Monthly Archives: December 2007

Year in Review: The Real Zero

Code Geass is this year’s overall best-produced anime…

It also has this massive cliffhanger, but hey, nobody is perfect.

In no truer fashion did Taniguchi catch up to the 21st century with a big exclamation mark that also, admittedly, marking him fashionably late. But boy, are CLAMP designs always in fashion. It really is a statement about “design sells.” Yea, yea, at the end of the day it’s just another mecha anime, but I think this one would’ve been a huge winner if the ending wasn’t such a non-ending.

But in simpler terms, Code Geass wins because it’s just a well-produced work, with a well put-together plan that included all the “popular” things. Its large cast and diverse personalities ensure no one goes through the show without something piquing his or her attention (even for some it’s just C.C. the whole time). It even provides enough in themes and messages to keep the brainy ones thinking about questions that don’t have right answers.

The pacing is compelling. The scenario writing is solid. There is enough about the plot to keep those that has affinity towards puzzle-type shows like Death Note interested (a large group I imagine), and enough moe and cheese to keep the otaku glued to those … cheese-filled pie crusts? If it means I have to watch in-show product placement to get more financing for anime, I am all for it.

But what does Code Geass have it in for me? I think that is a hard question to answer. I didn’t watch Code Geass back when it was all the rave late last year, and I caught up marathon-style (which is probably the most appropriate way for this show) middle of the year right before the OAVs came out. And yeah the OAVs are also non-endings. What is up with that?

Still, it’s great to remind myself that there are still mainstream-appealing yet personally compelling anime series out there that are longer than 14 episodes. Perhaps I am just jaded, but I think my standards are quite easy to meet and I can enjoy a lot of shows. It’s why I still watch so many anime and I only have the chance to talk about roughly half of the shows I watch on this blog. But yeah, why Code Geass? This was simply just the best overall show that I had the chance to watch this past year. It’s something I would recommend to the average anime viewer without reservation. It beats out shows like Denno Coil because we’re talking about a very different group of viewers than those who would watch NHK on primetime hours. They may overlap in some cases, but generally speaking not at all. Is this like, a mainstream for the underground or something silly?

Anyways. Substantively Code Geass still offers something worthy of review. Seeing that it’s Taniguchi and Sunrise, we should expect violence. And sometimes that’s all it takes to get guys to enjoy a TV show, much like sometimes all it takes is CLAMP to get some sissies (like me?) and girls to watch and enjoy a TV show.

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Year in Review: Giant Robots Play Musical Chair

I think one thing that sets TV anime far apart from any other kind of TV animation is the focus on soundtracks. Sometimes even for a crappy TV anime. It costs good money, and sometimes it shows.

And this year the choice is easy. If I was to pick out an anime title for its original soundtracks, it would definitely be the Heroic Age. But that would only be true if I was picking an anime title for its original soundtrack. And that might be a little harsh (and sort of a repeat).

If I was picking it based on how the music is integrated into the show as well as the quality of the stuff itself, it would happily scratch my itch about, heh, Gurren Lagann.

There's more to this picture if you didn't know...

This much is true–Gurren Lagann, whether you like it or not, made a big splash this year. Gainax went back and tried to reinvent the giant robot genre (again) for the 21st century. I don’t know if they were successful, but I know they did paint a fun and colorful montage of the history of giant robots from their perspective.

In this retrospective I’d definitely like to talk about the fan response to Gurren Lagann, both the good and bad. But to save this post from overly-TL;DR, I think just mentioning it is enough to jog your memories about the LOL mixi controversies, the staff changes, and on the record I’d like to say I liked how episode 4 looked.

(As an aside, Gainax shows that they consistently listen to the fans and devise rapid responses. I wish I could say the same for the majority of anime corporate bodies out there.)

While I’m at it, I’d also like to mention the ending to Gurren Lagann, and I liked how it treated Nia and Simon. Why? Because life is lived by those those who hop, jump, skip and run its length to their ends, and not those who quietly tiptoes towards death. And Nia and Simon sure lived. It may disappoint but it’s honest in its own little deceptive ways, like how the epic montage of the first half of the series leads into ambiguity, a losing-and-finding of purpose for men who only knew how to fight and love, or why this is redemptive for them even if only hardship and heartache await at the end of it all.

Along the same lines, I’d also like to mention how Gurren Lagann is glowing with a really artificial notion of manliness. I mean if I watch old samurai films, the societal norm of manliness is a much more subtle and tempered concept than this “ROW ROW FIGHT DA POWAH” nonsense, and yet both take that realistic approach towards the fate of a swordsman who outlived his purpose. There’s a beautiful parallel here that I’m not sure if anyone drew–just like the samurai went the way of the past after the modernization of Japan in the Meiji era. I guess, so are childhood dreams that vanishes with adulthood. Fighting robot fantasies have little space in an adult world. People like Simon are not this world would like you to be, this day and age, they are rugged, uncouth, drunk, or act like a loser.

Lastly, right, the music. I like the rap tie-in, if just for the exploitative effect and tension between the background orchestra with the foreground dialog within the show. I find it fun (and slightly annoying) that how the soundtrack is mixed like an OST but the vocal tracks sticks out like sore thumbs if I make my own mix, requiring some normalization. Still, Taku Iwasaki worked his magic with his usual competent instrumentation and orchestration. And it’s rather diverse stylistically as well. An epic-spanning sense of sound garnishes an equally large work.

If we can ignore the image album crap (as I’ve been making a habit of doing, no thanks to the barrage of Kyoani anime-related products), Gurren Lagann’s only fault was not making all of its sounds available to buy. But that’s one fault not uncommon and one I can sort of forget, because the handful of tracks that memorializes this show for me personally was on the Best Sounds CD.

With all that said and done, there are probably quite a few runner up soundtracks I could mention (and should mention). A starting place is j1m0ne’s top 3 soundtrack for 2007. For example I’d make more nods to Asatte no Houkou if it was actually a 2007 show, but it’s still a great soundtrack. There are many more to mention that it’d be a blog post all on its own, so you ought to go find others to read instead ;)

This post is the fifth in a series of posts, to highlight my most memorable and remarkable moments in 2007. Or just soundtracks sometimes. If I wasn’t musically illiterate (well, sort of) and can read (Japanese) I would probably do an anison blog. I cannot get tired talking about it.

Year in Review: Save Your Drama, Hitohira

…because “Save Your Drama for Hitohira” just doesn’t run as well with your momma.

Uh, what can I say? It’s a touching 12-episode series about relationships between a senior and a junior. It’s touching only because it’s drowned with sentimental realism yet at the same time much like a serving of pancakes in maple syrup TV commercials. And there lies the rub.

The problem with Hitohira is that delicious friction between its strangely yandere-ly motley crew. It’s a common thing that typifies anime made with a more realistic expectation of suspension of belief. Just like well-rendered 3D CG background that sticks out behind a poorly mixed 2d foreground animation, the cheap but attractive characters that dress the plate of Hitohira’s drama seemed rather lame. I’d use the term caricature, but that might be too good of a thing to call it.

Anime is caricature after all, but its exaggerated nature shouldn’t bleed into the actual content and characterization unless that’s what the story calls for. When the drama is in the fore, please don’t get in the way. And when it’s not, well, I guess you can act like a massive tsundere for no reason. It’s in style after all? Or something in between the two extremes? I think Hitohira was hard to watch at first because of this.

But delicious pancakes are delicious. I would say Hitohira is delicious pancake with the proper application of syrup. Fictional chocolate cakes only go so far, you really need pancakes. And maybe topped with Mugi-Choco.

I know I ragged on Hitohira back earlier this year and I still rag on it here, but I think Hitohira’s crowning achievement is to illustrate a model of human conflict where the two parties, as antagonistic as they may be at times, are moved by the blows of each and grow from their respective suffering. Contrary to common sense when people fight when they love one another, they don’t grow weaker and becoming destroyed. Rather, they grow. It’s like when Kazuma and Ryuhou go at each other, except in Hitohira the protagonists actually get permanently hurt because they are normal human beings. And to be honest I just cannot recall an example of this kind of drama without some fickle of fantasy getting in the way, when it comes to anime. It is that white-pancakebread simplicity which is both subtle but blatant, when placed in front of a drama-craving audience, that Hitohira hits its stride.

(But seriously, while violence has its place, it’s never redemptive as they are in cartoons and movies. So don’t pick catfights and expect people to be “OK” with each other after a double KO. LOL.)

I think the most important thing about Hitohira, from a 2007 retrospective way of looking at things, is that it set the pace for this year to be a very art-house amateur-drama year. At least when it comes to shows I still manage to remember today. They are sometimes sophomoric, but that is also the charm. The art shows through when the creators use these things to their advantages in their narratives. Hitohira is a great example.

And this is the fourth post in a series about anime highlights of 2007. Hitohira is a good watch and a hard sell. Even when you praise it with faint damns. Damn.

WTB Good Industry Blogs

I know they are out there, somewhere.

I figured this is the place to ask since people who read blogs…know blogs. And if you come across mine from somewhere I don’t know, odds are you’ve been to other places I’ve not on the vast internet worth visiting. So I beseech you: Where are all the good English-language anime industry blogs? I’ve seen glimpse of manga blogs that are actually helpful and insightful, but anime? What’s anime? LOL?

Heck, even if it’s just PR nonsense. Good PR nonsense, to be specific. For a while I read Broccoli USA’s blog because that’s what a good (maybe “good” is too vague of a term…a blog worth reading?) industry blog should look like. I stopped only because about 1 out of 30 entries (and I think I’m being generous) contained anything I really cared about, as, you know, most of it is just manga news and I barely read any manga. I usually take a peek there before going to a con though…

But yes, anime-related please. In my limited knowledge most anime-centric industry blogs look like this. And it’s kind of, well, sad. Not that it’s bad or anything, but I might as well go read AoDVD, at least I get something useful out of them.

Which is to say AoDVD’s own blog effort is lolz, but that’s fine since the main purpose of the news/review site runs the same way as a good amount of bloggers. It’s a whole different business to run a news/review site as a blog, and if things comes down to that, well, oh well. They have an active forum community so it makes up for it. But it doesn’t read like a blog, and the community is different enough that I’d not want to get tangled up with it too much. Maybe AnimeNation’s community or ANN’s community is better, but I fear for their astronomic SNR.

Speaking of ANN, with the open letter nonsense, I found these blogs. I guess if you host it on your secure server Google is going to have problems indexing it. Forget about pingbacks and trackbacks. And why is it like that anyways? That said those blogs are less than 2 months old, so it’s kind of an unproven effort. But at least they have cool pictures. And the same Broccoli blogger writes this, I’m guessing. Pretty nifty I’d say.

I would link to the old Geneon USA blogs if they were still around, just so you know how sad American anime industry blogs are. I know the past couple years podcasting has been tried (Rightstuf puts out the only one worth listening to but others put out random con-related stuff too), but I don’t listen to podcasts really. Especially pretty much all but two English-language podcasts about this stuff are weaksauce.

AAAANNNNYWAYS. Do you know some cool industry blog that I don’t know? Please do tell! And it doesn’t even have to be actual industry. Just ones with real industry bloggers going at it would be fine. If it’s worth reading.

Year in Review: I Feel You, (Wo)Man

Life moves on and year after year I inevitably introspect into my own agenda and how anime fits (or more often than not, doesn’t) it all. I guess I’m one of those people whose brain keeps going at all times of the day, so I might as well grind those extra grey-matter FLOPS on something. Few years back there were some words on the street about healing and Hikkikomori/NEET-oriented anime making waves in the late-night time slot. Perhaps that’s what those typical viewers needed. Perhaps that’s what people wanted. But they were there.

On the flip side of the coin, characters like Belldandy–a Goddess literally and figuratively–always had a role in the landscape of anime idols and icons. It’s an archetype, but one not oft tread since perfect characters rarely have a role in human drama. The Belldandy-types are popular both out of the set of characteristics that painted an idealized female that rubs some western sensibilities the wrong way, and also because those are likely the only sort of fictional characters that can deal with the tragic problem of loneliness. After all who would spend time with miserable lot that is otakudom, save a God?

But that has nothing to do with my notion of “Srsly, WTB Notokawaiiyonoto” …or does it?

Now that I’ve beaten the bush long enough, be assured to know that this post is just about Sola, and in some sense, Touka Gettan 21. And about characterization. And I think it’s sort of fair to only spotlight the one show this year which was about just one character.

With that said, there are some disclaimers–Matsuri is not the only character in Sola, of course, nor is she the best in 2007 or anything like that. I’m not even sure if she is my favorite (probably not) of the year.

But her character concept, acting, and role exemplifies loneliness to a tee. It carried the show. She’s a rainy weekend afternoon–the projection of an intricate set of feelings. And just because Sola made me say that, it wins. It’s like Kyousuke’s Marble Phantasm–chase strange girls with a camera and observe the depth of their souls and of those around her. You might not care how the plot resolves around some silly mysteries about vampire, but we care because we feel for her.

Just like the one other anime this year obsessed with the sky, it managed to do something out of ordinary to express those feelings. And that’s one of the main ends to artistic expression.

I’ve alluded to this repeatedly lately, but in an anime the story is one of the weaker mean to convey feeling. Writing, animation direction, artistic direction, and voice acting make up the bulk of characterization. It’s those things that give shows of good production quality a better chance at impressing me, because they can “afford” better writing, direction, and voice acting. The same principle is exemplified with Touka Gettan. For those of you who’ve seen episode 21 you probably would know exactly what I mean: writing, animation direction, artistic direction, voice acting… who cares about the story? It’s a charming tale about a girl meeting a….boy, but that’s really it story-wise. Yet it’s how everything else that comes together and that delivered one of the best episode of anime this year.

Sola certainly does not have the best in everything, but when it comes to Matsuri they’ve nailed it pretty good.

To bring this post back to its bushwhacking introduction, it’s hard to forget that the holiday season and the end of the year is a popular time to think of the poor. Western sensibilities cherish the notion of charity. Unless my pile of donation solicitation junk mail or that subtle pricking sense of irony involving talking charity with an expensive hobby hits me on the head silly, anyways. Today’s anime give us answers, and give us characterizations that share a voice with us in that loneliness of a modern, first-world civilization. With that in mind I’ll end this post with a quote from Mother Teresa: “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” Let’s befriend a Japanese animator today :)

This is the third part of a series of blog entries highlighting some of the memorable and remarkable points of 2007 in review. Sola is a quiet and subtle note in the soundscape of the otaku fan chatter spectrum, but all the more worthy to highlight…