Archive for the 'q-z' Category

You Are All Wrong About Trapeze | Kuuchuu Buranko

Because all Trapeze seems to be is an eleven-episode Denki Groove music video.

I’m not kidding.

Well, okay, it’s not entirely an extended Denki Groove music video–but given that nearly the entire background music was comprised of Denki Groove songs, and how fond this particular Toei team (I use the term “team” loosely, but I’m referring to the loose staff interchange between Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror, Mononoke, Hakaba Kitaro, and now Trapeze, many of which are also Noitamina series) seems to be of Denki Groove, I’m looking forward to the inevitable feature-length collaboration a la Interstella 5555, only with even better music (sorry, Daft Punk–Discovery is awesome, but I’m far more partial to Denki Groove).

As for the actual episode itself, I rather liked it, although I feel certain that I might have liked it less if it hadn’t had the Denki Groove soundtrack to back it up. It certainly isn’t something I’d want to marathon, but the first episode struck a nice balance between sheer absurd lunacy and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink animation. Mind Game comparisons are flying around, and even without having seen Mind Game I’m inclined to believe them. I might have to go watch Mind Game now, but I fear that an hour and a half of sheer insanity like this would probably destroy my brain. But 22-minute packages? That could work.

Also suggestive scenes involving hypodermic needles. That probably wins the award for “most bizarre thing I’ve seen all year”.

Is it pretentious? Is it truly complex and deep and meaningful and spiritually satisfying?

No. It’s a rave party. A really, really weird yet awesome rave party.

I might have said the former a few years ago, it’s true,  especially if someone came at me with the latter angle, but at this point I don’t care anymore.

I really just want an excuse to spam Denki Groove songs at you.

So I will. Because words alone can probably not do Trapeze much justice at all, and if they can, I don’t know them.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0: Richter Mortis

The post title is apropos of nothing; I couldnt pass up the pun opportunity.

The post title is apropos of nothing; I couldn't pass up the pun opportunity.

So I finished Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 the other day, and I was pretty pleased with it. I gather through my various intelligence-gathering operations that this is an earth-shaking  statement with a potential  magnitude in excess of the one given in the series’ title. And the Richter scale is logarithmic (a 9.0 is ten times worse than an 8.0)  so that’s like extra-scary.

When I saw Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 announced, I got the impression that it would be less Earthquake and more Japan Sinks; less of a thrill-a-minute disaster movie and more of an exploration into the effects of such a disaster upon the populace. Which, of course, is exactly what Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is: Seismologists are expecting a major earthquake in Tokyo in the next few decades in excess of 8.0 on the Richter scale, and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 serves part as the story of Mirai and part as a way to point out to the Japanese populace “this is what could happen if this earthquake hits”. Since both kind of interest me (and, being an Armchair Natural Sciences Geek, I feel another pointless lecture coming on), I’m splitting this post into two independent segments.

[As an aside, it's worth pointing out that seismologists have been predicting that the New Madrid fault is going to bust a move "real soon" for the past few decades now, and some are even beginning to theorize that the fault is becoming more extinct than dormant)

PSEUDO-SCIENCE LECTURE

A larger part of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0t is geared around "what to expect" in terms of the landscape and potential effects that the expected earthquake could have. Tokyo (and Japan in general) has a great deal of earthquake-resistant architecture (seeing as it's a necessity, it's easy to see why this is) but the kind of bad thing about most earthquake-resistant designs is that they have to be integrated into the structure itself, and can't really be retrofitted into the building. I'm neither an architect nor a seismologist so I'm pretty sure that there are some precautions you can take after construction, but you are stuck with what you're stuck with.

This is significant because not all the buildings in Japan were necessarily built with modern earthquake-resistance technology, and neither were they necessarily built to withstand the forces an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or more might give. Or, at least, so I presume. An 8.0 quake (at 1 gigaton/4.2 exajoules, this is like setting off 66,000+ Little Boys off inside the Earth's crust) is, more or less, the hand of God reaching down and swatting the planet for bad behavior. In other words, this is the more SCIENCE-y way of stating the blatantly obvious: that shit's coming down.

This is nowhere as terrifyingly cool as bridge/wind harmonics though.

This is nowhere as terrifyingly cool as bridge/wind harmonics though.

This is probably all mere layman’s knowledge to some/most of you (especially those around the Ring of Fire which I am becoming increasingly convinced is actually Bardos Island), but the one bit of practical seismologic knowledge I remember is that the worst of the damage is not caused by the initial quake, but by the aftershocks, which (expectedly) Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 got very right. The problem with aftershocks is that they are unpredictable and of widely varying magnitude–two very strong aftershocks can occur in close sequence with one another, or a series of small aftershocks will suddenly produce an aftershock that is nearly the magnitude of the original shock (or greater than, in which case it gets to be the main shock and the original gets downgraded). With buildings already seriously damaged from the main shock, it’s the aftershocks that generally cause the majority of property damage (and subsequent loss of life)–which, of course, causes the collapse of the Odaiba bridge and Tokyo Tower.

(if someone out there is a seismologist will you PLEASE come correct me so I can not feel like I’m spreading butchered science thanks)

TOKYO MAGNITUDE 8.0 AND NOMENCLATURE

It is quite frequently said that knowing one’s true name gives one power over them, and this is certainly true; one needs only to turn to Death Note to realize that, with your full, true name, someone can craft an elaborate death scenario for you. Even everybody’s favorite semiotician Umberto Eco, in the Postscript to the Name of the Rose, said that he gave very strong consideration as to the title of The Name of the Rose, considering that the title of the book often can “force” a certain reading or interpretation upon the reader; considering that the point of The Name of the Rose was to highlight how different readers perceive the same book in different ways, this is a Big Deal.

As such, it’s often the case in anime that the names of characters are selected with a certain kind of meaning or a representation to their personality. This occurs in English and other languages, of course (we have huge name dictionaries for just this sort of thing), but in Japanese names are somewhat malleable in meaning: often, multiple kanji constructions can produce the same name reading, not to mention the use of hiragana and katakana. I don’t pretend to be an expert on reading names in Japanese but I can certainly run their composite kanji through a kanji dictionary!

Mirai is pretty much the most obvious name ever; I think most people could have picked up on the intended meaning without knowing a lick of Japanese outside of commonly heard anime expressions. 未来 (Mirai)  is, of course, the word for “future” (a literal reading is “not yet | come”). If we take Mirai to be a representation of the current youth (the “future”) of Japan, then bits of her character make complete sense to me. I always felt like the first episode was the most gut-wrenchingly depressing thing I’ve ever seen, as Mirai’s life mirrors some of the more nasty things I’ve read and heard about Japanese home life: exhausted and absentee parents, the grinding school system with entrance exams, and the general feeling of disaffection that seems to be common in Japan (and elsewhere in the world–I’ve seen families in America that would fit the bill to a T). These are potential sources for some of the social ills that crop up in discussions of Japanese culture: hikikomori, the declining marriage and birth rate, and a tendency towards monotonous escapism, to name a few that pop in my mind (again, none of these strictly limited to Japan).

From Mirai’s perspective, then, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 became a story about reuniting with the nuclear family that had no nucleus: before the quake she dismissed her family as unimportant and uncaring, a nuisance to be avoided; after the quake, though, she realizes that the central part of her life is her family and not her self, in no small part due to Mari’s presence and generosity and the fact that Mari actually has a cohesive, if atypical, family unit.

Yuuki, on the other hand, poses a bit of a challenge. When it suddenly occurred to me to look at the character names a bit closer (I think episode 10?), my first instinct was to assume that Yuuki’s name was written 勇気, or “courage” (lit. “courage | spirit/aura”). Alas, this was not to be, for his name is actually written 悠貴, which has no composite meaning that I’m aware of but is literally read “permanence/distant | value” or (more poetically) “permanent value” and/or “distant value”. Obviously this presages a certain plot element that some draw objection to, but I find the temporal implications interesting.

Mirai slowly gets to understand and appreciate her brother over the course of the series, doing a gradual 180 on her opinion of him. Almost as soon as she begins to value him more thoroughly, though,  she comes face-to-face with the ephemeral nature of that value. In fact, it’s only after he dies (and hangs around as a phantasmic spectral entity) that she comes to realize the full extent of the value she placed upon him. The fact that he spectrally hangs on (or that Mirai hallucinates him in denial of his death) proves (in a thematic sense, anyway) that Yuuki’s “value” is permanent. The “distant value”, though, is twofold: before Yuuki died, Mirai was ignorant of his value to her (and vice versa) and thus “distant” as in “unrecognized”; after his death, Mirai is painfully cognizant of his value, but the “distant” now stretches across a different gulf and is closer in meaning to “unreachable”.

Simply put: you don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve not got it anymore. And that’s probably the most important thing to take away from Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 socially: what we’ve got now is neither stable nor permanent, and is vulnerable to a high-magnitude seismic shift that could send everything toppling and turn order into chaos. When that happens, however it might, all that’s left is to gather up the pieces that remain and form order out of chaos.

[I should note that I'm using WWWJDIC's version of edict, and interested parties in to what I'm not telling you about the kanji (every kanji tends to have multiple similar but different meanings) should probably consult there and perhaps elsewhere and then beat me over the head with how wrong I am.]

Simoun: A Connecting Braid

I remember this being roughly my facial expression around episode 19 the first time through the series.

Rotoraemon and Mamiina were, upon my first (and rather visceral, my analytical powers being nascent at best) viewing of Simoun something of an odd anomaly; I remember that I hadn’t been too terribly interested in their stories until it was entirely too late. One of my more personal goals in rewatching Simoun (the only one I explicitly made) was to pay more attention to their part of the story. The overall goal was to pay more attention to the characters in general, of course, but I especially was looking forward to their “arc”. Hence this post.

If Floe’s experience of love (or something vaguely resembling it, anyway) and war exemplifies Simoun‘s dialogue between purity and war, then the somewhat complicated relationship between Rotoraemon and Mamiina exemplify a different theme structure with regards to purity: that of sincerity, of purity of intent. Other characters wrestle with this as well, but it has stronger significance for the two not-quite-childhood-friends.

Rotoraemon comes from an upper-class family, one that is certainly well-off enough to afford extravagant luxuries such as mansions and hired, live-in help. This would seem to set the stage for Rotoraemon to be the ojou-sama type character (backhand cackle and all), yet she noticeably lacks the supercilious manner in which most ojou-sama characters carry themselves; in fact, she’s quite pleasant, honest, and cheerful. Growing up in the same household as her was Mamiina, the daughter of two servants. Not much is shown of their childhood days, but the impression is starkly clear: the two were friends of a sort, with subtle tensions stretching between them. Only Mamiina seems aware of these tensions, seeing, as she does, interaction with Rotoraemon more as a servant’s duty than the genuine friendship that Rotoraemon wanted and believed they had.

Upper-class families are apparently noted for being the primary source for sibyllae, especially those called to pilot the Simoun, and Rotoraemon’s family is no exception. But, whereas Rotoraemon naturally glides into the position of Simoun sibylla, Mamiina, wishing to surpass her low birth and demonstrate her capabilities, must instead follow a somewhat hardscrabble route to sibylladom. Accepted as a candidate only because she is willing to pilot the Simoun in military action, she quickly rises to the top of the combat poll, no doubt due in large part to her utilization and view of the Simoun as more of a tool–a weapon–than the holy vessels that the sibyllae from more prestigious families do.

In a sense, Mamiina’s use of the Simoun as a tool for personal aggrandizement is a vulgarity of sorts, one that ties into the general concept of tainting something sacred with bloodshed. Indeed, when Mamiina first appears, she seems to fluctuate between a gentle demeanor (no doubt remembered from her childhood) and an aggressive, dominating spirit. She determines to pair with Neviril not because she respects her, but because, by pairing with her, she can achieve her goal of rising to the top and pairing with the most famous sibylla. This immediately sets her at odds with Aer and Parietta; aerial fisticuffs ensue.

Needless to say, Mamiina’s behavior taints the entirety of Chor Tempest and, assisted by terrorism, leads to their stint upon the Messis. As befits an exile of penance, of course, tempers flare up on a regular basis, and those between Mamiina and Rotoraemon are among the first. Here, then, the issue of the braids they both bear is breached: to Mamiina, the child of servants, the braids that Rotoraemon’s parents insisted that she wear became a sign of nobility, a sign of the status that she never had. Of course, now she has braids, but (rather charmingly) she binds them up with a ribbon.

It’s worth pointing out here that Rotoraemon seems a bit childish, or at least continually caught up in her childhood: her bed is surrounded with stuffed animals, either ones that she made or that her parents have purchased her. When Mamiina reappears, she treats her as a friend that she has been estranged from for several years, wishing to resume her old friendship with her, which (of course) is exactly what Mamiina does not want. A return to the old dynamic is not what Mamiina wants at all, considering her recent failure to attain what she had considered her goal. And so confrontation, and so hateful truths spilling themselves out, and so the doll that Rotoraemon herself had sewn (the rather clumsy one) is accidentally torn.

Soon, however, a Fortuitously Timed Emergency occurs, leaving Rotoraemon and Mamiina the only pair of sibyllae who have not scrambled, and bickering on the flight deck. And then, in order to prove to Mamiina the sincerity and honesty of her friendship, Rotoraemon pulls out a penknife and hacks one of her twin braids off. She had pleated her hair as her parents had told her to, and so, Mamiina felt that Rotoraemon was her friend merely because her parents had told her to be her friend. But by severing the braid–the connection to her parents and their obligations–Rotoraemon now proves to Mamiina that she acts under her own free will when she declares herself a friend to Mamiina. No ulterior motives, no conspiratorial schemes, not even a shred of friendship via pity.

The severing of the braid seems to mend the feelings Mamiina bears for Rotoraemon, and gradually, over the rest of the course of the Messis’s travels, Mamiina softens her demeanor and becomes somewhat of a grounding point for the rest of Chor Tempest, even as the world breaks for the other members. And so it goes, until the fateful final mission to the aerial base, where Mamiina manages to fulfill the desires that she seems to have long abandoned.

The first is that, for the mission, with the grounding of Yun and Aer, Mamiina is given the chance to pair with Neviril with little fanfare–indeed, I’m not sure she noticed the subtle filling of her initial stated goal, and I didn’t until well after the fact. But of even greater importance is what transpires upon the airbase: with the Simoun shot down and both Mamiina and Neviril about to be taken prisoner, Mamiina stalwartly defends the honor and sanctity of Neviril–the same sanctity that she previously had wanted to violate, for lack of a better word, for her own ambitions–at the risk and ultimate cost of her own life. But before she makes the fatal jump to her final stand, she unties the braids that Rotoraemon had pleated for her, pulls out her own penknife, and slices one of them off as Rotoraemon before her.

Rotoraemon’s severed braid announced her as a unit independent from her family; Mamiina’s severs a far less tangible connection: that towards her own ambitions. With a single motion, she severs the feelings and obligations she had given herself–the desire to rise above her low birth–and sacrifices herself for the sake of another. In a way, she embraces the role of a servant, but at the same time she also fulfills her desires to rise above her own social status and truly become a true, pure sibylla. In paradoxical fashion, by rejecting her selfish ambitions, Mamiina fulfills them.

It seems odd, then, that perhaps in at least Mamiina’s case the war, the bloodshed, that threatens the purity of the sibyllae, in roundabout fashion, bestows it upon her. Perhaps some cliche-ridden phrase is in order, something along the lines of in the white-hot fires of combat the alloy of purity is forged of impurity laden ore or something moderately ridiculous like that. But perhaps it also goes to show that the definition of “purity” (or whatever you want to call it) is multifarious, and that perhaps the difference is all in how you look at it.

Simoun: Purity and War

Obligatory Image of Neviril and Aer Kissing In A Simoun Post

I figured it would be best to get the Obligatory Image of Neviril and Aer Kissing in a Simoun Post out of the way as soon as possible.

Considering its name, it should be hardly be surprising that yuri series tend to deal heavily with purity; yuri means “lily” and, let’s face it, when your name for a particular style of fiction wherein two women may or may not have romantic interest in one another comes from a flower associated with the Virgin Mary, she of the Immaculate Conception, it’s kind of difficult to not have purity invoked as a deliberate theme. Sometimes it’s embraced [->], others fetishized [->], and still others challenged [->], but the theme persists. I’ve been rewatching Simoun lately (as I have intended to do since, oh, I finished it), and it proves to be no exception, and one-ups a lot of series I’ve seen by explicitly making it a major theme.

Simoun is set in a world where everyone is born female and makes a decision to either remain female or become male after their 17th birthday. The central nation, the Simulacrum Theocracy, possesses the ability to seamlessly transition the individual from female to male, should they desire, through its belief in Tempus Spatium, an ability that a neighboring country seems to mysteriously lack, relying instead upon technological methods of gender-alteration. Additionally, those who have yet to undergo the transformation are the only ones qualified to be Sibyllae, the priestesses of Tempus Spatium, and pilot the Simoun aircraft, which must be piloted by a Pair of Sibyllae.

Naturally, of course, the plot concerns a group of twelve Sibyllae known as Chor Tempest; rather quickly we discover that, although everyone insists that they are pure, noble, and other yamato nadeshiko-esque adjectives, for various reasons, they aren’t exactly the purest lot of Sibyllae around. (Although, apparently, none of the other Sibyllae are any better at the purity schtick) And not only this, but due to the invasion of other countries, they are also being forced to pilot the Simoun aircraft in a militaristic fashion. They are expected to be noble and pure, yet frequently aren’t.

Well, okay, that’s assuming a functionally non-existent one-dimensional interpretation of the term “purity”; many of our intrepid Sibyllae exhibit some (or even many) qualities vaguely embodied by the lofty, indefinable concept of “purity” but, on the whole, never really fit in. And even then, they don’t always get treated as though they were pure, as the assumption goes: case in point, episode 11 ["United Front"], where the scout airship upon which Chor Tempest makes its residence transports an all-male military outfit to lay siege to a captured town on the border. If the nobility and other upper-crust denizens of Simulacrum treat the Sibyllae with deference, respect, and guarded requests, the rough, uncouth military men of the front lines treat them as, well, the young, nubile maidens that they are. This leads to Problems of the sort that only tend to crop up when the terms “pure” and “nubile” start to conflate themselves, as they are wont to do.

Most of Chor Tempest treat the male soldiers with disdain (haughtiness somewhat optional), but one–eternally cheerful, naive, innocent, oblivious Floe–is fascinated with these creatures known as “men” and rapidly (and, one might add, forcefully) befriends a similarly naive, oblivious young soldier, Mastiff, who thankfully has more tact and respect than the rest of his fellow soldiers. What follows, of course, is the (quite charming) mutual discovery that the Other is not a fearsome entity, but another human being, rather much like the Self, in fact, allowing for certain differences in physique and temperament. Still, our Intrepid Young Soldier learns that a Sibylla needn’t be distant nor conform to his perception of their purity, and our Intrepid Young Sibylla learns that men are not terrifying beasts of lechery and violence and can be quite charming and friendly.

Except that there’s a war on, a war that directly threatens the alleged purity of the Sibyllae by using them to combat the opposing forces via fancy skywriting. Purity and killing other people en masse don’t exactly go well together, even if the other people are busy trying to kill you at the time. And so Floe and the rest of Chor Tempest perform their duty–possibly scared, definitely military–to first deliver and then assist the soldiers in their efforts to retake the town. Floe chooses–insomuch as she has a choice–to engage in combat and compromise herself to protect her ephemeral soldier friend. But the very act of engaging in combat, be it her choice or not, shatters Mastiff’s impressions of Floe–and, thus, of Sibyllae in general–in ways that her previous behavior had not: she becomes less of an accessible priestess, but a demon of destruction.

He respected her purity and sanctity, even as the other Chor Tempest members scorned her for her association with a man, even as she behaved in a manner incompatible with how he perceived a priestess should behave; yet her violent protection of him shatters his faith in her. Ironic, then, that her decision was made with the sort of purity–naivete, innocence–generally only found with first loves; with a selfless, kind-hearted, and ultimately “pure” motive, she simply and effectively ruins the life she was trying to protect most, and destroys her own purity in the eyes of another. Purity, it seems, is a dangerous thing indeed.

Granted, this isn’t the most important thing to happen in the series, nor is it the only angle of approach to Simoun’s purity aspect. But this particular episode struck me as one of the best moments to illustrate the impact of war upon the Sibyllae; the other characters reflect other aspects and, sadly, I’m only halfway through a rewatch now, and nearly every other character is more complex than Floe, which means I really ought to finish the rewatch before I go any further, time and energy permitting.

In the meantime:

dawwwwwww

d'awwwwwww

Taishou Yakyuu Musume: HISTORY LESSON! CLASS: S! GOOOOOO!

Taishou Yakyuu Musume: Cute and educational!

Taishou Yakyuu Musume in a single picture: Cute and educational! (I think...)

Taishou Yakyuu Musume is pretty clearly a seinen work (by the publication the light novel ran in if nothing else) but its rather unusual time period of the Taishou era, a sort of transitory era between the Meiji and Shouwa (aka Hirohito) eras, sets it up to deal with historical issues not frequently directly tread by anime and its related indicia to my knowledge. This makes Taishou Yakyuu Musume an interesting period piece in a medium (or genre; I can never tell when it comes to anime) that does not normally tread historical ground unless it also involves samurai and/or ninja and/or people dying in large numbers. (I am positive that there are far more manga that do this, but historical manga of any kind, set within or without of Japan, seem to be a fairly rare beast, so feel free to yell at me and tell me how wrong I am, in this or in any other matter to be discussed henceforth in this post)

Since I’m pretty sure that the girls in Taishou Yakyuu Musume are not going to be shipping off in military uniform for war (if you want to see anime deal with that, I heartily suggest not watching Raimuiro Senkitan), the focus remains on the domestic culture of Japan, which in and of itself is a fascinating thing. After Commodore Perry and Millard Fillmore (President #13 and belongs to the Presidents With Great Names club) essentially beat Japan’s closed-door policy between 1852-55 with a big stick that would have made dear Teddy jealous, the influx of Western ideas captivated Japan as a whole and catapulted them straight from a feudal economy into the industrial age. This resulted in a rather hodgepodge cultural mix of Japanese and Western cultures and involved people dressing awkwardly like this:

This image is not an exaggeration. In fact it might almost be an understatement.

This image is not an exaggeration. In fact, it might almost be an understatement.

The period of social upheaval lasted more or less from the restoration of power from the shogunate to the Emperor with the Meiji Restoration in 1867 to the end of World War II and the signing of the peace treaty between the US and Japan in 1945. It is a hotbed of military action (a major war with Russia and the invasion of China being the major bits), but also great cultural change: Japan increasingly created arguments in favor of “leaving Asia” and joining the West as an equal and not as a “backwards” country. Loosely boiled down, the “leaving Asia” arguments (the most famous one being Fukuzawa Yukichi’s Datsu-A Ron) claimed that Japan was better than the rest of East Asia and should “leave” it and its cultural traditions behind and embrace the growing current of Westernization occurring at the time. Hence the rise of the cultural conflict between traditional Japanese values and modern Westernized values (see above picture) that persists to this day.

You may be asking yourself “but what does all this boring history junk have to do with cute girls playing baseball in the Taishou era?” The answer is:

Historical accuracy!

Historical accuracy!

Along with the fashion and factories and other physical manifestations of “Western civilization” that came to Japan after Perry’s arrival came ideas of Western origin. Of particular note is that the early phases of the suffragette movement (think Senaca Falls) occur during this time, and Japan, too, begins to have the early flowerings of a feminist movement. The establishment of all-girl academies gave burgeoning young girls empowerment between obeisance to the family and obeisance to the husband; couple that with the introduction of the soon-to-be-ubiquitous sailor uniform and the eventual (and equally ubiquitous) male fascination with the empowered schoolgirl, or shoujobyou (“girl disease”) is somewhat inevitable, or at least understandable. However, this post is not about shoujobyou as most likely everyone reading this is quite familiar with the concept in a practical, if not necessarily theoretical, level, and therefore we can save this for later.

Taishou Yakyuu Musume‘s 1925 setting places it square in the middle of the popularity of Class S, a genre of literature primarily concerned with the relationships between young women. The exact nature of Class S is rather difficult to pin down, as I’ve yet to read an actual example (Nobuko Takuya was the most popular and influential Class S author, and I’ve yet to see even one of her short stories translated to English and I daren’t try my Japanese reading skills on them). The closest that seems to get to Class S in a modern context is Maria-sama ga Miteru, which features heavy use of the Class S style; indeed, complaints I’ve heard about Marimite about “thespian lesbians” seem to corroborate this, especially considering that Class S grew out of the Takarazuka Revue, an all-girl theater troupe reputed for performing (you know, in case you were wondering why all the boys in shoujo manga tend to look, well, really feminine).

To make the point rather blunt: the Takarazuka Revue and Class S (both of which are nearly coincident with one another) essentially serve as the birth of what would, after the Year 24 Group came about (Riyoko Ikeda, Moto Hagio, and Keiko Takemiya, to name a few), to be known in manga parlance as yuri. The fundamentals of yuri’s appeal to many–purity of feelings, a sense of tranquil nobility, and perhaps the occasional Platonic love/lust–stretch back to the early 20th century. (Astute readers will also note that the Roaring Twenties and the flappers are in full steam in places that are not Japan and are in fact America)

Class S relationships actually existed, of course; they were quite common and looked upon as simply another part of a girl becoming a woman. A first crush being another girl was considered a healthy, safe first taste of love and even something to be desired in a child–of course (this is Japan and this is the early 1900s), as long as it was both transitory and nonsexual. Some of the Class S relationships did extend beyond the adolescent phase, of course, and eventually, with the banning of Class S literature and the growth of the co-educational school, the Class S culture was driven somewhat underground, to resurface later in the 70s. Still, Class S and all that stems from it–however vast that might be–captures and idealizes (in some way) the feelings of these relationships.

What does this all really have to do with Taishou Yakyuu Musume? Well, not a lot right now, except that the first episode made me go “that’s so Class S” and subsequently want to (badly) write the above. Due to the time period I expect the nature of the series to tend more towards a Class S mentality than a modern one (sorry, no Candy Boy for you), although I don’t quite see it (yet) as a primarily yuri work. I also can’t really tell if it’s going to tend more towards the shoujo or the shoujobyou side of things. All I know is, as long as it retains the general feeling of the first episode, tending to whichever direction it pleases, I’ll probably be fine with it.

Extra points, of course, for more songs.

Extra points, of course, for more songs. Everything needs more singalongs.

RideBack: Giving Revolution the Right of Way

So, you say you want a revolution?

Well, you know, it’s just not that easy.

Anyone who completed RideBack will, by now, understand that Rin hasn’t exactly had the best of lives. In fact, her life throughout the series would best be described in the Dickensian way: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Cast out from the world of ballet due to an ankle injury, she once again found the freedom to dance–the freedom to live life, and not some hollow shard of it left after the ballet career she’d been training for all her life vanished from her future–through the RideBacks (or, more specifically, Fuego).

And yet that same discovery which granted her freedom also wrecked her life, as her natural skill turned her, quite unwittingly and completely against her will, into the iconic RideBack Girl of the resistance, with devastating consequences: Her brother tortured to confess to a crime he did not commit, one of her friends decapitated as though she were her. If anyone in the resistance against the splinter GGP faction to retake Japan had a reason to go on a giant, killing rampage, it’s Rin.

Yet she doesn’t. In fact, she doesn’t even consider herself a part of the resistance. She shuns the title “RideBack Girl” even as Suzuri embraces it, and I think we all remember what happened there. She emphatically denies any kind of symbolic importance attached to herself; she’s not the daring student protester who blasts past GGP military to demonstrate their weakness, but rather the girl who would do anything to save her friend. She’s the iconic figure of resistance who neither wishes to be an icon nor to resist, or, at least, resist in the way people want her to, which generally involves quite a great deal of going against her inner, artist’s nature.

Oddly, her insistence that she isn’t an icon, that she’s not resisting, is what makes her both. Despite all the cruelties pressed upon her by the GGP’s actions in Japan, she will not–can not–pick up a gun and fight against them. Perhaps she intuitively understands that fighting generally gets people nowhere, perhaps fighting is simply just not in her nature, but she refuses to join Kiefer’s resistance despite his insistence that she has been “chosen” to be part of it. She doesn’t want to fight for her freedom, she simply wants to be free, and the only way she can be free is through Fuego, a dual-edged sword of freedom and destruction.

And, in the end, she manages to wield that dual-edged sword quite effectively, as she literally leads mindless RideBack-derived combat drones in a bizarre ballet that is equal parts self-expression and destruction. Whatever thematic symbolism one wants to ascribe to the drones (I, personally, prefer seeing them as violence incarnate, or at least that occurred to me first; but ambiguity is positively delicious), it’s clear that even they cannot catch up to Rin as she and Fuego combined lead them in a ballet, not of destruction, but of simple self-expression. One by one, the drones collapse, unable to keep up with Rin’s indefatigable pace and indomitable human spirit. Amidst all the destruction and explosions and death and slayings, it’s Rin’s naturally mechanical ballet that captures the attention of (some of) the public in the end. She becomes a resistance icon through simply being Rin. She’s not a belligerent, a terrorist, a freedom-fighter, a protester, an aggressor, or any of those things; in fact, I’d hesitate to even apply the term “pacifist” to her, because pacifists sometimes seem to me to be much more aggressively peaceful than Rin is.

She’s Rin. She can’t be the savior of the world, of Japan, of Tokyo, of her school, of the RideBack club, or anything. She can only be Rin. And, in the end, isn’t that the same thing? Isn’t it the same for us all?

Perhaps the answers can only be found on the Twisted Race Track of Enlightenment, where riding RideBacks slowly (or at least in transient beauty) is preferred.

Toradora!: United They Stand, Divided They Fall

I think this, and the seconds immediately following it, pretty much sum up nearly everyone's final impression of Toradora!, regardless of what that impression might be.

So. Toradora!‘s over, and by this point in time nearly everyone will have settled down into some kind of vague camp regarding the ending (which pulled no punches, as per the norm for Toradora!), which means I can perfectly well ignore the “is the ending good or not?” debate and simply say that the ending is, and then explain exactly what “is” entails.

As I’ve no doubt mentioned at some point before in previous posts [->] and simply forgot in the long intervals between then and now, perhaps the strongest aspect of Toradora! is that no single character can possibly stand up alone. At the beginning of the series, Taiga was the feared demoness, the Palmtop Tiger of the school, whose only friend seemed to be Minori, and Ryuuji was, well, Ryuuji, a mild-mannered guy who just happens to look as if he’s about to run out of bubble gum at the drop of a hat and going all action movie on everyone. Which he would, if you were, say, a dust bunny.

Not even halfway through the series, both of these outsiders have a much wider circle of friends and acquantainces than they had before. Simply by being together and understanding each other, Ryuuji and Taiga mellow and soften each other. By the end of the series, a class that was, by and large, mostly apathetic towards both Ryuuji and Taiga, now cares about their well-being, for selfish reasons at first, perhaps, but by the end they all seem to genuinely care in their own ineffable ways. Their togetherness, however, quickly upsets delicate balances elsewhere in the classroom. Indeed, over the course of the entire series, many of the main characters are shown to have some kind of problem–a dependency, an unhealthy mode of thinking, etc.–and that they are trying to work through that problem themselves, without any reliance upon others to sort their problems out.

What happens, though, is that as the series progresses, the tide of character development [->] tends to ebb and flow like a tide.  Entropy sets in as every character seems to selflessly give their own desires up to fulfill the desires of another (the Christmas episode being perhaps the biggest example of this), and in so doing the situation spirals further out of control. Just when one of them seems to have the ability to stand on their own, something or someone else comes along and topples them. While, strictly speaking, none of the characters are negatively selfish, they are being excessively private about their worries, and when they aren’t, they’re cryptic about it.

Throughout the whole series, even while working at cross purposes without even intending or realizing it, they still manage to pull themselves together, with the convinently timed help of others. Yes, it’s not always perfect; yes, often the teamwork follows a rather nasty period of them trying to do it on their own; but in the end they get themselves together. I don’t think it’s humanly possible to accomplish anything without some sort of discord–I know far too many people to believe otherwise–but the fundamental concept Toradora! presents, from the moment that Ryuuji and Taiga pledge to support each other in their respective quests for love, is that no one can stand without the support of others. Even when they slap each other in the snow, it’s an outburst that might lead to the betterment of both.

A true class act.

A true class act.

The final episode puts this best and ties it up: Ryuuji and Taiga’s sudden elopement prompt Yasuko to reconcile herself with her parents (along with harsh facts about Ryuuji’s father and her pregnancy), and the long-awaited consummation (not that consummation, the one that they can show on TV) of TaigaRyuuji leads Taiga to reconcile herself, at least a little, with her own parents. And, of course, none of that would have really worked had Minori, Kitamura, and Ami not intervened, and had they not intervened then none of them would have been able to overcome their own problems, or at least take a first step towards it. The stability of a single person is not a solo task but a team effort of those around them.

Hence, perhaps, why the ending is so deliciously open-ended even as it is conclusive. Even as Taiga and Ryuuji enter into an adulthood that will no doubt be Fraught With Peril, even as every character, major or no,  has an intentionally ambigious conclusion, the sense is left that no matter what peril might happen in the future, they have each other. And that makes all the difference.

—-

As far as final non-final words go re: Toradora! as a series, I can safely say that it is the purest recent example of a series that is mostly about the journey and not the destination. You know, from the first minute of the first episode, that Taiga and Ryuuji would eventually be a unit, but the fun is in getting there. And the getting there was delightful–Toradora! tended to take the twisty, winding scenic route rather than the straight causeway that passed by all the flashing lights and glitz. It arrived at its conclusion via the road less traveled by, and that made all the difference.*

* yes I know it’s the same road both ways I am quite aware of this and took account of it when I made the reference thank you Zombie Robert Frost go back to being dead now and take your infinite layers of irony with you

Whisper of the Heart: “If You Listen Closely…”

It has been a really, really long time since I watched a Studio Ghibli film, and I’ve also never watched a non-Miyazaki Ghibli film, nor have I embarked on the Ghibli pilgrimage. It might seem odd, considering my taste for the slow and sweet, but it’s been on my list of Things To Do for years now, along with trekking down Leiji Matsumoto Lane. Nevertheless, a couple weeks ago Whisper of the Heart came across the desk at work and I glanced at it and said “Okay I’m going to watch this now”; an impromptu decision which led to a quite enjoyable two-hour movie session. That is, once I managed to find the time to actually sit down and watch something for two hours, a far more difficult thing with me than it should be, even with something I know I’ll love.

Whistper of the Heart/耳をすませば/If You Listen Closely is a Yoshifumi Kondo film, and quite lived up to its Anglicized title. Plus, it’s a movie somewhat rooted in a library–I had a librarian chuckle at Shizuku’s father’s mention of his library’s transference to the barcode system, and my librarian heart melted at the circulation cards in the book being an integral element of the story.

Like many other of the romance stories that cause me to melt into a puddle of bliss–The Girl Who Leapt Through Time being perhaps the foremost anime example of this, with Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time-Traveler’s Wife also springing to mind–the story revolves around a pursuit, for love, for direction, for all these things simultaneously. Shizuku spends the first third or so of the movie pining after the mysterious Seiji Amasawa (not realizing that she also calls him a jerk for most of the first third) who always seems to read the books she reads before she does. She then spends the second third or so chasing after him again: as Seiji goes off to Italy to study violin-making to see about becoming a professional violin maker, Shizuku decides to put the fantasy story that’s been sitting inside her for a while into words–an effort that wrecks her performance in school at a critical juncture in her life and nearly ruins her relationship with her friends and family.

In the final third, alas, her story falls apart and she breaks down, unable to catch up to Seiji who is off pursuing his dreams. The point made earlier in the movie during the impromptu Take Me Home, Country Roads jam session–the notion that the best violin makers are frequently not the best violinists–comes home in a different way. Shizuku might be a very good reader, for instance, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that she will also be a very good writer. But, like the jam session, the point often isn’t that you are good at something, but that you had fun doing it. None of the musicians in that scene claimed to be very good (not that I could tell), but even amidst all the professions of “oh, I’m not that good”, that rendition of Take Me Home, Country Roads was perhaps the best and the most affecting version in the film.

Acceptance of imperfection is a long-standing Japanese aesthetic trait, of course, along with the notion that that which is here now will not be here later. And the painful lesson Shizuku learns, here, is that one should not devote oneself to a task to “catch up” with Seiji (or anyone else), but to devote oneself to a task one enjoys. Throughout the whole movie, everyone tells Shizuku that she’s a wonderful poet (her translations into Japanese of Take Me Home… were quite eloquent and poetic, as far as I can judge, anyway) yet she insists on writing a novel to catch up with Seiji’s grand chance to prove himself worthy of violin craftsmanship. And yet the process of writing and rejecting the novel still allowed her to uncover more of herself–by pushing herself to the limits, she found what she was and wasn’t capable of, a sentiment I can very much empathize with, given my own experiences with pushing myself to limits that were dangerously closer–or further away–than expected.

In the end, it’s all brought full-circle, as Shizuku learns from Seiji the truth of the namecards: he had noticed her name in front of the books he read and liked, so he started going around the library trying to guess which books Shizuku would read, in the hopes that she, too, would notice his name as he, hers. With it comes the notion that the two of them are different, with different goals and different aptitudes–and yet, at the same time, much the same. It’s that inversion that gives Whisper of the Heart an extra cathartic kick at the end–a kick that might not be strictly necesary, perhaps, but one which was quite welcome at the end of a very sastifying 111 minutes (plus a few days of sinking in).

Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Four-Wheel-Drive of the Apocalypse

I can never drive a car without thinking about its throbbing, pulsing engine again.

I can never drive a car without thinking about its throbbing, pulsing engine again.

My third attempt at watching and understanding Revolutionary Girl Utena (round 1: K.O.; round 2: T.K.O.; round 3: ???) has completed. I’m struck, upon completing Utena for the third time (more or less around the stroke of midnight, oddly), by how strong the feeling was to go out and do something at the end of the series was. Granted, it being midnight, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do with that sudden urge at that moment, so instead I sat around and moped about how completely useless my 24 years of life have been (not very, but under pressure from Utena, even a self-actualized individual would wonder the same).

The trickiest part about Utena, for me, has been the allegorical story of the Rose Bride. Its potential meaning, even on my third trip through the series–a far more enlightening run than the first two–still eludes me in the vaguely undefinable way that only Utena can be. The idea behind the allegorical meta-story seems to be about Anthy sacrificing herself for her idealized prince–the loving, caring man who exists only in fairy tales–only to lock herself in an illusory world of her own creation while her brother Akio, the fabled prince, practices his own twisted love on her. It’s not a pleasant thought to consider–but, expanding the allegory to the entire series, would imply that Anthy has devoted her love to the mythical, idealized prince, a childish devotion which grants her nothing but pain as her non-existent ideal ravages her inside and out.

Even in the final duel, Utena cannot stand up to the ideal of Akio (Anthy literally backstabs her) and yet, even though Utena isn’t the paragon of perfection–far from it–she brings Anthy out of the coffin she’d been hiding in–much like Utena was, until her prince, a younger, wiser Akio, came, showed her Anthy, and gave her a purpose in life, even if that purpose was to chase a nonexistent ideal. Utena’s imperfections are necessary–vital–for Anthy’s awakening, for even the prince for whom she locked herself up for was imperfect. But the imperfect Akio does not love or even respect her, but the imperfect Utena does–the imperfect Utena who would shed a tear and bear her pain willingly, exactly as Anthy had borne the pain for her (im)perfect, (un)princely brother for years.

Utena has innuendo? Well I NEVER.

The message is clear: questing after perfection, after miracles, after eternity, after the power to revolutionize the world–these are all impossible things, things that no single person can ever hope to achieve in their lifetimes. And yet, paradoxically, their imperfect analogues are all easily attainable by simply abandoning the quest for perfection. Such a change comes from within–but such a change does not come in solitude, and nor does it come easy.

Demonstrating the difficulties of accepting the imperfection of relationships and of life is none other than our intrepid Student Council members, still shrouded in the egg they always talk about smashing, grappling with the method to attain proper adulthood. Akio, of course, presents them with the highly tempting option of a car, its engine pulsing with desire to speed down a dimly lit road towards the End of the World. Yes, the car is more or less sexual desire, a place where even Akio is trapped, endlessly, as much a victim of his own planetarium as the students of Ohtori Academy.

It looms ominously, as all things that loom must.

It looms ominously, as all things that loom must.

While the way of the car is certainly a path to adulthood–and a very easy and tempting one at that–as everyone from Saionji to Akio himself finds out, sexuality isn’t a recipe for adulthood. Like the other rites of passage from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, the rite itself is not the source but the result of maturity. And so Akio leads everyone down this path, showing them the illusion of reality that they’re living, and demonstrating the power of sexuality in shattering that illusion. Yet they all fail; their car swerves and crashes, less because Utena defeats them and more because they defeat themselves in their own premature lust for maturity.

Interestingly, Utena herself falls victim to Akio’s manly guile and engages in offscreen acts of a licentious nature. Although it’s true that she’s at her “worst” and most un-Utena during the last few episodes, the story would suffer more were she not to fall from grace in such a manner. Whereas Anthy cannot break free of Akio’s lust, Utena can and does, in a sense proving to Anthy (and the viewer) that, while ideals are tempting, pleasurable, yet ultimately destructive and defiling, they are not something that cannot be overcome.

I hope you know a good tailor, and you have a large supply of buttons.

But with all rites of passage, while their undertaking does not magically and instantaneously  confer maturity, it does provide a foundation for maturity to occur. The “rite of passage” is so titled not because the rite confers passage, but because the events surrounding the rite shape the individual in passing. Indeed, the failure of their final stab at maturity wrecks and ruins the Student Council members who undertook it–but, at the same time, effects a change in them, one that gently pushes them down the road. Anthy is not the only one affected by Utena, but certainly the most dramatically so. Those who encountered her change, even in small, imperceptible ways.

It’s a bleak message, to be sure–the crushing of hopes, dreams, childhood fantasies, and fairy tales in the face of cold, hard, brutal reality (a fact made more clear in the movie, which I still cannot seem to like, although that might be that it’s 39 episodes of weirdness in one and a half hours–but which I’m still going to watch, a third time, soon)–but Akio himself stands for perfection, and perfection is a concept that could be applied to anything–including maturity itself. Perhaps, rather than “dreams” and “ideals” being the shell that prevents one’s potential from being realized, it’s the concept of “perfection.”  Nothing is perfect–least of all that which seems perfect–and abandoning a quest to be “perfect”, to be “mature”, to be “eternal” has the potential to bring about exactly what you desired in the most oblique way possible.

And–as Utena found out, the rather hard way–in the end, you cannot change others; you can only change yourself and how you react to others. And yet changing her reactions brought about change in others, simply by sticking by what she believed.

The Disco Ball at the End of the World (who says that adulthood aint fun?)

The Disco Ball at the End of the World demonstrates exactly why you shouldn't stay in that coffin all the time. Who says that adulthood ain't fun?

And, now, a parting paraphrase taken out of context for humorous effect  from Kunihiko Ikuhara himself, to put it all in perspective:

Oh, it means nothing. I did it because I felt like it.

Sage words, I think. Very sage. Maybe even cilantro.

Toradora!: Christmas on Valentine’s

Tears of a Tiger

Tears of a Taiga

It seems so strangely appropriate to catch up with Toradora! on Valentine’s Day, despite the fact that the three episodes I caught up with revolve around Christmas Eve–yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is The Christmas Episode of Toradora!, but, keeping with the standard Toradora! tradition, it does The Christmas Episode correctly but backwards. In fact–although I am no expert on Christmas Episodes, this one might just be my favorite yet–that might be afterglow, though, or an utter lack of remembrance of the other excellent Christmas episodes in the heat of the moment of NOW, or, most likely of all, me making things up.

And yet I cannot help but be impressed by how perfect the sequence of episodes leading up to the Christmas Eve dance played out–if this weren’t Toradora!. The fight with the outgoing student council president practically put Taiga and Kitamura together into happy matrimony in one fell swoop–hardly a day has passed before people start talking about how perfect a couple they are, and start instinctively finding excuses for them to be together–even driving Kihara, the loveable-yet-woefully-underused Ai Nonaka character’s mad drive to set Ryuuji and Taiga up so that she can steal Kitamura for herself. (Have I said lately that I love Ai Nonaka? I love Ai Nonaka). Taiga, meanwhile, simultaneously plays the part of Santa Claus and Cupid, fulfilling her end of the long-forgotten bargain they made at the start. It takes time, and even some heartache for Taiga herself (that poor star ornament…), but she manages to pierce though Minorin’s shroud of gloom long enough to get her to meet Ryuuji at the dance.

Everything went perfectly, which meant that it went  (as the patient viewer understands almost immediately) horribly wrong. Taiga only realizes Ryuuji’s sheer dedication to her after she’s sent him packing to meet Minorin–who, in turn, seems to sacrifice her own as-yet-unspoken feelings for Ryuuji after inadvertently seeing Taiga’s breakdown. It’s possibly significant in some small, minor way that we never actually seem to know whether Minorin likes Ryuuji in that way or not–after all, her entire personality is couched in studied ambiguity and a self-defeatist attitude that causes her to place others before her, not because she’s selfless, but because she feels them more worthy than she feels herself. We explicitly know so little of Minorin, and yet the fact that we know so little explicitly tells us much implicitly; she reminds me more than a little, somewhat jarringly and unexpectedly, of me, except I have much more normal-colored hair and I don’t have a voice nearly as awesome as Yui Horie’s (did I menton I love silky heart? I love silky heart, and I want to dissect the OP sequences at the end of the series if only to listen to it and pre-parade over and over again), and I suck at pitching. But then again, Taiga, and Ryuuji, and Ami, and Kitamura all also remind me of  me, in large and small ways, either as I am now, as I was in the past, or as I might be in the future.

Does she have feelings for Ryuuji? Hard to tell, exactly, but it’s certain that if they Became an Item, there would be feelings involved in short notice. I leave the interpretation of “feelings” up to you, dear reader, but whether they exist or not, they’re tossed aside–casually, almost cruelly to both her and Ryuuji–simply to keep Taiga from the anguish that Minorin feels she deserves more than Taiga does. And, simply by that, the perfect Christmas Eve is ruined, dreams dashed and feelings laid bare, much like a certain Christmas tree ornament. It can be reassembled, and it really isn’t a bad thing–but it’s a team effort, and it’ll be different than before, maybe more beautiful, maybe less–but they do it, because it’s what they have to do.

Its like were in some kind of romantic comedy!

"It's like we're in some kind of romantic comedy!"

Now that I have a somewhat-grip on what will possibly happen in the next seven episodes, watch Toradora! take what I think is going to happen and upend it again. It seems to be quite fond of doing that lately; this is not a bad thing. Quite the opposite.


NOTICE SHAMELESSLY STOLEN FROM G.K. CHESTERTON

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