Monthly Archives: May 2007

Science Fiction Anime

You can always fit a mecha in any anime

There are a lot of anime with a sci-fi backdrop. And I mean a lot. Some are silly little things like Aria and Manabi Straight. Some are long and grand like Legend of Galatic Heroes and all those Gundam shows. Some are sort of pandering like Vandread or Gravion. Every once a blue moon we get a mind twister like Serial Experiments Lain or Megazone 23. But more interestingly, we’ve got everything in between as well, as anime in a science fiction setting.

Trying to pin it all down is sort of hard, at first glance, but somehow it feels like they fall into three, non-exclusive, all-encompassing categories:

1. Drama-oriented. I’d squarely put shows like Manabi Straight and Gundam in here. Often times the plot revolves around some sci-fi/fantasy device based on the setting (eg. hijacking a school-wide video podcast or fighting some never-ending war between Earth and the Colonies), but for the most part the viewer can give a damn about them. In other words, these are the same old stuff, but lightly flavored to give us something special and neat. Some other examples would include Utawarerumono or Eva; LoGH is totally a space opera show, for obvious reasons. Tenchi Muyo is a franchise that, for practical purposes, is a Star Wars rip off…and no one cares. We just care who gets to sleep with the guy.

2. Setting-oriented. To be fair, setting here includes also the subject matter for discussion. Feeding the gnome-sized Tom Clancy fan in me, GITS:SAC is a whole lot of fun because of that elaborate geopolitic backdrop in a what-if future that’s all too humorous. It’s what makes Starship Operators so awesome, partly because of the politics but also of its focus on low-tech space warfare. Everyone’s favorite PLANETES does this very well. Last Exile has cute characters and developing personalities, but the steamy setting takes your breath away. Early and late episodes of Evangelion really hones in on this as well.

3. Idea-oriented. Here I’d categorize any show that harps on the idea over the substance of its setting, and the expression of the central idea(s) shadows the character drama. GITS is a bit in this realm, especially if you’re talking about the theatratical films. Serial Experiments Lain seems apt. Bubble Gum Crisis, maybe; but it really relies on the setting as well. Maybe the Eva movies.

Some anime are really strong in all three departments, but I think all sci-fi shows fall into at least one category. Just to practice on a few, something like Haruhi Suzumiya would be sort of setting and drama oriented, even at heart the show revolves around one idea. The plot as a juvenile sci-fi mystery focuses on “what happens” but the viewers are also concerned about “who and who’s” relationship. Eva is in all three categories, but it really focuses on the drama to get its basic ideas across. When it does, the show goes postal. A show like Scrapped Princess is also very similar, structure-wise. It has a simple theme so it didn’t have to beat you over the head. The elaborate setting, like Eva, is to just reel you in. Ergo Proxy, Solty Rei and Kurau all have that fantastic setting to get you started but those shows are just character drama with a sci-fi mystery plot as hook.

I guess I’m just trying to say that all these three things are while present in the genre categorically, they serve very different purposes. Asking for one is not likely to help you satisfy the want of another.

Buyer’s Regret Strikes Back, Too

Maybe watching that expensive brick oft called “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” volume 1 special edition from Bandai Entertainment USA can put Manabi Straight away for a moment. Oh how ironic that I turn to gnostic pleasures to forget my higher calling…? LOL.

Anyways, this post is sort of a review of that brick that got here. And in short, it is so not worth spending nearly 3x more money on the expensive brick. To put it in perspective, the limited edition episode 00 R2 DVD (volume 1) was 4600 yen, volumes 2-5 were 6600 yen each for the limited edition, and volume 7 LE was 4600 yen. If we exchange 110 yen per dollar, that’s only about 60-70 dollars to match MSRP of $64.98 times 4. Even if volumes 2-4 of the R1 release is $5 less, it makes you wonder if you get what you paid for.

Maybe I’m just slow on the uptake, but when Bandai reneged on the broadcast order thing, either I heard about it and paid it no mind (forgetting I pre-ordered the box), or just entirely forgotten about it. I was even looking forward to that…

Anyways, yea, buyer’s regret. But the main source of it isn’t because the DVD and R1 release was crappy (as it wasn’t–in fact I liked the dub a lot (but still hated Ryoko’s voice though…) and the production was solid). The extras was good and the box was…neat. What I hated about it was its … how should I put it… lame design. There’s no mind paid to how the box art should look, or the purpose of this luxurious box. Hey, it’s got magnets, yay. So I spent an extra $30 on that? It looks like someone went and designed a neat box mechanically and some doof just plastered official images all over it (when some of them I’d fully consider as SPOILERS?) paying no mind of the overall vibe the box gives off. I hate it.

But that’s no compare to what actually is contained inside the box. I never was a big fan of “worthless trinket” like the iron-on or the ribbon, although I’m partial towards the ribbon. Art collections like pencil boards or post cards are more my thing, but even then that just “tickles” my collector’s senses and unless you’re Range Murata you’re not going to see me jump after them. After opening the box I scratch my head, trying to ease that sensation of “I just got sooooo ripped.” It was just sad how, not unexpectedly, this fanboy got played.

To be fair, Bandai did one thing awesomely as far as the packaging: including the CD single AND ALSO RELEASING IT FOR INDIVIDUAL SALE at the same time. I’m so happy about it I bought the Hare Hare Yukai US release separately, because it was cheap and LOL, I’m just happy that this was possible.

Because it totally removes any reason whatsoever to buy those crappy boxes with nothing good in them.

Sigh. I wish more things were released like Scrapped Princess. Now those limited release box sets rocked the house. If you want my otaku dollars, you can’t just bank on the lame-ass collector’s mentality that too many of my peers suffers from. I’m more than ready to buy volume 2 in its simple, DVD-only form.

Rocket Girls: Wandaba Style Reprised

Wandaba Style was like shock therapy: you hurt so bad that you come to like it out of psychological desperation. Admittedly it has some redeeming value but only if you can pierce through the…noise. Wandaba Style is, for the uninitiated, the nightmare that spawned nightmares of Akira Kogami.

Rocket Girls, is, in some ways, the same flavor but without the noise. Our protagonist is a very spirited young woman who has discovered that there’s more to life than the dutiful society that cradled her for 17 years. Taking her no-nonsense mother she became the first teenage astronaut. Why a teenage astronaut? I don’t know; but the last 3 episodes proposes some kind of a rationale. Unlike shows like Stratos 4, RG is not pretentious. And unlike Stratos 4, RG is a bit more appealing to realism…even if it’s more ludicrous at times.

I think there’s some kind of charm coming from the overall team of the cast. While the large bulk of the show focuses on Yukari, Matsuri and Akane, it’s the most enjoyable when the overbearing Yukari loses some of her lines to the workers on the island base. Once Matsuri joined in, things got into a good balance and I began to be able to tolerate Yukari better.

It was hard to write about Rocket Girls. It’s a fun show but somewhat uneven at times. It tries to be heartful but it makes you wonder if it works or not. It’s not exactly high profile, and it’s comedy nature only makes it feel cheaper.

What it was, at the end, is a show about growing up and accomplishing something. I think that much was a “mission complete” for this little anime otaku piece. Not much in terms of anything else besides a good tease, maybe.

Without having to drive its viewer insane,  I suppose.

Manabi Strikes Back

The Amused Muse

Unfulfilled, overbearing desire breeds moments of idiocy. But sometimes, it can be confused with the muffled cries of the Muse, opening doors you were too afraid to open for one reason or another.

This post has turned from vision to creation. Hosanna (work in progress preview, 39.5mb Xvid). My first AMV EVAR zomg.

Manabi Straight Banzai!

A Memorable Sky

Cuteness doesn't go far.

It’s not just about Manabi Straight anymore, honest!

The realization came when watching Sola 7 – the show has changed from that mysterious lukewarm eroge-anime-wannabe to …well, a more memorable eroge-anime-wannabe. Realizing the show has “gotten good” it sort of poked me into thinking about how it did so.

But first, it wasn’t so much the show has gotten good, but rather that it has gotten somewhere. Sola is still a show cloaked in mystery and they managed to reveal as little as possible without making it like Higurashi. But what’s great about Sola in the first place is that it isn’t the mystery that is driving the viewers, but the characters and their unsettling relationships. It’s not the same as how NHK ni Yokoso is memorable because that’s just shock and “interesting social issue.” It’s not the same as how Paprika is memorable by being “very pretty and thought provoking.” It’s not even like how Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo was memorable as charming and moving. Sola is memorable because it is “unexpectedly charming” and “cute.”

And I don’t know about you, “cute” doesn’t go far for a redeeming trait for an anime. It’s almost a genre definition. To be honest I don’t know what would go far, as people find different things to be remarkable and memorable. But one thing that makes memorable is something that echo with the audience’s experiences in a visceral way. Like FLCL’s first episode.

Uninstall is a good example of being memorable in the short-term through something more visceral.

To be fair, Sola is still in limbo: it’s going places but where will we end up when we get off the bus? Will we roll out of a train wreck or get high like a cable car up Hakodate? And that’s the other sort of impression, the one a lot of us like: impression through superior story and theme.