Category Archives: Sola

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…

Contemplations: Of William Jones and Matsuri Shihou, Resolutions, and Our ゆずれない願い

Character: Matsuri Shihou. Time: when she kissed Yorito on the roof of the high school. Why: Because she loved him ever since she met him through Aono. But unlike Yorito, Matsuri is the one who has a burden to carry.

Character: William Jones (I’m sure he has some kind of middle name/suffix to his name…but then again he is gentry). Time: when he accepted Eleanor’s kindness and started to court her. Why: Because he was trying to move on, and Eleanor was more than willing to help him do the “right thing.”

The question: what is the “right thing”? Where did Will and Matsuri learned it from? Why, in those two instances, are the right things so different?

The revelation, for me, came when I linked the two shows together. The Victorian romance had all so much to do with our postmodern nightwalker once you removed the social stigma of being a Yaka. And we should, as it didn’t matter to Yorito, Mana, or even Koyori (I think). But why did it matter to Emma (or rather, William’s perception of Emma’s feeling on the matter) that William was trying to do the right thing by marrying her and not “having her on the side,” as the servants would call it? Was being true to Matsuri’s feeling something impossible, made by her circumstances much like how William being true to his?

Apologies to our Emma fans reading what I’m writing for I am being willfully ignorant and have yet taken the manga plunge, but I think in my limitations I can stop worrying about the “what” and think about the “why” a little more.

It’s not unusual at all that in a story to see the core struggle being one of doing not the easy thing, but the right thing. However in both Sola and Emma, it’s not clear at first what is the right thing. To our modern humanist perspective obviously William is trying to do the right thing, even if it is a sort of selfish sacrifice to please Emma’s sense of William’s worth. Even if we project ourselves in the time and place of Mr. Jones, the morality of it is clear. But there’s no clear way out. The socially acceptable practice was actually not the moral position to take. Social life directly impacted his financial responsibilities, and it’s not just William who suffers, but also the people he loves–including Emma. And how can we forget poor Eleanor!

Basically Sola maps onto the same conflict in the same way, with addition to plot holes–namely, the fourth option forged by Matsuri’s iron determination, her unyielding wish. And aptly, symbolized by a magical sword made of metal.

Where will William find his plot hack?

Perhaps the difference between an interesting historical fiction pandering to reality and an anime that seems like an adaptation of a bishoujo dating game lies right here. Matsuri is someone who has already made the mistake William could have made, and is trying to turn it back around. William is someone, well, who half-way made the mistake and is probably going to go for option 3.

Or in Yorito’s case, 1 or 2 is fine too.

This rant is brought to you by, again, Haruko Momoi’s godsend cover CD. Buy it today!

Sola Matsuri

Sola means a lot of things.

It can refer to the sky in the Engrish-‘sora’ sort of way. And obviously the connection between Sola and sky is quite clear, symbolic of what Matsuri has forgotten in her eternal journey of selflessness. The flashback to “LOL I remembered that it’s nice to have friends” bit is…well, very much about the sky that she has forgotten, and it’s a replay of when she recalls what it was like when she step into Yorito’s room. The sky is also a symbol of Yorito’s promise, which is fulfilled (in the lovingly SHOCKING TWIST fashion that makes AIR so good) when the broken-down film projector kicks in, and all that shizzat.

And speaking of AIR, the sky is full of air. Seeing that the scenarist behind Sola is the one behind Key’s successful hit games, the connection is, if anything, blatant. Sola is of AIR. Sola is also full of something else, especially episode 12…..anyways.

But I think Sola means being alone (Latin?). If you pay attention to the OP, in a way, it confirms that being alone is the best definition for the term as the show’s title. The series revolves around Matsuri’s loneliness issue and how it affects both her and the people connected to her. The lonely stroll under a rainy sky is a cute play-on-word.

And a cute play is so far what has transpired in the past 12 episodes. It was fun, it oozed with a good feeling; sort of like how Aria or Texhnolyze ooze with mood. I don’t think Sola can really disappoint with its final curtain draw now. A job well done so far, although not with its flaws.

Top 10 Seiyuu I Feel Like Talking About

Endangered Behavior

No, I surely did not get inspired by people like these. To be fair, even if I wanted to I don’t really want to rack my brain and post pictures of my favorite anime characters, who they are voiced by, and all that pretty waste of time. Let’s, however, do talk about them. Fun stuff.

As with anyone in the know knows, there’s that makura talk with Arts Vision and how the now-ex-president took advantage of some women and girls exchange to help their careers. That’s just downright bad stuff. A lot of dirt, as a result, has been airing the past weeks. Zepy posted some interesting Yui Horie related news.

<Momotato> hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

We even had this. I LOL’d. It really is fans doing what fans do best. It’s a dumb thing to do, but it’s so dear.

Not too long ago I talked about Yukana. Yea, she’s also a bit of a controversial figure. But given what’s been said it’s no surprise that she’s on Hashihime’s list. The power of ero compels you? What irony in light of the whole Arts Vision scandal.

To a different topic: How do you feel about Megumi Hayashibara’s return? Since the 90s she has been really the super-star-ish seiyuu that entranced all these semi-ex otaku. I have some friends who don’t really follow anime and this stuff anymore, but would still like to see her live, or something. I’m not sure how wonderful a concert musician she is, but I’m sure being the multi-purpose catgirl that she is, Hayashibara will rise to the challenge. Now if we can just find out the goofs who ruined her visit at her one and only US con visit in 1995. If you’re “new” to the scene, look here.

Anyways, I was looking up Rika Morinaga sometime when Simoun was airing. She played the very excellent role of Mamiina (Good Girl Salute! o/) and I realized she was in this …interesting space anime. But what really stood out to me was how she was in the DVD extra when the voice actresses (lol no guys on this cast) played various games. Looking her up, this chipmunk-faced actress is also a model and involved in some kind of funky indie stuff. WTH is function code? Gothloli music is really, really hit and miss for me. Check their myspace for samples. I pass no judgment at this time; but will probably remember to try to get a listen when their new/first CD comes out.

Music-wise, I haven’t really come across any voice actress who can captivate like Nana Mizuki does. I’m not sure what’s her trick, because when I watch DVDs of her live, it seems sort of meh. But like these guys, it works for me. Not unexpected, Nana Mizuki has also got a lot of range when it comes to voice acting, so I’m still waiting for her to bust open with some real good drama in a fitting show. It seems too often that’s the catch–with so many crap anime out there, it’s hard to find a good role in the first place; even harder to get that role. I’d be the first to say that a lot of anime she’s in are kind of crappy :(

Five more to go?

Speaking of voice actresses [ORLY], I think some people probably already said that the somewhat famous Mamiko Noto is doing one of her more entertaining roles since Mitsuki Ikuta, in Sola. Sola is the sort of show that nails me in terms of “WOW GOTTA WATCH” but “this is actually pretty meh” because of the TEROGE-ness of it all. Still I think Noto’s Matsuri has been wonderfully delightful, along with the somewhat explosive Mai Nakahara playing as her counterpart in the last few episodes. Do all Nakahara characters explode? I mean, sure, that’s part of the schtik in Higurashi, but… I still think Nakahara’s best performance was Mai in Mai-Hime, even if that’s sort of a crap show (in a good way). It really shows her range. Funnily enough, so does Matsuri and Noto. Is it possible to predict plot elements through the voice acting cast? I think it’s doable in Sola.

Speaking of range, I’m still a big fan (and I would put her in my top 3 in a heartbeat) of Houko Kuwashima. And for me it began from her debut role, Yurika Misumaru. Her radio-no-nonsense voice is sort of soothing, and it’s one great thing in Saiunkoku Monogatari. Those Claymore fans should note that Houko plays Clare. There’s just something to her voice. I don’t know. But thankfully that’s where it stops…her songs are so-so and she’s not the cosplay puppy that this grasshopper is. Keeps the import spending budget down.

Range is a subjective and somewhat illusive concept, if you ask me. Nor does it really matter. Satsuki Yukino visited the US few weeks ago (and I couldn’t go >_<) but even as masterful and huge-ranged as she is, someone like Shizuka Itou (who isn’t at all terrible, but not as good) can really, really hit the spot and get a lot more attention. I know there are a ton of people who watched Pumpkin Scissors probably just to unconsciously duplicate the same effect as listening to this CD. That said, Yukino is, from the reports, a very charming person in reality as well–overbearingly cute maybe. There’s something about the older-school seiyuu who don’t do it for the image-career track, but just because they like it. But, hey, Shinon is plain geek-sexy!

That’s 10. Let’s stop before I get out of hand and actually start to insult people who can insult back!

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.