Category Archives: Asatte no Houkou

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.

Kamichu Is Really Good

Working on my “short” list of things to watch when I have the time, as recommended by others and reaffirmed by my own investigation and feelings, I’m nearly done with this ZOMG HOW CAN IT BE show. Yea, Kamichu, the high-production-value slice-of-life series from 2 summers ago.

If you read reviews like how this guy writes it, then this sort of show will probably get labeled as some kind of “little gem,” “nice find” or something flattering but not really deserving your full attention. And case in point; he hasn’t even “found out” about this show yet.

And it bothers me–not that he hasn’t, but so few people did generally. And it isn’t really off to say that Kamichu is a “little gem” or what have you. To translate it into specific, non-layman,  critic-language, the overall enjoyment value (as Star Crossed seems to do reviews around that perspective) of Kamichu is actually relatively low for the mainstream viewer. It is by no means a page turner; it is very much a show aimed at an older crowd who knows a thing or two about politics, history, and their heritage (as Japanese…and maybe other cultures too). The fact that it’s about a bunch of 8th graders in Hiroshima back in the 1980s isn’t going to hit home for most people.

But to call it a gem is injustice. It’s not even a “diamond in the rough” but just plain-o diamond. It is episodic–so automatically that’ll turn away probably half of the western anime fans who feed on serial discourse and plot-driven stories. It’s masterful. It’s cute. It’s just oozing with goodness (albeit also often mixed with some sort of awkward pitch at…some kind of nasty subcultural segment–lolicons, sisucons, even hardcore Japanese right-wingers?). It wins awards.

Strangely enough I remained unconvinced of all the things I just said, in a way, at least until last week. Well, if you asked me back in 2006 if Kamichu was any good, I wouldn’t hesitant to say yes. But it wasn’t compelling for me; I had seen just the first half of the series at the time and while I can recognize that Kamichu is that rare little gem, it isn’t anything that special to me. Heck, it’s a 2005 series that I had seen only half of by 2007. I didn’t feel the magic.

But after watching the episode about Miko and Shoukichi I was floored. If Asatte no Houko episode 8 did anything for you, then you’ll see that this episode of Kamichu is a reprise (well, Kamichu came first), but with sugar on top. They managed to express as much in your usual 22 minutes of late-night TV as a typical arthouse OAV could.

And perhaps “arthouse” is the right qualifier for Kamichu. It hasn’t transcended below the ceiling of common, everyday sensibilities in the way how Azumanga Daioh (or better yet, Yotsuba&) was able to translate its strange worldview in a way we all understand. It paints a picture of adolescence that is wrapped and coated by its slice-of-life tension (ie. not much) and all that ZOMG-She-Is-God nonsense that is a little bit “out there” to say the least. But for those of us who can see beyond that, Kamichu is a masterful reprise of a childhood to remember and the fun people had growing up. It’s just too bad most people are hung up with the details, like myself, to go far enough and see Kamichu for what it is. But hey, I eventually got past it. Thanks a lot to those people who did see it and push it like the mad good anime that it is!

It easily is one of the best anime anyone can buy right now in the US I think. If you call yourself a slice-of-life fan, well, add this to your “very short list” already!

Asatte no Houkou Accomplishes Great Feet

Signature Reimu Pose

If you’ve seen Zettai Shounen, you might be aware of the “feet.” Somehow episode 10 of Asatte no Houkou reminds me of it.

Don’t get me wrong–I actually haven’t seen much of Zettai Shounen at all aside from screen caps. I though the attention to detail to the footwear in episode 10 of Asahou, though, was above and beyond the call of duty.

I think episode 8 of Asahou was definitely the best episode of anime that I’ve seen in a long while. It compares with Black Lagoon’s introduction of Roberta, or ENOZ’s performance in Suzumiya Haruhi. (I guess it wasn’t so long of a while?) What struck me as special regarding episode 8 was that it’s very tight and it’s got that stand-alone, slice-of-life packaging to it, in contrast to the plot revealed in that episode. I think you could polish episode 8 up as a tight AMV or even as a stand-alone OAV with slight changes.

Anyways, enough clamoring for a show that’s getting the attention that it deserves. I thought Kotomi’s outfit in the second half of episode 10 was…ludicrous, to say the least. Or I’m just totally out of touch with Japanese fashion. Both might be possible.

I don’t think I have any kind of a “feet” fetish. Maybe a sock/footware thing…but I don’t think it’s any kind of fetish. The reality is that when the character designers go out of their way to make their character’s shoes fashionable, it’s hard to not notice it if you pay attention. I suppose at least this idiosyncratic trait of mine comes true in real life as well, if you ever wonder if I compliment you on your footwear.

I also suppose this is why I dig Ikkitousen and Ryomou in general.

Anyways, as much as I enjoy talking about footwear all post long, here are some pictures to do the talking instead. Honestly lately I’m kind of busy both in the mind and in the physical, so this is as good as it gets.

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A Bit of Summer to Cure Winter Blues

Somehow Asatte no Houkou keeps me going–it comes to my mind first when I write, even if I am watching plenty of other crap right now.

But here in North America it’s getting cold. Winter has always been a moody season for me and personally I find myself psychologically falling into a cycle. Spring is when I fall in love with new things, and Winter when I celebrate (or lament) on the fleeting days of the year gone by and the memories it carried. Not sure what Summer and Autumn are, yet.

Anyways, it really started with Haibane Renmei. I think when I first caught it as it was airing, it was such a lovely watch that I had to watch it as it was airing. In fact, the first 5 episodes were so good partly because of its timing. It really helps me to savor those episodes because it matched that winterly feeling, transiting from lazy Autumn afternoons into biting, Canadian-like mornings.

What’s odd about Asahou is that right now I can’t imagine watching it during Summer, and have it come off feeling the same way. It’s almost like Haibane Renmei in a way, once I got past the uncertainty of the first 3 episodes. To contrast, Someday’s Dreamers was a similar, slice-of-life show that was very fitting for a Summer viewing. Both, as you may remember, took place during summertime. The seasonal contrast is even a part of Someday’s Dreamers, as it was casually alluded to with Masami Oyamada’s magic powers and past circumstance.

There are other anime with a strong seasonal motif, too, but I think with slice-of-life type shows, it is ever front and center as the most powerful, intangible element to a show. Aria, for example, doesn’t distinguish what season it is even if it’s a visible element to the show–or rather, Summer in Venice is not like Summer in Neo Venezia–because it feels the same no matter what season it is. On the other hand, Kanon does winter right–it has to. There’s an element of play as well an element of sorrow, and I think Kanon captures that dynamic well.

Maybe the real trick is to create your own personal reality in a fantastical setting? I think Azumanga Daioh, which is much more personal to the average Japanese person in Japan than Aria, does a better job at doing seasons and feelings because it is something animation creators can relate to on a first-person basis. Which is to say, Haibane Renmei was all the more amazing as it’s spun only from its creator’s brain? Maybe. Asatte no Houkou could very well be the same, even if the setting is familiar.

Why Do I Bother? Or Asatte no Houkou’s Real Appeal

Asatte no Houkou‘s appeal comes in two folds. The first is the obvious: the scandalous “loli incest” train of thought coupled with a romance triangle with an ex, and all kinds of gutter-fetching implication when the loli turns into oppai doujinshi magnet and spunky meganekko turns into no-nonsense loli. We’ll leave that alone.

The second layer of appeal is in the mystery.

Asahou slowly reveals to us what happened in Hiro’s past and Shoko’s past. With that we can then piece together the motivation behind their behaviors. And they do act rather mysteriously, if you think about it. I think I stuck with watching it only because they held all those cards and let them lose very slowly. The initial uncertainly was partly due to that, but without knowing the full motivation, Asahou has a real hook for me.

Some background, first. If we look at what made Ruri Hoshino the smash-hit loli that she was, part of it was the passive-aggressive, mean-spirited punk attitude she held towards the adult world. Elitism breeds loneliness and independence robs you the opportunity to lean on someone else.

To apply that to Asatte no Houkou, we have to look at our three main characters: Karada, Shoko, and Hiro. Let’s start from the basics…

Every episode we are repeated the line about grasping and slipping away. I’m at a loss as to piece together a well-founded explanation as to how to explain it within the show, but at episode 5 it’s fair to say that it will be important to keep in mind.

Going to Karada first is important. She is easy to understand and so far she provides us with the boundaries; the limiting condition, so to speak, to make good guesses about what will happen thematically and plot-wise. We know she’s an orphaned girl; Hiro takes care of her and she wanted to be more independent and less of a bother to the person who she perceives to owe some emotional and physical debt to. She turned into an adult, but soon realizes that maturity is not just physical growth.

Shoko, on the other hand, returns home to Japan to find her terrible ex ditched all that she gave him to raise Karada. She’s confused and hurt, but nonetheless understands the situation and does her best for Karada’s sake. Shoko is subtle and passive-aggressive. She lets loose in episode 1. By episode 5 we find out how she was when she was little, and it further goes to explain her behavior in episode 1. In retrospect it tells us two things.

Jealousy. She is obviously troubled by Hiro’s affection for Karada; but she’s also somewhat bothered just by her perceived reason of Karada’s condition: that she’s a helpless child and of course you treat kids with the affection they need to turn them into healthy individuals. As we find in episode 5, Shoko learns that just isn’t the case.

Reaction to her change. How would you react if you turned into a little kid and your ex’s foster sister turned into an adult because she wished on a weird stone? Shoko’s no-nonsense approach seems to crack when she confronted Hiro, but it seems to have more to do with Shoko’s unrelinquished ill will towards Hiro, having not completely dealt with her own hurts. I’m uncertain why was Shoko so easy-going about it.

Indeed, because Shoko is an introvert, she doesn’t express her feelings the same way most anime characters do. Yet at the same time understanding her emotions and thoughts go a long way to understand what’s going on in Asahou. I hope the Ruri illustration was helpful.

Tetsu and his family, too, give the viewer some hints. We’re exposed to his family and his family circumstances. We know that he was raised “properly.” We also know he has a cousin who is something of a foil to him. And of course, his sister is a bit of a foil to Hiro. When minor characters speak, because they have so few scenes, what they say is probably important. When Kotomi talked about her family upbringing and how it shaped her personality, it’s a big light going off…

It all goes to Hiro. His cards will be some of the last few Asahou reveals to us. How will it explain his motivation behind his change of heart? Was he too, orphaned like Karada? Will he has to relearn the precious thing that whoever gave him his chance at life wanted he to have that he gave up? I don’t know. But that’s the right place to go.

At least, it’s the place to go if I’m not to drop this show. Less Strawberry Otome Eggs, more real drama please?