Monthly Archives: December 2007

Year in Review: Conclusion

Decidedly, the word is that 2007 is not as exciting as 2006. We did not have Haruhi, we did not have Simoun, we did not have Black Lagoon. In fact, I’m going to talk about shows I didn’t see in 2007 (and some that I did see, but not like Haruhi, Simoun and Black Lagoon).

It's Mikan!

Continue reading

How to Build Your Own Euphoric Field

Yes, ef – a Tale of Memories is awesome. Yes, I think it is a masterpiece. Yes, I think you should watch ef. No, I don’t think you’ll enjoy it (most of you anyways). Yes, I know I am elitist. Someone once said that all the visual tricks for the show is akin to putting lipstick on a pig, but sometimes shows like ef expose who are really the pigs around here. Oink! And yes, you should watch ef anyways and decide for yourself. Yes I could be wrong!

Kiss me baby one more time?

So. How do you build your own euphoric field? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can either read some of those nice episode summary blogs or just watch the anime (I recommend this, as always). If that doesn’t help, well, I’m sure you’re not alone. Think of it as a top 10 list about ef, in no particular order.

1. Expect opposition. The road to life is narrow and treacherous. But like many other things in life that’s hard to do, it’s also worth doing. Like cheering for a show that most people probably won’t get or enjoy. Or better yet, making one of such.

2. Use your head. Even if you appeal to the most basic of instincts and emotions, it is still not going to make you better than the next guy or the guy before who also appeal to the most basic of instincts and emotions. Masterful storytellers weave coherent, internally consistent and effective narratives. ef is, for the most part, just that. Sometimes it takes time for ef to do its thing, but all signs point to that the people behind it thought it through, and spend the time putting it together.

3. Plant a secret message in your episode titles. I mean, com’on, this guy obviously never looked it up on ANN, right?

4. Have a ball. Having fun is always a prerequisite to greatness. Sometimes it’s not so fun, but all the more to keep this one in mind.

5. Open your mind’s eye. Perhaps miracles are, as Menclave puts it, “inevitabilities and accidents, and what you’re going to do.” But for a people blind to their dreams and visions, they need all the help they can get. As clichés go, believing is seeing. Kuze puts it forth pointedly. All it takes is a gust of wind to change fate.

6. Repetition is the real test. Fact is most people (myself included) just don’t have the time to watch new shows and find time to rewatch old shows all the time. Most of my experience with a show happens inside my head or when I talk about it with someone, long after I’ve finished watching it. What a good show does is, well, what Renji does with Chihiro. I have to like to recall that show. It has to leave an impact. It has to withstand repetition, both in viewing (and ef does this well; watching it twice is almost necessary to understanding it fully) and being able to withstand analysis. Plus, of course, all that fuzzy warm feeling you have associated with something rushing back each time you remember the realization of a wish engraved into memories you don’t want to forget. That leads to…

7. Intercorse is good when you make it meaningful. It is pretty tough if you want to try to forget about meaningful sex the day after.

8. Cheer. Praise is an instinct, and it should be kept as an instinct. Not empty, calculated praise but genuine and heartfelt appreciation of something worth sharing with each other. The word cheer seems to be a little down to earth and gets the idea across a little better I think. Regarding to this anime, though, it’s exactly the sort of shows I watch and follow anime for. It’s edgy, it’s flawed, but the humanity shines through. All the while it’s entertaining and emotionally charged. The fact that it’s clever is just icing on the cake.

9. Field questions. Give answers with comment and suggestions. Pingback and trackbacks. Good o’ electronic mail. The postal service. Digital or analog telephony. Community and communicate have the same word root for some unknown reason that I cannot even begin to fathom. Right.

10. Stop being lazy–don’t do what I do.

I’ll just repeat myself slightly and say that like what X-Men the movie did to the comic book adaptation industry in Hollywood, finally we got one right in the eroge visual novel adaptation side of things. I’m not so much afraid that new shows following the same footsteps will get it wrong as much as just having that kind of production happen at all. Even among eroge, the ef game (soon games?) is peculiar. But without failures there cannot be successors, as ef itself only followed countless others that fell in the wake of the late-night otaku TV war. So, bring it on please!

Year in Review: United and Live

So why am I talking about Manabi Straight besides I like it a lot? I don’t know.

Manabi Straight is a subtle thing. Sometimes I fear that the more I talk about it, the more it gets cheapened. And a good joke explained is rarely funny anymore.

Maybe I can say something about UFOTable. Manabi Straight is an interesting organism in that it is not produced by the same process your typical TV animation is. For starters, it is something conceived by some folks at UFOTable and serialized as manga at first. It also utilizes a team of directors that rotate on working on each episode, breathing life into the work but also mirroring that team spirit told within the show.

But like other UFOTable works, Manabi Straight shares some similar shortfalls. Or perhaps, it salvages itself from them? I’m not sure. One example that comes to mind is the realization of Manabi Straight’s inter-character dramatic potential. In just 12 episodes there have been a lot of character development and realization. Episode 4 and Mei showed how it was possible, but unexpectedly we didn’t really do a round robin of character expose. In fact we started at Mei, then Mikan…and stopped at Mikan, at least formally. Even if we take into account of the OAV episode we’ve only scratched the surface of the massive potential. If you look at Futakoi Alternative or Coyote Ragtime Show, there are a lot of subtle stuff they play with but also hide. In fact in FutaAlt that’s part of how it drags the series down–UFOTable spent way too much time trying to show you something subtle without telling you what it was.

Back in Manabi Straight, Mucchi especially was a subtle character that glowed with realism and its matching subtlety that made her easily my favorite out of the 5 if not for Mikan’s overpowering cuteness and Momo’s equally subtle but totally unreal characterization.

Being the fanboy that I am, I am probably a little too much to ask for to review the ins and outs of an UFOTable title. Also I just think a lot about these kinds of stupid things, the things just out of reach but not out of sight. In a pastel-color world with gradient hair and happy-go-lucky carebears, subtlety can only be detected as far as it is put out there to be seen. It could be a criticism or a praise, but it’s irony either way.

Irony. Yes, that was what I was thinking, about Mucchi, while she was eating her ice pop in that summertime episode. (And also “just how much lolicon pandering was this suppose to be?”) But that’s a prime example of a very real moment. Sometimes, when you are with friends, it’s just silence. Some of my friends talk about themselves, others don’t. Sometimes you have to pry, other times you’re just being annoying. It’s totally cool when you drop by, with a pretext of checking out some harmless video game, and drop a line that you know will do something to poke a friend who’s down. Or maybe it will not do something, but you’ve done what you think works the best.

And that’s Momo’s entire basket of gags in all of Manabi Straight. You know how Kyousuke said about observing wild animals and the camera not interfering? Well I think Ms. Odori will take that and shove it up someone’s behind while screaming some dadaist reference to off-the-air sitcoms. (Imagine if Momo shot a documentary about penguins…well I guess you can do that with Hatsune Miku now?) That’s journalism (and, oddly enough, film making) in a nutshell, the power to change the viewers by giving us the right perspective, even if they’re all reinventing that perspective. In the anime she’s a bit of a deus ex machina, but at the same time she’s the punchline. Plus cockroach-tan is just pure awesomeness all around, of course.

In retrospect, Manabi Straight is an incredibly subtle series. Or rather, in good anime form, it makes an exaggeration of a lot of subtle things (or at least as much exaggeration as you can get with them). My favorite example is where we see what Manabi sees when she shows Taka-chan her vision of the future. Maybe that’s why Manabi Straight had such a big impact on me. When I saw her in that scene, I think “vision” rather than “hallucination” or “plan.” But that’s the only way to explain why she acted as if things have already came to being. It is a prophecy, but not really so pre-ordin-ary? LOL. She’s just working to fulfill her dream, I guess. But I like my interpretation, because it would explain why UFOTable gone the distance to stretch that simple scene for, like, 4 minutes. And with the softball, and water dripping, and of course, those ominous clouds. They were being subtle at being not so subtle to point out a subtle concept. What the hell, right? In real life, those moments come at us at light speed. You blink and it’s gone!

And in some ways 2007 ended at light speed too. Personally I’ve gone through a lot this year, some good, some bad. One really great moment was when I went to this rock concert and jumped around a lot (tip: see blog title). What was good at the show was not just the music and performance, but it was also fun jumping around with a few thousand other people (…and a lot of other things). The same feeling is the summit of the “Year in Review” serialization I’ve been posting–I want to share it with you why anime and all this related stuff like blogging or fandom or cons or music, and hopefully some of you will also share with us the same.

Speaking of jumping around, Jeff Lawson may not be a religious man, but I am not one either at least by the Christian sense. Or maybe I am, just one in disguise as your prototypical Asian-American anime fanboy blogger. But I am religious in the sense that I know to cross reference his ending comment with the parable of the mustard seed. Jesus is subversive, oh yes. And even if you are somewhat versed in the allegory, I recommend you to check out that Wikipedia link for the full picture of what it means.

In other words, what’s inside Manabi Straight is an authentic slice of life. It describes a simple but profound concept, that those who are fortunate enough to experience it in their own lives will likely to recognize it when they look for it in Manabi Straight. It’s not just a rainy afternoon or “going to high school.” It’s subversive, it’s not something you can bottle and sell, or teach and follow from a plan. It’s the fundamental essence of happy living. That’d make Manabi Straight the ultimate iyashikei anime–it not only makes you feel good, it gives you a road map to achieve happiness.

This is the 8th entry about 2007 highlights and awesomeness. まっすぐ Go!! And remember folks, even if my favorite anime is better than your favorite anime, you can まっすぐ Go!! too!

Beyond the Earthsea

Besides its enchanting soundtrack and awesome dragons, I’m not sure what to say about Tales from Earthsea.

There's something sinisterly funny about this picture

I recently saw the DVD version of it, so keep in mind that I am probably missing out on some of the awesome visuals that Studio Ghibli lays on their viewers on a big screen at a higher resolution.

It’s definitely not a bad film per se. The lead male character is rather admirable for a change, carrying a bit of that Dilandu-complex with him. But the rest of the movie seemed a hodgepodge of Miyazaki troupes strewn together, sometimes without logic.

But maybe that’s enough. People dig Miyazaki’s stuff, so just as long as it seems like it people might like it? (Is this a form of bootlegging?)

There’s not a whole lot I can say about EarthSea that hasn’t been said–the apprentice son director, the disapproving father, the screening with the book series author, and the rest of the meta chronicle is on the internet more than a year ago.

That said, Earthsea is probably a fair shake and bake rendition of the original novels it adopted; not that I fault it (nor am I praising it), but it doesn’t add to the list of accolades your typical headlining Ghibli feature carry. Then again, I suppose no one really cared about Howl’s Moving Castle and how close it was to the book.

A general feeling of balance is tempered by an overwhelming feeling of indifference? Unlike Spirited Away, Earthsea was at least somewhat entertaining. But Earthsea surely is less artful, and that says a lot coming from a guy who wasn’t enchanted by Spirited Away either. I think I’ll refrain from comparing it with any more Hayao Miyazaki works…

Year in Review: Shafting of the Shrewd

This is really a two-fer (or three-fer): ef, Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei and Hidamari Sketch; and anime as animation, doing what it is suppose to do.

Not long ago I finished the last episode of ef – a tale of memories. It’s by far the most impressive anime of 2007. Sadly that’s just my impression and not a lasting opinion tested with time, but it was hard to deny that ef was a gimmick intended to impress. Much like Zetsubo Sensei and Hidamari Sketch, ef is the product of SHAFT, the same studio and pretty close to the same production team.

Well, except Shin Oumura, the credited director. He gave ef that touch that reminded me why Makoto Shinkai’s film will probably never break into the mainstream. Akiyuki Shinbo being the “supervising” director only contributed to how some of the scenes look. Can we say red and black railroad crossings? The other two works are Shinbo’s direct results, probably, with him labeled as the director (and who can forget his happy mug in the OP for Zetsubo Sensei?).

I can also really care much less about Sunshine Sketch’s healing properties. The serendipitous 4-koma original stuff is, I’m sure, good on its own. But that’s not here or there. The TV animation series is brilliant in how it transforms your typical manga adaptation into something unexpected, clever, but all the more expressive. And the stuff it expresses are not merely words from a book or plot points in an outline, but feelings and perspectives and attitudes. And you know Sunshine Sketch is good because, I guess, what was good to the animation staff has been transmitted through the show and to your soul! L33t haxxorz they are.

In fact, with all three series there’s this kind of connection that I see with the anime and its viewer. It’s a bridge, a protocol that transmits the beyond-mere-words content of a story to its viewer. Sure, it’s not unusual for anime to achieve this, but so few bridges are so weird and daring yet charming at the same time. It was fun.

Well. That’s that. But in the context of what’s notable in 2007, we should compare these three shows with stuff like like Denno Coil and Seirei no Moribito.

Because, lol, can you say SHOESTRING BUDGET?

Continue reading