow for a compelling storyline. The story device, in short, if a person's name is written on the death note by someone holding that person's face in mind, that person will die. The death note is, of course, found a by a high school kid.

By the end of the pilot, our hero, Light Yagami, has killed a few people, met the death god who dropped the note, resolved to rid the world of the wicked and then rule over the remaining population as a god. I'm afraid I didn't have much hope after this, but continued watching to see where they'd go.

Turns out, Light is a true genius. We watch his brain tick and can't help but admire him in his megalomaniacal mechanizations. Just when the series starts to loose momentum, the plot twists. The base story changes many times over the run, while still functioning as a single continuous narrative.

While mass murder is a driving force, there's little gore; heart attack is the default method of demise. All the characters are fascinating. Many characters have active internal dialogs and we get to share their thoughts, plots and plans. It is engrossing, intelligent, thought provoking, and just really damn good. Early on I thought of Dexter watching this, but this is actually better.

I've seen twenty-five of the twenty-nine episodes aired in Japan; all good. Thirty-nine episodes are planned. This one is so well done that even those with anime aversion might be convinced to watch.
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baavgai: (Default)
( Apr. 28th, 2007 01:35 pm)
I'm not a big fan of porno, just the collateral damage of the whole thing makes me uncomfortable. Even if you assert that anime porno, or hentai, has no victims, it still makes me twitch. However, not all of what is called hentai really is, so I'll often ignore the label if there's good buzz and an apparent plot.

Kite (kee-tay) is ultra violence, with a dash hentai. I watched the uncut version; I'd probably have been happier with the sanitized Western release. There are children with explosive bullets and blood splatter and an unlikely kind of Artful Dodger child abuse, in addition to graphic physical abuse.

The story is thin and unlikely. Like any porno, it just basically supplies a framework for the money shot. I couldn't help thinking that, while the action was well done, it was all rather pointless. Even the end is pointless, which I strangely felt was almost redeeming.

Did you know that US federal law forbids obscenity and that no legally sold pornography is technically obscene? Based on Miller v. California in 1973, the "Miller test" for obscenity ultimately boils down to something like, "if the material has any redeeming social value at all, it's not obscene."

Kite made me think of the Miller test and how close it actually came to meeting the criteria. Obviously, this anime is not my thing. Made me feel like scrubbing with an alcohol soaked hair shirt, actually. There must have been a review that got this one on my shelf, but it's hiding now, probably from shame. Kite has a big following, they tell me.
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baavgai: (anime)
( Apr. 28th, 2007 08:16 am)
You remember all those crime solving shows of the 80's? The ones featuring couples in varying degrees of sexual tension and relationship? On the light side, even though there's almost always a body? They're coming to me now like a flashback; Moonlighting, Hart to Hart, Remington Steele, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, probably more...

The reason for this embarrassing mental breakdown; anime. I read reviews and many liked Fake. While it has one element that's completely foreign to American entertainment, I felt very strongly I was watching the pilot for the next Moonlighting.

The crime mystery is basic and not overly important. The main point is our couple, who are partners on the police force, attracted to each other, and never quite make the commitment. It's silly and generally amusing. There is murder and blood, probably more so than a Remington Steele, though tame my anime standards.

This is the basic, formulaic, TV Land framework into which this anime seems to fit, with a notable exception. Our couple are both men. This inevitably distracts every reviewer and causes wildly inaccurate assertions. like calling this the "The Gay Lethal Weapon." Also, the relationship between the main characters is focus of the story and downplaying it, as some do, is probably just homophobic.

Needless to say, if you're homophobic, this one ain't for you. If you're just uncomfortable with the idea of seeing it, it's all basically prime time TV clean; well, if one of them were a woman. While not "The Gay Lethal Weapon", it's definitely different in a "I'm pretty sure this was an 80s TV pilot" kind of way.
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In what turned out to be a group effort, the silly anime icon has evolved. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] violet_amy, [livejournal.com profile] beckishadow, and [livejournal.com profile] h3salthea for helping to make what you now see. It twitches!

Violet_amy pointed out that, well, it's a gif and it should move. Beckishadow and h3salthea both supplied me with pics to work from. Both examples had the same problem, though; the little kodama smiled and waved! I can see how someone might find this neat, but I was most charmed by the enigmatic nature of Miyazaki's kodama. The smiley, wavey had to go.

I've been in self imposed Windows exile since the release of Vista. Linux does pretty much anything I need, but graphics, well, there's only one real choice; The Gimp. All graphics programs seem to involve a trial by fire, they're always the least intuitive programs you'll want to use. That is, until you get used to them and then you never want to leave, often because the initial learning curve was so painful. Come to think of it, Linux in general can be like this.

After some cursing and searching, I got the Gimp to do the tricks I knew it had in it. The final result moves after a full five seconds and doesn't start over for another eight. I find animated icons can make my eyeballs bleed; I wanted a long time out for my spirit critters.
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baavgai: (Default)
( Mar. 10th, 2007 11:18 pm)
Silly anime. Actually, I blame [livejournal.com profile] h3salthea for this, if not for recommending, then at least for pointing me in the direction.

The anime, FLCL. Yeah, that's really the name. Pronounced "furi kuri" or "fooly cooly". What's it about? About two hours if you don't watch all the credits; it's a six episode mini series. What's is really about? Well, as Seinfeld put it, it's a show about nothing.

Instead of a bunch of frustrated, bitching New Yorkers, you have a bunch of frustrated. desperate, anime archetypes. There is a light plot line that runs through the series of scenes, but it's probably easier to think of it as a subtext rather than the point of the thing.

Without context, FLCL is basically nonsensical, particularly to a non Japanese. There are countless anime homage scenes, to the point of changing the base animation style to emphasize the reference. In addition to the fairly obvious South Park, I caught Evangelion, Akira, Haibane Renmei, and more. There were more I didn't catch, to be sure. There are a ton of pop culture references, Japanese, American, other.

Overall, I enjoyed it. While a good example of a mess of classic anime elements, I don't think I'd recommend it to someone who wasn't into the stuff.
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baavgai: (Default)
( Jun. 18th, 2006 08:42 pm)
I hate to admit it, but I have an embarrassingly high tolerance for sub par entertainment. As a result, I probably expose myself to it more than I should. I do try to spare others, so tend to indulge in solitude.

Bulletproof Monk. This one's been haunting my shelves for some time. Unfortunately I never lost it and ended up watching it today. It turned out to be an illegal copy, but I don't know where I got it so I can't rat them out. Most martial arts movies are painfully dumb, it's part of their charm. With that in mind, this one was charming.

Hex, the BBC series. I watched all of them. Characterization is not a strength of this show. There is no consistency in the behavior of anyone. Everyone needs medication. No one seems particularly likeable through the whole thing.

Hikaru no Go. I still don't know why I watched all 100+ episodes of Yu Yu Hakusho, this is the same kind of the same thing. I have them, they're fluff, I'll probably end of seeing all 75. Ok, that's not 100% fair. They do have something I prize in anime more than most and that's little insights into Japanese character.

War of the Worlds, with Tom Cruise. Um, it wasn't horrid. I guess on the big screen it might have been something. This was mostly vapid disaster movie filler. I feel dirty.

After all this I felt the need to break out something of value. Ikiru.

Ikiru is about Wantanbe, a bureaucrat with cancer forced to look starkly on his wasted life. Sound depressing as hell? Yeah, I thought so too. Still, it's considered one of Akira Kurosawa's masterpieces and that alone is worth the heart ache.

Surprise, I found Ikiru quite uplifting. Ok, it's sad, but it's a "Life is Beautiful" kind of sad. There's a lot of unresolved side issues, but Japanese seem to enjoy their stories like that. I'm actually happy the version I had was subbed but not dubbed. The voices of the actors added something, even if I don't know what the hell they're saying. When Wantanbe sings there is a depth of emotion that comes through wrenchingly strong.

Ikiru I can heartily recommend. The rest of the stuff, well, it was ok... ;)
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A couple weeks ago, I happened upon the article Evangelion Special: Genesis of a major manga. I'd never seen it, perhaps never heard of it, so...

The full English name of the show is Neon Genesis Evangelion. It's an awkward name and through the 24 episodes and subsequent episodes 25 and 26, I considered numerous alternatives. I'm quite fond of Oedipus Mechs as a title, though simply Mommy! isn't bad.

At first glance this is really not my thing. There are big honking robots that defend the earth against some malevolent alien force. Here we go again, bring out the techo proxy phallus, mech smash! The first episode sets the stage with an insecure boy (our hero, Shinji), his awkward father (Commander Gendo) relationship, a couple of female interests, a robot (Evangelion Unit 01, or simply "Eva") that only he can control, and impending mortal doom. Yes, it seems all very formula.

However, as Hamlet took the basic revenge play and turned it into a strange rumination of conscience, religion, and lack of commitment, so Eva does for the battle mech. The first dozen or so episodes seem pretty straight forward, not that much fighting, but a lot of Japanese sulking, sexual tension, high school stress. At this point it is notable for the lengths it goes to analyze it's cast.

Then, something happens. The show takes a slow, circling the drain movement toward total mental breakdown. The last two aired episodes caused both fandom adulation and death threats. The ending is so over the top that a movie was made with an alternate or extended ending. This is not to be confused with another movie that was made the same year that's basically a summary of the whole show.

There are couple of dominating aspects that make the show different. One is the very heavy use of Christian symbology, as well as any possible related symbols. There's occult, masonic, Babylonian, kabbalistic, and probably other stuff I didn't catch. Indeed, it was the use of two Tree of Life symbols in the opening credits that kept me watching through the first few episodes. The same symbol is also stenciled on the commander's ceiling, among other places. It doesn't make a real appearance in the show, but pops up again in the movie; albeit pointing the wrong way. That could be intentional, who knows.

The second force in the show, and strongest, is Freud. With the plethora of symbols I'd also say there's a little Jung, but mostly Ziggy. Actually, there's a whole lot of German philosophical, Existential stuff going on. For example, episode 16, about where you know the shark wasn't just jumped but is now sushi, was called Sickness Unto Death; shout out to Kierkegaard. Probably some Sartre floating around there too.

But mostly Freud. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has mother issues. All of the Eva pilots are children who've lost mommy. It's implied, though never specifically outed, that their semi organic mechs have some of mom's genetic material mixed in. The way the pilots mount their Eva's is also heavy with metaphor. They're inserted via a cigar shaped plug, but inside the plug they're suspended in what amounts to amniotic fluid; so they can strengthen their connection to their particular unit.

The only character that lacks any kind of humanity is Gendo, who is also the only bearded character, ala Freud. Hideaki Anno, writer, director, driving personality, is said to have had his share of psychotherapy, but from various stories still sounds a little cranky.

This is a very different and odd anime. It predates things like Lain and obviously influences them. The thing I like most about anime is that the product can be purely driven by a single individual's vision. This is Anno's. For his sake, let's hope he's had more therapy.

I'll end with this little jewel I found on IMDB: For the version of "Fly Me To The Moon" used in the final episode, director Hideaki Anno reportedly asked singer Megumi Hayashibara (who also voices Rei Ayanami, Yui Ikari, and Pen-Pen in the show) to perform the song while imagining herself "strangling a little cat with a big smile on [her] face."
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baavgai: (Default)
( Mar. 25th, 2006 10:27 am)
Just finished watching the final episode of Full Metal Alchemist. I believe it is probably my favorite anime series, ever. It pretty much has all the intriguing elements that can found in anime, along with some unique takes.

There's a tremendous amount of allegorical and psychological stuff going on. Themes of hubris and redemption are central. It can be bloody, but it's more often creepy and disturbing. None of the antagonists are absolute, they're all complex and even the worst are strangely sympathetic. The storyline is amazingly tight across all 51 episodes. It's all just exceptionally well done.

Occult musing time. The opening always explains the idea of "equivalent exchange", which is, "to obtain, something of equal value must be lost". This forms a focus of the series and is quoted often. It's also the only thing that actually bugged me.

Equivalent exchange, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the first law of thermodynamics, is a theory popularized by modern magick lore ( note the "k"). Often attributed to some Greek named Hermes, the idea can be found cropping up in the middle ages. It's actually most often sited as a limiting factor for the mechanics of the universe, why mystical practices can't get you a fireball.

And yet, the series is rife with magic, ignoring the foundation of the premise. In spite of that, there are a number of arcane reference treats I enjoyed. Also, the series offers some alternate theories for why their world's alchemy works toward the end of the series ( ep. 50? ), which made me feel better.

Here's some random occult trivia that amused. In the opening credits there are some books on a desk next to the family photos, all seem to be real. Of note is the half covered book title, The Golden Dawn, a somewhat infamous British occult club.

The rest of the books are like a Golden Dawn summer reading list. The Mirror of Alchemy by Roger Bacon. Prospero's Island: The Secret Alchemy at the Heart of The Tempest by Noel Cobb. And, to be complete , the open text is from Twelve Gates by Sir George Ripley. ( I couldn't figure out the partial title, "ad of alchemy".)

I looked at some of the fan sites when I was done with the show. None mentioned link to the organization responsible for the likes of Crowley. However, one mentioned than an episode contained text from a Dungeon's and Dragons source book.

Now, at last, I can watch my copy of "Conqueror of Shamballa", the movie that takes place after the series.
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( Oct. 8th, 2005 05:42 pm)
Finished watching Lain yesterday, finished watching Hellsing today.

Lain was almost toon noir. Perhaps I'm not a sophisticated enough watcher, but I was mildly annoyed by all the questions left unanswered. It seemed messy and amateurish somehow. Also, way too much brooding despondency. Some anime seems to feature that, just nice long silences where you're supposed to believe the character is somehow deeper than the writer has managed to convey.

Still, Lain is a good example of it's style. The theme of humanity versus machine is often visited. In this cause, often body versus spirit and conciousness. It's said that the brothers responsible for the Matrix wrote it after being exposed to anime. There's debate as to what particular piece was the catalyst. Lain is probably a contender.

Hellsing is pure, brutal, fun. Vampire Hunter D meets Trigun, with style from a few others. There are trench coats, lots of bad guy banter, and simple macho moments. It's well written and I really, really wish there was more of it.

The version I watched was well dubbed by Brits, which was perfect. I quite enjoyed the choice of accents. Our cute female sidekick has a vaguely East End accent, like the current female sidekick for Doctor Who; it really seems to work. At one point, our hero, Alucard faces off in his first meeting with a big bad guy. When asked his name, he reply Incognito. My dub has Alucard say his name is enigmatic as well, but my translation specifically said anagram. I don't usually catch anagrams, but Alucard is pretty damn obvious. There's also a Tepesh moment at the end.

Yes, I watch dubs with subtitles running as well. You sometimes catch an interesting dichotomy of interpretation that can be fun. The subtitles often seem closer to the intent. The infamous Oriental L-R confusion struck me twice here. There is a Lain character that's dubbed as Alice but is really Arisu; I kinda like that. In my Hellsing credits, Alucard is listed as Arucard; I laughed.
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( Sep. 25th, 2005 08:57 pm)
First, I don't consider myself anime fan, in this sense that I'm an avid follower of the genre.

Still, I find most of the stuff I've seen both entertaining and oddly revealing of the Japanese. As a child I watched Speedracer and the apparently lesser seen "Kimba the White Lion", from which Disney's Lion King seems shamelessly ripped.

I'm currently watching ".hack//SIGN"; yes, that's really the title. I'm not sure I could recommend this one, it's paced like a sedated slug with a skin condition. Strangely, it almost feels like an incredibly long Existential play. Like such plays, I find myself watching, looking for a point, fearing the point is that there isn't one. It seems to have a huge following, though. I only have a handful of episodes left to see, we'll see how it goes.

Ranma 1/2. I've actively avoided this one forever. There's a startling amount of anime pornography in the world, sometimes called hentai, literally pervert. Once you've seen some hentai, you tend to not want to see more. Or, you want to see lots more, that seems to be the way such things work. From the premise and the fans, I'd always figured Ranma was hentai.

Then, someone told me the only anime they'd every seen was an episode of Ranma. This struck me as odd, so I watched a few. Basically, this appears to be girl anime with boobies. It's sitcomish and consciously PG, in spite of many places where it could go farther. I didn't find it particularly engaging, but not real offensive either. It was "cute". It was also strangely representative of anime standards.

Ranma has it all. School girls, cute animals, martial arts, mild sexual innuendo, unpleasant characters, and gender bending. Many anime shows seem to support leading characters that are contentious and hard headed. I've yet to figure out the charm of this, but it's often there.

Gender bending appears quite often in anime, from cross dressing to magical reassignment. In Ranma, the main character is male who becomes female when doused with cold water. Warm water reverses the effect. There's lots of situation comedy, so everyone is well washed. Aside from the expected spontaneous boobies, it's all pretty tame.

One of the elements of anime that I constantly see edited out or translated for tameness is sexual preference. While main characters seem to always be straight, major supporting characters can be alternate pitchers without anything being really made of it. There's a really odd scene in Yu Yu Hakusho where one of the demons is a transsexual, an infamous hentai "dick girl." Almost all the dialog is misdubbed in the English version and you're left totally confused.

It makes me think that I'm missing some Japanese entertainment because their liberal attitude might be considered inappropriate by the powers that be. I'd be very annoyed were that the case.
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( Jul. 2nd, 2005 05:59 pm)
I actually got to see an Hayao Miyazaki film in a theatre. Ok, it was kind of a dinky theatre and half the folks didn't seem to know why they were there, but I had fun.

Strangely, I got subs, not dubs. That is to say, this was a subtitled version I could have ripped off the internet six months ago. I'm not subtitle junky when it comes to anime; I actually prefer the voice over so I can just watch and not miss anything. Oh well, still nice to see on a biggish screen.

Christian Bale was supposed to do Howl in the real Disney release and Lauren Bacall as a witch would has also been fun to hear. However, when it comes to anime, "Disney release" seems an oxymoron. They spend all their cash on expensive actors to do voice overs, then bury the thing in small venues and hope it dies.

Short Review, no real spoiler, though. )
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